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

company number 785998. Europe and the rest of the world. Penelope—Criticism and interpretation. Europe and other countries. First edition: December 2009 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Printed in the United States of America. p. Title. ISBN 978–0–230–62186–2 (alk. 7. 5. First published in 2009 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN® in the United States—a division of St. Don. of Houndmills. English fiction—20th century—History and criticism. this is by Palgrave Macmillan. All rights reserved. 2009. American fiction—20th century—History and criticism. Martin’s Press LLC. Jane Auer. 8. 2. 3. New York. 6. registered in England. the United Kingdom. I. Ronald. . 1905–1974—Criticism and interpretation. Realism in literature. a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. NY 10010.R37A33 2009 823Ј. Bowles. Henry.. Hampshire RG21 6XS. 2009018038 A catalogue record of the book is available from the British Library.910912—dc22 Design by Newgen Imaging Systems (P) Ltd. Where this book is distributed in the UK. Chennai. India. Purdy. James—Criticism and interpretation. 1964– Alternative paradigms of literary realism / Don Adams.ALTERNATIVE PARADIGMS OF LITERARY REALISM Copyright © Don Adams. 1917–1973—Criticism and interpretation. Green. Fitzgerald. cm. paper) 1. Firbank. 1886–1926—Criticism and interpretation. 4. Palgrave Macmillan is the global academic imprint of the above companies and has companies and representatives throughout the world. Palgrave® and Macmillan® are registered trademarks in the United States. 175 Fifth Avenue. PS374. Basingstoke. ISBN: 978–0–230–62186–2 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Adams.

In Memory of My Mother .

This page intentionally left blank .

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 .

This page intentionally left blank .

121–142. Vicky Stanbury. reprinted by permission of the University of Oklahoma. Rod Shene. Joanne Jasin. Craig Goodman. Walter Delaney.Ac k now l ed gm e n t s I would like to thank the following for their attention.” from Genre Volume XXXV. Rich Curtis. Thien Nguyen. Rose Shapiro. David Hadas. Scarlett Rooney. Rob Cross.” from Texas Studies in Literature and Language Volume 50 Issue 1. Max Kirsch. Amy Letter. and advice: Greg Adams. Naomi Lebowitz. Mattias Eng. Chapter four was first published as the article: “Ronald Firbank’s Radical Pastorals. John Leeds. Number 1 (Spring 2002). Christy Auston. Heath Gatlin. encouragement. Jo Beth Mertens. All rights reserved. Glenn Malone. Paul Hart. 1–33. Nancy Durbin. Maria Jasin. Ly Pham. and Emily Stockard. Annie Gilson. Copyright © 2008 by the University of Texas Press. Chapter three was first published as the article: “James Purdy’s Allegories of Love. I also would like to thank my students in Florida and Vietnam. .

This page intentionally left blank

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

rather than allegorically transforming the incidental human figure into the eternal and transcendent queen of heaven. In more modern. In a world in which virtues. and that. The fact that Spenser adopted as his overarching emblem and ideal the actually existent and all-too-human Queen of England. as there are an infinity of viewpoints in the universe. in which the reality of anything other than actual physical particulars has been denied. In accordance with such a progression. allegory is a natural. The leg of mutton arising from the serving dish to be introduced to Alice at the end of Through the Looking-Glass. and ideals are assumed to be ultimately real. as does Dante with Beatrice. 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. so there are an infinity of purposeful and meaningful real worlds. proceeds to writers of pastoral. the cockroach that Gregor Samsa wakes up as in The Metamorphosis. Carroll’s Alice novels. and even inevitable. Spenser’s later work The Fairy Queene is the prototypical English allegorical text. so allegory is a .4 / alternative realisms necessary and the ideal. As mimetic materialism is a kind of forgetting of such metaphysical complexity. but its allegory is negatively affected by the materialist worldview that was already then becoming dominant. as in Stevenson’s Dr. 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. 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. Hyde. mode of creative expression and argumentation. and concludes with a writer of parables. 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. and Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. this study begins by considering writers of allegory. Jekyll and Mr. and the vulgar body double that Dr. values. 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. he forgets or ignores the fact that meaning is purposefully created relative to viewpoint. Dante’s Commedia is generally acknowledged as the supreme example in the Western tradition of such an expression. materialist-dominant times. Allegorical Realism Allegory emphasizes and expresses what Plato famously referred to as the “real difference” between the necessary and the good (729).

As with the work of Bowles. I read her allegorical-realist fiction through the lens of Simone Weil’s metaphysical-realist philosophy. The life and career of the contemporary American writer James Purdy. Purdy’s work has the potential to meaningfully alter our contemporary conventional habits of reading and interpretation. 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. In my chapter on Bowles. 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. the allegorical nature and functioning of Bowles’ work. particularly in the mock-epic Two Serious Ladies. those conventions have for the most part ill-served Purdy’s fundamentally allegorical work. is evident. Occasional critics and the author himself have rightly drawn attention to mythical elements in .truth as a matter of style / 5 mode and method for remembering. and particularly of her only completed novel Two Serious Ladies. 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. As with the work of the other writers in this study. was more fortunate than that of Bowles. and both understood their lives to be casualties in the service of their unorthodox visions. she never was able to finish her hugely ambitious novel Out in the World. 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. although only Weil self-consciously insisted upon martyrdom in response. Bowles was deeply influenced by Weil’s thought and life and felt a spiritual and temperamental affinity with the slightly older philosopher. and his body of work from more than a half century of remarkable productivity has the characteristics and lineaments of a major creative statement. who is the subject of chapter two. her work as a whole is tragic and her fictive project incomplete. Although Bowles’ work has many comic elements and characteristics. 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 power and persuasiveness of Bowles’ allegorical-realist envisionings of existential homesickness have long drawn a devoted group of readers and writers to her work. 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. who is the subject of chapter three. but that work has yet to be given the comprehensive genre-based reading that it calls out for. Because of a debilitating stroke before the age of forty. When one is alert to the possibility. Rightly understood.

but. or asking them to be like itself. And yet it will not busy itself about knowledge. In his later pastorals. It serves as a safe-haven from. His fiction. as an overall creative paradigm. In his prophetic-utopian essay “The Soul of Man Under Socialism. it will still have. whereas Purdy’s work is innately radical and de-territorializing. Its value will not be measured by material things. tragedy. It will never argue or dispute. And yet it will have everything.6 / alternative realisms Purdy’s work. to which it frequently has been compared. It will not be at discord. It will not be always meddling with others. it will help all. Pastoral Realism The realm of the pastoral has a complex relation to the actual 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. It will love them because they will be different. the prejudices and oppressions of that 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. 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. (1084) . and pastoral. which has a profound power to disturb. so rich will it be. to a pastoral envisioning of an alternative future characterized most forcefully and persuasively by an actuated ideal of brotherly love. 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. It will have nothing. And yet while it will not meddle with others. I divide Purdy’s allegories into three subcategories of satire. myth is inherently conservative and concentrative. It will grow naturally and simply. Throughout his work. It will know everything. has far more in common with the disquieting allegories of Melville than with the mythical lamentations of Faulkner. Purdy’s later pastorals are both implicitly Christian-religious and explicitly homoerotic. and whatever one takes from it. 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. to a sorrowful lament for the pathetic and tragic victims of such a world. It will have wisdom. It will not prove things. as a beautiful thing helps us. flowerlike. and implicit critique of. he envisioned a potential world in which such hatred is transformed by the redeeming miracle of love. or as a tree grows. In my essay. The personality of man will be as wonderful as the personality of a child. by being what it is.

The existential and artistic task of the pastoral writer is to remind us of the living reality of that desired potential. 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. anger. which is the defining pastoral preoccupation: It is the nature of art to be artificial. For civilization is nothing other than the unremitting aim at the major perfections of harmony. whereas that which frustrates it is bad. Thus. remaining art. but in true pastoral fashion he envisioned an improved Eden in which the human is made entirely at home with itself and its environment. that which enables an individual’s instinctive desire is deemed good. bitterness. Such an idealized pastoral world is possible only when desire itself has been cleansed of contorting passions that arise from negative emotions. are brought into harmony. the pastoral has long served as an imaginative safe-haven for homosexual passion. and remorse. who is the subject of chapter four. are excluded from the pastoral realm. That such a realm is an ideal makes it no less real. But it is its perfection to return to nature. By placing his desiring figures within the pastoral realm. such as jealousy. in this ultimately civilized realm. and vice versa.truth as a matter of style / 7 Wilde prophesied a return to Eden. there is no longer a distinction between desire and need. The modern metaphysical philosopher Alfred North Whitehead alluded to this mythic emblem in his compelling description of the relation between art and nature. has been neglected at least as much because of its innate. unashamed homosexuality. and in which mind and body. in its broadest sense. while all desires arising from love are allowed and enabled to thrive. Thus all desires that arise from hatred. In terms of morality. and morality is made a by-product of desire. impassioned pastoralism as because of its overt. art is the education of nature. art and nature. 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. art is civilization. rather it implies that the nature of its reality is as a desired potential that awaits actuation. The ultimate good in such a realm is the ultimately beautiful. In short. societal judgment is replaced by individual taste. although it resembles it closely . Under the pastoral paradigm. Firbank ensured that their desire would be given full play. The pioneering work of Firbank.

I employ Whitehead’s revolutionary but neglected philosophy of organism in interpreting Green’s most ambitious and also most pastoral novel. authordesigned and purchased. In his fiction. the world that is most real is the world most able to integrate the real worlds of others within its own reality. Concluding. the environmental landscape is not merely a backdrop for the egocentric human actor. In this chapter. Rather. figures reality as an ongoing creative process between humans as living organisms and their enabling and limiting environments. pastel-hued covers. both human and nonhuman. or of God. In offering a vision of the near future. this novel posits a new fictive paradigm for figuring the relation of the human to the other. a paradigm that emphasizes the ecological nature of the pastoral. who is the subject of chapter five. 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. 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. which he decidedly was not. overturn. 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. and with such privilege comes the responsibility of caring for the real worlds of less comprehensive organisms. who argued that it is precisely the world as we know it that the prophetic imaginative artist seeks to undermine. The world of Nature. as in the literature of the absurd. which is the ultimate pastoral ideal. Caprice. mid-twentiethcentury British novelist Henry Green. In Concluding. Had he been inclined to didactic argument outside of fiction. 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. Within the bounds of our knowledge. 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 . 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 human actor is not thereby rendered a passive or merely reactive victim oppressed by his un-chosen environment. the human world is privileged in being self-consciously real. In several of his titles—Inclinations. In the pastoral realm. his idolized precursor. In such a paradigm. Firbank might have responded to such misapprehending critics in the manner of Wilde.8 / alternative realisms enough so as to make them wish to judge it by conventional mimetic fiction standards. but is itself an actor in its own right within the ongoing existential drama of life. The pastoral effect of such a strategy is to highlight situational context and to de-emphasize individual human will. and alter (1100).

transforming what merely happens within the ongoing narrative of both text and world into what is providentially meant to be. so parable demonstrates the manner in which such connection is effected within our own lives and worlds. rather than as complexly coded moral lessons. In modern allegory. 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. as my essay interprets them. while simultaneously transfiguring an alienating material world into our natural and spiritual home. have been treated by critics and reviewers for the most part as entertaining and diverting novels of manners. 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. and the subject of chapter six. translating the limited existential into the eternally real. the parablist’s mission is to provide instruction only to the select minority who are spiritually and imaginatively alert. or the pastoralist. and as the pastoral envisions a potential world in which the two realms of the necessary and the good are made wholly connected.truth as a matter of style / 9 attractively and compellingly real—and therefore more like nature itself. they were in effect . When approached as moral and spiritual parables. then. Parablistic Realism As allegory emphasizes and expresses a dual-realm world emblematic of the real difference between the necessary and the good. 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. but I am telling you of the spirit of the law. Parable. Fitzgerald’s remarkably subtle novels are revealed as demonstrations for reading experience aright. that the novels of the final author considered in this study. the final arbiter of the beautiful. he repeatedly instructs them. the necessary. 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. 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. It is no surprise. while diverting the multitude with an entertaining story. the natural pastoral ideal allows no distinction. The self-consciously providential parablist insists that the text of the world’s actuality be read anew and aright. whose appealing and beneficent envisioning encompasses all living things. and the good. Unlike the allegorist. in turn. between which.

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. ethical responsibilities. through implication. affirming Wilde’s pronouncement that “truth is entirely and absolutely a matter of style” (981). purposeful. . 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 idea of genre seemed to be artificial and unnecessary. Within such a world. denying both the viability and desirability of an ultimately disinterested objectivity. intellectuals in the West began to think of the material realm of actual appearances as the whole of an ultimate and self-evident world. The failure to understand and engage such texts has political implications. such an objectivity came to seem a desirable and reachable ideal. Genre tells us that we cannot evade or escape the existential limitations. exposes the existential flaws in the mimetic paradigm of selfevident reality. and creative possibilities inherent in our subjective viewpoints—but. it also alerts us to the authentic existence of other such viewpoints in our pluralistic universe. in its insistence upon the contextual. 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. a reality that the authors considered in this study vigorously and vividly demonstrated in their alternative generic approaches. and even a dangerous and willful distortion of things as they really are. Universal materialists were right to suspect genre. The reality of pluralism is the compelling metaphysical meaning of Wilde’s dictum that truth is entirely and absolutely a matter of style. When. under the influence of the scientific revolution and the Cartesian subjectobject paradigm. and participatory nature of all knowing.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. for genre. To consider truth a matter of style is to emphasize the limitations and potentialities inherent in any subjective viewpoint.

one play. as has been attested to by the devotion shown it by several generations of writers. Allegorical elements of Bowles’ writing have been remarked upon by critics and reviewers. But in terms of quality and complexity. and then embellished several years later with fragments from unfinished projects. together with various fragments. feminist. Subsequent commentary was similarly skewed. which are . More recently. but until recently her work has suffered from critical incomprehension and neglect. Reading that criticism. and resistant to. and a handful of stories. have opened the way for a more sustained and probing thematic critical appreciation of Bowles’ work. one side arguing that the work was nonsensical. and postcolonial criticisms. edited in the 1960s. That work has for many years been available in the single-volume collection that Bowles’ husband. hysterical and discardable. the work is substantial. conventional critical interpretation and analysis. and the other contending that it was writing of the first order and the rare product of genius (Skerl 6–12). trends in gay and lesbian studies. Contemporary reviewers of the work as it was originally published in the 1940s. one is struck by the differing assumptions at work regarding the author’s intent and its results. but “tended toward a more consistent affirmation of [Bowles’] literary achievement” (Skerl 13). and then collected and republished in the 1960s. and more recently by the range of criticism that it has begun to attract.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. but the work’s overall allegorical nature has not been recognized. a fact that may be attributed to our contemporary habits of reading. the writer and composer Paul Bowles. as well as in poststructuralist. tended to divide into highly partisan camps. In quantity it seems a meager output—one novel. The essentially allegorical nature of Bowles’ work is such that it is both particularly inviting of.

(It is worth remembering that the root word of allegory. a near contemporary with whom Bowles felt a particular affinity. In his 1969 review of the Collected Works for Novel. which is itself characterized by our collective assumptions regarding the materialistic nature of reality. such as the flat and insistently literalistic surface that points consistently elsewhere—to other meanings and conclusions. Her writing is unrelated to theirs. Elsewhere he noted that all her terms hide one face. Several perceptive reviews of the original Collected Works brought out in 1966 noted the allegorical nature of the writing. In his insightful review article for the New York Times. and manner. nothing neatly finishes. Everything has its meaning. then for what it is made into. they are alert to its allegorical allegiances. and which tends to be less interested in and also uncertain of genre designations and traditions. In fact much goes on just as before. which he described as “prosaically flat and yet richly poetic. 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]. allos. although Bowles had attracted a loyal following among established writers. or perhaps even worse. means “other. Bowles’ work innately and persistently questions these assumptions by both its argument and manner. for Bowles is a remarkable mimic and is spot-on regarding social mannerisms and pretensions. and in fact it stands alone in contemporary literature. although without explicitly labeling it as such. and finally for what it could become” (274). has been consequently less perceptive in recognizing the allegorical nature and import of Bowles’ writing. first for what it is. as I will explain with reference to the work of the twentieth-century French philosopher Simone Weil. John Ashbery remarked that. characteristics. (276) Although neither reviewer labels the writing allegory outright.12 / alternative realisms characterized by the assumptions and limitations of mimetic realism. For this reason none of the endings in her works is satisfactory. such as Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. Ashbery instinctively and rightly classed Bowles’ work with the covert and overt allegories of Franz Kafka and John Bunyan. But critics continue to be drawn—if unwillingly . as well as with the writing of the classic American humorist George Ade.”) More recent criticism that is characteristically focused on psychological and sociopolitical contexts and meanings. all her symbols conceal and reveal one image— the movement of life. James Kraft focused on the striking manner of Bowles’ unusual style.

is allegorical in essence. Lidia Curti is conscious of an allegorical element in the work. characterized by “minute.” Indeed. since it strives for the simplification of single predominant traits. The traits thus isolated are the iconographic ‘meanings’ of each agent” (34). 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. all too typical assumption in this comment regarding the separable “abstract” fictionalizing of allegory. 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.” Weil. in the sudden alternating between abstract allegorical situations and minute. unfortunately. “Caricature . as I will explain).one is never quite totally in the world / 13 or. Such figures abound throughout Bowles’ writing. Simone Weil. and—from an allegorical or spiritual perspective—of life itself. From the viewpoint of conventional mimetic realism. The allegorical perspective is innate in the spiritual perspective considered from the point of view of “otherworldly” ideals and values. whether it is autobiography or travel writing. Curti concludes perceptively. is focused upon the relationship between the world “above” and the world “here below. However. Much of the work of Bowles’ contemporary. . Such. is the difficulty of allegory in general. That is one of the reasons why her works escape strict genre definitions. as the fictive nature of the work is nothing if not conspicuous and central to its operation. indeed. In her 1998 feminist reading of Bowles. which is. realistic details.” 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). if not hysterical or clearly psychopathic. as when Edouard Roditi remarked that Bowles’ “major characters are women whose behavior is often odd. as is the obsessive behavior of the “one-track mind” caricatured figures that surround and often accompany them. Curti’s presumption regarding potential nonfiction designations for Bowles’ writing also is curiously off-base. on the contrary. as Angus Fletcher noted in his seminal study of the allegorical mode. . providing much of its humor and instruction. who has been fittingly described as a mystical Christian Platonist. however. successful allegory is innately opposed to disembodied abstraction. perhaps. or even possible. . (147) There is a misleading and. but she does not consider it to be a fitting. that the “difficulties” in Bowles’ work “reside precisely in the unresolved tension between the necessity and yet the impossibility of leaving everyday life” (147). realistic details. unwittingly—to the possibility of such a designation. always ultra-materialistic on the literal-textual level.

