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A lt e r nat i v e Pa r a dig m s of Li t e r a ry R e a l i sm
Previous Publication by Don Adams: James Merrill’s Poetic Quest (1997)
PRAISE FOR Alternative Paradigms of Literary Realism by Don Adams
“In his judicious study of five under-appreciated modern and contemporary American and British writers, Adams powerfully illuminates not only the individual writers he examines but also the nature of literary reality itself. Demonstrating how allegory, pastoral, and parable are used by modernist writers as an alternative to mimesis, Adams reveals as well the social and political contexts and consequences of such generic choices. Jane Bowles, James Purdy, Ronald Firbank, Henry Green, and Penelope Fitzgerald emerge from this refreshing and probing study as innovative, even revolutionary, writers.” —Claude J. Summers, William E. Stirton Professor Emeritus in the Humanities, University of Michigan-Dearborn and General Editor, glbtq.com “Adams shows how gender and genre are intertwined by establishing patterns of expectations for both human and literary behavior. In this exciting and persuasive study, he demonstrates how misunderstandings of genre-blind readers to the complexities and delights before them. His work will lead us to widen our reading and our tastes and to appreciate works for the richness of their queerness and the depth of their frivolity.” —David Bergman, author of The Violet Hour: The Violet Quill and the Making of Gay Culture “Arguing against the common confusion of realism with the mimetic, Adams offers an imaginative rethinking of subtly diverse genres within the mode of literary realism. His new readings provide fresh ways of thinking about the often misunderstood fiction of five under-appreciated twentieth-century writers. This thought-provoking, stimulating study is illuminated by literary and intellectual surprises, broadly informed by the author’s critical discussions of allegory, parable, and the pastoral as well as intellectual history.” —Andrew Vogel Ettin, Professor of English, Wake Forest University and author of Literature and the Pastoral “In this inviting, perceptive, stimulating, and highly readable book, Adams leads us to a new appreciation of under-read and under-valued authors: Jane Bowles, James Purdy, Ronald Firbank, Henry Green, and Penelope Fitzgerald. Unlike the great modernists Conrad, Eliot, and James, they refused to curtail and abort the old high forms of allegory, pastoral, and parable to signal the pathos of loss in our vision, thoroughly incommensurable with our mimetic realism. Instead, they created alternative, blended atmospheres that allowed full play to the idealizing forms made commensurable somehow, with the life we live, all at once, in the aesthetic, ethical, and spiritual spheres. While registering the characteristic malaise of their age, these writers, so sensitively analyzed by Adams, subtly save us from being stuck in the sad clichés of transcendental homelessness we have settled for.” —Naomi Lebowitz, Lewin Professor Emerita in the Humanities, Washington University in St. Louis “The chapter on Penelope Fitzgerald is seminal and timely; it alone makes this book important . . . The scholarly community will benefit from having a serious study of authors whose work has been deemed unfashionable or even incomprehensible by the literary establishment.” —Annette Gilson, Associate Professor of English, Oakland University
Alt e r nat i v e Pa r adigms of Li t e r a ry R e a lism
Don Ada ms
of Houndmills. 1905–1974—Criticism and interpretation. 3. 175 Fifth Avenue. 2009018038 A catalogue record of the book is available from the British Library. the United Kingdom.R37A33 2009 823Ј. Purdy. 2009. Title. Fitzgerald. Henry. Basingstoke. Green. Penelope—Criticism and interpretation. First edition: December 2009 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Printed in the United States of America. All rights reserved. 1964– Alternative paradigms of literary realism / Don Adams. Europe and other countries. India. 1917–1973—Criticism and interpretation. Palgrave Macmillan is the global academic imprint of the above companies and has companies and representatives throughout the world. ISBN 978–0–230–62186–2 (alk. this is by Palgrave Macmillan. Ronald.910912—dc22 Design by Newgen Imaging Systems (P) Ltd. Firbank. NY 10010. Palgrave® and Macmillan® are registered trademarks in the United States. Bowles.. 4. Don. 2. paper) 1. Chennai. Martin’s Press LLC. James—Criticism and interpretation. Hampshire RG21 6XS. 5. . Where this book is distributed in the UK. 1886–1926—Criticism and interpretation. a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. Jane Auer. p. cm. American fiction—20th century—History and criticism. Realism in literature. I. Europe and the rest of the world. First published in 2009 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN® in the United States—a division of St. PS374. ISBN: 978–0–230–62186–2 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Adams. company number 785998. registered in England. 7. New York. English fiction—20th century—History and criticism. 6. 8.ALTERNATIVE PARADIGMS OF LITERARY REALISM Copyright © Don Adams.
In Memory of My Mother .
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Con t e n t s Acknowledgments One Two Three Four Five Six Truth as a Matter of Style: Alternative Paradigms of Literary Realism One is Never Quite Totally in the World: Jane Bowles’ Allegorical Realism Whatever Is. Is Wrong: James Purdy’s Allegorical Realism Some Imaginary Vienna: Ronald Firbank’s Pastoral Realism To Create a Life Which Is Not: Henry Green’s Pastoral-Organic Realism There’s a Providence Not so Far Away from Us: Penelope Fitzgerald’s Parablistic Realism ix 1 11 45 75 95 123 187 191 197 Notes Works Cited Index .
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Annie Gilson.” from Texas Studies in Literature and Language Volume 50 Issue 1. reprinted by permission of the University of Oklahoma. Naomi Lebowitz. Walter Delaney. Chapter three was first published as the article: “James Purdy’s Allegories of Love. Amy Letter. Maria Jasin. John Leeds. Chapter four was first published as the article: “Ronald Firbank’s Radical Pastorals. David Hadas.Ac k now l ed gm e n t s I would like to thank the following for their attention. encouragement. Glenn Malone. and Emily Stockard. Rob Cross. Max Kirsch. Rose Shapiro. Number 1 (Spring 2002). Nancy Durbin. Rod Shene. Christy Auston. Thien Nguyen. Craig Goodman. Copyright © 2008 by the University of Texas Press. Mattias Eng. All rights reserved.” from Genre Volume XXXV. . Jo Beth Mertens. Rich Curtis. Ly Pham. 121–142. I also would like to thank my students in Florida and Vietnam. Heath Gatlin. Joanne Jasin. Vicky Stanbury. Paul Hart. Scarlett Rooney. 1–33. and advice: Greg Adams.
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Ch a p t e r O n e Tru t h a s a M at t e r of St y l e: Alt e r nat i v e Pa r adigms of Li t e r a ry R e a lism
This book began as an effort to understand why an author I especially like and admire, the early twentieth-century British novelist Ronald Firbank, has been underappreciated by literary criticism. I started my investigation with the assumption that explicit or implicit sexual prejudice might be to blame, as Firbank’s novels are openly gay. But the critical obtuseness I encountered indicated that there was a more fundamental prejudice at work in the misapprehension of Firbank’s fiction, as even recent critics approaching the author from an explicitly gay-critical viewpoint were prone to misreading and discounting his remarkably deft and subtly attitudinal novels. Then came a revelation. I was reading a recent translation of The Idylls of Theocritus, who is commonly pointed to as the first pastoral poet, while simultaneously preparing to teach one of Firbank’s novels, and I was struck by the remarkable affinity between the two texts. I began to consider in what manner our understanding of Firbank would be altered if we were to think of him as a pastoral writer like Theocritus, rather than as a conventional novelist who is too realistic to be a fantasy writer and too fantastic to be a realist. The results of my investigation into the theory, history, and workings of the pastoral led me to conclude that Firbank had been underappreciated, at least in part, because he has been miscategorized and so misread. To understand what his novels are doing, rather than to criticize them for what they are not, we would need to recover the assumptions, characteristics, and expectations of a neglected literary genre; and to understand why the novels had been so persistently misread as failures of literary realism, we would need to question the exclusion of traditional genres such as pastoral from our contemporary conceptions of realism, and reconsider the nature of the reality that realism purports to represent.
2 / alternative realisms
My illuminating experience reading Firbank as a pastoralist led me to consider whether other writers I liked and admired who had been criticized for being insufficiently or idiosyncratically realistic might be read profitably from the perspective of a traditional genre not normally considered compatible with realism. Subsequent research led to the writing of the four other body chapters in this book, in which I read various underappreciated and/or misunderstood modern and contemporary British and American writers as allegorical realists, pastoral realists, and parable realists. In each case, the effort to understand the writer from the point of view of a traditional genre proved revelatory, leading to fresh critical insights and correcting critical misapprehensions and misinterpretations. The broader issue underlying these revisionary genre-based readings concerns the relationship of literary realism to reality, and our assumptions concerning the nature of reality. Taken as a whole, these essays offer an alternative to mimesis, the dominant theory of literary realism. Mimesis assumes the reality of only that which is materially actual, whereas the alternative realisms considered in this work assume the reality of both actual and virtual, or potential, modes of being. The genres of allegory, pastoral, and parable are particularly apt at embodying and expressing such a dual-natured reality, as they traditionally conceive of the real as being both actual and ideal. Working in and through these genres, the authors discussed in this book have created virtual-potential realities that relate to conventional actuality in existentially complex and ethically challenging ways. We may take Firbank as a case in point. His ingenious generic solution to his predicament as a gay individual and artist in an intensely homophobic early twentieth-century world was to create an idealized pastoral reality in which the intolerant judgments of the actual world have no place, and in which their very absence functions as an implicit criticism of, and complaint regarding, that world. Firbank’s idealized pastoral world without judgment is fully real as potential, but it is only partially actuated in history. For the reader, Firbank’s alternative reality makes an ethical appeal in the form of an existential choice, for we can choose if we want to strive to make his all-tolerant world our own. Each of the authors I consider in this book make some such ethical appeal to the reader in the form of an existential choice. Reality as it is embodied and expressed in their versions of realism is not a finished product, as it is conceived by mimesis, but is an evolving and purposeful creation, in which the reader crucially participates. The alternative realisms these writers practice recognize implicitly that we live simultaneously in two real worlds, the world as given and the world as desired—a condition to which the five authors considered in this study
truth as a matter of style / 3
reacted with different creative strategies. Jane Bowles and James Purdy utilized allegory to create realisms that emphasize the real difference between the world as given and the world as desired. Firbank and Henry Green used pastoral to create realisms in which the given and desired, nature and artifice, are conjoined in one real-ideal world. While Penelope Fitzgerald created parablistic realisms that reveal the world as given to be but the evolving appearance of the world as desired. By insisting upon the reality of both the given actual world and the desired potential world, these writers envisioned alternative worlds for the future, thus fulfilling their most vital existential task as creative artists; for “The future is what artists are,” as Oscar Wilde told us (1100). When, on the contrary, art takes as its avowed ideal and purpose the mere faithful imitation of the world as it is found in actuality, it sinks into “true decadence, and it is from this that we are now suffering” (Wilde 978), and from which we continue to suffer. It is a sad irony of literary history that courageous and prophetic writers like Wilde and Firbank should have come to be categorized as decadents, as more recent creative revolutionaries like Purdy and Bowles have been dismissed as mannered eccentrics. Societal prejudice undoubtedly has played a role in the marginalizing and discounting of such vital figures. Less obvious is the aesthetic and theoretical prejudice whereby the writers considered in this book continue to be judged according to the conventional standards and practice of mimetic realism, the assumptions of which their works innately question and oppose. These writers’ works require a new method of reading literary realism, one that is alert to the complex interactivity between actual and potential worlds they creatively envision and express. My task in this book has been to develop alternative genre-based paradigms of literary realism capable of recognizing, and flexible enough to analyze, the multidimensional and participatory realities of such creations. Alternative Realisms Different genres imply different worldviews—in effect, different realities — that are inherent in the genre itself. The mimetic realist genre implies and endorses a single-realm materialist worldview, which implicitly refutes the reality of the nonmaterial virtual-potential realm. The genres in which the authors in this study operate—allegory, pastoral, and parable—function, rather, as implicit critiques of the single-realm materialist paradigm, while endorsing a dual-realm actual-virtual worldview. The manner in which each of the genres expresses such a worldview is particular to its nature. Allegory emphasizes the overall dual-realm nature of reality by focusing on the divide between the actual and the virtual, becoming and being, the
Carroll’s Alice novels. as there are an infinity of viewpoints in the universe. In more modern. Dante’s Commedia is generally acknowledged as the supreme example in the Western tradition of such an expression. and that. and concludes with a writer of parables. as in Stevenson’s Dr. allegory is a natural. values. so there are an infinity of purposeful and meaningful real worlds. in which the reality of anything other than actual physical particulars has been denied.4 / alternative realisms necessary and the ideal. he forgets or ignores the fact that meaning is purposefully created relative to viewpoint. but its allegory is negatively affected by the materialist worldview that was already then becoming dominant. In accordance with such a progression. and even inevitable. Spenser’s later work The Fairy Queene is the prototypical English allegorical text. Pastoral envisions a potential world in which the realms on the two sides of the divide are fully connected and in which the human is wholly at home within a meaningful and value-laden natural and real world. is indicative of the significant distance in worldview between the two texts. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The leg of mutton arising from the serving dish to be introduced to Alice at the end of Through the Looking-Glass. and the vulgar body double that Dr. In a world in which virtues. Jekyll meets in the laboratory mirror each serve to remind the self-satisfied modern human actor of the neglected realities of alternative worldviews and of our own metaphysical complexity as body-soul beings. As mimetic materialism is a kind of forgetting of such metaphysical complexity. mode of creative expression and argumentation. and Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. The fact that Spenser adopted as his overarching emblem and ideal the actually existent and all-too-human Queen of England. so allegory is a . rather than allegorically transforming the incidental human figure into the eternal and transcendent queen of heaven. When the mimetic materialist assumes that meaning may be extracted from the self-evident world of physical particulars as juice is extracted from an orange. the cockroach that Gregor Samsa wakes up as in The Metamorphosis. proceeds to writers of pastoral. the most arresting allegories have been those in which virtual-potential meanings have taken bodily form as malicious matter and proceeded to terrorize the incredulous human actor. Allegorical Realism Allegory emphasizes and expresses what Plato famously referred to as the “real difference” between the necessary and the good (729). and ideals are assumed to be ultimately real. materialist-dominant times. this study begins by considering writers of allegory. And parable instructs the reader in the means and manner by which the connection between the realms is effected and a value-imbued world is created. as does Dante with Beatrice.
Because of a debilitating stroke before the age of forty. Modern allegory works to awaken in us an awareness that we are homesick for the reality of the virtual-potential ideal realm that we have forgotten and/or denied. and both understood their lives to be casualties in the service of their unorthodox visions. in which she sought to meld conventional literary realism with metaphysical allegory in an attempt to transform a backwardlooking mimetic-materialist convention into a prophetic allegorical-realist alternative. Existential homesickness and alienated sick-of-home-ness are the major themes of the allegorical-realist fiction of the mid-century American writer Jane Bowles. who is the subject of chapter three. and his body of work from more than a half century of remarkable productivity has the characteristics and lineaments of a major creative statement. those conventions have for the most part ill-served Purdy’s fundamentally allegorical work.truth as a matter of style / 5 mode and method for remembering. and particularly of her only completed novel Two Serious Ladies. her work as a whole is tragic and her fictive project incomplete. but that work has yet to be given the comprehensive genre-based reading that it calls out for. particularly in the mock-epic Two Serious Ladies. Both writers diagnosed the modern malaise afflicting our age of anxiety as a form of homesickness for a world made meaningful by the real presence of the transcendent. Purdy’s work has the potential to meaningfully alter our contemporary conventional habits of reading and interpretation. and to reveal to us that we are sick of our alienated pretend home in the self-evident materialist world that we have mistaken as ultimately and exclusively real. The power and persuasiveness of Bowles’ allegorical-realist envisionings of existential homesickness have long drawn a devoted group of readers and writers to her work. the allegorical nature and functioning of Bowles’ work. she never was able to finish her hugely ambitious novel Out in the World. is evident. although only Weil self-consciously insisted upon martyrdom in response. When one is alert to the possibility. As with the work of Bowles. who is the subject of chapter two. In my chapter on Bowles. As with the work of the other writers in this study. Although Bowles’ work has many comic elements and characteristics. was more fortunate than that of Bowles. Occasional critics and the author himself have rightly drawn attention to mythical elements in . Bowles’ fiction has been in general mishandled by reviewers and critics who have approached it as a conventional mimetic realist text and ignored or overlooked its alternative generic proclivities. The life and career of the contemporary American writer James Purdy. Rightly understood. I read her allegorical-realist fiction through the lens of Simone Weil’s metaphysical-realist philosophy. Bowles was deeply influenced by Weil’s thought and life and felt a spiritual and temperamental affinity with the slightly older philosopher.
In his prophetic-utopian essay “The Soul of Man Under Socialism. In my essay. It will not be at discord. flowerlike. Purdy used the figure of the terrorized and at times self-hating homosexual in our modern world as a focal point from which to critique that world. so rich will it be. Its value will not be measured by material things. In his later pastorals. His fiction. It will grow naturally and simply. It will love them because they will be different. It will not prove things. which has a profound power to disturb. and I contend that the general argument of his work moves from a satirical indictment of a self-satisfied and altogether hypocritical and misguided modernity. tragedy. and pastoral. Pastoral Realism The realm of the pastoral has a complex relation to the actual world. myth is inherently conservative and concentrative. has far more in common with the disquieting allegories of Melville than with the mythical lamentations of Faulkner. whereas Purdy’s work is innately radical and de-territorializing. to a sorrowful lament for the pathetic and tragic victims of such a world. while offering an explicit and idealized alternative in which the love-led individual self is allowed to thrive in accordance with its natural predilections and inclinations. to a pastoral envisioning of an alternative future characterized most forcefully and persuasively by an actuated ideal of brotherly love. It will know everything.6 / alternative realisms Purdy’s work. or as a tree grows. By insisting upon the conjunction of the spiritual and the material in this manner. that work condemns a world destructive of the enlivening and enabling spirit of the law in the service of the judgmental and fundamentalist letter of the law. I divide Purdy’s allegories into three subcategories of satire. Purdy’s later pastorals are both implicitly Christian-religious and explicitly homoerotic. And yet it will have everything. (1084) . as a beautiful thing helps us. It will have wisdom. he envisioned a potential world in which such hatred is transformed by the redeeming miracle of love. It serves as a safe-haven from. it will still have. the prejudices and oppressions of that world.” Wilde envisioned the future of man as a pastoral world-future in which human personality finally will emerge as its true self: It will be a marvelous thing—the true personality of man—when we see it. by being what it is. It will have nothing. Throughout his work. as an overall creative paradigm. The personality of man will be as wonderful as the personality of a child. and implicit critique of. And yet while it will not meddle with others. And yet it will not busy itself about knowledge. it will help all. to which it frequently has been compared. or asking them to be like itself. It will not be always meddling with others. but. and whatever one takes from it. It will never argue or dispute.
anger. while all desires arising from love are allowed and enabled to thrive. there is no longer a distinction between desire and need. As it equally endorses all love-born desires. But at the same time he made his work vulnerable to the approbation of reviewers and critics (continuing to this day) for whom the work fails the ultimate test of mimetic fiction—its world is not the world they know and recognize as their own. (Adventures 271) The pastoral realm is the imaginative location in which a nature that has been educated by art is envisioned. Thus. societal judgment is replaced by individual taste. unashamed homosexuality. The existential and artistic task of the pastoral writer is to remind us of the living reality of that desired potential. Firbank ensured that their desire would be given full play. are brought into harmony. remaining art. art is civilization. That such a realm is an ideal makes it no less real. But it is its perfection to return to nature. The pastoral ideal thus presents us with an existential and creative task that is embodied in the figure of Orpheus playing upon his shepherd’s pipes and bringing harmony into the relation between man and nature. The pioneering work of Firbank. but in true pastoral fashion he envisioned an improved Eden in which the human is made entirely at home with itself and its environment. Thus all desires that arise from hatred. are excluded from the pastoral realm. and vice versa. which is the defining pastoral preoccupation: It is the nature of art to be artificial. the pastoral has long served as an imaginative safe-haven for homosexual passion. although it resembles it closely . bitterness. art and nature. who is the subject of chapter four. art is the education of nature. Under the pastoral paradigm. impassioned pastoralism as because of its overt. in its broadest sense. rather it implies that the nature of its reality is as a desired potential that awaits actuation. By placing his desiring figures within the pastoral realm. and remorse. such as jealousy.truth as a matter of style / 7 Wilde prophesied a return to Eden. Such an idealized pastoral world is possible only when desire itself has been cleansed of contorting passions that arise from negative emotions. The modern metaphysical philosopher Alfred North Whitehead alluded to this mythic emblem in his compelling description of the relation between art and nature. and morality is made a by-product of desire. has been neglected at least as much because of its innate. In terms of morality. in this ultimately civilized realm. and in which mind and body. that which enables an individual’s instinctive desire is deemed good. The ultimate good in such a realm is the ultimately beautiful. whereas that which frustrates it is bad. For civilization is nothing other than the unremitting aim at the major perfections of harmony. In short.
Firbank might have responded to such misapprehending critics in the manner of Wilde. The human actor is not thereby rendered a passive or merely reactive victim oppressed by his un-chosen environment. both human and nonhuman. The pastoral effect of such a strategy is to highlight situational context and to de-emphasize individual human will. Caprice. provides the ultimate ideal of such a comprehensive reality that is able to encompass an infinity of individual real worlds without contortion or oppression. the environmental landscape is not merely a backdrop for the egocentric human actor. pastel-hued covers. or of God. while the villain is the individual most bent upon forcing the worlds of others into the contorting narrow confines of the villain’s own defensive and entirely self-interested worldview. as in the literature of the absurd. Concluding.8 / alternative realisms enough so as to make them wish to judge it by conventional mimetic fiction standards. figures reality as an ongoing creative process between humans as living organisms and their enabling and limiting environments. Green’s fictive argument is that the most comprehensive worldview ultimately will win out not because it is more individually powerful but because it is more . authordesigned and purchased. In several of his titles—Inclinations. and Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli —Firbank gave fair warning to the reader that his novels are prohibitive of the world’s delimiting judgments and that taste alone is allowed full sway within the pastoral boundaries of their exquisite. the human world is privileged in being self-consciously real. and with such privilege comes the responsibility of caring for the real worlds of less comprehensive organisms. which is the ultimate pastoral ideal. who is the subject of chapter five. this novel posits a new fictive paradigm for figuring the relation of the human to the other. which he decidedly was not. In this chapter. Within the bounds of our knowledge. and alter (1100). Had he been inclined to didactic argument outside of fiction. a paradigm that emphasizes the ecological nature of the pastoral. In offering a vision of the near future. In such a paradigm. Rather. overturn. I employ Whitehead’s revolutionary but neglected philosophy of organism in interpreting Green’s most ambitious and also most pastoral novel. mid-twentiethcentury British novelist Henry Green. his idolized precursor. the world that is most real is the world most able to integrate the real worlds of others within its own reality. Green presents an ethical-pastoral drama in which the hero is the individual most able to accept and care for the real worlds of others. who argued that it is precisely the world as we know it that the prophetic imaginative artist seeks to undermine. The world of Nature. In the pastoral realm. but is itself an actor in its own right within the ongoing existential drama of life. In his fiction. In Concluding. the human figure is integrated into a living environment in which every organism is striving to achieve its aesthetic aim of being successfully at home in its world.
The self-consciously providential parablist insists that the text of the world’s actuality be read anew and aright. in turn. have been treated by critics and reviewers for the most part as entertaining and diverting novels of manners.truth as a matter of style / 9 attractively and compellingly real—and therefore more like nature itself. Penelope Fitzgerald. whose prophetic task is to reveal to all and sundry the forgotten and/or denied reality of an eternal realm of values and ideals. he repeatedly instructs them. and as the pastoral envisions a potential world in which the two realms of the necessary and the good are made wholly connected. or the pastoralist. rather than as complexly coded moral lessons. The model is of Christ instructing the disciples to read the spirit of the law through the letter of the law: You have heard of the letter of the law. between which. whose appealing and beneficent envisioning encompasses all living things. the necessary. Fitzgerald’s remarkably subtle novels are revealed as demonstrations for reading experience aright. the natural pastoral ideal allows no distinction. translating the limited existential into the eternally real. the final arbiter of the beautiful. transforming what merely happens within the ongoing narrative of both text and world into what is providentially meant to be. and the subject of chapter six. Parablistic Realism As allegory emphasizes and expresses a dual-realm world emblematic of the real difference between the necessary and the good. while diverting the multitude with an entertaining story. instructs humankind in the way to become spiritually active by transforming oneself from a passive sufferer of meaning to a creative participant in a value-imbued world. so parable demonstrates the manner in which such connection is effected within our own lives and worlds. but I am telling you of the spirit of the law. In modern allegory. that the novels of the final author considered in this study. It is no surprise. then. the parablist’s mission is to provide instruction only to the select minority who are spiritually and imaginatively alert. When approached as moral and spiritual parables. Parable. as my essay interprets them. Unlike the allegorist. the virtual realm of meaning and value that has been denied reality by a materialist culture takes bodily form and menaces a spiritually passive and quiescent humankind. they were in effect . Truth as a Matter of Style When the authors considered in this study began to work in and through nonmimetic genres in creating their fictive realities. and the good. while simultaneously transfiguring an alienating material world into our natural and spiritual home.
Educated contemporary readers of literature typically are thoughtful and engaged when approaching texts that represent and express the multifarious sociopolitical actualities of our increasingly interrelated world. for genre. affirming Wilde’s pronouncement that “truth is entirely and absolutely a matter of style” (981). exposes the existential flaws in the mimetic paradigm of selfevident reality. denying both the viability and desirability of an ultimately disinterested objectivity. the idea of genre seemed to be artificial and unnecessary. . a reality that the authors considered in this study vigorously and vividly demonstrated in their alternative generic approaches. such an objectivity came to seem a desirable and reachable ideal. When. The reality of pluralism is the compelling metaphysical meaning of Wilde’s dictum that truth is entirely and absolutely a matter of style. Within such a world. Genre tells us that we cannot evade or escape the existential limitations. Universal materialists were right to suspect genre. and even a dangerous and willful distortion of things as they really are. intellectuals in the West began to think of the material realm of actual appearances as the whole of an ultimate and self-evident world. purposeful. under the influence of the scientific revolution and the Cartesian subjectobject paradigm. To consider truth a matter of style is to emphasize the limitations and potentialities inherent in any subjective viewpoint. in its insistence upon the contextual. ethical responsibilities.10 / alternative realisms acknowledging the inherent artifice of all knowing. The value and function of the alternative paradigms of literary realism these authors created have not been generally recognized by literary criticism. There is no more revolutionary aesthetic act. for an author who challenges an age’s prevailing generic paradigm is revealing and critiquing a world’s most basic assumptions regarding itself. The failure to understand and engage such texts has political implications. it also alerts us to the authentic existence of other such viewpoints in our pluralistic universe. But all too often these same readers display critical ignorance and imaginative impatience when faced with alternative-genre literary-realist texts that question the self-evident mimetic-materialist nature of reality itself. and creative possibilities inherent in our subjective viewpoints—but. and participatory nature of all knowing. through implication.
and a handful of stories.Ch a p t e r Two O n e i s Ne v e r Q u i t e To ta lly i n t h e Wor ld: Ja n e Bow l e s’ All e g or ic a l R e a l i sm The work of the mid-twentieth-century American writer Jane Bowles has always had a loyal and appreciative (even a cultish and adoring) readership among writers and artists. Subsequent commentary was similarly skewed. conventional critical interpretation and analysis. the writer and composer Paul Bowles. In quantity it seems a meager output—one novel. but the work’s overall allegorical nature has not been recognized. But in terms of quality and complexity. hysterical and discardable. as has been attested to by the devotion shown it by several generations of writers. a fact that may be attributed to our contemporary habits of reading. one is struck by the differing assumptions at work regarding the author’s intent and its results. feminist. The essentially allegorical nature of Bowles’ work is such that it is both particularly inviting of. the work is substantial. but until recently her work has suffered from critical incomprehension and neglect. edited in the 1960s. trends in gay and lesbian studies. one play. but “tended toward a more consistent affirmation of [Bowles’] literary achievement” (Skerl 13). and the other contending that it was writing of the first order and the rare product of genius (Skerl 6–12). Contemporary reviewers of the work as it was originally published in the 1940s. and postcolonial criticisms. as well as in poststructuralist. Reading that criticism. Allegorical elements of Bowles’ writing have been remarked upon by critics and reviewers. and more recently by the range of criticism that it has begun to attract. one side arguing that the work was nonsensical. and resistant to. and then embellished several years later with fragments from unfinished projects. More recently. tended to divide into highly partisan camps. have opened the way for a more sustained and probing thematic critical appreciation of Bowles’ work. and then collected and republished in the 1960s. That work has for many years been available in the single-volume collection that Bowles’ husband. together with various fragments. which are .
James Kraft focused on the striking manner of Bowles’ unusual style. all her symbols conceal and reveal one image— the movement of life. and finally for what it could become” (274). which he described as “prosaically flat and yet richly poetic.”) More recent criticism that is characteristically focused on psychological and sociopolitical contexts and meanings. first for what it is. they are alert to its allegorical allegiances. In his 1969 review of the Collected Works for Novel. characteristics. Her writing is unrelated to theirs. although Bowles had attracted a loyal following among established writers. nothing neatly finishes. then for what it is made into. and manner. But critics continue to be drawn—if unwillingly . though if one can imagine George Ade and Kafka collaborating on a modern version of Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” one will have a faint idea of the qualities of “Two Serious Ladies” [Bowles’ only completed novel]. Several perceptive reviews of the original Collected Works brought out in 1966 noted the allegorical nature of the writing. and which tends to be less interested in and also uncertain of genre designations and traditions. and in fact it stands alone in contemporary literature. such as Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. In his insightful review article for the New York Times.12 / alternative realisms characterized by the assumptions and limitations of mimetic realism. which is itself characterized by our collective assumptions regarding the materialistic nature of reality. Elsewhere he noted that all her terms hide one face. For this reason none of the endings in her works is satisfactory. Ashbery instinctively and rightly classed Bowles’ work with the covert and overt allegories of Franz Kafka and John Bunyan. as well as with the writing of the classic American humorist George Ade. has been consequently less perceptive in recognizing the allegorical nature and import of Bowles’ writing. such as the flat and insistently literalistic surface that points consistently elsewhere—to other meanings and conclusions. (It is worth remembering that the root word of allegory. Everything has its meaning. although without explicitly labeling it as such. In fact much goes on just as before. allos. John Ashbery remarked that. Bowles’ work innately and persistently questions these assumptions by both its argument and manner. or perhaps even worse. a near contemporary with whom Bowles felt a particular affinity. (276) Although neither reviewer labels the writing allegory outright. for Bowles is a remarkable mimic and is spot-on regarding social mannerisms and pretensions. means “other. as I will explain with reference to the work of the twentieth-century French philosopher Simone Weil.
that the “difficulties” in Bowles’ work “reside precisely in the unresolved tension between the necessity and yet the impossibility of leaving everyday life” (147). “Caricature . is focused upon the relationship between the world “above” and the world “here below. Such figures abound throughout Bowles’ writing. if not hysterical or clearly psychopathic. as I will explain). the eccentric divagations of quest figures embarked upon a pilgrimage that is in essence otherworldly is seemingly irrational (Bowles’ major works are centered upon such figures. and—from an allegorical or spiritual perspective—of life itself. is allegorical in essence. realistic details. genre designation: The main tension in [Bowles’] narration comes from the split between the “here and now” and the need to escape everyday life: that is. since it strives for the simplification of single predominant traits. Simone Weil. In her 1998 feminist reading of Bowles. who has been fittingly described as a mystical Christian Platonist.” Indeed. as the fictive nature of the work is nothing if not conspicuous and central to its operation. . . indeed. or even possible. as Angus Fletcher noted in his seminal study of the allegorical mode. Curti’s presumption regarding potential nonfiction designations for Bowles’ writing also is curiously off-base. as is the obsessive behavior of the “one-track mind” caricatured figures that surround and often accompany them. Much of the work of Bowles’ contemporary. providing much of its humor and instruction. (147) There is a misleading and.” who are surrounded by lesser figures that “are likewise rather odd or lead a somewhat marginal or purposeless life with what is generally known as ‘a one-track mind’ ” (188). The allegorical perspective is innate in the spiritual perspective considered from the point of view of “otherworldly” ideals and values. on the contrary. in the sudden alternating between abstract allegorical situations and minute. which is. successful allegory is innately opposed to disembodied abstraction. as when Edouard Roditi remarked that Bowles’ “major characters are women whose behavior is often odd. However. Curti concludes perceptively. whether it is autobiography or travel writing. Lidia Curti is conscious of an allegorical element in the work. perhaps. is the difficulty of allegory in general. From the viewpoint of conventional mimetic realism.one is never quite totally in the world / 13 or. all too typical assumption in this comment regarding the separable “abstract” fictionalizing of allegory. unfortunately. realistic details. characterized by “minute. but she does not consider it to be a fitting. . Such. That is one of the reasons why her works escape strict genre definitions. always ultra-materialistic on the literal-textual level. unwittingly—to the possibility of such a designation.” Weil. The traits thus isolated are the iconographic ‘meanings’ of each agent” (34). however.
such art requires the double vision of allegory and the devotion of the artist as spiritual seeker. for we are still confused in the same system of values. it reveals the reality of the universe (Waiting 107). It is also in relation to the good that we are chained down like captives. Weil contended. Katherine Brueck provides a useful gloss of Weil’s thinking concerning the revelatory potential of art.14 / alternative realisms contended that the modern world in general has made the tragic mistake of confusing that which is actual and apparent in the world here below with that which is ultimately real: “Appearance has the completeness of reality. (Gravity 51) Weil’s thinking concerning the existential function of art focused on the work of art’s ability to recognize that we are imprisoned in a system of false values and to reveal an alternative reality that exposes the limitations of our sense perceptions: It is with regard to the assessment of values that our sense-perceptions are unreal. (36–37) In terms of fiction. which is all too rarely realized: Art tends by nature to offer as ultimate what is only apparent reality. We only possess shadowy imitations of good. but only as appearance. “But unless it is expressed. explicitly warns us against the error of judging the things of this world on their own terms. Weil implicitly accounted for the necessity of allegory when she stated that the “reality outside the world” (Anthology 202) may only be indirectly expressed. . But to attribute a false value to an object also takes reality from the perception of the object. by connecting existence to ultimate values. As anything other than appearance it is error” (Gravity 51). . Only an artistic genius of the highest order can impart a vision of the really real . because it submerges it in imagination. The image of the cave refers to values. Weil contended. which is to mistake the necessary for the good: Illusions about the things of this world do not concern their existence but their value. is the product not of imagination but of revelation. In his insightful 1989 study of Weil’s philosophy. We accept false values which appear to us and when we think we are acting we are in reality motionless. Plato’s famous allegory of the cave. Peter Winch gave a perceptive analysis of Weil’s practical meaning when she spoke of the . (Gravity 52) The highest art. it has no existence” (Anthology 204). since things are unreal for us as values. Weil allows for a certain—rare—kind of art which is not detrimental to the auditor or reader in a spiritual sense because it reveals rather than conceals ultimate reality.
but it is not beyond our detection and respect.” (Life and Work 120) . and in so doing.one is never quite totally in the world / 15 supernatural “reality outside the world” that may help us to understand the functioning of Bowles’ allegorical fiction. 204). She would carry Waiting for God around with her and read it every night before she went to sleep. Both of the finished works were published before she first read Weil. as well as expresses most explicitly the tremendous sense of obligation that Bowles felt toward her fiction as revelation. I know that his position is somewhat higher than the summit. It is impossible to understand and love at the same time both the victors and the vanquished as the Illiad does. concerning which Bowles’ fine biographer. but that it is a way of regarding and understanding reality that is in opposition of and spiritually superior to our own habitual and limited “natural” viewpoint. “Going to Massachusetts” (Collected Works) is the only one of the three to have been likely directly affected by Bowles’ reading of Weil. relates: When Jane discovered Simone Weil’s writing in the early fifties. except from the place. the novella “Camp Cataract” tells the story as a tragedy. and the later. where God’s Wisdom dwells. she would deflect it from seriousness by saying. there is a central figure on a quest to discover the ultimate reality of the world. Few individuals are willing or able to admit of the longing. Those who are able to do so have an obligation to express their respect for a reality that cannot itself be expressed directly in this world. this longing connects us to the “reality outside the world” (Anthology 202. “At the center of the human heart. “is the longing for an absolute good. Weil contended. He cites these two examples from Weil’s notebooks: If a man describes to me at the same time two opposite sides of a mountain. she recognized an affinity between Weil’s words and what she herself felt. outside the world. Winch contends that Weil’s “supernatural” is not referring to a reality that is antinatural. The novel Two Serious Ladies is the comic and mock-epic version of this quest. and fewer still are able to turn their attention and love to the reality that is the object of this desire. which form the major arc of her creative life and thought. which she dramatized throughout her fiction. alert others to its existence. “But I have a sensual side too. There is no doubt that Jane Bowles felt such an obligation. which is always there and is never appeased by any object in the world”. Millicent Dillon. unfinished “Going to Massachusetts” serves as a commentary on both. In each of the three works we consider here.” Weil wrote. Indeed that which fundamentally separates human beings from the rest of nature as we know it is our instinct for the supernatural realm of otherworldly values. (199) God’s wisdom ultimately is beyond our comprehension. If anyone commented on it.
is unregarded in his pronouncements. Weil’s prolific writing. Jane Bowles. Simone Weil’s older brother. which is the spiritually ecstatic nature of Weil’s remarkably clear and persuasive insights. This is not just neurotic. It is very true” (Letters 146). Despite such telling differences.16 / alternative realisms Bowles’ clever deflection also serves to relate what any sustained reading of Weil reveals. was socially magnetic. She remarked to Paul that she felt herself to be cut off from other talented writers of her generation by the moral seriousness with . and its seeming failure: You think that I have something to give. “And not satirically or humorously true. as Truman Capote remarked. she seemed never to have felt at ease or at home in her body. and from an early age she trained herself quite consciously for that purpose” (qtd. Near to her death at the age of thirty-four. but simply the truth. although he alone says what is true. engaging and brilliant. Jane Bowles felt similarly stymied in her effort to communicate her inner vision. and rich in both emotion and devotion. In White 11). because he is a fool. drawing upon seemingly inexhaustible physical and emotional reserves (until a collapse and long illness that led to a pathetically drawn-out death). remarked of his sister that “her vocation or role or business in life from a very early age was to be a saint. but she characteristically blamed this failure more on herself than on others. Weil wrote to her parents regarding her felt mission in life. Only I become more and more convinced. by contrast. by experience and by observing my contemporaries. what Bowles and Weil had in common was an absolute and uncompromising sense of vocation and mission in regard to both their life and work that bordered on the messianic. But I too have a sort of growing inner certainty that there is within me a deposit of pure gold which must be handed on. profound. is remarkably confident and elegant. Collected Works. witty and sophisticated. so much so that her death by starvation and overwork appears almost a natural and inevitable ending. that there is no one to receive it. and essential” (Anthology 2). Pure unadulterated truth—luminous. She lived a complicated and dramatic social and romantic life. and she complained to her husband Paul that it was impossible for her to contribute successfully to intellectual discussions because she had “no opinions really. who was famous in his own right as a mathematical prodigy and genius. “difficult to the point of true pain” (Jane Bowles. ( Anthology 30) In another letter to her parents at the same period she compares herself to the Fool in Lear who. But the act of writing for Bowles was always. Weil was socially awkward and personally difficult. viii). the life and work of Bowles and Weil form mirror images of one another. Andre. In several ways. That is the wrong way to put it. on the other hand.
As I move along into this writing I think the part I mind the most is this doubt about my entire experience. Her compulsion to agonize over choices and decisions was legendary. Life and Work 179). while slowly working and starving herself to death.” Dillon observes. in Dillon. in Dillon. Weil felt that she had made a terrible personal and ethical mistake by allowing her parents to persuade her to flee the German occupation of France and to relocate in New York. came to believe late in her life that her decision to follow her husband Paul to North Africa and to settle there permanently had greatly contributed to what she felt to be her failure as a writer. “Jane’s worry was that a choice had to be made and every choice was a moral judgment and monumental. “Death is better than a long murder. Life and Work 238–239). the murder of a life. Living in Tangier in the mid-1950s while suffering from the severe writer’s block from which she never entirely recovered. away from her protective parents’ watchful eyes. (Letters 33–34) The seriousness and solemnity with which Bowles’ approached her writing carried over into her approach to living her life. . “She had to choose and to accept the consequences of her choice” (Life and Work 44). Life and Work 119). and perhaps therefore harder to fulfill. particularly when it came to making decisions. and they both agonized over decisions regarding uprooting and relocation. even fatal. which exacerbated what she felt to be a fated temperamental isolation that continually turned her creative self against her experiential self in an interrogatory and accusatory manner: When you are capable only of a serious and ponderous approach to writing as I am—I should say solemn perhaps—it is almost more than one can bear to be continuously doubting one’s sincerity which is tantamount to doubting one’s product.” adding. The Need for Roots. whose sense of vocation and mission was much more amorphous than Weil’s. Jane Bowles. “She had no capability of relinquishing choice. And that was so even if the choice was between string beans and peas” (qtd. Jane’s husband Paul said. in Dillon. she used all of her considerable persuasive powers to convince the wartime authorities to allow her to return to Europe. where. Both Bowles and Weil were particularly focused in both their life and work on the practical and existential choices related to the task of finding or creating a true home in the world. in a besieged England. Bowles wrote in her journal. Perhaps Tennessee Williams interpreted this character trait most insightfully: “All the indecision was a true and dreadful concern that she might suggest a wrong turn in a world that she had correctly surmised to be so inclined to turn wrongly” (qtd.one is never quite totally in the world / 17 which she approached the creative task. but like a dying person” (qtd. Once there. “I love Tangier. she produced her most substantial single work.
who lives with her lover. “What does this trip mean? What does it signify?” Bozoe’s blanket statement that her life is not her own likewise alerts us to her allegorical status as a quest figure. woman quest-figure. She is in the hands of forces she does not control. . and her actions are meaningful in ways that she does not entirely comprehend. Weil wrote . (qtd.” which concerns her last. The exact purpose of this journey is meaningfully unstated. and in some ways most complex and intriguing. Bozoe is struggling to follow her destiny. Have you missed the whole point of my life?” (qtd. Janet Murphy. acting through force. . Bozoe Flanner. in Dillon. in Dillon. She announces to Janet Murphy regarding her trip to Massachusetts: “I was born to make this voyage—I have never spent a moment of the day or night free from this knowledge. above an automotive repair shop that Janet owns and operates: Because she felt severed from her destiny [Bozoe] clung hard to her daily life with Janet Murphy with a grip that she could not break—though it was her own—and it was not her own will that in the end had finally broken it. Life and Work 298) In true allegorical fashion. Life and Work 298–299) In the published portions of the unfinished manuscript concerning Bozoe Flanner’s story that are included in The Collected Works and in Dillon’s biography (A Little Original Sin) (which quotes extensively from unpublished manuscripts). We are prompted to ask. but is freighted with multiple potential meanings. rather than to be ruled in a passive and reactive manner by necessity. but it clearly concerns Bozoe’s quest to make destiny her choice.” “My life is not my own . Bozoe Flanner loved Janet Murphy and her life in the apartment over the garage with the desperate longing a dying person feels—for grass and the smell of salt water and flowers—But a dying person remembers the smell of the sea and the smell of the flowers when he was not dying—and Bozoe Flanner could not. All allegory innately examines and expresses the manner in which necessity. The blatant mundanity of Bozoe’s “journey”—going to Massachusetts—announces its allegorical nature. this journey is no ordinary trip. In her most notable foray into literary criticism. “Going to Massachusetts.” “Your life is your own Bozoe.18 / alternative realisms Going to Massachusetts This recalls a passage in the unfinished manuscript Bowles was working on around that time. transforms the living individual into an object of fate. which necessitates that she leave the apartment she shares with Janet Murphy and go to Massachusetts.
. Janet’s one-track-mind obsession is with her automotive garage business. and that is. and I’m afraid that if you don’t start suffering soon God will take some terrible vengeance. Bozoe actually does manage to leave the apartment above the garage and take a bus that is bound for Massachusetts. It is why I stopped crying and got off the bus . I was at the same time being very selfish in going. The situation of all of us is comparable to that of Socrates when he was awaiting death in his prison and began to learn to play the lyre . . How has unconsciousness infiltrated itself into methodical thought and action? . But it is a task which is beyond our power on account of the shortness of life and the impossibility of collaboration and of succession. which is itself allegorically representative of an allpervading and all-encompassing materialism that has severed modern man from the spiritual realm. but she disembarks before arriving at her destination. in large part because of a felt ethical obligation to Janet Murphy. that is. . . (Gravity 153) In the portion of Bozoe Flanner’s story that Paul included in the Collected Works. the true subject the centre of The Illiad is force . I’m glad I thought of this. to choose to obey it. . Selfish because I was thinking in terms of my salvation and not yours. . I don’t feel that I can allow you to sink into the mire of contentment and happy ambitious enterprise . (456–457) . Fame is unworthy of you. the desire for it. which is both our opportunity and our duty as “thinking creature(s)” (Roots 289). In one of the notebooks from which much of her published work is taken. . . Or fame in the garage.one is never quite totally in the world / 19 in her essay on The Illiad that “the true hero. and that although going to Massachusetts required more courage and strength than I seemed able to muster. It is better for you to offer yourself. But it is not enough to obey necessity passively. There is only one possible counter to necessity. At any rate we shall have lived. Don’t accept social or financial security as your final aim. We have to rediscover the original pact between the spirit and the world in this very civilization of which we form a part. Weil wrote that we have to: Try to expose in precise terms the trap which has made man the slave of his own inventions. . Rather “we have to desire that everything that has happened should have happened and nothing else” (Waiting 145). In making her clichéd response to Bozoe’s dilemma—“Your life is your own Bozoe”—Janet Murphy classes herself with the caricatured onetrack-mind minor figures that serve as foils for the existential questers throughout Bowles’ fiction. paradoxically. which represents metonymically the mechanized modern world. it is that x that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing ” (Anthology 163). which is to turn oneself into a purely reactive object. as she explains to her in a letter from a roadside inn: It came to me on the bus that it was not time for me to leave you. Naturally darling I love you. . Weil writes. This is no reason for not undertaking it.
allegory allows for full expression of this dilemma. To seek its shape is what she has declared she would do—declared not only to herself but to her friends. as her torpid life of spiritual unease in the apartment above the garage is a travesty of the heroic quest. receive. the more like a gorilla I seem to behave—an earthbound gross woman. with the appetite of a gorilla—an appetite which is even more embarrassing since she has declared to herself the urgency of cultivating her spirit—however much like a bad flower it might be. some in person—are staples of Bowles’ fiction and are one of its most evident allegorical characteristics. . Bowles’ central quester figures are not in search of happiness as an end in itself—the absence of which. Janet Murphy clearly identifies Bozoe’s bodily appetite with her spiritual struggle. . but spiritual insight and knowledge. . Bozoe recognizes that she is a self-thwarted quester. I have always been seeking my spirit. . The fact that I seldom do seem to gratify those instincts doesn’t matter at all . And she didn’t show any signs that she was going to sit night and day making up problems and worrying about God and asking me questions . Allegorical figures typically present themselves didactically. through both word and deed. Self-expressive and haranguing monologue-speeches such as this— some in letters. and implicitly and explicitly argue for their viewpoint. Anything that hinders or thwarts them in that quest is an enemy that must be overcome. in Dillon. and yet the more urgently I seek it. She eats maybe six of them. (Collected Works 453–454) Bozoe’s solemn Sunday morning binge may be thought of as a travesty of transubstantiation. What these quest figures are seeking is not physical and/or emotional gratification. content to gratify base instincts. in various manners. as a motivating factor. Late Sunday breakfast with popovers and home-made jam. Life and Work 127) Bozoe Flanner is caught in the existential (and metaphorical) dilemma whereby her great spiritual longing is represented by and through a bodily appetite. and this is what they all. . but with the same solemn expression on her face. as she explains to a friend: Bozoe was thin when I first knew her . (qtd. as she explains to Janet Murphy: There is a Bozoe Flanner who goes forth to seek for happiness and glory with a wild uncontrollable greed. with . may help to explain the confusion and dissatisfaction of readers who are trained by mimetic realism to assume such an object of fulfillment. Alone of fictive modes. Janet. I’ve kept to the routine.20 / alternative realisms Bozoe is attempting to convince Janet Murphy of her existential dire straits as she lives a life focused solely on materialistic and egoistic pursuits. including their own nature when it is all too human. . which—for quest figures— ultimately concerns the pursuit and fulfillment of their destiny.
(Bozoe’s quest. it is the emblematic representation of its sense. Two Serious Ladies The heavy-handed argument of Bowles’ early and only completed novel. In a like manner. and following the introduction. “It often has a literal surface that makes good enough sense all by itself. and in doing so. like the novel in which her story appears. and as an allegorical representation it remains irremediably different from its historical realization” (170). Although the novel’s first few pages specifically designate the setting as New York City (presumably around the time of the novel’s creation in the early 1940s). Benjamin observed that. . as are the repeated references to the generic “city. is sadly unfinished. Two Serious Ladies. one that becomes stronger when given a secondary meaning as well as a primary meaning” (7). As Fletcher remarks of allegory in general.” Readers who presume Two Serious Ladies to be an eccentric example of mimetic realism—as has been the general critical presumption—are prone to provide the missing naturalistic pieces of the text. allegory’s much criticized “awkward heavy-handedness . It is crucial in reading allegories that are more or less naturalistic in manner not to fill in such missing details.” but it also exhibits and embodies “a structure that lends itself to a secondary reading. the city itself is repeatedly referred to simply and somewhat ominously as “the city. “nature serves the purpose of expressing its meaning. The setting of Two Serious Ladies is a case in point. and he remarks that. the particular neighborhood locations of the various houses and apartments in which scenes are set are unspecified. Walter Benjamin noted that allegory is “devoted” to its characters’ “instruction” rather than to their “happiness” (170). Rather the detail’s absence or lack of specific emphasis must be read as being itself meaningful. In an allegory. the novel need not be read allegorically to be enjoyed and. the island may be any or every island.one is never quite totally in the world / 21 differing results. which is allegorically significant. is essential” (187).) In his profound study of Baroque German allegory. In regard to this vital distinction in allegory between historical realization and emblematic representation. Of course. as Fletcher remarked. Being undesignated. Fletcher . to a certain degree. or rather. understood. for naturalistic details work differently in an allegorical text than in a work of mimetic realism. . “naturalistic detail is ‘cosmic’ universalizing. but the general failure of critics to recognize the novel’s allegorical nature and manner has led to a great deal of confusion and misreading. not accidental as it would be in straight journalism” (199).” Similarly a nearby rural island that one of the major characters moves to is referred to merely as “the island. in allegory. to cover over evidence of its allegorical inclinations. is obvious from an allegorical perspective. in this effort.” although it is almost certainly modeled after Staten Island.
but generically speaking: Within the boundaries of literature we find a kind of sliding scale. which may give us an indication of where she was coming from genre-wise when. with vaguely Marxist and decidedly feminist views and a somewhat unstable psyche. As Northrop Frye observed. Life and Work 26–27). “Allegory departs from mimesis and myth” (323). More recently the critical tendency has been to interpret Bowles’ seemingly eccentric manner from the point of view of her eccentric social and psychological position as an American-Jewish bisexual alcoholic expatriate. Bowles’ favorite writer was Céline (Dillon. replacing them with ideas. as we have noted. however. ranging from the most explicitly allegorical. Writers such as Bowles. I suspect that readers who are familiar with Bowles’ obviously idiosyncratic but nevertheless realist-seeming fiction may take exception to my designation of it as allegory. While many of these thematic and biographical arguments are well-taken. is allegorical in essence. it thrives on their overthrow. while others have pointed to her seeming ineptness at her craft. such as much of the work of Thomas Pynchon and Samuel Beckett. (Anatomy 91) Modern fiction has tended to be anti-allegorical in its mimetic and/or mythic prejudices and predilections. all literature. Rather. . may well be more pervasively so. In exploring this issue.22 / alternative realisms remarks that allegory fundamentally “does not accept the world of experience and the senses. it would behoove us to keep in mind Fletcher’s admonition that “allegory is never present as a pure modality” (312). although not as overtly allegorical as Voyage au Bout de la Nuit. being based upon metaphor. I believe that all such readings of Bowles can be supported and enhanced by a more thorough generic understanding of her writing that will allow us to make sense of a seeming eccentricity that is—from the point of view of allegory—anything but eccentricity. while still in her early twenties. at one extreme.) As a teenager. I am trying to account for the alternative generic nature of the manner in which her fiction operates. perhaps fearing that to label it as such is to consign it to the waste-heap of outmoded literary genres. anti-explicit and anti-allegorical at the other. Some have attributed Bowles’ idiosyncratic manner to her creative genius. Of course there are notable exceptions. to the most elusive. she wrote Two Serious Ladies —which. who are working in the border area where explicit allegory shades into mimetic realism are apt to be misread by being approached from the assumptions informing our reading of mimetic realism rather than of allegory.” In this way. consistent with being literature at all. (One would imagine that a Renaissance reader would approach such a text from the other direction. That is certainly not my intention. And there are the explicitly allegorical genres of science fiction and fantasy literature.
