"Uncle Bill" is another one of the biographies of ERB and again it appears that he uses himself as the narrator. ERB also appears as another character in the story.
The narrator, ERB, is born as female in April of 1919. This most likely refers to the purchase of Otisís ranch and his new life that comes about because of the full birth of greatest creation, Tarzan. Although Tarzan had been created some seven years earlier in text form, the true Tarzan, the one that generated ERBís wealth, is born with the release of the movie Tarzan of the Apes in January of 1918. Brother Bob is that Tarzan.
ERB probably struggled with a name for the narratorís name. He chooses Mary, the name of his nephew Studleyís wife, who died in childbirth in April of 1919, which resulted in Studley moving in with ERB in his new life at Tarzana, barely a month old itself.
So Mary is ERBís new life. Bob is Tarzan of the movies. All is good. But who is widowed Aunt Phoebe?
Aunt Phoebe is Emma Burroughs, who lost her husband, Uncle Bill, the true ERB, upon the creation of John Carter, the great Civil War adventurer who travels to Barsoom. So Uncle Bill is John Carter, the long dead and hidden Civil War character. Uncle Bill is another incarnation of ERB himself, as was John Carter.
The death of Uncle Bill was hidden by Aunt Phoebe for years, during which time she was vivacious, out-going and positive. She lived a life without Uncle Bill. She had loved him for a mere three years, before he disappeared.
ERB and Emma had been married for three wonderful romantic years until ERBís gambling costs them everything in 1903, the same year ERB begins his writing career with Minidoka, an utter flop. The troubles continue through a succession of jobs, which he is never able to hold for any length of time. The streak is finally broken with the creation of John Carter. This erases the bad years, which are forgotten by Emma. These seven years are compressed in the story to non-existence, or maybe ERB believed that John Carter was born in his mind in 1903 and represents his life as print author.
In 1934, Bob, who is really Tarzan of the Movies breaks into the attic and exposes the death of Uncle Bill. Aunt Phoebe commits suicide, but no resolution to the death of Uncle Bill is given.
1934 is the year that ERB meets and falls in love with the enchanting Florence Dearholt, wife of ERBís new partner, Ashton Dearholt. It all comes about as Movie Tarzan invades ERBís life in life-altering ways.
First, the radio serial, "Tarzan and the Diamond of Asher" invades ERBís life as he develops the basic script from "The Return of Tarzan," but abandons Jane. Marriage is broken. Movie Tarzan dominates ERBís life, and finances as the Guatemalan adventure goes deeper into the swamps of the real world.
All of these things are just too much for Emma, Aunt Phoebe. She quietly walks out of ERBís life, and self-destructs.
There is no resolution for the death of Uncle Bill, because in real life, there is no resolution. ERBís marriage to his trophy wife dissolved in 1941, some three years prior to the writing of Uncle Bill. ERB fell apart upon this event. When he pushed aside his previous wife he had this trophy awaiting him, but this time he is alone. His health deteriorates, his drinking is on and off, his finances are depleted, he struggles with the meaning of his life. He tries to ďLaugh It OffĒ but not very successfully. Finally, Emma dies in November of 1944. ERB, who was in fairly constant contact with son Hulbert, must have been aware of Emmaís deteriorating condition, as he was writing Uncle Bill.
2. UNCLE WILLIAM
(ERB and Faulkner)
By John "Bridge" Martin
It took but a few paragraphs of "Uncle Bill" by Edgar Rice Burroughs to be reminded of another story, one which is among those considered classics: "A Rose For Emily" by William Faulkner.
I first encountered Faulkner's short story from a literature book in high school. The story is a memorable one and the type of story that a high school-age boy would like, especially when getting to the grisly ending.
There are enough parallels between the plot of "Uncle Bill" and "A Rose for Emily" to make one wonder if great minds think alike, and thus to wonder if ERB had thought up his story on his own, or if he had been influenced by the writing of Faulkner, whose "Emily" was first published in the April 30, 1930, number of The Forum. In either case, ERB's lack of success in selling "Uncle Bill" could easily have been because magazine editors recognized it as being too reminiscent of Faulkner's earlier work.
Both stories are about women who had the men in their life disappear and, in the end, it was discovered that the slain bodies of said men had been locked away in the house all of the time.
In the case of "Emily," the skeleton of Homer Barron was found in bed, alongside an indented pillow with a gray hair, presumably belonging to Emily and implying that she had slept next to the corpse for years after poisoning him. ERB's Aunt Phoebe was a bit tidier, making a clean head shot with a gun and then packing Uncle Bill away in a trunk.
Faulkner's story, as mentioned, is regarded as a literary classic while ERB's is a curiosity, something to be printed with other unsaleable stories in a collection appropriately titled "Forgotten Tales of Love and Murder." (And, yes, the story was published in that book in 2001.
ERB's story is shorter than Faulkner's, who adds a lot of detail that gives one a better idea of the character of Miss Emily; the reader has more insight into her eccentric lifestyle as a loner. To use more modern parlance, she's kind of a weirdo who's probably a little bit crazy as well.
Aunt Phoebe is more social and outgoing and has family around her, including those two inquisitive little ones who take advantage of her absence to pick a lock to the attic and go upstairs to find the trunk.
In the end, Emily's secret is discovered only after she dies. Aunt Phoebe's is discovered prior to her death, which she herself tends to shortly thereafter with half a bottle of sleeping pills.
In his presentation of "Uncle Bill" in the March 1 Erbzine, Bill Hillman includes a summary at the end from the pen of Irwin Porges, writing in "Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan."
Porges is unfair in part of his critique when he says, "Despite some successful touches of realism, the story becomes merely a horror incident, the ending anticipated as soon as Bob and Mary discuss the attic." Well, Faulkner's story does the same darned thing -- more often and earlier -- with his references to Miss Emily's "deserted lover," the purchase of the most effective poison possible, and the smell that neighbors noticed around her house for awhile.
However, Porges is on more solid ground with this statement; "The viewpoint adopted by Burroughs, with Mary, the narrator, merely summarizing events, destroys the necessary suspense and of course weakens the characterization. Aunt Phoebe does not receive the individual development needed to explain her actions, and since the relationship between her and Uncle Bill is never established, the reader can conceive of no reason for the murder."
Well, there's at least one possible reason: Aunt Phoebe is likely just as much of a weirdo as Miss Emily.
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