Return of the Native and Travels with my Aunt

Re: books to read on an airplane…

Thomas Hardy can lay down a description of his heroine when he wants to:

Eustacia Vye was the raw material of a divinity. On Olympus she would have done well with a little preparation. She had the passions and instincts which make a model goddess, that is, those which make not quite a model woman. Had it been possible for the earth and mankind to be entirely in her grasp for a while, she had handled the distaff, the spindle, and the shears at her own free will, few in the world would have noticed the change of government. There would have been the same inequality of lot, the same heaping up of favours here, of contumely there…

…To see her hair was to fancy that a whole winter did not contain darkness enough to form its shadow—it closed over her forehead like nightfall extinguishing the western glow…

She had pagan eyes, full of nocturnal mysteries… Assuming that the souls of men and women were visible essences, you could fancy the colour of Eustacia’s soul to be flamelike. The sparks from it that rose into her dark pupils gave the same impression…

Her presence brought memories of such things as Bourbon roses, rubies, and tropical midnight; her moods recalled lotus-eaters and the march in Athalie; her motions, the ebb and flow of the sea; her voice, the viola. In a dim light, and with a slight rearrangement of her hair, her general figure might have stood for that of either of the higher female deities. The new moon behind her head, an old helmet upon it, a diadem of accidental dewdrops round her brow, would have been adjuncts sufficient to strike the note of Artemis, Athena, or Hera respectively, with as close an approximation to the antique as that which passes muster on many respected canvases.

…the shady splendour of her beauty was the real surface of the sad and stifled warmth within her. A true Tartarean dignity sat upon her brow, and not factitiously or with marks of constraint, for it had grown in her with years.

But The Return of the Native does not deliver on the the promise of these paragraphs. A grim business all around, this novel.  Don’t bother.

Instead take a romp with Graham Greene. (Who knew he could make you laugh out loud?)

Before she was Violet, Maggie Smith played Aunt Augusta in the movie version of Travels with My Aunt.

Maggie Smith Travels with My Aunt

People in the airport looked at me funny as I read this passage of Travels with My Aunt:

My aunt took another sausage and ordered another Guinness. ‘They all wanted to know about the church in Potters Bar.  “And to think,” one said, “we have to leave our doggies at home when we go to St Ethelburga’s. My dog is as good a Christian as the vicar is with his raffles and his tea-fights.”‘

…My aunt put down her glass and asked the woman behind the bar, ‘Did you ever hear of the doggies’ church?’

…‘Didn’t the police interfere or something?’

‘They tried to make out that he had no right to the title of Rev. But we pointed out that it stood for Revered and not Reverend in our church, and we didn’t belong to the established. They couldn’t touch us, we were breakaways like Wesley, and we had all the dog-owners of Brighton and Hove behind us–they even came over from as far as Hastings. The police tried to get us once under the Blasphemy Act, but nobody could find any blasphemy in our services. They were very, very solemn. Curran wanted to start the churching of bitches after the puppies came, but I said that was going too far–even the Church of England had abandoned churching. Then there was the question of marrying divorced couples–I thought it would treble our income, but there it was Curran who stood firm. “We don’t recognize divorce,” he said, and he was quite right–it would have sullied the sentiment.’


John 8:1-11 in Five Acts

In The End of the Affair, Graham Greene makes St. Mary Magdalen live in World-War-II London.

She commits adultery with the novel’s narrator. She spurns him after God answers her prayer for his life–during an air raid. She had vowed to give up the only man she ever really loved, if only God would let him live.

Graham Greene
Shakespeare’s plays are all in five acts, because the primal structure of true drama unfolds in five movements. The narration of The End of the Affair proceeds in five parts.

Book One outlines the current circumstances–the dead of winter, 1946, nineteen months after the air raid that left Bendrix (the narrator) alive, and his love affair over. He sets about learning why it ended.

Book Two paints the picture of the love affair, 1941-44.

Book Three, like all of Shakespeare’s third acts, reveals the mystery; that is, why Mary Magdalen–Sarah–stopped speaking to Bendrix.

But–again like Shakespeare’s plays–the revealed mystery impels action that seeks final resolution. In Book Four, Sarah submits to interior crucifixion by complete abandonment to God. The only thing more loving than going back to Bendrix is NOT going back to him. Then she dies.

In Book Five, all of Sarah’s votaries receive favors from heaven, including Bendrix, who comes to believe in God enough to hate Him.