As anything other than appearance it is error” (Gravity 51). it reveals the reality of the universe (Waiting 107). Only an artistic genius of the highest order can impart a vision of the really real . Peter Winch gave a perceptive analysis of Weil’s practical meaning when she spoke of the . . which is to mistake the necessary for the good: Illusions about the things of this world do not concern their existence but their value. 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. (36–37) In terms of fiction. But to attribute a false value to an object also takes reality from the perception of the object. by connecting existence to ultimate values. The image of the cave refers to values. but only as appearance. It is also in relation to the good that we are chained down like captives. is the product not of imagination but of revelation.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. it has no existence” (Anthology 204). explicitly warns us against the error of judging the things of this world on their own terms. which is all too rarely realized: Art tends by nature to offer as ultimate what is only apparent 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. since things are unreal for us as values. Katherine Brueck provides a useful gloss of Weil’s thinking concerning the revelatory potential of art. We accept false values which appear to us and when we think we are acting we are in reality motionless. In his insightful 1989 study of Weil’s philosophy. “But unless it is expressed. Plato’s famous allegory of the cave. (Gravity 52) The highest art. because it submerges it in imagination. Weil contended. 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. Weil contended. We only possess shadowy imitations of good. . Weil implicitly accounted for the necessity of allegory when she stated that the “reality outside the world” (Anthology 202) may only be indirectly expressed.

It is impossible to understand and love at the same time both the victors and the vanquished as the Illiad does. where God’s Wisdom dwells. In each of the three works we consider here. relates: When Jane discovered Simone Weil’s writing in the early fifties. 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. Few individuals are willing or able to admit of the longing.” Weil wrote. and fewer still are able to turn their attention and love to the reality that is the object of this desire. There is no doubt that Jane Bowles felt such an obligation. Millicent Dillon. “is the longing for an absolute good. and the later. concerning which Bowles’ fine biographer. 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.” (Life and Work 120) . “Going to Massachusetts” (Collected Works) is the only one of the three to have been likely directly affected by Bowles’ reading of Weil. outside the world. “But I have a sensual side too. she would deflect it from seriousness by saying. and in so doing. 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. the novella “Camp Cataract” tells the story as a tragedy. If anyone commented on it. 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.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. which she dramatized throughout her fiction. she recognized an affinity between Weil’s words and what she herself felt. there is a central figure on a quest to discover the ultimate reality of the world. unfinished “Going to Massachusetts” serves as a commentary on both. alert others to its existence. The novel Two Serious Ladies is the comic and mock-epic version of this quest. I know that his position is somewhat higher than the summit. Weil contended. “At the center of the human heart. Winch contends that Weil’s “supernatural” is not referring to a reality that is antinatural. 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. (199) God’s wisdom ultimately is beyond our comprehension. which is always there and is never appeased by any object in the world”. except from the place. but it is not beyond our detection and respect. as well as expresses most explicitly the tremendous sense of obligation that Bowles felt toward her fiction as revelation. which form the major arc of her creative life and thought. this longing connects us to the “reality outside the world” (Anthology 202.

is remarkably confident and elegant. and from an early age she trained herself quite consciously for that purpose” (qtd. Weil’s prolific writing. although he alone says what is true. and rich in both emotion and devotion. This is not just neurotic. Simone Weil’s older brother. It is very true” (Letters 146). But the act of writing for Bowles was always. she seemed never to have felt at ease or at home in her body. was socially magnetic. Despite such telling differences. is unregarded in his pronouncements. as Truman Capote remarked. “And not satirically or humorously true. “difficult to the point of true pain” (Jane Bowles. viii). Jane Bowles. Weil was socially awkward and personally difficult. engaging and brilliant. Jane Bowles felt similarly stymied in her effort to communicate her inner vision. 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. Andre. ( Anthology 30) In another letter to her parents at the same period she compares herself to the Fool in Lear who. but she characteristically blamed this failure more on herself than on others. 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 essential” (Anthology 2). by contrast. Pure unadulterated truth—luminous. witty and sophisticated. 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. Only I become more and more convinced. Collected Works. by experience and by observing my contemporaries. Weil wrote to her parents regarding her felt mission in life. because he is a fool. In several ways. In White 11). which is the spiritually ecstatic nature of Weil’s remarkably clear and persuasive insights. and its seeming failure: You think that I have something to give.16 / alternative realisms Bowles’ clever deflection also serves to relate what any sustained reading of Weil reveals. who was famous in his own right as a mathematical prodigy and genius. remarked of his sister that “her vocation or role or business in life from a very early age was to be a saint. that there is no one to receive it. That is the wrong way to put it. She lived a complicated and dramatic social and romantic life. but simply the truth. profound. so much so that her death by starvation and overwork appears almost a natural and inevitable ending. drawing upon seemingly inexhaustible physical and emotional reserves (until a collapse and long illness that led to a pathetically drawn-out death). the life and work of Bowles and Weil form mirror images of one another. 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. Near to her death at the age of thirty-four. on the other hand.

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. Life and Work 238–239). in Dillon. Jane Bowles. The Need for Roots. 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. and perhaps therefore harder to fulfill. Jane’s husband Paul said. she used all of her considerable persuasive powers to convince the wartime authorities to allow her to return to Europe. but like a dying person” (qtd. 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. Life and Work 119). particularly when it came to making decisions. “Jane’s worry was that a choice had to be made and every choice was a moral judgment and monumental. whose sense of vocation and mission was much more amorphous than Weil’s. in a besieged England. Her compulsion to agonize over choices and decisions was legendary. And that was so even if the choice was between string beans and peas” (qtd. 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. the murder of a life.” adding. “She had no capability of relinquishing choice. and they both agonized over decisions regarding uprooting and relocation. even fatal. As I move along into this writing I think the part I mind the most is this doubt about my entire experience. Life and Work 179). in Dillon. Living in Tangier in the mid-1950s while suffering from the severe writer’s block from which she never entirely recovered. (Letters 33–34) The seriousness and solemnity with which Bowles’ approached her writing carried over into her approach to living her life.one is never quite totally in the world / 17 which she approached the creative task. .” Dillon observes. “She had to choose and to accept the consequences of her choice” (Life and Work 44). 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. in Dillon. where. “I love Tangier. she produced her most substantial single work. while slowly working and starving herself to death. Once there. away from her protective parents’ watchful eyes. Bowles wrote in her journal. “Death is better than a long murder.

but it clearly concerns Bozoe’s quest to make destiny her choice. in Dillon. (qtd. She is in the hands of forces she does not control. “Going to Massachusetts. who lives with her lover. In her most notable foray into literary criticism. which necessitates that she leave the apartment she shares with Janet Murphy and go to Massachusetts. Life and Work 298) In true allegorical fashion.” “My life is not my own . All allegory innately examines and expresses the manner in which necessity. rather than to be ruled in a passive and reactive manner by necessity. Janet Murphy. and in some ways most complex and intriguing. . Have you missed the whole point of my life?” (qtd. 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). and her actions are meaningful in ways that she does not entirely comprehend. We are prompted to ask. 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. transforms the living individual into an object of fate. Weil wrote . The exact purpose of this journey is meaningfully unstated. but is freighted with multiple potential meanings. woman quest-figure. “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.” “Your life is your own Bozoe. acting through force. Bozoe Flanner.” which concerns her last. Bozoe is struggling to follow her destiny. 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. this journey is no ordinary trip.18 / alternative realisms Going to Massachusetts This recalls a passage in the unfinished manuscript Bowles was working on around that time. . The blatant mundanity of Bozoe’s “journey”—going to Massachusetts—announces its allegorical nature. in Dillon. 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.

which is itself allegorically representative of an allpervading and all-encompassing materialism that has severed modern man from the spiritual realm. . We have to rediscover the original pact between the spirit and the world in this very civilization of which we form a part. and that although going to Massachusetts required more courage and strength than I seemed able to muster. it is that x that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing ” (Anthology 163). (Gravity 153) In the portion of Bozoe Flanner’s story that Paul included in the Collected Works. 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. It is why I stopped crying and got off the bus . . and I’m afraid that if you don’t start suffering soon God will take some terrible vengeance. In one of the notebooks from which much of her published work is taken. but she disembarks before arriving at her destination. which represents metonymically the mechanized modern world. Weil wrote that we have to: Try to expose in precise terms the trap which has made man the slave of his own inventions. . the true subject the centre of The Illiad is force . Bozoe actually does manage to leave the apartment above the garage and take a bus that is bound for Massachusetts. .one is never quite totally in the world / 19 in her essay on The Illiad that “the true hero. Weil writes. the desire for it. . I’m glad I thought of this. (456–457) . Selfish because I was thinking in terms of my salvation and not yours. 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 . which is both our opportunity and our duty as “thinking creature(s)” (Roots 289). and that is. There is only one possible counter to necessity. This is no reason for not undertaking it. which is to turn oneself into a purely reactive object. At any rate we shall have lived. . to choose to obey it. Or fame in the garage. Naturally darling I love you. 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. Don’t accept social or financial security as your final aim. in large part because of a felt ethical obligation to Janet Murphy. . I don’t feel that I can allow you to sink into the mire of contentment and happy ambitious enterprise . . . that is. Fame is unworthy of you. But it is not enough to obey necessity passively. I was at the same time being very selfish in going. 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. How has unconsciousness infiltrated itself into methodical thought and action? . . paradoxically. Rather “we have to desire that everything that has happened should have happened and nothing else” (Waiting 145). It is better for you to offer yourself. Janet’s one-track-mind obsession is with her automotive garage business.

and implicitly and explicitly argue for their viewpoint. the more like a gorilla I seem to behave—an earthbound gross woman. Bozoe recognizes that she is a self-thwarted quester. Alone of fictive modes. To seek its shape is what she has declared she would do—declared not only to herself but to her friends. receive. including their own nature when it is all too human. but spiritual insight and knowledge. but with the same solemn expression on her face. She eats maybe six of them. 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. (qtd. Janet Murphy clearly identifies Bozoe’s bodily appetite with her spiritual struggle. . Self-expressive and haranguing monologue-speeches such as this— some in letters. The fact that I seldom do seem to gratify those instincts doesn’t matter at all . 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 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 . . 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. Janet. allegory allows for full expression of this dilemma. Allegorical figures typically present themselves didactically. and this is what they all. I have always been seeking my spirit. I’ve kept to the routine. as she explains to a friend: Bozoe was thin when I first knew her . as her torpid life of spiritual unease in the apartment above the garage is a travesty of the heroic quest. . Anything that hinders or thwarts them in that quest is an enemy that must be overcome. Bowles’ central quester figures are not in search of happiness as an end in itself—the absence of which. content to gratify base instincts. which—for quest figures— ultimately concerns the pursuit and fulfillment of their destiny.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. and yet the more urgently I seek it. . may help to explain the confusion and dissatisfaction of readers who are trained by mimetic realism to assume such an object of fulfillment. through both word and deed. . (Collected Works 453–454) Bozoe’s solemn Sunday morning binge may be thought of as a travesty of transubstantiation. . Late Sunday breakfast with popovers and home-made jam. some in person—are staples of Bowles’ fiction and are one of its most evident allegorical characteristics. in Dillon. What these quest figures are seeking is not physical and/or emotional gratification. with . in various manners. as a motivating factor.

as Fletcher remarked. as are the repeated references to the generic “city. 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). and in doing so. not accidental as it would be in straight journalism” (199). it is the emblematic representation of its sense. the city itself is repeatedly referred to simply and somewhat ominously as “the city. is obvious from an allegorical perspective. Being undesignated. in allegory. in this effort. “nature serves the purpose of expressing its meaning. like the novel in which her story appears. understood. The setting of Two Serious Ladies is a case in point. .” although it is almost certainly modeled after Staten Island. Rather the detail’s absence or lack of specific emphasis must be read as being itself meaningful. and following the introduction. (Bozoe’s quest. and he remarks that. is essential” (187).) In his profound study of Baroque German allegory.” but it also exhibits and embodies “a structure that lends itself to a secondary reading. which is allegorically significant. to cover over evidence of its allegorical inclinations.” Similarly a nearby rural island that one of the major characters moves to is referred to merely as “the island. and as an allegorical representation it remains irremediably different from its historical realization” (170). the particular neighborhood locations of the various houses and apartments in which scenes are set are unspecified. or rather. for naturalistic details work differently in an allegorical text than in a work of mimetic realism. In an allegory. the novel need not be read allegorically to be enjoyed and. the island may be any or every island. Of course.one is never quite totally in the world / 21 differing results. is sadly unfinished. Walter Benjamin noted that allegory is “devoted” to its characters’ “instruction” rather than to their “happiness” (170). Benjamin observed that. . Two Serious Ladies. allegory’s much criticized “awkward heavy-handedness . one that becomes stronger when given a secondary meaning as well as a primary meaning” (7). As Fletcher remarks of allegory in general. Two Serious Ladies The heavy-handed argument of Bowles’ early and only completed novel. 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. “naturalistic detail is ‘cosmic’ universalizing. In regard to this vital distinction in allegory between historical realization and emblematic representation. to a certain degree. It is crucial in reading allegories that are more or less naturalistic in manner not to fill in such missing details. “It often has a literal surface that makes good enough sense all by itself.” 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. In a like manner. Fletcher .

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. is allegorical in essence. Bowles’ favorite writer was Céline (Dillon. Life and Work 26–27). while still in her early twenties. however. 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 others have pointed to her seeming ineptness at her craft. all literature. to the most elusive. And there are the explicitly allegorical genres of science fiction and fantasy literature. replacing them with ideas. “Allegory departs from mimesis and myth” (323). she wrote Two Serious Ladies —which. I am trying to account for the alternative generic nature of the manner in which her fiction operates. but generically speaking: Within the boundaries of literature we find a kind of sliding scale. ranging from the most explicitly allegorical. which may give us an indication of where she was coming from genre-wise when. being based upon metaphor. Rather. (One would imagine that a Renaissance reader would approach such a text from the other direction. with vaguely Marxist and decidedly feminist views and a somewhat unstable psyche. 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. Writers such as Bowles. Of course there are notable exceptions. as we have noted. it thrives on their overthrow. consistent with being literature at all.) As a teenager. While many of these thematic and biographical arguments are well-taken. 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. (Anatomy 91) Modern fiction has tended to be anti-allegorical in its mimetic and/or mythic prejudices and predilections. although not as overtly allegorical as Voyage au Bout de la Nuit. it would behoove us to keep in mind Fletcher’s admonition that “allegory is never present as a pure modality” (312). such as much of the work of Thomas Pynchon and Samuel Beckett. 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. may well be more pervasively so. at one extreme. As Northrop Frye observed.22 / alternative realisms remarks that allegory fundamentally “does not accept the world of experience and the senses. Some have attributed Bowles’ idiosyncratic manner to her creative genius. .” In this way. That is certainly not my intention. In exploring this issue.

(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. Property should be in the hands of people who like it.” (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. Copperfield. Her foil as an epic quester in the novel is her friend Mrs. It gives me a comfortable feeling of safety. However. Truth is not the object of love but reality. in order to work out my own little idea of salvation. “whose sole object in life was to be happy. In the first of the novel’s three section.one is never quite totally in the world / 23 Allegorically speaking. 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.” said Miss Goering. of which Miss Goering says: “I remember having visited this . whose opposition is one of Miss Goering’s first temptations and challenges in her quest for contact with reality: “Well. 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. Miss Gamelon. they are looking for a reality that is (truly) real (and really true). 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.” said Miss Gamelon turning around. 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. Allegorically speaking. Christina Goering. as I have explained to you at least a dozen times. To desire contact with a piece of reality is to love. one of the serious ladies. To desire truth is to desire direct contact with a piece of reality. although people who had observed her behavior over a period of years would have been surprised to discover that this was all” (40). is preparing to abandon her gracious family home and inherited wealth in order to pursue her “own little idea of salvation” (28). who had “wanted to be a religious leader” (25) when she was young. “you know so little about what you’re doing that it’s a real crime against society that you have property in your hands.” “I think. “that I like it more than most people. 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.

