Find of the Week: The Pages of Edwina Williams’ Diary

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA-- Every Friday we team up with the Historic New Orleans Collection to bring you something unique out of our city's past.  Today we invite you to both the theater and the home of Thomas Williams, known as Tennessee Williams.  This week we tell you about pages of a diary left by Edwina Williams, Tennessee Williams' mother.

 

Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie is heralded as Williams' most autobiographical play. The character Amanda Wingfield was modeled after William's own mother, Edwina Dakan Williams.  However, Tennessee was not the only wordsmith in the family.  Edwina was the author of a diary and possessed a great deal of talent.

Although Edwina had once said the diary was destroyed, The Historic New Orleans Collection houses 30 pages from her diary, written between 1931 and 1934.

Edwina's words often detail a troubled marriage in the passages-- "After telling me he intended to divorce me, on what grounds, "C" put on his hat and left the house. I told him to do what he pleases. Of course, he has no grounds as he well knows."   "C," is the nickname of Cornelius, Edwina's husband.

Margit Longbrake is the senior editor for The Historic New Orleans Collection and also the Managing Editor for the Tennessee Williams Annual Review.  Margit says, that both Tennessee Williams and his brother had confirmed a bitter relationship of their parents.

The accounts in Edwina's diary are insight to the house Tennessee Williams grew up in.  Edwina writes, "New Year's day 1933, will be long remembered by the children and me. Cornelius stayed out all night and came home and seven while I was preparing breakfast. He flew into a rage and threatened me. I locked my door and tried to reason with him through the closed door. Open that door or i'll bust it in. The lock broke and the door flew open, striking me in the nose and knocking me to the floor where I lay dazed."

"Here's another place she has crossed out words, very much in the same way Tennessee Williams would have in his own notebooks," says Margit as she examines the pages.

It is unclear if Edwina meant for her diary's words to be read by others but it is very apparent that Tennessee Williams, the celebrated playwright, was influenced by the words of his mother.

"She's got a very dramatic style and she has definitely a narrative flair as well. Tennessee is taking a lot of the locutions and a lot of dramatic narrative style straight from his own mother," says Margit.

The Glass Menagerie opened on broadway at the playhouse theatre, march 31st 1945.  It was a groundbreaking performance that set the stage for the future success of Tennessee Williams.  The plays success also altered the marriage of Edwina and Cornelius.

"Tennessee signs over half of the profits of the play to Edwina.  As soon as Edwina has her own financial independence, she takes that opportunity to kick Cornelius out of the house."

Be sure to tune in every Friday to see what we find out of The Historic New Orleans Collection.

 

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