Full Circlernby Loxley F. NicholsrnLandscapes of the Heart: A Memoirrnby Elizabeth SpencerrnNew York: Random House;rn346 pages, $24.00rnOne of two epigraphs with whichrnEHzabeth Spencer introduces herrnmemoir of growing up in northern Mississippirnis taken from the closing sentencernof her story, “A Southern Landscape.”rnThe narrator, looking back onrnher hometown from a far remove inrnplace and time, acknowledges her needrn”of a land, of a sure terrain, of a sort ofrnpermanent landscape of the heart,” thosern”things you can count on” like the “gildedrnhand on the Presbyterian Church inrnPort Claiborne . . . still pointing to heavenrnand not to outer space.” MissrnSpencer’s “terrain” is distinctly Southernrnin flavor. In speaking of what it means tornbe “Southern,” she reminds us that,rnwhile a matter of chance rather thanrnchoice, it is an identity that marks one forrnlife, no matter where one later resides. Inrnthe memoir as in the story, however,rn”sure terrain” is not only those landmarksrnor modes of behavior that remain as predictablernand unchanging as compassrnpoints on the globe; it is the art of writingrnitself As Spencer makes clear, writing isrnthe act of making connections betweenrnthe inner and outer worlds of experience,rnbetween the past and the present, betweenrnthe transitory and the permanent.rnWriting is the constant, the link, byrnwhich experience can be made whole.rnOf her own childhood discovery of thernwonder of writing, Spencer recalls, “Irnstumbled on an amazing truth, whichrncame as a total surprise. A word, one orrntwo or three or more, actually connectsrninner to outer. It joins what is seen tornwhat is there within that sees it. It fixesrnwhat is felt.”rnElizabeth Spencer’s life is her journeyrnfrom the sheltered world of Teoc, thernworking plantation of her mother’s family,rnand her home in the tiny hamlet ofrnCarrollton into ever-broadening pathsrnand branching by-ways. Her “circledrnworld” of family and community, whichrnin her early years offers stability and protection,rnbecomes in her adulthood a constrictingrnand entrapping one. Returningrnhome after a two-year sojourn in Italyrnwith the intention of settling in thernSouth for good, Spencer is greeted by thernstony silence of parents who can toleraternneither her career as a writer nor her lifernas a single and independent woman. Althoughrntensions are further heightenedrnby conflicting reactions to the murder ofrnEmmett Till, this family disagreementrnseems more excuse than reason forrnSpencer’s dictatorial father to sever hisrntie completely with the daughter he cannotrndominate. Devastated by rejectionrnand by the sudden death of her “favored”rnUncle Joe, owner of Teoc, Miss Spencer,rnthough gravely ill and at five-foot-eightrnweighing only 98 pounds, takes shiprnonce again for Rome, this time with nornthought of return.rnThe initial break, the first taste of exilernfrom the “circled world,” comes surprisinglyrnearly, with her entrance into firstrngrade:rnFrom then on, life changed in arncertain way I could not define, andrnat home in the afternoons and onrnweekends I did not feel the same. Irnmissed something but did notrnknow what it was. .. . You can gornsomewhere, anywhere you want—rnany day now you’ll be able to go tornthe moon—but you can’t everrnquite come back. Having gone uprna road and entered a building at anrnappointed hour, I could find nornway to come back out of it and feelrnthe same way about my grandfather,rnginger cakes, or a new bookrnsatchel.rnThough Miss Spencer offers a numberrnof such trenchant reflections, perhapsrneven more effective are her descriptionsrnof the individuals who populate thernvarious milieux she has inhabited.rnThese portraits are often no more thanrnbrief tableaux, but Miss Spencer’s selectionrnof detail is so acute that the essence,rnif not the whole, is conveyed, as in thisrncameo from Spencer’s graduate schoolrndays at Vanderbilt:rnI came into [Donald Davidson’s]rnoffice one day, a shy, frail, darkhairedrnstudent, to ask timidly if Irncould request his direction for arnthesis on William Butier Yeats. Asrnwe were talking, a slim, sensitivelookingrnman entered from the hallwayrnthrough the open door of thernoffice. He was wearing a checkeredrnvest and a black velvet jacket.rnHe had an extiaordinary face, notrnat all handsome but arresting, hisrnbrow being so high that his featuresrnseemed rather minimal beneath it.rnMr. Davidson introduced us: “MissrnSpencer, this is Allen Tate.”rnThe rest of the encounter is equallyrndramatic in its rendering of Tate’s “sensual,rnsoftly slurred” voice and the subtierngive-and-take between Tate and Davidsonrnover Miss Spencer and her thesisrnproject. Elizabeth Spencer had beenrndrawn to Vanderbilt by her interest in thernFugitives and the Agrarians —DonaldrnDavidson, in particular. While her profoundrnadmiration for the scope of Davidson’srnintellect and the excellence of hisrninstruction never wavered, their disagreementrnon racial issues finally provedrntoo deep to be ignored. It was Davidsonrnwho set Spencer up with David Clay, therneditor responsible for the publication ofrnher first book. Yet, after the publicationrnof her third novel, based on a racial incidentrnfrom her childhood, Spencer neverrnheard from Davidson again.rnSpencer was befriended by, or at leastrnacquainted with, a host of other writersrnand intellectuals, including CarolinernGordon, John Crowe Ransom, RobertrnPenn Warren, Eleanor Clark, JohnrnCheever, Walker Percy, WilliamrnFaulkner, her cousin Stark Young, ElizabethrnBowen, Katherine Anne Porter,rnRalph Ellison, and Alberto Moravia.rnHer most important and enduringrnfriendship, however, continues to bernwith Eudora Welty, whom she met duringrnher college days at Belhaven Collegernin Jackson, Mississippi. Spencer’s commentsrnon such individuals, while deftrnLIBERAL ARTSrnIF ONLY IT HAD BEEN ArnROCK STAR…rn”Like many teen-agers, Chalk Wessellrnhad a hero, but in his case it wasn’t arnrock star or an actor. It was cult murdererrnCharles Manson.”rn—from the LouisvillernCourier-Journalrn(April 28, 1998)rnJULY 1998/35rnrnrn