Copperfield says to Miss Goering: “I don’t think I can bear it . It is necessary not to be “myself.” said Miss Goering. as she wisely intuits. Copperfield is going on a trip to Panama with her husband. at which she meets her friend Miss Goering at a cocktail party: “Oh! Christina Goering . Really. who is introduced in the novel’s first section.” said Miss Goering. Mrs. I’m going away!” “Do you mean. . which had been the acknowledged object of Miss Goering’s way of life in her comfortable family home (25). but it may be very useful as a tool for one’s spiritual growth and enlightenment. Copperfield. Miss Goering’s story is continued in the novel’s . or at least the avoidance of unhappiness. I am going on a trip. Another one of Miss Goering’s caricatured tagalong companions. “that you are leaving this party?” “No. Wait until I tell you about it. In making her move to the island. This is the fate that awaits Bowles’ second serious lady. suggests: “I am sure that this island has certain advantages too.” “I would go anyway. . Mrs. (Gravity 39) Weil later qualified herself by noting that “by uprooting oneself one seeks greater reality. (18) The second section of the novel is set in Panama and focuses on the story of Mrs. It’s terrible.” still less to be “ourselves. Copperfield. who—in sharp contrast with his wife—is an eager and committed traveler. . Miss Goering.” “I know of none at the moment. but perhaps you prefer to surprise us with them rather than disappoint us. (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.” but to be uprooted by others “results in unreality” (Gravity 39). who wrote in a notebook: It is necessary to uproot oneself. which you know about.” said Miss Goering. Miss Goering is unconsciously heeding the admonition of Simone Weil. it frightens me so much to go.” (15) It turns out that Mrs.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).” We must be rooted in the absence of place. an obese middle-aged man named Arnold (who would seem allegorically to represent gluttony and sloth among other things). .

and which is key to its major themes: “Now. Copperfield is her foil. in which the two serious ladies’ life choices and trajectories are compared and evaluated. the author has filled in her complex and fascinating psychological portrait in accordance with the norms of psychological realism. others. Mrs. But unlike Miss Goering. in a work of perceived mimetic realism. which implies that Miss Goering is the novel’s chief protagonist or hero. is doubtless at the heart of much of the critics’ historical dissatisfaction with the novel. Now there is nothing to carry with you from one place to another. In fact. Copperfield serves as an implicit critique of conventional realism’s assumptions and practices. Rather she gradually allows herself to become dominated by a need for comfort and consolation. which draws to a conclusion with a meeting between her and Mrs. and of the conventional world such realism represents. Copperfield attempts to quell her fears in a reverie that is perhaps the most often quoted passage from the novel. Copperfield. tellingly. Nevertheless Miss Goering is clearly designated as the novel’s major protagonist and hero. Copperfield does not launch out to face her fears. and this tendency is particularly pronounced in more recent criticism. Miss Goering.” she said to herself. Mrs. and as . and true to her allegorical nature as questing hero. Copperfield are psychologically fundamentally alike in that they both have a tendency to be dominated by their fears. Mrs. which she finds in Panama in the form of a soft-hearted but hard-nosed female prostitute named. and through the effects upon. “when people believed in God they carried Him from one place to another. has tended to focus more on the figure of Mrs. Copperfield’s story clearly is subordinate to that of Miss Goering. character. When she first arrives in Panama with her husband. is presented mainly through her words and actions. Mrs. Pacifica. From a naturalistic fiction perspective. Despite their striking differences. and the evident contrast between her presentation. In the structure of the novel. They carried Him through the jungles and across the Arctic Circle. by contrast. The novel’s ending is punctuated by a final interior soliloquy by Miss Goering following Mrs. and behavior and that of Mrs. God watched over everybody and all men were brothers. Miss Goering and Mrs. however. and in an ever-increasing dependence on alcohol. Copperfield is presented to us from both the outside and the inside. Criticism of the novel. Copperfield. the unacknowledged and perhaps unconscious prejudice against which. while Mrs. her unexplained eccentricity makes her appear almost antirealistic.one is never quite totally in the world / 25 third section. I suspect that criticism has gravitated toward Mrs. Copperfield’s departure. Miss Goering is neither a deep nor a well-rounded character. and reactions these produce from. Copperfield because of the fact that she is presented in a much more conventionally realistic manner than is Miss Goering.

Janet Murphy. Mrs. all the things that are pleasant in this world. . you know. I heard my husband say that you had a religious nature one day. these people might as well be kangaroos. Mrs. The men come off the ship with their pockets bulging. Copperfield as Miss Goering’s foil recognizes that she is in existential dire straits. I hate religion in other people. Copperfield has no individual plan for her own salvation.” (40) Unlike Bozoe Flanner’s foil. as Weil contended that all humans have deep inside their hearts.” She laughed heartily. Copperfield conceives of Miss Goering as a romantic rebel. but when we read such passages allegorically. or maybe the Devil’s. Unlike Miss Goering. where it does not exist. For how long would you want to stay?” “Oh.” (15) Mrs. Mrs.” said Mrs. Of course he is crazy to say that. except by implication. But she is limited by her disbelief to finding that good wholly and solely within the realm of the world here below. drinking . but not as a spiritual quester. “Do you think I’d have fun here?” “On. . but she assumes this to be the universal condition of mankind in the modern world. . I must try to find a nest in this outlandish place. She said to Miss Goering at the party in section one: “I have the utmost respect for you. I tell you this place is God’s own town. and her spiritual unawareness is attested to by the fact that she doesn’t believe that Miss Goering has one either. “Dancing. How would you like that?” “You do what you want to with your own life. and we almost had a very bad fight. .26 / alternative realisms far as I’m concerned. Copperfield is consciously disbelieving of the ultimate values hailing from what Weil called the reality outside the world. Copperfield. You don’t need much money. .” said the proprietess. I don’t know. That’s my motto. (56) Of course we don’t expect a vision of hell in a work of seeming mimetic realism. Copperfield says to the hotel owner. yet somehow there must be someone here who will remind me of something . no end of fun. When she meets Pacifica and accompanies her to the colorful and disreputable hotel in which the younger woman lives and conducts her prostitution business. a broadly caricatured British ex-pat widow: “I have a feeling I’m going to nestle right here in this hotel. Mrs. but she nevertheless has a longing for that ultimate good. as Miss Goering perceives of herself. You are gloriously unpredictable and you are afraid of no one but yourself. we can discern that that is exactly what we are being given.

Andy. as when she announces her imminent departure from a clinging male lover. oblivious to the emotional carnage she is leaving in her wake.” “Oh. On the other hand. while pursuing her “little idea of salvation” with a seeming single-minded selfishness. that is focused upon one’s spiritual motives and being. “you make me sound so dreadful! I am merely working out something for myself. Miss Goering seems incapable of romantic commitment and of sexualemotional fulfillment. but is an ethical morality. Miss Goering is roundly and repeatedly scolded and abused. appropriating the psychologically centered Pacifica in the process as a useful emotional tool. as she gives herself over entirely to her fears. and obsessions. both male and female. I think it is obvious that I am more important” (198). “Although I love Pacifica very much. who would seem to be the allegorical emblem of self-pity. 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. from the point of view of contemporary social-psychological morality. on the other hand.) Miss Goering. 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. The contrast between the two systems of morality is telling and is crucial to understanding the novel’s ethical-allegorical argument. typical of allegory. Copperfield clearly would seem to be the more admirable of the two serious ladies. committing herself to a socially ostracizing but personally fulfilling lesbian relationship.” . For her efforts. which is also the point at which she is able to conquer the fear in her psyche that each relationship has represented. Mrs. Mrs. Andy. Indeed. On the contrary.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. 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. longings. (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. as she courageously extricates herself from an obviously difficult and conventionally constraining marriage in order to follow her seemingly natural inclinations. on the level of psychological motive and spiritual achievement.” said Miss Goering. as she takes up and drops a series of would-be and actual lovers and partners. which runs counter to conventional realism’s system of social and psychological values. But a close reading that is alert to the allegorical argument of the novel reveals that.

.” since “in our time people have no idea at all of spiritual trial” (174). but I have thought for a long time now that often.” “Well. But soon she was aware of a new sadness within herself. with a new future. .” said Dick.” said Dick. “You’re not even a Christian. 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.” (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. Copperfield’s regression to infancy. “perhaps my maneuvers do seem a little strange. (143) Parallel to Miss Goering’s figured movement from childhood to adulthood is Mrs.” “Well. (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.28 / alternative realisms “You have no right to. so very often. displaying his allegiance to the moral status quo: “You’re crazy. had discarded a childish form forever. 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. You are committing a monstrous act. The long staircase seemed short to her.” said Andy. like a dream that is remembered long after it has been dreamed.” “I’ll remember.” said Andy. You’ve involved yourself with me!” When he perceives that his arguments will not change Miss Goering’s decision to depart. Miss Goering’s progress in her spiritual journey is figured by a move away from childhood into adulthood.” said Miss Goering.” said Miss Goering.” “Lunatic!” Andy yelled at her . a descent that begins with . well. sneering a bit at Miss Goering. “You’re crazy and monstrous— really. “what should I do then?” “Just remember. Monstrous. “You’re not alone in the world. she felt. She stood on the street and waited to be overcome with joy and relief. 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. Hope. Andy resorts to self-righteous abuse. “that a revolution won is an adult who must kill his childhood once and for all.

in which Pacifica (in a telling irony) is attempting to teach Mrs. An ensuing quarrel between the hotel’s proprietess and Pacifica sends everyone off to their respective quarters. Tonight I want to be a little baby. Mrs. “Mrs. be gay. (97) This event is particularly meaningful for Mrs. Copperfield finds to her dismay that Pacifica is neither surprised nor overjoyed to see her. Copperfield. The third one she drank more slowly. and held onto her ankles with her hands”: “Be gay . a fact that gives her “particular satisfaction” (97–98). after a night of carousing.” she sang. “now for a little spot of gin to chase my troubles away. at which point they both topple forward and roll down the hill “locked in each other’s arms. Mrs. . Copperfield accompanies Pacifica to swim in the ocean. As she waits for the gin. she runs to the top of a hill where she finds a female mannequin “about eight feet high” and dressed in black velvet. “I certainly did—hooray!” . She held on hard to Pacifica’s thigh with the strength of years of sorrow and frustration in her hand.” She took a hookerful. by gay . Copperfield how to swim: Pacifica swam a little further inland. (71) Early the next morning.” “Now. put her knees up. Copperfield paid him and he left. There just isn’t any other way that’s as good. . She turned her face and in so doing she brushed Pacifica’s heavy stomach with her cheek. to escape a chasing dog. in which Mrs. . Mrs. Copperfield turns for comfort to a bottle of gin she has ordered to be brought up to her room. 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.one is never quite totally in the world / 29 Mrs. with a body “fashioned out of flesh. Upon her return to the hotel. . . but without life. 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. At a certain point gin takes everything off your hands and you flop around like a little baby. Copperfield’s back.” She wraps the mannequin’s arms around her in the fashion of a leading dance partner. Copperfield felt happy and sick at once. . 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.” she said. Suddenly she stood up and placed both her hands firmly in the small of Mrs. It is fitting that the precipitating event takes place in the ocean saltwater that suggests amniotic fluid. “Don’t leave me.” she called out.” the mannequin’s body acting as a buffer between herself and the “broken bottles and little stones” over which they roll. she begins to mimic the behavior of a child: “She lay down on the bed. jumping off the bed. “You ask for a bottle of gin?” he said. . and shortly after that another. rocking back and forth on the bed. because it calls to mind a recurrent dream she has in which.

I know I am as guilty as I can be. and she is such a kind and generous woman. I’ve admired you very much indeed. or do I misjudge you dreadfully?” “True enough. I am not sure that I do now.” said Mrs. not for a minute. but I have my happiness.” said Mrs. “I have gone to pieces. she noted the distressing tendency of human love to lead. but is frightening to behold when one realizes the merciless emotional compulsion that is driving her to enslave financially and emotionally another human being. Such is the danger. but I dare say very courageous. bringing her fist down on the table and looking very mean. You seem to be stodgy now and less comforting. Few things in this world can reach such a degree of ugliness and horror. which is a thing I’ve wanted to do for years. Copperfield and Miss Goering meet in a restaurant in New York. “ that you used to be somewhat shy.” Mrs. I’d go completely to pieces.” said Miss Goering.” in which “a person consents to view from a certain distance. “I remember. Copperfield back to America and who is dressed significantly. whenever an individual limits the search for the good to the things of this world. Mrs. What can I do with her? She is like a little baby. Pacifica—who has accompanied Mrs. Copperfield had explained to Miss Goering why she cannot let this happen: “I can’t live without her. In an essay in which Weil wrote of the potential sacramental nature of human love as “true friendship. which . Copperfield. whom I gather you are no longer living with. There is something horrible whenever a human being seeks what is good and only finds necessity” (Waiting 133). “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. It would take a good deal of courage to live with a man like Mr. with such a beautiful apartment and such beautiful clothes. like Mrs. if you remember correctly. Copperfield’s need and demand of comfort and her utter dependence on Pacifica is not only unattractive. which I guard like a wolf. and I have authority now and a certain amount of daring. which. “I feel that you have changed anyway and lost your charm. Weil contends. and without coming any nearer. Copperfield.” “But you have gone to pieces.” (197–198) Mrs.” “That makes no difference to me. while Pacifica was away meeting a boyfriend who wants to marry her. rather.30 / alternative realisms In the novel’s last scene. Copperfield. the very being who is necessary to him as food” (Waiting 135). 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. Copperfield. Copperfield was getting drunk and looking more disagreeable. in which Mrs. I never had before.” (200) Earlier at the restaurant.

Copperfield?” This latter possibility Miss Goering thought to be of considerable interest but of no great importance. but we come to understand that its importance resides entirely in its relation to what it is not. in the literal or metaphorical sense of the word.” 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. in our spiritual journey. she contended that different kinds of “vice” such as “the use of drugs. according to Weil. On the other hand. The mistake lies precisely in the search for a special state” (Waiting 111).one is never quite totally in the world / 31 can only represent the good by implication. . (201) Ashbery remarked that this conclusion is proof of Miss Goering’s grave “delusion” regarding her own behavior (Ashbery). 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. We have only to wipe the mirror to read in it symbols inscribed in matter through eternity” (Anthology 249–250). the ending serves as the direct and emphatic summation of the novel’s allegorical argument. What is necessary. we arrive at the point at which we can perceive the good in the necessary. to read God behind order” (Gravity 136). 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. Weil listed “superposed readings” that imply an allegorical understanding of existence: “To read necessity behind sensation. while Dillon remarked that the ending seems to discount “ending itself” (“Jane Bowles: Experiment as Character” 142). A useful gloss on Miss Goering’s final soliloquy may be found in one of Weil’s touchstone texts. 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 order behind necessity. “but is it possible that a part of me hidden from my sight is piling sin upon sin as fast as Mrs. 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. for it illustrates that Miss Goering has come to understand the real distance between the necessary and the good. we do not thereby annihilate necessity (it is precisely that which cannot be annihilated). In one of her notebooks. Carolyn Allen similarly concluded that the ending proves Miss Goering to be “thwarted by her own lack of insight” (26). in which she makes a final internal soliloquy. the Bhagavad-Gita.” reflected Miss Goering. In the pertinent passage. When. On the contrary. This is the point at which Miss Goering anticipates arriving as her quest concludes at the end of Two Serious Ladies.

at the end of her quest. but to bring about the disappearance of the distress. of which our modern uprootedness is symptomatic. . and psychological instability and distress. historical and psychological uprootedness here below. one’s sins are no longer important. as in periods of great social. as Benjamin observed. the mistakes she has made along the way will be transformed from all too human error into the mysterious will of God. it is the purity of her motive alone that she must attend to. drink is not what he requires. or God.32 / alternative realisms the god Krishna tells the hero Arjuna that. allegory “established itself most permanently where transitoriness and eternity confronted each other most closely” (224). Their distress has blunted their spiritual perception and their reason to the point at which they may not even believe that they are suffering.” Historically. because karma is no longer operative: When you have reached enlightenment. . Our disease is the loss of contact with the good. The way to appease them is not to provide what they insist upon. This knowledge alone would carry you Like a raft over all your sin. Understood allegorically. In the meantime. its symptom is our cultural. 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. religious. but to have his wound cured. according to Weil. from the point of view of an achieved enlightenment. And though you were the foulest of sinners. which has become a more or less permanent form of distress. that is the reality outside of this world. (54–55) The novel’s conclusion affirms Miss Goering’s hard-won knowledge that. uprootedness is a cry for help. Such is our present age. (Roots 61) Weil contended that our failure to recognize the reality of eternal values has resulted in an existential homelessness. If a man is thirsty because of a wound in the stomach. for it leads to enlightenment. The blazing fire turns woods to ashes: The fire of knowledge turns all karmas to ashes. but it is one that those who are suffering from being uprooted too often are unable to recognize and interpret. It creates obsessions. from the point of view of which everything else is “of no great importance. ignorance will delude you no longer . which is to be in the most desperate of spiritual .