In the first of the novel’s three section. It gives me a comfortable feeling of safety. To desire contact with a piece of reality is to love. of which Miss Goering says: “I remember having visited this . Truth is not the object of love but reality. whose opposition is one of Miss Goering’s first temptations and challenges in her quest for contact with reality: “Well. Her foil as an epic quester in the novel is her friend Mrs. (253) It is in the search for such contact that Miss Goering makes plans to sell her luxurious family home (in which she habitually exhibits neurotic signs of boredom and anxiety) in order to force herself into an unfamiliar world— very much against the wishes of her recently acquired living companion.” said Miss Goering. they are looking for a reality that is (truly) real (and really true). “whose sole object in life was to be happy. in order to work out my own little idea of salvation. Copperfield.” (28) The first section of the three-part novel concludes with Miss Goering’s imminent departure and relocation to a small and primitive rented house on an island. Property should be in the hands of people who like it. Both of Bowles’ serious ladies are obsessed with finding and/or making a home in the world in which they may be truly at home and not merely superficially or temporarily so—a home that is in true relation to the world. which involves living a life in which she separates herself from the habitual and comfortable and ventures forth into unknown territory in order to confront her many fears. is preparing to abandon her gracious family home and inherited wealth in order to pursue her “own little idea of salvation” (28). “you know so little about what you’re doing that it’s a real crime against society that you have property in your hands. as I have explained to you at least a dozen times. although people who had observed her behavior over a period of years would have been surprised to discover that this was all” (40). one of the serious ladies.one is never quite totally in the world / 23 Allegorically speaking. Allegorically speaking. “that I like it more than most people. Miss Gamelon. Two Serious Ladies is a meditation and discourse on the difference between the spiritually active and spiritually reactive manners of living one’s life—alternatives that it expresses through the life trajectories of two friends who are upper-class society women in New York City. However. To desire truth is to desire direct contact with a piece of reality.” said Miss Gamelon turning around. who had “wanted to be a religious leader” (25) when she was young. I really believe that it is necessary for me to live in some more tawdry place and particularly in some place where I was not born. Weil writes in The Need for Roots that our modern malaise of uprootedness and homelessness is symptomatic of a world in which we have lost all sense of the relation between truth and reality: Truth is the radiant manifestation of reality. Christina Goering.” “I think.
I am going on a trip. Copperfield. Another one of Miss Goering’s caricatured tagalong companions.” but to be uprooted by others “results in unreality” (Gravity 39). which had been the acknowledged object of Miss Goering’s way of life in her comfortable family home (25). This is the fate that awaits Bowles’ second serious lady. . . but perhaps you prefer to surprise us with them rather than disappoint us. Copperfield is going on a trip to Panama with her husband. but it may be very useful as a tool for one’s spiritual growth and enlightenment. Really. Mrs. Copperfield says to Miss Goering: “I don’t think I can bear it .” said Miss Goering. . who is introduced in the novel’s first section. Wait until I tell you about it. Mrs. Miss Goering. Miss Goering’s story is continued in the novel’s . Miss Goering is unconsciously heeding the admonition of Simone Weil.” (15) It turns out that Mrs. (Gravity 39) Weil later qualified herself by noting that “by uprooting oneself one seeks greater reality. . (33) The mortification of the senses prompted by uncomfortable and uncongenial surroundings certainly makes little or no sense from the point of view of a search for happiness.” said Miss Goering. an obese middle-aged man named Arnold (who would seem allegorically to represent gluttony and sloth among other things). It is necessary not to be “myself. at which she meets her friend Miss Goering at a cocktail party: “Oh! Christina Goering . as she wisely intuits.24 / alternative realisms island as a child and always having disliked it because one can smell the glue factories from the mainland even when walking through the woods or across the fields” (33). It’s terrible. (18) The second section of the novel is set in Panama and focuses on the story of Mrs. “that you are leaving this party?” “No. Copperfield. or at least the avoidance of unhappiness. suggests: “I am sure that this island has certain advantages too.” We must be rooted in the absence of place. In making her move to the island. who wrote in a notebook: It is necessary to uproot oneself.” “I know of none at the moment.” said Miss Goering. which you know about. who—in sharp contrast with his wife—is an eager and committed traveler. it frightens me so much to go.” “I would go anyway.” still less to be “ourselves. I’m going away!” “Do you mean.
the unacknowledged and perhaps unconscious prejudice against which. Now there is nothing to carry with you from one place to another. Copperfield does not launch out to face her fears. and through the effects upon. however. Mrs. From a naturalistic fiction perspective. Copperfield. others. is presented mainly through her words and actions. and reactions these produce from. character. I suspect that criticism has gravitated toward Mrs. the author has filled in her complex and fascinating psychological portrait in accordance with the norms of psychological realism. which implies that Miss Goering is the novel’s chief protagonist or hero. which draws to a conclusion with a meeting between her and Mrs.” she said to herself. Rather she gradually allows herself to become dominated by a need for comfort and consolation. and the evident contrast between her presentation. Despite their striking differences. They carried Him through the jungles and across the Arctic Circle. and true to her allegorical nature as questing hero. Miss Goering. in which the two serious ladies’ life choices and trajectories are compared and evaluated. Copperfield is presented to us from both the outside and the inside. Nevertheless Miss Goering is clearly designated as the novel’s major protagonist and hero. Copperfield serves as an implicit critique of conventional realism’s assumptions and practices. God watched over everybody and all men were brothers. which she finds in Panama in the form of a soft-hearted but hard-nosed female prostitute named. Mrs. In fact. Miss Goering and Mrs. Copperfield. Copperfield attempts to quell her fears in a reverie that is perhaps the most often quoted passage from the novel.one is never quite totally in the world / 25 third section. in a work of perceived mimetic realism. But unlike Miss Goering. and which is key to its major themes: “Now. The novel’s ending is punctuated by a final interior soliloquy by Miss Goering following Mrs. and as . Mrs. and this tendency is particularly pronounced in more recent criticism. Copperfield’s departure. by contrast. and of the conventional world such realism represents. tellingly. while Mrs. and behavior and that of Mrs. In the structure of the novel. Criticism of the novel. is doubtless at the heart of much of the critics’ historical dissatisfaction with the novel. her unexplained eccentricity makes her appear almost antirealistic. Copperfield’s story clearly is subordinate to that of Miss Goering. Miss Goering is neither a deep nor a well-rounded character. Copperfield is her foil. When she first arrives in Panama with her husband. Copperfield because of the fact that she is presented in a much more conventionally realistic manner than is Miss Goering. has tended to focus more on the figure of Mrs. Pacifica. Mrs. and in an ever-increasing dependence on alcohol. “when people believed in God they carried Him from one place to another. Copperfield are psychologically fundamentally alike in that they both have a tendency to be dominated by their fears.
but she nevertheless has a longing for that ultimate good. Mrs.” (15) Mrs. Copperfield. You don’t need much money. no end of fun. (56) Of course we don’t expect a vision of hell in a work of seeming mimetic realism. “Do you think I’d have fun here?” “On. She said to Miss Goering at the party in section one: “I have the utmost respect for you. a broadly caricatured British ex-pat widow: “I have a feeling I’m going to nestle right here in this hotel. Mrs. Janet Murphy. you know.” (40) Unlike Bozoe Flanner’s foil. . all the things that are pleasant in this world. but not as a spiritual quester. and her spiritual unawareness is attested to by the fact that she doesn’t believe that Miss Goering has one either. except by implication. That’s my motto. For how long would you want to stay?” “Oh.” She laughed heartily.” said Mrs. I tell you this place is God’s own town. Of course he is crazy to say that. as Weil contended that all humans have deep inside their hearts. drinking . I must try to find a nest in this outlandish place. Mrs. these people might as well be kangaroos. When she meets Pacifica and accompanies her to the colorful and disreputable hotel in which the younger woman lives and conducts her prostitution business.26 / alternative realisms far as I’m concerned. Copperfield conceives of Miss Goering as a romantic rebel. yet somehow there must be someone here who will remind me of something . “Dancing. But she is limited by her disbelief to finding that good wholly and solely within the realm of the world here below. but she assumes this to be the universal condition of mankind in the modern world. Copperfield as Miss Goering’s foil recognizes that she is in existential dire straits. I hate religion in other people. or maybe the Devil’s. but when we read such passages allegorically. I heard my husband say that you had a religious nature one day. Copperfield is consciously disbelieving of the ultimate values hailing from what Weil called the reality outside the world. The men come off the ship with their pockets bulging. and we almost had a very bad fight. we can discern that that is exactly what we are being given. . as Miss Goering perceives of herself. How would you like that?” “You do what you want to with your own life. I don’t know. where it does not exist. . Copperfield says to the hotel owner. You are gloriously unpredictable and you are afraid of no one but yourself. Unlike Miss Goering. . Mrs. Copperfield has no individual plan for her own salvation. .” said the proprietess.
The contrast between the two systems of morality is telling and is crucial to understanding the novel’s ethical-allegorical argument.” “Oh. on the other hand. as she courageously extricates herself from an obviously difficult and conventionally constraining marriage in order to follow her seemingly natural inclinations. On the other hand. (She tells Miss Goering. refuses to allow either her many fears or the frustrated and life-defeated characters that are attracted to her to impede her spiritual progress.” said Miss Goering. while pursuing her “little idea of salvation” with a seeming single-minded selfishness. Copperfield clearly would seem to be the more admirable of the two serious ladies. Mrs. that is focused upon one’s spiritual motives and being. I think it is obvious that I am more important” (198).) Miss Goering. Andy. as he mawkishly (and plagiaristically) compares his heart to a young plant released by the warmth of Miss Goering’s love from a covering of ice: “You don’t dare tear up the plant now that you have melted the ice. from the point of view of contemporary social-psychological morality. Miss Goering is roundly and repeatedly scolded and abused. as she gives herself over entirely to her fears. Mrs. as when she announces her imminent departure from a clinging male lover. which is also the point at which she is able to conquer the fear in her psyche that each relationship has represented. But a close reading that is alert to the allegorical argument of the novel reveals that.” . but is an ethical morality. committing herself to a socially ostracizing but personally fulfilling lesbian relationship. For her efforts. Miss Goering seems incapable of romantic commitment and of sexualemotional fulfillment. as she takes up and drops a series of would-be and actual lovers and partners. “Although I love Pacifica very much. Copperfield’s story traces the trajectory of a descent into a world in which she is no longer capable of individual choice and free will. on the level of psychological motive and spiritual achievement. she abandons these characters precisely at the point at which she is in danger of becoming an enabling component of their spiritually barren and quiescent lives. who would seem to be the allegorical emblem of self-pity. longings. appropriating the psychologically centered Pacifica in the process as a useful emotional tool. Indeed. On the contrary. and obsessions. typical of allegory. both male and female. oblivious to the emotional carnage she is leaving in her wake. “you make me sound so dreadful! I am merely working out something for myself.one is never quite totally in the world / 27 It is important to realize that the morality implicit and explicit in Two Serious Ladies is not the social-psychological morality we are accustomed to considering in the conventional realist novel. Andy. which runs counter to conventional realism’s system of social and psychological values.
“You’re crazy and monstrous— really. had discarded a childish form forever.” “Well. You are committing a monstrous act. Copperfield’s regression to infancy. a descent that begins with . Hope. “perhaps my maneuvers do seem a little strange. Miss Goering’s progress in her spiritual journey is figured by a move away from childhood into adulthood. beginning with her departure from her safe but suffocating family home and concluding with a scene in which she has achieved a hard-won uprootedness.” said Andy. “You’re not even a Christian. so very often.” (188–189) Andy’s accusation calls to mind Kierkegaard’s piquant observation that the modern individual who is undergoing a “spiritual trial” will likely be regarded by others as “a very extraordinary sinner. she felt. heroes who believe themselves to be monsters because they are far removed from other men turn around much later and see really monstrous acts being committed in the name of something mediocre.28 / alternative realisms “You have no right to. like a dream that is remembered long after it has been dreamed. (143) Parallel to Miss Goering’s figured movement from childhood to adulthood is Mrs. “that a revolution won is an adult who must kill his childhood once and for all. sneering a bit at Miss Goering. well.” “Well. Monstrous.” “Lunatic!” Andy yelled at her .” “I’ll remember. displaying his allegiance to the moral status quo: “You’re crazy. “You’re not alone in the world. The long staircase seemed short to her. She stood on the street and waited to be overcome with joy and relief. Andy resorts to self-righteous abuse.” said Andy.” since “in our time people have no idea at all of spiritual trial” (174). .” said Miss Goering. You’ve involved yourself with me!” When he perceives that his arguments will not change Miss Goering’s decision to depart.” said Miss Goering. having been abandoned by her final lover—a gangster whom she feared—on the steps of a restaurant: Miss Goering began to descend the stone steps. (201) The image of a no longer childish “Hope” recalls a scene earlier in the novel in which Miss Goering admonishes a young man who is committed to the Marxist social struggle: “You cannot confront men who are still fighting in the dark and all the dragons. with a new future. . But soon she was aware of a new sadness within herself.” said Dick.” said Dick. but I have thought for a long time now that often. “what should I do then?” “Just remember.
. to escape a chasing dog. . .” she sang. put her knees up. She held on hard to Pacifica’s thigh with the strength of years of sorrow and frustration in her hand. because it calls to mind a recurrent dream she has in which. at which point they both topple forward and roll down the hill “locked in each other’s arms. Copperfield. Suddenly she stood up and placed both her hands firmly in the small of Mrs.one is never quite totally in the world / 29 Mrs. Mrs. and shortly after that another.” the mannequin’s body acting as a buffer between herself and the “broken bottles and little stones” over which they roll.” she said.” “Now. in which Pacifica (in a telling irony) is attempting to teach Mrs. jumping off the bed. “I certainly did—hooray!” . a fact that gives her “particular satisfaction” (97–98). and held onto her ankles with her hands”: “Be gay . Mrs. she begins to mimic the behavior of a child: “She lay down on the bed. at which point she has an experience that precipitates her regression to an infantile state of need and dependency and prompts her decision to abandon her marriage. in which Mrs. Mrs. Copperfield’s back. Copperfield paid him and he left. . An ensuing quarrel between the hotel’s proprietess and Pacifica sends everyone off to their respective quarters. (97) This event is particularly meaningful for Mrs. . .” She wraps the mannequin’s arms around her in the fashion of a leading dance partner. . rocking back and forth on the bed. There just isn’t any other way that’s as good. Copperfield’s impulsive departure from an excursion trip with her husband and her hurried return to the “nest” she has found with Pacifica in her seedy hotel. Copperfield accompanies Pacifica to swim in the ocean. Copperfield turns for comfort to a bottle of gin she has ordered to be brought up to her room. She turned her face and in so doing she brushed Pacifica’s heavy stomach with her cheek. There was a knock on the door and a man in a striped sweater entered the room without waiting for an answer to his knock. be gay. Copperfield how to swim: Pacifica swam a little further inland. The third one she drank more slowly. but without life. “Mrs. with a body “fashioned out of flesh. “You ask for a bottle of gin?” he said. “now for a little spot of gin to chase my troubles away. It is fitting that the precipitating event takes place in the ocean saltwater that suggests amniotic fluid. Tonight I want to be a little baby. (71) Early the next morning. after a night of carousing. At a certain point gin takes everything off your hands and you flop around like a little baby. she runs to the top of a hill where she finds a female mannequin “about eight feet high” and dressed in black velvet. Upon her return to the hotel.” she called out.” She took a hookerful. “Don’t leave me. Copperfield felt happy and sick at once. by gay . Copperfield finds to her dismay that Pacifica is neither surprised nor overjoyed to see her. As she waits for the gin.
“I feel that you have changed anyway and lost your charm.” “That makes no difference to me. What can I do with her? She is like a little baby. “I remember. like Mrs. which I guard like a wolf. I am not sure that I do now. In an essay in which Weil wrote of the potential sacramental nature of human love as “true friendship. Copperfield.” (197–198) Mrs.” said Miss Goering. Copperfield was getting drunk and looking more disagreeable. There is something horrible whenever a human being seeks what is good and only finds necessity” (Waiting 133). which . Few things in this world can reach such a degree of ugliness and horror. Copperfield and Miss Goering meet in a restaurant in New York. not for a minute.” “But you have gone to pieces. Copperfield’s need and demand of comfort and her utter dependence on Pacifica is not only unattractive. if you remember correctly. and without coming any nearer. she noted the distressing tendency of human love to lead. the very being who is necessary to him as food” (Waiting 135). Copperfield. or do I misjudge you dreadfully?” “True enough. whenever an individual limits the search for the good to the things of this world. which. You seem to be stodgy now and less comforting. Mrs. rather. whom I gather you are no longer living with. Pacifica—who has accompanied Mrs. but I have my happiness.” Mrs. but I dare say very courageous.” said Mrs. Copperfield back to America and who is dressed significantly. I never had before. I’d go completely to pieces. with such a beautiful apartment and such beautiful clothes. while Pacifica was away meeting a boyfriend who wants to marry her. Copperfield had explained to Miss Goering why she cannot let this happen: “I can’t live without her. bringing her fist down on the table and looking very mean.” (200) Earlier at the restaurant. It would take a good deal of courage to live with a man like Mr. Weil contends. “ that you used to be somewhat shy. “I have gone to pieces. in which Mrs. Such is the danger. Copperfield.” said Mrs. but is frightening to behold when one realizes the merciless emotional compulsion that is driving her to enslave financially and emotionally another human being. which is a thing I’ve wanted to do for years. “expensively and in black” (196)—says to Miss Goering: “What a baby your friend is! I can’t leave her for ten minutes because it almost breaks her heart.” in which “a person consents to view from a certain distance. and she is such a kind and generous woman. Copperfield. and I have authority now and a certain amount of daring. to the enslavement of one or both parties to necessity: “When the attachment of one human being to another is made up of need and nothing else it is a fearful thing. I know I am as guilty as I can be.30 / alternative realisms In the novel’s last scene. I’ve admired you very much indeed.
The distance between the things of this world and the world above is “the distance between the necessary and the good” (Gravity 105). to read God behind order” (Gravity 136). This is the point at which Miss Goering anticipates arriving as her quest concludes at the end of Two Serious Ladies. “but is it possible that a part of me hidden from my sight is piling sin upon sin as fast as Mrs. On the contrary. the ending serves as the direct and emphatic summation of the novel’s allegorical argument. Weil listed “superposed readings” that imply an allegorical understanding of existence: “To read necessity behind sensation. is that we come to understand that the material things of this world exist in a “reflective” allegorical relation to the ultimate values of another realm altogether: “A reflective property does exist in matter which is like a mirror misted over by our breath. Carolyn Allen similarly concluded that the ending proves Miss Goering to be “thwarted by her own lack of insight” (26). Our pure love for one another and our love for the beauty of the world Weil considered to be legitimate and authentic forms of the “implicit” love of God. the allegorical nature of which has misled and befuddled even some of the novel’s most imaginative and perceptive commentators: “Certainly I am nearer to becoming a saint. the Bhagavad-Gita. In the pertinent passage. we arrive at the point at which we can perceive the good in the necessary. in which she makes a final internal soliloquy. A useful gloss on Miss Goering’s final soliloquy may be found in one of Weil’s touchstone texts.” reflected Miss Goering. The mistake lies precisely in the search for a special state” (Waiting 111). in the literal or metaphorical sense of the word. . in our spiritual journey. to read order behind necessity. When. she contended that different kinds of “vice” such as “the use of drugs. while Dillon remarked that the ending seems to discount “ending itself” (“Jane Bowles: Experiment as Character” 142).” are frustrated attempts to perceive God in the beauty of the world: “All such things constitute the search for a state where the beauty of the world will be tangible. Copperfield?” This latter possibility Miss Goering thought to be of considerable interest but of no great importance. for it illustrates that Miss Goering has come to understand the real distance between the necessary and the good. (201) Ashbery remarked that this conclusion is proof of Miss Goering’s grave “delusion” regarding her own behavior (Ashbery). In one of her notebooks. we do not thereby annihilate necessity (it is precisely that which cannot be annihilated). but we come to understand that its importance resides entirely in its relation to what it is not. What is necessary. according to Weil. We have only to wipe the mirror to read in it symbols inscribed in matter through eternity” (Anthology 249–250).one is never quite totally in the world / 31 can only represent the good by implication. On the other hand.
If a man is thirsty because of a wound in the stomach. for it leads to enlightenment. religious.” Historically. one’s sins are no longer important. Our disease is the loss of contact with the good. according to Weil. who argued that one difficulty of living in a time of existential crisis is that we are so preoccupied with the symptoms of distress that we are unable to perceive their underlying causes: Distress is a culture broth for false problems. historical and psychological uprootedness here below. or God. Such is our present age. but to have his wound cured. which has become a more or less permanent form of distress. its symptom is our cultural. which is to be in the most desperate of spiritual . It creates obsessions. as in periods of great social. . of which our modern uprootedness is symptomatic. Their distress has blunted their spiritual perception and their reason to the point at which they may not even believe that they are suffering. because karma is no longer operative: When you have reached enlightenment. ignorance will delude you no longer . but to bring about the disappearance of the distress. from the point of view of an achieved enlightenment. This knowledge alone would carry you Like a raft over all your sin. at the end of her quest. from the point of view of which everything else is “of no great importance. (Roots 61) Weil contended that our failure to recognize the reality of eternal values has resulted in an existential homelessness. (54–55) The novel’s conclusion affirms Miss Goering’s hard-won knowledge that. . that is the reality outside of this world. it is the purity of her motive alone that she must attend to. drink is not what he requires. the mistakes she has made along the way will be transformed from all too human error into the mysterious will of God. and psychological instability and distress. as Benjamin observed. The blazing fire turns woods to ashes: The fire of knowledge turns all karmas to ashes. Understood allegorically. uprootedness is a cry for help.32 / alternative realisms the god Krishna tells the hero Arjuna that. but it is one that those who are suffering from being uprooted too often are unable to recognize and interpret. The way to appease them is not to provide what they insist upon. allegory “established itself most permanently where transitoriness and eternity confronted each other most closely” (224). In the meantime. And though you were the foulest of sinners.
The important thing is that it announces its hunger by crying. and that guarantee her authenticity. is allegory” (185). It goes on crying just the same. Weil makes an analogy between the soul in chronic distress and a hungry child: The soul knows for certain only that it is hungry. Weil wrote. “Between the pain of being oneself and separated from one’s maker there is one’s maker—One is never quite totally in the world. Allegory forges a link between the creature and the creator. A child does not stop crying if we suggest to it that perhaps there is no bread. (Waiting 138) In an age in which chronic spiritual hunger has resulted in a collective disbelief in the hunger’s existence. it should persuade itself that it is not hungry. the allegorist inevitably arises. in Dillon. It can only persuade itself of this by lying. but a certainty. She speaks of the (for her) unbearable absence of the good. As Benjamin remarked: “The only pleasure the melancholic permits himself. Those melancholy few may find in allegory a certain solace. The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread. several years after the publication of the novel.one is never quite totally in the world / 33 straits. are the very conditions that make it likely that she will be ignored and/or misunderstood. the allegorical manner and argument of the mock epic Two Serious Ladies is fairly obvious. allegory expresses a persistent lament that the necessary should be distant from the good. which is all the more isolating in that so few are willing or able to recognize the desperate straits they are in. but lest. Such is not the case with the novella or long short story “Camp Cataract. to dramatize the spiritual plight. for the reality of the hunger is not a belief. or of God.” which Bowles completed following her move to join Paul in North Africa. The religious allegorist speaks for a world that the world denies. Life and Work 299). it was the last major work of fiction . In its insistence on the distance between the mutable material realm and its eternal meaning. The tragedy for the allegorist is that the conditions that created her. “The distance between the necessary and the good is the distance between the creature and the creator” (Gravity 105). like a prophet from the wilderness. rather it is expressive of the absence of a mythical-religious belief system that is all-pervading and all-encompassing. by a lie. It is intolerable to be in this world without a myth” (qtd. In an anguished outburst in a notebook. in a time of distress. Camp Cataract When one is alert to the possibility of its existence. and it is a powerful one. Bowles wrote. between the necessary and the good. Allegory is significantly not myth.
Copperfield are the two warring sides of the female personality. As I remove myself gradually from within my family circle and establish myself more and more solidly into Camp Cataract. where she can relax away from the stress of the crowded city apartment she shares with two sisters and one sister’s husband. First I will come here for several years . has been advised by a doctor to take summer vacations at a nature camp. We can nevertheless draw crucial parallels between Two Serious Ladies and “Camp Cataract. (363) . with tragic consequences. as she explains to one of the camp employees. Sometimes Mrs. . and it implicitly embodies and actively expresses the effort to perceive the latter in the former. In general.” Indeed. “Camp Cataract. but they respond to this distress in markedly different manners. run parallel in the first half of “Camp Cataract” and then intersect in the second half. as in the story. as if she must have a Christina [Goering]-Frieda [Copperfield] contrast in order to construct her sense of reality. Camp Cataract is not escape. Camp Cataract is life. long enough so that I myself will feel: “Camp Cataract is a habit. but long enough to imitate roots of childhood . Kraft noted in his perceptive review of The Collected Works that Bowles writes the same story every time . As with Two Serious Ladies. The older sister. then at some later date I can start making my sallies into the outside world almost unnoticed. I don’t know yet exactly how many. but the quest theme is more deeply embedded in the story than in the novel. habit isn’t. . . who suffers from periods of nervous collapse that may be in part hereditary. and its tone is much more ominous and subdued.” Escape is unladylike. a husky woman named Beryl. Her long-term goal is to move out of the apartment altogether. Harriet.34 / alternative realisms she was to complete. Bowles makes the two women sisters.” (274) Fletcher noted the tendency of allegory to evolve into symmetrical double plots such as those Bowles employs in her major fiction (184). who has become attached to her: My plan is extremely complicated and from my point of view rather brilliant. . but she feels that. Sadie and Harriet. in order to avoid the appearance of “a bohemian dash for freedom” (362). an allegorical approach to “Camp Cataract” leads us to a fuller understanding of the work’s means and manner. “Camp Cataract” works more in the manner of an extended parable and of a classical tragedy than of a mock epic. she must make this move in stages. Both sisters are suffering from the existential distress of uprootedness masquerading as a life of modern comfort and ease. . The double plots of the stories of the two sisters. The double plot endorses the allegorical distinction between the mutable material world and the world of eternal values. Miss Goering and Mrs. .
explaining to Beryl: “You may wonder how a woman can be shallow and know it at the same time. Sadie. In the final of a series of letters she writes to Harriet before visiting her at Camp Cataract (which is named for the waterfall that is its major natural feature). In actuality. . . but then. (368) . to which she willingly admits. . Sadie expresses her worry in an overtly guileless manner that seems subconsciously designed to make Harriet feel guilty for wanting to leave home: I wonder of course how you feel about the apartment once you are by the waterfall. She is subconsciously aware of an inclination in her nature to venture into “the world” to make contact with a greater reality. and because of Harriet.one is never quite totally in the world / 35 Harriet acknowledges that her fear of acting in an unladylike manner may seem indicative of a shallow nature. which she refers to in her letter to Harriet as “the material proof that our spirits are so wedded that we have but one blessed roof over out heads” (361). because beyond wearing an apron and simulating the airs of other housewives. I fear nomads. who is the story’s main protagonist and its covert quest figure. Also. as the narrator informs us: Harriet . if he allows himself to be griped” (363). I am afraid of them and afraid for them too. this is precisely the tragedy of any person. Sadie’s tragic fate is directly related to the fact that she is not consciously aware that she is on a spiritual quest. was totally unaware of Sadie’s true nature and had fallen into the trap her sister had instinctively prepared for her. After reading the letter aloud to Beryl. but she fights conscious recognition of this inclination by projecting it onto her sister Harriet. whom she correctly suspects of desiring to escape their home together in the city apartment. Harriet’s shallowness would seem to protect her from the fate awaiting her unmarried younger sister. I want to put this to you. . Sadie did not possess a community spirit at all . If you see them be sure to give them loving because they are the lost souls of the earth. There must be wretches like that up there. which she takes to be genuine proof of Sadie’s “community spirit” (362). (360) What Sadie fears most is a nomadic instinct in her own nature that gives the lie to her idol-worship of the sacred family home. Harriet remarks that she despises Sadie’s adoration of the family home. but in spite of the fact that she had wanted to live in that world with Harriet. she did not understand it properly. Knowing that you have an apartment and a loving family must make Camp Cataract quite a different place than it would be if it were all the home and loving you had. Sadie certainly yearned to live in the grown-up world that her parents had established for them when they were children.
and she was thrilled again by the beauty of her own words. . Sadie decides to pay a visit to Harriet at Camp Cataract. no matter what its moral designation in society’s terms. Copperfield’s relationship with Pacifica. “How much more I’ll be able to say when I’m sitting right next to her. The dislocating journey to Camp Cataract widens the split in Sadie’s psyche. this disaster was as remotely connected with her as a possible train wreck. it is possible to read “Camp Cataract” as being the tortured story of a sister’s incestuous lesbian love for her sibling. awareness of this split was denied her.” she murmured almost with reverence. Rather. Against her sister’s wishes and doctor’s orders. is symptomatic of a need for comfort and of an unwillingness to embark upon the quest to make contact with an ultimate reality. And then we’ll come back here. but whatever it was. “. . “It is not the pursuit of pleasure and the aversion for efforts which causes sin. That the potential romantic nature of Sadie’s obsession is taboo merely classifies it more readily with other “sins” that are in reality effects of a more fundamental cause. Her defensive effort at dissimulation is so consuming that she is unable to recognize the split between her pretend emotions and her true feelings: “By a self-imposed taboo.” she added simply. . Rather Sadie’s obsessive attachment to her older sister. Sadie anticipates the breakdown. until there comes a final break between her pretend reality in the outer world of others and her interiorized fears and longings. From the point of view of such an understanding. and she had never reflected upon it” (371). That Sadie’s attachment to Harriet is a distraction from her quest and an obstacle to self-knowledge is made clear in the story’s second half. any behavior that is used to divert one from the quest for God is sinful. not in the least startled to discover that the idea of returning with Harriet had been at the root of her plan all along. Copperfield’s successful acknowledgment of her lesbian identity. but this would be a misreading similar to the interpretation of Two Serious Ladies as the story of Mrs. like Mrs. but her long years of reactive dissimulation have effectively paralyzed her active will and made her powerless to forestall her doom: She felt that something dreadful might happen. but fear of God” (Gravity 58). “She was passionately concerned only with successfully dissimulating what she really felt” (371).36 / alternative realisms As this quotation would seem to support. (375) Sadie habitually follows her instincts without questioning her motives or considering the likely outcome of her behavior. She has been enticed by the power of her own words in the letter to Harriet to press her case in person: “Would you like it so much by the waterfall if you didn’t know the apartment was here?” she whispered into the dark. As Weil writes.
but she didn’t have much hope in her. (391–392) When Harriet is late arriving. the material world through which she has spent her life drifting. and she utilizes an overnight canoe trip planned for two days hence to minimize her contact with her sister to a brief greeting the evening of her surprise arrival and a planned luncheon the next day. In the delusional world. in her inmost heart.one is never quite totally in the world / 37 “I hope nothing bad happens . she rightly perceives that Sadie’s trip to Camp Cataract is an assault on her independence. The scene is deftly handled and the first-time reader is likely to be unaware that Sadie has moved from apparent actuality into a delusional realm. The climax of the delusion and of the story arrives when Sadie frantically leads an imagined Harriet into the woods near the waterfall. Harriet sat down. and with the desire. an open can of beans some careless person . whereas the upper trunk and branches lay hidden in the surrounding grove. on the contrary. (384) Although Harriet misunderstands Sadie’s motives for wanting her to stay in the family apartment with her. that her trip was already a failure. becomes overwhelmingly and unbearably meaningful and real. the trip’s failure seems affirmed and Sadie moves into a delusional realm. as in a dream. and Harriet says to Sadie. Harriet had stipulated that they meet for luncheon by a souvenir booth that stands on a small knoll overlooking the waterfall and the bridge that leads across the chasm to a path behind the cataract. it seemed to her all the more desperately important now that she was almost certain. This did not in any way alter her intention of accomplishing her mission. the words to express it had vanished too. “Why are they here?” she asked herself—then immediately she spotted the cause. Sadie becomes increasingly desperate: She feared that if her sister did not arrive shortly some terrible catastrophe would befall them before she had a chance to speak. ” she thought. It is while she is waiting to meet Harriet for the luncheon that Sadie’s breakdown occurs.” She stepped over to a felled tree whose length blocked the clearing. As she waits for Harriet. Sadie’s fears and desires are given material being. In truth all desire to convince her sister that she should leave Camp Cataract and return to the apartment had miraculously shriveled away. . They stop at a small clearing in the woods. in which she plans to attempt to convince her sister to return to the family apartment. Automatically she stepped toward them. Its torn roots were shockingly exposed. of whom she is being uncharacteristically solicitous: “First I’ll sit down and then you must tell me what’s wrong. In the overtly allegorical realm of Sadie’s delusion. . Sadie was about to sit next to her when she noticed a dense swarm of flies near the roots.
In response to her felt disconnectedness. Beryl was spooning “some beans out of a can she was holding” (378).” Harriet sobbed in anguished tones. . Harriet. but which—with her breakdown—has become shockingly exposed. those who are not yet uprooted. for it is a self-propagating one. . (47) Harriet’s psychic instability as well as her admitted shallowness and the effort she plans to “imitate roots” through her stays at Camp Cataract . . I’m much too old. and un-at-home in. further prompting her breakdown—exposing her uprootedness. sprang to her side. I’m old . her world. Sadie has attached herself to her older sister. The emotional pressure that Sadie has brought to bear on the already psychically fragile Harriet is attested to by Harriet’s response when she hears from Beryl of Sadie’s surprise visit to Camp Cataract: Harriet buried her head in her lap and burst into tears .” Here she collapsed and sobbed so pitifully that Beryl. or to hurl themselves into some form of activity necessarily designed to uproot. . uprooted tree with its head “hidden in the surrounding grove” is an image of Sadie’s psychic predicament that she has struggled so hard to hide from herself and others. (395) The fallen. Beryl’s obvious attachment to Harriet. As Weil wrote in The Need For Roots : Uprootedness is by far the most dangerous malady to which human societies are exposed. for when Sadie first met Beryl upon arrival at the camp’s lodge. She turned away in disgust. .38 / alternative realisms had deposited in a small hollow at the base of the trunk. who had shown “great tenderness” toward her during “their childhood together” (393). Harriet is no doubt justified in her fear of Sadie’s neediness. . and Harriet’s obvious collusion with and dependence upon Beryl. (382) It is Beryl’s tenderhearted relationship to Harriet that is symbolized by the open can of beans in the hollow at the base of the tree’s exposed roots. but who has now begun a self-protective effort to extricate herself from Sadie’s increasingly tight emotional grip. as well as to herself. wringing her hands in grief. “I can’t . or only partly so. For people who are really uprooted there remain only two possible sorts of behavior: either to fall into a spiritual lethargy resembling death . . seems to have affirmed Sadie’s sense of dislocation and abandonment. often by the most violent methods. “I can’t any more. The uprootedness not only exposes her predicament. but also is emblematic of that predicament—of Sadie’s innate feeling of being unconnected to. for the severity of Sadie’s alienation in the world makes her a danger to those close to her. . for she was a most tenderhearted person toward those whom she loved.
But her guarded and hostile attitude toward Sadie when they first meet at the camp lodge indicates that she will not willingly give up her effort to find a new connection to reality in and through her periods away from home. In her delusional scene with Harriet in the pine grove. . her face buried deep in her hands . however. . It seemed to Sadie that it was taking an eternity for her sister to leave. exhibiting signs of the spiritual lethargy that will lead to her delusion and death. Sadie’s journey away from the family apartment to Camp Cataract seems to have broken the spell of sacredness that she had cast over the apartment in relation to herself. whose suffocating shallowness is representative of a pretend reality the spiritually awakened Sadie can no longer endure. clutching at her stomach as though an animal were devouring her. she saw Harriet’s tear-filled eyes searching hers. or I’ll suffocate. . their pupils pointed with a hatred such as she had never seen before. “Go away . In any case. let’s you and me go out in the world . Sadie’s awakening into a knowledge of her fundamental uprootedness is extended to include an awareness of the uprootedness of the country . impossibly close to her own. .” Sadie said. Sadie knew then that this agony she was suffering was itself the dreaded voyage into the world—the very voyage that she had always feared Harriet would make. . . . (396) By virtue of her revelation.” She was moaning the words over and over again. “Let’s not go back to the apartment. . “Let’s not go back there . Sweat beaded her forehead and she planted her feet wide apart on the ground as if this animal would be born. . . just the two of us. The pilgrimage that Sadie unknowingly embarks upon when she sets off for Camp Cataract is more than a death march. She opened her mouth to speak and doubled over. . the awakening is figured as a painful birth: She could no longer postpone telling Harriet why she had come . go away . . It is also an awakening out of the self-induced slumber of her life of anxious dissimulation in the family apartment. The shock of awakening into an awareness of her state of uprootedness ultimately proves too much for Sadie’s fragile mental being. but that she is able to achieve such a state of awareness is nevertheless a spiritual triumph. At last she heard Harriet’s footsteps on the dry branches . the effect being that she has been set mentally and spiritually adrift. Though her vision was barred with pain. Sadie reverses roles with Harriet.” A second before covering her face to hide her shame Sadie glimpsed Harriet’s eyes. . hearing her own words as they issued not from her mouth but from a pit in the ground. . That she herself was making it instead of Harriet did not affect her certainty that this was it.one is never quite totally in the world / 39 would seem to indicate that she is already partially uprooted.
40 / alternative realisms and culture in general when she returns to the souvenir stand (in actuality she had never left it. and the scene in the forest had been a delusion) where she looks closely for the first time at the souvenir seller. the world of her delusion is more intensely real than the world that precedes and follows it. every image stands out and her own words and behavior become overtly meaningful.1 There seems little doubt that we are meant to understand that Sadie kills herself. had been scheduled to meet her sister (400–401). and the story ends with Beryl’s return alone: When Beryl returned her face was dead white. holding her hand out to the Indian” (399).” just past the time that Harriet. Such an understanding emphasizes the allegorical nature of the story. Each of these “unnatural” endings is in the form of a repudiation rather than a culmination. so oddly light in his brick-colored face. What was it? She was tormented by the sight of an incongruity she couldn’t name” (398). Harriet sends Beryl to look behind the waterfall for Sadie. from the point of view of such a world. (401) Sadie’s suicide presents a challenge for interpretation that is similar in some ways to the challenge presented by the premature end of Bowles’ writing life and by Weil’s self-starvation. Sadie’s delusional response is to try to hide the Indian chief along with herself behind the waterfall. and even when Harriet finally grabbed hold of her shoulders and shook her hard. It is in fact the souvenir seller dressed as an Indian who tells Harriet and Beryl that a “middle-aged woman” had “lit out for the bridge” that crosses the cataract “about fifteen minutes ago. and her refusal to return to it is a denial of its ultimate reality. Fictively. who was twenty minutes late arriving. who is an Irish-American man dressed up to resemble an American Indian war chief. the mere world of habitual appearances may seem too fake—too unreal—to endure. The foaming waters were beautiful to see. she would not say anything. and yet. One might say that such a world— like the experience of the mystic—is too real for normal human comfort. complete with headdress and face paint: “She stared intently at his Irish blue eyes. where his face loses “any trace of the incongruity that had shocked her so before. That Sadie’s breakdown is referred to as “the dreaded voyage into the world” implies that the world she had been living in was not the real world. the manner in which it is an extended parable regarding the life of the undying spirit in relation to mutable everyday . Sadie stepped forward. although the Indian who accompanied her behind the waterfall was a figment of her delusion. Sadie’s plunge into the cataract is emblematic of an unwillingness to return to living a life on the surface level of appearances. In Sadie’s delusional world. she stared at Harriet in silence.
” the meaningful reality of which is so unbearable that she rushes behind the cataract—“literally” taking shelter in . I have often the sensation when I look at it that it’s a solid thing up there. In that sense. I suppose. and even overwhelmingly meaningful. The real world in this novel. the sheltering sky as an operative idea is nevertheless embedded wholly and securely within the boundaries of the conventional realism of the text. but an all too actual farce. Port and Kit.one is never quite totally in the world / 41 reality. we discover that the story’s title. The bitter implication of such fiction is that life is neither a divine comedy nor an ennobling tragedy. . we are imprisoned in a meaningless world. the story is also implicitly a critique of the modern conventions of fictive realism. The title symbol operates ironically in the novel for the most part.” and in Jane Bowles’ fiction in general. and throughout Paul Bowles’ fiction. and this certainty is reinforced by the conventional-realism manner in which the title enters the narrative as a theme and symbol during a conversation between the novel’s central figures. seems to stem from the author’s worried certainty that reality. The sky as symbol questions the ultimate meaning and purpose of reality. . Absolute night. but it is actually about being blind to their allegorical reality. We may consider Paul Bowles’ use of the titular symbol in The Sheltering Sky as an example of such use. “Camp Cataract. rightly perceived and understood. but it does not question that reality as a given. Just darkness.” said Port . The sheltering sky is all too encompassing. protecting us from what’s behind. When one seeks to get “beyond” that appearance to some deeper or virtual or ideal meaning. and a cautionary tale regarding the paralysis of the questing spirit in the materialistic modern world. The typical modern realistic fiction creates meaning by the use of symbolically weighted passages surrounded by the scenery of the conventionally real.” is emblematic of its theme and method. intensely. questioning self-deluding assumptions regarding the goodness of life and the purpose of fate. is innately. That is the terrifying discovery that Sadie makes through her “delusion. “Nothing. The story may seem to be about the deception of appearances.” Kit shuddered slightly as she said: “From what’s behind?” “Yes. By contrast. By story’s end. a couple obviously modeled upon Paul and Jane: “You know.” “But what is behind?” Her voice was very small. is oppressive in its obvious and seemingly ultimate appearance. its use by the author is actually quite didactically certain. the existential angst implicit in “Camp Cataract. we find that there is no there there. Although the symbol may seem to speak of radical doubt. “the sky here’s very strange.” (101) Ominous in its ironic symbolism.
he represents himself as one who ‘historically died of a mortal disease. in which she observed that “Kierkegaard’s actual death on the street seems accidental. as Weil summarizes the history of Western civilization and explains the various ways in which we have gone astray in our thinking and our being.42 / alternative realisms blindness—and then plunges into its “depths. Bozoe Flanner’s struggles with and final failure to go to Massachusetts appear all the more poignant. to support Sadie in her “dreaded voyage into the world. including what is probably her masterwork. The Need for Roots. The writing that Weil produced in the final year of her life in England. and of the more general failure of fiction. Indeed. Bowles had struggled to overcome a writing block that became more and more disabling. to indicate that they are not to be trusted. It can only be pointed to. Following the completion of “Camp Cataract” and of one final story.” The realm that Sadie enters when she plunges into the cataract escapes encapsulation in representation. and Bowles’ prematurely ended writing life are all indirect expressions. allegorically.) Paul Bowles felt that his wife’s writing block resulted from her . which is the import of this story as regards habitual reality and its representations in conventional fictive realism. To understand Weil’s self-starvation.” and before a stroke at the remarkably young age of thirty-nine put an effective end to her creative output. in particular. we have to understand its blanket repudiation of the habitually real.” Sadie’s abrupt withdrawal from the world of appearances is mirrored by the story’s own refusal of conclusion with the patheticprophetic gesture of a character “who would not say anything. (Read in the context of Bowles’ writing life.” The words are put in quotation marks. no small part of the felt tragedy of this story is its absolute certainty of its own failure. Weil’s self-starvation. as Naomi Lebowitz reads the life and work of Kierkegaard in her illuminating Kierkegaard: A Life of Allegory. as well as her work. we have to “read” it as a martyrdom. but poetically died of longing for eternity’ ” (6). is a remarkable culmination in the form of a repudiation. of course. The drawn-out conclusion of Bowles’ writing life is both sad and exasperating. “A Stick of Green Candy. Several commentators have noted that her death was the product not only of a lack of sustenance. The crucial allegorical distinction between historical and poetical interpretations of Weil’s death can allow us to see the triumph in the tragedy of her life’s abrupt conclusion. gesturing toward the unrepresentable. Much has been written on and debated concerning Weil’s starvation-suicide. and even of language itself. To understand Sadie’s suicide. The last half of that work. is profoundly lucid and poignant. then we must read her life. If we think of Weil in terms of her vocation as a saint. but of months of emotional strain and intellectual overwork. Sadie’s suicidal leap.
” And she’d say. I’ve got to do it my way and my way is more difficult than yours. which does indeed operate in a conventional manner.” It is an unfinished project that speaks volumes. each of them to represent an abstraction. “Just for the first page. That’s your way. it all had to be difficult from the first paragraph in order for her to have respect for it. say she comes in. does that. She was a combination of enormous egotism and deep modesty at the same time.” but she wasn’t interested in making it easier .” upon which Bowles worked for years. In the long unfinished novel tentatively titled “Out in the World. it would be easier the other way. (qtd. “No. “What don’t you make it simpler? Leave the difficulties for the later scenes?” No. the creation of a world of sensory and realistic detail. She couldn’t use the hammer and the nails that were there. almost in the sense of a morality play. “I know. “Well. But in addition she wanted her characters to be representative. sees this. She had to manufacture her own hammer and all the nails. for this novel. no. not my way. . in Dillon. she had in mind something of the quality of Balzac. Life and Work 253–254) Bowles’ allegorical inclinations would seem to have prevented her from using the fictive tools of mimetic realism in a ready-made fashion. Life and Work 192) Given Sadie’s life-shattering. Rather it was exactly such conventions that she was challenging in her remarkably original work. I’d say to her. Jane told Paul that. reality-questioning experience with her “voyage into the world” in “Camp Cataract. . no. and she’d say. . (Dillon. but one that has been neglected for the most part by criticism of contemporary fiction. she was apparently attempting to push forward with her effort to use allegory to reinvent fictive realism in a manner that would connect the everyday material world to the world of eternal values.” I’d say.one is never quite totally in the world / 43 effort to handle too much material at once and her unwillingness to rely upon the inherited conventions of fiction: I used to talk to Jane by the hour about writing.” “But why do you want it to be so difficult?” I’d ask her.” we may have some notion of the revolutionary—and revelationary—implications of a work titled “Out in the World.
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American publishers then competed for the right to publish the work that they had spurned earlier. and Purdy found himself. when he was forty-two years old. . . even hostile. who soon published it to critical acclaim (Purdy “Autobiographical Sketch”). I began sending out my completed stories to magazines . Is Wrong: Ja m e s P u r dy’s All e g or ic a l R e a l i sm The work of the contemporary American author James Purdy always has evoked strong response. too. for a period of several years and novels. if not a financial. . it was to be in the future a kind of endless open warfare. peevish. I soon realized that if my life up to then had been a series of pitched battles. even more hostile comments from the little magazines. My stories were always returned with angry. if possible. All editors were insistent that I would never be a published writer. indignant rejections from the New York slick magazines. In general. success as an author. and they earned. .Ch a p t e r Th r e e Wh at e v e r Is. . Purdy—spurred by “a kind of psychic impulse”—sent a privately published collection of his fiction to Dame Edith Sitwell. Sitwell declared Purdy “a writer of genius” and offered to introduce his work to a commercial publisher in England. Neither the kind of publishers I had nor the press stood wholeheartedly behind me . as he relates: Despite all this acclaim coming to me out of total obscurity. But he was not to remain in the media and critical establishments’ good graces for long. whom he did not know. (Purdy “Autobiographical Sketch”) In 1956. In what must have seemed to the unknown author a more or less miraculous letter of reply. Early on—in the late 1940s and early 1950s—the response from editors and publishers was almost entirely negative. as Purdy himself humorously and ruefully related in this 1984 autobiographical sketch: In my twenties. a critical.
Actually I think my books are very clear. his work came more and more to be overlooked and dismissed by the publishing and reviewing powers that be. although we naturally look for the “relevance” to our lives of what we are reading. Mammon. which—as the author acerbically noted—does not always portray gays as “well-behaved bourgeoisie” (Lane “Interview”). I think intellectuals are the worst sinners because they want everything clear and life is not clear. concurred with Purdy’s assessment regarding the misreading and misunderstanding of his work on the part of critics: “Purdy has never.” in a recognizably realistic or naturalistic manner (“Elijah Thrush” 63).46 / alternative realisms I found the so-called literary establishment parochial and studiedly insensitive to the kind of writing I was engaged in. and hostility to. as the author complained. (Purdy “Autobiographical Sketch”) As Purdy continued to write novels that not only failed to adhere to. is that they simply don’t know how to read his work properly” (“Elijah Thrush” 62–63). Purdy’s work—and that is the failure of readers and critics to recognize the allegorical nature of Purdy’s fictionalizing. been done justice by the leading contemporary critics. it was the gay literary-critical establishment that found most to object to in his work. it may be. Purdy’s fiction. (Lane “Interview”) One of Purdy’s best readers. The relationship of bigotry and homophobia to Purdy’s literary reception is a topic that I will return to at the end of this chapter. for which Purdy claimed total contempt: “What they call politically acceptable I call philistinism and stupidity” (Lane “Interview”). Tanner went on to postulate that. completely taken up with trends and ratings and sales. but they don’t get it because they come with preconceived notions as to what fiction should be and what political correctness should be. But first I want to explore the possibility of a more pervasive and generic cause for critical misunderstanding of. and negativity in response to. contemporary taste and habits of reading. . the English critic Tony Tanner. Purdy himself noted in his 1993 interview with Christopher Lane that the “misreading” of him has been “almost total”: Even some of the good reviews don’t understand what I’m writing. Indeed. but also lampooned and satirized. more recently. and prostrate before their true God. and to alter their critical assumptions and habits of reading in order to get that work to work for them in an enlightening and rewarding fashion. and one reason. it seems to me. Manifest and latent homophobia no doubt lies at the root of much of the neglect of. which persistently refused to adhere to any brand of political correctness. as well as by the literary-critical establishment. there is no reason to assume that such relevance will be fictively “direct.
