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The Source of Light

The Source of Light

by Reynolds Price

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Here is the second volume of "A Great Circle", the highly acclaimed Mayfield family trilogy, from one of America's literary treasures.

Though a novel independent from "The Surface of Earth, The Source of Light" continues the saga of the Mayfield family, here focusing on Hutchins Mayfield, whose desire for self-knowledge removes him from his secure existence as a


Here is the second volume of "A Great Circle", the highly acclaimed Mayfield family trilogy, from one of America's literary treasures.

Though a novel independent from "The Surface of Earth, The Source of Light" continues the saga of the Mayfield family, here focusing on Hutchins Mayfield, whose desire for self-knowledge removes him from his secure existence as a prep school teacher and takes him on a journey to Oxford and Italy to study and write. Hutchins comes back home for a family crisis but ultimately returns to England, where he achieves a maturity that enables him to cope with commitments, abandonments, and the creation of an honest personal agenda.

In "The Source of Light", Reynolds Price combines gravity and buoyancy, a mythic sense of the past with the mysteries of place, to forge an encompassing portrait of the strange and various world one travels through in the quest for self-fulfillment.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The Dallas Morning News Strong, disturbing....It is a book to be read, considered, pondered.

The Chicago Tribune Price's scenes are rich with detail and glow evocatively in the memory; his language is that of a poet who has found his theme and exalts in unfolding it for you.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Mayfield Trilogy , #2

Read an Excerpt

... my hunt for the third good day of my life seem less urgent and a little ridiculous. I mean to finish though. Since you'll be the only one to see it, I'm as ready to have you laugh at me as I was to grin at your letter this morning.

I've had the day pretty much to myself — Min had to go to Raleigh after breakfast for some work — so I sat down to find that last day for you, age thirty-five till now. I was fairly certain it would center on you; you're right in thinking you've been the hub of this wheel at least for twenty-five years. I even got out my shoebox of pictures. In an hour I'd worked through a lot more memory than I knew I had of you and me — except for my own fears and failures, good memory. I won't say the hour was peaceful though. I seem not to mind the first half of my past — Mother, Father, my jackass behavior for so many years. It's pictures, on paper and in my mind, of Rachel and you that seize me. Not painfully exactly but deeper even now than I like to be seized, in my final quick. Proves there's quick meat in there still — a strip about the size of a laborer's hand to the right of my heart, alive as a year-old bird dog at first frost. Here's the day it pointed, out of all our days.

It must have been in early June 1944-you took a lot of pictures but neglected to date them. Our famous eventful Virginia trip when we burnt up so much war-rationed gas chasing each other down from seashore to mountains. I'd just been relieved of my job in Raleigh and was facing one more of the blank walls I faced fairly often back then. You must have been fourteen, already enough of a man to throw additional high walls across my path (though not at allblank and generally gated). But you still had the fascination with Jamestown, Pocahontas, and Captain John Smith which Grainger had given you before you could read with ali the tales he had manufactured round two normal people.

By the time we got there, you must have been one of the world's experts on the actual story. On the drive from Virginia Beach, you'd briefed me pretty thoroughly — thoroughly enough for me to know how patiently you listened to the flood of romance that met us in Jamestown, the decrepit couple selling souvenirs who gave us the Vghite-Virgin-Christian-Lady word on Pocahontas, so dear to native Virginia hearts. I left it to you; and your only resistance was to tell the old man that No, we wouldn't need his guidance round the site. He felt the rebuff — can you still see his face?but stood his ground there beside his junk feathers and tomahawks and let us go.

Am I right in seeing us there alone from that point on? I believe I am, few people sharing our luck in having an uncle on the local Ration Board. Perfect weather so we wandered on the green slope there above the James, on the actual dirt that had borne all the story and still held the bones of starved and killed colonists, the Indians they killed. I gather they've done some reconstruction since and built a museum for Pocahontas' earrings; but then I remember nothing but the hill itself, a lot of old trees, the ruins of a brick church standing near the site of Pocahontas' marriage, and separate statues of John Smith and her. I liked the one of her in a buckskin dress that fell to her knees, stepping forward with her palms out and looking slight!y up. We sat at her feet to eat our lunch. I remember the lunch as something you fixed, but can that be right? We'd stayed in a hotel the night before; where would you have got celery and pimento cheese? Well, however, we ate and picked up our mess; and I told you I had to lie back a minute now and rest my eyes. So you wandered off again. I leaned back under Pocahontas' moccasins and snoozed.

