What kind of city is Savannah?
It is recognized as one of the most beautiful small towns in the United States. Dense vegetation covers almost the entire old city under velvet green shade. There are twenty-two square and neat small squares, European-style giant houses with red brick exterior walls, and Qiuqu. Huge oak trees form Savannah’s unique urban outline. The banyan trees grow together with this city that has a history of nearly three hundred years. The Spanish moss covering the trees and hanging down is green as green and calm. The light here is blurry, and it becomes even gloomier on rainy days. A layer of gray-green mist seems to be floating on the streets. It’s no wonder that there are so many ghost stories circulating in Savannah, and there are so many theories about voodoo witchcraft that it seems reasonable for vampires to come and go here. When I arrived in Savannah in April 2015, it happened to be a light rainy day, and I happened to feel this ghostly atmosphere.
Such a small town will definitely be written about again and again. In “Treasure Island”, Captain Fortlin died drunk in Savannah and gave the treasure map to Billy Burns before he died. In “Gone with the Wind”, Margaret Mitchell placed Scarlett’s hometown in Savannah, a “polite coastal city” that “stands aloof on the Georgia coast, dignified and calm.” , educated, looking down at Atlanta, a small border town three hundred miles inland.” Savannah is also the hometown of Flannery O’Connor, a representative writer of the American South. When you think about the atmosphere of her works, it feels perfect. .
Savannah is also a magical location. We have seen this city in many movies and TV shows. The scene of the fluttering feathers in “Forrest Gump” and the scene where the protagonist talks about his experience in the garden in the middle of the street were filmed in Savannah. To watch the city carefully through images, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” directed by Clint Eastwood is probably the best choice. This film tells the story of Savannah. At the beginning, Kevin Spacey had not yet appeared. The reporter played by John Cusack came to the streets of Savannah. On the edge of the small square, he had a meaningful confrontation with Jude Law who was cleaning the car. See. Jude Law plays an important role in this story, Danny Humphries, a handsome male prostitute with a violent personality.
The main reason I longed for Savannah was Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but not because of the movie, but because of the original work.
In 1994, New York writer John Berlant published his nonfiction work “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” This John Berlant has a yuppie temperament, broad tastes, unique style, and exquisite narrative. The book he wrote about Venice, “The City Where Angels Have Fallen,” is very beautiful, and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” has become his representative work. In 1996, he wrote a preface to the revised edition of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” in which he said:
Savannahites have a high tolerance for eccentric behavior. They pamper and even encourage eccentric behavior. Savannah is a small, introverted town where gossip thrives. The main topic of people’s gossip is naturally the behavior of others. Therefore, the more bizarre the behavior, the more interesting the gossip. In Savannah, therefore, people appreciate heretics, if only because they provide people with something to talk about. People who behave eccentrically understand this, which encourages them to become even more eccentric.
Berlant said the city has an almost pathological fascination with “gossip.” When reviewing “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, the American “Library Journal” said: “It’s hard to tell what kind of book this is. It is both a travelogue and a crime story… Even critics want to know. In this book, when does fiction begin and where does fact end?” The
Chinese version of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” was published in 2007. At that time, the publisher sent me a proof copy and wanted to hear my impressions. I found this book to be very suitable to my taste, so I wrote a recommendation – “John Berlant’s patience, talent and sense of humor are admirable and enjoyable, while his ability to innovate in genre is It’s amazing. This is a work that refreshes your reading experience. It is not a novel or a report. It can only be said that it is a book, a magical book.” This passage was later printed in “Midnight Goodness
” The back cover of the Chinese version of “The Garden of Evil”.
”Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” is the kind of book that lingers after reading it.
The aftertaste is more than just lingering, it simply needs an end. The aftertaste of this book was so long that I included Savannah as a destination in my 2015 self-driving trip around the United States. On the afternoon of April 28, 2015, my friend and I finally arrived in Savannah and the Mercer House in a black Chevrolet SUV.
As mentioned at the beginning, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” is a non-fiction work that tells a true story using the framework structure and narrative method of a novel. The story takes place at the Mercer House in Savannah. In Lonely Planet (LP), in the chapter about Savannah, you can find the address of Mercer House.