Reading this masterpiece got me thinking…

1. Reading or listening to a story allows for far deeper penetration into it than watching a story does.

The 1954 movie version of The End of the Affair (I have not seen the 1999 version) simplifies the narration. The movies moves you, sure enough–but, of course, not like the book.

Why? Because a movie simply cannot communicate narrative subtleties like a book can. The original, and far more interesting, story concerns a man who looks back on happy days while he tries to make sense of why they ended. The movie version sees a man through his happy days, and then they end.

2. The skillful narration of a plotline or drama evokes the divine Mind.

To tell a story successfully, the narrator perceives the entire sweep of action in a glance, and then unfolds it in all its precise details. If the narrator has not perceived the whole from the beginning, then the unfolding story feels like a runaway train, and it crashes in a disaster of meaninglessness.

On the other hand, if the details are not outlined meticulously, then the whole business comes off as abstract and boring.

God sees everything in precisely this way. He perceives history in its entirety in a single glance. And yet at every instant, at every nanosecond of a nanosecond, He delineates the entire cosmos in every feature.

Praise Him.

All Experience is an Arch

Peine forte et dure makes the guilty confess (the innocent just die)

If any doubt remained that Graham Greene excels all (from the beginning of Book 1, chapter iii of The End of the Affair):

A detective must find it as important as a novelist to amass his trivial materials before picking out the right clue. But how difficult that picking out is–the release of the real subject. The enormous pressure of the real world weighs down on us like a peine forte et dure… How can I disinter the human character from the heavy scene—the daily newspaper, the daily meal, the traffic grinding toward Battersea, the gulls coming up from the Thames looking for bread, and the early summer of 1939 glinting on the park where the children sailed their boats—one of those bright condemned pre-war summers?

…Homer did not complete the tale of Odysseus. The vagabond reclaimed his hearth, but then…Tennyson had to complete the story:


It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

Continue reading “All Experience is an Arch”

Makes “O Brother,

Where Art Thou” look pedestrian by comparison; genuinely Homeric; funny in every paragraph: The Great Typo Hunt.

I could not put it down. I am in love with Jeff Deck.

The only problem: Split infinitives on practically every page! Really?

The Queen’s English, paragraph 238, FOREVER!!

May we learn wisely to use the language. Latin helped her speakers to articulate themselves artfully. We Anglophones prudently choose to guard slavishly Latin’s precision.

Priests are being murdered in Mexico again, like they were during the Terrible Triangle persecution.

May all the dead rest in peace. The times recall the novel which moved Pope Paul VI to say to its author: “Mr. Greene, some parts of your book are certain to offend some Catholics, but you should pay no attention to that.”

Here are my favorite passages from The Power and the Glory.

He was a man who was supposed to save souls. It had seemed quite simple, once, preaching at Benediction, organizing the guilds, having coffee with the elderly ladies behind barred windows, blessing new houses with a little incense, wearing black gloves…It was as easy as saving money: now it was a mystery. He was aware of his own desperate inadequacy.

Laurence Olivier as the Whisky Priest

He said after a moment’s hesitation, very distinctly: “I am a priest.”

It was like the end: there was no need to hope any longer. The ten years’ hunt was over at last. There was silence all round him. This place was very like the world: overcrowded with lust and crime and unhappy love: it stank to heaven; but he realized that after all it was possible to find peace there, when you knew for certain that the time was short.

Henry Fonda as the Whisky Priest

When he woke up it was dawn. He woke with a huge feeling of hope which suddenly and completely left him at the first sight of the prison yard. It was the morning of his death. He crouched on the floor with the empty brandy-flask in his hand trying to remember an Act of Contrition. “O God, I am sorry and beg pardon for all my sins…crucified…worthy of Thy dreadful punishments.” He was confused, his mind was on other things: it was not the good death for which one always prayed. He caught sight of his own shadow on the cell wall; it had a look of surprise and grotesque unimportance. What a fool he had been to think that he was strong enough to stay when others fled. What an impossible fellow I am, he thought, and how useless. I have done nothing for anybody. I might just as well have never lived. His parents were dead–soon he wouldn’t even be a memory-–perhaps after all he wasn’t really Hell-worthy. Tears poured down his face; he was not at the moment afraid of damnation–even the fear of pain was in the back­ground. He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all. It seemed to him, at that moment, that it would have been quite easy to have been a saint. It would only have needed a little self-restraint and a little courage. He felt like someone who has missed happiness by seconds at an appointed place. He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted–to be a saint.