“How weak is man? How often do we stray from the straight and narrow?”
Rev. Dr. T. Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton in the movie version)
The Night of the Iguana written by Tennessee Williams
“Have you seen the cross?” I had no idea what the lady was talking about. On Monday I made a quick stop off I-24 in Sewanee, Tennessee to take a couple of photos at The University of the South campus. I read recently that the school was willed the literary rights to the works of Tennessee Williams and I was intrigued.
I was trying to get a photo of the large Gothic chapel on campus but the setting sun was too low for me a shot I liked. That’s when the lady asked me if I had seen the cross. She seemed to think it was something I should see, so I followed her instructions and five minutes later I pulled up to the cross which is 60 feet tall. Now the setting sun was working in my favor and I got the above shot. (The Sewanee War Memorial Cross was constructed in 1922.)
So why did Tennessee Williams leave has literary rights to a school which sits atop the Cumberland Plateau between Nashville and Chattanooga, and that was founded in 1860 by Episcopal priests?
It’s because that’s where his grandfather, an Episcopal priest, graduated from the School of Theology. I’ve read that Tennessee Williams is only second to Shakespeare in frequency of plays produced today so that literary estate must be doing quite well. Check out the link The Tennessee Williams Legacy on the school’s website.
“I was born a Catholic, really. I’m a Catholic by nature. My grandfather was an English Catholic (Anglican), very, very high church. He was higher church than the Pope. However, my ‘conversion’ to the Catholic church was rather a joke because it occurred while I was taking Dr. Jacobson’s miracle shots. I couldn’t learn anything about the tenets of the Roman Catholic church, which are ridiculous anyway. I just loved the beauty of the ritual in the Mass. But [my brother] Dakin found a Jesuit father who was very lovely and all, and he said, ‘Mr. Williams is not in a condition to learn anything. I’ll give him extreme unction and just pronounce him a Catholic.’
I was held up in the Roman Catholic church, with people supporting me on both sides, and I was declared a Catholic. What do you think of that? Does that make me a Catholic? No, I was whatever I was before.
And yet my work is full of Christian symbols. Deeply, deeply Christian. But it’s the image of Christ, His beauty and purity, and His teachings, yes . . . but I’ve never subscribed to the idea that life as we know it, what we’re living now, is resumed after our death. No. I think we’re absorbed back into, what do they call it? The eternal flux? The eternal shit, that’s what I was thinking.”
Interviewed by Dotson Rader for the Paris Review
Williams’ play (and the movie that followed) The Night of the Iguana is about a defrocked Episcopal priest.
P.S. A little Night of the Iguana trivia; The cross that Richard Burton wore in the movie belonged to Williams’ grandfather and is on now on display at the former house that Williams lived in in Columbus, Mississippi where his grandfather used to minister. It was donated by Williams’ nieces.
At the base of the Sewanee cross it reads:
To the sons of Sewanee who answered their country’s call to service win the World War 1917-1918.
To those from the University, the Military Academy, Sewanee, and all Franklin County in World War II. 1941-1945.
Related post: Postcard #64 (Columbus, MS)