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[Manuscript Poem] “You Are Very Brown”

  1. 00018550_0001
  2. 00018550_0002

Mary Webb. “You are very brown.” Manuscript poem, “11:30 p.m June 17th 1922” at top right (but crossed out), one leaf, 7⅞″ x 7¼″, on off-white laid ruled paper, twenty-one lines, black ink. Mary and her husband Henry were both well educated but chose during the early years of their marriage to live an outdoor country life, pursuing their writing, and growing their own vegetables, flowers and fruits. There are several possible (but uncertain) interpretations of this poem. It may reflect Webb’s awareness of the unconventional choice of lifestyle and her acknowledgement that it was frowned upon by others. Both Henry and Mary had been brought up in the middle-class comfort of educated households and—because of their insistence on living a simple, subsistence lifestyle—were socially isolated. Local villagers considered their lifestyle eccentric, and the Webbs’ social equals shunned them. Webb might be comparing her own coarse and unrefined appearance with the many simple beauties found in nature. With a touch of humor, she implies that brownness is a small penance to pay for living in the delights of nature.