As Benjamin remarked: “The only pleasure the melancholic permits himself.one is never quite totally in the world / 33 straits. by a lie. It is intolerable to be in this world without a myth” (qtd. and it is a powerful one. but lest. several years after the publication of the novel. Allegory forges a link between the creature and the creator. The important thing is that it announces its hunger by crying. “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. Those melancholy few may find in allegory a certain solace. or of God. Weil wrote. in Dillon. between the necessary and the good. She speaks of the (for her) unbearable absence of the good. which is all the more isolating in that so few are willing or able to recognize the desperate straits they are in. the allegorical manner and argument of the mock epic Two Serious Ladies is fairly obvious. it was the last major work of fiction . rather it is expressive of the absence of a mythical-religious belief system that is all-pervading and all-encompassing. In its insistence on the distance between the mutable material realm and its eternal meaning. (Waiting 138) In an age in which chronic spiritual hunger has resulted in a collective disbelief in the hunger’s existence. It can only persuade itself of this by lying. Allegory is significantly not myth. Camp Cataract When one is alert to the possibility of its existence. The tragedy for the allegorist is that the conditions that created her. for the reality of the hunger is not a belief. Weil makes an analogy between the soul in chronic distress and a hungry child: The soul knows for certain only that it is hungry. but a certainty.” which Bowles completed following her move to join Paul in North Africa. Such is not the case with the novella or long short story “Camp Cataract. the allegorist inevitably arises. and that guarantee her authenticity. It goes on crying just the same. to dramatize the spiritual plight. are the very conditions that make it likely that she will be ignored and/or misunderstood. A child does not stop crying if we suggest to it that perhaps there is no bread. In an anguished outburst in a notebook. in a time of distress. Life and Work 299). like a prophet from the wilderness. The religious allegorist speaks for a world that the world denies. is allegory” (185). it should persuade itself that it is not hungry. The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread. Bowles wrote. allegory expresses a persistent lament that the necessary should be distant from the good. “The distance between the necessary and the good is the distance between the creature and the creator” (Gravity 105).

The double plot endorses the allegorical distinction between the mutable material world and the world of eternal values. In general. The older sister. and its tone is much more ominous and subdued. . As with Two Serious Ladies. Sadie and Harriet. who suffers from periods of nervous collapse that may be in part hereditary.34 / alternative realisms she was to complete. We can nevertheless draw crucial parallels between Two Serious Ladies and “Camp Cataract. in order to avoid the appearance of “a bohemian dash for freedom” (362). but they respond to this distress in markedly different manners. . as in the story. I don’t know yet exactly how many. Miss Goering and Mrs. Her long-term goal is to move out of the apartment altogether. a husky woman named Beryl. where she can relax away from the stress of the crowded city apartment she shares with two sisters and one sister’s husband. Kraft noted in his perceptive review of The Collected Works that Bowles writes the same story every time . . (363) .” (274) Fletcher noted the tendency of allegory to evolve into symmetrical double plots such as those Bowles employs in her major fiction (184). Both sisters are suffering from the existential distress of uprootedness masquerading as a life of modern comfort and ease. run parallel in the first half of “Camp Cataract” and then intersect in the second half. as if she must have a Christina [Goering]-Frieda [Copperfield] contrast in order to construct her sense of reality. long enough so that I myself will feel: “Camp Cataract is a habit. “Camp Cataract” works more in the manner of an extended parable and of a classical tragedy than of a mock epic. Sometimes Mrs. who has become attached to her: My plan is extremely complicated and from my point of view rather brilliant. Camp Cataract is life. Copperfield are the two warring sides of the female personality. Harriet. As I remove myself gradually from within my family circle and establish myself more and more solidly into Camp Cataract. First I will come here for several years . habit isn’t. . “Camp Cataract. she must make this move in stages.” Escape is unladylike. . The double plots of the stories of the two sisters. has been advised by a doctor to take summer vacations at a nature camp. and it implicitly embodies and actively expresses the effort to perceive the latter in the former. but the quest theme is more deeply embedded in the story than in the novel. . but she feels that. Bowles makes the two women sisters. with tragic consequences. as she explains to one of the camp employees. an allegorical approach to “Camp Cataract” leads us to a fuller understanding of the work’s means and manner.” Indeed. Camp Cataract is not escape. then at some later date I can start making my sallies into the outside world almost unnoticed. but long enough to imitate roots of childhood .

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. After reading the letter aloud to Beryl. Sadie certainly yearned to live in the grown-up world that her parents had established for them when they were children. Sadie. as the narrator informs us: Harriet . . she did not understand it properly. but then. this is precisely the tragedy of any person. 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. and because of Harriet. I fear nomads. (368) . explaining to Beryl: “You may wonder how a woman can be shallow and know it at the same time. who is the story’s main protagonist and its covert quest figure. . because beyond wearing an apron and simulating the airs of other housewives. 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). (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. . I want to put this to you. Sadie did not possess a community spirit at all . I am afraid of them and afraid for them too. was totally unaware of Sadie’s true nature and had fallen into the trap her sister had instinctively prepared for her. if he allows himself to be griped” (363). . but in spite of the fact that she had wanted to live in that world with Harriet. whom she correctly suspects of desiring to escape their home together in the city apartment. Also. to which she willingly admits. which she takes to be genuine proof of Sadie’s “community spirit” (362). Harriet remarks that she despises Sadie’s adoration of the family home. Harriet’s shallowness would seem to protect her from the fate awaiting her unmarried younger sister.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. If you see them be sure to give them loving because they are the lost souls of the earth. She is subconsciously aware of an inclination in her nature to venture into “the world” to make contact with a greater reality. 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). but she fights conscious recognition of this inclination by projecting it onto her sister Harriet. Sadie’s tragic fate is directly related to the fact that she is not consciously aware that she is on a spiritual quest. In actuality. There must be wretches like that up there.

like Mrs. Rather Sadie’s obsessive attachment to her older sister. Against her sister’s wishes and doctor’s orders. 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. . no matter what its moral designation in society’s terms. . this disaster was as remotely connected with her as a possible train wreck. but whatever it was. . Rather. 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. From the point of view of such an understanding. not in the least startled to discover that the idea of returning with Harriet had been at the root of her plan all along. it is possible to read “Camp Cataract” as being the tortured story of a sister’s incestuous lesbian love for her sibling. “It is not the pursuit of pleasure and the aversion for efforts which causes sin. As Weil writes. And then we’ll come back here. any behavior that is used to divert one from the quest for God is sinful. “How much more I’ll be able to say when I’m sitting right next to her. 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. until there comes a final break between her pretend reality in the outer world of others and her interiorized fears and longings. Copperfield’s successful acknowledgment of her lesbian identity.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. Sadie decides to pay a visit to Harriet at Camp Cataract. but this would be a misreading similar to the interpretation of Two Serious Ladies as the story of Mrs. “She was passionately concerned only with successfully dissimulating what she really felt” (371). 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.” she murmured almost with reverence. is symptomatic of a need for comfort and of an unwillingness to embark upon the quest to make contact with an ultimate reality. “. awareness of this split was denied her. Sadie anticipates the breakdown.” she added simply. Copperfield’s relationship with Pacifica. The dislocating journey to Camp Cataract widens the split in Sadie’s psyche. and she was thrilled again by the beauty of her own words. and she had never reflected upon it” (371). 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).

Sadie’s fears and desires are given material being. Harriet sat down. Automatically she stepped toward them. 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. In the delusional world. 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. ” she thought. . but she didn’t have much hope in her. The climax of the delusion and of the story arrives when Sadie frantically leads an imagined Harriet into the woods near the waterfall. 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. In truth all desire to convince her sister that she should leave Camp Cataract and return to the apartment had miraculously shriveled away. and Harriet says to Sadie. the words to express it had vanished too. as in a dream. in which she plans to attempt to convince her sister to return to the family apartment. an open can of beans some careless person . that her trip was already a failure. of whom she is being uncharacteristically solicitous: “First I’ll sit down and then you must tell me what’s wrong. Sadie was about to sit next to her when she noticed a dense swarm of flies near the roots. In the overtly allegorical realm of Sadie’s delusion. and with the desire. Its torn roots were shockingly exposed. it seemed to her all the more desperately important now that she was almost certain. “Why are they here?” she asked herself—then immediately she spotted the cause. becomes overwhelmingly and unbearably meaningful and real. whereas the upper trunk and branches lay hidden in the surrounding grove. the trip’s failure seems affirmed and Sadie moves into a delusional realm. They stop at a small clearing in the woods. (391–392) When Harriet is late arriving. in her inmost heart. 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. (384) Although Harriet misunderstands Sadie’s motives for wanting her to stay in the family apartment with her. on the contrary. .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. 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. As she waits for Harriet. This did not in any way alter her intention of accomplishing her mission. the material world through which she has spent her life drifting.

(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. Beryl was spooning “some beans out of a can she was holding” (378). and un-at-home in. or only partly so. for when Sadie first met Beryl upon arrival at the camp’s lodge. In response to her felt disconnectedness. and Harriet’s obvious collusion with and dependence upon Beryl. . her world. . 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. Harriet. wringing her hands in grief. “I can’t any more. . Beryl’s obvious attachment to Harriet. .” Harriet sobbed in anguished tones. further prompting her breakdown—exposing her uprootedness. Harriet is no doubt justified in her fear of Sadie’s neediness. who had shown “great tenderness” toward her during “their childhood together” (393). but who has now begun a self-protective effort to extricate herself from Sadie’s increasingly tight emotional grip. I’m old . as well as to herself. . for it is a self-propagating one. seems to have affirmed Sadie’s sense of dislocation and abandonment. “I can’t . As Weil wrote in The Need For Roots : Uprootedness is by far the most dangerous malady to which human societies are exposed. 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 . but which—with her breakdown—has become shockingly exposed. often by the most violent methods. sprang to her side. but also is emblematic of that predicament—of Sadie’s innate feeling of being unconnected to. those who are not yet uprooted. . The uprootedness not only exposes her predicament.” Here she collapsed and sobbed so pitifully that Beryl. or to hurl themselves into some form of activity necessarily designed to uproot. I’m much too old.38 / alternative realisms had deposited in a small hollow at the base of the trunk. (395) The fallen. for she was a most tenderhearted person toward those whom she loved. . She turned away in disgust. for the severity of Sadie’s alienation in the world makes her a danger to those close to her. (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 . . For people who are really uprooted there remain only two possible sorts of behavior: either to fall into a spiritual lethargy resembling death .

their pupils pointed with a hatred such as she had never seen before. . clutching at her stomach as though an animal were devouring her. The shock of awakening into an awareness of her state of uprootedness ultimately proves too much for Sadie’s fragile mental being. she saw Harriet’s tear-filled eyes searching hers. whose suffocating shallowness is representative of a pretend reality the spiritually awakened Sadie can no longer endure. let’s you and me go out in the world . In her delusional scene with Harriet in the pine grove. 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.” A second before covering her face to hide her shame Sadie glimpsed Harriet’s eyes. At last she heard Harriet’s footsteps on the dry branches .one is never quite totally in the world / 39 would seem to indicate that she is already partially uprooted. Sadie’s awakening into a knowledge of her fundamental uprootedness is extended to include an awareness of the uprootedness of the country . . . She opened her mouth to speak and doubled over. . Though her vision was barred with pain. . her face buried deep in her hands . “Let’s not go back there . . “Let’s not go back to the apartment. “Go away . hearing her own words as they issued not from her mouth but from a pit in the ground.” She was moaning the words over and over again. . however. . just the two of us. go away . It seemed to Sadie that it was taking an eternity for her sister to leave. Sadie reverses roles with Harriet.” Sadie said. It is also an awakening out of the self-induced slumber of her life of anxious dissimulation in the family apartment. but that she is able to achieve such a state of awareness is nevertheless a spiritual triumph. (396) By virtue of her revelation. the effect being that she has been set mentally and spiritually adrift. or I’ll suffocate. The pilgrimage that Sadie unknowingly embarks upon when she sets off for Camp Cataract is more than a death march. . . the awakening is figured as a painful birth: She could no longer postpone telling Harriet why she had come . In any case. . Sweat beaded her forehead and she planted her feet wide apart on the ground as if this animal would be born. That she herself was making it instead of Harriet did not affect her certainty that this was it. 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. impossibly close to her own. 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. . .

” just past the time that Harriet. although the Indian who accompanied her behind the waterfall was a figment of her delusion. she would not say anything. and yet. Sadie’s delusional response is to try to hide the Indian chief along with herself behind the waterfall. where his face loses “any trace of the incongruity that had shocked her so before. the mere world of habitual appearances may seem too fake—too unreal—to endure. (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. the manner in which it is an extended parable regarding the life of the undying spirit in relation to mutable everyday . One might say that such a world— like the experience of the mystic—is too real for normal human comfort. Fictively. What was it? She was tormented by the sight of an incongruity she couldn’t name” (398). and the scene in the forest had been a delusion) where she looks closely for the first time at the souvenir seller. so oddly light in his brick-colored face. holding her hand out to the Indian” (399). and the story ends with Beryl’s return alone: When Beryl returned her face was dead white. Sadie’s plunge into the cataract is emblematic of an unwillingness to return to living a life on the surface level of appearances. Each of these “unnatural” endings is in the form of a repudiation rather than a culmination.40 / alternative realisms and culture in general when she returns to the souvenir stand (in actuality she had never left it. Harriet sends Beryl to look behind the waterfall for Sadie. 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. she stared at Harriet in silence. Sadie stepped forward. had been scheduled to meet her sister (400–401). In Sadie’s delusional world.1 There seems little doubt that we are meant to understand that Sadie kills herself. Such an understanding emphasizes the allegorical nature of the story. complete with headdress and face paint: “She stared intently at his Irish blue eyes. the world of her delusion is more intensely real than the world that precedes and follows it. The foaming waters were beautiful to see. and even when Harriet finally grabbed hold of her shoulders and shook her hard. from the point of view of such a world. every image stands out and her own words and behavior become overtly meaningful. 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. who is an Irish-American man dressed up to resemble an American Indian war chief. and her refusal to return to it is a denial of its ultimate reality. who was twenty minutes late arriving.

By story’s end. and even overwhelmingly meaningful. questioning self-deluding assumptions regarding the goodness of life and the purpose of fate. and a cautionary tale regarding the paralysis of the questing spirit in the materialistic modern world. the existential angst implicit in “Camp Cataract. but it is actually about being blind to their allegorical reality. rightly perceived and understood. I have often the sensation when I look at it that it’s a solid thing up there. Just darkness. Although the symbol may seem to speak of radical doubt. its use by the author is actually quite didactically certain. In that sense. The sheltering sky is all too encompassing. By contrast. 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. “Nothing.” (101) Ominous in its ironic symbolism. we find that there is no there there. The typical modern realistic fiction creates meaning by the use of symbolically weighted passages surrounded by the scenery of the conventionally real.” Kit shuddered slightly as she said: “From what’s behind?” “Yes. “Camp Cataract. . . seems to stem from the author’s worried certainty that reality. The sky as symbol questions the ultimate meaning and purpose of reality. Port and Kit.” “But what is behind?” Her voice was very small.one is never quite totally in the world / 41 reality. the sheltering sky as an operative idea is nevertheless embedded wholly and securely within the boundaries of the conventional realism of the text.” is emblematic of its theme and method. The bitter implication of such fiction is that life is neither a divine comedy nor an ennobling tragedy.” and in Jane Bowles’ fiction in general. “the sky here’s very strange. We may consider Paul Bowles’ use of the titular symbol in The Sheltering Sky as an example of such use. When one seeks to get “beyond” that appearance to some deeper or virtual or ideal meaning. protecting us from what’s behind. Absolute night. but it does not question that reality as a given. is oppressive in its obvious and seemingly ultimate appearance. The title symbol operates ironically in the novel for the most part. we discover that the story’s title. the story is also implicitly a critique of the modern conventions of fictive realism.” the meaningful reality of which is so unbearable that she rushes behind the cataract—“literally” taking shelter in . The real world in this novel. but an all too actual farce. The story may seem to be about the deception of appearances. a couple obviously modeled upon Paul and Jane: “You know. and throughout Paul Bowles’ fiction. I suppose. intensely. That is the terrifying discovery that Sadie makes through her “delusion. is innately. we are imprisoned in a meaningless world.” said Port .

Indeed.” The words are put in quotation marks. is profoundly lucid and poignant. “A Stick of Green Candy. allegorically. The Need for Roots. Sadie’s suicidal leap.42 / alternative realisms blindness—and then plunges into its “depths. The last half of that work. but poetically died of longing for eternity’ ” (6). then we must read her life. to indicate that they are not to be trusted. To understand Sadie’s suicide.” 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. Several commentators have noted that her death was the product not only of a lack of sustenance. and of the more general failure of fiction. which is the import of this story as regards habitual reality and its representations in conventional fictive realism. To understand Weil’s self-starvation. as well as her work. is a remarkable culmination in the form of a repudiation. (Read in the context of Bowles’ writing life. 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. Following the completion of “Camp Cataract” and of one final story. Much has been written on and debated concerning Weil’s starvation-suicide. we have to “read” it as a martyrdom. It can only be pointed to. in particular. Bowles had struggled to overcome a writing block that became more and more disabling. Weil’s self-starvation. and Bowles’ prematurely ended writing life are all indirect expressions. of course. The writing that Weil produced in the final year of her life in England. he represents himself as one who ‘historically died of a mortal disease. to support Sadie in her “dreaded voyage into the world.) Paul Bowles felt that his wife’s writing block resulted from her .” and before a stroke at the remarkably young age of thirty-nine put an effective end to her creative output. 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. but of months of emotional strain and intellectual overwork. including what is probably her masterwork. as Naomi Lebowitz reads the life and work of Kierkegaard in her illuminating Kierkegaard: A Life of Allegory.” The realm that Sadie enters when she plunges into the cataract escapes encapsulation in representation. and even of language itself. Bozoe Flanner’s struggles with and final failure to go to Massachusetts appear all the more poignant. in which she observed that “Kierkegaard’s actual death on the street seems accidental. no small part of the felt tragedy of this story is its absolute certainty of its own failure. The drawn-out conclusion of Bowles’ writing life is both sad and exasperating. If we think of Weil in terms of her vocation as a saint. gesturing toward the unrepresentable. we have to understand its blanket repudiation of the habitually real.