The allegorical narrative displays a radical ambivalence. suggesting “a peculiar doubleness of intention” (Fletcher 7). In a perceptive monograph on Purdy published in 1976. allegory had worked to keep the real richly ambiguous. Both critics seem wary of labeling Purdy an outright allegorist. and instincts confront us directly in the text—implying that one of our worlds is fake. inherent in the very words on the page. the “literal surface” of the allegorical narrative is innately unstable. . “This is not to suggest we are presented with dimly veiled allegories” (10). I am Elijah Thrush. our more narrow contemporary conceptions of allegory tend to deny the mode this power of ambiguity. a polysemy. and the world of its reader. implying that to do so would be to consign him to the realm of the intellectually narrow and second rate. as our personified emotions. post-structuralist-influenced reevaluation of the allegorical mode published in 1979. values. In contrast to the recognizable and reliable fictive plane of conventional mimetic realism. “The criterion of realism is wasted on the theory of allegory” (198). noting that “the question of what is real remains ambiguous” (City 107). Then he adds. British critic Stephen Adams noted the “Christian existentialist” philosophic basis of Purdy’s work.whatever is. By contrast. In an ambitious. . But perhaps it is our understanding of allegory that is at fault. allegory therefore names the fact that language can signify many things at once . Tanner likewise is quick to point out that Purdy’s remarkably and self-consciously allegorical novel. What is radical about this redefinition is the slight but fundamental shift in emphasis away from our traditional insistence on allegory’s distinction between . in which “words lost the battle to ‘things’ and language disappeared as a potent force for shaping man’s sense of the cosmos” (Quilligan 157). which prevents the reader from entering the fiction’s imagined reality in a self-forgetful or escapist manner. in Purdy’s fiction. “is a book which devours its own allegories” (“Elijah Thursh” 64). Tanner remarked that. which leads us to question the reality of the world of the text. but the possibility of an otherness. Prior to the Enlightenment and its concomitant dissociation of sensibility. a few years after Adams’ and Tanner’s comments. which he claimed to be “responsible for that elusive manner in which highly individualized characters seem inseparably involved in some mythological drama or mystery play” (9). Maureen Quilligan put forward the argument that it is our modern understanding of allegory that is constrictive and simpleminded—whereas allegory is innately and richly multiple-minded: The “other” named by the term allos in the world “allegory” is not some other hovering above the words of the text. “people and things both are and are not there” (City 85). is wrong / 47 As Angus Fletcher commented in his influential study of the allegorical mode. The world as presented in allegory appears paradoxically supra-real and unreal at once.
and . But that requires that we first admit that we do not fully know or possess ourselves. as Quilligan observed. Rather. Quilligan commented. “The final focus of any allegory is its reader. with its insistence upon the horizontal surface of the text (where does a literal character like the Knight of Holiness. They haven’t read history. And this we generally are reluctant to admit. “interconnecting and criss-crossing” surface of the text (28). the world of fiction. exist if not on the page?). We contradict ourselves every day. horizontal. I guess. are related to the . and that we are never. or the Queen of Hearts. knowable. which—with such an interactive text—is necessarily to learn to read ourselves as well. as Purdy’s troubled reception history would seem to indicate: The critics seem to think there is such a thing as rational behavior. Our failure to read allegory successfully—to allow ourselves to be engaged by its innate and insistent questioning of our assumptions of the nature of reality and meaning—is thus not only an aesthetic. as the reader translates the words on the page into “metaphorical” scenes of fictive reality in the mind’s eye (67). accreting. we’re not the next. clear. to the literal. (28) In order to understand this multiple-signifying process in allegory. and Quilligan’s effort to teach us to read allegory as an innately interactive and necessarily ambiguous signifying text. Life is contradictory. and the allegorical text does not hesitate to tell us so. finally. .1 By contrast. and distinct levels—one of material things and one of abstract meanings—and pay close attention. which is a collection of lunacies.48 / alternative realisms word said and meaning meant. self-conscious allegory. Rather. Allegory refuses to provide us with a recognizable world in which we are at home within our assumed values and identities. as selves. to the simultaneity of the process of signifying multiple meanings. and turns those questions on us as readers. it is the mimetic realist mode of writing and reading that tends to take place on two distinct levels. allegory is constantly reminding us of our precarious position—and thus of our culpability and responsibility—as readers of signifying texts. but an ethical failure. refuses to allow us to engage our negative capability and to sink into. . Lane “Interview”) Purdy’s fictive effort to express our contradictory world and selves through allegory. It is in our face. Indeed. or drift away into. allegory insistently questions both world and identity. or own-able. the real ‘action’ of any allegory is the reader’s learning to read the text properly” (24). (Purdy. we must rid ourselves of the notion that allegory proceeds on two simple. What we are one day. quite literally. rather. Quilligan argues.
that our concepts of matter. It is worth remembering that. are models. . and its focus upon the literal—in the sense of historically accurate and interpretatively transparent—truth of scripture. in any case. relational reality of any subject and object. have had to come to grips with the fact that “the important question is no longer what he knows but how he knows it” (95–96). (113) The ethical and epistemic advantage of allegory as a fictive mode is that it does not run the risk of being mistaken for conventional reality. and of the universe.whatever is. the Vatican had given him the option of publishing his solar-centric model of the universe with the caveat that it was only one possible alternative (Barfield 50). . Martin Luther declared unequivocally. with “the affirmation of the Uncertainty and Indeterminacy principle” of physics. More important: the model cannot. Allegorical interpretation of the world and its texts has tended to flourish in periods in which the conditions. allegory first came into serious disrepute with the Reformation. the metaphysical-epistemic philosopher. In the modern Western world. and its persistent play with words and images. its elaborate framing devices. With allegory’s focus upon the literal text (its tendency toward personification of abstractions. values. By extension. and on its limitations as a language. and the failure of the effort to create a “Unified Theory” of mathematics to account for all of reality—which. before Galileo was charged with heresy and threatened with excommunication. it alerts us to the uncertainty innate in all sign systems. it insists upon its own existence as a contingent artifact. and in knowledge itself. and assumptions of the everyday real world have been called into question. Rather. in Whitman 3). Lukacs concluded: We must recognize . As Jon Whitman recently wrote: “The turn to allegorical interpretation repeatedly marks civilizations trying to keep—or in danger of losing—their intellectual . dependent upon its inventor. A model is man-made. like the self-qualifying models of matter Lukacs considers. “I hate allegories” (qtd. As historian John Lukacs argued recently in At the End of an Age. and must not. be mistaken for reality. and that admit of their own contingency. is wrong / 49 efforts of contemporary theoretical scientists and philosophers to make improved models of our world and knowledge—models that allow for the shared. This period also saw the arising of modern science and its claims for a singleness of certainty in truth. its self-conscious symmetries and repetitions. would explain reality only in the self-limited terms of mathematics itself—both the theoretical scientist and his close cousin. among other things). allegory calls the nature of reality itself into question.
which Purdy . However.50 / alternative realisms and spiritual equilibrium” (4). the plot of a Jane Austen novel may be interpreted as evoking (unwittingly. in which the onceprivileged truth of science has come to be understood to be conditional. Purdy’s rich texts are in need of a sustained critical analysis focused on the workings of the allegorical arguments in each and throughout—a comprehensive and systematic symbolic analysis as ambitious and thorough as Frye’s reading of Blake. and in which the technologically enabled merging of cultures with radically different histories and value structures has created ongoing sociopolitical and epistemic crisis. We have only begun to detect the full range of symbolic complexity in Purdy’s novels. unlike allegorical critics. as Northrop Frye famously contended. without an overt philosophic or political argument of their own. and Adams laid the groundwork for such an analysis in their work of three decades and more ago. read an allegory by learning how to read it” (227). for example. the allegorizing literary critic may well resent the creative allegorist’s control over the matter of interpretation (Anatomy 90). the habits and skills associated with a sophisticated critical allegoresis—by which. (There is the danger. as contemporary allegorical theorists are quick to point out. as an initiate into the text’s mysteries. On the other hand. but there is much that remains to be examined and understood. perhaps) the domestic societal tensions created by British Imperial colonization—are not generally useful for reading allegories that are created as such. along with all other truths. that Purdy’s best critics have been those of an earlier generation—such as Adams. is certainly such a civilization. Schwarzchild. Our modern world. and by those with various Marxist-influenced political agendas. and complexities of sign systems. as well as being innately revolutionary in their implicit and explicit political argument. contradictions.) Early Purdy critics such as Tanner. and have yet to comprehend the multiple implications of their allegorical nature. The irony is that Purdy’s allegorical texts are radically deconstructive of their own fictionalizing. that such a currently unpopular critical project would not be able to see its way past the editorial board and into print. and Bettina Schwarzchild— who were willing to trace the complexities of the text’s symbol systems and argument in a careful and subtle descriptive fashion. Indeed. and it therefore should be no surprise that allegoresis (the allegorical interpretation of privileged texts) has come to the fore with the post-structuralist emphasis upon the slippages. submitting oneself to the text’s tutorial may well seem a dereliction of duty. Tanner. Allegory requires of its reader that he or she adopt the position of the student. of course. As Quilligan noted. “Readers of allegory. then. For today’s typical politically engaged literary critic. Purdy has been more or less ignored by near-contemporary practitioners of deconstruction. It is perhaps no surprise.
and indeed. which they don’t understand. and to some extent the character of the grandmother. (Purdy “Artistic Statement”) Unlike the allegorical subgenres of fantasy. the interchange between them. Purdy’s fictions take place in an American world that is often very similar to our own. science fiction. and setting . and the contemporary hybrid genre of naturalistic-symbolism that is sometimes referred to as allegory. in which every character. are clearly meant to be interpreted in an allegorical-symbolic fashion. The outer texture is realistic. I would argue that O’Connor’s fiction is typically only partially allegorical. at the conclusion of which the grandmother identifies the Misfit as her son. however. since they bear a naturalistic veneer. scene. as we know. and is then killed by him. In the story “A Good Man is Hard to Find. The reader or teacher who has mastered the art of locating and interpreting such key symbolic passages within otherwise largely naturalistic texts may well be flummoxed.” for instance. and Western.whatever is. is wrong / 51 himself pointed out (Baldanza 566). but the actual story has a symbolic. but with meaningful differences. fairly common practice in modern and contemporary fiction. Purdy’s allegorical novels do not necessarily appear to announce themselves as such. To the untutored reader. the convention of embedding key symbolic passages within naturalistic narratives is. the character of the Misfit. a writer with whom Purdy has been much compared. which has a “realistic veneer” but is symbolic through and through. I do not pretend to complete a comprehensive allegorical analysis within the limits of this chapter. is the thematic and symbolic heart of the story. (We may recall that O’Connor described herself as a religious writer who felt bound to couch her message in the guise of naturalistic fiction in order to deliver it to a skeptical public. A distinction must be made between the type of allegorical fiction that Purdy created. almost mythic quality. as the author himself explained: My writing is both realistic and symbolic. and his narratives are likewise similar to but different from the narratives of conventional mimetic fiction. The other characters and scenes in the story act as a naturalistic setup and environment for the symbolic climax and its theological-metaphysical argument. Rather. We might take as an example of the latter the well-known fiction of Flannery O’Connor. when confronted with a wholehearted allegorical text. in what follows I seek to point out various allegorical elements and strains in Purdy’s texts that may contribute to such an analysis in the future. The characters are being moved by forces.) Although O’Connor’s fiction is remarkable for the didactic concision of her symbolic argument.
as in a dream. with elements of mock-epic and picaresque. languished of an incurable ailment. Malcolm. there is no knowing where to begin and end the interpretive reading task. Purdy’s texts provide us with ample clues. if not indecently. who. are overtly so. (1) The extravagance and ambivalence of this opening sentence (which seems to sum up the story so as to discard of it at once) serves as a clue to the novitiate reader that he is entering a realm that is other than the ordinary. hopeless love for Elijah Thrush. In such a text. although it may seem to be familiar. the critic seeking to interpret an allegorical text may do well to recall the King of Hearts’ pointed reading instruction to the White Rabbit in Wonderland: “Begin at the beginning . painter of art nouveau. .” “countless”—contributes to the reader’s disorientation by insisting upon the un-circumscribable nature of the subject matter. One basis of the action is the running argument and endless jockeying for position between the eternal feminine and eternal masculine principles. her willful. after ruining the lives of countless men and women.” “hopeless. Purdy’s characters habitually tend toward the archetypal. We may witness a sample interchange between them. This dreamlike quality is fostered by the digressive. and of its larger-thanlife.52 / alternative realisms seems to invite symbolic interpretation and understanding. But unlike Carroll. plunging him headlong into a fictive landscape in which normal perspectives of reality do not seem to apply. For Purdy’s fictive world is—like Wonderland—a world apart. . “incorrectly. I am Elijah Thrush : Millicent De Frayne. Purdy does not provide the reader with a narrative transitional device (a fall down a rabbit hole or step through a mirror) to let us know that we have entered an allegorical realm. if we know how to recognize and to read them. and go on till you come to the end: then stop” (113). As Fletcher noted.” was finally himself in love. “the mime. . Malcolm is in the form of a quest. whereas I am Elijah Thrush is characterized by the overt theatricality and symmetrical stasis of the masque. The hyperbolic language—“immense. but the major figures in this novel. however. embodied in the two major figures of the text.” with his great grandson. de-centered sentence structure. one chief identifying characteristic of allegory is “the lack of that perspective which would create a mimetic world” (171). Consider the introduction to one of Purdy’s most overtly allegorical novels. A full-fledged allegory such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a useful analogy to keep in mind when approaching Purdy’s less obviously allegorical fiction. the sole possessor of an immense oil fortune. poet.” “incurable. Indeed. which serves to throw the reader off his balance. who was young in 1913. demi-god-like figures. and in the earlier novel.
They think these books are like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress or Spenser’s Faerie Queene. and their inventive plotting against one another. I am begging you therefore to run as you would for your lives. which she never earned a dime of. “has corrupted his own great-grandson. (In his anger he always gave away his age. and there is not a young person in this audience tonight whom he has not either corrupted or will ruin and corrupt. When I teach Purdy’s novels to my literature students. I went. I can vouch for the fact . though professionally he listed himself always as twentyeight. For at the heart of allegory lies the symmetrical archetypal ritual as ordering principle. I couldn’t get over it. . (Canning 17) Purdy’s surprise is understandable. however. creating a repetitive symmetry and rhythm that is essentially ritualistic in nature. . Ladies and gentlemen. Oral Roberts University: I thought it must be a mistake. stomping in like this in the midst of my most fatiguing number .) She has the breath of a tribe of cannibals and about as much beauty as an overage anteater. as his allegorical fiction is not in the least dogmatically religious. . I ask them to attend to the text’s ritualistic and archetypal symbol structure. run indeed as if the whole edifice were in flames . . The continual bickering between them. is wrong / 53 as Millicent De Frayne interrupts one of Elijah Thrush’s infamous privatetheatre one-man performances (in which he plays variations on the masculine ideal—Narcissus to Priapus). prompting an outraged response from the legendary “mime”: “Damned old bag of bones. . In a telling anecdote.whatever is. . That being said. in lieu of searching for the standard plot progression and character development— the futile search for which will lead only to frustration with an allegorical text. as the Oral Roberts’ students seemed to be inclined to interpret it.” “On the other hand. and yet she flatters herself that I am hopelessly enamored of her . this common whore here. give shape to this oddly hilarious and nightmarish novel (that reads like a long night at the circus). and the first book I saw them reading was I am Elijah Thrush. That’s what they saw me doing.” Millicent De Frayne began her rejoinder. has been persecuting me since the turn of the century. religious allegory. kept out of jail only by her wealth. this wicked mountebank.” (50) Millicent De Frayne’s inherited wealth from oil points to her archetypal role as Mother Earth—the “common whore” and cannibalistic “old bag of bones”—as Elijah Thrush’s inveterate corruption of youth is indicative of the primordial Priapic urge. Purdy related the seemingly unlikely event of being invited to give a reading at the conservative Christian institution. as opposed to the naturalistic novel’s principle of narrative development (Fletcher 66–67).
Such meaning need not. as descriptions. like something forgotten. Purdy’s quaintly historic and eccentric names—Eustace Chisholm. questioning the ideal of progress. in their verbal distinctiveness. with whom he had much in common as a creator. humorous. the more their evocative names (which are often purposeful and meaningful in and of themselves: “Claire” sees all too clearly. be of a doctrinal religious nature. for a meaning and relevance in the text. and they refer to one another.” while other Purdy characters are called “the scissors grinder. rather than simply as signifiers.” “the thespian. unpredictable characters.” “the great woman. Allegory is adroit at creating this impression of movement within stasis. but it will have an ethical import. Nora Bythewaite—may evince a pastoral nostalgia for a lost America. and begin searching. They are sieves through which the character is poured. Vance DeLake. Purdy habitually refers to his characters.54 / alternative realisms that the successful allegorical reading approach of the Oral Roberts students is similar to the success that Purdy’s novels have proved in my classroom once the students learn to stop looking for the “direct relevance” to their world that they are used to finding in contemporary mimetic fiction. etc. and at the end of the story it is the name alone that remains. Such designations emphasize a character’s generic position in a social and/or archetypal setting and hierarchy. . When we seek to understand an allegory’s symbol system. So Elijah Thrush is repeatedly referred to as “the mime. As if to emphasize the instability and artificiality of identity even further. in art as in life. of course. . empty and hollow.” et cetera. by descriptive or working titles. and in themselves and their world. like a relic or ruin—which is how we first encounter them. outlandish. paradoxically. They are significant artifacts in and of themselves—clues to a virtual world of potential meanings that is hidden in the everyday. and yet strangely fitting and familiar. Fletcher remarks that “the magic of names .” “the horse tender. that is other than the obvious. more than any other linguistic phenomenon dominates the allegorical work” (294).” “the little man. “Parkhearst” signals the end of pastoral innocence: park hearse. Purdy’s names are typically unlikely and eccentric. and to question our assumptions. Abner Blossom. while calling into question his or her particular identity and individuality—seeming less a mask hiding an essential inner self than a heraldic device proclaiming one’s spectral social and psychological presence. He relished elaborate.) come to seem. but they also serve. These dramatic epithets are particularly fitting for characters remarkable for their overt theatricality of speech and gesture (recalling their . Estel Blanc. as all allegory serves to instruct us to examine our lives and behavior. Eloisa Brace. rather. The more time we spend with Purdy’s willful. the characters’ names are a good place to start. and archaic names perhaps as much as did Firbank.
in which potential meanings coexist and coincide. (9) Stadler’s argument regarding “real speech” echoes a contention by Walter Benjamin that “allegory . Stadler contended that. Stadler’s observation echoes that of Benjamin. is wrong / 55 morality play ancestors). just as writing is” (162). which has polluted our shared language to the point at which authentic speech has become nearly impossible. like the poor peasant who is a natural-born king. In the world of these novels authentic being is achieved through fidelity to an obscure. Allegories tell us that we are fated to speak our temperamentally prefigured scripts in a world whose ultimate meaning is beyond us.whatever is. Stadler concluded: Purdy’s conjuring of a kind of neo-Greek theater of American speech was a brilliant maneuver. indeed. But their speech and gestures point insistently elsewhere. It is the virtual realm hidden “within plain sight” within the actual. Benjamin further argued that allegory “is the form in which man’s subjection to nature is most obvious” (166). . but a form of expression. contemporary novelist Matthew Stadler traced the development of the theatrical element in Purdy’s fiction. Stadler contended that Purdy’s novels evolved from an eccentric naturalism into the “theater of real speech” as a result of the author’s observation and hatred of the consumer society in which we live. Purdy’s allegorical characters tend to inhabit the surface setting of a more or less naturalistic reality in his novels as though it were a stage. when he explained that the allegorical Baroque German Trauerspiel (“sorrow play”) sought to propel its audience into a richly ambiguous speech world. in which the living are subject to signifying nature’s “mysterious instruction.2 In an excellent recent overview of Purdy’s work and career. and.” and from which we normally are separated by the world of human history understood . just as speech is expression. is not a playful illustrative technique. . toward a realm of metaphorical potential-in-meaning. beginning with the publication of Eustace Chisholm and the Works in 1967. prefigured script—a logic of the cosmos that is beyond us and is embedded in real speech. the only way forward at a time when a great deal of imaginative writing had become subsumed within the rhetoric of consumerism. as on the other side of Alice’s mirror. (8) Again. It is a mistake to conceive of this “other” realm to which allegories refer as a world of final ideas fixed in abstract stasis. Rather it is a realm of radical signification. in the succeeding novels Purdy published in the 1970s. his work evolved from simply suggesting a critique of naturalism to becoming a fully functioning alternative to it.
With its emphasis on the limits of signification. Purdy’s materialism is evident in his insistent focus on his characters’ bodiliness. As George Steiner wrote in his insightful introduction to Benjamin’s posthumously published monograph: “The Trauerspiel is counter-transcendental. In that sense. by contrast. In allegory. as allegory also seeks to remind us through its focus on its own bodily existence as a text. Lewis Carroll. particularly in regards to eating. for instance. O’Connor’s violence is didactically allegorical in nature. allegory is innately celebratory. or even than the violence in O’Connor’s fiction. abstractions are embodied within material existence. in the ascetic.56 / alternative realisms as the history of progress. Having lost its vital connection to the material world. They are also prone to spitting when they speak. The oft-noted violence in Purdy’s work is itself overtly bodily and anti-sensationalistic. By the means of such narratives. whatever their psychic. it celebrates the immanence of existence even where this existence is passed in torment” (16). and displays the triumph of nature as a mysteriously ramifying world of meaning—and it does so by insisting upon the materiality and contingency of existence within an inescapable world of time as failed history. unflinching portrayals of physical violence are much more disturbing than the stylized Hollywood version. Benjamin argued. and is in the service of a transcendent . bolting their food. smacking their lips. metaphysical strain of Romanticism that may be seen running variously through Shelley. and Ashbery—that it becomes entirely dependent upon the transcendent and its negative theology. in effect. religious or temperamental allegiance. allegory will not allow us to forget that we are fated to live among the signifying ruins of time. even when the story it tells is not. It is only when allegory tends toward the wholly immaterial abstract—as. cliché and stereotype. Full-fledged allegorists such as Dante. including that of our own bodies. history attempts. William Blake. And yet we are alive and not dead. and Purdy. cause and effect. steadfastly refusing the mind’s abstracting pornographic voyeuristic fantasies of the body. Stevens. Purdy’s wrenching. allegory demonstrates the failure of history as a self-limiting and redeeming story. and gulping their drinks. to overcome “signifying nature” by submitting our chaotic and multiplicitous experience to the censor of a narrow and linear rationality (Benjamin 170–171). The story triumphalist history tells us presumes to put borders around our world through the commodification of human life into beginning and end. the characters are typically ravenous. Swinburne. James Merrill. By contrast. emphasizing the bodily impulse of the intellect and the innate physicality of language. the non-allegorical abstraction is consigned to the melancholy half-life of signs that have forgotten that they are existent and contingent things. are world-affirming materialists in practice.
But she is. to grind Elijah Thrush to powder” (93). From certain viewpoints. searching portrayals. . egoistic. outraged. is a staple allegorical figure throughout Purdy’s fiction. The aging “great woman” of enormous wealth and power. the hapless victim of a historical phallocentric family structure. helpless. is wrong / 57 moral theme. Purdy used myth to powerful effect.3 Purdy’s radical allegorical figures are condemned to have the experience but miss the meaning. the persistent paradox of which makes them appear simultaneously willful and determined. Although we are not prone to identifying with allegorical figures in a self-forgetful.whatever is. and exhausted. Millicent De Frayne appears a pathetic and bitter old woman whose decades-long unrequited love has made her all too human in her inventive vindictiveness: “Our only task. merciless. His allegorical novels dramatize the unappeasable anxiety prompted by existence. . we are. frequently disturbed by the implication of their behavior and circumstance in regards to our own lives and fates. relentlessly feeding off of men. selfless. and not quite godlike. Purdy also understood men in their narcissistic. Such “objects” remind us of our own provisionality. Fletcher remarks. Elijah Thrush’s infatuation with his great-grandson is as purely heartfelt. Rare among modern writers. bespeaking an innate ambivalence in the nature of things. like figures in myth. “It is as something incomplete and imperfect that objects stare out from their allegorical structure” (186). “Purdy is . as well. wrong-headed. . He manages this by constantly shifting focus from the mundane banalities of day-to-day living to the ultramundane intercessions of fate and temperament. the immensely resourceful Eternal Feminine. nevertheless. and culture. remains. who feels herself to be. and self-lacerating as any pastoral complaint. enraged. our relationship to allegorical figures is innately antagonistic. Benjamin noted. Regarding such searing. but shares something of both states” (61). nevertheless. despondent. Tanner concluded. Purdy’s allegorical characters are intensely immanent beings bearing potentially unlimited meaning. human and godlike. in which she is variously portrayed as vituperative. upon which they seem both commentary and prophecy. one of the few American writers who seem to understand women” (“Elijah Thrush” 65). of course. self-willed abusiveness and vulnerability. Elijah Thrush even accuses her of drinking the harvested “milk” of young men’s semen in her determined effort to stay young and active. “The allegorical agent is not quite human. so that a character is made to seem alternately real and supra-real. which prevents a consoling certainty and closure (Fletcher 330). society. and they tell us that this is the actual condition of life for all of us. egoistic manner. incredulous. whereas Purdy’s violence and fiction is radically allegorical in its amoral and ritualistic nature. In this sense. indignant.
.58 / alternative realisms They threaten us with their embodiment of mysterious knowledge. giving his novels the feel of extended improvisations and works in progress. until they become. have the experience but miss the meaning—becoming in effect. but they are speaking in a language that we understand imperfectly. progressing by digressing. exhaustively accounting for their behavior from contradictory viewpoints. The world of the wandering and meandering plots in these novels is crucially bounded. and Merrill. Purdy’s characters seem apt to do almost anything at all. “I don’t think I’m that conscious of what I’m . or he can decline to explain them at all. by the unalterable limits of the characters’ temperaments as they collide with their fated circumstance. He likewise refuses to account for or to question their behavior. allegorical figures in our own right. too. Purdy as narrator does not presume to be responsible for his characters or to direct their behavior. Purdy’s novels proceed inductively. allows its creators a maximum of wish-fulfillment with a maximum of restraint” (69). As readers of allegory. Fletcher noted that allegory’s assent to and endorsement of “cosmic notions of fate and personal fortune . tracing a trajectory that seems the product of no merely conscious fashioning. In Purdy’s novels. however. the allegorical author is figured as a fallible and contingent initiate into the mysteries of existence. The solution is implicit in the question—in the discovery of the crime. or posing of the problem to be solved: the nature of the story to be told—but the means by which one solves the crime or problem (the way in which one tells the story) is yet to be determined. . In allegorical poetry. he seems as much at the mercy of their whim as do we. He can overexplain them. we. we might say that they are constrained by the genre in which they find themselves and by the mood it endorses—which also served as limits on their author. Blake. Rather. There are two methods by which an author can work to prevent readers from ego-identifying with fictional characters. which was more often Purdy’s method. It is almost as though we are being spoken about in the most familiar of terms in our very presence by strangers with unseen power over us. explained away. the author typically dramatizes his role as pilgrim and initiate—as do Dante. In fictive terms. In response to a question regarding his thematic intentions in a particular novel. except be other than themselves in a world other than their own. Purdy remarked. in effect. the author’s initiate role is evident in the meandering of the narrative’s unpredictable plotline within the unalterable confines of its mood and genre—like the movements of an animal in a cage. as Samuel Beckett remarked of Proust’s characters. It is as though the narrative were inscribing the path of an ongoing criminal investigation or scientific experiment. Like his characters and his readers.
as a variation on a theme. for instance. for whom the nature of allegory was a central aesthetic preoccupation. The “battle” form. Purdy is vigorously anti psychoanalytic. but there are recurring battles throughout. sometimes between the archetypal characters themselves. it does not occur to us to wish for a happy ending or to long for an improvement in these characters. In his refusal to account for his own or his characters’ behavior. I’m dealing so deep down with the subject that it’s hard for me to comment” (Lane “Interview”). the same could be said of Purdy’s novels. but the reasons for and causes of which remain unknown to him (Fletcher 151–153). Fletcher contended that allegories. It is interesting to note that Gilles Deleuze. To one extent or another. We are not in a position to make such judgments regarding their selves and lives. I am Elijah Thrush. remarked that “all of Kafka’s works could be entitled ‘Description of a Combat’ ” (Essays 132). The progress of allegories is not the causal progression of naturalistic narrative development. into Elijah’s heir and replacement in his one-man show. Purdy’s allegorical novels proceed variously by the progress and the battle form. clearly functions in the progress form.whatever is. they are charting new psychological waters. proceeds in a serial and repetitive fashion. None of Purdy’s novels are what one would regard as typically plotdriven or character-driven. but he cannot alter either. The picaresque and mock-epic Malcolm. allowing themselves to be guided by the instinctive divagations of human nature within the determined confines of the same. which the text appears to be expounding and dissecting through its compulsive digressions (Fletcher 156–159). which is dominated by the serial battle scenes between Elijah and Millicent. in their insistent digressions. rather to “resolve themselves into either of two basic forms. refusing to be self-limited by the boundaries of the known and recognized. On the contrary. which. also tells the story of the progress of the narrator. and sometimes between the characters and their fated . which is not to say that his novels are un-psychological. perpetually flout the innate story arc of naturalism.” which he labels “battle and progress” (151). non-allegorical structuring traits. in which the protagonist is an actor in a plot that is fated. (As readers. by contrast. tend. Rather it is the reader who is being prompted to alter his behavior and understanding in response to the text’s mysterious instruction. but is the ritualistic progress of the quest. which progress always by opposition. is wrong / 59 doing. Albert Peggs. The relationship of a character’s temperament to his circumstances determines whether his fate is good or bad.) Rather Purdy’s novels are driven by the characters’ unpredictable temperaments in the grip of uncontrollable circumstances. and by a mixture of the two. Likewise. which are naturalistic.
do many things at which the mind is astonished” (167). but it is beyond . each individual’s human nature is his destiny. and by so doing determine our fate. as Benjamin insisted. Allegory acts as a corrective to the illusions of consciousness by dramatizing the experience of being at the mercy of powers (within or without of us) that are beyond our conscious selves. . by explaining the innate workings of the body in its own terms—pretending to choose what it has no choice but to endure. we are an empty shell at one moment. Its nature is such that it registers effects. it is a problem of love and hate and not judgment. The fictions with which consciousness consoles itself by claiming control of that which is determined come at a high social and psychological price. Judgment prevents the emergence of any new mode of existence . As Deleuze commented. Nature is ultimately mysterious. These gods lie dormant until they are brought to life by our encountered circumstances. . (Essays 135) For Spinoza. self-reproach. . but it knows nothing of causes” (Spinoza 19). The mind as consciousness consoles itself. According to the model of reality outlined by Spinoza and Deleuze (which is implicitly endorsed by the allegorical mode).60 / alternative realisms circumstance. without thought or hesitation. As Spinoza had said. whether they bring forces to us . It is not a question of judging other existing beings. Rather it is a means for moving away from and out of a self-proclaimedly progressive world that is all too often mired in cliché and judgment concerning the false absolutes of good and evil. and the embodiment of a god the next. but of sensing whether they agree or disagree with us. such repetitive and persistent combat is not the existential quagmire it might seem. by virtue of the laws of its own nature. Human nature admits of no judgment—no limit—but itself. So it is that we each carry our fates within us: our temperamental loves and hates are godlike in regards to ourselves. For Deleuze. . As viewed through allegory. Deleuze concluded: No one develops through judgment. but through a combat that implies no judgment . however. Like allegorical figures. Intolerance. Our loves and hates act instinctively. The challenge is not to alter one’s nature—to change oneself from evil to good. Spinoza describes the relationship of fate to consciousness in terms of body and mind: “The body can. however. . oppression. et cetera—but to alter one’s world so that one’s nature can thrive. human consciousness is primarily an onlooker to the ongoing drama of our fated lives. . It loves what enables its fulfillment and hates what hinders it. and misery result from the misconception that we consciously choose and affect that which is fated. “Consciousness is by nature the locus of an illusion.
the novels engaged in a lament of our failed world’s casualties are allegorical tragedies (I will explain the term). Purdy demonstrated his allegorical proclivities when he told Christopher Lane: “I think I’ll always be—I hate to say this. “There is no evil in the world. Everything is money. Benjamin wrote in his conclusion. as they attempt to dismantle the false gods that so often serve to spoil our lives. great cruel society. All of Purdy’s novels are satirical to one degree or another—although they tended to become less bitingly so as his career developed. (2) lament the world’s casualties. fashion. we may divide the allegorical-political argument of Purdy’s novels into three broad rhetorical categories with generic affiliations. It arises in man himself. Whatever is. and to trace the general shape and argument of his work in regards to his allegorical means and methods. Not all of Purdy’s novels fit easily into this schema. we need to understand the different ways in which they work both to destroy and to create through allegory. The novels that are dominated by a critique of our world and its false gods are satirical in nature. nature serves as a reproof against human prejudice—against the inclination to judge and to be judged. For discussion’s sake. is wrong” (16). Rather. In any case. and (3) envision a better world of the future. In order to understand the profound political argument in Purdy’s texts. or rather for judgment” (233). it’s a great. We have a government that’s totally corrupt and television is a great bleeding rectum spewing filth which is poisoning everyone. No one is doing anything about the real problems. The novels (1) critique the world we live in. is unnatural. And now it’s very sick because these children are killing one another. conformity. I hate to categorize myself—but I guess I’ll always be a revolutionary. Allegory demonstrates the manner in which our all too human judgment all too often fails us. These categories and genres are meant to be suggestive. we can work to create a world in which our loves are given the opportunity to thrive and our hates are disempowered. with the desire for knowledge.4 Although we cannot control our loves and hates. They are destructive as well. shallowness. cruelty. It might be instructive to begin a discussion of the satirical element in Purdy’s work with a telling quotation from his revealing interview with Christopher Lane. (Lane “Interview”) . is wrong / 61 reproof—as nothing that is. my purpose in surveying the whole of Purdy’s fiction in this broad manner is to demonstrate the remarkably various uses to which he turned his allegorical talent.whatever is. Purdy’s novels are constructive in this sense. while the novels that attempt to envision a better world of the future function as pastoral romances. but most of them do. in which he expounded upon his view of our American world of the present: It is a culture that despises the soul. rather than definitive or exhaustive.
revealing society’s illness through the misery and dysfunction of its individuals. in which he is no longer responsible for his actions. ushers the patient into the final stages of survival sickness. all are diagnosed through the dramatized anatomy of individuals suffering from these maladies—and who make others suffer as well. and his woebegone characters are made to seem like figures in Dante’s Hell. Purdy’s disturbing allegorical anatomies of social and psychological illness are apt to be misread by readers unfamiliar with the workings of allegory. and prison finished what they had started. who is a victim of what Anarchist theorist Raoul Vaneigem diagnosed as “survival sickness” (19). not only his membrum virile went from “At-tention!” to “Pa-rade rest!” to “At ease!” but the bite which had been so long. that one no longer feels oneself to be alive at all. So it is that Cabot’s visit to a quack therapist (where his treatment for “tiredness” consists. The novel focuses on consumerism and its attendant evils. He proved himself a profound symptomatologist. The most bitter and searching of Purdy’s satires is his 1964 novel. as one becomes a more thoroughly invested and enabled consumer. The insidious nature of survival sickness is such that most attempts to become more alive and healthy serve simply to worsen the disease. tellingly. The central consumer in the novel is the “serial rapist” Cabot Wright himself. as a cog in the marketplace mechanism. . which the author referred to as “a book about how awful America is” (Canning 36). Purdy’s allegorical satires and tragedies serve as an indictment of reality as his characters experience it. while effectively paralyzing his conscious will. compulsively pursuing their self-styled punishment. which is to live a life so hemmed in by convention and safety. Cabot Wright Begins. On the contrary. Through the dramatization of such hyperbole in his satires and tragedies. and the psychological-existential sickness of nihilism. Thus the social sicknesses of homophobia and consumerism. who may be prone to consider that an author’s choice of material is an endorsement of its worldview. having become a sexual machine. and to prompt us to consider possible cures. mimicking the obsessive-compulsive motions of the consuming marketplace. His eventual arrest and incarceration come as a release: When the police began their so-called brutality on him. or emotionally invested in his desires. His vivid depiction of abuse and dysfunction demonstrates the manner in which each illness acts as its own scourge. and as his readers all too often know it.62 / alternative realisms The concluding metaphor is meaningfully disturbing. Purdy attempted to call attention to the grisly symptoms of our world’s various sicknesses. of being hung on a padded sort of fishhook) further awakens the animal instincts in his body and psyche while intensifying his mental stupor. The therapist’s success at engaging Cabot’s animal-instinct mechanism.
we may become more thoughtful in our actions. but it serves to question the very enterprise of the artist in a consumerist world. as it alerts us to the fact that we have a hand—however minor—in controlling both text and world. concerned with the failure of various framing characters to complete a novel based upon his story. This writing project is finally undone by the “Goethe” of publishers. and Malcolm in particular. whereby a novel about Cabot Wright is being produced even as the novel that tells his story is being devoured by its reader. but it is solace nonetheless. Is there any way in such a context for an author to avoid becoming another user among users—fictively digesting material for the reader’s further consumption? This novel says no. but it is a bitter humor. is wrong / 63 the huge false-teeth which Business America fastened at his jugular was off. I am Elijah Thrush. but also of the satirical element in the other. and more tolerant in our thinking and behavior. primarily non-satirical novels—is generally comic.” and “it’s the age of the black faggot and fellatio” (203). as well. identities in Purdy’s satires are presented as improvised tools that we use against one another in our quest for power and control. One repeated object of conventional satire is the notion of identity as a stable possession and natural right. seems to consume its own project as a fictive endeavor. “I won’t be a writer in a place and time like the present” (228). since “rape” is no longer “in. is only the purported center of a novel that is. Our awareness of our role as readers in the text makes us aware. Rather.whatever is. The effect of such satires—of Cabot Wright Begins. of our role as users in the world. by analogy. It also insists upon the reader’s culpability. The failure of the story to conform to the “taste” of the age is a suitable conclusion for a novel in which consumption is satirized—a novel that. Purdy’s satirical novels compile damning testimony of a using world—a world everywhere opposed to the Golden Rule of treating others as one would like to be treated oneself. We are potentially made better persons by such knowledge. There is no escape. This may be painful solace. who was a privileged son and Wall Street golden boy. One is implicated in the consumerist society simply by the fact that one exists in it. This dialogue is in the mouth of the inset novel’s failed author. in a broader sense. reminds us of our role in the manipulative consuming machinery of the marketplace. But the allegorical text isn’t content with implicating the author in his user status. who—after consulting the bookreviewing powers that be (close parodies of actual literary arbiters of the 1960s)—declares the work unpublishable. and as . (195) The sensational raping spree of Cabot Wright. Humbled by our conviction as users. concluding with the declaration. The allegorical import of the elaborate framing device.
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life-rafts upon which we blithely float through the years in a spiritual torpor and mental stupor. Purdy’s satires attempt to jolt us out of our daze. So it is that the protagonists in the three overtly satirical novels are made to undergo acute identity crises that make them question their assumptions regarding self and world. At the end of Cabot Wright Begins, the title character writes a letter to the author who had failed to make a novel out of his story, in which he asks, “Do You think there’s a Chance for Me if I ever Find out who I is?” He declares that he is about to leave New York on a journey “with myself and in search of same” (228). That is to say—he is finally about to begin, having discovered—through the help of his hack biographer, who had enabled him to see himself “all in one piece together like a movie”—that heretofore he had been on autopilot, following the script that his society and family had given him, which he had accepted without question (194). Now he has decided “to take up disguises for a while, I think harmless ones. Think I may be a preacher further South or maybe some kind of a quack healer” (194). Cabot Wright has discovered the truth of Wilde’s dictum (endorsed by allegory) that masks are truths, or the closest thing that we have to them, and he is off to spread the word to those who, like his former self, are unable to hear anything other than a sales pitch. The title character’s escape from his own story is a spark of hope at the end of a dark and bitter novel, and reminds us that allegories, by putting frames around themselves, point both to the positive and the negative ramifications of the limits of fiction, of reason, and of identity. The satirical I am Elijah Thrush, by contrast, ends with a vision of fictive imprisonment, as the narrator becomes trapped in his subject matter upon the withdrawal of the subject himself. Near the novel’s conclusion, Elijah Thrush, the famous mime and one-man-show, and the subject of the “paid memoirist” narrator, Albert Peggs, is kidnapped and forcibly betrothed by his obsessed fan and backer, Millicent De Frayne. The aged thespian’s final injunction to his memoirist is a plea that he keep his oneman-show running: “Assume my name if you like, anything . . . Carry on my work” (136–137). The novel concludes with Albert Pegg’s pronouncement to the waiting theatre audience (and to the reader): “I am . . . Elijah Thrush” (138). Albert had earlier complained that he had been made to feel increasingly “unlike [him]self” since first coming into contact with the archetypal pair of Thrush and De Frayne (45), whose hyperbolic and archaic language gradually replaced his own (106). Elijah Thrush himself expresses a doubt as to his identity as a result of his unending battle with his archetypal coeval, Millicent De Frayne: “Are you listening to me, Albert? Oh, you are so distant lately. Now see here. Am I, do you attend me, am I, Albert, really her ?” (101).
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Such questions and doubts prompt us as readers to wonder whether we might also be in danger of losing our identities as a result of our relationship with these characters and their world. All fiction asks of us that we temporarily suspend our identity in order to invest ourselves imaginatively in the world of the text. Allegory, however, goes one step further, questioning the reality of our assumed identities by aggressively obscuring the line between fact and fiction. I am Elijah Thrush functions as a virtual onslaught on, and critique of, the very notion of an innate or essential, “real,” self. In its seemingly endlessly resourceful mannerisms, it, rather, emphasizes the eccentricity of identity, which is presented as innately improvisational and perpetually provisional in nature. With its elaborately interactive theatricality, and its implicit denial of the “inwardness” of its allegorical characters, who are nothing if not obvious—although their allegorical meaning, of course, is not (what depth these surfaces have!)—the novel also serves to call into question the “individual” as a valid, or even useful, epistemic category. Are we all not, rather, multiplicities and assemblages, networks and connections, masks and disguises? By undermining the assumptions of individual identity and autonomy, Purdy insisted that we consider ourselves both in relation to our shaping environments and to our innate and instinctive desires—life’s great “givens.” In his allegorical tragedies—among which I would include 63: Dream Palace, Eustace Chisholm and the Works, Jeremy’s Version, The House of the Solitary Maggot, Narrow Rooms, and On Glory’s Course— Purdy further demonstrated that we are both more and less than the autonomous individual actors we habitually assume ourselves to be. The implicit contention of Purdy’s tragic novels is that the forgotten, hidden gods remain active in our lives, determining our fate. We come face to face with a god when we experience an element in our nature—an instinct, inclination, propensity or drive—that is beyond our control. When in the grips of such a desire or drive, we are in the hands of destiny. The ruling deity in Purdy’s house of fiction is Eros, the god to which even other gods are eventually subject. In one way or another, each of Purdy’s novels may be read as an allegory of love. In the face of love, we cannot reason the need, but must act as compelled, or suffer the consequences. The central figures in Purdy’s tragic novels are typically the victims of a fate or desire they refuse to accept. In a homophobic society and world, it is perhaps inevitable that these victims are sometimes those who are unwilling to accept a homosexual desire, which they, nevertheless, are unable to deny. Caught in between their instinctive desire and their conscious will, these tortured characters self-destruct. In Eustace Chisholm and the Works, a young man who has always thought of himself as straight suddenly finds himself hopelessly in love with another man. He is so outraged by this state
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of affairs that he prompts his own gruesome and violent death (by disemboweling) at the hands of a sadistic army superior—himself driven by a relentless desire for the tortured soldier—rather than allow himself to pursue fulfillment of his desire. A similarly grisly punishment (of being crucified on a barn door) is prepared for himself by a young man in Narrow Rooms who cannot endure the fact that his love for a former classmate has put him at another man’s mercy. Such examples of failed homosexual attachments may have made Purdy an unfit spokesperson for politically correct gay literature and liberation—these violent and self-destructive figures are far from being “well-behaved bourgeoisie”—and yet the intense engagement with hatred of self and other endeavored by Purdy’s work is an overwhelmingly damning portrait of a homophobic (“well-behaved bourgeoisie”) society, whose most pitiable victims are those society members unable to root out the collective hatred in themselves so as to pursue their individual happiness. The self-destructive protagonists in these dark and painful novels are in no way conventional tragic heroes. Their suffering neither ennobles nor enlightens them, nor us (except in obverse fashion). Rather they are like the suffering figures Benjamin described in the allegorical Trauerspiel— victims of history. Benjamin distinguished the allegorical tragedy of the Baroque from conventional symbolic tragedy by pointing out that, in return for the hero’s suffering, the symbolic tragedy insists upon the ethical superiority of the human protagonist, who is rewarded in his misery by a fleeting recognition of hierarchical order, as time intersects with eternity in the transcendent symbolic moment of his ritual sacrifice. By means of this sacrifice, the world is made wholly (if briefly) meaningful, and the suffering human is posited as experientially superior to the changeless gods. Faced with such knowledge, the tragic hero is stunned into silence, and the weary audience goes home saddened but gratified: redeemed (Benjamin 18). Tragic allegory, by contrast, portrays a world characterized by “torrential prolixity” (Steiner 17), in which suffering is the very condition of life, and is the only knowable meaning of time itself, which is otherwise an abstraction signifying one knows not what. This is the site of negative allegory, which inhabits an immanent, historical plane, in which time is not arrested in a transcendent moment of achieved recognition, but stretches limitlessly backwards and forwards, as its weary figures proceed from past ruin to future ruin in the slow burn of decay (Benjamin 177–178). Benjamin’s reading of Baroque German allegory may help us to understand several idiosyncratic features of Purdy’s modern novels, which likewise display a “torrential prolixity”—an unusual characteristic in the minimalist-inclined world of contemporary literary fiction. Purdy’s larger-than-life allegorical figures habitually embark on long speeches and
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extended harangues and complaints, while occupying immense ruined and decaying houses with endlessly meandering hallways, innumerable rooms, and vast vistas. Taking our clue from Benjamin, we may interpret the profuse verbiage and proliferating scenery in these novels as being representative of time as history, which is the prison in which we all are inmates, from the point of view of the life-weary and the world-hating. With no reprieve possible, such tragically fated figures see themselves as being already as good as dead—the living dead—and they inhabit the allegorically haunted world as ghosts, experiencing a suffering existence, the meaning of which they can only guess. This is the hallucinatory limbo state in which we first encounter the ghoulish couple in Purdy’s first allegorical and tragic novel, 63: Dream Palace :
“Why are we dead anyhow?” Parkhearst said, bored with the necessity of returning to this daily statement. “Is it because of our losing the people we loved or because the people we found were damned?” He laughed. One never mentioned the “real” things like this at Grainger’s, and here Parkhearst had done it, and nothing happened. Instead, Grainger listened as though hearing some two or three notes of an alto sax she recalled from the concerts she gave at her home. “This is the first time you said you were, Parkhearst. Dead,” she said in her clearest voice. He sat looking like a small rock that has been worked on by a swift but careless hammer. (122)
There is a crushing ennui and unrelenting gloom pervading 63: Dream Palace and other of Purdy’s tragedies. (There is a great deal of humor as well in these novels, as in all of Purdy’s work; but the mood of gloom prevails. Indeed, as in Shakespeare’s tragedies, the humor serves to deepen the darkness of the mood.) The lost figures in these novels are not so much in hopeless situations as they make every situation in which they find themselves hopeless by means of their self-ignorance and self-hatred—the origin of which, however, is often traceable to their stubborn and tragic adherence to the false values of the failed world in which they live. “Myself am Hell” might be their motto: they carry their doom with them and the ruined world is made to mirror their sorrow. These characters are obviously culpable, and yet childishly innocent. They don’t know why they act and feel as they do, and are bitter mysteries to themselves, as is the case with the murderous Fenton Riddleway in 63: Dream Palace :
He wanted desperately to be rid of Claire and even as he had this feeling he felt more love and pity for him than ever before. As he sat there gazing at Claire, he knew he loved him more than any other being. He was almost
(164–165) It is remarkable that. revealing details of the human situation and truths regarding our nature that we might prefer not to know or own. it is not by their author so much as by their frustrated lives and desires. If his tragic characters are determined. Although . totally representative of ulterior meanings and. so that he was afraid he would do something violent. In such passages and novels. therefore. Purdy seems to have taken up the challenge laid down by one of his chief precursors. (20) When I taught Purdy’s late story.5 It is a sad commentary on the state of our literary sophistication in regards to reading contemporary allegory that Purdy’s painfully revealing tragic-allegorical novels were received by many reviewers as sensationalistic sadomasochistic romps. in that it makes substance totally significant. (One might try to imagine a contemporary medieval Italian critic making such a charge regarding Dante’s Inferno. which pursue their own narrative logic of revenge.) On the contrary. They had discovered the paradox that is allegorical signification. In and through his tragic novels. Purdy does not appear to be forcing his narrative hand. would strike the sick boy down and harm him. even when giving us such a clear foreshadowing. in terms of our understanding of the human psyche. as Paul Binding points out in his insightful introduction to Eustace Chisholm and the Works : “The combination of nervous rhythm and classical precision in the writing should tell any sensitive reader that Purdy too is horrified by the violence he is depicting” (v–vi). And then this tenderness would be followed by fury and hatred and loathing. who contended that. Purdy pushed downwards into the depths of the human psyche— encountering gods and monsters—while holding tight to his allegorical lifeline. Oscar Wilde. Purdy’s allegorical novels chart the psychological netherworld beyond the boundaries of rational causation and conscious motive. ‘unreal’ in itself. my undergraduate literature students insisted that it was both unrealistic (“that wouldn’t happen”) and altogether too real for comfort in its intense physicality. The grim conclusions to Purdy’s tragic novels include several of the most harrowing scenes I am aware of in modern literature—scenes of an intense physical and psychological violence that are truly painful to read. “Brawith. literature has never allowed itself to become morbid enough (1055).” which renders the remarkably graphic death of a young man from the lingering effects of nauseating war wounds. Steiner remarked of the capacity of allegory to venture into psychic realms that are generally unendurable: Only allegory. can render bearable an authentic perception of the infernal.68 / alternative realisms sure that he would never feel such tenderness for any other person.
These period boundaries are not fixed. and The Nephew is a pastoral. it is love (and its perversion: hatred) that determines our lives and selves. even. which is also dark. and the pastoral romances posit a better world of the future. the tragedies lament its victims. The theme of identity remains constant throughout and is tied in Purdy’s work to the issue of sexuality in general. in turn. Malcolm is a satire. the satirical and topical I am Elijah Thrush. they function as a thematic overture to a remarkably rich and varied career in fiction. The attack in the satires on the assumption of an essentiality of identity is followed in the tragedies with an evocation of the sorrow and pain caused by an unwillingness to allow one’s natural instincts to find expression through an enabling version of the social and psychological self—the effect being that natural and ennobling love is perverted into the scourge of a demeaning and demented self-hatred. in the middle period of his career. as his early work is dominated by the satires. portray figures who are typically psychologically and sexually various and ambiguous. but darkly comic and hopeful. A rhetorical logic of argument is implicit in the progression from satire to tragedy to pastoral romance. and as the pastoral romances occupied his late period. as to kill others and ourselves in our effort to be rid of love. for instance. these tragic novels are paradoxically affirmative in that they demonstrate that love is stronger than we are. for the most part. Purdy’s first three novels established the generic structures he would work with throughout his career: 63: Dream Palace is a tragedy. as I suggested at the beginning of this section: the satires highlight the world’s failures. and the grim tragedy of Narrow Rooms was published directly after the pastoral romance of In a Shallow Grave.” these figures will be allowed . Garments the Living Wear. Eustace Chisholm and the Works and Jeremy’s Version . The later romances of In a Shallow Grave. and will continue even in death to provide the meaning to his life. refusing to limit themselves through an adherence to societal roles and stereotypes. Taken together. is wrong / 69 sometimes truly awful (in the old sense of the world—inspiring awe). The pastoral romances. as love will ever do.whatever is. Purdy’s tragic novels serve as excruciating and humbling testimony to the fact that. So it is that Fenton Riddleway’s effort to be rid of his past life and self through the murder of his younger brother is doomed to be a failure. although we may go so far. which ensures that whatever the reality of the world “out there. was published in between the tragic historical novels. Purdy’s tragic novels were written. and of homosexuality in particular. for Claire is fated to be his one true love. This refusal is paralleled by the author’s refusal to allow the effect of inhibiting societal strictures to ruin his pastoral characters’ lives. and Out with the Stars all take place behind the pastoral boundary.
