Rosa Coldfield

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Rosa Coldfield
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Coldfield, Rosa
Middle Class
Date of Birth: 
Wednesday, January 1, 1845 to Wednesday, December 31, 1845
Cause of Death: 
Old Age

Of all the storytellers in Absalom!, Rosa Coldfield is the one with the most firsthand knowledge of the Sutpen family. She is Ellen's sister, Judith and Henry's aunt, and was even, for a few weeks right after the Civil War, Thomas' fiancee - until he spoke the words that caused her to begin wearing the "eternal black which she had worn for forty-three years" when the novel opens (3). And it is her version of the story, of Sutpen in particular, that is expressed first. Unlike the other storytellers, she has a vivid physical presence: Quentin pictures her as a "little girl, in the prim skirts and pantalettes, the smooth prim decorous braids, of the dead time" before the War (14-15), and in 1909 she remains "small" and "slight," an old woman with "lace at wrists and throat" (4) "whose feet, even when she would be grown, would never quite reach the floor even from her own chairs" (51), living as a penniless spinster in the house she grew up in, never leaving home after sundown "save on Sundays and Wednesdays for prayer meeting" (70). As the "county's poetess laureate" she wrote "a thousand and more" "odes to Southern soldiers" (65) even as her father starved himself to death in protest against the war. No examples of her poetry are given, but her prose narrative of Sutpen, Bon and the others is couched in the melodramatic terms of fairy tales or morality plays, with Sutpen cast as the "demon" outsider (4) who destroys an Old South she imagines as edenic, or at least locates in a "garden" (115). When Mr. Compson takes up the narrative next, one of his first acts is to impeach her version of the story, and when the narrative is re-started in a Harvard dorm room, Shreve mocks her and her preconceptions by referring frequently to "Aunt Rosa" and "the demon" (143, 145). As the third-person narrator notes still later, however, the "best of ratiocination" is "after all a good deal like . . . Miss Coldfield's demonising" (225). As with the other storytellers, it is important for readers to decide for themselves how much her version reveals about the story, and how much it says about herself.

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Date of Death: 
Saturday, January 8, 1910