How long was I out? — fifteen, twenty minutes? Long enough at least to have a few dreams of the punishing variety I specialized in. Then a low thumping on the ground woke me up. The sun had moved down and was bright in my eyes. What I saw twenty yards downhill toward the river was a naked child turning cartwheels slower than a normal child could manage. It came to me peacefully that you had just told me two hours before how Pocahontas used to come here as a child, naked as a jay, and turn cartwheels with the white cabinboys round the first English fort. (I just looked it up in your room before I wrote this to confirm I was sane — William Strachey writing in 1612: "Pocahontas, a well-featured but wanton young girl, Powhatan's daughter, sometimes resorting to our fort, of the age then of eleven or twelve years, would get the boys with her forth into the marketplace and make them wheel, falling on their hands, turning their heels upwards, whom she would follow and wheel so — herself naked as she was — all the fort over.") I hoped at first I was still asleep and dreaming, not drunk — you recall I was also in drinking trouble then. It went on another ten seconds or so till I knew I was conscious; then the hope was that I wasn't being entrusted with some revelation from the Womb of Time. I thought something might be calling me on, requiring me to give when I felt about as bankrupt as I'd ever been — of answers to give to God at least or the magic ground.

The child had turned out of sight by then. I shut my eyes and took the sun and put my hands down to feel the grass beside me — the grass had been shivering — and I felt your shirt, a blue summer shirt warm with your sweat. So I looked again and even in the glare I could see you walking up the rise toward me, barechested in your tan shorts, not really a child. But a real revelation that would need acts of care for the rest of my life and maybe beyond. I'd have run if I hadn't known you could outrun me. I pretended I was out still and you walked up. You watched me awhile (I strained you through my lashes), then slid your shirt from my fingers and put it on. You said, "This statue is making me mad. She never wore any dress half as long as that, and her titties should show." That set me free to laugh. I looked up and said what I wanted to say, "Let's make a run for it." You didn't say "To where?" but laughed back and nodded.

I didn't realize we were happy then. I still thought the world was a custom-built millstone with ROB MAYFIELD sewed neat in its neck like a college boy's sweater. You'll recall also that I acted on my misunderstanding posthaste — the drunk I pulled at Polly's in Richmond, ruining the trip. Well, we got through that and what came after, eleven years. Some of it's been all right, and 85% of the worthwhile enjoyment was owing to you. But it could have been better, which is why I can now see our Jamestown day as the last high point — the last big tree they let me climb. What I saw from there was right. We should somehow have run. Don't ask me to where? There must have been one place left back then where we could have hid out and had a plain life and learned to ignore all the want-lists posted from cradle to grave to train every human into baying at the stars (which do not bay back) till finally we could face each other and say, "I don't want anything alive or dead but you."

Maybe that makes our Jamestown day the worst day of all. Maybe my mind is affected already, though they don't mention that on my schedule of symptoms. I don't think so. We were happy and knew it. Shame on us for the rest.

Copyright © 1980, 1981 by Reynolds Price

Meet the Author

Reynolds Price (1933-2011) was born in Macon, North Carolina. Educated at Duke University and, as a Rhodes Scholar, at Merton College, Oxford University, he taught at Duke beginning in 1958 and was the James B. Duke Professor of English at the time of his death. His first short stories, and many later ones, are published in his Collected Stories. A Long and Happy Life was published in 1962 and won the William Faulkner Award for a best first novel. Kate Vaiden was published in 1986 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Good Priest's Son in 2005 was his fourteenth novel. Among his thirty-seven volumes are further collections of fiction, poetry, plays, essays, and translations. Price is a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and his work has been translated into seventeen languages.

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