Wolfgang Iser noted in his study of pastoral romance that “the artificial pastoral foreground relates simultaneously to an ideal state and to a historical world. which the novels demonstrate. but always in such a way that the latter is refracted as the reorganization of the former. The difficulty is that Garnet. I emphasize the pastoral nature of these late romances not only because of the traditional affiliation of the pastoral mode with homosexual desire. “hillbilly. but he wished me to be left in a safe quiet place” (97). For Eros is the most elusive of spirits. “I knew then there was god. I have been turned inside out in all respects. and I knew also he would leave me . whose origins on a sheepfarm. is about to be forced off of his land. like the forlorn shepherd in Virgil’s Ninth Eclogue. and that Daventry had been sent for me. Potter Daventry. is made all too evident by his unhealed wounds from Vietnam: When I was blown up. which implicitly condemns the world as we know it. all my veins and arteries moved from the inside where they belong to the outside so that as the army doc put it. and because of the novels’ many pastoral elements and references. Garnet himself gradually becomes convinced of Daventry’s immortal origins. . . “When he played the harmonica I knew he was not human. which. The historical world also appears both as what it is and what it ought to be” (48). and of the ability of the desiring figure to remain constant in his emotion. and he is so “touchy” that his flesh “all falls away at the slightest pressure.70 / alternative realisms to pursue their desires unhindered by anything other than the natural failure of those desires to ensure response from the beloved. but also because of the utopian nature of pastoral-allegorical argument. exposing the bones” (30). Iser points out the innate revolutionary and utopian political nature of pastoral artifice. rather it is present in the felt vulnerability of the pastoral realm and landscape. the first-person war-veteran narrator of In a Shallow Grave. (73) Garnet’s war wounds are such that he almost literally wears his heart on his sleeve. the first of Purdy’s late romances. The allegorical “double-vision” of the pastoral ensures that the historical world is not denied in favor of some never-land. who lives conveniently just down the road. and remarkable talent with the mouth-organ—“He made it sound almost like a flute” (96)—alert us to his pastoral-allegorical allegiance with the Great God Pan. As letter messenger and general go-between. as Purdy’s romantic protagonists testify. while explicitly envisioning a better world of the future. An allegorical-pastoral figure par excellence.” and concludes. he employs a beautiful young wayfarer. Garnet is fittingly and humorously preoccupied with writing love letters to his old high school sweetheart. The vulnerability of Garnet Montrose. sort of goat voice” (36). like .
and the Great God Pan in a strangely moving union that revivifies the mythical-allegorical image of both. while in Garments the Living Wear. Hennings—a fabulously wealthy and powerful international financier. Purdy called In a Shallow Grave a “religious” novel (Canning 18). Garnet. Christ. At one point in a narrative that is punctuated by theatrical speeches. border the ocean. directed against us and aided by the venal and coprophagous press and hoi polloi of the mob!” (65). and Quintus must contend with the inherited history of racial divide and hatred. he links the figures of the Good Shepherd. and is crowding one hundred years of age. Daventry. it is a vengeful heterosexuality itself—in the figure of a pair of jealous wives—that threatens the happiness and fulfillment of homosexually and artistically inclined figures. The progress of love in these novels is opposed by oppressive elements in the world at large. Out with the Stars is perhaps Purdy’s most tender novel (rivaled in sentiment only by the remarkably poised and poignant early pastoral The . Frye noted that. the scourge of AIDS threatens the life and happiness of the central gay couple—until it is banished (at least temporarily) by the Prospero of that magic-filled novel. and bitter harangues. in Shakespeare’s comedies and romances. We have too intimately known the virus of the power of state and church. as well as with the lingering ravages of war. Daventry miraculously saves the property (healing Garnet’s worst wounds in the process). Hennings delivers an impromptu oration to a gay audience mobilized by the AIDS epidemic. who also is politically revolutionary and sexually ambidextrous. is wrong / 71 the fields and forests of Arcadia. is enabled by the god-in-life figure of Daventry. Mr. Mr. of all people. in which he identifies the disease as yet another manifestation of oppression of homosexuals: “We. There is an enabling Eros figure such as Potter Daventry in each of Purdy’s late romances. cannot now be dismayed for long by the virus of pest or plague. Through the intercession of a last-supper-like ceremony in which he sheds and shares his blood. and then is promptly killed by a “terrible wind” that freakishly returns this unlikely “will-o’-the wist” spirit to the landscape from which he first emerged: “He was mashed into that tree as though he belonged in it. In the character of Potter Daventry. tearful confessions. which are overcome in miraculous fashion with semidivine aid. and his arms was stretched out as if he would enfold me” (128). In In a Shallow Grave. Quintus. as the love of Garnet and his young black servant and friend.whatever is. In a Shallow Grave is also a homosexual (or at least homosocial) coming out novel. a transformation in the protagonists’ identity that results in a transformation in society (from one of intolerance to one of acceptance) is enabled “by an Eros figure who brings about the comic conclusion” (A Natural Perspective 82). class distinctions and the threatening state apparatus. In the novel Out with the Stars.
and serves as a fictive explanation and accounting for the whole of Purdy’s art. while functioning as a complex meditation on the role of the gay artist in contemporary society. without engaging in an outright argument. serving. proving himself the natural heir of Theocritus’s lovelorn Cyclops. in typical allegorical fashion. however. Out with the Stars shines a discerning light backwards on the often psychologically difficult and painful novels that came before. The presence of death in the pastoral realm— et in Arcadia ego (I also am in Arcadia) — is a vivid reminder of the mutability of all such visions of the triumph of the pastoral virtues of friendship. The pastoral has long been a refuge and tool of gay artists. as it does. but he can make beautiful song of them. and for the artist in general. but. Out With the Stars serves as an extended improvisation on a favorite pastoral theme. In its multiple figurings of the individual as artist. particularly in the most outrageously mannered of the novels. The young composer Val Sturgis cannot salvage either of his two doomed love affairs.P. It is the novel in which Purdy represents most directly the fertile relationship between love and art. and a dash more on his temples” (124). a thematic pastoral mainstay. and love. The pastoral does not tell us that its version of reality is life as it is. without indulging in the pyrrhic victory of wish-fulfillment. in his natural and necessarily antagonistic relationship with the world around him.72 / alternative realisms Nephew ). the novelist and photographer Carl Van Vechten (figured as “the leading hedonist of his day” (110)). one of the novel’s Firbankian characters “found an old bottle of V. although that other is not allowed to triumph. Virgil Thomson—another friend of the author and champion of his work. who—early on in his long career of championing gay artists of genius on the literary margins—succeeded in arranging for the publication in America of the work of Firbank—a pioneering gay pastoral novelist whose humorous influence may be detected in Purdy’s late work. brandy and put just a few drops on his tongue. Equally as important. the pastoral qualifies its vision by admitting the presence of the oppressing other. Rather. it allows the artist to imagine a world that is different from the reality we know. art.O. (On the brink of a riot. life as it might or ought to be. and superstitious society. The novel serves as an affecting pastoral elegy for one of Purdy’s early friends and supporters. Each of Purdy’s pastoral romances is centered upon the death of one or more of its key figures.S. Garments the Living Wear. bigoted. distracted. The persistent presence of death serves to . rather. “So Polyphemus shepherded his love by singing / And found more relief than if he had paid out gold” (93).) Out With the Stars also serves as an homage to the great gay composer and cultural catalyst. as an implicit critique of an oppressing world. In its various openly affectionate but also critically acute portraits of the gifted artist in battle with an uncomprehending.
The implications of allegory are both humbling and enabling. by demonstrating the complex uses of language. Frye distinguished between a regressive and infantilizing sentimentality. The demise of the pastoral. paradoxically. the mode that first “thematizes the act of fictionalizing. Iser observed: “It seems plausible that pastoral poetry lost its place of importance at the moment when the function of literary fictionality no longer needed to be exhibited” (24–25). As we emerge slowly and painfully from the enchantment of science as certain . The demise of myth as religion—as natural reality. when the Greek myths came to be interpreted in the language of philosophy. implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) urging us to change our lives and to transform out world: “What is presented to us must be possessed by us. and the power of fictive models. Quilligan further observed that allegories work in a manner similar to the social resolutions of comedy. and with the Reformation’s insistence upon the transparent and singular.whatever is. which leads us back to our “subjective childhoods. we might say—also saw the development of allegory as a fictive form. is that. psychology.” as Frye remarked (A Natural Perspective 159). and yet. it insists that we are not in ultimate control of our existence. and science (Whitman 9–10). literal and historical truth of scripture. Allegory thus works both to disenchant and to re-enable.” and a pastoral-romantic envisioning. The lesson of Purdy’s allegorical pastorals. In his remarks on the conclusions to Shakespeare’s comedies and romances. in both of which “the language of the work of art manage[s] to involve its audience with its vision” (289). in which they invite us to participate (A Natural Perspective 159). Both allegory and comedy conclude by reaching out to us as reader and audience. It also works to prevent a giving way to sentimentality. is wrong / 73 enhance the preciousness of life itself. The mannered pastoral proclaims its artificiality. in the West coincided with the establishment of science as certain truth. while we cannot change our nature. With its emphasis upon the ultimate provisionality and fictionality of all language and knowledge. and of allegory in general. enabling literary fictionality to be perceived” (Iser 24). “where the return is not to childhood but to a state of innocence symbolized by childhood” that looks forward to a world to come (A Natural Perspective 132). calling attention to its fictional status. it demonstrates the potential of language and power of knowledge for shaping our world. with the creation of the pastoral. Historians and theorists of allegory in the West note that its first golden age as a critical tool (allegoresis) coincided with the demise of myth as religion. and of his allegorical fiction in general. Frye noted that Shakespeare’s comedies and late romances always conclude with such a vision. we can change our world.
and it is his very relevance to these most painful and problematic of contemporary arguments. I believe. that has relegated his work to the literary and cultural margins in our time. but which will ensure its survival as a central body of texts in our future. .74 / alternative realisms truth—which the committed allegorist William Blake famously labeled “Newton’s Sleep”—and struggle to throw off the stultifying superstitions of fundamentalism. In the political and social realm of today. it is perhaps inevitable that allegory has begun to reemerge as a fictive mode and method—one that endorses a pluralistic approach to both text and world. the debate between a fundamentalist essentialism and an allegorical pluralism is being played out most explicitly in terms of human sexual desire and individual identity. Purdy’s focus upon these issues places his fiction at the crux of this debate.
who is consequently forced to swallow Firbank’s novels whole. . M. Ronald Firbank’s range is limited. and although they are continually striking psychologically revealing poses. E. in which reliance on plot is reduced to a minimum. his narrative devious. or not at all. The questions that we are accustomed to ask of naturalistic mimetic fiction are lost on him. avoiding nearly all commentary on the material he is presenting. or to react to that work in a hostile manner. “Re/Orientations” 176–177). they do not analyze themselves or seek to make of the reader a confessor. The tone of Anthony Powell’s 1961 “Introduction” to The Complete Ronald Firbank is indicative of the temporization and condescension with which critics past mid-century were inclined to approach this elusive author: “It would be a mistake to claim too much.Ch a p t e r Fou r S om e I m ag i na ry Vi e n na: Rona ld Fi r ba n k’s Pa stor a l R e a lism Modernist novelist Ronald Firbank has proved an elusive subject for literary criticism. One recent commentator aptly noted that past critics have often seemed to think that the “frivolity” of Firbank’s fiction “supports a surface so slight it cannot withstand the rigor of critical reading” (Lane. Forster set the tone for such a response when he wrote that the task of critically analyzing Firbank’s fiction is akin to breaking a butterfly upon a wheel (109). Firbank’s refusal to struggle with the material in his fiction and to implicate the reader in that struggle make him an iconoclastic Modernist and may help to account for the tendency of earlier literary critics to dismiss his work as marginal. character development. Our usual habits of reading certainly have not prepared us to consider Firbank in a critical fashion. and authorial exposition. his characterisation stylised” (11). while Firbank as author absolutely refuses to adopt a self-conscious and subjective manner. and inviting none from the reader. his characters are finished at conception. We have traditionally looked for a novel’s argument in its narrative progress. Firbank’s narratives progress in an almost arbitrary manner.
And he is perhaps unique among English writers of his period in his insistence on treating homosexuality as merely another facet of the social carnival. . a pederast incapable of adult love (Kopelson). Firbank has no standing” (227). however. With his characteristic critical acuity. but influenced by a variety of contemporary theoretical schools) is highly mixed. . As for now. S. if we can create an emotion by describing something else. (545) Firbank’s reputation reached its qualified height with the full-blown success of his literary inheritors (stylistically speaking) in the 1940s and 1950s. in one or two convulsive laughs . Ivy Compton-Burnett. writers as diverse as Powell. and Henry Green pointed to Firbank as an early and crucial influence. “Re/Orientations” 183–184). “In official academic studies of modernism. and time (Lane. In one account he is accused of being an immature homosexual. . the tide may have begun to turn in the author’s favor. as critic Robert Caserio recently lamented. an unwitting expositor of his class. The quality and usefulness of more recent approaches to Firbank (which are within the purview. it is in part due to Firbank’s frantic driving. Pritchett summed up the matter of the far-reaching influence of Firbank’s shorthand narrative manner: It is a simple fact that technically Firbank cleared dead wood out of the English novel. Marcel Proust. ethnicity.1 and in another he is labeled a racist.76 / alternative realisms More favorable early criticism was focused upon Firbank’s innovations in narrative technique. Evelyn Waugh’s first novels owe an especial debt to Firbank’s perfection of a peculiarly modernist brand of comic concision. Among the next generation of English novelists. Firbank was a pioneering homosexual novelist who courageously fashioned unapologetic novels around unabashed homosexual characters in the teens and twenties. In the last several years. when the English-speaking literary world was still recoiling from the Oscar Wilde scandal. if we can swing out of one episode into another. Firbank is made the victim of narrowminded standards of contemporary critical correctness. without an awful grinding of literary gears. If narrative and speech have speeded up. In 1949 literary arbiter Edmund Wilson pronounced of Firbank that “he was one of the finest English writers of his period and one of those most likely to become a classic” (486). This is one of the several ways in which he is surprisingly similar to his French contemporary. of Gay and Lesbian studies. V. In several disheartening cases. generally. as critics working in and around Gay and Lesbian studies have sought to rescue Firbank from critical neglect. That remains to be seen. if we can safely let characters speak for themselves and then fail to keep up a conversation.
In order to appreciate Firbank’s success and significance as a novelist. but most provokingly in that employed by imaginative literature (292). and expectations of a neglected literary mode. William Lane Clark contended that Firbank’s “camp” fiction attempts to elude all trace of societal restrictiveness and definition by refusing to admit of a distinction between society’s key organizing principles of respectability and degeneracy (137). More imaginative critical analysis has made substantive contributions to our contemporary understanding of this neglected novelist. Jonathan Goldman considered Firbank’s trademark “frivolity” from a deconstructionist perspective as a prime example of the inherent elusiveness at play in any language. In what follows. Firbank and the Pastoral Mode: “Do What Thou Wilt Is Here the Law” The aspects of Firbank’s novels that are most confusing and off-putting to contemporary readers and critics are pastoral in nature. and scenery. In a useful essay. we have to resurrect the conventions. which is in many respects a fictional variation on the original epic model supplied by classical and Biblical traditions. I pursue a similar policy of recontextualization by attempting to understand Firbank outside of the standard fictional models and genres. His focus on the incidentals of landscape. and his persistent inattention to the traditional novelistic elements of plot and character are indicative of the pastoral’s programmatic debunking of epic values and conventions. Most modern fiction can be categorized as belonging in one fashion or another to our inherited tradition of mimetic realism. . In the ancient world another tradition arose in direct response and opposition to the dominant epic model: the pastoral. limitations. It is to this alternative and opposing pastoral tradition that Firbank’s fiction most truly belongs. Yet both manage to pin the Firbankian butterfly (154)—in Clark’s clever rendition of the Forster metaphor—by looking for alternative contexts in which Firbank’s various refusals of meaning may be usefully situated and interpreted.2 Both Goldman and Clark emphasize manners in which Firbank frustrates attempts at traditional interpretation and ascription of meaning.some imaginary vienna / 77 Future generations of critics and readers will—one hopes—regard with appropriate irony such examples of critical intolerance wielded in the service of equality and inclusion. atmosphere. From a related sociopolitical viewpoint. and it is within the context of its principles and practice that his novels attain their fullest and most resonant meaning.
It is instructive to compare Wells’ translation of a Theocritan “Idyll” to a passages from a Firbank novel.” “So their master has disappeared! Where’s he gone?” “To Olympia. with Milon. to surprise by little refinements of style. who do these cows belong to? Philondas?” “They’re Ageon’s herd. In the illuminating “Introduction” to his translations of Theocritus’ Idylls. the hackneyed and the popular” (Wells 38).” “It’s pitiful! They haven’t the heart to graze.78 / alternative realisms The earliest pastoral writers in the classical tradition. Consider the playfully offhand manner in which Theocritus handles the dialogue between two herdsmen. and elusive. the purported progenitor of the pastoral. Theocritus. . in “Idyll Four” (I have added quotation marks in keeping with the comparison to modern fiction): “Corydon. Firbank—“likes to come at his subject from unexpected and constantly varying directions. Battus and Corydon. Callimachus—and his late heir.” “He went off with his dumb-bells and twenty sheep. of a taste that veers away from the grand.” “Poor beasts! The worse for them if he’s neglectful. is the most famous. like his older model and contemporary. to break up a narrative by passing lightly over the main action and making much of lesser incidents. and it is typical of Theocritus’s allusive. Didn’t you know?” “The Games! Since when has he been keen on sport?” “They say he’s a proper Heracles in the ring. “The Alexandrian poets face the problem of what to select from the past with great deliberateness. In making their choices they concentrate on narrowly literary goals and avoid giving an explicit moral or philosophical dimension to their writing” (22). of which Theocritus.” “And I’m a Pollux! or so my mother says. The famous Alexandrian library of Ptolemy Philadelphus was busy at that time gathering together and cataloguing all of the surviving Greek texts from Homer onwards. manner that we begin in the middle. The Alexandrian poets.” “And perhaps at dusk you milk them on the quiet?” “The old man watches and brings their calves to suck. to keep the reader always conscious of a process of selection. They miss their master. as it were.” “Listen to the cows lowing. He gave me them to graze.” “Rabid wolves in the fold would have done less harm. contemporary English poet Robert Wells comments. the third-century BC Greek Alexandrian poets working in the shadow of Homer and Sophocles.” (69–70) This is the idyll’s introductory passage. were creating in an acutely selfconscious literary atmosphere. of an established scene and relationship. attempted to open up a new field of imaginative endeavor.
The famous lightheartedness of the pastoral might be thought of as consolation for a sense of the tragic in life that. the poetry in the evanescence. it was a merry meal.” (392) Both writers create a world through allusion and implication in which tone is all-important and characters and actions are reduced to vehicles for the maintaining of a mood or attitude. . Pritchett’s concise and insightful characterization of Firbank’s novels aptly describes Theocritus’ Idylls as well. the tragedy in the chill of loneliness and desolation which will suddenly strike in a random word” (546). it is not unserious. as in this dialogue between two society matrons in Caprice : “You must have been out to supper. any sense of tragedy is comically consigned to the masterless cows. who was a homosexual in a time when. In both writers. Sixsmith’s hopeless sighing as she enviously imagines the obviously upper-class (though momentarily impoverished) bride’s trousseau. in one form or another?). Although the pastoral is characteristically lighthearted.some imaginary vienna / 79 Firbank’s narratives routinely proceed in a similarly breezy fashion. but the simple cowherds seem genuinely to sympathize with the animals’ feelings of dislocation and neglect. My dear the scum! Half-way through supper Dore got her revolver out and began shooting the glass drops off her chandelier. is all too keenly felt. “It isn’t up to much.” “What’s he like?” “Don’t ask me. Oh. In the Firbank passage a sense of the tragic is evident in Mrs. the tragedies of life are noted. but not dwelt upon. The pursuit of unfettered desires is the object and occupation of all legitimate pastoral figures. What is being said.” “Who gave it?” “Dore Davis did: to meet her betrothed—Sir Francis Four. In the Theocritus passage. Sixsmith sighed. Rather it is implicitly striving to undermine the overly serious and moralistic in the service of individual temperament and freedom.” “Was it a party?” “Nothing but literary-people with their Beatrices . Firbank. far from being imperfect or undeveloped. Anything good she sells—on account of bailiffs.” “I should like to see her trousseau. and by whom. following the Wilde scandal. “The comedy is in the inconsequence. . found in the . it was not safe to be so openly.” “It’s true I had.” Mrs. In times of societal repression (and what society is not repressive. the pastoral is inevitably resurrected as a means for giving life to individual dreams and desires. and the atmosphere created. either in life or art. It makes one tired to look at him. is less important than the manner in which one is speaking.
the pastoral has a vision of an idealized past world. In one novel. but the novels he created were considered unmarketable by English publishers. which takes on different characteristics in different times and cultures. a state of affairs that he found both demoralizing and demeaning. served to assure his creative freedom. which is sometimes labeled The Golden Age. It is significantly different from a future utopian world. In whatever manifestation. although not always successfully. novel. the past over the future.80 / alternative realisms pastoral an imaginative safe haven in which to create his own—or a temperamental character’s—version of heaven. the pastoral is an attitude toward life that favors freedom over responsibility. therefore. H. comedy. In a novel set on a fictionalized Caribbean island. But his inherited wealth. They contend that the pastoral is an undying mode of literature (the term I have been using). romance. as W. or Eden. The forward-looking Utopian. on the other hand. an aging lesbian “biographer” courts a vapid but alluring teenage girl as they travel through Greece together. friendship over family. desire over sublimation. and the novels’ lack of popular success.” the “relationships and values” of the pastoral remain constant (Ettin 69). a bored society woman in London pursues sainthood—or at least the appearance of it—by arranging to place her larger-than-life portrait in an impoverished rural cathedral’s stained-glass window. Firbank’s overwhelming desire was to be a successful novelist. is a wish-dream which cannot become real . And in yet another. and elegy—which have generic-sounding names but which are more inclusive and general than genres proper” (Alpers 46). Except for one late novel published at their own expense by Brentano’s in America (at the helpful suggestion of Carl Van Vechten. and art above all. In another an “eccentric” Spanish cardinal is in pursuit of an elusive and all-too-worldly altar-boy. At its heart. Firbank’s fiction is proof of the pastoral’s enduring appeal. . a native country woman moves to the capital in order to pursue her dream of entering polite European society. that great champion of literary margins). Recent theorists have argued persuasively that the pastoral should be recognized as one of the universal “types of literature—like tragedy. Arcadia. Firbank was forced to underwrite each of his novel’s publication. retirement over engagement. Auden explains in this useful distinction: The psychological difference between the Arcadian dreamer and the Utopian dreamer is that the backward-looking Arcadian knows that his expulsion from Eden is an irrevocable fact and that his dream. satire. . Despite these “different images and nomenclature. (Dyer’s Hand 410) . leisure over labor. and is dreamed of by a different type of temperament. necessarily believes that his New Jerusalem is a dream which ought to be realized. In the world of the pastoral every wayward temperament is allowed to pursue its desire.
which has become synonymous with fake. which we collectively assume to be true. Such writers are necessarily naturalistic. as he strives to keep alive the dream of innocent pleasure. That is its primary appeal for the homosexual such as Firbank in a repressive heterosexual society.” as Marvell famously put it (101).3 In the pastoral realm. the pastoral Arcadian does not hold himself responsible for the realization of his dream. in reality. The creation and appreciation of art. and it could be argued that within the canon of accepted major novelists of the last two hundred years. and to make no demands on others that are not directly related to the pursuit of his desire. such as labor. However. Our insistence on the presence of a provable. The pastoral writer. “Annihilating all that’s made / To a green thought in a green shade. together with the pursuit of sexual pleasure for pleasure’s sake (never for procreation. and spells the end of Eden-Arcadia. there are no primarily nonnaturalistic authors. the pastoral is frequently employed by writers in a quasi-utopian manner as a wishful reminder of where they have been (in their dreams). Our modern obsessions with scientific progress. who spend the majority of their time in various states of contemplative repose. It offers an imaginative safe haven. reflects our interest in the actual and the natural. the pastoral is all too often a dream-fiction. and where they would like to be again. and provable fact run counter to the inclinations of the pastoral toward a retreat into a world of private imagination. In the actual world. or social responsibility. are the primary occupations of traditional pastoral figures. a place where one may be entirely at home in one’s natural or chosen identity. Anything that hinders an individual’s pursuit of pleasure is a snake in his garden. reality in our most highly valued literature serves to limit authors who would be taken seriously to portrayals of demonstrable experience. and our distrust of the artificial. that would impinge on the pleasure of mere being is restricted from this world. false. which leads to responsibility).some imaginary vienna / 81 Unlike the hardworking Utopian. there are no artificial restrictions against desire. to follow the natural course of his desire. The assumptions and conditions of the modern world work to discredit traditional pastoral values. if the world somehow (here the pure pastoralist is at a loss) could be made different. The dominant literary mode of the last two centuries. naturalistic mimesis. which is perfectly useless and free. social improvement. Although the practical efforts required to actually change the world are beyond the (pure) pastoralist’s will and ability. as Auden points out. who is committed to creating visions of artificial innocence in implicit opposition to our . His only responsibility is to do what he pleases. in which there is no distinction to be made between reality and artifice. Anything. or at least likely. family ties. his task is still a vital one.
and branded unserious. Merrill’s Sandover. or to be exact. the withdrawal to the privileged pastoral space or viewpoint takes place within the context of the work itself. and Elizabeth Bishop. his most ardent literary defenders have been those writers and critics who have taken exception to modern literature’s dominance by naturalistic mimesis In her enormous. and which serve to upbraid the modern world at large for its self-serving notion of material and spiritual progress linked. In his Paris Review interview. in Brophy 569). Brophy contends that “Firbank’s is a single fictional world.82 / alternative realisms knowledge of experience. With Firbank’s fiction. with a coinciding moral implicit in the choice—the country being a better choice for the pastoral than the city—it is nevertheless the case that all of his fiction inhabits what Firbank himself described as “some imaginary Vienna” (qtd. Firbank’s pure pastoralism separates him. As might be expected. For each of these writers. I am thinking of writers like Forster. we enter the pastoral realm as we enter the novel and remain there until the novel is complete. James Merrill. self-indulgent. balanced interrelation of subject and form” in which one need not adhere to the naturalistic novel idea of a “succession of events in an arbitrarily limited period of time” (qtd. freed it again in the twentieth century” (xiv). The pastoral “illusion” of time as “unending duration” (Ettin 141) inevitably undermines the naturalistic notion of the relationship of time to cause and effect. both in fact and fiction. and Bishop’s Brazil are all privileged spaces to which one withdraws in memory and imagination. from most other homosexual writers of the past century. Although there is a tendency in his novels to move from the city to the country. Forster’s Italy. as well. the Christian mythic pastoral realm. by contrast. Firbank has suffered more than most other writers from our time’s inclination toward mimetic naturalism in literature because his work is more wholly and purely pastoral. He elaborated in a critical essay in which . . Early in his career. and enlightening biography. the aesthetic problem of representation in fiction. Waugh likewise contended that Firbank’s antinaturalism enabled him to be “the first quite modern writer to solve for himself . Brigid Brophy argued that Firbank “is the novelist who freed fiction from naturalism. who tended to employ the pastoral mode in a more or less implicit polemical fashion by including a pastoral inset or viewpoint in an otherwise naturalistic work. Auden commented that Firbank was one of his favorite modern novelists because he deals “with Eden” (265). and negligible. or vice versa. of which each of his fictions is a fragment” (207). eccentric. is automatically excluded. Cather’s western prairie. thereby highlighting the disparity between the pastoral ideal and the locations we actually inhabit day in and day out. . that is to say. a new. to achieve. Willa Cather. in Brophy 98).
Poggioli. . Firbank proves himself an ardent exponent of free love in refusing to distinguish between needs and desires.some imaginary vienna / 83 he defined Eden as “a past world in which the contradictions of the present world have not yet arisen” (409). . observed that the pastoral mode arises inevitably as a protest from those “excluded from the privileges of free love” (61). . as it used to be called . . such as homosexuals in the modern world. particularly to those whose innate desires are denied by society at large. it does not address such issues directly. In his historical study of Bucolic poetry. which serve to limit the free operation of desire. the motto over its gate is ‘Do what thou wilt is here the Law’ ” (Dyer’s Hand 409) is useful in understanding the enduring appeal of the pastoral mode in literature. are usually accepted as if they were normative. though in a far different manner. as well as the location of our cultural origins. In his diffident “Introduction” to The Complete Ronald Firbank. The pastoral daydream seems to be a part of our very nature. are necessarily kept outside of the boundary of his work. Powell wondered why Firbank “should continue to be reprinted. Earlier in the century. or at least quite as normal as heterosexual” (148–149). likewise. to the nineties and the Yellow Book ” (112). so that we may be never less free than when doing exactly as we please. By tradition. David Halperin argues that the pastoral as an imaginative locus “has existed from time immemorial—it was not invented” (85). Auden’s definition of Eden as a place “where its inhabitants may do whatever they like to do. “homosexual romantic and erotic relationships . although he is full of complaints. the pastoral mode has offered a haven to homosexual desire. True to the cowherd nature of the pastoral. given free reign. Society’s narrowing prejudices and laws. “Reason not the need” might be the humorously self-serving motto of his pastoral figures. Ettin commented that. Forster had contended that Firbank belongs to the “ fin de siecle. No less than Proust. In his fictional world. Firbank gives us in his fiction an elaborately detailed anatomy of human desire. Firbank recognizes that desire. thus consigning Firbank’s fictional world to the boundaries of a passing age in literature and art. in the Greek and Latin pastorals written and inspired by Theocritus and Virgil. when all kind of apparently worthier figures sink into oblivion?” He concluded that Firbank’s “daydream is a more popular one than might on the surface be expected” (10)—providing an insightful answer to his begrudging question. Auden was the more perceptive in seeing that Firbank uses all historical material in the service of the re-creation of that great and good place that is our childhood and mythic home. At the same time. Although Firbank’s fiction as a whole serves as a protest against discrimination and oppression. the novelist avoids a fight. . has a pronounced tendency to enslave.
she is quite old enough to break her lover’s heart in using her to her own ends of getting out of the house and finding a husband. who—true to pastoral form—is barely more than a child.” she explained. Miss Collins rose. The older woman. although she is more than willing to offer an endless patter of inanities. Firbank is in danger of being misread by the modern reader who is unacquainted with the pastoral mode of implicit argumentation. It’s Extraordinary How Little I Require” The pastoral daydream. “Another tunnel!” .” The Biographer considered her. .84 / alternative realisms While adhering to the conventions and spirit of the pastoral mode in refusing to make explicit his argument against oppression and limitation. It is the modern reader’s failure to recognize Firbank’s passionate but implicit argument that is at least partially responsible for the neglect of novels that are as wise and comprehensive in their appraisal of human desire—in its endless variety of manifestations and frustrations—as any body of work of the century. . And to receive new ones in return. at fifteen. . “has always been to exchange ideas with someone. “Supposing . for Miss O’Brookomore to discover that Mabel Collins has very few ideas of her own. . tends to be both wish-fulfilling and anxiety-laden. is preparing to travel to Greece in order to pursue research on her latest subject (all of whom tend to resemble herself). “to go with you!” Slightly startled. Still. . like all dreams. “I could clap my feet in the air. “Only at the thought. “My chief amusement. however. when she is accosted by the irrepressible Mabel Collins: “What would I not give. Miss O’Brookomore took from a cardboard box a cigarette. Firbank presents us with the story of the love of an older woman for a younger woman. .” she said. it is also the case that most love affairs in the pastoral realm are unrequited. While it is true that individuals in the pastoral are free to pursue their desires wherever they may lead them. for instance: Miss Collins covered her face with a soiled suede glove.” she cried. On the train to Marseilles. Firbank’s Pastoral Daydreams: “Just Because I Want So Much.” Sparkling. In Inclinations. supposing?” “Supposing—I only say ‘supposing’—supposing you were to accompany me to Greece .” “ .” (208) It doesn’t take long. the “Biographer” Geraldine O’Brookomore. Dark against the brilliance.
” (220–221) But Miss O’Brookomore is. he’s not so pastoral as he sounds” (222) and her pronouncement is proven true as the Count proceeds to press that most unpastoral of arrangements—marriage—upon a foolish and susceptible.” “Some day. entirely smitten with her young companion. and from whence the Count at last succeeds in making off with Mabel Collins. . You can almost hear the clouds go by.” “The quietness . whims and foibles” (271). Firbank qualifies her sadness in the second half of the novel. . “Take my word for it . and whose company she can barely tolerate. . Mab. but entirely self-interested Mabel Collins.” “Let’s all lie down on the grass as if we were dead. Miss O’Brookomore warns. The Count pursues the two women on their travels throughout Greece: to Parnassos. On the contrary. in which the various inhabitants lead trivial lives in the service of keeping up suburban appearances. In the afternoon the yew-trees turn quite blue. . . . Miss O’Brookomore has forgotten her pseudo-pastoral advice to Mabel that it is best in life to be “an Indifferentist” (273). and finally to Olympia.” “Our coachman once—” “No. The free operation of desire in the pastoral realm would often seem to amount to possessing the absolute liberty to be one’s own worst enemy.” “I’m that already. where the “food is vile” (245) and where the “continual singing of the cicadas require some excluding” (266).” (303) .” “It’s too hot for rough games. to Arcady. dear.some imaginary vienna / 85 “You should really rest. which is “literally overrun” with sheepdogs (231). to Delphi. “What is it?” “Nothing. nevertheless. Although she is made miserable by her frustrated desire. which is “nothing but cliques and coteries” (277). But I won’t lean back—for fear of contracting something . Miss O’Brookomore pays the emotional price for a pastoral devotion to the pursuit of her desires. Miss O’Brookomore responds with a lament that wholly constitutes chapter twenty: “Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel!” (290) In her anguish. Miss O’Brookomore has allowed herself to become enamored of a foolish girl whom she cannot even bring herself to respect. who also manages to incite the interest of a “Count Pastorelli” on the boat to Athens. You’ll arrive so tired. . . where Miss O’Brookomore is “all veins and moods. which is set in the decaying country house owned by Mabel’s family. infectious. I may arrange your sayings in a wreath . please—I’m altogether incurious.
we know through desire.” “Very likely it’s her husband’s handwriting that affects her. Firbank in his fiction is repeatedly drawn to the pastoral desire for retirement and retreat. but it is Firbankian as well.86 / alternative realisms Miss O’Brookomore’s love for Mabel had been wholly unsuitable according to society’s standards—Mabel’s mother comments. have chosen to withdraw into a private world that is more amenable. that uninhibited pastoral deity. we are given a cast of characters in various stages of retreat. as Firbank’s contemporary Forster illustrated repeatedly in his novels and stories. What we know of ourselves. Vainglory. if less engaging.” “You’d think Great Pan was dead again—at least. His particular affection is reserved for those characters who. “O-o-o-o-o-o-h!” “It’s her ladyship’s cry. decidedly unpastoral nature of her marriage of appearances to Count Pastorelli is enforced in the closing scenes of the novel. so everyone said.” (300)—but it had been nevertheless a true and ardent emotion. Although all desires are enslaving. Firbank presents a world in which one’s desire is the ground of one’s being. In his highly idiosyncratic and humorously subversive manner. between desire and necessity. There is Lord Susan. on the other hand. that one has. among others. What one wants is the very thing. Firbank is no less an enemy of the ever-encroaching malady of the quotidian. as expressive as any shepherd’s complaint. In his first published novel. Mabel. having been frustrated and abused by the world at large. His insistence on the self-determining quality of desire allows him to escape the trap that Michel Foucault. suitable or not. The emotionally frigid. For Firbank. some are less painful than others. all sexual preferences are equally enslaving and enlightening. This has long been recognized as a Proustian dictum. Powell remarked that Firbank’s fiction is “almost absolutely uninhibited” (12). which is perhaps another way of saying that Firbank does not distinguish between appearance and essence. identified as the modern compulsion to search for the truth of the self in one’s innermost sexuality (69). For Firbank. “Had I known what sort of a woman she was! But living as we do one never hears a thing. Firbank’s refusal to delve below the surface of his characters’ words and actions in search of motives and complexes is a refusal to play the game of essentials that is at the heart of the modern mania with uncovering the truth of sexuality. who “was sick. in which she receives word of his rare visit to her and her family. appearance is essence. and the only thing. is no match for the sterile vacuity of a suburban Edwardian drawing room.” (327) Even Great Pan. has devoted herself to a life devoid of significant emotional attachment. .
. it’s extraordinary how little I require” (199). having been more or less abandoned by her husband in favor of his career. would have been canonised. ‘If we are all a part of God . a Bishop’s widow. . Shamefoot is safely memorialized and leading a hermit’s life within sight of her own radiant image. having been driven to a state of repugnance by experience of the world at large. but for an unfortunate remark . Banal passions fail to stir me. The quasi-saint committed to posterity a “somewhat saturnine little song” that is adopted as the novel’s anthem: “I am disgusted with Love. and Mrs. Mrs. I am disgusted with Love. of course” (20). Shamefoot said. She responds to a rare visitor’s query concerning her loneliness with a piece of well-earned pastoral wisdom: “You wonder I can isolate myself so completely. By the novel’s conclusion. just because I want so much. . I find it exceedingly disappointing. then God must indeed be horrible’ ” (95). seek to transform their disgust into a state of resigned acceptance in a self-fashioned retreat—even to the extreme retreat of a prematurely posthumous existence in stained glass. she was already three parts glass . Miss Compostella. Firbank’s characters are well-suited . on that of a locally celebrated sixteenth-century figure. perhaps. Isn’t there any more?” “No I believe that’s all.” “How heavenly she is!” “Such an amusing rhythm—” “I do so enjoy the bypaths. is something. It was the Egyptian sighing for his pyramid. .” Mrs. who seems to have “deserted this century for—she had hardly settled which” (6). .” and who longs “to go away somewhere and be ugly quietly for a week” (18–19). “of poetry. Shamefoot (Firbank’s names are always telling). “Mentally.” “Of course her words condemn her. But the major figure of the novel is the politician’s wife. . She models her life. and who ends by retreating into the arms of the Church of Rome.” “But that she should have arrived at a state of repugnance.some imaginary vienna / 87 of the world at three-and-twenty” (6). who. Mrs. . who “no doubt . Henedge. The pastoral is concerned with reducing life to the essentials of our individual existence in time and space.” (77) Firbank’s characters. Then there is the actress. possibly. in a loose way. Dear Georgia. . has adopted as the goal of her aimless existence the erection of a “commemorative window to herself” in a rural cathedral. Mine is a nature that cries for more ethereal things. Mrs. Cresswell. who complains that “the effort to look more or less like one’s photograph is becoming such a strain.
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to the task of looking past worldly success and failure to the essential loneliness of existence. His cast of wealthy widows, figurehead royalty, decadent clerics, and desultory artists possesses the leisure of having nothing better to do than to ponder the state of their souls while pursuing their whimsical desires. Not infrequently, they are compelled to criticize life itself:
“She made excursions into three different religions. And she always came back dissatisfied and grumbling.” “The world is disgracefully managed, one hardly knows to whom to complain.” (Three More Novels 101) “I agree with V. G. F.,” the Hon. Lionel Limpness murmured, fondling meditatively his “Charlie Chaplin” moustache—“Life ought not to be.” “It’s a mistake to bother oneself over matters that can’t be remedied.” (Five Novels 43)
Literature has rarely, if ever, handled existential angst with such a light touch. By reducing life to its essentials, and banning all possibility of worldly achievement, the pastoral inevitably becomes fixated on the two great givens of existence, sex and death. Firbank’s novels are full of memento mori. Firbank’s own health was always precarious. In his affecting tribute to Firbank, Osbert Sitwell recalled that, in the novelist’s final years before dying at the age of thirty-nine, “the sable angel of death ever hung over him” (xxviii). Two of the novels, Caprice and Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli, actually conclude with the death of their major figures. Cardinal Pirelli was Firbank’s last completed novel, and we can find throughout it, if we choose, premonitions of the author’s imminent death. The Cardinal is the only masculine character in Firbank to receive book-length attention, and he is—of all Firbank’s characters—the one most likely to linger as a personage in the reader’s imagination. His death at the novel’s conclusion is the furthest Firbank came in his fiction to portraying a tragic view of existence, perhaps in anticipation of his own untimely end. The reader’s sense of the tragic at novel’s end is the inevitable product of the sudden demise of a fully realized fictional character. In his well-defined individuality, Cardinal Pirelli is a Firbankian anomaly. The novelist’s characters tend to blend together. This is partially the effect of Firbank’s capacity and propensity for portraying his figures through quick-sketch caricatures. An aging stage-actress in Caprice is given to us in a few bold strokes:
Mrs. Mary was large and robust, with commanding features and an upright carriage. She had a Redfern gown of “navy” blue stuff infinitely laced.
some imaginary vienna / 89 One white long hand, curved and jewelled, clung as if paralysed above her breast. (371)
The hand, of course, gives her away. Another hand, in Vainglory, tells us all that we need to know about Lady Georgia:
She stretched out a hand, listlessly towards a red, colossal rose. So many talismans for happiness fettered her arms! She could hardly move but the jingling of some crystal ball, or the swaying of some malachite pig, reminded her of the fact that she was unhappy. (7)
Lady Georgia, like all of Firbank’s characters, is a finished product, the sum of her experience. These characters do not develop, but unfold, like a flower. They serve to illustrate that personality is destiny: What you see is what you get. I would suggest that Firbank refuses to allow his characters to develop in the conventional novelistic manner because of his unwillingness to allow the figure of the human ego to eclipse his larger, pastoral themes of the vanity of all human wishes and the fleeting-ness of our time on earth. Psychologically, we cannot resist identifying with the striving ego, and the conventional mimetic-naturalist novel obligingly gives us endless opportunities to experience the ego-hero’s quest for self-fulfillment. Firbank chooses to diminish the figure of the ego in his work by placing his characters in situations where they will neither need, nor be able, to strive for conventional fulfillments; and by focusing, rather, on the worlds of weather, landscape, and art that surround them. The central figure in The Flower Beneath the Foot, the future “Saint” Laura de Nazianzi, writes tellingly in her memoirs, “It was about my eighteenth year that I conquered my Ego” (Two Novels 8). Even Cardinal Pirelli, whom Firbank presents to us in greater psychological and realistic detail than any other figure, is diminished in his egoism—and contentedly so—in favor of the world at large. As the novel progresses, he is driven to retreat to his idyllic country residence in order to plan a defense of his unconventional ecclesiasticism, which he is to present to the Pope in Rome. But in such a pastoral setting, he finds himself in no mood for a fight:
A sigh escaped him. Divided by tranquil vineyards and orange-gardens from the malice and vindictiveness of men it was difficult to experience emotions other than of forgiveness and love. “Come, dears, and kiss me,” he murmured, closing consentingly his eyes. (320)
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Firbank can risk the unpastoral plotline of an upcoming heresy trial in Rome because he knows that his Cardinal will not live that long. We may sense as much in the course of our reading from various foreshadowings, as when the Cardinal’s serving-boy, and the object of his affection, says:
“Last night, I’ll tell you, sir, I thought I heard old ‘Wanda’ on the wind.” “Old Wanda, boy?” “She rings for deaths, sir.” “Nonsense, child; your little ears could never hear as far.” (326)
But the child proves correct in his prophecy, for even little ears are attuned to this particular bell. Earlier in the novel, the “Superintendent-of the-Palace” distinguishes between the various church bells of the cathedral city:
They were sounding Matteo now, a little bell with a passionate voice. “The pet!” Madame Poco paused to listen. She had her “favourites” among the bells, and Matteo was one of them. Passiaflora, too—but Anna, a light slithery bell, “like a housemaid in hysterics,” offended her ear by lack of tone; Sebastian, a complaining, excitable bell, was scarcely better,—“a fretful lover!” She preferred old “Wanda” the Death-bell, a trifle monotonous, and fanatical perhaps, but “interesting,” and opening up vistas to varied thought and speculation. (312)
For the pastoral writer, it is death that gives life its achingly transient value, and all pastorals are implicitly, and often quite explicitly, elegiac in nature. Cardinal Pirelli’s death is fittingly bucolic. He is in amorous pursuit of the young serving-boy when he drops dead in the heart of the cathedral:
Now that the ache of life, with its fevers, passions, doubts, its routine, vulgarity, and boredom, was over, his serene, unclouded face was a marvelment to behold. Very great distinction and sweetness was visible there, together with much nobility, and love, all magnified and commingled. (341–342)
In the pastoral realm, death is both friend and enemy. It alone has the power to cure the ache of life, but in so doing it gives the lie to the cherished pastoral illusion of time as unending duration. It is only natural that a devoted pastoralist such as Firbank would be obsessed with that in the face of which his every creation is thrown, like stones in the ocean. Sitwell recalled that Firbank was “always impressed by the moral of the tombstone-shop opposite” his favorite hangout of the Café Royal.
Dark inscriptions could be read on them, expressive of morbid hopes or fears, while, after any riot at the Café, when one or two people had been
some imaginary vienna / 91 forcibly requested by the giant in charge of such procedure to leave the premises, they could be seen ricocheting across the road towards these graveyard paraphernalia, or standing, staring in return at the uniformed figure against this ominous and inevitable background. “It ought to be a warning to us all” Ronald would remark as he watched such scenes. (xxvi)
Deaths are scattered throughout Firbank’s novels: sudden deaths and slow deaths, violent deaths and welcome deaths. It is the felt presence and fear of death that may help to account for one of the most conspicuous oddities of Firbank’s fiction, the propensity of his characters to indulge in sadomasochistic behavior. (An obsession with sadomasochism is another notable similarity between Firbank and Proust.) One old dowager says to another in Valmouth, “May a woman know, dear, . . . when she may receive her drubbing?” (192). And when a visitor arrives at the house, the butler accounts for his employer’s tardiness in receiving her by announcing, “The mistress, I presume, is with the scourge” (163). Such behavior in such a setting is primarily talismanic, a way to ward off evil and strife; but it also serves as a reminder to Firbank’s leisurely figures, in the midst of their plush lives, of the inevitable end of life. While self-abuse may be a neurotic response to the ever-present threat of death, Firbank’s characters spend much more of their time and energy engaged in avid appreciations of life. They are instinctual idolaters, particularly of one another. The heroine of The Flower Beneath the Foot anticipates an upcoming assignation with an impromptu paean:
“What, what a dearest!” Mademoiselle de Nazianzi sighed beneath her breath. And all along the almost countless corridors as far as her bedroom door she repeated again and again: “What, what a dearest!” (Five Novels 7)
While in Valmouth, a “Negress” masseuse confesses:
I have known what love is, I! . . . Dair are often days ven I can neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, ven my fingers hab no strength at all (massage den is quite impossible)—I am able only to groan and groan and groan—ah, my darling! (178)
Carried too far, romantic appreciations are, of course, one of the most exquisite forms of self-abuse. It is perhaps more prudent—and certainly less taxing—to be an admirer of the landscape, “The turquoise tenderness of the sky drew from her heart a happy coo” (Valmouth 217); or of a personality, “ ‘I always admired her,’ Lady Parvula remarked, ‘you’d almost say she was a man’ ” (Valmouth 179); or of a work of art, “ ‘Certainly I adore his work,’ Mrs. Asp admitted.
. because one has no choice. .” In fact “that awful persecution” was the phrase which it was most often his wont to use in alluding in after years to the first World War. is forced to abjure all ties to conventional morality. and sometimes he fixes them!’ ” (Vainglory 22). until finally ennui forced him to write the book of which he had talked for so long. (xii) Firbank’s pronouncement recognizes implicitly that all wars are righteous. Firbank’s pointedly eccentric figures and milieus serve the same purpose. and that society inevitably serves to constrict the free play of individual desire. ‘No. . but they recognize that to deal with conventional moral concepts at all is to play on society’s terms. .” where it serves to remind us that all “desire is culturally relative” (312). ‘Graceful?’ . who is devoted to the absolute liberty of individual desire. They are endured as other oppressions are endured. The pure pastoralist.92 / alternative realisms ‘He pounces on those mysterious half-things . . . Although there is a certain amount of “bitchiness” involved in their discriminations—“‘Do you think her as graceful as she passes for?’ . . Firbank’s response to the war was the most constructive one available: [The war] had deprived him of all outside interests. . These . landscape. I Don’t Myself ” Firbank’s novels are an implicit sustained and passionate condemnation of moral bigotry. and art. Some of the most insightful and useful contemporary notice of Firbank is focused on the element in his work of camp. Sitwell wrote in his memoir that Firbank failed to summon up any enthusiasm whatever over the .5 and even to conventional notions of reality. Much of what might be labeled the camp element in Firbank’s work is tied to his characters’ rarefied appreciations of personality. war. His constant undermining of willfulness and seriousness is itself a serious and willful endeavor to keep intolerance and oppression at bay. just as no wars are just. Firbank’s Pastoral Politics: “No One Knows What My Political Opinions Are. His novels are not unmoral (on the contrary). really! She’s like a sack of coals’ ” (Vainglory 31)—it is temperamental behavior in the service of taste. Susan Sontag’s comment that “Camp is a tender feeling” that “nourishes itself on the love that has gone into certain objects and personal styles” (292) is apposite to Firbank. Firbank’s reaction to the “Great War” is instructive. whom she cites as one of her examples (278).4 which Jonathan Dollimore has cited as being situated—in a way similar to the pastoral—“at the point of emergence of the artificial from the real. protesting that for his part he had always found the Germans “most polite.
but misleading. His fiction is accused of lacking a soul.6 Such readers seem to believe that to accede to Firbank’s vision—to imaginatively occupy his imaginary Viennas—would be to lose touch with reality itself. He was in the best. throughout his fiction. But homophobia no doubt does play a role in defining the reality such readers adhere to.some imaginary vienna / 93 volumes were. that is at issue so much as his unwillingness to label as wrong or evil any behavior at all. and of Firbank in particular. the product of the war. One is reminded of David Bergman’s poignant contention that “the challenge of the gay writer [is] to convert the heterosexual tragedy of gay life into a homosexual comedy” (209). whose repeated pleas for imaginative tolerance in his essays and novels make his misreading of Firbank particularly disappointing. which. the fear of which is so primal as to prompt even a tolerant and imaginative intelligence such as Forster’s into a reactionary position. It is his novels’ pure pastoralism.” (Sitwell xii–xiii) Sitwell is one of the few commentators to avoid condescending to his subject. . the least boring. that is at the heart of the critics’ dissatisfaction with them. . Firbank would appear to act as an imaginative litmus test for critics: Those who react without prejudice or condescension pass. Wilson 265). (111) This criticism is echoed with variations by most of Firbank’s early commentators. Perhaps the most glaring offender is Forster. It would be tempting to dismiss such accusations by placing them under the heading of homophobia—tempting. Firbank’s posthumous reputation has been . their refusal even to acknowledge the moral discriminations of the conventional real world. Speaking of “fantasy writers” in general. far more truly than any others in the English language. Firbank refuses to do: Firbank is judged a minor artist by those who still don’t dare recognize Wilde as major aesthete. their modish ecclesiasticism and rural magic bears no relation to philosophic truth. whose notorious and tortured posttrial figure seems the very embodiment of a culture’s fear and intolerance. Few have. there is nothing to be saved or damned. Brophy argues that Firbank’s “minor” status as a novelist is directly tied to the evident influence on his work of Wilde. or even the homosexuality of his characters. For it is not Firbank’s homosexuality. sense a “war writer. and of its insistence on treating the homosexual as a tragic figure. therefore. Forster pronounced: there is only one quality that they all share in common: the absence of a soul . or of embodying “some fundamental malformation” (E. or of having a “sense of Evil” that is “imperfect” (Jones xviii).
too. offered a much-needed safe haven to earlier homosexual writers such as Firbank— but one that has turned. as his life was. Often they are merely muted into condescension. With our heightened contemporary political awareness. we should be alert to the fact that such seeming ignorance of the world-as-given may well be—in the hands of a master of pastoral obliquity—a cunningly effective strategy in one’s ongoing battle within and against it.” (Brophy 251) Brophy contends that our culture’s very concept of artistic “goodness” was “damaged” by the Wilde trial “as deeply as the unjust condemnation of Socrates wounded ‘the good’ in its moral meaning” (xiv). anti-homosexual spirit and fear do not vanish. implicitly declaring. by his post-debacle climate. in this day of open debate. As the debacle becomes more distant. it is all too easy to dismiss a writer like Firbank as politically suspect and/ or naive. which. may be entered into the debate. into an unwitting prison of silence.94 / alternative realisms damaged. We must learn as critics and readers to make explicit to ourselves the implicit arguments of pastoral texts (Wilde’s “fairy” tales are a good example). His novels would appear to claim political immunity. in the words of the Queen from The Flower Beneath the Foot : “No one knows what my political opinions are. much as the puritanical critical reaction “disgusting” has been translated into “boring. . In the highly politicized climate of contemporary criticism and culture. so that they. because of its implicit mode of argumentation. I don’t myself” (87). I would extend her argument to add that this damage to our collective cultural aesthetic has particularly affected our readings of pastoral literature.
To have a real life of its own” (Surviving 241). Green himself was creatively evolving the realist novel beyond the inherited convention in which a godlike omniscient narrator directs his characters’ thoughts and behaviors—a convention that seemed to Green “as dead as the Dodo” (Surviving 164).O rg a n ic R e a l i sm What’s in a name? When the name is Henry Green. which is non-representational” (Surviving 142). The ultimate quality of the work of art. there is a great deal. creative becoming is the very nature of existence. Indeed. the artist does indeed play a godlike role. making a world—with the hands perhaps. he said. Rather. Green’s effort to remake the modern novel resulted in a pastoral-organic realism that approaches and presents human beings in social situations as organisms in environments. the characters within its world are busy. no matter what happens. In that sense.Ch a p t e r Fi v e To Cr e at e a Li f e Wh ic h Is Not: H e n ry Gr e e n ’s Pa stor a l. When the young British aristocrat Henry Yorke chose the pen-name Henry Green at the beginning of his novelistic career in the 1920s. Green took exception to the very notion of fiction as representation. In making a fiction in which self-fashioning characters evolve and progress through creative interaction with their changing environments. Green’s pastoral-organic realism expresses a reality alternative to that represented by traditional mimetic fiction. we are all innately creative artists. for to Green. In his function of bringing this life into existence. is “to be alive. he contended that fiction’s business is to create what does not yet exist: “The purpose of the novelist is to create in the mind of the reader life which is not. as Green demonstrates throughout his fiction—a fact noted by Eudora Welty: In each novel. but the artist’s feat is merely an especially self-conscious variety of the behavior we all exhibit in our daily lives. but certainly with the . he was in effect announcing and describing both his theme and method.
