Serena and the Horace Kephart Legacy

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

And so I finished reading Brideshead Revisited, and I stand, with so many of you, in awe of it: the miracle of its structure, its graceful folding in and out of time and perspective, its flawless sentences and interesting words. A masterpiece, as countless many before me have said.

I turned, then, to Serena, the new Ron Rash novel that is getting such play on best of the year lists, and what do I find but a fictional recreation of my great-grandfather, Horace Kephart, of whom I have written in this blog before. A troubled soul, a brilliant librarian, who left his wife and children following a calamitous breakdown and who never truly returned to them. Went off, instead, to the Great Smoky Mountains, where he studied the people and wrote books about them, where he refined his campcraft and wrote books on that, too, where he became a mayor, where he loved nature with supreme erudition. Toward the end of his life, my great-grandfather fought with others to create the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and whatever else you might wish to say or think about him, he helped save part of the world for the rest of us.

In any case, Kephart is here in Rash's book, and from what I can tell, Rash has not made a pretty figure of him—attributed thoughts and deeds to him that might be hard for a Kephart such as myself to swallow. An interesting choice, I think, to use Kephart's name and work while fictionalizing his character.

But I'll read on and report more fully when I'm done.


Vivian said...

What an impression and legacy your great-grandfather left, to have someone write a fictionalized account of him. I'm impressed with your calm on this, and wish you a steady head and a peaceful heart as you finish this book.

Beth Kephart said...

Oh, Vivian. You are such a sweetheart. I'm not sure I'm feeling all that calm. The more I read, the harder my heart pounds. But I need to finish the book before I form a whole opinion.

poetjanes said...


This is really fascinating. I teach a course in Biography and Autobiography so I will have to check this out and hear more about your family's perceptions of the fictionalized account! And I agree with Vivian that your serenity shines through your prose....

Beth Kephart said...

I learn my serenity from you (and now from Vivian and so many other members of this wonderful blog community).

I will surely be posting more about this. I was just speaking with my dad, another Horace Kephart, about the book. Interesting, all of it.

Anna Lefler said...

I am always fascinated when you talk about your grandfather. I can't imagine the sensation of seeing him in (someone else's) print, especially in an unflattering and perhaps misleading (?) light.

And, as you know, I have a soft spot for the Smokeys.

I'll be interested to hear your thoughts when you have finished the book. I hope it all feels comfortable to you in the end.



Beth Kephart said...

Hey there, Anna. Thanks for being here again tonight. Once, a long time ago, while reviewing books for the Baltimore Sun, I was speaking with Michael Pakenham who said, Never judge a book until you've read its last line. I'm going to hold to that and see. This is a book that doesn't put many people in a pretty light. In the end, a story must be taken as its whole.

Carolyn said...

I found your blog as I was googling "Kephart Our Southern Highlanders." My book club will be discussing Ron Rash's book next weekend, and I remembered your great-grandfather's book--my father had a copy when I was a child, and I remembered the Kephart name as I was reading Rash's book.

I haven't finished the novel, but I'm not sure of what Rash is up to either. I do notice that the character Rachel seems a more carefully draw character than Serena or Pemberton (or your great-grandfather). I'm wondering if Rash, an Appalachian writer, has delegated his non-natives to remain outsiders, without the feelings or humanity of the Appalachian people.

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