I hadn’t read A Thousand Acres in twenty years at least. It was terrific to read it again and write down my stray thoughts. Sort of like welcoming home the lost child, and seeing where you went wrong and where you went right.
First edition, signed on title-page. Smiley has also included a note on the title-page explaining the moment of inspiration for this novel: “We were driving from Minneapolis to Ames, south on 35, Late winter. The landscape was gloomy & wet—low clouds, no snow, flat flat flat. I said to Steve, ‘This is where I should set that Lear book.’ And I saw the whole thing come together.” Smiley tells us in a further note on the fly-leaf, “I read King Lear as a senior in high school, a freshman in college, and several times in graduate school. I never liked it. But I especially did not like the fact that all my teachers dismissed Goneril and Regan’s points of view as if they would be defiled by even discussing them.” Smiley decided she “was going to adhere as closely as possible to my model. So there had to be two brothers.” And just as with the daughter-father relationships, she gave a new twist to the Edmund and Edgar characters. “I had always been intrigued,” she writes, “by the fact that Edmund is the smarter, more charming brother.” Her brilliant recasting of the tragedy into a modern Midwestern American setting, and told from a feminist rather than a patriarchal perspective, proved a great success. Smiley has also tipped in a paper she presented at a Shakespeare conference, in which she uses her novel as a case study to explore “the nature of composition.” In it she confesses that “of all my books [A Thousand Acres] it was the most difficult, and for that I blame Mr. Shakespeare.”
SMILEY, Jane (b. 1949). A Thousand Acres. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991. 8°. Original cloth-backed boards; dust jacket. With tipped-in photocopy of Smiley’s essay, “Shakespeare in Iceland.”