96 / alternative realisms emotions; something will get positively pulled into shape, patched together, to hold on to against time and death. (18)
In their effort to fashion protective and enabling habitations within their environments, Green’s pastoral characters (like us) are no different from any other animals—or more correctly, any other organism. Perceptive critics of Green, of which there have been a remarkably high percentage among the relatively few who have written about him, have aptly noted the environmental and organic qualities of Green’s fictionmaking. In a recent critical monograph on Green, Oddvar Holmesland used organic metaphors to describe Green’s novels and their relations to the reader:
Green’s convictions “lodge” and “sprout” in his arrangement of traditional narrative line or plot. Meaning arises through the reader’s response to the “life” of the novel. (26) [quotation marks as in text]
Michael North likewise emphasized the living nature of Green’s fiction in his 1984 study of Green, in which he contended that “the expression of life as a present participle is both [Green’s] method and his theme” (55). North elaborated that “Green believes the self is . . . an activity, and not the simple acceptance of a state,” the creative result being that, for Green, “every individual’s most basic work is the work of fiction” (62). Fiction-making in North’s persuasive reading of Green’s work is the interactive engagement, creation, enjoyment, and defense of one’s environment. Green’s understanding of the creative, constructive impulse at work in all of life results in a remarkably democratic portrayal of a large variety of individuals in society. That is not to say that Green puts forth any simple notion of innate equality. On the contrary, the very fact that we all operate as organisms in environments, attempting to manipulate our worlds to further our creative ends, puts us all in intense competition with one another and makes of each of us an elitist of the self in its particular inhabited world. On the other hand, we are social creatures and perhaps the one inclination that is even stronger than our instinct for getting ahead is our tendency to draw together. Much of the acute social commentary and also remarkable humor of Green’s work results from his overt awareness of this contradictory state of affairs in human nature, a contradiction that is a defining preoccupation of the pastoral, as is evident in the work of Firbank, who is one of Green’s most important pastoral-fiction forbearers and an obvious influence. Angus Wilson observed in a retrospective 1983 article that, although Green is often classed with and compared to his exact contemporary and
to create a life which is not / 97
friend Evelyn Waugh, his true relations and the “far more important influences on Green were Virginia Woolf and Ronald Firbank,” with both of whom he shared an acute sensitivity to the delicate and complex emotional, psychological, and social environments we inhabit, in alert response to which our lives are both thrilling and terrifying:
Like Mrs. Woolf, he walked on the thinnest of ice, on the cliff-edge of despair; and as with her also, the fear-haunted journey was made wonderful by momentary visions of life’s beauties, of humanity transcendent. Like Firbank, he transformed his desperate tight-rope walk into a wonderful ballet of dancing words. Yet beside him Mrs. Woolf seems locked in herself and Firbank isolated from his fellow-men in shrill defiance. Green’s vision was always of a shared human love. (384–385)
True to such a communal, environmental, and pastoral vision, Green actively resisted the high Modernist tendency to operate from a privileged and circumscribed subjective viewpoint, as noted by Edward Stokes, one of Green’s earliest and most perceptive commentators:
Generally Green achieves his startling authenticity, as well as his illusion of objectivity and withdrawal and the variety of his works as a whole, not by putting himself behind the eyes and inside the mind of single characters, but by, in each novel, immersing himself in a different condition of life, a different pattern and texture of experience, and making that condition of life and that texture of experience concrete and alive through his unfailingly accurate dialogue and his extraordinarily flexible and resourceful narrative and descriptive prose. (26)
Green as author immerses himself so thoroughly in the various environments of his novels as to disappear into them, as John Updike noted when remarking upon Green’s dual tendencies toward “authorial invisibility and a universal empathy” (Surviving x). Stokes likewise remarked that “there is seldom a passage in Henry Green’s novels which one can isolate from its context and assert that in it the author is identifiably present” (25). Welty goes even further, “You never see Henry Green, he takes up no space as the author” (26). Stokes’ comment regarding the “startling authenticity” of Green’s fiction brings up the larger issue of the nature of realism, and of the real, as experienced in the modern world. It is the thesis of this chapter that Green’s fiction is emblematic and reflective of a general paradigm shift in modern thought and life regarding our understanding of the real, in which the idea of organisms in networks of relations has come to be understood as being more fundamentally real than the idea of isolable primary substances
98 / alternative realisms
characterized by secondary attributes. This paradigm shift has been most persuasively and completely put forth in Whitehead’s philosophy of organism, a philosophy that Whitehead was formulating and expounding at the same time as Henry Green was beginning his career in fiction. Green and Whitehead are unlikely contemporaries in creativity. As a metaphysical philosopher, Whitehead was a late bloomer, publishing his major work in his sixties and seventies, after retiring from his university career in science and education in London and taking up a position as professor of philosophy at Harvard. Green, on the other hand, was precocious as a writer of fiction, publishing his first, remarkably mature, novel while still at university, and publishing his second—a masterpiece in which his strikingly original voice and method are fully operative—at the tender age of twenty-four. The result is that the two writers, though more than forty years apart in age, were active contemporaries during the period in the 1920s and 1930s in which Whitehead at Harvard was formulating his revolutionary cosmology while Green in London was recreating the modern novel. (One also notes, sadly, that Whitehead and Green share the distinction of being relatively undervalued and overlooked in the respective subject areas to which they so brilliantly contributed.) There is no indication that Whitehead and Green were aware of one another’s activities. Whitehead was led to his revisionist metaphysics not by the Modernist movements in art and literature, but by his observation of discoveries and internalization of new theories in physics and biology, while Green’s experimental fiction seems to have originated in the discrepancy he discerned between human behavior as presented in fiction and as keenly observed in the world around him. Unlike his older brother, Gerald Yorke, who had a lifelong connoisseur’s interest in history, philosophy, comparative religions, and the occult (and who has his own notoriety in these areas), Henry Green’s hobbies were fiction and sport—indicative of his main interest, which was human nature in action: that is, human nature as revealed by human relations and human behavior. The most fundamental connection between the work of Whitehead and Green is their shared belief that the world as envisioned in the dominant practice of their respective areas of philosophy and fiction is not the world as experienced in everyday life, so that a new paradigm was required that would realign the theory of reality with the reality of lived experience. Whitehead claimed that “the ultimate appeal” of any thought system is to “naïve experience” (Science 89), and he said of his philosophy of organism that it was “an attempt, with the minimum of critical adjustment, to return to the conceptions of the ‘vulgar’ ” (Process 88). On a similar note, Welty stressed that Green’s work is remarkable for its effort and ability to speak of and for all of us, observing that it operates “from within the
to create a life which is not / 99
labyrinth of every life” (20), and “touches uncommonly close to the quick of experience” (22). In making his remarkably flexible fiction responsive to experience, Green (like Firbank) dismantled the traditional “conventions of the novel,” doing “away with scaffolding, with one prop after another” (Welty 20). In doing so, Green “both solved and set up a fair number of problems in the novel” (Welty 24), considering which, Welty concluded that Green in his fiction was consistently and persistently working toward a new future for the novel:
From the first his best . . . stood for experiment and must continue to stand for this . . . it will not be on Henry Green’s head if the novel for its life does not look to its own future rather than to its past. (28)
As with Green in fiction, Whitehead in philosophy was attempting to clear ground and to make a new way forward: “Whitehead saw himself clearly as standing at the end of one era and at the beginning of the new one” (Whitehead’s Philosophy xvi). And again as with Green, Whitehead perceived that the key to a reenvisioning of reality was to conceive of it as being composed of living organisms in changing environments. Writing in 1925, he noted, “The science of living organisms is only now coming to a growth adequate to impress its conceptions upon philosophy” (Science 41). When we thoroughly consider the implications of this science, Whitehead contended, we come to understand “that our whole experience is composed out of our relationship to the rest of things, and of the formation of new relationships constitutive of things to come” (Modes 31). In such a world, “the reality is the process” (Science 72), and not the isolated individual substance arrested in an instant of time, as Newtonian science conceived of the ultimate nature of the real—a conception that Whitehead repeatedly criticized for its inherent limitations in regards to understanding reality as it is actually experienced:
The notion of the self-contained particle of matter, self-sufficient within its local habitation, is an abstraction. Now an abstraction is nothing else than the omission of part of the truth. The abstraction is well-founded when the conclusion drawn from it is not vitiated by the omitted truth. (Science 138)
Whitehead argued that the scientific conception of real substances localizable in space and time is true and useful as long as it recognizes the limitations of its assumptions and the narrowness of its observed realities. But when early modern philosophy generalized from that conception, contending that anything that is not measurable at an instant of time is not fundamentally real, it created a gulf between our theoretical conception of the
Whitehead saw his philosophy as contributing toward a revision of our conception of the real. including one’s own body. in which “process. and then reacts to the datum. conceives of the subject as an interactive creation arising from the ongoing process of events. and founded upon the ultimate concept of organism” (Science 66). Subjects were conceived as being essentially separate from their objective experience. when it is taken out of its environment—arrested in time and space for the sake of measurement—it no longer exists as itself. all of nature is composed of organisms . and the earth adds another millennium to the period of its existence. on the other hand. The philosophy of organism presupposes a datum that is met with feelings. This conception annihilates the Cartesian distinction between the human subject and the rest of nature. Rather. there is no determinate nexus which in an unqualified sense is either the man or the earth. (Process 179) In Whitehead’s conception. Whitehead’s emphasis on the “vulgar” conceptions of an organism’s environmental and existential context implicitly aligns his philosophy with pastoral envisioning. made the mistake of taking the isolable substance—including ourselves—as the concrete reality to which events happened. all organisms are in some degree unified subjects—that is the very basis of their being classed as organisms— although some subjects are more unified than others. they were subjected to experience in and through the course of events. Moreover. so that we must resist the urge to define an organism by its extension in space alone: The man adds another day to his life. which is made up of a myriad of subjective organisms. At an instant there is nothing” (Science 146). activity.100 / alternative realisms real and reality as it is experienced. But until the death of the man and the destruction of the earth. which are the real actualities: The philosophies of substance presuppose a subject that then encounters a datum. ( Adventures 204) The organism exists within its environment as “a structure of evolving processes” (Science 72). and progressively attains the unity of a subject. following Descartes. This being the case. and change are the matter of fact. Modern philosophy. Whitehead stressed that any organism’s environment is always temporal as well as spatial. as an operative organism. Whitehead’s philosophy. An organism exists in interactive relationship with its environment. Whitehead contended that “we must start with the event as the ultimate unit of natural occurrence” (Science 103) rather than with the isolable substance. “in which the scientific scheme is recast. as he himself observed in his writings on aesthetics ( Adventures 271).
or family. it then automatically turns into an object in the datum that leads to the arising of a new subject. the self that is coming into being relates to the self already in existence as to an objective other. evolving amalgamation of this series. (37) Whitehead’s insight that “the real actual things that endure are all societies” (Adventures 204) with recognizable and evolving characteristics helps to explain the manner in which a nation. Once the subject is evolved. and the analogy may be extended up the ladder of comprehensiveness to divinity itself. Self-conscious humans. and [with] accidental qualities which vary as circumstances alter” (Adventures 204). of which we form a part and the essence of which we share. What we conceive of as our isolable individual identities is in reality a linked series of events that Whitehead calls “a society. he is the first to see that what is called an individual in common life (and much philosophy) can only be understood as a form of sequence of particular actualities socially inheriting common quality from antecedent numbers. it is a part of the “datum that is met with feelings and progressively attains the unity of a subject” (Process 179). is the most comprehensive of such organisms). but societies endure as a continuing series of these events. but the difference is one of degree rather than of kind. we relate to ourselves as subjects to objects. according to Whitehead’s conception of subjectivity. college. contended that Whitehead’s conception of reality as being composed of an interactive network of societies is perhaps even more crucial as a reconfiguration of our understanding than is his conception of reality as being composed of organisms in environments: Whitehead seems to be the only philosopher to note the universality of societies in the cosmos. in an interactive and environmental manner. like . The process philosopher and theologian Charles Hartshorne.to create a life which is not / 101 progressively attaining the unity of subjects (Nature as a whole. also.” Events occur and then pass away. According to this conception. The two major changes that Whitehead worked on the idea of ourselves and other beings as individuals is to conceive of an individual as a series of events—that is. at all levels. and that personality itself is a special temporally linear cause of such social—that is sympathetic—inheritance. Moreover. company. or God. however. and best of all. with “an essential character. are more unified than other subjects we observe in our environments. whereby it is the society that it is. whose own work is self-admittedly a continuation and elaboration of several of Whitehead’s key conceptions regarding the nature of the real. being aware of this unity and acting upon this awareness. as an ongoing process within a changing environment—and to conceive of the individual as a society made up of the continuing.
animal. because of its fundamental subjectivity. In order to emphasize the subjective and relative nature of “the event. which directs evolution to the end not merely of survival. Indeed.102 / alternative realisms a virus. Newtonian science flouted human intuition by contending that the reality of events was the reality of measurable isolated substances at an instant of time. in our understanding of the evolutionary processes of life. To understand this process is to comprehend the primacy of the aesthetic in characterizing reality: “The characteristics of life are absolute self-enjoyment.” Whitehead often refers to it as “an occasion of experience. Indeed he praised the Romantic poets for their “intuitive refusal seriously to accept the abstract materialism of science” (Science 86). in effect. or human bodies—live and work. Aesthetic significance arises from the process of life. Whitehead insisted that evolution itself is best understood in aesthetic terms. to return to the parlance of the vulgar: there is no accounting for taste. the sense of being one actuality in a world of actualities—is the gift of aesthetic significance. or plant. creativity. When looked at from this perspective. Whitehead’s contention. (Modes 121) Whitehead agrees with Wilde in making the argument that taste— aesthetic significance—is absolutely fundamental.” Whitehead’s further insight is that. Whitehead . is that the pathetic fallacy is not a fallacy at all. which has long been our mechanical fallback metaphor for explaining the manner in which groups of organisms—be it social networks. as it is to a work of art that is always in progress. it becomes clear that the standard of measurement that may be usefully applied to it is necessarily relative and subjective: “ ‘Value’ is the word I use for the intrinsic reality of an event” (Science 93). but of self-enjoyment—a pastoral ideal (Science 111). but an acute analogy. Whitehead countered that such substances are in effect abstractions from reality. animal species. This experience claims a relevance beyond the finite immediacy of any one occasion of experience. reality is most comprehensively conceived of as a process with aesthetic ends and means: The sense of external reality—that is to say. lamenting that. activity. aim” (Modes 152). the evolutionary process of actuality may be seen to be analogous not so much to a war machine (the survival of the fittest). When the interactive and environmental “event” is considered as the most basic constituent of reality. all such natural societies are far more analogous to one another than are any of them to a man-made machine. has a personality analogous in crucial respects to that of a human individual. we have overemphasized the survival-of-the-fittest aspect that is most analogous to a machine age and have underemphasized the more fundamental creative aspect.
3. the concept of process as being “the very essence of real actuality—that is. the concept of the individual as an evolving creation arising from the ongoing process of events. Elsewhere Whitehead argues that the modern failure to understand the subordinate relation of power to aesthetic aim and worth results in a failure to comprehend the nature of divinity and our relation to it (Process 407–413). and his own personal favorite among his books (Treglown 182). each of which has “an essential character. I will apply Whitehead’s philosophical— and implicitly pastoral—reenvisioning of the nature of the real in an analysis of the pastoral-organic literary realism practiced by Green in his most complex and comprehensive novel. it is the failure of the fallen angels. The Individual As an Evolving Creation In his Paris Review interview. Concluding. of the completely real” (Adventures 274). Every other type of composition is a halfway stage in the attainment of actuality. (Modes 119) Whitehead implicitly critiques the abstract notion of “will to power” by asserting that. and [with] accidental qualities which vary as circumstances alter” ( Adventures 204). It constitutes the drive of the universe. power is always a means to an aesthetic end and never an end in itself. “of composition attaining worth for itself” (Modes 119). I will focus on four of Whitehead’s key revisionary concepts discussed above: 1. The final actuality has the unity of power.” to which he responded: He can’t do anything else. the concept of reality as an interactive network of societies. Power is the compulsion of composition. in the ultimate sense. and we are all of us changing every day—developing we hope! We leave our marks behind us like a snail. Green was asked whether “a writer should work toward development of a particular style. 4. In the remainder of this essay. whereby it is the society that it is. All power is derivative from the fact of composition attaining worth for itself. the concept of reality as a creative process. Power and importance are aspects of this fact. There is no other fact. (Surviving 245) . The essence of power is the drive towards aesthetic worth for its own sake.to create a life which is not / 103 explained this crucial refiguring of the standard evolutionary paradigm in a passage that is key to understanding the relation of his philosophical system to Green’s fiction: Actuality is in its essence composition. 2. His style is himself.
but particularly through their own words. which is “to create a life which is not” (Surviving 136). his sense that “the novel should not violate the privacy of human inwardness” (39). And do we know. Green’s biographer. “It is only by an aggregate of words over a period followed by an action. intrudes like a Greek chorus to underline his meaning. in their dialogue: The kind of action which dialogue is. Green’s reticence when it comes to making assumptions about and for his characters is remarkable. Green’s exact contemporary and lifelong friend (they met at Eton). rather the characters should be allowed to explain themselves. in life. And although we knew each other so well. We certainly don’t know what other people are thinking and feeling. that we obtain. of all the people I’ve ever known. commenting that Green “was receptive to other people to a point where he almost ceased to have an existence of his own” (118). and a voice came out of a corner of the ceiling to tell them what both were like. which is not very much Green contended in his 1950 essay for the BBC’s The Listener. and behavior. expressions. How then can the novelist be so sure? (Surviving 139) Green’s remarkable contention that the novelist “has no business with the story he is writing” is indicative of his absolute opposition to the idea and practice of fiction as didactic argument and/or ego-enhancement. (qtd. he implied. in Treglown 72) . or what the other felt. who said of Green: He was a very very complicated and tricky person. Jeremy Treglown. exploits none” (17). in life. Whatever its source.” in which he argued against the convention whereby a novelist takes it upon himself to explain his characters to his readers.104 / alternative realisms It is through the examination of such marks that we know what we know about ourselves and others. a glimmering of what is going on in someone or even in ourselves” (Surviving 141). I really never got to the bottom of him. “A Novelist to his Readers. are only obstacles to the creator’s ultimate task. Later in the essay. both of which. certainly. Welty remarked of Green’s respectful and scrupulous handling of his characters that “he explains none. Treglown cites the novelist Anthony Powell. what other people are really like? I very much doubt it. It is as if husband and wife were alone in the living room. is held up while the writer. noted that Green’s self-effacing handling of his characters was reflected in his own personal relations. Green stressed the primary and revelatory role of the carefully observant creative act. who has no business with the story he is writing. through their actions. Bruce Bassoff contended in his 1975 monograph on Green that “The English empirical tradition accounts in particular for the epistemological reticence in Green” (33).
but above all. for Green. Carrying the book in his head is obviously analogous to a pregnant woman’s carrying of a child. When I say carry I mean the proportions —that is. The wish for such would seem to Green to seek an easy way out of the difficult but enthralling labor of creation. delicate. is far from being a cause for despondency or despair. and carry it in my head. From the point of view of Green’s complex. in order to express and represent the actual nature of reality. enveloping.to create a life which is not / 105 Green’s handling of characters argues implicitly that we never get to the bottom of anyone or of anything. Green responded. a seventy-five-year-old retired scientist who made an unnamed great scientific discovery as a young man. limiting. the length. all too impatient in bringing those creations to life. enigmatic. Green responded tellingly: As to plotting or thinking ahead. becomes a part of the datum from which a new subject is born—so Green’s characters both evolve out of and devolve into their situational environments. Green’s pastoral-organic characters come to life in and through interactive relationships with their enabling. Green in his fiction demonstrates that the carefully observed processes of life itself argue against such notions of certainty and closure. and not with an isolated substance. out of the process of events. The main character in the futuristic world of Concluding is Mr. Towards the end of the book your head is literally bursting. and who. subtle. conventional realist novelists seem not only too certain of their fictive creations. I don’t in a novel. of which they are both part and product. Such a conviction. “Situation every time” (Surviving 242). and inhibiting environments. and evolving characterizations. having developed. When asked in the Paris Review interview about his method for the handling of a novel’s structure. a subject arises—which. Rock (we never learn his Christian name). . This is the exhaustion of creating. As with Whitehead in his philosophy. My way you have a chance to get something living. (Surviving 243) Again the idea of a living organism is seen to be central to Green’s theme and method. Beginning with such a premise is analogous to Whitehead’s assertion that the philosopher must begin with an event in process. and that the effort to do so is both futile and self-deceiving. But try and write out a scheme and you will only depart from it. and the notion of the head bursting recalls the birth of Athena—goddess of wisdom—from the forehead of Zeus. When asked whether he began writing with a certain character or rather with a certain situation in mind. I let it come page by page. one a day. As Whitehead contended that. which is the basic business of life in all of its myriad manifestations.
Temperamentally the names are fitting as well. More disturbingly for Edge.” has been given for life the habitation of a worker’s cottage on the pastoral grounds of a country estate outside of London that has been transformed into an Institute for the training of young female bureaucrats destined for employment in the all-encompassing state apparatus. who are also the only two figures with overtly emblematic names. . but also their intricate relation to one another within that framework. indicating not only their primacy in the story’s complex allegory. who is old friends with one of the state’s functionaries responsible for education and who feels a grandfatherly concern for the students at the Institute. but by the fact that two of the Institute’s teenage students have gone missing overnight (one is later found—while one remains missing at novel’s end). As one would anticipate from their names. is a potential danger to Edge’s efforts to contain the damage (that is. while Edge is peripheral to him. an emergency that threatens cancellation of the evening’s planned dance in annual and traditional celebration of the Institute’s founding. Rock’s thirty-five-year-old granddaughter Elizabeth is living with him in his cottage while she recuperates from a nervous breakdown brought on from overwork in the state bureaucracy. This brief summary gives little indication of the richness of the novel’s texture. a collapse that seems to have been hastened and complicated by an affair she is having with Sebastian. The two characters most thoroughly enmeshed in and revealed by the novel’s tapestry are Rock and Edge. the students’ absconding leads to the potential calamity of an official state enquiry and investigation. while Edge is anxious and high-strung—edgy. Rock. On the day in which the novel takes place. is the principal of the girl’s school. knowledge) of the children’s absconding.106 / alternative realisms as a reward from the “State. Rock’s nemesis in the story. fearing that Edge will in turn retaliate against her lover. a younger man who teaches economics at the Institute and lives with the other Institute employees and their 300 students in the transformed mansion. and his granddaughter attempts to head off Rock’s interference. which takes place during one summer day and evening in the near future. Indeed the analogy of a tapestry in progress is entirely apt to Green’s densely woven fiction-making. Edge is particularly interested in the results of an election held the previous day. who covets his cottage for the uses of the school and its staff. in which Mr. Miss Edge. Rock is the story’s central figure. Rock had been a candidate for admission into an honorary society that includes among its potential benefits free room and board for life at a designated retirement facility. as Rock is a solid and dependable figure. the Institute’s habitual routine is complicated not only by the impending news of Rock’s election (we never find out its outcome). who is under the principal’s direct supervision.
and the novel’s delightful and surprising conclusion. who is led to put up a fight for his cottage by the love of his granddaughter and spoiled animals pets. however. as she represents the feared and hated world at large that is ever the enemy of the amenable pastoral retreat. and by his affection for the place itself and his life there. Green himself does not do so. Although he has legal right to the Institute’s cottage for life. She says to her lover. if we do not understand Edge ultimately (none of Green’s characters may be so understood). and particularly of one so designated). Edge is. at least not overtly. since we cannot in all self-respect finally approve of her behavior or admire her motives. although he sometimes seems noble and wise. by novel’s end we feel that. However. and his granddaughter has complicated matters by involving herself romantically with one of the Institute employees. . on the surface (if one can speak of such things with Green’s characters. who is also the chief chink in his armor in his fight with Edge. For unlike Rock. for judgment curtails understanding. who fears that Rock will be outmaneuvered by Edge. of her grandfather’s superior strategic skills in his fight with Edge for possession of the cottage and the say-so over who gets to live in it. But he also employs his debilities strategically to gain sympathy for himself and to attack and satirize his enemies. and such understanding amounts to empathy. Although we may judge Edge negatively. the legal rights of those he chooses to share it with are less certain. and other times selfpitying and pathetic—a contradictory characterization that is typical of pastoral figures. Edge’s desire for the cottage arises out of a neurotic need to be in direct bureaucratic control of every aspect of her environment. we nevertheless understand her behavior and motivations. that her grandfather “has forgotten more of [Edge’s] twists and turns than you’ll ever learn” (38). Because old age has made him partially deaf and blind. in which Edge shamelessly and hilariously makes a proposal of marriage to Rock in a bid to eliminate once and for all the troublesome anomaly of his singular nonbureaucratic position at the Institute (by making him a peripheral part of its structure through alliance with its head) proves Elizabeth correct—at least for the time being. far less sympathetic than Rock. if not to sympathy.to create a life which is not / 107 There is no point in the novel when Rock is other than a sympathetic figure. In terms of the novel’s overt allegory. and the whole of Green’s critical effort in his creations is bent upon understanding. Elizabeth seems certain. he sometimes seems very much at the mercy of those with more keen senses around him. Edge is the pastoral boundary itself. since he is devoted to Elizabeth and is determined to provide a home for her with himself (which would not be a possibility in the state’s retirement home for honorees). Elizabeth. The one who seems to know Rock best is his doted-upon granddaughter.
Green’s novels imply that to understand a human’s fundamental essence—that which makes one desire one thing and not another—is beyond our capacity. in Treglown 253) One could argue. because something sentimental would have got into the writing.108 / alternative realisms The important thing for Green is to comprehend characters’ working motives—the end to which their behavior is aimed—because then their means become understandable within a reasonable framework. what we know of ourselves and of others is similar to what we know of God. that the things that Green refused to believe in are all false idols of one sort or another. in making her appreciation. (qtd. and to Nature as an immanent-transcendent deity. Green displays an implicitly devotional attitude toward that order. Tennant refers to the living quality of the writing while praising its poetic distance. It is the existence of that all-pervading order that makes it possible for us to understand a person’s behavior once his/her motives have been deduced from it. In any case. even in regards to ourselves. which is not their essence but their immanence. Green’s disinterested effort at understanding humans in their intricate ends and means does indeed align him with the empirical tradition with its impassioned search for the truth of reality through dispassionate analysis of same. one of Green’s ex-lovers cited by his biographer. God’s immanence is the actual world in its “aesthetic order” (Whitehead. Process and Reality. he wouldn’t have been able to write those books with their extraordinary poetic distance. Emma Tennant. highlighting the combination of intense engagement and respectful reticence we have already discussed in Green’s relationship to his work. In his scrupulous observation of and passionate evocation of the aesthetic order of the created world. the ends are a given. He wasn’t going to have any communism or any fascism or any God or anything at all. claimed that it was Green’s very skepticism that enabled his singular creative achievement: He was too clear-sighted to have any religion. That was a cruel fate for him. in declining to bow down to them—to engage in special pleading in and through his work—he was creating in good faith. and that. of course. Whitehead makes an intriguingly similar observation regarding God’s creative relation to the world at the conclusion of his great cosmological statement. Interestingly. Religion 101). it is notable that. in which he argues that God in his . and in his absolute refusal to pass judgment upon it. It’s because he didn’t that the writing lives. Whitehead likewise argued that the essence of all being is a mystery that is the province of God’s own creative effort. But if he hadn’t had that complete lack of belief in things. The creativity is in the means.
for Edge fears fear itself. Certainly there is a great deal in the world of Green’s fiction. His signal achievement is to be both Romantic and realist at once. Reality As a Creative Process The difference between Rock and Edge is a difference of creative vision—a difference of taste. But . and her entire creative effort is aimed at making herself invulnerable to weakness. of destructive force with destructive force. it is not different from any of Green’s novels. he is the poet of the world. but of devoted subservience—for she is an instinctual dictator. and goodness. Rock’s vision. written during and concerning the firebombing of London during World War II. which leads her to try to appropriate her environment as a possession and expression of her self. from her administrative control over their lives—but more worrisomely. it lies in the patient operation of the overpowering rationality of his conceptual harmonization.to create a life which is not / 109 creative role does not bend the world to his will so much as he persuades the world into an existence that is true to his creative vision: God’s role is not the combat of productive force with productive force. Edge’s vision is limited by its defensive egoism. with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth. beauty. he saves it. Green is a thoroughgoing Romantic. by contrast. or. The girls at the institute sense Rock’s pastoral care and respond with easy and generous affection. is characterized chiefly by his pastoral devotion to his granddaughter and to his animals. He does not create the world. which he manages by demonstrating the manner in which we work to fashion the reality we inhabit through creative manipulation of our environments so that they are pleasing to us. On the contrary. none of Green’s novels succumb to negative attitudes and emotions. In this. to his whole environment. and by extension. from her ego-driven demand of not only obedience. Their relationship to Edge by contrast is fraught with anxiety stemming. as in the world at large. we are all of us Romantic-realists. that is not true or beautiful or good. The chief vulnerability of such a vision is its very defensiveness. as has been noted by many critics. Concluding offers a remarkably subtle and sophisticated analysis of power relations in human interaction. naturally enough. all of which offer such penetrating analysis. more accurately. In that sense. as is every organism. But with the exception of the traumatized novel Caught. (Process 408) There is a parallel between Whitehead’s essentially pastoral conception of God as both good shepherd and creative artist and Green’s description of himself patiently nurturing a novel into existence.
is contrasted to the doting grandfather and pet-owner Rock. We fool ourselves by conflating the two. Edge.” his descriptions of which are in some ways analogous to the distinction I have been making between Edge and Rock: Human order is willful and tenuous. Edge instinctively aligns herself with the authority of the State. Mark Facknitz argued that Concluding presents us with “two kinds of order.110 / alternative realisms Concluding differs in its scope by making one of its concerns the operation of the “State” as a power player. while Rock. such impositions cannot alter the fabric of nature but only our perception of it. and to consider that our human “impositions cannot alter the fabric of nature” is to ignore. and that nature is a part of him. The instinct for authoritarianism is seen to arise from a human fear ultimately of nature itself in its creative and fertile profusion. but he is too absolute in his distinction between the natural and human orders both in the novel and in the world. Rock lives in harmony with nature because he understands that he is a part of nature. but human thought is nothing if not natural fact in its own right. Green conceives of such power as being not inhuman but all too human. while the changes that nature imposes on us are organic and irrevocable. for while we can impose meaning upon nature. declining even to open or read his mail. who is habitually referred to as a spinster by her detractors and proves to be in general afraid of and/or disdainful of nonhuman animals. among other things. much of which references (or so he believes) his service to the state through his scientific discovery (Concluding 27). (Academic Search Premier) Facknitz’s point is well taken regarding the supremacy of the natural order as expressed in Green’s novel. in true pastoral fashion. Green says. which he strains to remain free of. and which Whitehead attempted to correct through his philosophy of organism. For human order is a subset of the natural order. I worry the point because it seems to me that Facknitz’s error epitomizes the humanistic and dualistic error that Green is contending against throughout his fiction. the many species with their own forms of natural order that have been crowded out of existence by such human impositions. nature’s order is unmediated and absolute. One might argue that Facknitz is contrasting human thought with natural fact. to conceive of it as entirely separate and distinct is to make the mistake upon which Edge bases her defensive and self-defeating approach to life. In an essay published in 1990. looks upon the state bureaucracy as a menace. In the novel. Crucially. His understanding gives him the ultimate advantage in his fight against .
who “straightaway fainted” (117). during the process of decoration. Much of the great humor of Concluding revolves around Edge’s neurotic fear of and attempts to prohibit and control change.” A tear began to roll from each of her blue. (118) .” the symbolic weight of the situation is too much for Edge. Rather every home for Edge will be a fortress in which she is imprisoned by her anxieties and fears. too late.” she ended. Process As the Essence of the Completely Real The different conceptions of reality embodied by Rock and Edge are made explicit in their attitudes towards process and change. . the student helpers discover at the bottom of the pile of flowering branches “a rabbity Rag Doll dressed gaily in miniature Institute pajamas. Later she attempts to explain the reaction by saying. change is to be fought on principle. but for Edge. for she cannot make a safe home for herself within nature by going against nature. Edge is discombobulated by the sense that a dead body lay under the massed “pyre” of flowering branches that have been gathered for decorating the hall for the evening’s dance. .” she said in anticlimax. “And then I did realize. and vice versa. For Edge. “How foolish of me . that she had a terror of rabbits dead. only too late. which is represented throughout the novel by symbols and situations concerning sex and death. known throughout the Institute. During the day’s luncheon. For Edge. and when. a dead rabbit. while much of its poetic beauty is related to Rock’s receptive pastoral response to the ever-changing world of nature in which he and his live and thrive. .to create a life which is not / 111 Edge. while Edge’s every home is made a pastoral garden by virtue of his impassioned care of and for the world. voicing the secret. whereas for Rock. Every symbolic indication in the novel would seem to support the romantic explanation. The missing student Mary is associated with both. “I’ll never forgive myself. but celebrated and appreciated in its own right. whereas Edge’s war is already lost no matter how many battles she wins. the fear being that she has run off because of a budding romance or an unwanted pregnancy. painted with a grotesque caricature of Mary’s features on its own flat face. sex and death are interchangeable—the one leads to the other. for it is indicative of a lack of control. in a small voice and a hiccup. civilization as embodied by bureaucratic efficiency and institutional rigidity is always under attack by nature in process. for even if he loses the battle for his cottage he has won the war by virtue of his felt at-home-ness in the world. or else that she has been the victim of some foul play. I thought it was a . . change is something to be not only acquiesced in. old eyes.
but she herself will not. with his reference to “her blue. More crucially. by fainting. old eyes” and her “small voice. Edge’s vision of her self as extended in space to include all that she surveys makes her particularly vulnerable to time. (171) Edge’s egoistic wealth of self makes her lonely and vulnerable in a way that Rock. Edge’s attitude toward her environment is one of ownership and of ego-enlargement. however. She may be safe for an instant. unintentionally admitting her weakness and vulnerability. acting on behalf of the “State”) sets in motion a clockwork machine world. for others may escape or evade the punishments meted out by her harsh judgment against life. during which he is “contemplating his own death with disinterest” (202). is not. but the next instant may rob her of that safety. In such a passage Green demonstrates the life-hatred that lies behind Edge’s defensive bureaucratic posture. and allows us to acknowledge that the ultimate and inevitable victim of Edge’s repressive regime is herself. the “vast distance of his final cold. Ultimately she cannot forgive herself for being a part of nature. And yet. cold preoccupation” (203) shielding him from Edge’s entirely self-interested machinations. as North noted: Edge spends so much time gazing out of the window of her sanctum onto the grounds because the institute is her mirror.112 / alternative realisms What is unforgivable for Edge is that. the huge glass in which she sees her own personality reflected. as well as her neurotic impulse to tuck all structural and personal loose ends into her bureaucratic web. she has called attention to her fears of sex and death (which she unwittingly confirms by reference to the dead rabbit). This explains the paranoia with which she reacts to any unforeseen change of habit at the Institute and the hostility with which she meets any suggestion of alteration. in the maintenance and care of which any further creative impulse is actively opposed.” a sharer of the space-time environment—which is something that Edge is absolutely incapable of. On the contrary. Rock’s ability to contemplate even “his own death with disinterest” is proof of his absolute faith in life and of his assent that what will be will be. It is self-sympathy that protects him from the spell that Edge attempts to cast upon him with her strategic offer of marriage. it is proof that he is able to relate to himself as to an “other. Only one personality is allowed expression in such a system. Edge’s vision is of a static world of Newtonian order in which a god (in this case Edge herself. in his shared world of others within space and time. Parallel to Edge’s implacable judgment against herself is Rock’s instinct for self-pity as he considers the inevitable end of life to which old age is delivering him. but it is an . even to herself.” he expresses implicit sympathy for one who should be old without being wise.
was tantamount to an insult offered by the woman” (209) and determining to keep secret the “ludicrous development” (209). almost completely out of control. From the point of view of his continuing battle with Edge. Rock’s well-tended individual self-respect. there is no one of whom the proposal is more insulting than of Edge herself. But in terms of self-respect. and neither does his pastoral-organic realism provide an egoistic escape or opportunity for ego-inflation for the reader. Green’s refusal to choose sides in and through his fiction. In his fictional anatomy of Edge’s ways and means. to load the dice in favor of one character or another (even Edge is softened and humanized by novel’s end). She herself realizes the absurdity of the marriage proposal from a personal viewpoint: What a desperate expedient to gain possession of a cottage. it is no doubt best that Rock conceives of the proposal as an insult and acts accordingly.to create a life which is not / 113 expression that the system itself curtails once it is set in motion. antimimetic fiction-making. . She must be mad. whose personalities are enslaved—possessed—by their possessions (1083). and of nature as a part of oneself. from every point of view except Edge’s own . . considering that “the suggestion. one is bound to be disappointed. may be seen to be a defense of Green’s own particular brand of pastoral-organic. or of one outcome . Green demonstrates the manner in which such ego-fulfillment results in an enslavement by and to the conventionally real. When one conceives of oneself as a part of nature. as Edge’s individual will is inevitably enveloped by her bureaucratic machinery. one’s individual wealth requires no augmentation. or as praise of a particular version of a satisfactory reality. who demonstrates by the proposal her absolute cravenness in regards to her bureaucratic position. oh well what harm was there? Things would all come out in the wash. One is reminded of Oscar Wilde’s observation that the system of private property ownership is most damaging to the owners themselves. But then. be utterly forgotten come daylight. by contrast. she laughed to herself. (202–203) Rock views Edge’s marriage proposal with contempt. Green may be seen to be making an implicit argument against the type of conventional realist fiction that operates dually as the self-enhancing expression of its creator’s ego and as the willful appropriation of the “real” world into the mimetic text. Her intuitive awareness of her subservience makes her both bitter and dangerous. So Green’s creative ego requires no flattering reflection or willful defense. whose will she is in essence obeying in seeking to nullify the anomaly of Rock by aligning him with the bureaucracy through marriage to its chief. If one reads Green’s fiction in search of an escape from or weapon against an unsatisfactory world. as Rock is well aware.
who remarked that Green’s characters “are more like actual human beings than like most fictional characters” (30). one that challenges the life-logic of plotted conclusions. as you could a child. . (Surviving 241) The Proust biographer George Painter commented upon the paradoxical refusal of Concluding to conclude in the reader’s mind with novel’s end. you simply cannot strangle it.” The refusal of Green’s novels to conclude in conventional manners is a chief hallmark of his pastoral-organic realism. which likewise refuses to defend its insights against partisan attack. in Treglown 187). one that calls on the reader’s understanding in more than the obvious ways and that has no ready answer to pedantry or plain instinctive dislike. the argument is wholly implicit in the observation and insight. Green himself humorously commented that. as Treglown aptly noted: It is a vulnerable kind of art. In the work of both Green and Whitehead. you can’t stop its living. they accomplish this critique by way of an implicit argument that does indeed call upon the reader’s understanding “in more than the obvious ways. and not the least of its ambiguous charms is that the reader will never know just what it is he is unable to forget” (qtd. they do not (I think) release you like the more orthodox novels and like the greatest novels” (22). it is in a manner that is new to the novel convention. once the thing is printed. both writers demonstrate the manner in which the status quo is a judgment upon itself. “there is no determinate nexus which in an unqualified sense is either the man or the earth” (Adventures 204). by putting your hands round its little wet neck. Green’s ability to create characters’ lives and worlds that continue after their stories end was noted by Stokes.114 / alternative realisms or another (the plot of Concluding significantly does not conclude). “Concluding is unforgettable. Green’s pastoral-organic fiction resembles Whitehead’s philosophy of organism. if a novel is really good. Indeed. it is because they both are questioning the assumptions underlying the conventional understanding of reality in their respective areas. Welty remarked of Green’s novels that. opens his work up to criticism by partisan players. (161) In its vulnerable posture. More subtly. and I think it is. “when after moving you as they do they come to an end. We may recall Whitehead’s assertion that. If both writers fail to engage the status quo directly. If a novel like Concluding is great. as long as an organism such as a man or the earth is alive in space and time. The same may be said of the life brought forth in a novel of pastoral-organic realism.
rendered impotent and robbed of meaning” (36). One might think of the Rock as being an emblem of the universe . by contrast. Welty remarked of Green’s fiction that There is no need to say whether such writing is of the exterior or interior world . Green’s organic realism. What the poet. as Georg Lukács so convincingly argued in his seminal book Realism in our Time. and not Edge (205). all of which are “compositions” (to borrow Whitehead’s key term). thus giving a distorted picture of reality as a whole” (51). . from whatever trash is available. regardless of its power of compulsion in any particular circumstance. either “human activity is. a priori. his contention that “Green shows that self-knowledge is fiction. (26) Green’s effort to comprehend life through fiction as a layered series of intersecting worlds nested within and about one another allows him to move past the Modernist impasse between objective reality and subjective desire by which. a narrative to inhabit” (195). has found most explicit about life was clear to him before the line between the exterior and interior was ever invented.” would appear to align Green with a postmodern paradigm of a survival-of-the-fittest fictionmaking world that seems to me a distortion of Green’s pastoral-organic realism.to create a life which is not / 115 Reality As an Interactive Network of Societies The deft and complex manner by which Green transmits his characters into the world of the reader is indicative of a general dismantling in his novels of the conventional demarcations between interior and exterior worlds. and he is this. As persuasive as is North’s argument “that an individual achieves self-creation” in Green’s fiction “by concocting. Green affirms the winner by naming the mansion that is the novel’s setting “Petra” (Rock). The allegorical significance of these names may be considered in various ways. it is a demonstration that the more comprehensive composition ultimately carries the day. or else the “writer identifies what is necessarily a subjective experience with reality as such. argues that there are many realities. The competition between Rock and Edge is more than just a duel between competing fictions. but that the truest reality is the most comprehensive. . The postmodern paradigm contends that reality is the label given to the most powerful fiction in a world of competing fictions—a world in which truth is necessarily relative to one’s fictive viewpoint. Concluding is Green’s supreme achievement in creating real-world complexity that evades the exterior-interior conundrum. North referred to the novel as “the most extreme example of Green’s belief that the exterior world is not necessarily an objective truth but can be as subject to personal desires as the interior world” (180).
Baker. Edge’s fixation on maintaining un-breached the defensive boundaries of her territory and power (even her body is unbreached sexually speaking. Concluding may be seen to have many allusions to a Christian worldview. content on the whole to let things slide this night of nights. on which every edge. so Edge schemes against Rock and his household as she searches for a way to maneuver them from the cottage on “her” grounds—their very presence in which seems to her a blasphemy in the face of her all-governing bureaucracy. which Einstein famously considered to be finite but unbounded.” in reference to the disciple Peter (King James Version Matthew 16: 18). “My dear. as a last gesture. which is continuous: unbounded. who is like the Pharisees of the Gospels in her devotion to the letter of the law and in the self-righteous puritanical bent of her figure.” she shouted under the music. “there is a Limit. with the allusion to Christ’s statement that his church would be founded upon this “rock. like the surface of a sphere. “But I must mention one thing. heard throughout the Hall. “upon which our Institute is Built.” Miss Baker approved.” when. and could only go on in a great voice. like Queens upon thrones. such as the Earth. and this. when Baker—who habitually attempts to temper Edge’s potentially self-endangering fanaticism—tries to get her off of the subject: “Now shall we postpone all this until tomorrow?” “Very well. “this Rock” she continued. confined with others to a workshop in which talk is forbidden.” she answered and beamed at the Students. the music stopped dead into a sighing silence. is only a relative boundary in the bigger-picture scheme of things. and of the reality of nature.” Edge agreed. at that precise moment. and in a rising voice. and who has learned to scream defiance as an unheard ventriloquist beneath the deafening mechanical hammers.” she added.116 / alternative realisms itself. “They can outstretch themselves. “They can go too far. which has no edges—or rather. “Rock” also obviously is emblematic of a Christian worldview. (185–186) . such as the edge of a continent or mountain range. particularly in its contrasting of the caring and nurturing pastoral figure of Rock to the dogmatic and dictatorial Edge. as the novel repeatedly stresses) is thus seen in the novel’s narrative to be a relative and small-minded vision of the nature of reality. Edge is avidly pursuing the obsessive theme of Rock and his granddaughter in their cottage. As the Pharisees plotted against Christ and his disciples.” (she was working herself up). in praise of the recovery. but kept her face expressionless. It was like a prisoner. At the Founder’s Day dance near the novel’s end. as thought to yell defiance. magnificent. Although Green clearly is not an orthodox writer. as she and her governing partner Miss Baker look down at the whirling figures from the dais upon which they are seated.
in his fiction-making. by novel’s end it almost seems as though Rock were God’s or Nature’s representative (the novel’s allegorical logic implicitly endorses Spinoza’s—and Whitehead’s—cosmological conception of God and Nature as interchangeable terms) who is mercifully appearing before us in the form of a wise old retired scientist and grandfather to point a moral concerning the right relationship between ourselves and our environment. as the fanatical Edge is being given to us as a cautionary tale demonstrating the faulty reasoning whereby we have come to conceive of ourselves as apart and estranged from Nature. These various arguments are nested within and about one another in interactive motion. to which we in fact wholly belong. and a spiritual argument concerning the supremacy of love. Green in this most complex and comprehensive of his novels is making an ecological argument concerning the role of the human in the natural world. which is emblematic of a harmony between linear time (narrative) and circular nature (symbolism). and a biological argument concerning the fundamental character of interactive process. like that of a supreme lyric poem or a piece of music. as Stokes first noted in his insightful monograph (20). One might also think of the electron clouds orbiting the nucleus of an atom in motion. and the process of the natural. When we pay close attention to the subtle and complex allegory emblematized by the chief characters’ names. and vice versa” (184). further emphasizing Green’s attention to natural processes. In his 1982 study of Green. The logic of argument that they create is incredibly complex and yet harmonious withal. and children are given the attributes of animals. and minerals. only to break upon the shore in a conclusion that never finishes concluding. metaphorically. and an aesthetic argument concerning the limits of representation and the autonomy of organic creation. . This metaphorical level jump might be thought of. as an electron’s quantum leap from one orbit to another. since it is the very ground upon which all arguments are made and all values are judged. which is itself in motion as the universe expands outward. like a series of waves rolling through a body of water. and a psychological argument concerning the isolation created by fear. and is in another sense representative of the earth in its elliptical orbit about the sun. vegetables.to create a life which is not / 117 The humorous implication is that this “Rock” is not at all limited and cannot go too far by definition. Rod Mengham noted Green’s use of metaphor and simile “to jump from one level to another—transposing the characteristics of one level onto another—so that men. The novel itself suggests its own shape as that of a spiral. For as well as making a political argument concerning the self-defeating nature of tyranny. women.
as they had at dawn. which trebled the singing . then suddenly by legion. and blackbirds. (148–149) The passage sums up the novel in several ways. when a flock of starlings suddenly descends upon the trees around them for their nightly roost. The starlings flew around a little and then. or of the sea. and there was a huge volume of singing. before roosting. some first starlings flew out of the sky . in their turn. black and blunt against faint rose. After which these birds came in hundreds. as they descended. In one sense. began to give the alarm in earnest. while Elizabeth is attempting to convince her grandfather to find a way to enable her to live in the cottage together with both him and her potential future husband. until all was black above that black elm. as the first mass of starlings left while these others settled. and this moment was over. followed by ever greater numbers. that singing drooped.118 / alternative realisms One of the most arresting natural and metaphorical leaps in Concluding occurs when Rock and his granddaughter Elizabeth are walking up to the mansion in the evening to attend the Founder’s Day dance. They swarmed above the lonely elm. “I’m glad I had that once more. to send the last arrivals out.” Mr. scything the air. in one broad spiral led the way down and so. as sky faded fast. a cohabitation which goes against the State’s housing policies as well as against Rock’s inclinations. . and as the first birds swarmed upon the nearest beech these late comers stopped out of dusk in a crash of air to take that elm. The passage is remarkable both for its beauty and its symbolic poignance and is quoted at some length: Then as they came to where the trees ended. . even higher dots against paler pink. and to swoop down through a thickening curve in the enormous echo of blood. as the succeeding waves of birds dislodge earlier arrivals from their roosts. at which Rock is anticipating a continuation of his battle with Edge over the cottage. the chorus of hosannas about God’s throne when . and these. they made. Their anxious discussions regarding their future home(s) is concluding as they near the mansion. the moon paled to brilliance. Then there were more. flat sovereign red gold. began to circle up above. then finished. through falling dusk in a soft roar. a huge sea shell that stood proud to a moon which. . Rock said aloud. Then a third concourse came out of the west. . rather. until the leader. they circled a hundred feet above. was already poised full faced to a dying world. not the least of which is its humorous and poetic naturalizing of the struggle for a home. But the line “and there was a huge volume of singing” is decidedly biblical in its cadence and phrasing and calls to mind. the birds’ singing may be thought of as an enormous argument. Once the starlings had settled in that tree they one and all burst out singing. as the discombobulated flocks jostle for position. as every bird was home.
And yet to have lived is to have changed the essential character of things. such dehumanization is comforting rather than threatening. become the one actual occasion. in Treglown 184). as to Green. rather “living” is the creative activity of dying. through our living—for to Whitehead. implies both an ongoing process and a stage or state within that process. whose reflections in the polished floor moved “backwards and forwards. Being is in essence creative becoming.) Green’s working title for the novel was “Dying” (Mengham 187). their object-ness in a world of other objects. which is the universe conjunctively. or of the sea” emphasize continuity and repetition. the materiality of the dancers themselves. As usual with Green. the apt setting for the day’s Armageddon-ish last stand. paradoxically. which are the universe disjunctively. so that we can say of Green’s world. The past is the material with which the future is made. and make an analogy as well with the waltzing couples at the coming dance. The many become one. as is the whirling gossip it attends to. Our own bodies as individual organisms . (25–26) We contribute our individual change through our creativity—that is. and might the one be the other in Nature’s or God’s ear? (The ear is another symbolic spiral that is operative throughout the novel.to create a life which is not / 119 every soul has been called home. one implication of which is that the past is always present in the future. in their “enormous echo of blood. by however infinitesimal an amount. in the sense of ‘ending.’ but also in the sense of ‘drawing inferences’ ” (qtd. self-conscious thought is a part of our creative contribution to the world. and therefore we are dying. It lies in the nature of things that the many enter into complex unity . which is something we share with all of nature. Modes 115) devoid of subjective experience. but it is also a poignant reminder of the mutability of all things. Green said of his title that it “could be double-barreled i. . . Might the singing be both argument and praise.” For dying is not something that is done . in and out again as each pair swung round under chandeliers” (263). “Concluding. Whitehead wrote in Process and Reality that individual creativity is that ultimate principle by which the many. And yet the spiraling flocks of starlings. as of Proust’s. The much larger category is mind or mentality itself. Green’s focus on the moving reflections emphasizes. which makes our brief lives a part of the permanency of the world. For the human.” by contrast.e. which is emphasized in the passage above by the blood-like red of the moon and sky. We are living. that nothing is ever lost—and that is why Concluding is more apt as a title than “Dying. living and creation are synonymous. in which there is no such thing as “passive matter” (Whitehead. and are increased by one. but it is only a part.
Modes 114). Rock’s congenial and respectful relations with his animal pets indicates an awareness of the mentality at work in nonhuman nature. taking egoistic refuge within the selfdefeating ideals of invincibility and invulnerability. . Green said that his goal with his novels was to create “a life . which—in generic terms—is an innately pastoral endeavor. By focusing upon the relationship between an individual subject and its necessary. The pastoral mode is most operative in Concluding. The crucial question is the attitude that one adopts to this threat. To rid oneself permanently of the threat of the other is impossible. Green and Whitehead in their differing venues were attempting to make the human at home again in nature. nature-alienating tendencies of a dualistic scientific humanism that conceived of the self-conscious human as different in kind from the rest of nature. accepts the vulnerability as a given . but neither can they leave one another alone entirely. as when he observes his pet goose Ted. emphasizing the innate and intrinsic relation of the living organism to its living environment. As Whitehead argued.120 / alternative realisms are “the basis of our emotional and purposive experience. In their efforts to counter the isolating. Rock and Edge cannot marry. which can live in people who are alive” (Surviving 136). Mr. as we have noted. at some clear height. interactive and enabling environment. like small creatures coming and going in a meadow” (Surviving x). thus emphasizing the ecological nature of Green’s pastoral creations. mingled with their environment. Updike noted the pastoral communality of Green’s world-envisioning when he commented that Green’s “effort is to create” throughout his fiction “a field of characters. “There is no such thing as absolute solitariness. with a single eye” into a fog bank “beyond which. Rock’s humble and congenial pastoral response. Ted knows where he thought” (3). evolving environments to which the human both contributes and belongs. to step outside of which—as has the missing student Mary—is to be lost indeed. head to one side. Rock is this favored world’s prototypical pastoral figure as Edge is the representative of the threatening world outside—her name labeling her as the pastoral boundary itself in its defensive posture. the pastoral—like civilization itself—is necessarily under threat of change. shaping. resulting in the faulty reasoning whereby early modern science and philosophy could conceive of the human as different in essence from the rest of nature. which presents us with an endangered world within a pastoral boundary. both Whitehead and Green strived to emphasize and investigate the living. by contrast.” and yet in the history of thought. “staring. Edge gives way to paranoia and hysteria. Each entity requires its environment” (Religion 132). “the unity of man and his body is taken for granted” (Whitehead. . Rock knew now there must be a flight of birds fast winging.