” “But why do you want it to be so difficult?” I’d ask her. (Dillon.” upon which Bowles worked for years. “What don’t you make it simpler? Leave the difficulties for the later scenes?” No. In the long unfinished novel tentatively titled “Out in the World. “Just for the first page. But in addition she wanted her characters to be representative. no.” I’d say. . “I know. She couldn’t use the hammer and the nails that were there. which does indeed operate in a conventional manner. That’s your way. She had to manufacture her own hammer and all the nails. but one that has been neglected for the most part by criticism of contemporary fiction. it would be easier the other way. .” It is an unfinished project that speaks volumes. 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.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. 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. reality-questioning experience with her “voyage into the world” in “Camp Cataract. . sees this. Rather it was exactly such conventions that she was challenging in her remarkably original work. “No. Life and Work 192) Given Sadie’s life-shattering. she had in mind something of the quality of Balzac. it all had to be difficult from the first paragraph in order for her to have respect for it. in Dillon. for this novel. almost in the sense of a morality play. and she’d say. Jane told Paul that. no. not my way.” we may have some notion of the revolutionary—and revelationary—implications of a work titled “Out in the World. I’d say to her. (qtd. each of them to represent an abstraction. She was a combination of enormous egotism and deep modesty at the same time. the creation of a world of sensory and realistic detail.” And she’d say.” but she wasn’t interested in making it easier . say she comes in. I’ve got to do it my way and my way is more difficult than yours. does that. “Well.

This page intentionally left blank .

Early on—in the late 1940s and early 1950s—the response from editors and publishers was almost entirely negative. But he was not to remain in the media and critical establishments’ good graces for long. I began sending out my completed stories to magazines . Neither the kind of publishers I had nor the press stood wholeheartedly behind me . . 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. even more hostile comments from the little magazines. if possible. and they earned. who soon published it to critical acclaim (Purdy “Autobiographical Sketch”). and Purdy found himself. . indignant rejections from the New York slick magazines. as Purdy himself humorously and ruefully related in this 1984 autobiographical sketch: In my twenties. . as he relates: Despite all this acclaim coming to me out of total obscurity. it was to be in the future a kind of endless open warfare. All editors were insistent that I would never be a published writer. . My stories were always returned with angry. (Purdy “Autobiographical Sketch”) In 1956. peevish. a critical. . even hostile. Sitwell declared Purdy “a writer of genius” and offered to introduce his work to a commercial publisher in England. American publishers then competed for the right to publish the work that they had spurned earlier. In general.Ch a p t e r Th r e e Wh at e v e r Is. if not a financial. too. In what must have seemed to the unknown author a more or less miraculous letter of reply. when he was forty-two years old. Purdy—spurred by “a kind of psychic impulse”—sent a privately published collection of his fiction to Dame Edith Sitwell. I soon realized that if my life up to then had been a series of pitched battles. for a period of several years and novels. whom he did not know. success as an author.

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. it was the gay literary-critical establishment that found most to object to in his work. I think intellectuals are the worst sinners because they want everything clear and life is not clear. 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. is that they simply don’t know how to read his work properly” (“Elijah Thrush” 62–63). (Lane “Interview”) One of Purdy’s best readers. there is no reason to assume that such relevance will be fictively “direct. and negativity in response to. as the author complained. Purdy’s work—and that is the failure of readers and critics to recognize the allegorical nature of Purdy’s fictionalizing. Tanner went on to postulate that. but they don’t get it because they come with preconceived notions as to what fiction should be and what political correctness should be. and one reason. But first I want to explore the possibility of a more pervasive and generic cause for critical misunderstanding of. Manifest and latent homophobia no doubt lies at the root of much of the neglect of. Actually I think my books are very clear. more recently. as well as by the literary-critical establishment. completely taken up with trends and ratings and sales. contemporary taste and habits of reading.46 / alternative realisms I found the so-called literary establishment parochial and studiedly insensitive to the kind of writing I was engaged in. the English critic Tony Tanner. and prostrate before their true God. Purdy’s fiction. although we naturally look for the “relevance” to our lives of what we are reading. his work came more and more to be overlooked and dismissed by the publishing and reviewing powers that be. been done justice by the leading contemporary critics. which persistently refused to adhere to any brand of political correctness. Indeed. and hostility to.” in a recognizably realistic or naturalistic manner (“Elijah Thrush” 63). it may be. concurred with Purdy’s assessment regarding the misreading and misunderstanding of his work on the part of critics: “Purdy has never. it seems to me. for which Purdy claimed total contempt: “What they call politically acceptable I call philistinism and stupidity” (Lane “Interview”). . (Purdy “Autobiographical Sketch”) As Purdy continued to write novels that not only failed to adhere to. 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. but also lampooned and satirized. Mammon. which—as the author acerbically noted—does not always portray gays as “well-behaved bourgeoisie” (Lane “Interview”).

and the world of its reader. values. The world as presented in allegory appears paradoxically supra-real and unreal at once. Tanner likewise is quick to point out that Purdy’s remarkably and self-consciously allegorical novel. “This is not to suggest we are presented with dimly veiled allegories” (10). Both critics seem wary of labeling Purdy an outright allegorist. post-structuralist-influenced reevaluation of the allegorical mode published in 1979. inherent in the very words on the page. the “literal surface” of the allegorical narrative is innately unstable. our more narrow contemporary conceptions of allegory tend to deny the mode this power of ambiguity. 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). . 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). British critic Stephen Adams noted the “Christian existentialist” philosophic basis of Purdy’s work. allegory had worked to keep the real richly ambiguous. noting that “the question of what is real remains ambiguous” (City 107). What is radical about this redefinition is the slight but fundamental shift in emphasis away from our traditional insistence on allegory’s distinction between . The allegorical narrative displays a radical ambivalence. which leads us to question the reality of the world of the text. as our personified emotions. Prior to the Enlightenment and its concomitant dissociation of sensibility. in Purdy’s fiction. which prevents the reader from entering the fiction’s imagined reality in a self-forgetful or escapist manner. a few years after Adams’ and Tanner’s comments. but the possibility of an otherness. I am Elijah Thrush. “people and things both are and are not there” (City 85). a polysemy. By contrast. Tanner remarked that. suggesting “a peculiar doubleness of intention” (Fletcher 7). Then he adds.whatever is. and instincts confront us directly in the text—implying that one of our worlds is fake. implying that to do so would be to consign him to the realm of the intellectually narrow and second rate. In an ambitious. 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). is wrong / 47 As Angus Fletcher commented in his influential study of the allegorical mode. allegory therefore names the fact that language can signify many things at once . . But perhaps it is our understanding of allegory that is at fault. “is a book which devours its own allegories” (“Elijah Thursh” 64). 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. In a perceptive monograph on Purdy published in 1976.

as Quilligan observed. which is a collection of lunacies. self-conscious allegory. quite literally. But that requires that we first admit that we do not fully know or possess ourselves. Life is contradictory. We contradict ourselves every day. Rather. as Purdy’s troubled reception history would seem to indicate: The critics seem to think there is such a thing as rational behavior. knowable. . (Purdy. I guess. or the Queen of Hearts. . finally. “interconnecting and criss-crossing” surface of the text (28). are related to the . and . Quilligan commented. Rather. to the simultaneity of the process of signifying multiple meanings. to the literal.1 By contrast. and that we are never. Indeed. (28) In order to understand this multiple-signifying process in allegory. allegory is constantly reminding us of our precarious position—and thus of our culpability and responsibility—as readers of signifying texts. Allegory refuses to provide us with a recognizable world in which we are at home within our assumed values and identities. as the reader translates the words on the page into “metaphorical” scenes of fictive reality in the mind’s eye (67). it is the mimetic realist mode of writing and reading that tends to take place on two distinct levels. They haven’t read history. refuses to allow us to engage our negative capability and to sink into. as selves. It is in our face. “The final focus of any allegory is its reader. but an ethical failure. 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. the world of fiction. exist if not on the page?). And this we generally are reluctant to admit. or drift away into.48 / alternative realisms word said and meaning meant. the real ‘action’ of any allegory is the reader’s learning to read the text properly” (24). which—with such an interactive text—is necessarily to learn to read ourselves as well. and the allegorical text does not hesitate to tell us so. Lane “Interview”) Purdy’s fictive effort to express our contradictory world and selves through allegory. clear. and turns those questions on us as readers. with its insistence upon the horizontal surface of the text (where does a literal character like the Knight of Holiness. rather. and Quilligan’s effort to teach us to read allegory as an innately interactive and necessarily ambiguous signifying text. allegory insistently questions both world and identity. horizontal. we must rid ourselves of the notion that allegory proceeds on two simple. Quilligan argues. we’re not the next. or own-able. What we are one day. and distinct levels—one of material things and one of abstract meanings—and pay close attention. accreting.

its self-conscious symmetries and repetitions. and its focus upon the literal—in the sense of historically accurate and interpretatively transparent—truth of scripture. among other things). As historian John Lukacs argued recently in At the End of an Age. and its persistent play with words and images. before Galileo was charged with heresy and threatened with excommunication. in any case. . Martin Luther declared unequivocally. Allegorical interpretation of the world and its texts has tended to flourish in periods in which the conditions. and the failure of the effort to create a “Unified Theory” of mathematics to account for all of reality—which. 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). and in knowledge itself. with “the affirmation of the Uncertainty and Indeterminacy principle” of physics. be mistaken for reality. Lukacs concluded: We must recognize . A model is man-made. its elaborate framing devices. 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. Rather. it alerts us to the uncertainty innate in all sign systems. With allegory’s focus upon the literal text (its tendency toward personification of abstractions. “I hate allegories” (qtd. and of the universe. that our concepts of matter. in Whitman 3). are models. and must not. allegory calls the nature of reality itself into question. In the modern Western world. It is worth remembering that. like the self-qualifying models of matter Lukacs considers. dependent upon its inventor. and that admit of their own contingency. As Jon Whitman recently wrote: “The turn to allegorical interpretation repeatedly marks civilizations trying to keep—or in danger of losing—their intellectual .whatever is. (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. relational reality of any subject and object. would explain reality only in the self-limited terms of mathematics itself—both the theoretical scientist and his close cousin. . 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). and on its limitations as a language. values. it insists upon its own existence as a contingent artifact. By extension. allegory first came into serious disrepute with the Reformation. and assumptions of the everyday real world have been called into question. the metaphysical-epistemic philosopher. More important: the model cannot. This period also saw the arising of modern science and its claims for a singleness of certainty in truth.

contradictions. without an overt philosophic or political argument of their own. in which the onceprivileged truth of science has come to be understood to be conditional. is certainly such a civilization. Tanner. read an allegory by learning how to read it” (227).50 / alternative realisms and spiritual equilibrium” (4). as well as being innately revolutionary in their implicit and explicit political argument. the plot of a Jane Austen novel may be interpreted as evoking (unwittingly. but there is much that remains to be examined and understood. the allegorizing literary critic may well resent the creative allegorist’s control over the matter of interpretation (Anatomy 90). for example. Our modern world. However. then.) Early Purdy critics such as Tanner. and Adams laid the groundwork for such an analysis in their work of three decades and more ago. 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. as Northrop Frye famously contended. and in which the technologically enabled merging of cultures with radically different histories and value structures has created ongoing sociopolitical and epistemic crisis. perhaps) the domestic societal tensions created by British Imperial colonization—are not generally useful for reading allegories that are created as such. Schwarzchild. Indeed. As Quilligan noted. the habits and skills associated with a sophisticated critical allegoresis—by which. On the other hand. that Purdy’s best critics have been those of an earlier generation—such as Adams. of course. Allegory requires of its reader that he or she adopt the position of the student. For today’s typical politically engaged literary critic. 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 complexities of sign systems. submitting oneself to the text’s tutorial may well seem a dereliction of duty. as contemporary allegorical theorists are quick to point out. We have only begun to detect the full range of symbolic complexity in Purdy’s novels. and have yet to comprehend the multiple implications of their allegorical nature. and by those with various Marxist-influenced political agendas. Purdy has been more or less ignored by near-contemporary practitioners of deconstruction. that such a currently unpopular critical project would not be able to see its way past the editorial board and into print. The irony is that Purdy’s allegorical texts are radically deconstructive of their own fictionalizing. as an initiate into the text’s mysteries. unlike allegorical critics. It is perhaps no surprise. 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. which Purdy . along with all other truths. (There is the danger. “Readers of allegory.

scene. Purdy’s allegorical novels do not necessarily appear to announce themselves as such. in which every character. the interchange between them. and Western. which has a “realistic veneer” but is symbolic through and through. and to some extent the character of the grandmother. A distinction must be made between the type of allegorical fiction that Purdy created. In the story “A Good Man is Hard to Find. however. when confronted with a wholehearted allegorical text. as we know. 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. is the thematic and symbolic heart of the story. The outer texture is realistic.” for instance. and indeed. and his narratives are likewise similar to but different from the narratives of conventional mimetic fiction. but the actual story has a symbolic. We might take as an example of the latter the well-known fiction of Flannery O’Connor. (Purdy “Artistic Statement”) Unlike the allegorical subgenres of fantasy. are clearly meant to be interpreted in an allegorical-symbolic fashion. a writer with whom Purdy has been much compared. I do not pretend to complete a comprehensive allegorical analysis within the limits of this chapter. and is then killed by him. the character of the Misfit. is wrong / 51 himself pointed out (Baldanza 566). science fiction. the convention of embedding key symbolic passages within naturalistic narratives is.whatever is. and setting . I would argue that O’Connor’s fiction is typically only partially allegorical. To the untutored reader. Purdy’s fictions take place in an American world that is often very similar to our own. almost mythic quality. since they bear a naturalistic veneer. The other characters and scenes in the story act as a naturalistic setup and environment for the symbolic climax and its theological-metaphysical argument. The characters are being moved by forces. 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. but with meaningful differences. Rather. which they don’t understand. fairly common practice in modern and contemporary fiction. as the author himself explained: My writing is both realistic and symbolic. at the conclusion of which the grandmother identifies the Misfit as her son. (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.) Although O’Connor’s fiction is remarkable for the didactic concision of her symbolic argument. and the contemporary hybrid genre of naturalistic-symbolism that is sometimes referred to as allegory.

(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. In such a text. and go on till you come to the end: then stop” (113). plunging him headlong into a fictive landscape in which normal perspectives of reality do not seem to apply. embodied in the two major figures of the text. the sole possessor of an immense oil fortune. painter of art nouveau. after ruining the lives of countless men and women. We may witness a sample interchange between them. whereas I am Elijah Thrush is characterized by the overt theatricality and symmetrical stasis of the masque. which serves to throw the reader off his balance. de-centered sentence structure. As Fletcher noted. Purdy’s texts provide us with ample clues. The hyperbolic language—“immense. as in a dream. Malcolm is in the form of a quest. who.” “incurable. Malcolm. with elements of mock-epic and picaresque. But unlike Carroll.” “countless”—contributes to the reader’s disorientation by insisting upon the un-circumscribable nature of the subject matter. This dreamlike quality is fostered by the digressive. languished of an incurable ailment.52 / alternative realisms seems to invite symbolic interpretation and understanding. if we know how to recognize and to read them. hopeless love for Elijah Thrush. 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.” was finally himself in love. I am Elijah Thrush : Millicent De Frayne. although it may seem to be familiar. demi-god-like figures. 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 . “the mime. Consider the introduction to one of Purdy’s most overtly allegorical novels. For Purdy’s fictive world is—like Wonderland—a world apart. if not indecently. poet. but the major figures in this novel.” with his great grandson. . one chief identifying characteristic of allegory is “the lack of that perspective which would create a mimetic world” (171). and of its larger-thanlife. . Indeed. . however. and in the earlier novel. “incorrectly. are overtly so.” “hopeless. One basis of the action is the running argument and endless jockeying for position between the eternal feminine and eternal masculine principles. who was young in 1913. there is no knowing where to begin and end the interpretive reading task. her willful. Purdy’s characters habitually tend toward the archetypal. 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.

however. religious allegory. and there is not a young person in this audience tonight whom he has not either corrupted or will ruin and corrupt. Oral Roberts University: I thought it must be a mistake. kept out of jail only by her wealth. stomping in like this in the midst of my most fatiguing number .” Millicent De Frayne began her rejoinder. as the Oral Roberts’ students seemed to be inclined to interpret it. . The continual bickering between them. as opposed to the naturalistic novel’s principle of narrative development (Fletcher 66–67). (In his anger he always gave away his age. . In a telling anecdote. . and their inventive plotting against one another. I ask them to attend to the text’s ritualistic and archetypal symbol structure. has been persecuting me since the turn of the century. run indeed as if the whole edifice were in flames . and the first book I saw them reading was I am Elijah Thrush. creating a repetitive symmetry and rhythm that is essentially ritualistic in nature.” (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.” “On the other hand. I couldn’t get over it.whatever is. as his allegorical fiction is not in the least dogmatically religious. and yet she flatters herself that I am hopelessly enamored of her . That’s what they saw me doing. give shape to this oddly hilarious and nightmarish novel (that reads like a long night at the circus). prompting an outraged response from the legendary “mime”: “Damned old bag of bones. though professionally he listed himself always as twentyeight. “has corrupted his own great-grandson. I can vouch for the fact . (Canning 17) Purdy’s surprise is understandable. I went. 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. . . I am begging you therefore to run as you would for your lives. For at the heart of allegory lies the symmetrical archetypal ritual as ordering principle. this wicked mountebank. 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). They think these books are like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress or Spenser’s Faerie Queene.) She has the breath of a tribe of cannibals and about as much beauty as an overage anteater. Purdy related the seemingly unlikely event of being invited to give a reading at the conservative Christian institution. . which she never earned a dime of. When I teach Purdy’s novels to my literature students. That being said. Ladies and gentlemen. this common whore here.