The owner of Moser House, Jim Williams, was born in an ordinary family in Gordon Town, Georgia. His father was a barber and his mother worked as a secretary in the mining area. Williams’ Mercer Mansion is considered one of the most aristocratic private residences in the United States, and Williams himself is often mistaken for a nobleman from an aristocratic family by uninformed guests. Every time at this time, Jim Williams would tell others gracefully and generously that he was just a nouveau riche, and also tell the whole story about his family background, leaving the listeners at a loss.
Williams got his start in the 1950s restoration and rescue plan for the historic district in downtown Savannah. He was originally engaged in the antique business, but he sensed a business opportunity in this plan. He bought some old houses, renovated them and then sold them. After handling dozens of old houses in this way, the media and people from all walks of life began to praise his contribution to the restoration of ancient houses in Savannah, and then great fame and huge wealth came together. He continued his antique business, traveling between Europe and the United States, shipping back boxes of oil paintings and fine antique furniture and home furnishings. At this time, many ladies from the upper class, regardless of whether this man was a nouveau riche, came to buy it one after another, causing Jim Williams’ momentum to swell like his wallet.
In the end, he actually bought Mercer House.
Savannah has a considerable number of European-style mansions, the most important of which is the Mercer House. The house was built in 1860 by General Hugh Mercer of the Confederacy. After the Civil War, General Mercer was imprisoned for killing two deserters, so he sold the house before it was built. The house is completed under the new owner’s hands. It was not General Mercer who made this house famous, but his great-grandson, the famous composer Johnny Mercer, whose masterpiece “Moon River” is sung all over the world. Johnny Mercer actually never lived in the Mercer House, but he would often visit it when he returned to Savannah after becoming famous. Jacqueline, the widow of the assassinated US President John F. Kennedy and later married to the shipping magnate Onassis, also visited Mercer House and offered $2 million to buy this huge mansion. Jim Williams was euphemistic and reserved. The ground refused.
The core story of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” takes place at Mercer House.
Late at night on May 2, 1981, in the study of Mercer House, Jim Williams and the male prostitute Danny Humphries he supported had a fierce conflict. Both parties had guns. In the end, Jim Williams shot and killed Nian. Danny Humphries, only twenty-one years old. Since then, the case has been tried four times and tried repeatedly, focusing on whether it was “self-defense” or “deliberate murder.” Eight years later, Jim Williams, who had spent a lot of money, was finally found guilty of self-defense and the case was cleared. Surrounding the core of this story are the author John Berlant’s nearly ten years of interviews in Savannah, various eccentrics of Savannah’s upper class centered on the Mercer House’s annual Christmas party, and related… All kinds of rumors. The book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” has been on the New York Times bestseller list for five years and has sold 2.5 million hardcover copies. The copyright has been sold in 25 countries and regions, including the Chinese version. Then there is Eastwood’s movie of the same name, in which Kevin Spacey plays Jim Williams, whose cunning temperament has already shown signs of the politician who later appeared in “House of Cards”, and then there is the debut of Jude Law. In this film, she is young, beautiful and gorgeous.
More than a year after the case was closed, Jim Williams met the end of his life. One day in January 1990, 59-year-old Williams suddenly fell to the ground and died. Doctors could not find a specific cause of death and had to say it was sudden death from a heart attack. But there is another theory that is quite popular. It is said that the ghost of Danny Humphries never let go of Jim Williams and finally killed him. The basis is that the place where Jim Williams died was exactly on his The study was the place where he would have collapsed and died if he had been shot by Danny Humphries.
I finally arrived in Savannah and came to Motley Square, known as the most beautiful square in Savannah. The Mercer House is located on the edge of the square. Around this small square, in addition to giant houses like Mercer House, there are also several smaller mansions and elegant-looking townhouses.
We found Mercer House through GPS based on the address of “Mercer Williams’ Former Residence” given in the Chinese version of “Lonely Planet”. The mansion, which has been featured repeatedly in books and movies, was opened to the public as a history museum in 2004, fourteen years after Jim Williams’ death. However, now visitors can only look at the parlor and living room downstairs and cannot visit the upper floors because Jim Williams’ family still lives in the house. Jim Williams was never married and had no children. He lived with his mother at that time. He also has a sister. , it is estimated that his sister and her family are still living in the house now.