(Science 206) “An environment of friends” is intrinsic to the pastoral vision embodied by Rock in his attitude and relations. Green’s creative advance upon his pessimistic. By force. partly to shield it from violent changes. Whitehead goes on to argue that the modern “pessimism over the future of the world comes from a confusion between civilization and security” and that. observant and inventive pastoral-organic realism. Its main defect is that it bars cooperation. and its imaginative and generous observation of. as the “Gospel of Force” may be thought of as the self-defeating creed of Edge and her state bureaucracy. There is something in the ready use of force which defeats its own object. the prize has not gone to those species which specialized in methods of violence. .to create a life which is not / 121 and prizes the precious threatened environment accordingly. The Gospel of Force is incompatible with a social life. is at the heart of the success of life itself: In the history of the world. world-critiquing Modernist forbearers was to meet the tremendous instability of our age with an engaging civility in and through his ever-flexible. I mean antagonism in its most general sense. the environment as a whole. Such a creative. nonaggressive approach to change. With its scrupulous good manners toward character and reader. . or even in defensive armor . . and partly to supply it with its wants. Green’s fiction offers us the pastoral value of civility itself as a best hope and guide for the happy future of ourselves and our environments. Whitehead argued. Every organism requires an environment of friends. Rather he strives to be at home creatively within and amidst the danger. and interaction with. which is to internalize the threat. in general. “the great ages have been unstable ages” (Science 207). The pastoralist pointedly refuses to adopt an aggressive posture in regards to danger.
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Rather Fitzgerald is a moralist in the philosophical and spiritual manner of D. is not that it began so late. “In a cool modest way Fitzgerald was an experimenter. when she was sixty years old. a mystery. in 1977. She published her first novel. which is not to say that she is a master of scruples in the manner of Henry James. like Jane Austen—the latter of whom. H. Eight more novels were to follow before she died in 2000 at the age of eighty-three. The absence of the moral element in contemporary critical discourse is certainly not a new or surprising phenomenon. She was an intensely spiritual writer addressing a largely skeptical audience. but that it developed so quickly. Lawrence—to whom she declared herself “devoted” (Basbanes)—a moralist in a time of existential anxiety. For Fitzgerald is first and foremost a moralist. in particular. and Fitzgerald herself contributed to critical incomprehension and misunderstanding concerning her work and its motives by writing in parables that are designed to hide their purpose and meaning from the unsuspecting. whose fiction attempts to address itself to the perceived crisis. the moral approach is not the manner in which Fitzgerald’s work has been considered and appreciated by the reviewers and critics. That we shall know one day The unlikely Indian summer career of the late English novelist Penelope Fitzgerald is good news for slow starters. Although Fitzgerald made a new start and developed a fresh approach to the fictive project with each of her nine novels. With a few qualified exceptions. she greatly admired (Lubow). ethical uncertainty. to whom she communicated in subtle parables that grew increasingly . however. John Bayley has written. in entirely unpredictable ways. a decided thematic. and intellectual drift. aesthetic and moral progression may be traced in and through them.Ch a p t e r Si x Th e r e ’s a Prov i de nc e Not s o Fa r Away f rom Us: P e n e lope Fi tz g e r a ld’s Pa r a bl i st ic R e a l i sm Whatever there is to know. never repeating the same kind of novel twice” (ix). What is most remarkable about her career in fiction. or a connoisseur of human nature.
The Gate of Angels. and should be converted. which is arguably her masterpiece. as it is key to our argument. it is a mistake to speak of the works’ “message. but to them it is not given. don’t they?” (Heller). His response is complex and. For this people’s heart is waxed gross. In this instance. People think that sort of thing is ridiculous these days. and their ears are dull of hearing. and teaching us to read . 15) The implication is that revelation only comes to those who are prepared to receive it. to him shall be given. for Fitzgerald’s novels are clearly demonstrative of her beliefs and values when they are read aright. our own skepticism is called for as we remind ourselves of Lawrence’s admonition to trust the tale and not the teller. and hear with their ears. It is the nature of a parable to hide its secret in plain sight so that only those readers who approach it with the right attitude will be able to discern its meaning. as well as being her most explicitly religious work. whereupon the Gospel writer concludes: “And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13: 58). a message that is reinforced at the end of the chapter in which Jesus is ill-received as a prophet when he returns to his home country. and should understand with their heart. . it will be quoted at some length: And the disciples came. such a discussion is necessary for understanding the full range of implications of her ambitious and broadly ramifying fictive project. Christ himself explained the rhetorical logic of the parable when questioned by his disciples regarding his use of them in speaking to the multitude. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not. I’m ashamed of myself—but it would require so much courage. lest at any time they should see with their eyes. and he shall have more abundance. and I should heal them.” but with a moralist such as Fitzgerald. but whosoever hath not.124 / alternative realisms complex and profound as her fiction and its moral message developed. Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. Fitzgerald was all too aware of the aesthetic and rhetorical challenge of delivering her message of faith and belief (which is not at all a simple or conventional one. and said unto him. “I still haven’t put down in any of my books what I really believe. For whosoever hath. as we shall see) to a contemporary audience of skeptical literalists. neither do they understand . With most novelists. In a 1990 interview concerning her penultimate novel. from him shall be taken away even that he hath. and hearing they hear not. she commented. Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them. and their eyes they have closed. (Matthew 13: 10–13. .
When I refer to . is a story of spiritual renewal and salvation. However. The parable’s naturalistic narrative must be made to correspond to a spiritual and metaphysical meaning in order for the parable to fulfill its purpose as a work of instruction.there’s a providence not so far away / 125 them aright—and to read our experience and world in general aright—is a large part of their purpose. her spiritual beliefs (Byatt xii). which is a manner of reading that is unfamiliar to those accustomed to the challenges associated with and the pleasures derived from the more passive consumption of the text that is the appropriate reading manner for mimetic fiction. And indeed contemporary readers in the Western tradition who are unfamiliar with the JudeoChristian background (the vast majority of contemporary readers. They might even interpret the story as a genderbending feminist tale of an over-indulged wayward son who is unfairly privileged over a dutiful stay-at-home daughter. If contemporary students were given the story of the prodigal son devoid of all context and tradition and asked to interpret it critically. which has come to seem quaint. In order to read Fitzgerald’s parables aright. judging from my students) will not readily perceive that the parable of the prodigal son. But that is because. rather. she replied that she hoped her work reflected. the spiritual meaning of these narratives has been tied to the naturalistic events of the story so completely as to seem to derive naturally from them. Or perhaps the prodigal son is gay. and obvious. conventional. simple-minded. a reader from a different historical and cultural tradition and background could not be expected to perceive this seeming obviousness of meaning. through interpretation. The purpose of this digression is to point out the difficult task facing the contemporary novelist for whom spiritual and moral concerns are paramount. The creation of correspondences between text and meaning requires an engaged and responsive interaction with the text. Fitzgerald was asked about the reflection in the work of her feminist and political beliefs. for example. Certainly the very idea of reading aright is apposite to the concept of the parable. which requires for comprehension that one consciously put the literal text alongside its metaphorical meaning (the word “parable” is derived from a word implying comparison between two objects). it may well seem that their meaning is all too clear. They are more likely to read the story in a Freudian manner as the working out of an Oedipal family romance or in a Marxist manner as the story of an unfair distribution of wealth. When we think of Jesus’s parables. in an interview. When. for example. we also must reconsider the nature of the parable form itself. they would be more likely to come up with these culturalist interpretations than they would be to read the story as a metaphor of spiritual awakening and a meditation on the nature of divine love.
writing in Salmagundi soon after Fitzgerald’s death in 2000. by Dorothea’s unfortunate decisions and failed aspirations. (Samson) To make us perceive such a drama and momentum. . Such basic incomprehension is. To read Fitzgerald’s work according to its intentions. Fitzgerald observed that. the ability to suggest that there is a drama. offered this dismissive. in order to understand the novel’s moral argument. and character development has missed the point and purpose of the text. it gives one just that sense of waste that is given by life itself. we must be able to perceive that. and hearing they hear not. Hers is the effect of the don and the priest. In an essay on George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Ian Samson. Her work is actually much stranger and darker. hidden within the narrative’s “vast complications. a momentum in even the most insignificant daily routine or detail. most contemporary readers see not. (Samson) I agree with the observation but reject the limited interpretation. by contrast. Readers who fail to recognize the parables in Fitzgerald’s fiction. operating on a separate spiritual and metaphysical plane is certainly the desired effect of the parable. key to understanding the hostility and condescension with which Fitzgerald’s work has on occasion been treated by reviewers. Of course Dante is a self-announced allegorist and a reader who ignores the allegorical means and method in his poem is willfully deceived. I mean that her fiction has spiritual and moral implications that are central and integral to their meaning. Although Samson obviously does not much care for Fitzgerald’s work. for instance. and that a reading of the work that does not take into account the moral and spiritual is missing the point in the same manner in which a reading of Dante’s Commedia that focuses on the naturalistic elements of plot. one must look beyond the alltoo-human tragedy to the divine comedy of which it is a part. and neither do they understand. Seeing such a text. yet telling assessment: Because Fitzgerald possesses such a fluency—because her work enunciates so clearly—it is possible to assume that she is saying something when she is saying very little. he is alert to its metaphysical implications: One cannot help but think that all the memorials and praise for Fitzgerald— with all their talk of ease and her eye for detail—do her a grievous disservice. at least in part.126 / alternative realisms Fitzgerald as a writer of parables.” created. I think. setting. have been unprepared by contemporary culture and training to perceive that these seemingly naturalistic texts require interactive metaphorical interpretations in order for them to come into their own.
whose good intentions and generous actions tip the balance of the novel from human tragedy to divine comedy. of parables. the pointed purpose of the work as a moral demonstration remains paramount. . For our purposes in this essay. her readers. Fitzgerald’s moral argument and sentiment is far from being hidden. Although Fitzgerald is more subtle and reticent in making her moral arguments than are either O’Connor or Lawrence. As Fitzgerald’s work developed. and expectations of. she shares with these writers a tendency to repeat moral points and to demonstrate spiritual values in and through naturalistic narratives. As Fitzgerald observed: We have actually seen the effect of Dorothea’s being on those around her. in her generous gift to Lydgate . I realize. in her essays and reviews. by contrast. whereas Flannery O’Connor and in some respects D. We must believe this if we can. its naturalistic narrative broadened out into complex and resonant allegories with multiple implications—a development that is indicative of the author’s own moral progress as a creator and of her growing trust in. as is her insistence upon the primacy of moral values in interpreting experience. Indeed. However. whereas the allegory is broadly revelatory. The parable is a demonstration. A traditional allegory typically has multiple meanings and operates in the imaginative space between probabilistic naturalism and the idealized emblematic. I would suggest Franz Kafka as a prototypical modern allegorist. a working distinction must be made between parable and allegory. the allegory is a revelation. Although Fitzgerald’s later work has a pronounced tendency toward the idealized emblematic of classic allegory. of course.there’s a providence not so far away / 127 is the quiet but “incalculably diffusive” influence of a kindhearted individual. In addition to the authors already discussed in this study under the rubric of modern allegory. H. . Lawrence would be more clearly writers of modern parables. traditionally has a fairly simple (but not simplistic) moral and spiritual meaning that is exemplified by a story that is wholly or almost wholly naturalistic and probable. her insistence upon naturalism in her work is integral to its argument. A parable. One further distinction between the parable and the allegory is that the parable is pointedly instructive (to those with ears to hear). the growing good of the world may partly depend. ( Afterlife 23) As is made obvious here. which is to say that the allegorical elements of the later work are employed in the service of the parable’s instruction. her yet more generous visit to Rosamund. she is primarily a writer of naturalistic stories with moral and spiritual meanings—that is. that I am culpable of stretching . On these “unhistoric” acts in an undistinguished town in the Midlands.
128 / alternative realisms the concept of the parable in adapting it as a generic category of use in analyzing modern literature. This is the philosophical school to which Fitzgerald decidedly belongs. emblematized by Descartes’ hypothesis that the human soul is housed in the pineal gland. or universals. by contrast to nominalists. potentialities and actualities (Feibleman 3–10). Philosophical realists have a foot in both camps. has become so suspect as to make a direct reference to it tantamount to a claim for one’s own irrelevance—a condition that no doubt contributed to Fitzgerald’s choice of the indirect method. which is reserved for those who believe in the reality only of the things of this world. the Church took more and more the opposing idealist position that it is the material body in its material world that is the illusion. as they traditionally have been called. political. in sociological. as we shall demonstrate. Christian dogma has vacillated over the centuries between the idealist and philosophical realist positions. but with the ascendance of a materialistic nominalism. In other words. To consign our interpretation of a spiritual writer like Fitzgerald to the usual cultural categories is to miss the main thrust of her work. and of soul and body—as well as in the reality of both generals and particulars. implications that are integral to our understanding of them. in contemporary intellectual discourse. and economic manners. Idealists. as Descartes’ soul is . which offered the added benefit of suiting her subtle and clever intellect. Those who believe in the reality of eternal verities may be categorized under two broad philosophical schools—that of idealism and that of philosophical realism (also known as metaphysical realism). and which has been the dominant school of philosophy of the modern age. Although we are all too practiced these days at interpreting literature culturally. psychological. Fitzgerald’s condensed novels have philosophical. philosophical realists believe in the reality of both mind and matter. as well as spiritual. They are excluded from the third broad philosophical category of nominalism. we have lost the instinct for interpreting literature metaphorically in terms of its correspondence with a spiritual or metaphysical realm that is on an entirely different plane from our everyday world. My defense is that we must use all of the traditional generic categories at our disposal in teaching ourselves to read in a particularly assertive and interactive metaphorical manner to which we have become unaccustomed. a mere blip in the mind of God. at least. believe in the reality only of the eternal verities. under which most contemporary schools fall. which is to direct our attention to what traditionally has been referred to as the realm of eternal verities—the reality of which. believing both in the reality of the eternal verities or universals and in the reality of the things of this world—the particulars or actualizations of the existent.
The distinction I am making between the existent and the real is borrowed from perhaps the greatest of American philosophers. . the real thing’s characters will remain absolutely untouched . and to understand the implications of that reality for our lives and world. in that sense.494). the metaphysical and religious argument had already been lost. or of God’s “nature” (Collected Papers 6.” on the contrary. . Elsewhere he insists that vagueness has a reality of its own that is too easily discounted by the nominalists with their narrow-minded and skeptical belief only in precise and measurable particulars (Writings 300). who adopted as his life’s aim the effort to unify all knowledge. Yes. . . then. . which requires a different sort of evidence—or. . To insist upon such an incommensurability. The difficulty for the idealists. . . including many of the scientific men of my generation who are accustomed to think the belief is entirely unfounded. So. the question being whether I believe in the reality of God. . . I myself always use exist in its strict sense of “react with the other like things in the environment. is to confuse the existent and the real. and in the process to correct what he felt to be the erroneous perception of an ultimate incommensurability between scientific fact and religious or spiritual truth. The realm of the eternal verities had vanished from sight. but in its reality. is that the body in its world clearly exists—and the manner in which it does so was becoming more evident with each thrilling scientific advance in the run-up to our modern age—whereas the reality of God is a matter of faith.there’s a providence not so far away / 129 a mere nodule in the matter of the body. rather than the reality. Peirce argued.” Of course. or ever will have thought them to be . . irrationally.494–495) Peirce goes on to argue that the concept of God is a necessarily vague concept that is made untenable when it is made too precise—as by speaking of the “existence” of God. on the existence. When the discussion began to focus. of God. rather. of course. a different kind of interpretation of the evidence given. is used in ordinary parlance in its correct philosophical sense . (Collected Papers 6. the nineteenth-century polymath Charles Peirce. I define the real as that which holds its characters on such a tenure that it makes not the slightest difference what any man or men may have thought them to be. I answer. it would be fetishism to say that God “exists. I further opine that pretty nearly everybody more or less believes this.” The word “reality. It is the argument of this essay that Fitzgerald’s fiction is a sustained attempt to reconnect us with that realm and to encourage us to believe not in its existence. to which he responded by first altering the terms of the question: I will . a confusion that he addressed directly in discussing the question of his belief in the existence of God. take the liberty of substituting “reality” for “existence” .
“Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.” Peirce admonished (Writings 229). which is to become a fetishist of the human mind—that is. in the bigger picture. science and religion (together with philosophy and art) are reading from the same book of nature. although they use different methods to interpret it. (Collected Papers 5. “I think therefore I am” is emblematic of this viewpoint and its limitations (who would think to doubt such a thing?)—and this has led to a schism in our world between practice and theory that Peirce hoped to mend by his invention of the pragmatic philosophical method. In her later novels. we can make educated assumptions and assertions concerning it—and the making of such is. a deconstructionist. the understanding of which is the goal of science. Peirce further contended that the practice of science assumes the reality of the real. Peirce argued—both in scientific practice and in the manner in which we live our daily lives—we assume a meaningful reality that is apart from ourselves and to which we. such an assumption amounts to an unexpressed belief. In practice. the complementary and concluding second stage of which is the movement into recognition . and indeed of all knowledge (Writings 47). by which he sought to reground human understanding on our actual practice rather than on our theoretical inventions and allegiances. the very business of the scientist. although we can never be absolutely certain of doing so in any special case. in which her moral argument is most explicit. a humanist. for whom the cardinal sin is an assumption of absolute certainty of knowledge. which closes off investigation. she presents us with repeated scenarios in which characters are made miserable and come to grief by doubting in their heads what they do not doubt in their hearts. belong and contribute. Peirce’s argument against nominalism is that it makes “the human mind the author rather than the reader and interpreter of the ‘book of nature’ ” (Raposa 20). or a reactionary post-humanist—that is. This “coming to grief” is the narrative first stage of the repeated and evolving parable of her novels.130 / alternative realisms Peirce’s conception of the “real” is likewise vague in that it requires that we acknowledge a perpetual uncertainty in our understanding of it: There is nothing to prevent our knowing outward things as they really are. for Peirce. The sentiment and argument of Fitzgerald’s fiction is entirely consonant with this admonition. In the sense of reality as something to be investigated and understood. on our limited perceptions—Descartes’ famous cogito. and it is most likely that we do thus know them in numberless cases. and thus our conscious values and beliefs.311) Although we cannot say with absolute certainty what the real is in any particular case. But in theory we have come to base our understanding of reality.
admits his error. The Taming of Chance : “Peirce positively asserted that the world is irreducibly chancy.615). by contrast. The universal laws that are the glory of natural science are a by-product of the workings of chance” (Hacking 11). A living and evolving world. or rather series of moments. The crucial difference in the parable. to the point at which he is reduced to living with the pigs he is tending. is intimately involved with this evolving world. The Blue Flower. whereupon he swallows his pride. chance is the necessarily primary characteristic of a growing. and will always be. requires the concept of a living and evolving God. The moral and mystical transformations that Fitzgerald’s characters undergo are explicitly occasioned by chance. for Peirce. however.there’s a providence not so far away / 131 and correction. a confusion of the everyday existent and the ultimately real. he not only created it. For Peirce. changing. who first squanders his inheritance in riotous living. For Peirce. and evolving world. The two narrative movements are exemplified in the parable of the prodigal. the question is changing how and evolving into what ? We do not need to know God’s purpose in order to answer these questions with a necessarily qualified reasonable certainty. Chance would only be annulled in a perfectly static world—an unliving world. where he is received by his forgiving father with open arms (Luke 15: 11–32). and returns home. this awakening is a spiritual envisioning—a mystical moment. although one whose purpose we cannot in this life hope to know. Novalis. who is the hero of Ian Hacking’s compelling 1990 study. What makes Peirce so apposite to Fitzgerald’s implicitly religious fiction (she was in practice a Roman Catholic (Wolfe 17)) is the fact that. The question for Peirce is not whether the world is changing and evolving. of revelation. crucially.119)—is a misunderstanding of the dual nature of reality. In Fitzgerald’s last novel. God. and he argued persistently that the seeming contradiction between a world in which chance is. The movements are parallel to the archetypal epic narrative arc of a journey into the underworld and return home. primary and a world that is divinely providential—“a great symbol of God’s purpose. working out its conclusions in living realities” (Collected Papers 5. the concept of a finished and unchanging God is a false idol that was the creation of a world enamored of mechanical laws of physics operating in clockwork fashion. which is based upon the life of the early German Romantic poet and philosopher. is that the transformative event is a personal moral awakening. although he demonstrated the manner in which indeterminacy is fundamental to the workings of the world. rather we can rely on our observations and intuition (which Peirce—like . but he is creating and. perfecting it (Collected Papers 1. he was nevertheless a committed believer in divine providence. It is the prevalence of the element of chance throughout her fiction that first led me to consider it in relation to the philosophy of Peirce.
Evolutionary Love Second.672)). Two Metaphysical Levels of Reality The idea of two metaphysical levels of reality is implicit throughout Fitzgerald’s fiction. overwhelming them with the complexities of experience. 2. as the reading of her work that we are embarked upon will demonstrate. leading to the disintegration of their personalities. which we will take in turn: 1. the general and the particular. his concerns and preoccupations concerning science and religion. draw upon the work of both of these revolutionary thinkers in our analysis of Fitzgerald’s quietly revolutionary fiction. a condensed form of logic (Collected Papers 1. it almost seems that Peirce is expanding upon and systematizing Novalis’s prescient intuitions regarding our evolving understanding of the nature of reality. and as he himself acknowledged (Writings 339). as has been generally noted.295). we will consider the occasions in which the two metaphysical levels of reality are brought into contact with one another in Fitzgerald’s later novels. We will. We will focus our discussion of Fitzgerald’s fiction on two main topics that have been introduced above and are summarized briefly below. we will consider the overall manner in which the two metaphysical levels of reality—which may be labeled variously as the eternal and the existent.132 / alternative realisms Fitzgerald—considered to be superior to conscious reasoning. but it is an idea that developed from the earlier work. Peirce was clearly influenced by this movement of thought. When one reads Peirce’s voluminous work side by side with the remarkably like-minded but fragmentary production of Novalis. both of which told Peirce that the world is becoming more ordered and reasonable and that the means by which this is being accomplished is love. Although Fitzgerald makes no reference in her work to Peirce. to which we now turn. who was a key figure in the “Jena Circle” of early German Romanticism. of God. while simultaneously prompting them to progress through love to greater knowledge of and integration with a providential reality. and the potential and the actual— operate in and through Fitzgerald’s fiction. These events have a dual effect on the characters. chance and order—including the power of love to make sense of the chaos of our lives (and of human history itself)—are very much her own. Two Metaphysical Levels of Reality First. . and of ourselves. who died at the age of twenty-eight. reason and intuition. in any case. The intuited affinity between Fitzgerald and Peirce is also supported by her late interest in the work of Novalis. which he sometimes referred to as “evolutionary love” (Collected Papers 6. emphasizing its integral role in the progress of organic creation.
perhaps implicit in the genre itself. and carefully constructed mystery set in contemporary times at the British Museum in London. The Golden Child Fitzgerald’s first novel. Since the idea of two metaphysical levels of reality is key to understanding the nature and scope of Fitzgerald’s fictive project. or of Fitzgerald’s uncle. and morally committed—one might even say morally obsessed. sixty-year-old author of The Golden Child is that she is extremely clever and intelligent. perhaps. the famous Roman Catholic convert priest and mystery author. we are not surprised to find that it is the unlikable connoisseurs and spoiled aristocrats—the museum administrative elite—who have committed the various crimes. In that spirit they are functioning allegorically. and against the entitled aristocrat. we will consider the evolution of this idea in her work in some detail. Chesterton. attempting to frame in the process the good-natured. The novel is remarkable as a first fiction for its certainty of voice and manner and for the directness of its various biases—in favor of the enthusiastic amateur. and against the rarefied and bad-natured intellectual. When the novel’s mystery is solved. together the two may be thought of as implying the two metaphysical levels of reality. for example. Ronald Knox. was an erudite.there’s a providence not so far away / 133 in which it is a central thematic preoccupation in more or less conventional narratives. The Golden Child. published in 1977. the mystery’s ultimately reasonable solution is a moral . Certainly the mystery stories of a religiously minded writer such as G. in favor of the lower and middle-class self-made individual. that of the confused mystery itself and that of its rational solution. that of the haphazard everyday existent and that of the ultimately reasonable eternal or ideal. are very consciously creating such metaphysical implications. the caricatured villains and heroes of The Golden Child are easy pickings—so much so that one is led to wonder whether a more subtle argument is at work. What is obvious about the late-starting. quietly self-confident. generous-spirited. to the later work—the last four novels and the later stories—in which it evolved into a key structuring device that altered the very form of the fiction. Waring Smith. and against the snobbish connoisseur. in favor of the commonsensical and good-hearted artisan. to the life conditions that necessitated such a late start as a novelist) and a tendency toward sentimentality in her regard for the downtrodden whose cause she champions. K. What is also obvious is that she has a bit of a chip on her shoulder (in reaction. humorous. and humorously hapless mid-level bureaucrat-hero. The mystery convention works innately on two levels. In these writers’ work. For an author such as Fitzgerald with a keen moral discrimination.
however. plot and character development lead insidiously to an inevitable impasse. no such transformation—or we might say. the providential meaning of which is grace. somewhat of a false start. is to write subtle naturalistic parables that patiently and quietly instruct. rather than to create allegorical arguments that overtly convict. The Bookshop. whereas the parable serves as an entertaining distraction to the multitude. signifying ultimate metaphysical discontinuity. with the publication of this generic mystery novel. Which is all to say that The Golden Child was. Moreover. whom she admired (Afterlife 276). The transformative agent is chance. however tentatively. rather. which is transformed in the process into a symbol of eternity and of God’s providence.134 / alternative realisms judgment upon the haphazard mutable world and a metaphysical correction to our habitually confused understanding. in which her coyly instructive parables are most fully developed. as are the three novels that follow it. similar in some ways to the novels of Jane Austen and of Fitzgerald’s habitually undervalued contemporary. no such redemption— takes place. like the genres of science fiction and fantasy. (In Kafka’s allegories. she repeatedly demonstrates the manner in which the eternal world is reached in and through the naturalistic material world. In the allegorical mystery genre. and in future work she would move on to the naturalistic novel of moral instruction that she eventually would make her own. Fitzgerald’s fictive inclination. The Bookshop Fitzgerald’s second novel. while secretively instructing the elect concerning the means to their salvation. she is concerned with demonstrating the manner in which the two realms of the eternal and the mutable may be connected in and through our natural lives. is a naturalistic and moralistic novel of manners.) When genre allegory is used as an overt moral instrument. her concern with the two metaphysical levels of reality was established. It is also in part autobiographical. In any case. in her most characteristic work. Barbara Pym. for instance. however. it serves to garner the attention and upbraid the conscience of the great unwashed (we might think of the original Star Trek series as an allegorical critique of violence in general and of the Vietnam War in particular). for she was working against her temperamental and fictive inclinations. for Fitzgerald. The highly mannered mystery genre. It is similar to The Golden Child in that there . In Fitzgerald’s later fiction. whereas allegory’s focus is on the fundamental and ultimate discontinuity between the two levels. lends itself to moralistic allegorical argumentation.
He had not been in the shop for some months. Gamart. rather.’ ” (118) Although Florence eventually loses her bookshop and feels compelled to leave the town to which she had perhaps prematurely retired following her husband’s death in the city. as the Austenian narrator informs us: “She always acted in the way she felt to be right. I just came in to say ‘A good man gone. which is. The novel’s primary villain. Gamart’s inflated ego). Florence Green. do you?” “Not exactly. But by the standards of “the heart. the narrator warns us at the novel’s beginning. or allied with them. and who maliciously victimize the novel’s hard-put middle-class main figure. in staying true to her kindhearted motives and intentions. “You don’t want a book. she valued kindness above everything. is a thoroughly self-deceived hypocrite who self-consciously adheres to the purest of motives. The socially strictured “morality” that is obviously referred to in this circumstance is not the enlightened spiritual morality of which I speak in regards to Fitzgerald’s fiction. who are again among the upper-class elite. . she is the undoubted hero of this deft moral tale because of her “kind heart. In the end.” Florence Green has persevered and. Violet Gamart wins her duel with Florence Green. the sense for harmony” (Notes 61). the morality of which Whitehead spoke when he noted that “morality of outlook is inseparably conjoined with generality of outlook” (Process 19).” which. . She did not know that morality is seldom a safe guide for human conduct” (100). Gamart’s henpecked and complicitous husband when he makes a surprise appearance at Florence’s bookshop (from which his wife is maneuvering to evict her) following the sudden death of a mutual friend: Florence Green did not feel much like helping him. and it is represented in Fitzgerald’s novel by Florence Green’s persistent good-heartedness amid hardship and attack. she has even triumphed. Two books that Florence Green takes with her from her abandoned stock on her ignominious retreat from the town “that had not wanted a . Certainly by “the world’s” standards. rather than judgmental and exclusive. and which Novalis referred to when he defined the “moral sense” as “the sense for unity . Gamart’s specious moral values. Mrs. Then she relented. and she presumed that he had been acting under orders. ousting the latter from her bookshop to make way for an “arts centre” (26) (which seems destined to be of use chiefly as a venue for the buoying up of Mrs. knowing that he had come on a kind impulse. Such a morality is generous and inclusive.there’s a providence not so far away / 135 are clear villains. We may find evidence of this in her kind behavior toward Mrs. offering a martyr’s rebuke to Mrs. “is not of much use when it comes to the matter of self-preservation” (7).
hearkens back to a time in which literature offered itself explicitly and implicitly as a moral guide to every man—in which John Bunyan could be the author of works that were both literary and religious classics. Fitzgerald is attempting to instruct us in the necessity of such interpretive elasticity by providing us clear indications that what we are being given are moral parables. a complex yet everywhere evident symbol of God’s purpose. in applicability”—no matter how “admirable” its “reasoning” (Ruskin). In the series of four essays that comprise Unto this Last. the soul. merely by the fact of its existence. Ruskin’s Unto this Last and Bunyan’s Grace Abounding : Each had its old bookmarker in it. . is tantamount to “a science of gymnastics which assumed that men had no skeletons” (Ruskin). The text by Ruskin is a case in point. Ruskin wrote: It is impossible to conclude of any given mass of acquired wealth. to Switzerland in springtime. and from which the book series takes its name. The book must have gone. Everyman I will be thy guide in thy most need to go by thy side. Ruskin decried the mid-nineteenth-century selfserving capitalistic economic philosophy that claimed the making of a profit to be an innate moral good.136 / alternative realisms bookshop” (123) are volumes from the significantly slow-selling Everyman series. For Ruskin. perhaps fifty years before. (Ruskin) The economic “science” that would consider the creation of wealth in a disinterested empiricist manner. and the Ruskin also had a pressed gentian. to the Romantic movement and its great sense of mission in reading nature itself as a universal morality play. With these various literary references at the conclusion of A Bookshop. at what cost of human happiness or misery. the understanding of which requires that we translate the everyday material existent into the language of spiritual values. the latter of which Ruskin referred to as “the far-reaching ruin” of which material wealth is so often “the gilded index” (Ruskin). quite colourless. regardless of the manner in which the profit was made. (123) The anonymous morality-play quotation printed on the marker. . and the ideal or spiritual plane on which it exists. The preserved Swiss gentian in the Ruskin likewise points backwards. whether it signifies good or evil to the nation in the midst of which it exists. Its real value depends on the moral sign attached to it. . just as sternly as that of a mathematical quantity depends on the algebraical sign attached to it. apart from its moral value—its value to the human soul—Ruskin argues. are operative realities and a system of economics that does not take them into account is unrealistic—“deficient .
An accomplished system manipulator. perhaps. Fitzgerald in her next work. may be translated into “violent mart. difficult and strained marriage. the names of the major figures have their own moral values—one of which is clearly related to the science of economy. for they do not have clearly delineated plots. which. by all accounts. with beginnings . Offshore Perhaps sensing the aesthetic and spiritual danger of the temptation of an overtly moralistic fiction of heroes and villains. The principle antagonist is Violet Gamart. Human Voices and At Freddie’s. In regards to that later. Tess Lewis contended that “The Bookshop is Fitzgerald’s darkest novel and contains her most malevolent characters” (Lewis).” aptly symbolizing Mrs. this novel and the two semiautobiographical novels that follow it. the story of her. Such a clear opposition is in fact a potential danger to the writer with a moral passion. I concur with this observation and would add that it is—with the possible exception of The Golden Child —her most moralistic (as distinguished from moral) novel. discriminating moral vision on the aspect of her own life history that would seem least to bear scrutiny. by contrast. Offshore. Gamart manages to arrange for the bookshop’s demise without allowing any trace to remain of her personal responsibility for the outcome. Florence Green’s name. In what is perhaps the most perceptive critical essay yet produced of Fitzgerald’s fiction. major work. in which good and evil are most clearly identified and opposed. Mrs. O’Connor’s and Sparks’ intensely ironic creative temperaments are at home with fictive structures that are morally overdetermined. The felt confession running throughout Offshore makes this novel her most approachable and. But in several other senses. but as we read further into Fitzgerald’s fiction. as an instructive journey down a road that will not again be taken. turned her keen. as it leads all too easily to a self-righteous narrowmindedness. most conventional in terms of the subgenre of autobiographical naturalism that has become one of the dominant modes in contemporary fiction. clearly aligns her with generous nature itself and its remarkable instinct for regeneration and renewal. no matter how thwarted and oppressed. as do the novels of Fitzgerald’s friend and contemporary Muriel Spark. are decided departures from the dominant mimetic modes of contemporary fiction. The Bookshop seems most significant. The fiction of a modern parable writer such as Flannery O’Connor constantly courts and flouts just such a danger. with minor manipulation. Gamart’s take-noprisoners behavior in manipulating the failure of Florence Green’s bookshop enterprise. in some respects.there’s a providence not so far away / 137 In The Bookshop. we will find that such overt moralism is uncongenial to her more meditative and even mystical talent and genius.
‘on the realization of what is’ ” ( Afterlife 228). but are in large measure open-ended and continuous. (Basbanes) But the answer is “no” in that the novels do not conclude in the usual sense. As Lewis observed. ‘There is no illusory sense of understanding. or obvious main figures. and in doing this. but the reality of which is implied by our own experience. Wendy Lesser noted simply that. thus emphasizing the continuity of community implied by the creative process. Fitzgerald implicitly requires that we as readers step in to do so. H. In her introduction to L. Fitzgerald’s later novels “are woven from the accidents of her characters’ lives. she leads us to ask in what way—from what viewpoint and in whose eyes—the completed stories of our own lives may be meaningfully concluded. one in which we are given multiple characters in complex fictive situations full of narrative uncertainties and incompletions. and of being. I’ve got to have that before I can begin to write. I can’t choose the ending as I go along. Incidents and incidentals rather than formal plots or tidy story lines govern the books” (Lewis). The Root and the Flower. from our mundane point of view. But if one convention has been abandoned—that of the conventional mimetic novel in which we ego-identify with a main character’s narrative progress—another has been created in its place. in these and later Fitzgerald novels. By refusing to conclude the stories of her characters’ lives.’ Myers said. At the same time. for our own lives’ stories typically do not entirely conclude with tidy narrative completions. then death itself must be considered an ending rather than a conclusion. that is obscure to us. as she told interviewer Nicholas Basbanes: I have made a rule for myself: I don’t start [a novel] until I have my title. The answer is both “yes” and “no. And they conclude without coming to a conclusion in regards to the various fragmented plotlines that have been established and characters’ lives into which we as readers have been drawn. The answer is clearly “yes” in that Fitzgerald as narrator knows where her novels are headed. Fitzgerald noted that “the story never yields a conclusion. Myers’ profound mystical trilogy. and often indeed leave the reader with more questions than answers regarding the fates of the characters and their lives. Such open-ended endings are more “true to life” than are complete conclusions.” and is related to our theme of the two metaphysical levels.138 / alternative realisms middles and ends. my first paragraph. And if one thinks of a conclusion as an ending to a story that makes sense of the story that it ends. which may lead us to question whether the narratives are “governed” at all in the traditional sense. and my last paragraph. to our own satisfaction. “the narrative contract has been broken” (109). she points us toward a realm of meaning. Our limits .
an awareness of what lies beyond those limits. one limited and the other limitless. Fitzgerald’s own fiction continues in that tradition by operating on two metaphysical levels. . however. In Fitzgerald’s work. their fates after they leave us. brought back the aspect of eternity to the English novel” (Afterlife 229). However. their histories before we met them. Rather Lesser’s interpretative obtuseness (like that of Samson) would seem to offer a pointed demonstration of the effectiveness of the parable form in extending its instructive message only to those available to receive it. one existential and one eternal. in the author’s words. To me they are the work of a pure agnostic. (Lesser 123) Given Lesser’s acute observation regarding the operation of the “two time schemes” in Fitzgerald’s fiction and her knowledge that Fitzgerald considered herself to be a religious writer. and she concludes her introduction with the assertion that Myers’ “strange masterpiece . It is not as if one comes after the other. which is filled with the richness of the characters’ inner lives. but also someone whose God. I would not have supposed it from reading her novels. the latter more often implicit. And by this I mean not just someone who feels we can’t ever know that God exists. which end abruptly and resolutely fail to give us everything. without overtly excluding . these two timelines have no predictable relation to each other. would never be able fully to know us. “Myers has shown that though there are limits to human will. there are none to human vision” (Afterlife 228). or stands in for the other.there’s a providence not so far away / 139 of understanding do not preclude. and yet the sense of both of them is equally strong. . We are given only one of them directly. and then the other one around or behind or between these words. if he did exist. or has considered herself to be. (Lesser 111–112) Lesser concludes provocatively that the operation of this skewed time sense in Fitzgerald’s fiction seems to her evidence of Fitzgerald’s disbelief in God: I have gathered from various sources that Fitzgerald is considered. a religious person. and a million other things we can only imagine. as Fitzgerald wrote. Lesser observed a “skewed relationship to the passage of time” in Fitzgerald’s fiction that we may take to be an indication of the two levels in interactive operation: It is as if there were two entirely separate time schemes: the one chronicled by the words on the page. that of human will and that of human vision. it is remarkable that she is unable to put the two together in a way that would lead her to perceive the manner in which these two timelines imply two sightlines. The former is explicit. a religious writer.
chance is typically. The Blue Flower. The progress of her fiction in this sense is. after decades of silent struggle with the all-too-real. But she is not destroying the elements of that convention in a modernist or postmodernist object lesson in deconstructive aesthetics. An intriguing distinction between the realistic and the real in Fitzgerald’s work was made by Richard Eder in his review of Fitzgerald’s biography of her father and his brothers. but more real. It is as though Fitzgerald were saying with her fiction: “He who has ears to hear. Fitzgerald’s fiction becomes more meaningfully mannered. Fitzgerald’s characters become less conventional. It is the most mannered of Fitzgerald’s novels. she allows chance a crucial constructive role in the creative progress of her fictive world. and the characters more provocatively emblematic. personality.” too actual. In particular. and identity in accordance with the idea of the two metaphysical levels. of course. with new eyes. Beginning with Offshore. radiantly and unaccountably in her imagination. . in which she . we will first examine the manner in which that fiction deconstructs and reconstructs the “character” concepts of individuality. Reality was a realm that Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald makes available modes of plot progression alternative to the usual cause-and-effect method. let him hear!” (Matthew 11: 15) The sense of the separate operation of the two timelines in Fitzgerald’s fiction increases with each novel. was climbing toward. We will discuss the key functioning of chance in Fitzgerald’s fiction in the next section. a dismantlement of naturalistic narrative convention. In general. and even less realistic. the enemy of the rational progress of the main character in his/her narrative. and their future is determined. at the same time. in her last novel. “It almost seems as if the events had all happened simultaneously” as Acocella perceptively observed (432). In a conventional naturalistic novel. The most conventional protagonists in Fitzgerald’s novels are Waring Smith in The Golden Child and Florence Green in The Bookshop. . Fitzgerald herself noted this limitation when reviewing a biography of Virginia Woolf. and the reality it represents. By deconstructing and reconstructing the traditional time sense that is the foundation for conventional plot operation in the naturalistic novel. (Eder “Penelope Fitzgerald”) Part of the problem with bringing figures in a nonfiction work alive is that they are “all-too-real. She found it most comically. Rather she is separating and rearranging the elements so that we are made to look at the convention.140 / alternative realisms those who are not. as the novels progress. But before doing so. to the point at which. Yet they are far less real. The Knox Brothers : The figures in the biography offer foreshadowing hints of some of those in her novels . The Blue Flower is composed of short chapters that are almost tableau-like in their mixture of narrative and stasis. they are bounded by actual fact and circumstance.
The key word is “unfulfilled”—that which didn’t and can never now happen: dead potential. Nenna. where she can live with her sister Louise and her husband Joel until she gets back on her feet: “Joel is of one mind with me about this. the movements of which make them sometimes afloat and sometimes aground. I mean of course about yourself and the little girls. In Fitzgerald’s novels from Offshore forward. Louise.” “Why not. is a combination of the living actual and the living potential. as Nenna’s sister suggests when attempting to convince Nenna. who is originally from Canada. In fact it could be said that the future is more active than the past. This is no doubt one of the things that Novalis had in mind when he wrote: “We are more closely united with the invisible. Maurice?” “Why should you think it’s a good thing to do? Why should it make you any happier? There isn’t one kind of happiness. to move with her two children back to her home country. than with the visible” (Notes 251) and that Peirce was considering when he insisted that the “real” is made up not only of real particulars (such as a stone) and real generals (such as the hardness of a stone). Decision is torment for anyone with imagination. Joel isn’t a Catholic. The characters who live on the Thames barges. but he’s told me that he believes there’s a Providence not so far . Indeed Offshore may be said to be about the at times overwhelming reality of possibilities. you multiply the things you might have done and now never can. it might be consoling to think that one’s fate is—at least in part—out of one’s hands. are all characterized by their inability and/or unwillingness to make crucial life decisions—which is the topic of a key conversation between the novel’s most central figure. But reality as we experience it.there’s a providence not so far away / 141 observed that. The potential future is an active part of our present. and especially real possibilities” (Writings 300). and also whether to make a visit to her estranged husband. who is living in a northern suburb: “I can’t make up my mind. but also of “real vagues. “Reading a good biography means thinking of unfulfilled conditionals” (Afterlife 205).” “You shouldn’t do it at all.” “But I’ve been thinking about it. and her best friend. as fully as is the ramifying past. and praying. Nenna is considering whether to move to shore.” (46–47) Given such ambivalence. and as the good biographer must strive to recreate it.” “It’s the first you’ve ever even mentioned this. When you decide. real vagues and real possibilities become as operative as real actuals and real generals. there’s all kinds. as you know. a homosexual prostitute named Maurice who lives on the neighboring barge. since it is that on which we are focused. which are moored to the banks of the tidal river. Nenna. the possibility of your returning to Halifax.
play such a crucial role.” which progresses in the fated manner of the fairy-tale. although the implications of that instruction are far from certain. the main account is hollowed out by the vague counterstory of a secondary figure—someone marginal. 1674. He concluded that the combination in Fitzgerald’s fiction’s of heightened anticipation amid perpetual unfulfillment creates in a sense the old atmosphere of fantasy and fairy-tale. brought up to date here and with its species of strangeness never far away and yet always strictly and beautifully down to earth. One of the most compelling and memorable of Fitzgerald’s stories that is “hollowed out” by a counterstory is “Desideratus. It isn’t a matter of the worm turning. noting that In several of the best [of the stories]. that wants things to be the way they’re eventually going. unconsidered. John Bayley noted that Fitzgerald’s “novels don’t have plots. Now that idea appeals to me. really just above our heads if we could see it. as a poor woman. powerless. as is typical of fairy tales. and not in the vaguely mythic past. The story begins: Jack Digby’s mother never gave him anything. it is a metaphysical transaction more than a moral one. Our stories don’t quite belong to us. she had nothing to give. or perhaps she was not sure how to divide anything . as we know from the date on a coin that is at the heart of the story. Perhaps. For one thing it is set in a very particular time. by keeping the reader glued to the page in anticipation of what’s to come” (xi). (Eder “Rough-Hewn Lives”) Fitzgerald’s later fiction often has the unnerving effect of unsolved mysteries or mystic runes. Eder—who is one of Fitzgerald’s most perceptive commentators— observed the everyday effect of potential and possibility as alternative realities in Fitzgerald’s fiction.” (112) It is an idea that appealed to Fitzgerald as well and which she attempted to give her readers a sense of in her construction of fiction in which potential and possibility. Also the story is too selfconsciously instructional. but they give a wonderful illusion of having them. in the form of an ideal to be approached. The Short Fiction In his review of Fitzgerald’s posthumously published book of short stories.142 / alternative realisms away from us. with the simple clarity of a dream vision. Our lives are not the shapes we give them. (Bayley xiii–xiv) “Desideratus” could almost be a fairy-tale—it is certainly the closest of Fitzgerald’s fictions to being one—but it is too “beautifully down to earth” for that.
Piercy. When he returns to the spot and fortunately finds the medal. . (Means of Escape 37) When Jack tells his godmother that he is very happy to have “something of which he could say. However. to which he descends. This is my own.there’s a providence not so far away / 143 among the nine children. When Jack hesitates to answer. Mrs. Finding no one about in the yard. Jonas.” she “answers. But he is too late. . than whatever it is you have lost” (Means of Escape 43). Desideratus [“desired one”]. On the back there was the figure of an angel and a motto. since Mrs. returning a week later. oddly enough. Jack carries the medal about with him everywhere and eventually. at the depth of perhaps twelve inches” (Means of Escape 39). though not with much conviction. but tracks it down to a spot. rather than more. Anyone who has ever been poor—even if not as poor as Jack Digby—will sympathize with him in this matter. loses it. did give him something. The story concludes: [Jack] quite often wondered how much money Mr. the poulterer’s wife. where he had once rested while on a cross-country errand. Jack knocks at the door of the house and is admitted by the family tutor. children. which perhaps didn’t fit the case too well. is lying. Digby could have done with fewer. pulls the story back into the generic sphere of the parable. that he mustn’t set too much importance on earthly possessions” (Means of Escape 38). who may or may not be dead. by grounding the story in its naturalistic life drama. although by the time she gave it to him he was eleven years old. Jack surmises that the melting ice must have carried the medal into an earthenware drain that runs down the side of the hill and into the stableyards of the great house. and offering an overt but uncertain interpretive turn. it had taken the godmother’s fancy. Mr. he is immediately presented with a quandary: “I daresay you would rather have a sum of money . His godmother. his medal and its frozen puddle are both gone. Mr. who tells Jack. inevitably. When Jack eventually is taken to meet the house’s owner. Having nothing with him with which to break the ice. Jack leaves the medal in its frozen puddle. The date on it was September 12. . Jonas would in fact have offered him. the winter frosts have buried it beneath “greenish ice as clear as glass . But the wry conclusion. 1663. . . a keepsake in the form of a gilt medal. that the owner of the house is childless. Jonas leads him into the “dark upper floors” (Means of Escape 43) of the house and into a room in which a boy. (Means of Escape 46) This is by far the most allegorical of Fitzgerald’s short fictions. as almost every detail in the remarkably condensed story is potentially telling. if he had had the sense to accept it. which happened to be Jack’s birthday. after the spring thaw has set in. overlooking a “great house” in a valley. and in whose “cold as ice” hand Jack finds his lost medal.
’ are themselves obliged to base their whole system on Mysticism. then. either that man’s Senses are themselves Divine. or that they afford not only an honest but a literal representation of the workings of some Divinity. although we may live our daily lives enmeshed in our material worlds. which the artist demonstrates by “represent[ing] the unrepresentable” (Werke 2: 840)— proving himself. . as if this were their special trade. and keep watch and ward. in short. So true is it that for these men also. that is the ultimate reality. . scientists are no less idealists than are artists. namely. to observe how these Common-sense Philosophers. against ‘Mysticism’ and ‘Visionary Theories. and the two that precede it. These final two novels. men who brag chiefly of their irrefragable logic. are all generically distinct works of historical romance. Innocence and The Beginning of Spring. on Faith.” This story. which may lead us to think that they are more stylistically mannered and less realistic than are Fitzgerald’s earlier. . as Thomas Carlyle pointed out in his influential essay on Novalis. all knowledge of the visible rests on belief of the invisible. attempts to expand our vision of reality and to emphasize that. the Faith. a superior realist to the scientist. But in making the assumption that the given is inherently meaningful. who limits his knowledge to the given. semiautobiographical fictions. in which he considered the hypocrisy implicit in a narrowly materialistic empiricism: Curious it is . . Perhaps it is desire itself. As Novalis wrote in his uncanny Romantic encyclopedia. and that of a very comprehensive kind. we nevertheless in some measure paradoxically possess.144 / alternative realisms But what are we to learn from it? I think that the story seeks to demonstrate the weighty reality of unfulfilled potential. by desiring. a part of us is looking elsewhere and desires exactly that which we do not have. The story is so powerfully resonant because it speaks to such unmade choices in the life histories of all of us—for who has not said to oneself. “If only I had . like all of Fitzgerald’s best fiction. and a theory. in both life and art. “Idealism is nothing but genuine empiricism” (Notes 402). in that sense. and derives its first meaning and certainty therefrom! (Carlyle 115) Fitzgerald will develop this critique of the irrational theoretical pretensions of practical science in The Gate of Angels and will press it home in The Blue Flower —the two novels that triumphantly complete her career in moral and metaphysical instruction through fictive parable. but the reality of these final four novels is paradoxically more acute—more real —than that . The figure of the perhaps dead boy is emblematic of the life choice that was not taken but that continues to ramify nevertheless as possibility in a life in which the luxury of choice is all too scarce. Certainly they are more mannered than the earlier work. but which.
Immediately preceding the final historical-romance quartet in the chronology of her works are Fitzgerald’s most overtly argumentative novels.there’s a providence not so far away / 145 of Fitzgerald’s autobiographical fiction. obsessive colleague from corporation politics and makes his professional life in many unacknowledged ways possible: Their long relationship looked like an addiction—a weakness for the weak on Jeff ’s part—of a response to the appeal for protection made by the . of whom he demands complete loyalty and. thus Sam Brooks. For RPD is a man both obsessed with his job and horribly overworked— the former contributing to the latter. (One gets the sense that Fitzgerald got a kick out of riffing on the ubiquitous company initials. which prepare the way for Fitzgerald’s entrance into the world of the non-autobiographical imagination by offering a sustained critique of personality as a stable and isolable entity. It is the strikingly illuminated imagined historical worlds of these novels to which Eder is referring when he observed that Fitzgerald found reality “unaccountably in her imagination” rather than in her “all-too-real” life experience (Eder “Rough-Hewn Lives”). Human Voices At Broadcasting House. RPD abruptly quits the corporation and becomes. In Human Voices the setting is the Broadcasting House hub of the wartime (WWII) BBC. the Director of Programme Planning. the Recorded Programmes Director. When love overtakes him. social nature of individual personality. Before he falls in love. His JTA’s seem to be almost interchangeable to him until one of them falls in love with him and changes his life. BBC). But we can only assume. and of fact as truth. who protects his vulnerable. known as JTA’s. for the novel ends with the revelation of his falling in love. In both Human Voices and At Freddie’s. Human Voices and At Freddie’s. one presumes. while his counterpart. Jeff Haggard. people are referred to by their functions and titles. is known as RPD. RPD’s most significant relationship is his symbiotic professional relationship with Jeff Haggard. is referred to as DPP. it is the novels’ settings and their fictive arguments that are in a sense the main characters. also known as DPP. for these novels are more successful at representing the unrepresentable. sympathy. while At Freddie’s is set in a school for young actors in post-WWII London. uniting the invisible with the visible. RPD has a number of young women assistants. and the argument concerns the interrelated. more crucially. a real person and not simply a set of initials. and the argument is a critique of a modern world that has chosen power over truth as a conscious ideal. Junior Temporary Assistants.