Such designations emphasize a character’s generic position in a social and/or archetypal setting and hierarchy. and in themselves and their world. humorous.” “the great woman. So Elijah Thrush is repeatedly referred to as “the mime. outlandish. These dramatic epithets are particularly fitting for characters remarkable for their overt theatricality of speech and gesture (recalling their . more than any other linguistic phenomenon dominates the allegorical work” (294). unpredictable characters. Eloisa Brace. rather than simply as signifiers.” “the little man. of course. 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. the characters’ names are a good place to start. questioning the ideal of progress. He relished elaborate. Nora Bythewaite—may evince a pastoral nostalgia for a lost America.” et cetera. but they also serve. with whom he had much in common as a creator. etc. . Estel Blanc. As if to emphasize the instability and artificiality of identity even further. Purdy’s quaintly historic and eccentric names—Eustace Chisholm. and archaic names perhaps as much as did Firbank. like something forgotten. “Parkhearst” signals the end of pastoral innocence: park hearse. that is other than the obvious. and to question our assumptions. . and yet strangely fitting and familiar. paradoxically.” “the thespian. as descriptions. in art as in life. and they refer to one another. for a meaning and relevance in the text. Such meaning need not. When we seek to understand an allegory’s symbol system.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. and at the end of the story it is the name alone that remains.” “the horse tender. Abner Blossom. as all allegory serves to instruct us to examine our lives and behavior. and begin searching.” while other Purdy characters are called “the scissors grinder. Purdy habitually refers to his characters. the more their evocative names (which are often purposeful and meaningful in and of themselves: “Claire” sees all too clearly. but it will have an ethical import. The more time we spend with Purdy’s willful. They are sieves through which the character is poured. by descriptive or working titles. rather. Purdy’s names are typically unlikely and eccentric. in their verbal distinctiveness. empty and hollow. be of a doctrinal religious nature. like a relic or ruin—which is how we first encounter them.) come to seem. Vance DeLake. Allegory is adroit at creating this impression of movement within stasis. Fletcher remarks that “the magic of names . They are significant artifacts in and of themselves—clues to a virtual world of potential meanings that is hidden in the everyday.

contemporary novelist Matthew Stadler traced the development of the theatrical element in Purdy’s fiction. like the poor peasant who is a natural-born king. which has polluted our shared language to the point at which authentic speech has become nearly impossible. is not a playful illustrative technique. prefigured script—a logic of the cosmos that is beyond us and is embedded in real speech. in which potential meanings coexist and coincide. as on the other side of Alice’s mirror. Rather it is a realm of radical signification. Benjamin further argued that allegory “is the form in which man’s subjection to nature is most obvious” (166). indeed.whatever is. the only way forward at a time when a great deal of imaginative writing had become subsumed within the rhetoric of consumerism. toward a realm of metaphorical potential-in-meaning. is wrong / 55 morality play ancestors). in which the living are subject to signifying nature’s “mysterious instruction. Stadler concluded: Purdy’s conjuring of a kind of neo-Greek theater of American speech was a brilliant maneuver. (9) Stadler’s argument regarding “real speech” echoes a contention by Walter Benjamin that “allegory . But their speech and gestures point insistently elsewhere. .” and from which we normally are separated by the world of human history understood . beginning with the publication of Eustace Chisholm and the Works in 1967. Allegories tell us that we are fated to speak our temperamentally prefigured scripts in a world whose ultimate meaning is beyond us. just as speech is expression. (8) Again. 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. 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. In the world of these novels authentic being is achieved through fidelity to an obscure. his work evolved from simply suggesting a critique of naturalism to becoming a fully functioning alternative to it. in the succeeding novels Purdy published in the 1970s. . Stadler contended that. It is a mistake to conceive of this “other” realm to which allegories refer as a world of final ideas fixed in abstract stasis.2 In an excellent recent overview of Purdy’s work and career. and. but a form of expression. It is the virtual realm hidden “within plain sight” within the actual. Stadler’s observation echoes that of Benjamin. just as writing is” (162).

Lewis Carroll. including that of our own bodies. religious or temperamental allegiance. Benjamin argued. abstractions are embodied within material existence. as allegory also seeks to remind us through its focus on its own bodily existence as a text. the non-allegorical abstraction is consigned to the melancholy half-life of signs that have forgotten that they are existent and contingent things. The story triumphalist history tells us presumes to put borders around our world through the commodification of human life into beginning and end. allegory will not allow us to forget that we are fated to live among the signifying ruins of time. are world-affirming materialists in practice. and Ashbery—that it becomes entirely dependent upon the transcendent and its negative theology. particularly in regards to eating. James Merrill. in effect. As George Steiner wrote in his insightful introduction to Benjamin’s posthumously published monograph: “The Trauerspiel is counter-transcendental. or even than the violence in O’Connor’s fiction. history attempts. William Blake. bolting their food. O’Connor’s violence is didactically allegorical in nature.56 / alternative realisms as the history of progress. Purdy’s materialism is evident in his insistent focus on his characters’ bodiliness. In allegory. the characters are typically ravenous. even when the story it tells is not. and Purdy. In that sense. steadfastly refusing the mind’s abstracting pornographic voyeuristic fantasies of the body. By the means of such narratives. allegory is innately celebratory. cliché and stereotype. Purdy’s wrenching. They are also prone to spitting when they speak. and gulping their drinks. unflinching portrayals of physical violence are much more disturbing than the stylized Hollywood version. It is only when allegory tends toward the wholly immaterial abstract—as. Swinburne. By contrast. Having lost its vital connection to the material world. emphasizing the bodily impulse of the intellect and the innate physicality of language. 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. to overcome “signifying nature” by submitting our chaotic and multiplicitous experience to the censor of a narrow and linear rationality (Benjamin 170–171). and is in the service of a transcendent . it celebrates the immanence of existence even where this existence is passed in torment” (16). With its emphasis on the limits of signification. And yet we are alive and not dead. in the ascetic. whatever their psychic. allegory demonstrates the failure of history as a self-limiting and redeeming story. by contrast. smacking their lips. for instance. Stevens. metaphysical strain of Romanticism that may be seen running variously through Shelley. cause and effect. The oft-noted violence in Purdy’s work is itself overtly bodily and anti-sensationalistic. Full-fledged allegorists such as Dante.

remains. Elijah Thrush’s infatuation with his great-grandson is as purely heartfelt. which prevents a consoling certainty and closure (Fletcher 330). 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.whatever is. His allegorical novels dramatize the unappeasable anxiety prompted by existence. The aging “great woman” of enormous wealth and power. helpless. selfless. He manages this by constantly shifting focus from the mundane banalities of day-to-day living to the ultramundane intercessions of fate and temperament. From certain viewpoints. 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. despondent. our relationship to allegorical figures is innately antagonistic. upon which they seem both commentary and prophecy. nevertheless. in which she is variously portrayed as vituperative. we are. and exhausted. Purdy’s allegorical characters are intensely immanent beings bearing potentially unlimited meaning. Regarding such searing. and self-lacerating as any pastoral complaint. outraged. Although we are not prone to identifying with allegorical figures in a self-forgetful. searching portrayals. Tanner concluded. like figures in myth. is wrong / 57 moral theme. Purdy also understood men in their narcissistic. merciless. nevertheless. “Purdy is . Rare among modern writers. the immensely resourceful Eternal Feminine. Such “objects” remind us of our own provisionality. the hapless victim of a historical phallocentric family structure. But she is. and they tell us that this is the actual condition of life for all of us. egoistic manner. Purdy used myth to powerful effect. the persistent paradox of which makes them appear simultaneously willful and determined. so that a character is made to seem alternately real and supra-real.3 Purdy’s radical allegorical figures are condemned to have the experience but miss the meaning. . relentlessly feeding off of men. to grind Elijah Thrush to powder” (93). society. egoistic. enraged. incredulous. and not quite godlike. In this sense. . “It is as something incomplete and imperfect that objects stare out from their allegorical structure” (186). one of the few American writers who seem to understand women” (“Elijah Thrush” 65). bespeaking an innate ambivalence in the nature of things. indignant. of course. as well. frequently disturbed by the implication of their behavior and circumstance in regards to our own lives and fates. is a staple allegorical figure throughout Purdy’s fiction. who feels herself to be. . but shares something of both states” (61). whereas Purdy’s violence and fiction is radically allegorical in its amoral and ritualistic nature. Fletcher remarks. “The allegorical agent is not quite human. Benjamin noted. and culture. wrong-headed. human and godlike.

exhaustively accounting for their behavior from contradictory viewpoints. we. except be other than themselves in a world other than their own. In response to a question regarding his thematic intentions in a particular novel.58 / alternative realisms They threaten us with their embodiment of mysterious knowledge. however. too. progressing by digressing. He likewise refuses to account for or to question their behavior. Purdy’s novels proceed inductively. 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. Fletcher noted that allegory’s assent to and endorsement of “cosmic notions of fate and personal fortune . Like his characters and his readers. in effect. The solution is implicit in the question—in the discovery of the crime. have the experience but miss the meaning—becoming in effect. In allegorical poetry. The world of the wandering and meandering plots in these novels is crucially bounded. 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. Rather. the author typically dramatizes his role as pilgrim and initiate—as do Dante. allows its creators a maximum of wish-fulfillment with a maximum of restraint” (69). explained away. . which was more often Purdy’s method. Purdy remarked. As readers of allegory. 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. There are two methods by which an author can work to prevent readers from ego-identifying with fictional characters. as Samuel Beckett remarked of Proust’s characters. until they become. giving his novels the feel of extended improvisations and works in progress. In fictive terms. by the unalterable limits of the characters’ temperaments as they collide with their fated circumstance. or he can decline to explain them at all. It is as though the narrative were inscribing the path of an ongoing criminal investigation or scientific experiment. “I don’t think I’m that conscious of what I’m . but they are speaking in a language that we understand imperfectly. tracing a trajectory that seems the product of no merely conscious fashioning. In Purdy’s novels. Purdy as narrator does not presume to be responsible for his characters or to direct their behavior. He can overexplain them. he seems as much at the mercy of their whim as do we. Blake. Purdy’s characters seem apt to do almost anything at all. allegorical figures in our own right. the allegorical author is figured as a fallible and contingent initiate into the mysteries of existence. 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. and Merrill. .

for instance. is wrong / 59 doing. Fletcher contended that allegories. sometimes between the archetypal characters themselves. and by a mixture of the two. refusing to be self-limited by the boundaries of the known and recognized. Purdy is vigorously anti psychoanalytic. which is dominated by the serial battle scenes between Elijah and Millicent. (As readers. which the text appears to be expounding and dissecting through its compulsive digressions (Fletcher 156–159). The relationship of a character’s temperament to his circumstances determines whether his fate is good or bad. Likewise. which are naturalistic. None of Purdy’s novels are what one would regard as typically plotdriven or character-driven. which. The progress of allegories is not the causal progression of naturalistic narrative development. for whom the nature of allegory was a central aesthetic preoccupation. Purdy’s allegorical novels proceed variously by the progress and the battle form. perpetually flout the innate story arc of naturalism. On the contrary. I am Elijah Thrush. they are charting new psychological waters. To one extent or another. The picaresque and mock-epic Malcolm. which progress always by opposition. as a variation on a theme.whatever is. I’m dealing so deep down with the subject that it’s hard for me to comment” (Lane “Interview”). clearly functions in the progress form. tend. Albert Peggs. in their insistent digressions. proceeds in a serial and repetitive fashion. the same could be said of Purdy’s novels. It is interesting to note that Gilles Deleuze.” which he labels “battle and progress” (151). In his refusal to account for his own or his characters’ behavior. which is not to say that his novels are un-psychological. by contrast. and sometimes between the characters and their fated . remarked that “all of Kafka’s works could be entitled ‘Description of a Combat’ ” (Essays 132). The “battle” form. but the reasons for and causes of which remain unknown to him (Fletcher 151–153). but is the ritualistic progress of the quest. non-allegorical structuring traits. it does not occur to us to wish for a happy ending or to long for an improvement in these characters. Rather it is the reader who is being prompted to alter his behavior and understanding in response to the text’s mysterious instruction. but he cannot alter either. in which the protagonist is an actor in a plot that is fated. into Elijah’s heir and replacement in his one-man show. but there are recurring battles throughout. rather to “resolve themselves into either of two basic forms. also tells the story of the progress of the narrator. We are not in a position to make such judgments regarding their selves and lives.) Rather Purdy’s novels are driven by the characters’ unpredictable temperaments in the grip of uncontrollable circumstances. allowing themselves to be guided by the instinctive divagations of human nature within the determined confines of the same.

and by so doing determine our fate. It loves what enables its fulfillment and hates what hinders it. As Spinoza had said. without thought or hesitation. by explaining the innate workings of the body in its own terms—pretending to choose what it has no choice but to endure. and the embodiment of a god the next. Our loves and hates act instinctively. self-reproach. According to the model of reality outlined by Spinoza and Deleuze (which is implicitly endorsed by the allegorical mode). but of sensing whether they agree or disagree with us. Like allegorical figures. The challenge is not to alter one’s nature—to change oneself from evil to good. Judgment prevents the emergence of any new mode of existence . it is a problem of love and hate and not judgment. Deleuze concluded: No one develops through judgment. however. whether they bring forces to us . Spinoza describes the relationship of fate to consciousness in terms of body and mind: “The body can. As viewed through allegory. such repetitive and persistent combat is not the existential quagmire it might seem. For Deleuze. but it is beyond . . Nature is ultimately mysterious. each individual’s human nature is his destiny. 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. but through a combat that implies no judgment . we are an empty shell at one moment. It is not a question of judging other existing beings. . The fictions with which consciousness consoles itself by claiming control of that which is determined come at a high social and psychological price. These gods lie dormant until they are brought to life by our encountered circumstances. The mind as consciousness consoles itself.60 / alternative realisms circumstance. So it is that we each carry our fates within us: our temperamental loves and hates are godlike in regards to ourselves. do many things at which the mind is astonished” (167). As Deleuze commented. 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. oppression. “Consciousness is by nature the locus of an illusion. (Essays 135) For Spinoza. Its nature is such that it registers effects. as Benjamin insisted. by virtue of the laws of its own nature. . but it knows nothing of causes” (Spinoza 19). however. . et cetera—but to alter one’s world so that one’s nature can thrive. and misery result from the misconception that we consciously choose and affect that which is fated. . Human nature admits of no judgment—no limit—but itself. Intolerance. . human consciousness is primarily an onlooker to the ongoing drama of our fated lives.

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. We have a government that’s totally corrupt and television is a great bleeding rectum spewing filth which is poisoning everyone. is wrong” (16). conformity. and to trace the general shape and argument of his work in regards to his allegorical means and methods. “There is no evil in the world. great cruel society. It arises in man himself. Allegory demonstrates the manner in which our all too human judgment all too often fails us. it’s a great. we need to understand the different ways in which they work both to destroy and to create through allegory. Purdy demonstrated his allegorical proclivities when he told Christopher Lane: “I think I’ll always be—I hate to say this. Everything is money. is wrong / 61 reproof—as nothing that is. with the desire for knowledge. The novels (1) critique the world we live in. All of Purdy’s novels are satirical to one degree or another—although they tended to become less bitingly so as his career developed. These categories and genres are meant to be suggestive. the novels engaged in a lament of our failed world’s casualties are allegorical tragedies (I will explain the term).whatever is. and (3) envision a better world of the future. The novels that are dominated by a critique of our world and its false gods are satirical in nature. I hate to categorize myself—but I guess I’ll always be a revolutionary. Whatever is. In order to understand the profound political argument in Purdy’s texts. (Lane “Interview”) . or rather for judgment” (233). shallowness. fashion. Not all of Purdy’s novels fit easily into this schema. nature serves as a reproof against human prejudice—against the inclination to judge and to be judged. but most of them do. is unnatural. For discussion’s sake. And now it’s very sick because these children are killing one another. 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. we can work to create a world in which our loves are given the opportunity to thrive and our hates are disempowered. while the novels that attempt to envision a better world of the future function as pastoral romances. Purdy’s novels are constructive in this sense.4 Although we cannot control our loves and hates. No one is doing anything about the real problems. They are destructive as well. as they attempt to dismantle the false gods that so often serve to spoil our lives. (2) lament the world’s casualties. rather than definitive or exhaustive. Benjamin wrote in his conclusion. cruelty. Rather. we may divide the allegorical-political argument of Purdy’s novels into three broad rhetorical categories with generic affiliations. In any case. in which he expounded upon his view of our American world of the present: It is a culture that despises the soul.

