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Wednesday, 6.23.04: 1920's -- The College Kids

(Preparing for my James and Orpha project)

Orpha was a force of nature -- an energetic good girl with a streak of wildness. On January 1, 1925 -- the middle of her sophomore year at Cornell, age 19 -- Orpha wrote the following reflection and resolution:

“Things of Paramount Importance”:
Studying again – for two more years.
Danger of “busting” [flunking out]
Less extravagance
Fewer good times
During 1924 – new life – college – realization of a great many things – a formation of a great many opinions – but no permanent code or theory of life.
Happiness and sadness – no radical change but a superficial attitude of “what do I care” -- & sportiness – probably a downward drop – laxity in strictness of right doing but still retain the knowledge of what is really right and true and worthwhile in life –& the desire to do it – God grant I don’t lose this.

To try to discriminate between the “big thing” of the hour & the “big thing” of all time – to carry this purpose with me and put it into practice; to revive my apparently dead conscience; to regain my common sense, and sense of the right and decent, to no longer excuse my faults by calling them “just fun,” or to do wrong because “it’s done” – to give up trying to be like others, & just to be myself – to look to God for help and comfort – to forget myself and little things – in short – to do what my better self knows as right.

James was more of a poet-philsopher -- a terrible dancer, but a great conversationalist. They only knew each other for two months at the end of the 1924-25 school year, but he showered her with attention and with poetry. She saved poems in his handwriting. They indicate that he was very likely one of those sexually liberated young men:

Girl, Woman, Goddess

There is a laughing little girl
Trembling… slim
A song of the beauty of flowers
A fleeting, trilling sprite

Who at times
Becomes a woman –
Tender fingers, lissome,
Her lips – petals
Of the wild rose which she is.
Argent body –
Curved clouds
Through which the moon
Glows opalescent
On a white night.
Softly scented hair
Which I breathe
And catch my breath…

Tense… with aching heart
There is
A Goddess
Glory in an aura of phantasy
Imperial purple mantled.
A quivering goddess
Rising – ever rising
On tiptoe – reaching
From castled heights and silver pinnacles
Called by a soft faint whisper
Nameless transcendental mystery
Shivering her soul
Into throbbing bits…
And she wonders,

He is a force of nature, but of a different sort. Kind of a horny highbrow. He dazzles Orpha, but she's a little afraid and runs home for the summer to her two less complicated boyfriends, Forbsie and Shorty.

When we start looking at their letters from the summer of 1926, we will see how this young philosopher begins to deal with the realities of life.

[Link to James and Orpha Letters]





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