“We couldn’t put out music all day!” “Music and silence. corporations and families. How can they find anything to broadcast that’s got to be true. Other people. however. DPP is reminded of this when his friend Mac (an American broadcaster who is surely based on Edward R. with their own strengths and weaknesses. nations. cannot stop themselves from doing so. there will be no more egoistic villains in Fitzgerald’s fiction. Of course. Probably you ought to be doing something totally else. and couldn’t be anything else?” He gestured towards the piano.” (177) A corporation musician who has been separated by the war from his orchestra likewise complains that the BBC is itself weakening the will of the British people by pretending to tell them the truth. .” (229) Speaking a nonverbal language. Murrow) advises him that he is doing a disservice to his corporation and country by making himself so useful in a crisis: “You take on the hell of a lot too much of this advice and assistance. had to deal with the consequences. Rather they are needy in ways to which others respond with generosity. and furthermore that being unlucky was a sufficient contribution to the world’s work. “The opposite could also be true” (229). therefore. a position with which she is well acquainted: Lise had always felt that she was particularly unlucky. which. if this appeal were to fail entirely. the human race would have difficulty in reproducing itself. music is incapable of lying. thus putting her in a position in which she must rely on the kindness of relative strangers. and as what we know of . (250) Neither RPD nor Lise are villainous. who is compelled to quit her job when she becomes pregnant (she is unmarried).146 / alternative realisms defenseless and single-minded. is only contingent. he complains. and one such need is to be needed by others. “There isn’t anything at all that mightn’t be otherwise . In times like these we’ve got to forgo luxuries and that includes the obligation to help others. (151) Another parasitical character in the book is a half-French JTA. The implication throughout Human Voices is that people in their complex personalities and interactive relations are really little different from societies. After The Bookshop. Lise. to which his practical respondent replies. for everyone has needs. which have personalities and relations of their own. . Words. You’re weakening these people.
we must accept that our own personalities and identities are necessarily unstable—contingent truth. . At Freddie’s.there’s a providence not so far away / 147 ourselves we know in and through language. As she tells a potential financial backer. self-interested identity is a young teacher at the school. one wouldn’t recall having seen him before. is not concerned with truth. At the novel’s end. Hannah Graves. . is a parable about the ascendance of the ideal of power over the ideal of truth. Although Pierce makes such a poor impression and is not very appealing to Hannah romantically. which was published in 1982. At Freddie’s. which is based on and in the Temple School of drama for youth known as “Freddie’s. no film work. although known as a stalwart—even legendary—supporter of the English stage (of Shakespeare in particular). and that not very successfully. (17) The irony in this most ironic of Fitzgerald’s novel is that Freddie herself. . postmodern society content to let advertising dictate the reality it calls its own. who herself falls in love with an aging character actor.” The school’s unofficial motto hangs in a banner in the office and over the head of Freddie herself. she proves her allegiance by announcing plans to transform “Freddie’s” into a drama school that trains children for television commercials. she recognizes that he possesses a “stubborn incorruptible intensity . who had no ability to make himself seem better or other than he was. Meeting Carroll for a second time . no modeling” (14). Boney Lewis. but with power. At Freddie’s The concept of contingent truth is at the center of the decentered novel. Pierce Carroll. He could only be himself. the school’s proprietess: The words upon it. read NAUGHT SHALL MAKE US RUE IF ENGLAND TO ITSELF DO REST BUT TRUE. a disappointing performance” (82). (21) Pierce falls in love with his fellow teacher at the school. who— although lazy and alcoholic—is so adept at his craft. and in this sense it is a satire of a contemporary. It also operates as a critique of . They were the closing lines of King John and the canvas had hung above the proscenium of the Old Vic for the production of 1917. which she could never hope to come near” (92). and who “countenanced” for her young charges “No TV work. . . The foil to Freddie’s entirely flexible. . “It’s my duty. to take my school where the power is” (157). written in foot-high letters and scrolled with gilt. you know. that he “had never yet given .
we must search beyond it for truth. although it is a satirical comedy.iii. as all language is feigning. we can forget the search for truth (which is always. in any case. “The truest poetry is the most feigning” ( As You Like It. and as such it is perhaps her most negative and even despairing novel. “In a conforming society. the most convenient ones—those that conform most comfortably with a conforming world. The unforgivable sin from such a viewpoint is to assume that language may be meaningful in any way other than a linguistic manner—that it may point beyond itself to a nonlinguistic truth or reality. one for which the Shakespearean dictum. It might be noted in this respect that Pierce is from a “black Protestant”— that is. contingent) and content ourselves with attempts to feign most successfully. a contemporary critic of postmodernism. As Humpty Dumpty—a protoptypical post-structuralist—says to a skeptical Alice. refusing to put himself forward as an actor—as the other . Her claim to sympathy is only that” (Afterlife 193). a nonconformist—family. and Pierce is a hopelessly unattractive lover). but that.” and then proceeded to note the manner in which Delafield “removed what might be called the extenuating circumstances” from under and around her main character until that character is left with but one excuse for her behavior. who is a nonconformist himself. III. “We must accept that comedy is crueler than tragedy. Along these lines. significantly. but the choices they do make are nevertheless. Delafield’s Thank Heaven Fasting. not because of its complaints about rationalism—reason always needs polishing—but because of its substitution of the problematic of power for that of truth. when it comes to one’s struggles with language and meaning. For neither Freddie nor Hannah are given good choices (Freddie’s school is perpetually on the brink of financial ruin. it is merely a question of “which is to be master” (188): that is. and to critique others in their less successful attempts. a question of power. as all language is feigning.148 / alternative realisms a post-structuralist intelligentsia obsessed with manipulations of language as a symbol system. (52) At Freddie’s is Fitzgerald’s fictive rebuke to such a substitution. Fitzgerald contended. has commented of Charles Peirce that he would have thought the postmodernist critique of logocentrism a wickedness. Robert Cummings Neville. he nevertheless is adopted as a kind of surrogate parent by the drama school’s most brilliant student. she is a conformist.15–17) means not that. In her review of E. Jonathan. Fitzgerald is somewhat more generous in her implied condemnation of Freddie in her decision to sell out to television and of Hannah in her choice of Boney over Pierce. Although he is as hapless as a teacher as he is as a lover. M.
The effect is to make the material “surface” world more mysterious and more complex. is only a small part of what is really there” (122). and she demonstrates that a character’s understanding of his own psyche may be as faulty and incomplete as his understanding of other people and of his exterior world circumstance. The missing dimension implies other dimensions entirely. the surface is not superficial. Jonathan is a nonconformist as well: When he was told to imagine himself let us say as a young prince. The mystery of life in these novels lies on its surface and not in its depths. As Lesser wrote of Fitzgerald’s method. This is not to say that Fitzgerald offers no psychological description of or insight into her characters.there’s a providence not so far away / 149 students instinctively do—and seeming uninterested in general in getting the world’s attention. (74) I think that we are meant to understand this as a defense and explanation of Fitzgerald’s own artistic method. in which the very lack of depth leads us to “read” the painting metaphorically. and the key to understanding that life lies in our manner of interpretation of the given. her characters no more “own” themselves than they own their world. He felt the compulsion to pretend to be someone else. In that sense. . which became less interior and psychological and more evidential and materialistic as she progressed from novel to novel. secreting himself and watching the world as a passing show. she manages to suggest. He didn’t want to know what it felt like to be desperate enough to jump from a wall. Fitzgerald also works to prevent us as readers from ego-identifying with her characters. it is almost as though we had returned to the two-dimensional world and viewpoint of pre-Renaissance representational painting. In these mannered novels. In her final four major fictions in particular. but in quite a different manner. he wanted to know what someone looked like when they did. there is a feeling that the novel’s setting and circumstance in some manner produces or perhaps evolves its characters and plot. To them. Jonathan was born to be one of those actors who work from the outside inwards. The depth-model privileging of the interior over the exterior world that was the hallmark of modernist novelists such as James and Woolf has been undone in Fitzgerald’s later fiction. his attention withdrew. Rather she makes her characters’ psyches only one among many elements reverberating with meaning. She is not a “new novelist” in that manner. Rather Jonathan. By refusing to privilege the psychological viewpoint. appeared to have learned something so important that his whole time was taken up in considering it. (35) In his method of acting. “What she gives us on the page.
so I left it. “I tried to make it clearer. they end like poems. although she realized that many readers missed it. . Forever England” (Samson). Jonathan never stops jumping off of his wall. In that realm.150 / alternative realisms and thus enables those characters to operate in an emblematic fashion that is unavailable to more naturalistic figures that are bounded by and in their all-too-real worlds. “To that extent the book’s a failure” (qtd. with a tying up. The drop was a good bit longer. into the darkness. again and again. in this instance. Still he had other resources. Also it has begun to snow. Once again I believe that we would do best to trust the tale rather than the teller.” but seem rather almost “a Mobius strip. and exactly the same every time” (160). though. the eternal return. He is rehearsing for an upcoming role in King John in which the young prince he is to play jumps in desperation from a high prison wall and is killed by the fall. “[Jonathan’s] object was to get so used to the jump that he could do it without thinking. . he alerts us to the manner in which Fitzgerald’s endings attempt to represent the unrepresentable eternal realm of a boundless forever-after. Jonathan drags some rotten crates from the nearby market into the tiny walled garden behind the Temple School. via the reader—thus demonstrating the ever-ramifying reality of the purely potential. and climbs upon them to reach the top of the garden wall for his practice jumps. Acocella perceptively observed of Fitzgerald’s later novels that they “cease to end like novels. there was nothing to stop him jumping down on the street side and getting out that way. down into the middle of the yard . and that was the implication Fitzgerald said that she was meaning to give. (160) The parallel with the death of the young prince in King John may lead us to suspect that Jonathan dies at the end of the novel. but that seemed to spoil it. with a culminating image” (Acocella 428). For Jonathan to die for certain at the end of the novel would be to spoil the emblem he creates of art itself in its unending effort to represent the unrepresentable—to jump from the page into life. . in Acocella 429). Samson likewise remarked that Fitzgerald’s “interminable endings” offer neither “an escape” nor a “resolution. Although it would take a certain amount of nerve. The complication is that he has been inadvertently locked out of the school building and won’t be able to get back in until morning.” she told Acocella. Once again Samson offers keen insights despite his obvious distaste (“Forever England” is strictly gratuitous). The figure of Jonathan at the conclusion of At Freddie’s is a case in point. Meanwhile he went on climbing and jumping. than the one he was doing at present. one evening before his opening performance. To that end.
The prevailing opinion is that change is either entirely chaotic and arbitrary or entirely determined and predestined: evolution or creationism. she attempted to demonstrate the workings of such a world. that this latestarting author seemed to have a bit of a chip on her shoulder regarding a hard-using world and also a tendency toward sentimentality in regards to those who are downtrodden. the high wall. but there remains a sense in all of the autobiographically based work that she is engaged in a kind of fictive special pleading—that her hand is on the scale in weighing the ethical arguments for and against her characters and in determining their fates. I mentioned earlier in reference to Fitzgerald’s first novel. but as a perfectly placed fulcrum point can bear the weight of the world. like our births. of probability. Unless we hasten the ending. Novalis wrote: “The individual is individualized by one single chance event alone. who first conceived of a metaphysical-materialist system in which chance-driven evolution and divine providence may both be operative and true. and the play’s foreshadowing—that Jonathan will somehow die from a fall. The entire weight of the novel is poised upon that possibility.there’s a providence not so far away / 151 In Jonathan’s all-too-real world. however. from which the novel releases him by concluding when and as it does. Jonathan’s death. In Fitzgerald’s final four novels. our deaths. . It is not simply that these novels are based upon historical times and places rather than on the author’s autobiographical experience. chance and providence cannot exist together in a changing world. In her final four historical-romance novels. she created novels in which we as readers are compelled to make interpretive choices that have metaphysical and existential implications—novels that read us as thoroughly as we are able to read them. After The Bookshop. take your pick. Evolutionary Love According to our inflexible and literalistic modern way of thinking. are—from our perspective—fortuitous. Fitzgerald clearly believed in the reality of both. that is. his birth” (Werke 3: 441). Fitzgerald ceased to separate her characters into obvious heroes and villains. and chances are—given the rotten crates. its arrival is certain amid uncertainty—a matter of chance. and in order to do so. As both a storyteller and a metaphysical-moralist in these novels. so the ending of the novel bears the weight of the future so that it does not come down in any particular direction. like our own. something is bound to happen to stop his repetitions. the snow falling. we embark upon a different fictive terrain from the one that we have been negotiating in her earlier work. Like Peirce. Fitzgerald seems to be picking and choosing. The Golden Child. keeps never coming.
the characters are free to choose in that regard. to a pre-WWI England in which Cambridge scientists are dismantling the atomic basis of the regular and predictable Newtonian material universe. to a prerevolutionary Russia in which that order is just barely hanging on. alert. the main characters in these novels are engaged in determining their fates in a vigorously interactive manner unavailable to Fitzgerald’s earlier characters. For each of these novels is set at or near particularly fraught historical turning points in which the characters awaken to find themselves. The Blue Flower. and who devoted his mercurial life to saving that marriage. we have to interpret them as parables of the spiritually ailing modern world. to various degrees. Fitzgerald’s final novel. Rather they seem selfdetermined actors in a morality play in which there is no felt separation between the argument and its characters. and the implications arising from which they are. which began the long modern lament over the painful schism between what the thoughtful educated individual believed in his heart and thought in his head. Lawrence’s alarm at this heart-head split seems to have drawn Fitzgerald’s attention and devotion to his prophetic work. which—in these novels—is almost synonymous with history. and then back a century to the Romantic response to that deterministic universe. for these characters in their lives are the argument itself. by means of which she found her way to the fragmented writing of Novalis (Basbanes). This is all to say that these final four novels give us the feeling of life itself. Fitzgerald exhibits a moral and fictive maturity that is evidenced by the fact that her characters no longer seem parts of an argument— characters in an all-too-human story—that is not of their making or choosing. As existential actors. who was likewise obsessed with the heart-head estrangement in modern thought and being. in its combination of restrictiveness and possibility. although irreducibly chancy. is determined in large part by what they make of their changing circumstances. and their fates are likewise more meaningful—more real—because they have been chosen rather than endured. But what these characters have to choose from has been determined for them (as for us) by luck or fate. and their fate. In her final four novels. of routine habit and chance alteration. As a series in a historical quartet. They are both products and creators of their world. complete with a regimen for beginning a return to health.152 / alternative realisms But in the final four historical-romance novels. Fitzgerald offers no less than an anatomy and diagnosis of sickened modernity itself. the most telling symptom of which is the split between heart and head that has come to seem an intrinsic element of the human condition. in each of these novels. the novels work backwards in time from a post-WWII Italy in which the last vestiges of the European feudal order are being undone. In order to understand Fitzgerald’s argumentative project with these novels. might almost .
When we look back at her career from the vantage point of these novels’ prophetic argument. love becomes not only the dominant theme of her novels. the theme is the reality of evil (and good) in the world. which points to something beyond it” (Knox Brothers 215).” spoke of the “pull of human love. as her “Russian” novel. They imply a revolution in the main characters’ envisioning and understanding of reality that has profound spiritual implications. the convert Roman Catholic priest. But with her sixth novel. the Proof of the Supreme Excellency of God. it almost seems that everything up to the point of these novels’ creation was a prelude and a preparation. belongs. . The story of Novalis’s transforming love for Sophie von Kuhn in The Blue Flower is a natural culmination of this progression in Fitzgerald’s fiction. linking the visible with the invisible. In Lawrence. The Beginning of Spring.there’s a providence not so far away / 153 be thought of as a meditation on Novalis’s figure as a would-be modernday Messiah of holistic thought and being. which she addresses by way of arguments concerned with the damning effects of moral complacency. In Fitzgerald. When we look at the work of writers of fictive parables. Lewis observed of this crucial shift in Fitzgerald’s fiction: Most of her early works feature infatuations tangential to the main story lines. Tolstoy. Ronald Knox. “in his struggles to bring home to his hearers . Fitzgerald had written in her joint biography of her father and his brothers that her uncle. the dominant theme is likewise the heart-head split. and Lawrence that Fitzgerald’s final fiction most fittingly. It is the heart that guides the head to this envisioning of the divine. as Peirce pointed out: “As to God. In her final four novels. Fitzgerald takes up this argument with the certainty of a prophet who has found her message. In O’Connor. Ruskin. Just so. but also their catalyzing force. the romantic love affairs in these four novels lead the main figures—and us as willing readers—to a vision of reality that peers beyond the everyday existential toward the realm of the eternal and ideal. Innocence. In any case. we find that a central argument is repeated in an obsessive variation on a theme. which she treats as a modern-day malady for which there is only one cure—the miraculous power of love. it is to the prophetic tradition of Novalis. might be thought of as variations on a theme of spiritual renewal and societal revolution by Tolstoy (and an implicit critique of the violent political revolution it unwittingly in part inspired). the theme is the heart-head split. which he addresses by way of arguments concerned with the sickened and perverted nature of modern sexuality. if coyly and complexly. for instance. (Lewis) The transformative love affairs at the heart of these final four novels are far more than mere romantic story lines. open you eyes—and . .
“the final goal of world history—the One of the universe” (Notes 50).” which Peirce defined compellingly as “incomprehensible thought. and the nonsense that has obscured it will disappear of itself. whose life and thought informs Fitzgerald’s second of her last four novels. and is a contention that is repeatedly endorsed by Fitzgerald’s instructive demonstrations in her final four novels. as a stronger emotion eventually overwhelms a weaker one. which he felt to be nature’s dominant characteristic—the fight for survival being a subordinate effect (Writings 350).” he explained. “ All men live not by care for themselves.154 / alternative realisms your heart. The Beginning of Spring. in Raposa 58). so love— the strongest of all emotions. in which the discombobulated individual. and he prophesied that the “law of love”: will in due time emerge and makes its way to general recognition. Tolstoy. Peirce further argued that that which appears as infinite growth in the organic material realm is experienced as eternal love in the spiritual realm (Writings 376). and with it will go the evil from which humanity now suffers. The tie between the two realms—that which links us inextricably to both material nature and the spiritual divine—is the heart’s “emotion. Peirce labeled his infinite-growth model of reality “evolutionary love. Peirce took up this theme in his effort to correct what he felt to be modernity’s self-serving “survival-of-the fittest” model of evolution. like the . Using her instructive method of fictive parable. echoed Peirce’s sentiment when he wrote. an idea that he borrowed from Spinoza—whom he famously characterized as a God-intoxicated man—and who contended that. (“A Letter to a Hindu”) Tolstoy contended that humanity in general in the modern period is going through a painful period of growth similar to the transition from adolescence to adulthood. and so of all known forces—inevitably is destined to conquer all. “is why the highest truths can only be felt” (qtd. Fitzgerald leads her select group of willing readers toward a vision of the all-embracing love of which Novalis was speaking when he wrote that “love is the ideal of every endeavor” (Notes 835). which is also a perceptive organ—and you see him” (Writings 377–378).” and noted that it was in accord with “the Gospel of Christ [which] says that progress comes from every individual merging his individuality in sympathy with his neighbors” (Writings 363). which he labeled the “Gospel of Greed.” “That. The argument that positive emotion is both spiritually and logically superior to everyday understanding is a conviction that Peirce shared with Novalis. but by love” (“The Kingdom of God is Within You”).” by replacing it with an “apapistic” or lovecentered model of evolution that is based upon the idea of infinite growth.
continues that theme. These few observations give us a sense of the complex metaphorical nature of these final four novels. there is a historical figure or group of figures who have challenged conventional notions of reality. Innocence. The Beginning of Spring. In the third novel. Fitzgerald thus fittingly completed her career as a novelist with an explicit rationale for. and she underwrites a philanthropic “Refuge for the Unwanted” that offers shelter for the infirm aged and for infant orphans. In Innocence. Antonino Gramsci. “may last a long time” (“A Letter to a Hindu”). after Mary Magdalene. in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear” (“Prison Notebooks”). True to her namesake. in order to feel at home again in the world. Fitzgerald broadens her argument by considering the manner in which what appears to be chaos may in fact be a higher system of greater order that has not yet been recognized and understood. while further emphasizing that we are saved by what we cannot control or imagine. the manner . The Gate of Angels. we must learn how to participate in making the world meaningful and real by reading the everyday existent as signs of the eternal. the method of fictive parable that she gradually developed and perfected.” he concluded. a medical specialist defined in the novel as one who “treats pain whose origin is not clearly traceable” (47). whose famous comment in his prison notebook regarding the crisis of modernity might be thought of as the pattern in the carpet of this densely woven novel: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born. fittingly. the follower of Jesus significant for being both present at his crucifixion and among the first to witness the resurrection. “loses what had hitherto guided his life and lives without direction . a neurologist. Maddalena is sympathetically committed to caring for the dying and the newly born. is likewise meaningful in a novel in which he is referred to as both “a miracle worker” (141) and “an Angel of Healing” (133)—a novel in which one of the main settings is an apartment on “via Limbo” (179) occupied by an aging do-gooder named Maddalena. the novel’s central figure is. In The Blue Flower. . This character’s name. it is the Italian Marxist agitator and theorist. Such a condition. she concludes her extended argument by demonstrating that.there’s a providence not so far away / 155 prodigal son in the parable. Salvatore (“savior”). and which is located in via Sansepolcro—the street of the holy sepulcher (14–15). . The idea of living in a painful period of interregnum is the main theme operating in the first of Fitzgerald’s final four novels. Innocence In each of her final four novels. and demonstration of. The second novel in the series. In such a world.
all defensible” (39). but in wonder. . Rossi. who became a physician in the first place in response to a visit as a child with his communist father to the ailing Gramsci in the hospital in which he was being imprisoned while suffering the advanced stages of tuberculosis (the fascist government would not allow him to be treated). into other existences. No one ever agrees with me. Dr. This will involve coming to terms with his class resentment. “You enjoyed the Brahms?” he asked.” Chiara gave the doctor her hand.” Perhaps we might agree about everything. who is doing me so much good. Rinaldi. or “savior. Let us review the overt allegory for a moment: a character named Salvatore. And how is this lost man to be found again? His name offers the clue. . The effect of Chiara on Salvatore when they are first introduced by one of his patients is no less profound: “My dear child. he must create his own salvation. Salvatore thought. but most importantly it will necessitate that he learn to trust his heart to guide his head. Salvatore Rossini. the physician must heal himself. and even archetypally coded and resonant. He had an intimation he was lost” (32). “Of course not. but she might. Salvatore falls in love with a young woman named Chiara—meaning light—an uncertain teenager just out of finishing school who has a disturbing “tendency to fragment. allegorically. . No more wear and tear of the heart” (39). certainly. (32) At the same time that he is thinking this. the point of view of every living creature. no. she feels focused for the first time in her life: “When Salvatore had spoken to her all these distractions had settled . “He felt deeply irritated. however. often against her will. This proves very difficult for Salvatore. no. he is noticing that Chiara is wearing a sparkling diamond necklace and his instinctive class resentment (he is from a peasant family). When she meets Salvatore at a musical concert. like Saul on the road to Damascus.” feels himself to be “lost” upon meeting “Chiara” who is destined to be the light of his life. she has found her salvation.” and “who could not escape from the unsettling vision of other points of view.156 / alternative realisms in which they are historically. which was perhaps piqued by his upper-class patient’s failure to remember his name. rather than the other way around—the heart being the superior sensory organ when it comes to life’s most crucial decisions. wells up in him. setting itself against his innate attraction to Chiara. I want you to meet Dr. She looked at him politely. We could perhaps say that he has been blinded by love.
and practical physician was a form of instinctive rebellion against the impassioned politics that led to Gramsci’s premature death and to his father’s frustration and unhappiness. to run away from his fate. “Think of me as a cripple. Her miscarriage of a child for “no . “You might—” “I don’t choose that it should be a matter of arrangement!” Then Salvatore broke off. “Come back! I’m saying what I don’t mean!” (71). but “to reform mankind’s prejudices by scientific means” (52). “with the obstinacy of the lost. Salvatore continues to make their life intermittently overcast by interpreting actions and situations in ways that cast doubt upon Chiara’s love for him.” he shouted after her. as he manages to interpret even offhand remarks of perfect strangers as direct references to his repressed love for Chiara. “What do you mean by coming here like this?” When. with whom he invents arguments that enable him to vent his frustration. and men loved darkness rather than light” (John 3: 18–19).” (53) Salvatore’s refusal to make arrangements to meet Chiara again—his insistence upon forcing chance or fate to bring them back together—is in effect a demand to see a sign or miracle. “But surely it could be arranged without much difficulty?” said Gentillini. only to be run off by an outraged Salvatore who demands. scientific. while. as well as to his impatience with the superstitious village Catholicism of his peasant mother. in response. His self-chosen life-project significantly is not to fall in love and become entangled in an unsuitable attachment. like Jonah. Fitzgerald seems to be echoing the words of Jesus to his disciples that “he that believeth not is condemned already . Salvatore repeatedly tries the patience of his best friend and colleague. Salvatore is self-condemned by his rejection of Chiara’s love and of his love for Chiara. who searches him out at his workplace. don’t turn away from me. Salvatore’s first instinct is. like the healing of the lame. Gentillini (who proves gentle indeed in response). Chiara “made off quick as a shadow. And this is the condemnation. After meeting Chiara. . that light is come into the world. . In doing so. the miracle is provided by Chiara herself. take my hand. Even after he and Chiara are married.” he manages every topic so that it will “lead him back to the same starting point” of Chiara. if you like.there’s a providence not so far away / 157 Salvatore’s decision to be a rational. In this instance. and abruptly held out his hand. as when he asked with a show of cold rationality why there should ever be even the slightest probability that he should ever meet this young woman again. his romantic fate rises to greet him everywhere he goes. Nevertheless. With this play of light and shadow and the allegorical names of the main figures.
in which Chiara miscarries. said. He had other sons. Salvatore’s refusal to let go of his class hatred and of his knee-jerk faith in a narrow scientific rationalism is symptomatic of the old world’s tenacity. They are adrift indeed and they function in their displacement as a further symptom of the new world that is unable to be born. the chosen son. (120–121) Salvatore. Sannazzaro. and. rejects Sannazzaro’s prophetic admonition and sells his land. which is complicated by the unwillingness or inability of the old world to die. and having heard that the land Salvatore sold is to be put again on the market. but you are the one he chose. and which is due him from his hospital in Florence. an ardent disciple of Gramsci. watching her minutely. Sannazzaro does not give up easily. however. As an intellectual your place is here . . Sannazzaro was the best friend of Salvatore’s dead father. In the larger allegorical argument of the novel. although he’s not able to admit it. “He has to make his career in Florence. is unforthcoming.” (203) . the miscarriage is emblematic of the failure of the new world to be born. . he can’t be happy without his piece of land in Mazzata. where he finds Maddalena. but the loan he requires to complete the purchase of a house. One of the novel’s most humorous and intriguing characters declares. so that he and Chiara are reduced to living in a characterless suburban apartment. that it is precisely Salvatore’s rejection of what is valuable and precious in the old world of communal village life that is making him miserable. whom he attempts to persuade to convince Salvatore to repurchase his inheritance. Like an Old Testament prophet. La Ricordanza (meaning “memory”). That was what your father expected of you. But there’s a sickness and craziness about him because he has cut himself off from the place where he was born. Chiara’s aunt. the small rural village in the South of Italy in which he was born and raised. . however. who declared that it was the duty of intellectuals to remain in or return to the place in which they were born in order to help and guide the people.158 / alternative realisms assignable reason” (194) seems to him a judgment upon their misguided and failed marriage. The future for which Nino [Gramsci] suffered and died is impossible without human preparation. . Once you’ve sold your inheritance you’ll be quite adrift . he travels to Florence and arrives unannounced at Chiara’s family home. When Salvatore returns to Mazzata. Don’t cut yourself off from Mazzata. that’s not in dispute. with the purpose of selling his small inherited plot of land there in order to raise money to buy a house in Florence for himself and his new wife. In reality. Sannazzaro attempts to dissuade him: Hear me out. like him.
the influence of which served to revive in modern Europe the pastoral form invented by Theocritus with his Idylls and made famous by Virgil in his Eclogues.” (203) Sannazzaro’s own diagnosis takes on greater weight in the novel’s allegorical argument when we realize that he shares a family name with Jacapo Sannazzaro. I don’t put much value on patience. Salvatore allows his doubts and disbelief in regards to his wife’s and her family’s good intentions toward him to multiply. This telling linkage recalls. very much against her own wishes. while emphasizing the progression of that figure into the quasi-religious lovelorn swain of the pastoral romance—thus reinforcing our interpretation of romantic love in Fitzgerald’s later novels as being emblematic of divine love. as well. and of romantic desire as being expressive of a desire for union with the divine. she has been recovering at the seaside.” contending that what is needed in the meantime is “patience.” “Why couldn’t he listen?” “Because he is unable to diagnose himself. who does indeed serve as a kind of prophet in the novel. the author of the first pastoral romance. in any case. which she then presents to him through her lawyer as a gift. But since she miscarried. This interpretation is also endorsed. he says that he already tried to persuade him. until he sees but one way out of his unhappiness and the unhappiness he is causing to others. for she would prefer to be with Salvatore. run into regulatory problems with the expanding state’s social welfare network) and using the money to purchase back Salvatore’s inherited land. “There I can’t agree with you. by the characters’ allegorical names. True to such a creed.” to which Maddalena responds. Salvatore interprets the gift as a belittling insult. characteristics. He travels . but he couldn’t listen. she no doubt would have been able to dispel his wrong-headed skepticism with the warmth of her love. but to no effect. reinforces its major theme of living in a period of interregnum when he speaks to Maddalena of “bad times coming” that will “be succeeded by good. “He must have known that what I was saying was true. the sixteenth-century Italian Arcadia. and behavior. True to his own inclination to feel insecure in regards to anything having to do with Chiara’s family of genteelly impoverished aristocrats. Sannazzaro. the pastoral “good shepherd” role of Salvatore’s own namesake. Were Chiara present in person. as we have seen. I find it best to act on impulse” (204). Maddalena follows up her meeting with Sannazzaro by selling the building housing the “Refuge for the Unwanted” (which has. Left to his own devices.there’s a providence not so far away / 159 When Maddalena asks why he is telling this to her instead of to Salvatore.
we can go on like this.” “But what for?” Cesare considered a little. only that you and I can hardly expect to live until then. he wanted to borrow one of mine. Her cousin. Sannazzaro diagnosed Salvatore’s disease as a product of the modern condition in his conversation with Maddalena: “When I spoke to you just now of the bad times coming. calls Cesare in her worry at not having heard from her husband. so often misguided. obliges. He wanted a gun. She said nothing at all. so rarely knowing the right thing to do.” Chiara.” (224) The novel concludes with Salvatore’s departure to join Chiara at the seaside. But the novel’s ending leads us to wonder how many more miracles he will require if he continues to deny the instinctive knowledge of his own heart and stubbornly insists upon the faulty reasoning of his head. it mustn’t try to take over from witchcraft.” “Yes. retrieving the loaded gun from Salvatore and telling him that he is wanted by his wife on the phone. did know. I knew it. he’s lonely. who is accustomed to speaking to Salvatore every night by phone.160 / alternative realisms outside of Florence to Chiara’s family’s farm where he asks her cousin. (223) Prompted by Chiara’s uncharacteristic silence. And by ‘good’ I’m not referring. by a miracle. is saved by the miracle of Chiara’s instinctive silence.” “But he never has a gun. “He’s come to talk to you.” Sannazzaro went on. who runs the estate.” said Cesare. to the improvements brought about by science. Salvatore threw up his hand. for the loan of a gun with which he can kill himself. who is not an interfering man. Science has to take its proper place. and said. It is fitting that Salvatore. “He said he was thinking of shooting himself. ‘Good . “We can go on exactly like this for the rest of our lives. you understand.” “I don’t know whether he’s lonely or not. “What’s to become of us? We can’t go on like this. who repeatedly expresses his belief only in the narrowly factual reasoning of science. now. “I didn’t mean that they won’t be succeeded by good.” “I know. The unexpected silence had its effect on Cesare. and Salvatore is only saved by a miracle when Chiara. only to find that Salvatore is there at the estate. Cesare uncharacteristically interferes in another’s life (and death). named Cesare.
and is embedded in an offhand conversation between Giancarlo and Chiara’s visiting English school friend. Signora Contessa?” “I don’t know. but Nino [Gramsci] quoted it often. it is not a typical comedy (none of Fitzgerald’s novels are). and it is significant that she and her family “were so constituted as not to feel jealously. Although the novel concludes with a miracle that saves it from descending into a tragedy. The novel’s ultimate emblem is one of hope. “What distinguished them was their optimism. “Nor do I.” a “serious fault” (178) in a Machiavellian world. if not disastrous. Chiara herself. as we have seen. by contrast. The values the novel endorses. Her Aunt.” (204) The novel’s pointed religious allegory is indication enough that its author would be unsympathetic with the historical Gramsci’s dogmatic Marxist atheism. Science. Maddalena’s brother and Chiara’s father. intrinsically connected by hope. Although Maddalena and Giancarlo would seem to be almost diametrically opposed in their approaches toward life. Time Tamed by Love. is a study in un-self-pitying resignation. and she is unflinching in regards to present miseries in pursuit of an ultimate end. Maddalena.” he corrects him: “Surely not. Barney.there’s a providence not so far away / 161 sense is dead. including a “wedding chest” at their family’s farm “painted with a design of Love Tamed by Time—it’s only a pity that the companion piece. its child. . naturally. resignation is active” (104). are embodied by the eccentric individuals in Chiara’s family of decayed aristocrats. killed it one day to find out how it was made. Even disagreements between them produced hope” (15). and it forms a relationship that seems destined to be difficult. as the author forecasts for us (195). . The symbolically resonant wedding chest would seem to indicate that the love between Chiara and Salvatore will mellow with time. “Human sufferings aren’t to be thought about. by contrast. When an activist communist artist asserts to him that “patience is the same as resignation. said Maddalena. Count Giancarlo. as the marriage with which the conventional comedy concludes takes place in the middle of the novel.’ Who wrote that. however. but the taming of time by love is a struggle that takes place on a wholly different and unrepresentable “missing” plane—one to which we are. however. represents vigorous and selfless action for social betterment. value-neutral science that would presume to be the arbiter of our lives.” said Maddalena. “Patience is passive. but she obviously is in agreement with his passionate rejection of a dispassionate. . represents the power of selfless love. in which he urges her to make an effort to see some of the “many delightful things by quite unknown artists” scattered throughout Italy. only the human future” (127–128). seems to be missing” (80).” said Giancarlo .
The Beginning of Spring The writer of parables is inherently seeking to correct errors that impede our spiritual progress. it has a dimension that can hardly be found in Barchester. “In the spiritual realm nothing is indifferent: what is not useful is harmful” (Tolstoy). In his Letter. and she compares the use of religion in Oliphant’s Carlingford novels to the use of it in Anthony Trollope’s Barchester series—in which it is “a variant of the political structure. She seemed to understand that the tendency to dismiss religious consciousness in its entirety is the modern intellectual prejudice that most needed addressing. and he called for a “fundamental cleansing of religious consciousness from all ancient religious and modern scientific superstitions” (Tolstoy). (Afterlife 33) That is not to say that Mrs. Tolstoy declared that a superstitious belief in science is as harmful as are religious superstitions. but the church no matter how far it falls short is there to link them with an unseen world.162 / alternative realisms and one that the novel quietly suggests (to those with eyes to see and ears to hear) in its subtle allegorical renderings of naturalistic figures that link the visible to the invisible—representing the unrepresentable. The Beginning of Spring —wrote in his A Letter to the Hindus. Oliphant. “time and again [in her novels] she relates religion to instinct and nature” (Afterlife 49). Fitzgerald’s corrective critique of the presumptions of a narrowly rationalistic and presumptively infallible science are overt in her final fictions. Throughout her novels. if left unimpeded by dogma and superstition. implying that faith in such a creed is one of modernity’s most dangerous errors. but her critique of religious superstitiousness is far more implicit than is her critique of science. In her review of the life and work of the prolific Scottish Victorian novelist. which likewise are inclusive of the spiritual dimension missing from the fiction of the vast majority of her contemporaries. Fitzgerald suggests that. although her human comedy is much narrower than Trollope’s. Oliphant is in any way a typically or conventionally religious writer: “Forms of worship interested her very little” (Afterlife 33). at least as evidenced by her essays and novels. . In this way. good sense will guide us instinctively to the “missing” realm in which spiritual or religious values are the ultimate realities.” noting that the Preoccupations of Carlingford are unspiritual and often ludicrous. Mrs. Fitzgerald observed that. The same could be said of Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s later fiction is quietly committed to such a cleansing. concerning which Tolstoy—the prophetic figure in the background of Fitzgerald’s next novel.
” and that any pretension to complete doubt is therefore self-deceiving and irrational (Writings 228). Part of the instructive message of Fitzgerald’s parables is to compel her readers to ask themselves whether they might in fact have faith even if they do not have belief and. which is set in Moscow in 1913. . connecting us to all that ever was.” Frank thinks to himself “Because I don’t believe this . pardon and remission of sins. Peirce. and you are not only called upon to work together. and in the scene to which I refer. As the priest offers a prayer for the Russian royal family. I have faith. if so. At its most fundamental. in the next section of the key passage concerning the blessing of the ikons: The priest was giving a short address. “the founders of the Press.there’s a providence not so far away / 163 Fitzgerald takes up the argument concerning dismissal of religious consciousness in a central scene in The Beginning of Spring. itself. but in the meaningfulness of reality. is. He has inherited from his father a small printing firm. he is present at the annual ritual in which the local Russian Orthodox priest blesses the workshop’s ikons. even if I have no belief” (178). Perhaps. “You are workers. Frank thought. the nation.571). such faith implies a belief not in any particular religious dogma or creed. visitation. and not at all you” is a “metaphysics of wickedness” that forces separations where there are none and that leads us to think and act in ways that are destructive of both ourselves and others (Collected Papers 7. Peirce concluded that the idea that “I am altogether myself. but to love each other and pity each . . Although of English descent and nationality. and therefore life. who wrote the firsthand account of the 1917 Russian revolution. in that it assumes that we are absolutely separate as individuals and are not a part of a continuum of community that stretches out in both time and space. Belief or faith is primary. . health salvation. to consider the implications of this faith. that doesn’t mean it isn’t true” (178). Furthermore. contended that “we cannot begin with complete doubt” but must accept that we always begin with beliefs and prejudices that “do not occur to us can be questioned. Then he considers the fact that he was alarmed to hear that his daughter’s primary school teacher was a self-declared atheist: “The alarm suggested that as a rational being he was unsuccessful . he argued that the presumption that we as thinking individuals can be “absolute judges of truth is most pernicious” (Writings 229). Fitzgerald takes up precisely this theme of the continuity of the community of individuals. or will be. for mercy peace. and its relation to truth and reality. . Ten Days That Shook the World ). Frank was raised in Moscow and considers it home. doubt secondary (Writings 296). The novel’s main figure is Frank Reid (whose name is perhaps an ironic allusion to the famous American communist John Reed. and the workers there. in arguing against the Cartesian “rationalist” dogma that everything must be doubted until it is proven.
But these more or less mechanical actions are only meaningful when placed within the larger context of the organism’s purposeful behavior of drinking a glass of water. Bayley is also acute in his analysis of the mystery at work in Fitzgerald’s fiction in general and in this novel in particular: There is a kind of insecurity about the Fitzgerald world which makes it. in the same way.” (178) When the priest contends that “there are no accidental meetings. We never meet by chance. Such is the task placed before Frank (and. And this odd fact may indeed give the clue to the way in which readers find themselves hooked. some secret will surely emerge. and the act of swallowing and digesting. and effects swerve from their presumed causes. Of course the mechanisms of the eye-to-glass vision. and the novel most difficult to unravel in terms of its plot’s causes and effects. (x) The expectation of such an emergence—the answer to our questions regarding actions and motives—is greater in The Beginning of Spring than in any other of Fitzgerald’s novels. us as readers) in this novel in which. that there are no accidental meetings. As Wolfe commented. it was accidental. It is a feat indeed to create a novel of which it can be observed both that “little happens without a reason” and that “illogic holds at every level. by extension. and yet it does not. The priest is asking his listeners to think of God’s purposeful actions. . of which we are instinctive mechanisms. “Little happens without a reason. and this makes the novel her most spiritual and religious in terms of the mysteries of faith—or. “The novel’s major events defy reason. But remember. as Peter Wolfe observed. say. How can that be? You will say that you didn’t choose to work next to this man or that man. Some mystery. drink a glass of water. he happened to be there when I first arrived. or this woman. as every page turns. To do so is to believe implicitly in divine providence.164 / alternative realisms other. . This illogic holds at every level” (229). The Beginning of Spring is Fitzgerald’s most mysterious novel—the novel most concerned with the mystery of what happens to us and why. even if the reason is veiled from us” (238). the mysteries that prompt faith as the only suitable and useful response. She never attempts to analyze or to possess her characters . is sent to us. the hand-to-mouth motion. Although it is not an outright mystery like The Golden Child. . so increasingly fascinating and challenging.” he is implicitly instructing his listeners to think of reality in terms of a universal communal continuum whose actions are purposeful and meaningful in the same way in which our bodies’ actions are meaningful when we. are all separable actions taken by separate parts of the body and they are analyzable as such. perhaps one should say.” but Wolfe is correct in both observations. or we are sent to them. Either this other man. if that thought comes to you.
who is an eccentrically devoted follower of Tolstoy. attempted “to show that mystery. Ronald Knox. each of these novels is insistently episodic—far more meaningfully so than are Fitzgerald’s earlier novels. Each of these novels is thus in effect concluding with the prophetic admonition from Rilke’s famously incomplete statue: “Du mußt dein Leben ändern”: You must change your life. as in this novel. The mysteries in The Beginning of Spring serve the same purpose for Frank Reid. The guide figure in The Beginning of Spring is the expatriate English accountant at Frank’s printing firm. imaginatively. The incompleteness of the quest is pointedly instructive. although his promptings are significantly ignored. in which the hero must discover the grail. or cure that will enable him to return home in triumph. although. or discovery. Sannazzaro is the closest to a principal guide figure in Innocence. As is befitting of quest narratives. “Fitzgerald overturns received notions of both probability and behavioral norms and thus deepens our sense of human possibility” (228). The archetypal quest is the basic plot structure at the foundation of each of Fitzgerald’s final four parable-novels. in which. in nature as in super-nature. In all four of Fitzgerald’s final quartet of novels. indicating that we. secret. Selwyn Crane. whereas Chiara is the obvious goal figure embodying love. as readers. as Wolfe observed of this novel. or intellect that have been unexplored. Typically in the quest there are a number of tests to be undergone and/or battles to be fought and won. must finish these journeys ourselves. who in various manners embodies divine love. the novel’s unwitting quest hero. mystery is its proper food” (133). as in Innocence ) and into realms of the world. a different person. you must become another (Rilke). Most of the mystery surrounding plot . The archetypal quest begins with a significant break-in routine—a trauma. which leads the hero out of his home territory (which may be a psychological complacency. the archetypal quest cycle is meaningfully incomplete. Fitzgerald’s uncle. the vision of such a homecoming has come into sight. which also are structured in chapters or sections that are scenes in themselves. God and the Atom. by each novel’s end. and it is also typical for there to be a guide figure and a goal figure. and generously to others in ways that renew his faith in the goodness of life and the possibilities of being. fall. or an intellectual pretension.there’s a providence not so far away / 165 In his fascinating study of Christian faith in a nuclear age. but which do not have the compelling forward movement of the final fictions. The novel’s mysterious plot and motive prompt a similar response in the reader. psyche. who is shaken out of his midlife complacency by a series of unforeseeable events that prompt him to examine his own motives and behavior and to reach out sympathetically. ought to strengthen faith. there is no return home in triumph.
Frank—complications that effectively revolutionize Frank’s conventional. as he is overtly presented and declares himself to be—or the near opposite: a closet revolutionary who is coldheartedly manipulating his friend in manners that further the ambitions of a radical and no doubt eventually violent political cause. mother Russia itself. and who inadvertently allowed the violent student. But once we do so. at least in part. and who unwittingly introduced a revolutionary into Frank’s household. deciding to go far out of his way in order to alert Frank to it. Once we as readers make these plot connections. the novel’s meaning—which. which takes some effort. who lives nearby. who unwillingly attracted Nellie romantically. into the printing firm and then. a jealous lover of Lisa) into Frank’s printing firm at night. as they are not highlighted by the narrator and Frank himself is unsuspecting. it is a challenge to determine for certain whether Selwyn is in fact a broadly well-intentioned. Selwyn was also involved in prompting the surprise departure from Russia of Frank’s wife. The revolutionary cause is embodied (as we discover to our surprise near novel’s end) by Frank’s love interest and his children’s governess. a striking and voluptuous young woman of peasant origin. who appears a kind of holy fool. discovered the break-in. settled. and to whom Frank was introduced by Selwyn. Selwyn also allowed for the admittance of a supposed student revolutionary. although in a self-deceiving manner.166 / alternative realisms and motive in the novel is in various ways tied to Selwyn. Nellie. it becomes very difficult to conceive of Selwyn as a wholly innocent character. as the priest asserted. no meetings are accidents. and even his identity as a cloudy-minded and caricaturedly earnest disciple of Tolstoy. the student appears to be waiting for him. and then for instigating Frank’s visit to the firm to investigate the break-in. It is even possible that he is both. there seems little doubt that we as careful readers are meant eventually to question Selwyn’s integrity and honesty. at which point he is shot at by the young student. but who also significantly is involved in the romantic and political complications that suddenly beset his employer and friend. and seemingly content and happy life. and which thereby makes all of Frank’s sudden misfortunes and accidental missteps . Even after repeated readings of the novel. Volodya (who later claims to be. seems tied to the divinely providential notion that. with whom Selwyn was in some manner romantically attached—a departure that prepared the way for Selwyn’s introduction of Lisa into the household as governess. Given all of this potentially damning evidence. rather. by happenstance. Lisa Ivanovna. Volodya. who seems meant to emblematize. What is even more suspicious is that. on first reading. pacifistic and incurably sympathetic Tolstoyan. when Frank arrives. rather than investigating himself or calling the police or the local night watchman.
Innocence. but these were real tears. Each of Fitzgerald’s final four novels is remarkably evocative of the spirit of its place and time.there’s a providence not so far away / 167 seem in some mysterious way fortunate falls—becomes much more dark and ominous. and romance results in a remarkably Russian-seeming English novel—one that has clear antecedents in Tolstoy. Frank thought. The Beginning of Spring seems suffused with a pungent mixture of political chicanery and spiritual complexity redolent of its Russian setting. alerting him to previously unperceived possibilities in himself and sensitizing him to the needs of others to such an extent that there literally is no telling what will happen next when his wife. and for us as readers. She did look after them. suddenly make their appearance—with which this most mysterious and surprising of Fitzgerald’s novels mysteriously and surprisingly ends. true grief. for the entire novel). and been the recipients of the winter clothes which wouldn’t go into the trunks. The manner in which Fitzgerald in The Beginning of Spring combines a focus on complex motive with a deftly handled mystery plot that intertwines politics. by contrast. as the Gnostics contended. who manipulated Frank into unwittingly enabling her to abscond to Germany: “It’s not true. Perhaps the sublunary world is in the hands of an evil demiurge after all. radically altered his life. and Gogol. finally inexplicable. They must have helped Nellie to pack. given to extremes. It’s not true that she pretended to make love to me. The novel refuses to give us answers to the pressing questions regarding the very nature of life that it raises. Nellie. whoever she is or was and whatever her questionable motives. except in memory. Rather it ushers us into a complex mystery and keeps us there. Dostoyevsky. It is also true that Lisa. forcing us to draw our own conclusions. It is a challenge that Frank meets. When Frank announces to his household of servants that his wife Nellie has gone away on a trip for an unspecified period (in effect. is to remain credulous. like Russian politics. The women began to cry. together with the belated Russian spring (both of which have been absent. she has simply left him without warning or explanation). as we discover near novel’s end when he is reflecting upon his romantic attachment and domestic alliance with Lisa Ivanovna. like Russian weather. and. seems a late flowering . the moral challenge presented by such a setting for such a figure as Frank. that she was pretending to look after the children. She did make love to me” (439). Human nature in this novel is. And perhaps Selwyn is a creature of darkness—one who helps to usher in the violent Russian revolution and its violent aftermath—rather than a pacifistic purveyor of light. religion. (276) That these emotions would be genuine beggars belief.
that the novel broadly travesties the modern world’s self-destructive tendencies to cede all that we know of reality to the narrowly factual realm of empirical science. while making an explicit critique of our modern intellectual pretensions regarding “rational” scientific certainties. by mass and motion—of physical substances in causal relations with other physical substances.168 / alternative realisms of the crossbreeding in Italian history and culture of ritualistic religious instinct and iconography and a broadly skeptical individualistic humanism—both of which have contributed to the “unadulterated fatalism” that Count Giancarlo distinguished as the authentic “Italian attitude” (172). privileging the machinelike cause-and-effect operation of natural selection over the creative growth-and-change progression favored by Peirce and others. Her penultimate “English” novel. . and an instinctively reactive spiritual enthusiasm that opposes all effort at control and systematization. given her tendency to embody her intellectual arguments in entertainingly diverting dramatic narratives. The Gate of Angels The revolution in the background of The Gate of Angels is not political but scientific and it concerns the shift from classical deterministic physics in direct line with the theories and discoveries of Newton to an emerging quantum physics that describes a world in which chance is primary and probabilities are the basis of fact and knowledge. purpose. though it is hard to believe that her expression of such a desire was anything but facetious. In many respects. motivation. But a purely material world of things is characterized. both of which paradigms allow for the importance of ideas. evokes the heady spirit of German Romantic Idealism. the world as described by science has been an ultimately physical world—a world of material things— rather than a spiritual or an organic world. this novel seems Fitzgerald’s masterwork. and values. by contrast. Such a world is purposeless and valueless to begin with. carried at times to fanatical extremes that defy human nature. although it took several hundred years for the effect of the ensuing impoverishment of our everyday reality to be felt in full. in any case. is evocative of the ongoing argument in English intellectual history between a hard-minded empiricism. Even Darwin in his biological theory of evolution remained to a large extent a prisoner of a narrowly materialistic paradigm. addressing more or less directly as it does her primary concern with faith and belief in a spiritual realm of being. according to Wolfe. There is no doubt. Fitzgerald’s final novel. buttressed by an earthy and explicitly feminist materialism. Indeed. The Blue Flower. rather. Fitzgerald wanted to call the novel “Mistakes Made by Scientists” (249). The Gate of Angels. Since the time of Newton until quite recently.