I was not able to visit inside. We arrived at 4pm and sure enough this arrogant museum closed according to its stated closing time without delay. My friend and I stayed at the door for a while, during which several people came over, looked at the iron gate, looked at the closing time, and left angrily.
I actually don’t have any particular regrets. If you spend $12.50 to buy a ticket to go in, you can only wander around on the first floor and the garden. I have no interest in those luxurious furnishings. The key point is that I finally came to this place, the place where this legendary, weird, quite shocking and quite interesting story happened.
There is a small souvenir shop in the backyard of Moser House, selling various peripheral products about Moser House. There was nothing I wanted to buy, so I continued to walk around Mercer House. I looked up and saw that behind the vines, the blinds on the second floor were tightly closed. What kind of people live there? They are the heirs to Williams’ fortune and scandal, and they are part of this legendary story.
Motley Square is indeed charming, and we spent all our afternoon here. On the ground floor of a house diagonally across from the main entrance of Mercer House is an antique shop. I bought two small things in it: a small ring and a hanging chain. The shop owner and his wife were very cooperative with my request for taking pictures and smiled at the camera. They looked so much like what I imagined Savannahites to be: white, European, polite, but critical and cold at heart. Judging from the fact that they are around fifty years old, they should know the story of Mercer House, not to mention they are neighbors. I was curious, but finally resisted asking questions.
I brought a book to take photos in Savannah. It wasn’t “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”. When I passed it in front of the bookshelf before leaving, I hesitated for a moment, then gave up and took down another book. I like “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, but not the kind that pays tribute to it. It makes me happy and obsessed with the kind of eloquent, flirty and beautiful man I meet in a bar late at night. , but at the same time, I also know that there is no respect in this happiness and infatuation.
What I brought was Flannery O’Connor’s novel “Wise Blood”.
There are a bunch of writers in the United States who are included in the “Southern Gothic novels” school. They are regarded as representatives of depth in the history of American literature. They are also the most powerful and profound representatives of American literature in the value sequence of world literary history. This list starts with Edgar Allan Poe, Hawthorne and others in the 19th century, and continues with Faulkner in the first half of the 20th century. Later, this team also includes Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Cormac McCarthy et al. There are also two very eye-catching female writers, one is Carson McCullers and the other is Flannery O’Connor.
McCullers and O’Connor have many similarities in their life trajectories. They are contemporaries and both were born in the eerie atmosphere of the American South. McCullers, who was born in 1917, was eight years older than O’Connor. They both died at about the same time. O’Connor died in 1964 at the age of thirty-nine; McCullers died in 1967 at the age of fifty. What they also had in common was that they both suffered from life-long, incurable immune system diseases, rheumatoid in McCullers and lupus in O’Connor, from which both died young.
Some comments say that the “evil” O’Connor “has a weird and unique style, has an amazing insight into the darkness of human nature, and has a strong sense of religious salvation. The story is weird and gloomy to the point of outrageous, and the language is precise and powerful, often appearing to Reaching the depth of the unexpected in lighthearted humor.” This is so well said. The essence of O’Connor’s works is this “unexpected depth” that makes people deeply troubled and frightened.
The tragedy described by O’Connor is calm, there is no wail, only calm despair. In O’Connor’s writings, the deep well of human nature makes people really speechless and even horrifying. However, in O’Connor himself, it does not seem to cause much discomfort, but has a natural and calm attitude. I think this may be due to physiological reasons. When living in the cold, some people seem to have a much better ability to withstand low temperatures than others, just like some people have a much better ability to withstand pain than others. In their eyes, the world is inherently so dark and unbearable that they must be criticized. No matter how painful it is to be in it, it is difficult for others to do it.
O’Connor was born in Savannah, a small southern city filled with plants, monuments, alcoholism, parties, pride, curiosity and beauty. There is a townhouse on Charlton Street near Lafayette Square in Savannah where O’Connor lived as a child. We didn’t have much time in Savannah, so we didn’t go looking for O’Connor’s former home. I was tinkering with the iron fence at the entrance of Mercer House, clipping “Wise Blood” on it and taking various photos. I guess that this Mercer House, this Jim Williams and the Savannah upper class he lives in, as well as John Berlant, the author of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, may all be disliked by O’Connor, even To sneer.
In this huge gap in imagination, I gained a mischievous pleasure.