On the contrary. which is to live a life so hemmed in by convention and safety. The novel focuses on consumerism and its attendant evils. Through the dramatization of such hyperbole in his satires and tragedies. which the author referred to as “a book about how awful America is” (Canning 36). His vivid depiction of abuse and dysfunction demonstrates the manner in which each illness acts as its own scourge. who is a victim of what Anarchist theorist Raoul Vaneigem diagnosed as “survival sickness” (19). while effectively paralyzing his conscious will. So it is that Cabot’s visit to a quack therapist (where his treatment for “tiredness” consists. Purdy’s disturbing allegorical anatomies of social and psychological illness are apt to be misread by readers unfamiliar with the workings of allegory. The most bitter and searching of Purdy’s satires is his 1964 novel. Cabot Wright Begins. and his woebegone characters are made to seem like figures in Dante’s Hell. tellingly. and to prompt us to consider possible cures. and the psychological-existential sickness of nihilism. in which he is no longer responsible for his actions. Purdy’s allegorical satires and tragedies serve as an indictment of reality as his characters experience it. that one no longer feels oneself to be alive at all. He proved himself a profound symptomatologist. as one becomes a more thoroughly invested and enabled consumer. having become a sexual machine. The central consumer in the novel is the “serial rapist” Cabot Wright himself. all are diagnosed through the dramatized anatomy of individuals suffering from these maladies—and who make others suffer as well.62 / alternative realisms The concluding metaphor is meaningfully disturbing. The therapist’s success at engaging Cabot’s animal-instinct mechanism. of being hung on a padded sort of fishhook) further awakens the animal instincts in his body and psyche while intensifying his mental stupor. and prison finished what they had started. or emotionally invested in his desires. who may be prone to consider that an author’s choice of material is an endorsement of its worldview. as a cog in the marketplace mechanism. Purdy attempted to call attention to the grisly symptoms of our world’s various sicknesses. ushers the patient into the final stages of survival sickness. His eventual arrest and incarceration come as a release: When the police began their so-called brutality on him. mimicking the obsessive-compulsive motions of the consuming marketplace. revealing society’s illness through the misery and dysfunction of its individuals. . compulsively pursuing their self-styled punishment. not only his membrum virile went from “At-tention!” to “Pa-rade rest!” to “At ease!” but the bite which had been so long. and as his readers all too often know it. Thus the social sicknesses of homophobia and consumerism. The insidious nature of survival sickness is such that most attempts to become more alive and healthy serve simply to worsen the disease.

concerned with the failure of various framing characters to complete a novel based upon his story. Rather. and as . whereby a novel about Cabot Wright is being produced even as the novel that tells his story is being devoured by its reader. I am Elijah Thrush. 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. seems to consume its own project as a fictive endeavor. This writing project is finally undone by the “Goethe” of publishers. who—after consulting the bookreviewing powers that be (close parodies of actual literary arbiters of the 1960s)—declares the work unpublishable. reminds us of our role in the manipulative consuming machinery of the marketplace. and more tolerant in our thinking and behavior. One is implicated in the consumerist society simply by the fact that one exists in it. but also of the satirical element in the other. in a broader sense. is only the purported center of a novel that is. 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. Humbled by our conviction as users. Our awareness of our role as readers in the text makes us aware. It also insists upon the reader’s culpability. But the allegorical text isn’t content with implicating the author in his user status. who was a privileged son and Wall Street golden boy. This dialogue is in the mouth of the inset novel’s failed author. as it alerts us to the fact that we have a hand—however minor—in controlling both text and world.” and “it’s the age of the black faggot and fellatio” (203). The effect of such satires—of Cabot Wright Begins. but it serves to question the very enterprise of the artist in a consumerist world. and Malcolm in particular. of our role as users in the world. primarily non-satirical novels—is generally comic. concluding with the declaration. identities in Purdy’s satires are presented as improvised tools that we use against one another in our quest for power and control. There is no escape. as well. The allegorical import of the elaborate framing device. we may become more thoughtful in our actions. 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. since “rape” is no longer “in. One repeated object of conventional satire is the notion of identity as a stable possession and natural right. but it is a bitter humor. “I won’t be a writer in a place and time like the present” (228). (195) The sensational raping spree of Cabot Wright. is wrong / 63 the huge false-teeth which Business America fastened at his jugular was off. This may be painful solace.whatever is. by analogy. We are potentially made better persons by such knowledge. but it is solace nonetheless.

64 / alternative realisms

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).

whatever is, is wrong / 65

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

66 / alternative realisms

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

whatever is, is wrong / 67

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

who contended that. Purdy’s allegorical novels chart the psychological netherworld beyond the boundaries of rational causation and conscious motive. Purdy pushed downwards into the depths of the human psyche— encountering gods and monsters—while holding tight to his allegorical lifeline. totally representative of ulterior meanings and. And then this tenderness would be followed by fury and hatred and loathing.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. revealing details of the human situation and truths regarding our nature that we might prefer not to know or own. ‘unreal’ in itself. Although . “Brawith.” which renders the remarkably graphic death of a young man from the lingering effects of nauseating war wounds. (One might try to imagine a contemporary medieval Italian critic making such a charge regarding Dante’s Inferno. 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). If his tragic characters are determined. Purdy does not appear to be forcing his narrative hand. can render bearable an authentic perception of the infernal. in terms of our understanding of the human psyche. Oscar Wilde.68 / alternative realisms sure that he would never feel such tenderness for any other person. In such passages and novels. so that he was afraid he would do something violent. my undergraduate literature students insisted that it was both unrealistic (“that wouldn’t happen”) and altogether too real for comfort in its intense physicality. (164–165) It is remarkable that. would strike the sick boy down and harm him. (20) When I taught Purdy’s late story.) On the contrary. literature has never allowed itself to become morbid enough (1055). They had discovered the paradox that is allegorical signification. which pursue their own narrative logic of revenge. Steiner remarked of the capacity of allegory to venture into psychic realms that are generally unendurable: Only allegory. 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. In and through his tragic novels. it is not by their author so much as by their frustrated lives and desires. even when giving us such a clear foreshadowing. therefore. Purdy seems to have taken up the challenge laid down by one of his chief precursors. in that it makes substance totally significant.

and Out with the Stars all take place behind the pastoral boundary. the tragedies lament its victims. for instance. they function as a thematic overture to a remarkably rich and varied career in fiction. it is love (and its perversion: hatred) that determines our lives and selves. although we may go so far.” these figures will be allowed . in turn. and of homosexuality in particular. in the middle period of his career. the satirical and topical I am Elijah Thrush. This refusal is paralleled by the author’s refusal to allow the effect of inhibiting societal strictures to ruin his pastoral characters’ lives. is wrong / 69 sometimes truly awful (in the old sense of the world—inspiring awe). for Claire is fated to be his one true love. and as the pastoral romances occupied his late period. as love will ever do. as I suggested at the beginning of this section: the satires highlight the world’s failures. Purdy’s first three novels established the generic structures he would work with throughout his career: 63: Dream Palace is a tragedy. which ensures that whatever the reality of the world “out there. Malcolm is a satire. These period boundaries are not fixed. and The Nephew is a pastoral. which is also dark. 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. portray figures who are typically psychologically and sexually various and ambiguous. Garments the Living Wear. and the grim tragedy of Narrow Rooms was published directly after the pastoral romance of In a Shallow Grave. was published in between the tragic historical novels. and the pastoral romances posit a better world of the future. The pastoral romances. Eustace Chisholm and the Works and Jeremy’s Version . Taken together. Purdy’s tragic novels serve as excruciating and humbling testimony to the fact that. these tragic novels are paradoxically affirmative in that they demonstrate that love is stronger than we are. but darkly comic and hopeful. Purdy’s tragic novels were written. The later romances of In a Shallow Grave. as to kill others and ourselves in our effort to be rid of love. for the most part. A rhetorical logic of argument is implicit in the progression from satire to tragedy to pastoral romance. The theme of identity remains constant throughout and is tied in Purdy’s work to the issue of sexuality in general. and will continue even in death to provide the meaning to his life. even. as his early work is dominated by the satires. refusing to limit themselves through an adherence to societal roles and stereotypes.whatever is. 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.

Iser points out the innate revolutionary and utopian political nature of pastoral artifice. like . The allegorical “double-vision” of the pastoral ensures that the historical world is not denied in favor of some never-land. “I knew then there was god. and he is so “touchy” that his flesh “all falls away at the slightest pressure. the first-person war-veteran narrator of In a Shallow Grave. . which. I emphasize the pastoral nature of these late romances not only because of the traditional affiliation of the pastoral mode with homosexual desire. An allegorical-pastoral figure par excellence. 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. The historical world also appears both as what it is and what it ought to be” (48).” and concludes. whose origins on a sheepfarm. Garnet is fittingly and humorously preoccupied with writing love letters to his old high school sweetheart. but he wished me to be left in a safe quiet place” (97). “hillbilly. like the forlorn shepherd in Virgil’s Ninth Eclogue. and of the ability of the desiring figure to remain constant in his emotion. Potter Daventry. is about to be forced off of his land. he employs a beautiful young wayfarer. but always in such a way that the latter is refracted as the reorganization of the former. but also because of the utopian nature of pastoral-allegorical argument. The difficulty is that Garnet. while explicitly envisioning a better world of the future. which implicitly condemns the world as we know it. and because of the novels’ many pastoral elements and references. sort of goat voice” (36). exposing the bones” (30). I have been turned inside out in all respects.70 / alternative realisms to pursue their desires unhindered by anything other than the natural failure of those desires to ensure response from the beloved. The vulnerability of Garnet Montrose. all my veins and arteries moved from the inside where they belong to the outside so that as the army doc put it. and that Daventry had been sent for me. 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. the first of Purdy’s late romances. rather it is present in the felt vulnerability of the pastoral realm and landscape. . and I knew also he would leave me . is made all too evident by his unhealed wounds from Vietnam: When I was blown up. For Eros is the most elusive of spirits. As letter messenger and general go-between. as Purdy’s romantic protagonists testify. (73) Garnet’s war wounds are such that he almost literally wears his heart on his sleeve. Garnet himself gradually becomes convinced of Daventry’s immortal origins. “When he played the harmonica I knew he was not human. which the novels demonstrate. who lives conveniently just down the road.

and bitter harangues. cannot now be dismayed for long by the virus of pest or plague. The progress of love in these novels is opposed by oppressive elements in the world at large. We have too intimately known the virus of the power of state and church. Garnet. 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. in which he identifies the disease as yet another manifestation of oppression of homosexuals: “We. and Quintus must contend with the inherited history of racial divide and hatred. class distinctions and the threatening state apparatus. is enabled by the god-in-life figure of Daventry. In the novel Out with the Stars. and the Great God Pan in a strangely moving union that revivifies the mythical-allegorical image of both. In a Shallow Grave is also a homosexual (or at least homosocial) coming out novel. In the character of Potter Daventry. while in Garments the Living Wear. as well as with the lingering ravages of war. Christ. Mr. Hennings—a fabulously wealthy and powerful international financier. Through the intercession of a last-supper-like ceremony in which he sheds and shares his blood. There is an enabling Eros figure such as Potter Daventry in each of Purdy’s late romances.whatever is. Daventry. Quintus. Daventry miraculously saves the property (healing Garnet’s worst wounds in the process). tearful confessions. Hennings delivers an impromptu oration to a gay audience mobilized by the AIDS epidemic. 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. 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. directed against us and aided by the venal and coprophagous press and hoi polloi of the mob!” (65). Frye noted that. is wrong / 71 the fields and forests of Arcadia. as the love of Garnet and his young black servant and friend. Out with the Stars is perhaps Purdy’s most tender novel (rivaled in sentiment only by the remarkably poised and poignant early pastoral The . In In a Shallow Grave. At one point in a narrative that is punctuated by theatrical speeches. 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). and is crowding one hundred years of age. and his arms was stretched out as if he would enfold me” (128). of all people. which are overcome in miraculous fashion with semidivine aid. Purdy called In a Shallow Grave a “religious” novel (Canning 18). in Shakespeare’s comedies and romances. who also is politically revolutionary and sexually ambidextrous. border the ocean. he links the figures of the Good Shepherd. Mr.

life as it might or ought to be. Garments the Living Wear.) Out With the Stars also serves as an homage to the great gay composer and cultural catalyst. but he can make beautiful song of them.S. art. 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. without engaging in an outright argument. the novelist and photographer Carl Van Vechten (figured as “the leading hedonist of his day” (110)). bigoted. The pastoral has long been a refuge and tool of gay artists. (On the brink of a riot. distracted. and for the artist in general. and love. although that other is not allowed to triumph. Rather. the pastoral qualifies its vision by admitting the presence of the oppressing other. but. rather. The pastoral does not tell us that its version of reality is life as it is. Each of Purdy’s pastoral romances is centered upon the death of one or more of its key figures.72 / alternative realisms Nephew ). “So Polyphemus shepherded his love by singing / And found more relief than if he had paid out gold” (93). as it does. while functioning as a complex meditation on the role of the gay artist in contemporary society. Virgil Thomson—another friend of the author and champion of his work. In its multiple figurings of the individual as artist. Out with the Stars shines a discerning light backwards on the often psychologically difficult and painful novels that came before. It is the novel in which Purdy represents most directly the fertile relationship between love and art.P. proving himself the natural heir of Theocritus’s lovelorn Cyclops. one of the novel’s Firbankian characters “found an old bottle of V. brandy and put just a few drops on his tongue. serving. and superstitious society. in typical allegorical fashion. Out With the Stars serves as an extended improvisation on a favorite pastoral theme. a thematic pastoral mainstay. The young composer Val Sturgis cannot salvage either of his two doomed love affairs. particularly in the most outrageously mannered of the novels.O. however. as an implicit critique of an oppressing world. 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. and serves as a fictive explanation and accounting for the whole of Purdy’s art. without indulging in the pyrrhic victory of wish-fulfillment. The persistent presence of death serves to . and a dash more on his temples” (124). Equally as important. The novel serves as an affecting pastoral elegy for one of Purdy’s early friends and supporters. it allows the artist to imagine a world that is different from the reality we know. in his natural and necessarily antagonistic relationship with the world around him. In its various openly affectionate but also critically acute portraits of the gifted artist in battle with an uncomprehending.

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. The demise of the pastoral. Quilligan further observed that allegories work in a manner similar to the social resolutions of comedy. The mannered pastoral proclaims its artificiality. Allegory thus works both to disenchant and to re-enable. it insists that we are not in ultimate control of our existence. the mode that first “thematizes the act of fictionalizing. The demise of myth as religion—as natural reality. 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). is that. while we cannot change our nature. In his remarks on the conclusions to Shakespeare’s comedies and romances. we can change our world. with the creation of the pastoral. in the West coincided with the establishment of science as certain truth. Both allegory and comedy conclude by reaching out to us as reader and audience. Frye noted that Shakespeare’s comedies and late romances always conclude with such a vision. The implications of allegory are both humbling and enabling. Frye distinguished between a regressive and infantilizing sentimentality. by demonstrating the complex uses of language. calling attention to its fictional status. As we emerge slowly and painfully from the enchantment of science as certain . and of allegory in general. and science (Whitman 9–10). and the power of fictive models. enabling literary fictionality to be perceived” (Iser 24). paradoxically. literal and historical truth of scripture. we might say—also saw the development of allegory as a fictive form. it demonstrates the potential of language and power of knowledge for shaping our world. “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). when the Greek myths came to be interpreted in the language of philosophy.” as Frye remarked (A Natural Perspective 159). 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. in both of which “the language of the work of art manage[s] to involve its audience with its vision” (289). which leads us back to our “subjective childhoods. in which they invite us to participate (A Natural Perspective 159).” and a pastoral-romantic envisioning. is wrong / 73 enhance the preciousness of life itself. and of his allegorical fiction in general. With its emphasis upon the ultimate provisionality and fictionality of all language and knowledge. The lesson of Purdy’s allegorical pastorals. and yet.whatever is. It also works to prevent a giving way to sentimentality. and with the Reformation’s insistence upon the transparent and singular. psychology.

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. Purdy’s focus upon these issues places his fiction at the crux of this debate. but which will ensure its survival as a central body of texts in our future. . In the political and social realm of today. 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. and it is his very relevance to these most painful and problematic of contemporary arguments. that has relegated his work to the literary and cultural margins in our time. 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. I believe.

and authorial exposition. Firbank’s narratives progress in an almost arbitrary manner. 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. We have traditionally looked for a novel’s argument in its narrative progress.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. in which reliance on plot is reduced to a minimum. “Re/Orientations” 176–177). M. The questions that we are accustomed to ask of naturalistic mimetic fiction are lost on him. character development. . or to react to that work in a hostile manner. his characters are finished at conception. and although they are continually striking psychologically revealing poses. avoiding nearly all commentary on the material he is presenting. his characterisation stylised” (11). his narrative devious. E. while Firbank as author absolutely refuses to adopt a self-conscious and subjective manner. who is consequently forced to swallow Firbank’s novels whole. 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). and inviting none from the reader. they do not analyze themselves or seek to make of the reader a confessor. or not at all. Our usual habits of reading certainly have not prepared us to consider Firbank in a critical fashion. 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. 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. Ronald Firbank’s range is limited.