Such a world can no longer be characterized as either objectively or subjectively real. “To some extent. the nature of that world had shifted from one in which there was a singular objective reality to one in which there are an infinity of subjective realities. it is creatively and interactively real. with Einstein’s theory of relativity. Suffice it to say that the world of quantum physics is a world in which not everything is predictable or describable. The scientific details of these discoveries are far too complex. led by the Danish scientist Niels Bohr. undermined all such universal determinism. The discoveries of quantum physics. although. Bohr undid what Copernicus had accomplished. he reinstated man at the center of his own description of the world. however. wherefrom Copernicus had expelled him” (207). to conceive of a mathematic “formula of the universe which would include a complete description of nature” in accordance with which every action and reaction would be determined (Prigogine and Stengers 219). and in which these very notions in some senses do not make sense. The Gate of Angels is set in 1912 in and around Cambridge University and is in large part concerned with the atomic experiments begun there that would change our understanding of the physical world in such a manner that would allow us to reconnect the material to the spiritual realm at the promptings of matter itself. The observer becomes an integral part of the picture—the observer observed. Our interactions with the quantum world are as much creation as they are description. who trained and lectured at Cambridge and the University of Manchester during the period in which Fitzgerald’s novel is set. It is also the period at which the Newtonian model of a deterministic material universe was beginning to be dismantled—or perhaps we should say evolved —by the very physicists responsible for its characterization. In this world. and even to its being. to be gone into here. It was still possible. for the parable requires such positive choice in order to reveal itself as . The world of fictive parable is a fitting parallel to the post-quantum scientific model in that it makes the positive choice of the reader-participant key to its understanding. the physical world was still largely understood to be a Newtonian deterministic world of cause and effect. In 1912. and my grasp of them far too tenuous. what the experimenter can know is dependent upon the question that is asked.there’s a providence not so far away / 169 Fitzgerald was born and raised into a family of intellectuals who came into full flower during the very period (the late nineteenth and early twentieth Centuries) at which the discrepancy between a purposeless scientific worldview and a purposeful religious worldview was beginning to be felt most distressingly and acutely by society at large. “positive choice” is integral to the very production of reality in the quantum world (Prigogine and Stengers 225). rather. In other words. As the contemporary French physicist Bernard D’Espagnat concluded.
as it teaches us to translate the material into its spiritual antecedent and moral value. The characteristic that most distinguishes Daisy is her innate altruism. Most crucially. There are two separate quest-lines that flow through this novel. however. the parable. In Daisy’s case it is a gold ring she inherited from an aunt with an inscription engraved around the inside: “Whatever there is to know. Fitzgerald also has arranged it so that it may be read as a tale of atomic particles in random interaction. she turned more and more to allegory as the form in which to deliver her instruction. That we shall know one day ” (63). As Fitzgerald’s work progressed. only to be brought together again by chance or fate at novel’s end. places the responsibility for choice in the hands of the interpreter. a young nursing student who is also an angel of mercy and an embodiment of revelatory love. the parable is inoperative. Allegory is an instructive demonstration in itself. for she is not a talker. its instruction is nonexistent—just as the quantum world of physics remains in potential until actuated by the investigator’s interrogative. is to learn to trust his heart over his head in making his most crucial life choices. This we infer from her behavior. Like all intensely allegorical figures. True to her emblem. Without the creative participation of the reader. like the quantum realm. Fred Fairly. While it is possible and useful to read the novel in terms of the archetypal-allegorical quest. At the center of the novel is the character Daisy Saunders. Daisy has an unshakeable faith in the meaningfulness of life and in its ultimate goodness and rationality. Hating to see anyone in want. The two come together near the novel’s beginning in a chance collision that is also a natural confluence. The parable-lesson of the novel is to instruct us in a manner of reading whereby the one interpretation implies the other without. but she could only accept with the caution of a half-tamed animal. as the moral challenge for the novel’s male lead and Daisy’s would-be knight in shining armor. but a doer. one for Daisy and one for Fred. The Gate of Angels is Fitzgerald’s most thoroughly allegorical novel—seeming almost like a morality play when interpreted metaphorically. as the narrator explains: All her life she had been at a great disadvantage in finding it so much more easy to give than to take. she would part without a thought with money or possessions. and who is perhaps the most positive figure in all of Fitzgerald’s fiction.170 / alternative realisms a work of instruction. She is a natural giver. losing . she wears an emblem that announces her embodied meaning. and then are diverted into separate channels. (118) The moral challenge for Daisy in The Gate of Angels is to learn to receive life’s gifts as well as its hardships.
but they always might have been otherwise.there’s a providence not so far away / 171 its own integrity—so that we come to see that what is a chance collision in the atomic material realm is a fated meeting in the allegorical realm. without which necessity has no meaning. which is the recipient one night of a would-be suicide. Kelly. a man—James Elder—who “threw himself off the Adelphi steps into the Thames” (83). “I’m going in here. that’s a church!” “Well. surely there’s easier ways of doing it. This “always might have been” continues to ramify regardless as the free will within necessity.” “Whatever for?” he cried out. Are you ashamed of that?” “I’m not ashamed of anything. Daisy. Daisy is cycling with a male companion.” she said. He is obsessed with seeing his drowning attempt . In the novel’s plot. where he is put under the care of Daisy.” “What’s wrong with going into a church?” asked Daisy. I’m going in there. who is. he says to her. (95) Once Kelly follows Daisy inside the church. “Nothing they do in here is of any perishing use” (95). making explicit the nihilism he represents.” (84) Although he is saved from a physical drowning. The circumstances in which Daisy first meets Kelly are illuminating of her allegorical character. only to be rescued by a fisherman and deposited by the local police at the Blackfriars. is nevertheless respectful of belief. I want to call you Miss. She is working as a nurse-in-training at the Blackfriars hospital in London. James Elder remains in great danger of drowning in despair and self-pity. who is presented to us as not being particularly religious in any conventional sense. by a love affair gone bad. however compromised by convention. but one that was undetermined. Things turn out as they (on hindsight) were bound to turn out. prompted. as Fred Fairly discovers to his distress and ultimate relief. in the novel’s allegory. I want to call you the Eternal Woman. When he first meets Daisy and follows her in an attempt to attach himself to her romantically. as it seems. Daisy and Fred are brought together in an actual collision as they are bicycling on a country road outside of Cambridge.” shouted Kelly in real distress. a devil-like tempter (down to his dyed red hair) and a classic unbeliever. “You’ can’t believe all that. she in turn attempts to shake him off by walking into a church. “You can’t go in there. in whom he rightly recognizes an allegorical figure: “I don’t want to call you Nurse. “If you want to get rid of me.
to allow him to accompany her there. and she thinks that. she is subjected to a great deal of emotional pain as well as to the prospect of actual physical want as the result of her decision to give the story of James Elder’s suicide attempt to the local paper. “Wapping’s full of them. and so at the potential mercy of a romantic predator such as himself. as he desires. Once in Cambridge they take a room in a disreputable hotel . though. where he convinces her. a grown woman must expect to spend one fourth of her life in actual pain. One might call her an enemy of the profession. it may snap him out of his funk. The editor of the paper is Kelly. Elder has refused for several days either to eat or drink. where she hopes to find work.” (85) Daisy’s insistence that one’s life is not one’s own indicates that her altruism is not just a sentimental stance. So far she herself had done nothing like her fair share. In his spiteful self-pity. the attending nurse.172 / alternative realisms reported in a newspaper.” “But they don’t all try to take their own lives. seemingly relishing the opportunity to inflict guilt on his lover. It is an understanding that she brought with her to her interview for her position at the hospital. “How did you get that idea?” “I don’t think you’re meant to talk to me like that.” said Daisy. in her distress. as the story’s source. (72) Although Daisy has not perhaps endured her fair share of physical pain. Kelly discovers Daisy’s plans from his journalistic informant at the Blackfriars and meets Daisy at the train station. if he sees his story in the paper. When the morning comes up like thunder she may see a headline: WAPPING CLERK ATTMPTS FELO DE SE. we don’t want a weakly habit of constant complaint.” said Daisy. After she loses her job at the Blackfriars. who strategically and spitefully writes the story in such a manner as to finger Daisy.” “It’s not your own life. Flo: “She might read it in the paper. remember that while the average man is ill for four days a year. Daisy determines to go to Cambridge.” Daisy felt a rush of admiration. but is based upon an understanding of reality as a continuum of community. thus ensuring that she will lose her position at the hospital for breaking its rules of confidentiality and putting her in financial distress. rather than as a collection of self-determined individuals. at which the matron informed her that “a sick nurse is of no use to the profession. where one of the doctors from the Blackfriars is partner in a psychiatric hospital.” “There’s plenty of clerks in Wapping. Above all. As a rough guide.
The novel itself interprets the event in various manners and may even be thought of usefully as a fictive meditation upon these interpretations. In any case. when without warning a horse and cart came lumbering almost at a canter out of the opening. lolling over the dashboard. and the blindly lumbering horse and cart recalls the bombarding positive particles with which Cambridge physicists first split the atom. since even old horses make strange noises in a state of terror. to consider the three bicyclists on the road as the atoms of Lucretius free-falling in the void. Writings 325). Here is the scene of the bicycle crash in which Daisy is separated from Kelly and joined to Fred: Fred was just on the tail of the two bikers ahead of him. The glass splintering is remindful of the Cabbalistic creation tale. I think. Given Fitzgerald’s complexly allusive manner of proceeding in her late novels. (The bed in which the couple end up together is fittingly in a room once used as a nursery. then a sound like a vast heap of glass splintering as the world. (53) This is a world-originating scene—a scene in which a world is created from chance. on the side of the head. recreating in miniature creation’s big bang. As the chaos . what is most crucial for our argument concerning Fitzgerald’s use of parable is to recognize that the act of interpretation is at the very heart of this her most completely characteristic novel. and that she has constructed the novel in such a manner that we as readers are given the ultimate choice concerning that act. possibly rather closer than he should have been. for Fred jamming on the brakes. as black as pitch. during which a chance collision forcibly separates Daisy from Kelly and lands her in bed. endorsing the idea that Daisy and Fred are being given fresh starts by chance or providence. The seemingly random collision that brings together Daisy and Fred is a central event in all of Fitzgerald’s fiction in that it embodies in miniature the relations between chance and providence. with Fred Fairly. the novel is the product of this originating event. only to “swerve from their courses by spontaneous chance” (Peirce. becoming and being. as are the futures of its characters Daisy and Fred. existence and reality.there’s a providence not so far away / 173 that rents rooms by the hour. of all places.) The manner in which we as readers interpret this event is also telling in terms of our own fates and futures. it would not be too much of a stretch. dead or asleep. went absurdly out of the horizontal and hit him a decisive blow. It had no lights and the driver was not holding the reins but either drunk. There was a kind of shriek or scream which might have been from the horse. thus in effect initiating a creative evolutionary universe that can only be described rationally in terms of probabilities rather than in cause-and-effect determinations. that is the basic concern of this fiction. In a sense. and then they rent bicycles and embark on a cycling tour of the area.
She is responding to Fred’s inability to locate his clothes in the room because of his dizziness. he most certainly is.174 / alternative realisms theorists Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers explain of Lucretius’s atomic creation story: If the [atoms’] vertical fall were not disturbed “without reason. which providence cannot annul. or of providence. it is a product of chance and in the spiritual realm an emblem of providence. and so. But from the spiritual point of view emblematized by the inscription on Daisy’s ring. who is an experimental physicist at Cambridge. and the subsequent event whereby he is taken for Daisy’s husband and placed together with her in a bed. The two realms are not mutually exclusive. all that would be reproduced would be the repetitive connection between causes and effects governed by the laws of fate. also unprovable. but its reason is a matter of chance. nevertheless does not hesitate to ascribe his bicycle accident. and who has given up his Christian faith because the existence of God has not been proven. The irony is that. His belief in the unobservable atom is based upon his observation of its effects when experimented upon. he thought” (54). That we shall know one day”—an ultimate testament to faith and the hope on which it is based. but which it utilizes as a means of progress in a creative (as opposed to a determined) manner. “It all . what luck. In the material realm. (303) Of course the colliding horse and wagon is a physical cause. for the realm of providence is inclusive of the realm of chance. no nature could be created.” which leads to encounters and associations between uniformly falling atoms. for he has allowed himself to confuse the existent and the real by assuming that God’s reality can be measured and proved as though God were merely an existent actuality on our own level of being. although Fred refuses to believe in a God whose reality cannot be proved through experiment. and of a dutiful son. to that extent. he has no difficulty in believing in an atom that is entirely unobservable. In all his life he had never been called lazy before” (55). to good fortune: “My God. “It’s just my luck to be in bed with a lazy fellow” (55). Fred Fairly. The cause of his good fortune is Daisy’s ring that she wears as a wedding band to ward off unwanted attention—the ring from her aunt with the inscription. Fred is not lazy. but also she is irritated at having been put in a false position because of the ring. “Whatever there is to know. Daisy’s reaction to being thrown in with Fred as his presumed wife after the accident is also telling. In her irritation Daisy has unwittingly—by fate or chance or intuition—put her finger upon Fred’s most vulnerable weakness: “Fred felt deeply shocked. From the point of view of a committed scientist and teacher.
and she further demonstrates the manner in which our free choice of an approach to reality in part determines our lives by demonstrating the effect of such a choice on the lives of her characters. one of the five classic “proofs” for the existence of God. a natural-factual explanation. There is a supernatural explanation of the event. However. our own heart-sickness is the best proof. “moderately enough. and serves as such as a defense of fictive truth as explanation in general. which is. no less than ourselves. for instance. and an allegorical-providential explanation.there’s a providence not so far away / 175 hangs together. rather. The supernatural explanation of the collision between Fred and Daisy is given to us in the form of a ghost story. our world-picture. In The Gate of Angels. we find that Fitzgerald as author clearly favors the third explanation as being ultimate. The doubts. there is no escaping from it. paradoxically and crucially. St. Thomas Aquinas argued. All our metaphysics. aesthetic . but she doesn’t insist upon it. we can legitimately infer the existence of a Mind responsible for the adaptation” (Knox 106). (113–114) Through her fictive parables. In the thirteenth century. take us back to God. she offers us three interpretations of the world-shattering and world-creating collision between Fred and Daisy. in its quantum mode. When we read the novel closely. the hesitations. and particularly in her final four novels. windows that open on eternity. when we have not yet sorted out our ideas and integrated. Of that inevitability. The true lessons of the five proofs. based upon chance as ultimate. Fitzgerald is attempting to help us to sort out and integrate our ideas. the argument from an ordered design—the very proof that atomic theory. come only when human knowledge is suffering from growing pains. play with word-counters and reshuffle our concepts as we will. for the hundredth time. Truth in fiction—that is. If it works it must be true” (22). as of all other proofs devised to establish the fact of God’s existence. that if we see means being adapted to ends universally or for the most part. as Fitzgerald’s uncle Ronald Knox pointed out in God and the Atom. Knox goes on to contend that the idea of such a divine Mind is inevitable to one amenable to metaphysical contemplation: The Atomic Age will have. without any room for chance. She allows us as readers the freedom to choose. it is only recently—in the modern mechanized age with its Newtonian theory of a clockwork universe—that the natural order has been presumed to be entirely deterministic in design. each of which offers in effect a different contemporary approach to understanding reality. is that we see his face looking down at us from the end of every avenue of our thought. would seem to undermine.
ghost-story writer. however. Matthews’ ghost story. His ghost stories seem intended to demonstrate that there are more things on heaven and earth than have been dreamed of by empirical science or mathematical theory. a fictive college of Cambridge. Dr. the provable truth of fact. “it was not scientific accuracy” that he “objected to—that was necessary to all scholarship—but a sense that mankind was occupying the wrong territory. the Provost of St. from which the few remaining nuns still living there in 1426 were perhaps evicted—a highly unusual event for the period. like his historical model. which is attained by heading in the opposite direction from probability and likelihood. During the archaeological excavation. which accounts for the collision between Fred and Daisy by suggesting that the place at which the collision occurred is haunted because of a grisly murder committed there centuries before. imagined truth of fiction serves as a permanent goad to.” and she noted that James advocated an education in the humanities as being superior to the scientific study of “things that have no soul” (Afterlife 139). to which he opposes the envisioning of the soul’s “inner eye” that “opens for some of us. The reality of the soul is at issue in Dr. is a man of “unclouded faith” (46) who is scornful of the universal truth claims of science and mathematics. The most successful inhabitants of such a world are those with enhanced powers of negative capability whereby the are able. The site was of archaeological interest because of a “small nunnery” that inhabited “this unlikely spot” between “the second half of the thirteenth century and 1427” (131). the .iii. and questioning of. to believe many unbelievable things (176). As Fitzgerald wrote of M. In his story. to the real-life model for the Provost. It is that which attains to the truth by lying most persuasively. James. and Provost of King’s College. In that sense it serves as a necessary challenge to our habits and assumptions. Matthews. Dr. Matthews claims to have taken part as a young man in an archaeological excavation at the site of the accident.15–17). Lewis Carroll’s Looking-Glass world provides an excellent representation of fictive truth. R. The paradoxical. Matthews. James. Cambridge during the period at which Fitzgerald’s novel is set.176 / alternative realisms truth—is innately paradoxical. In order to be made to fit into the narrow culvert. James. though not always when we want it or expect it” (49). as Oscar Wilde pointed out to us (982). as emblematized by Touchstone’s observation in As You Like It that “the truest poetry is the most feigning” (III. The name of the fictive college is a clue. M. R. The author of the inset ghost story in The Gate of Angels is Dr. a medieval text scholar. like the White Queen. one of the investigators began to see visions of the nuns inserting the “naked body of a man” (he who had come centuries before with the eviction notice) “being inserted inch by inch into the culvert” that was being excavated by the archaeologists.
Matthews to the ground-breaking scientists at Cambridge is similarly skeptical. “Science. in effect. He can assent to moralistic society’s designation of Daisy as a loose woman and a bad person. and he identifies the farmer-defendant himself as the driver of the wagon. At the hearing. His ghost story. on that supposition. and quite conceivably backwards” (31). flatten them into cakes. thus reaffirming his role in the plot as a devil figure and as Daisy’s tormentor. were compelled by supernatural forces still haunting the murder site. (Ruskin) The attitude of Dr. Fitzgerald is in fact subtly evoking the Ruskin essay from Unto this Last discussed earlier in which he declared that any science that subtracts the moral or “soul” element from its investigations disqualifies itself from serious consideration in terms of how we in fact live our lives and order our world: I neither impugn nor doubt the conclusions of the science if its terms are accepted. which accounts for the bicycle accident by arguing that the colliding horse and wagon. or stretch them into cables. factual explanation for the collision while at the same time inflicting further harm upon Daisy by charging her in public with being. who testifies at a court hearing at which the collision between bicycles and wagon is being investigated in order to find out whether or not the farmer who owned the horse and wagon is to be held responsible for the accident. as I should be in those of a science of gymnastics which assumed that men had no skeletons. for which no driver had been found. I am simply uninterested in them. that would . the conclusions true. Such an explanation is provided by the unbeliever Kelly. the re-insertion of the skeleton would be attended with various inconveniences to their constitution. and the science deficient only in applicability. serves as a fictive admonishment and challenge to any merely factual scientific explanation. In this ghost story. Kelly admits that his behavior in coming forward to offer such testimony is purely spiteful in regards to Daisy.there’s a providence not so far away / 177 body’s bones seemed to have been “crushed and collapsed and his body distorted into a shape of grotesque length and thinness” (134). It might be shown. was leading them nowhere. The reasoning might be admirable. Kelly provides a natural. an immoral woman. who hid her true nature in order to pursue an advantageous marriage with Fred—a marriage. he thought. and that when these results were effected. Kelly provides the story of his trip to Cambridge with Daisy and of their checking into the disreputable hotel together and subsequent bike trip. even though the itinerant day laborer who was the supposed driver of the wagon has not been found. that it would be advantageous to roll the students up into pellets. moreover. With such a testimony. Kelly’s damning testimony provides Fred Fairly with a life-altering choice.
is no mere opportunist. then the happy ending follows naturally as the reward of providence. there are no causes and no effects—there is no purpose in the universe. has a “running joke” with the College Master.—apart from your front entrance—and quite inexplicable. concerning which Dr. Fred thought. There is no God. Angelicus. providing a potential happy ending to their seemingly ill-starred romance. James who is a frequent dinner guest at St. Daisy. is a matter for the reader’s interpretation. Angelicus. which stipulates celibacy for its members. The truth to her identity. The miracle involves a “strangely tall and narrow gate. to consider Daisy as not merely a good-hearted caregiver who happens to be in the right place at the right time. Fred begins to doubt his heart’s knowledge. In fact. Or he can follow his heart. in the south-west wall” of the College of St. by fate or chance they do meet again. no design. If we interpret the freak occurrence as a miracle. “after seeing Daisy at close quarters for let us say half an hour” that “he must marry her” (103): I cannot live without Daisy. as old as the college itself. since the only thought in the mind of the builders seems to . which had told him. the ghost-story-writing Provost of St. dear Master. Our interpretation turns upon our willingness. However. Fitzgerald arranges it so that their surprise meeting is dependent upon a freak occurrence that might also be thought of as a miracle. to give me Daisy.178 / alternative realisms prove in some ways disadvantageous to himself as it would necessitate that he give up his fellowship at the College of St. as to the potentially providential nature of the novel’s ending. and she instinctively refuses to give Fred the evidence his doubting head craves. moreover. throughout recorded and unrecorded time. who is unaware of her status as such. He points out that the door is the walled college’s “only opening. if we interpret it as a mere coincidence. but as a divinely inspired ministering angel of mercy—an angel. they are both testing fate. then the happy ending is likewise a mere lucky happenstance. which seems set against their happiness. and he seeks out Daisy at the hospital where she is employed ironing the linen (because of Kelly’s report on James Elder in the newspaper. no spiritual authority. with no greater meaning. but if there were. and they leave their final meeting convinced that they will never see one another again. it could be shown that there was an intention. or unwillingness. Matthews. Angelicus. (104) Fred’s heart has led him to a conclusion and a discovery that his head entirely denies. she was unable to finish her training as a nurse) in hopes that she will declare her love for him and enable him to overcome his doubts. however. But with Kelly’s damning testimony.
. who is blind. . it can’t be . .” “No-one. She heard a very faint cry. (167) The elderly man is the Master himself. at which the door is found standing wide open by Daisy as she makes her way across Cambridge to the train station on her way back to London. on either occasion. who or what do you imagine might come in?” “I should not like to think about that. brushing down her skirt.” said Dr. Without thinking twice about it she walked straight in by the passageway and found an elderly man in black clothes and a gown sitting propped against the trunk of a large tree with gently moving leaves. or even if they had not. clear voice he said. She must have spent five minutes in there. however. in the records of the college expenses. of who opened your gate.there’s a providence not so far away / 179 have been to keep visitors out. She assures the Master as he comes back to consciousness that “there’s nothing to worry about” and instructs the alarmed fellows of the college (who are as disturbed by the sight of a female in their midst and by the open door as by their ailing Master) in how to care for the Master until the doctor arrives. “Surely. Matthews. . and no entry. . and gently detached it. The iron deadlock clashed tightly home. but as a narrow passageway to spiritual transformation for the willing disciple.” There was no inscription on the gate. Angelicus. The Master who “should not like to think about” who might enter at the door were it to be opened is nevertheless compelled to think about it at the novel’s conclusion. which serves as a spiritual blank wall for the unenlightened. not much more. “But if anyone had. for installing it. has any authority to do either. a human cry of distress. in Cambridge. In a weak. “There was no mention. She was one of the few people. and if it were to stand open. . pulling the tall door shut. The slight delay. meant that she met Fred Fairly walking slowly back to St. . On the other hand it was noted in the annals that it had twice been found standing open . . This was much easier than you would have thought. . but Daisy was used to this. She felt no surprise . and then she takes her leave: She got up. The patient did not want to let go of her hand. who would not have been surprised . and who has had a fainting spell—“an ordinary syncope.” said the Master. Daisy knelt down .” said the Treasurer.” as Daisy diagnoses—which may have been caused by his sensing of the unfamiliar breeze blowing through the open door. not even the Master. . She came to a door as narrow as a good-sized crack. ?” [ellipsis in text] Daisy picked up her bag and leaving the consternation behind her went out the way she had come in. standing wide open. (167) . however. “nor of who shut it again. (30) The door that seems to have been designed “to keep visitors out” is an emblem of the parable form itself.
pointing out that the “primary function” of the tremendous energy within the atom is to “hold things together. power reigns supreme. as represented by the absolute unpredictability of “the moment at which a radium atom will explode” (50). Ronald Knox. He noted that the ascendance of chance as the dominant force in the world. Knox opposed the idea of individual self-integration and restraint. or to integrate his personality in accordance with a world that is becoming “more perfect” as it grows toward the ideal of God . just after the nuclear bombing of Japan. as the individual atom is the primary “unit” of the material realm. though not always when we want it or expect it” (49). no matter what spiritual values the will espouses and embodies. Knox pointed out that it would be tempting for post-nuclear man to unleash his energies in the cause of “self-assertion” (94)—to liberate the “force of will” by which his personality is constrained. would contribute to a tendency to view all meaning and order as provisional and. ultimately.” and not to blow them apart. Writing in 1945. but it is a gift that can be denied. To such a worldview. as Fitzgerald’s uncle. emphasized in the conclusion to his book on the importance of religious faith in a nuclear age. God and the Atom. as the structure of the atom constrains its energy within itself.180 / alternative realisms The blind Master clearly suspects that he has been revived by the spiritual figure for which his college is named—the same figure who effortlessly enters and exits from the mysterious door with the narrow opening. It is up to the reader to decide whether or not Daisy is the agent of a miracle and whether or not the chance meeting with Fred Fairly is the rewarding gift of providence or a mere coincidence. who is later known as Novalis. and he argued that. I should believe more. informs his fiancé in The Blue Flower when she attempts to justify her spiritual skepticism: “Perhaps if I saw a miracle. as Fritz Hardenberg. He thus concluded that it is up to the individual to make the choice whether to liberate the self-destructive desires within his personality according to the model of an exploded atom that is “destructive only by accident” (160). so the individual soul is the primary unit of the spiritual realm (187). This interpretive decision is a revelation of the interpreter’s own moral progress. fictional— thus underwriting a worldview that endorses the triumph of the individual will as a thing good in and of itself. “It’s the belief that is the miracle!” (84) Such belief is a gift of grace. which calls to mind the eye of the needle through which the elect travel into paradise and the mysterious “inner eye which opens for some of us. as they did in the old days. In such a worldview.” “Miracles don’t make people believe!” Fritz cried.
transforming the material world in and through spiritual envisioning. more crucially. We are her educators—her moral tangents—her moral stimuli” (Notes 73). Fitzgerald seems to be suggesting that the romantic urge and the romantic vision remain potent allies in our struggle to sort out and integrate our ideas and to clarify our worldview in accordance with advanced scientific discoveries and revivified spiritual values. . but that would be a misreading. however embarrassing it might be. “Nature will become moral. Novalis—the subject of Fitzgerald’s final novel. but to work towards bringing our world as a whole into closer harmony with the ultimate ideal of divine love. Novalis’s fragmented.there’s a providence not so far away / 181 (123): “Man. he combined the torment of the romantic conscience and. Instinct is the genius in paradise” (Notes 340). Rather the novel is an examination of the difficulty and necessity of not merely transcending but. life of a fated and devoted romantic visionary in an insistently everyday world. ( Afterlife 264) The Blue Flower dramatizes the radiant and joyful. The unsuspecting reader might be inclined to interpret this sharp-edged. unfinished work is remarkably suggestive and elusive and impossible to summarize at all adequately in a small space. the romantic vision. with his marvelous talent for the clearest possible everydayness. But one constant theme of the work that is particularly pertinent to Fitzgerald’s fiction is Novalis’s insistence that our hearts’ knowledge is superior to and more comprehensive than our narrowly rational understanding. therefore. Fitzgerald observed that. In a review essay on the English poet Philip Larkin. and that it is our duty as the earth’s most self-conscious and. potentially most “moral” creatures to recover the hearts’ instinctive knowledge and to use it to lead nature itself forward towards the infinite ideals of harmony and love: “Man began with instinct—and he will end with instinct. but doing what he wants to do” (Knox 149). And freedom means not doing what he likes. The Blue Flower —likewise contended that it is the ultimate task of man not only to integrate his individual personality. the atom is free to choose. clarified novel as a satire on the vaporous idealist in an all too solid and practical world. and at times tormented and embarrassing. The Blue Flower In his philosophy and poetry. In drawing upon the life and work of the prototypically romantic Novalis in her final novel.
In this operation the lower self becomes identified with a better self .” x) by poeticizing and romanticizing all factual and theoretical knowledge—thus joining together in one overarching paradigm of the world the spheres of matter and spirit. The operation is still entirely unknown. This bold figuring is undercut throughout by a humorous and practical materialist-feminist . .” xi). Sophie von Kuhn. His ultimate aim became “to reunite all the separate sciences into a universal science” (Notes. one uses the inverse operation . . I romanticize it—For what is higher. Romantic philosophy. like his father) first meets and becomes engaged to Sophie. infinite. he argued.182 / alternative realisms As is typical in her final novels. the relationship between Fritz and Sophie is a demonstration of such lingua romana. . In the historical life of Friedrich von Hardenberg (1772–1801). who died of tuberculosis at the age of fifteen. . . . . a mysterious semblance. mystical. the finite the appearance of the infinite. . The focus of the novel is the historical relationship between the twenty-two-yearold Friedrich von Hardenberg—known as “Fritz” in the novel and later to write under the pen-name of Novalis—and his twelve-year-old fiancé. It receives a common expression . Reciprocal raising and lowering. a historical story as well) that lends itself to allegorical interpretation. having allowed our obsession with the merely existent—with scientific fact and technical mastery—to separate us from the eternal verities that are the ultimate reality. (Werke 2: 545) In Fitzgerald’s complex rendering. which. “Introduction. the dignity of the unknown. “Introduction. This yields again its original meaning . only seem separate to us because we do not any longer know how to read and interpret them correctly. This double-vision method enforces Fitzgerald’s ongoing parable instruction concerning the necessity of creatively interpreting the everyday existent in order to reveal the eternally real. unknown. Lingua romana. spirit and matter. The novel is set during the two-and-one-half-year period stretching from the time in which Fritz (a recent college graduate who is destined to become a salt mine inspector. the everyday. operating as an allegory of the relationship between soul and body. the known. until the time in which she becomes ill and dies. Fitzgerald in The Blue Flower creates a naturalistic story (in this case. By giving the common a higher meaning. Novalis’s theory of romanticism is in effect a working method for correcting our erroneous habitual perceptions through creative interpretation of the perceived: The world must be romanticized. five years before Fritz himself succumbed to the disease. his “grief at the death” of Sophie—whom he nicknamed his “philoSophie”—prompted him “to change the course of his studies [from philosophy and poetry] and delve into rigorous scientific pursuits” (Notes.
(221–222) Fritz’s refusal to attend upon Sophie in her final illness seems a failure of character—a display of simple cowardice—but when the scenario is read through the eyes of allegory.” “I don’t think about it at all. You would be wanted as a liar . . “Shall I stay?” Still she said nothing. “But Sophie.” The Mandelsloh said nothing. that would be ridiculous. “But you would not want to hurt a poet’s feelings.’ ” . .there’s a providence not so far away / 183 critique of masculine verbosity and intellectual-spiritual presumption.” said Sophie. “And if I could not say that. “I could not lie to her. . You would have to say to her—‘You look a little better this morning. any more than I could lie to myself.” . She did not believe in life after death. I think a little better. The relationship is revealed in the dialogue between Fritz and Sophie as he attempts to understand her character and personality: “Now. and when he volunteers to nurse Sophie himself at her family home.” “She is my spirit’s guide. They kept the days of penitence. would you think of me as a coward?” “My idea of cowardice is very simple.” (82–83) This typically humorous and telling interchange may be interpreted as a dialogue between body and soul—Fritz as the soul insisting upon immortality and poetry. She knows that. of course. . Fitzgerald maintains this argumentative dialogue throughout the novel. he is informed by her older stepsister. and Sophie as the body equally insistent in her espousal of the factual truths of materiality. . She answered readily. the Mandelsloh: “If you stayed here. Sophigen. . Fritz as the representative of spirit fittingly refuses to look at Sophie’s “wound”—a tubercular tumor on her hip that is operated on repeatedly and unsuccessfully. but she did not believe everything that was said there.” said the Mandelsloh. but if I was to walk and talk again after I was dead.” “I don’t know to what extent a poet lies to himself. and on Sundays they went to the church. and Fritz went abruptly out of the room. tell me what you think about poetry. Yes. his refusal seems rather proof of the soul’s immortality—of the spirit’s insistence upon taking leave of the failed body . He asked her about her faith. . After a moment Fritz cried out. “I respect the Christus.” said Sophie. Jesus Christ returned to earth!” “That was all very well for him. you would not be wanted as a nurse . .” “I would not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. and pushes home the argument through the extended treatment of Sophie’s painful and debilitating mortal illness.
. because speaking is its pleasure and it can do nothing else. and which moves the spirit—the emotive . which she feels compelled to keep secret. as deconstruction has driven home to us—which is to be hopelessly unrequited in one’s relation to reality. giving the lie to all notions of a self-enclosed existential system or of a self-sufficient individuality. referring to nothing other than themselves. Love connects us to that which is beyond us.” xxix)—a progress that is fueled by love. but you mustn’t ask too much of language. As an allegory of body and soul. whose theory of the self in its world reduced “being to structures via which the subject thinks about it” (Bowie). “Why not? Nonsense is only another language. Whether the sound is representative of Sophie’s longing for Fritz’s return or of her spirit’s longing to leave the body is meaningfully uncertain.” “And to write poetry. “I see the fault in Fichte’s system.” (75) All language is nonsense when it is limited to itself and is not seen to speak to a greater reality that reaches beyond language.” “In that case it might as well be nonsense.184 / alternative realisms that can no longer sustain its presence. Justen. Language refers only to itself. the major shift occurred when he turned against the solipsistic idealism of his teacher Fichte.” Fritz has a conversation with a young woman friend named Karoline Just. and substituted his own theory of being as an infinite progress or approximation toward the realm of ideals that is the ultimate reality (Notes. In her final hours. It is that in which the spirit moves. Sophie “in her fantasy. In his subsequent philosophizing. In a chapter of The Blue Flower entitled “The Nature of Desire. and the goal of which is love. “Introduction. The Blue Flower tells the love story of love stories—the narrative at the heart of all other romances. . even if not completely . He attempts to draw her out: “Words are given us to understand each other. To do so is to limit one’s reality to the realm of signs—a limitation that the signs themselves endorse. She is secretly suffering from unrequited love for him and is frustrated by her inability to express her desire. it is not the key to anything higher. “There is no place in it for love” (29). as love always survives its mortal incarnations. In Novalis’s development as a philosopher. the real-life Novalis devoted himself to healing the breach between body and soul that was created when modern man lost the habit of thinking allegorically and began to interpret material and linguistic signs as ultimate realities.” Fritz says to himself in The Blue Flower. Language speaks. had kept thinking she heard the sound of horse’s hooves” (225). whom he has nicknamed Justen. Fritz senses her frustration but misreads it as love for an absent person.” objected Karoline.” “Yes that’s so. It is a story that is both brokenhearted and triumphant.
which Novalis labeled “a singular image of the eternal kingdom . “is just as real as the pigeon dung and the bloated corpse. in which she deftly intertwined conventional fictive naturalism with religious and metaphysical allegory. If we suddenly became as elastic as was necessary. is not so much a reproof of conventional naturalism as it is a correction of it. Fitzgerald in effect demonstrated Novalis’s dictum that “Idealism is nothing but genuine empiricism” (Notes 402). it is that which arises naturally and inevitably from our attentive interaction with Nature itself. “The life of the spirit.there’s a providence not so far away / 185 proof of the spirit’s reality. prompted by Nature itself. . 341). ‘I am’ has no meaning without ‘There is’ ” (Afterlife 226). In this sense. In her creation of instructive parables that prompt us to participate in creating meanings that point beyond their seemingly (and misleadingly) self-sufficient naturalistic narratives. we would see ourselves in its midst” (Notes 234. Fitzgerald’s mature method in the final four historical-romance novels. . .” Fitzgerald wrote.
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un-embodied energy. What is Philosophy? .” which “are superimposed on one another. as Spinoza (another source of Deleuze and Guattari’s virtual model) famously envisioned in the Ethics (306).No t e s Two One is Never Quite Totally in the World: Jane Bowles’ Allegorical Realism 1. the “virtual” is a world that is “real without being actual. within time. like the realm of fiction itself. there is always a meanwhile to restore the event. that is useful as an analogy for explaining the fictive workings of an allegorical text. unlivable: pure reserve ” (156). ideal without being abstract. incorporeal. being a nation of relatively recent arrivals from elsewhere. whereas times succeed each other” (158).” existing as “events” that are “immaterial. built into it. unlike the state of affairs. inspired by post-quantum physics. both is and is not the world in which we live our lives. in a world of pure potential that has nothing to do with time as duration.) This virtual realm of events is continually “actualized in a state of affairs. in a series of passing instants.” All events coexist in this world of “meanwhiles. while exerting a negative “dominating influence” on cultures that had yet to be uprooted (Roots 50). but meanwhile we live within eternity. would likely suffer more acutely than other nations from the disintegrative social and psychological effects of uprootedness. We live in actuality. In a related argument concerning the history of drama. an allegorical relationship to what both author and critic think of as real life” (A Natural Perspective 9–10). which history has born out. post-structuralist theorists Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari posited a “virtual-actual” model of reality. does not pass away with time: “When time passes and takes the instant away. This is a “dead-time” world in which “nothing happens” but “everything becomes” outside of the rational chain of cause and effect (Deleuze and . Bowles’ story would seem to endorse such a forecast. 2. this world is envisioned as a realm of pure. Writing just a few years before the publication of Bowles’ story.” within the material world of our bodies and lives within time. but the event. Weil predicted that America. Is Wrong: James Purdy’s Allegorical Realism 1. Three Whatever Is. (In the terms of post-quantum physics. According to their model. In their late collaboration. Northrop Frye noted the general allegorical basis of realism when he wrote that “a genuinely realistic play has. The virtual world.
After the initial contraction-dilation. and of myth. Certainly their rage may be attributed to their self-hatred regarding their homosexual impulses. Purdy’s agents of divine retribution. “A Good Man is Hard to Find. as many as there are universes that will have been. seem expressions of irrational and supernatural fury. or “swerve. Likewise the behavior of the avenging black woman with the purse in O’Connor’s story. just as Daniel Haws’ and Sidney De Lakes’ acquiescence to punishment is indicative of their own self-hatred. but only to the extent that quantum mechanics and astrophysics are.” is easily understandable within the context of American racism. Then it all starts over again. But such behavior and emotion is not explicable within any conventional religious moral system. More accurately. and explains its relationship to contemporary post-quantum theory: “If all this talk of VIRTUALITY and ACTUALITY sounds mystical or mythic. it condemns conventional .” the Misfit explains his behavior in terms related to Christian dogma (which he has learned imperfectly). A universe is born (and Lucretius is vindicated). such as Captain Stadger in Eustace Chisholm and the Works and Roy Sturtevant in Narrow Rooms. The energy is unstable as the void and immediately dilates. there are many time lines. In the absence of matter. This amounts to a scientifically derived version of Nietzsche’s theory of the ETERNAL RETURN OF DIFFERENCE that is very close to Deleuze’s philosophical version” (168–169). The morally didactic nature of O’Connor’s allegory in contrast to Purdy’s is evident in the comparison between O’Connor’s and Purdy’s agents of divine retribution. at maximum entropy. Prigogine and Stengers apply the coresonance model to the debate on the origin of the universe. On the contrary. In his insightful Reader’s Guide (see Works Cited) to the two volumes on Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Deleuze and Guattari. even more. The presence of matter muffles the turbulence by giving it an outlet. There is a time line or “arrow of time” (clinamen. They theorize that the virtual is inherently unstable because it is composed of different particles that are in constant flux.” in Lucretius’s vocabulary) leading out of the void through the material world and back into the void. Brian Massumi explores in-depth the relationship between the virtual and the actual in post-structuralist thought.188 / notes Guattari 159). Allegory may be thought of as operating in a self-conscious manner upon the boundary between the virtualmythical and the actual-material worlds. it may well be. What we get in the form of “chance” and indeterminacy is overflow from the actual’s absorption of the virtual. from which it serves as an implicit critique of complacent rationalist conceptions of reality. the material universe goes on dilating slowly until its future is consumed by its past and it disappears into maximum entropy. the turbulence in the virtual is amplified to the point of an explosive contraction releasing an unimaginable amount of pure energy. of magic. and as a rebuke to narrow-minded mimetic habits of reading and interpretation. this eternal world of meanwhiles is envisioned as the home of the gods. by providing a dimension rigid enough to limit it but flexible enough to absorb it. In fictive terms. but in ways that do not harmonize. 3. creating matter. By contrast. “Everything that Rises must Converge. as many as the phenomena that will have been born and died in those worlds—because the resonance between the virtual and the actual never ends. These divine agents are comprehensible within conventional contexts of religion and history. In O’Connor’s story.
by contrast. Freud’s claim of scientific truth status has had the effect of putting a perpetual licensed withholding on his system. Related as it is to the depths of the subjective. The knowledge. We may note in passing that Freud has proved particularly un-useful for modern and contemporary creative allegorists (as contrasted. and the history that created it. is secondary. The allegorical has its existence in abstractions. it is at home in the Fall” (233–234). It is ‘nonsense’ in the profound sense in which Kierkegaard conceived of the word. “Unfortunately. with allegorical critics. as a faculty of the spirit of language itself. Freud is un-useful for allegorical creators. The enormous.notes / 189 morality itself. and because of our culture’s general acceptance of that claim. is the origin of all allegorical contemplation. There is no evil in the world.’ Knowledge of evil therefore has no object. or rather for judgment. if not to himself. Purdy’s characters. because of his insistence upon the provable scientific truth status of his own remarkably allegorical system. By keeping his love. The lover must say ‘I love you. obviously. with the desire for knowledge. he may be that which according to his way of thinking is an impossibility—a pederast in love. are condemned by their own natures. The Bible introduces evil in the concept of knowledge. it is basically only knowledge of evil. 4. their decision to take society’s and morality’s side against their instinctive desires is a judgment against society and morality in the name of nature. 5. Kopelson writes. But he is not a pederastic lover. the triumph of subjectivity and the onset of an arbitrary rule over things. whereas the admittedly allegorical system of archetypes designed by his onetime disciple. It arises in man himself. I believe. The grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and the mother and son in “Everything that Rises must Converge” all are clearly guilty of conventional sins of pride and omission. the opposite of all factual knowledge. In the very fall of man the unity of guilt and signifying emerges as an abstraction. which they are helpless to alter. anti-artistic subjectivity of the baroque converges here with the theological essence of the subjective. Knowledge of good and evil is.’ and must say it to the beloved” (68). who have thrived upon his work). the canny pederast who thinks he is stealing love is really only paying a different price for it. those who “love from afar?” What about Dante and Beatrice? .’ But it is said of God after the creation: ‘And God saw everything that he had made. The serpent’s promise to the first men was to make them ‘knowing both good and evil. Four Some Imaginary Vienna: Ronald Firbank’s Pastoral Realism 1. The full passage by Benjamin follows: “By its allegorical form evil as such reveals itself to be a subjective phenomenon. and behold it was very good. Jung. then at least away from his beloved. and the author delivers them to the judgment prepared for them. as an abstraction. as knowledge. But must he? What about the scores of unrequited lovers in literature. the ultimate instigator and arbiter of our fate. The contrast applies as well to the victims of the divine agent. would seem to operate like open software for the allegorical creator. then. It ensues from contemplation. in the name of human nature. Knowledge of good.
5. with all that was hitherto called holy. 3. . but frivolity foregrounds this space. . 6. . 4. when it confronts all earthly seriousness so far. Michel Foucault comments. morality. transgressive sexuality is that it became the experience/identity for a utopian vision of the future” (216). Criticism condemning Firbank’s fiction for violating narrow contemporary standards of political correctness is a more recent version of critical misunderstanding. The utopian tendency of the pastoral is related to a similar tendency in the history of the homosexual. eye. and condescension. . word. Firbank’s refusal to accede to society’s moral standards of judgment calls to mind Nietzsche’s conclusion to The Gay Science. . from which it arises” (292). intolerance. good. divine . tone. untouchable. “A concern with the gap between signifier and signified is not unique to writers of the frivolous.190 / notes 2. Goldman writes. and task so far. all solemnity in gesture. in which he prophesies the arrival of “a spirit who plays . See Clark and Kiernan (works cited). as if it were their most incarnate and involuntary parody” (347). “The historical importance of a radical. essentialized.
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81 Ashbery. Paul. 82 Céline.” 15. 82. 19. 41–2. Paul. 62. 12–14. 187n as distinct from myth. 164 Beckett. 123. Lewis. 127. 70. 127 Allen. Thomas. 68. 167 . 16 Carlyle. G(ilbert) K(eith). Elizabeth. 150 Adams. 148 Deleuze. 117. 190n Compton-Burnett. 50. 36 Bowles. 15.I N DEX Acocella. 64–8. 12. 58 Benjamin. 66–7 Bergman. Millicent. 104 Bayley. 161. 4. 11–74. 52. 128. 58. 34. 76 Curti. 12. 55–7. 32. Brigid. 31 Binding. Truman. 4. Gilles. 169 Bowles. 47–61. 11–43. 133 Clark. Ivy. 60–1. 187n “Camp Cataract. 50. 134 Basbanes. 33–43 The Collected Works of Jane Bowles. William. 21–33. Walter. René. Stephen. 53. Lidia. 33. 14 Bunyan. 93–4 Brueck. 20–22. 33 as distinct from parable. 43 Two Serious Ladies. 130 D’Espagnat. 18. 126. 13 Dante Alighieri. 27. 156. 5. 56. 93 The Bhagavad-Gita. W(ystan) H(ugh). 134. 15. 18 “Going to Massachusetts. 82 Blake. 187–8n Descartes. 123. David. Robert. George. 12. 43 Brophy. 5. John. 17. 11. 42. 188n allegorical realism. John. 3. Samuel.” 15. 74 Bohr. 77. William Lane. 4–6. 73–4. 43. 31. 22 Chesterton. 31 Dollimore. Jane. 56. Carolyn. Nicholas. 142. 56. Jonathan. 176 Caserio. Niels. 140. 80–3 Austen. 76 Cather. 138 Bassoff. 170. John. 169 Dillon. 10. 21. 68 Bishop. Fyodor. 144 Carroll. 107. 22. 18. 9. 100. 92 Dostoyevsky. 17. Jane. 18–19 Out in the World. 5. 78 Capote. 33. Bruce. 106. 47 Ade. 3. 16. 9. 189n Delafield. 12 allegory. Bernard. 182–5. 32–34. 59–60. Willa. 2–5. 58. 56 Auden. 136 Callimachus. Joan. E(lizabeth) M(onica). Katherine. 31 artifice.
110 Faulkner. 137. 155. 173. 140. 187–8n Hacking. 76. 155. 155–62. 168. 83 Hartshorne. Michel. 153. 83 Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli. 189n Kraft. 138. 46 Lawrence. 96 Homer. 174. 42 Lesser. Oddvar. 134 Kierkegaard. 89. 8. 133. 86. 86. 162–8 The Blue Flower. 140. 131 Halperin. 140. 151. 81–3. 168–81 The Golden Child. Christopher. 181 Kopelson. 103–21 Guattari. 9. 12–13. Tess. 144. 147–51 The Beginning of Spring. Jonathan. 140. 149 Lewis. 1–3. 83. 47. 181–5 The Bookshop. 165. 137. 22. 69–71. 188n. 6. 115 . 164 Human Voices. 93–4. Ronald. 22. Angus. 144. 145–7 Innocence. 175. 152. 89. 133–4. George. Franz. 169 Eliot. 188n Lukács. 78 homosexuality. 54. 76. Kevin. 75. Charles. 77. Ian. 84 Vainglory. 1–3. D(avid) H(erbert). 34. 176 Kafka. 151 “Desideratus. 168. 145. 167 Offshore. 187n genre. 12. 144. 3. 19 Iser. 123. Mark. 77. 8. Antonio. 145 Einstein. 52. E(dward) M(organ). 180. 12. 7. 167 Goldman. 4. 28. 92 Valmouth. 59. 138. 137. Georg. 50. 86. Robert. 180. 57–9 Forster. 91. 124. 95–121 Caught. 190n Knox. 131. Albert. 80 Gogol. 7–8. William. 72. 165. 70. 155–8. 65–6. 73 James. 8. 61. 127. 101 Holmesland. 124. Ronald. 190n idealism. 153. Richard. 109 Concluding. 155. 34 Lane. 8. Nikolai. 99. 134–7. 9–10. 153 Lebowitz. Fêlix. 137 as distinct from mode. Johann Gottlieb. 189–90n Caprice. 5. 137–42 Fletcher. 184. 58. 153 Lucretius. 123–85 At Freddie’s. 126 Facknitz. 116. 152. 91 Fitzgerald. Søren. 142. 71. 79. 93 Foucault. 79. 77. 73. 42 Kiernan. M(ontague) R(hodes). 21–2. James. 139. Naomi. 13. 128–9. 54. 88 The Complete Ronald Firbank. 88 The Flower Beneath the Foot. Penelope. 146. 184 Firbank. 94 Inclinations. Wolfgang. 133–4. 190n Frye. Henry. Northrop. 137. Wendy. 82. 185 The Illiad. 6 Fichte. 51. 161 Green. 153. 3. 8. 75–94. 96–7. 190n Gramsci. 127.198 / index Eder.” 142–4 The Gate of Angels. David.
143–4. Margaret. Flannery. Herman. Michael. 139 myth. 100. 152–5. 56. 96. James. 135. 91. Charles Sanders. 10. 58. 168–71. 2. 69. 2. 43. 103. 181. 33–4. 112. Edward R(oscoe). 184. 76. 117 Merrill. 162. 159. 77 Murrow. 152. 185 as distinct from allegory. 12. 65. 2–6. 115 Novalis. 134 Pynchon. 154. 102. 168 Plato. 95. 57. Andrew. Anthony. 141. 86. 188n Oliphant. 4 mimetic naturalism. 102. 63. 21. 152. Thomas. 130–1. 56. 182. 111. 68. 147. 5. 105 pastoral. Barbara. 59. 185 Neville. 51. 188n Garments the Living Wear. 190n pastoral-organicism. 79 Proust. 6 Mengham. 128–30 North. 107. 54. 57. 58. 52. 56. 81–2 mimetic fiction. 69 On Glory’s Course. 141. 116. 75. John. 136–7. 140. 163. 188n The Nephew. 71–2 Pym. 121.index / 199 Lukacs. 179. 55. 25. 169–70. 55. 137. 3. Rod. 123–8. 134. 49 Marvell. 19. 65. 65 I am Elijah Thrush. L(eopold) H(amilton). 52–3. 123–86 The Paris Review. 151. 121 pastoral-organic realism. 159 Peirce. 69. Brian. 113 mimetic materialism. 137. 82 mimetic realism. 83 Powell. 41. 7. 110. 150. 97. 139. 190n nominalism. 143. 63. 4. 1. 174 Pritchett. 153. George. 59. 96. 109. 2–4. 148. 75. 83. 125–7. Martin. 22. 173. 3. 95–121 pastoral realism. Marcel. 3. 71. 105. 188n as distinct from allegory. 185 O’Connor. 64–5. 162–5. 69. 86. 9. 75. 74 Poggioli. 95. James. 82 mimesis. 76. 180–4 Melville. 146 Myers. 83. 34. 73. 69 Narrow Rooms. 47. 69–74. 53. 114 parable. 113–15. 182. 138. 114. 69. 10. 6–9. 22. 78 Purdy. 33. 14 pluralism. 65. 75. 67–9 Cabot Wright Begins. Renato. 46. 69–72. 65. 82. 134. 61. 22 . 69. 75–94 pastoral-romance. Robert Cummings. 148 Nietzsche. 77–94. 49 Luther. 12. 51. 153. 129–32. 9. 54. 9. 188n materialism. 72 The House of the Solitary Maggot. 103. 81–2. 69 In a Shallow Grave. 45–74 63: Dream Palace. 62–4 Eustace Chisholm and the Works. Friedrich. 76. 21. 47. 70–1 Jeremy’s Version. 175. 4. 127. 61. 120. 65 Out With the Stars. 13. Ilya. V(ictor) S(awdon). 144. 71. 154. 119 Ptolemy Philadelphus. 3. 103. 31. 162 Painter. 59. 5–6. 81 Massumi. 13. 69 Malcolm. 104 Prigogine. 127 parablistic realism. 33 naturalism. 128.
75–94. 68 Stengers. Edmund. 24. 113. 83. 76. 3. 97 allegorical realism. Bettina. 187n quest. 162. 43 literary realism. 3. 98 Yorke. Oscar. 83. 47. 102. Henry . 162 Updike. 78–9. Carl. 114. 115 Whitehead. 126 Samson. 104. 10. Raoul. 25. 119–21. 128 psychological realism. 174 Stevens. 136. 117. 45 Sitwell. 159 Thomson. 9. 72. Peter. 6–9. 4 Spinoza. 11–74. 17 Wilson. 50 Shakespeare. 47. 126. 166. 159 Waugh. 177 Salmagundi. 176 Williams. Jon. 97. 104. 165 Roditi. 187n alternative realisms. 98–103. 6–8. 5. 42. Ian. 2–3 fictive realism. Angus. 117 Swinburne. 120 Vaneigem. the. 60. 163 Rilke. 12. John. 12–19. Evelyn. 16 Weil. 1. 5. Algernon Charles. 103 metaphysical realism. 56 Stevenson. 13 Ruskin. 95 see also Green. Peter. 50. Edmund. 92. 97. 57 Theocritus. John. 4 Stokes. 3. 78 Welty. Wallace. 71. 99. 68. 189n philosophical realism. 1–3. 73. 96 Wilson. 154. Gerald. Tony. 56 Sitwell. 4–6. Muriel. 48. 30–3. Andre. 98. Eudora. 46. 43. 41. 82. 139. 36. 72 Tolstoy. Alfred North. 76. 62 Van Vechten. Matthew. 14. 95–122 pastoral realism. 56 Tanner. 49 Wilde. Edouard. 97 Weil. Isabelle. 92 Sophocles. Anthony. Henry. Baruch. 12. 41. 135 Whitman. 114 Trollope. 148 Shelley. Edward. Robert Louis. 47. 78 Spark. 42. 10. 7. 25 romantic realism. 147. 97. 117. 47. Maureen. 15 Wolfe. 153. 167 Treglown. 67. 21–2. Percy Bysshe. 50. 73 realism. 27. 93–4. 153. 79. 80 Virgil. 72. 137 Spenser. Edith. 93 Sontag. Simone. 77 parablistic realism. 105. 187n Wells. 154. Jeremy. 108–10. Susan. 114. 90. 13. 56. 164–5. 165 Quilligan. 95. Lev. 70. 168 Yorke. 109 Reed. 34. Virgil. 150 Sannazzaro. 64. Osbert. 26. Tennessee.200 / index quantum physics. 55 Steiner. 26. 88. 38. George. 165. 8. 168–9. 114. 76 Winch. Jacapo. 159 Schwarzchild. 123–86 pastoral-organic realism. 23. Robert. 1–3. 40. 187n Stadler. Rainer Maria. 36. William. 128 mimetic realism. John. 115.
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