. Among the next generation of English novelists. Marcel Proust. as critic Robert Caserio recently lamented. As for now. in one or two convulsive laughs . The quality and usefulness of more recent approaches to Firbank (which are within the purview. Ivy Compton-Burnett. “Re/Orientations” 183–184). If narrative and speech have speeded up. V. it is in part due to Firbank’s frantic driving. . 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). In one account he is accused of being an immature homosexual. if we can swing out of one episode into another. a pederast incapable of adult love (Kopelson). and time (Lane. but influenced by a variety of contemporary theoretical schools) is highly mixed. Evelyn Waugh’s first novels owe an especial debt to Firbank’s perfection of a peculiarly modernist brand of comic concision. however. ethnicity. 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. without an awful grinding of literary gears. 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. writers as diverse as Powell.76 / alternative realisms More favorable early criticism was focused upon Firbank’s innovations in narrative technique. S. Firbank was a pioneering homosexual novelist who courageously fashioned unapologetic novels around unabashed homosexual characters in the teens and twenties. With his characteristic critical acuity. Firbank is made the victim of narrowminded standards of contemporary critical correctness. and Henry Green pointed to Firbank as an early and crucial influence. generally. . In several disheartening cases. That remains to be seen. (545) Firbank’s reputation reached its qualified height with the full-blown success of his literary inheritors (stylistically speaking) in the 1940s and 1950s. an unwitting expositor of his class. In the last several years. when the English-speaking literary world was still recoiling from the Oscar Wilde scandal. as critics working in and around Gay and Lesbian studies have sought to rescue Firbank from critical neglect. Firbank has no standing” (227). This is one of the several ways in which he is surprisingly similar to his French contemporary. if we can safely let characters speak for themselves and then fail to keep up a conversation.1 and in another he is labeled a racist. the tide may have begun to turn in the author’s favor. of Gay and Lesbian studies. “In official academic studies of modernism. if we can create an emotion by describing something else.

From a related sociopolitical viewpoint. we have to resurrect the conventions. 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. limitations. and expectations of a neglected literary mode. 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. More imaginative critical analysis has made substantive contributions to our contemporary understanding of this neglected novelist. 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. His focus on the incidentals of landscape. but most provokingly in that employed by imaginative literature (292).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. In a useful essay. I pursue a similar policy of recontextualization by attempting to understand Firbank outside of the standard fictional models and genres. and it is within the context of its principles and practice that his novels attain their fullest and most resonant meaning.2 Both Goldman and Clark emphasize manners in which Firbank frustrates attempts at traditional interpretation and ascription of meaning. atmosphere. In the ancient world another tradition arose in direct response and opposition to the dominant epic model: the pastoral. which is in many respects a fictional variation on the original epic model supplied by classical and Biblical traditions. 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). . Jonathan Goldman considered Firbank’s trademark “frivolity” from a deconstructionist perspective as a prime example of the inherent elusiveness at play in any language. Most modern fiction can be categorized as belonging in one fashion or another to our inherited tradition of mimetic realism. In what follows. It is to this alternative and opposing pastoral tradition that Firbank’s fiction most truly belongs. and scenery. In order to appreciate Firbank’s success and significance as a novelist.

attempted to open up a new field of imaginative endeavor. as it were.” “Listen to the cows lowing. 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. Battus and Corydon. were creating in an acutely selfconscious literary atmosphere. is the most famous. The Alexandrian poets. Consider the playfully offhand manner in which Theocritus handles the dialogue between two herdsmen. It is instructive to compare Wells’ translation of a Theocritan “Idyll” to a passages from a Firbank novel. to surprise by little refinements of style. of which Theocritus. the third-century BC Greek Alexandrian poets working in the shadow of Homer and Sophocles. who do these cows belong to? Philondas?” “They’re Ageon’s herd. In the illuminating “Introduction” to his translations of Theocritus’ Idylls.” “Poor beasts! The worse for them if he’s neglectful. They miss their master.” “He went off with his dumb-bells and twenty sheep. Firbank—“likes to come at his subject from unexpected and constantly varying directions. like his older model and contemporary.” “It’s pitiful! They haven’t the heart to graze. to keep the reader always conscious of a process of selection. Theocritus. Callimachus—and his late heir.” (69–70) This is the idyll’s introductory passage.” “And I’m a Pollux! or so my mother says. to break up a narrative by passing lightly over the main action and making much of lesser incidents.78 / alternative realisms The earliest pastoral writers in the classical tradition. the purported progenitor of the pastoral. contemporary English poet Robert Wells comments. In making their choices they concentrate on narrowly literary goals and avoid giving an explicit moral or philosophical dimension to their writing” (22). “The Alexandrian poets face the problem of what to select from the past with great deliberateness.” “So their master has disappeared! Where’s he gone?” “To Olympia.” “Rabid wolves in the fold would have done less harm. the hackneyed and the popular” (Wells 38). manner that we begin in the middle. and elusive. He gave me them to graze. . in “Idyll Four” (I have added quotation marks in keeping with the comparison to modern fiction): “Corydon. Didn’t you know?” “The Games! Since when has he been keen on sport?” “They say he’s a proper Heracles in the ring.” “And perhaps at dusk you milk them on the quiet?” “The old man watches and brings their calves to suck. of a taste that veers away from the grand. and it is typical of Theocritus’s allusive. of an established scene and relationship. with Milon.

in one form or another?). Although the pastoral is characteristically lighthearted. the pastoral is inevitably resurrected as a means for giving life to individual dreams and desires. is all too keenly felt. it was not safe to be so openly.some imaginary vienna / 79 Firbank’s narratives routinely proceed in a similarly breezy fashion. it was a merry meal. Sixsmith sighed. is less important than the manner in which one is speaking. Firbank. who was a homosexual in a time when. and the atmosphere created. as in this dialogue between two society matrons in Caprice : “You must have been out to supper. it is not unserious. What is being said. In both writers. the tragedy in the chill of loneliness and desolation which will suddenly strike in a random word” (546).” “Was it a party?” “Nothing but literary-people with their Beatrices . “The comedy is in the inconsequence.” “Who gave it?” “Dore Davis did: to meet her betrothed—Sir Francis Four. Sixsmith’s hopeless sighing as she enviously imagines the obviously upper-class (though momentarily impoverished) bride’s trousseau. The famous lightheartedness of the pastoral might be thought of as consolation for a sense of the tragic in life that. Anything good she sells—on account of bailiffs. .” “What’s he like?” “Don’t ask me. the poetry in the evanescence. Pritchett’s concise and insightful characterization of Firbank’s novels aptly describes Theocritus’ Idylls as well. My dear the scum! Half-way through supper Dore got her revolver out and began shooting the glass drops off her chandelier.” (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. It makes one tired to look at him. either in life or art. the tragedies of life are noted. but not dwelt upon. In the Firbank passage a sense of the tragic is evident in Mrs. “It isn’t up to much.” Mrs. far from being imperfect or undeveloped. any sense of tragedy is comically consigned to the masterless cows. and by whom. . Rather it is implicitly striving to undermine the overly serious and moralistic in the service of individual temperament and freedom.” “It’s true I had.” “I should like to see her trousseau. following the Wilde scandal. In times of societal repression (and what society is not repressive. found in the . The pursuit of unfettered desires is the object and occupation of all legitimate pastoral figures. Oh. but the simple cowherds seem genuinely to sympathize with the animals’ feelings of dislocation and neglect. In the Theocritus passage.

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. In whatever manifestation. the pastoral is an attitude toward life that favors freedom over responsibility. satire. although not always successfully. retirement over engagement.80 / alternative realisms pastoral an imaginative safe haven in which to create his own—or a temperamental character’s—version of heaven.” the “relationships and values” of the pastoral remain constant (Ettin 69). And in yet another. and the novels’ lack of popular success. that great champion of literary margins). Arcadia. therefore. Firbank was forced to underwrite each of his novel’s publication. which is sometimes labeled The Golden Age. is a wish-dream which cannot become real . and elegy—which have generic-sounding names but which are more inclusive and general than genres proper” (Alpers 46). Despite these “different images and nomenclature. Recent theorists have argued persuasively that the pastoral should be recognized as one of the universal “types of literature—like tragedy. and art above all. on the other hand. . as W. served to assure his creative freedom. and is dreamed of by a different type of temperament. In the world of the pastoral every wayward temperament is allowed to pursue its desire. novel. but the novels he created were considered unmarketable by English publishers. H. the pastoral has a vision of an idealized past world. which takes on different characteristics in different times and cultures. The forward-looking Utopian. . In a novel set on a fictionalized Caribbean island. comedy. necessarily believes that his New Jerusalem is a dream which ought to be realized. an aging lesbian “biographer” courts a vapid but alluring teenage girl as they travel through Greece together. desire over sublimation. Firbank’s fiction is proof of the pastoral’s enduring appeal. leisure over labor. In one novel. friendship over family. 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. It is significantly different from a future utopian world. In another an “eccentric” Spanish cardinal is in pursuit of an elusive and all-too-worldly altar-boy. Except for one late novel published at their own expense by Brentano’s in America (at the helpful suggestion of Carl Van Vechten. the past over the future. or Eden. They contend that the pastoral is an undying mode of literature (the term I have been using). At its heart. (Dyer’s Hand 410) . Firbank’s overwhelming desire was to be a successful novelist. romance. But his inherited wealth. a native country woman moves to the capital in order to pursue her dream of entering polite European society. a state of affairs that he found both demoralizing and demeaning.

that would impinge on the pleasure of mere being is restricted from this world. and to make no demands on others that are not directly related to the pursuit of his desire. Although the practical efforts required to actually change the world are beyond the (pure) pastoralist’s will and ability. there are no artificial restrictions against desire. and our distrust of the artificial.3 In the pastoral realm. and it could be argued that within the canon of accepted major novelists of the last two hundred years. In the actual world. and provable fact run counter to the inclinations of the pastoral toward a retreat into a world of private imagination. which we collectively assume to be true. Such writers are necessarily naturalistic. such as labor. However. as Auden points out. his task is still a vital one. the pastoral is frequently employed by writers in a quasi-utopian manner as a wishful reminder of where they have been (in their dreams). the pastoral Arcadian does not hold himself responsible for the realization of his dream. “Annihilating all that’s made / To a green thought in a green shade. false. who spend the majority of their time in various states of contemplative repose. Our modern obsessions with scientific progress. reality in our most highly valued literature serves to limit authors who would be taken seriously to portrayals of demonstrable experience.” as Marvell famously put it (101). and where they would like to be again. in which there is no distinction to be made between reality and artifice. It offers an imaginative safe haven. and spells the end of Eden-Arcadia. The assumptions and conditions of the modern world work to discredit traditional pastoral values. which has become synonymous with fake. reflects our interest in the actual and the natural. The pastoral writer. 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. Anything that hinders an individual’s pursuit of pleasure is a snake in his garden. social improvement. Anything. His only responsibility is to do what he pleases. The creation and appreciation of art. together with the pursuit of sexual pleasure for pleasure’s sake (never for procreation.some imaginary vienna / 81 Unlike the hardworking Utopian. Our insistence on the presence of a provable. if the world somehow (here the pure pastoralist is at a loss) could be made different. are the primary occupations of traditional pastoral figures. which is perfectly useless and free. the pastoral is all too often a dream-fiction. in reality. a place where one may be entirely at home in one’s natural or chosen identity. to follow the natural course of his desire. or social responsibility. naturalistic mimesis. who is committed to creating visions of artificial innocence in implicit opposition to our . there are no primarily nonnaturalistic authors. The dominant literary mode of the last two centuries. or at least likely. family ties. which leads to responsibility).

Cather’s western prairie. Brophy contends that “Firbank’s is a single fictional world. Brigid Brophy argued that Firbank “is the novelist who freed fiction from naturalism. in Brophy 98). He elaborated in a critical essay in which . The pastoral “illusion” of time as “unending duration” (Ettin 141) inevitably undermines the naturalistic notion of the relationship of time to cause and effect. and Elizabeth Bishop. the withdrawal to the privileged pastoral space or viewpoint takes place within the context of the work itself. that is to say. by contrast. to achieve. the Christian mythic pastoral realm. For each of these writers. is automatically excluded. Auden commented that Firbank was one of his favorite modern novelists because he deals “with Eden” (265). Willa Cather. thereby highlighting the disparity between the pastoral ideal and the locations we actually inhabit day in and day out. freed it again in the twentieth century” (xiv). both in fact and fiction. and branded unserious. Firbank’s pure pastoralism separates him. we enter the pastoral realm as we enter the novel and remain there until the novel is complete. 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. With Firbank’s fiction. of which each of his fictions is a fragment” (207). as well. 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. Waugh likewise contended that Firbank’s antinaturalism enabled him to be “the first quite modern writer to solve for himself . in Brophy 569). and which serve to upbraid the modern world at large for its self-serving notion of material and spiritual progress linked. Forster’s Italy. Although there is a tendency in his novels to move from the city to the country. As might be expected. I am thinking of writers like Forster. and negligible. James Merrill. a new. Early in his career. the aesthetic problem of representation in fiction. self-indulgent. 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. eccentric. from most other homosexual writers of the past century.82 / alternative realisms knowledge of experience. Merrill’s Sandover. and Bishop’s Brazil are all privileged spaces to which one withdraws in memory and imagination. . In his Paris Review interview. . or to be exact. 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 enlightening biography. 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. or vice versa.

as it used to be called . Poggioli. it does not address such issues directly. Forster had contended that Firbank belongs to the “ fin de siecle. as well as the location of our cultural origins. so that we may be never less free than when doing exactly as we please. . In his historical study of Bucolic poetry. thus consigning Firbank’s fictional world to the boundaries of a passing age in literature and art. Society’s narrowing prejudices and laws. . . In his fictional world. In his diffident “Introduction” to The Complete Ronald Firbank. in the Greek and Latin pastorals written and inspired by Theocritus and Virgil. . Auden’s definition of Eden as a place “where its inhabitants may do whatever they like to do. although he is full of complaints. the novelist avoids a fight. though in a far different manner. David Halperin argues that the pastoral as an imaginative locus “has existed from time immemorial—it was not invented” (85). Earlier in the century. which serve to limit the free operation of desire. has a pronounced tendency to enslave. given free reign. No less than Proust. likewise.some imaginary vienna / 83 he defined Eden as “a past world in which the contradictions of the present world have not yet arisen” (409). such as homosexuals in the modern world. the pastoral mode has offered a haven to homosexual desire. At the same time. “homosexual romantic and erotic relationships . 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. 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. Firbank recognizes that desire. to the nineties and the Yellow Book ” (112). are necessarily kept outside of the boundary of his work. observed that the pastoral mode arises inevitably as a protest from those “excluded from the privileges of free love” (61). . True to the cowherd nature of the pastoral. or at least quite as normal as heterosexual” (148–149). particularly to those whose innate desires are denied by society at large. Firbank proves himself an ardent exponent of free love in refusing to distinguish between needs and desires. Powell wondered why Firbank “should continue to be reprinted. “Reason not the need” might be the humorously self-serving motto of his pastoral figures. Although Firbank’s fiction as a whole serves as a protest against discrimination and oppression. Ettin commented that. Firbank gives us in his fiction an elaborately detailed anatomy of human desire. are usually accepted as if they were normative. The pastoral daydream seems to be a part of our very nature. 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. By tradition.

“Another tunnel!” . for instance: Miss Collins covered her face with a soiled suede glove. . tends to be both wish-fulfilling and anxiety-laden. at fifteen. “to go with you!” Slightly startled. supposing?” “Supposing—I only say ‘supposing’—supposing you were to accompany me to Greece . .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. “Supposing . although she is more than willing to offer an endless patter of inanities. . Miss O’Brookomore took from a cardboard box a cigarette. . “I could clap my feet in the air. it is also the case that most love affairs in the pastoral realm are unrequited. who—true to pastoral form—is barely more than a child. In Inclinations.” The Biographer considered her. the “Biographer” Geraldine O’Brookomore.” Sparkling. It’s Extraordinary How Little I Require” The pastoral daydream. “Only at the thought. On the train to Marseilles.” “ . Miss Collins rose. “My chief amusement. 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. for Miss O’Brookomore to discover that Mabel Collins has very few ideas of her own. . like all dreams. Firbank presents us with the story of the love of an older woman for a younger woman. And to receive new ones in return. Firbank’s Pastoral Daydreams: “Just Because I Want So Much.” she cried. is preparing to travel to Greece in order to pursue research on her latest subject (all of whom tend to resemble herself). “has always been to exchange ideas with someone.” she explained. however. when she is accosted by the irrepressible Mabel Collins: “What would I not give. Still. Dark against the brilliance. Firbank is in danger of being misread by the modern reader who is unacquainted with the pastoral mode of implicit argumentation. .” (208) It doesn’t take long. While it is true that individuals in the pastoral are free to pursue their desires wherever they may lead them. 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.” she said. The older woman.

” “Our coachman once—” “No. infectious. . You’ll arrive so tired.” “Let’s all lie down on the grass as if we were dead. You can almost hear the clouds go by. entirely smitten with her young companion. where Miss O’Brookomore is “all veins and moods. .some imaginary vienna / 85 “You should really rest. . “Take my word for it . On the contrary. . which is “literally overrun” with sheepdogs (231). “What is it?” “Nothing. Firbank qualifies her sadness in the second half of the novel. Miss O’Brookomore warns. but entirely self-interested Mabel Collins.” (303) . I may arrange your sayings in a wreath . and from whence the Count at last succeeds in making off with Mabel Collins. Miss O’Brookomore has allowed herself to become enamored of a foolish girl whom she cannot even bring herself to respect. which is set in the decaying country house owned by Mabel’s family. please—I’m altogether incurious. The Count pursues the two women on their travels throughout Greece: to Parnassos.” “I’m that already. whims and foibles” (271). where the “food is vile” (245) and where the “continual singing of the cicadas require some excluding” (266). . But I won’t lean back—for fear of contracting something .” (220–221) But Miss O’Brookomore is. Mab. . which is “nothing but cliques and coteries” (277). 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. to Arcady. and whose company she can barely tolerate. dear. . to Delphi.” “The quietness . Miss O’Brookomore pays the emotional price for a pastoral devotion to the pursuit of her desires.” “It’s too hot for rough games. who also manages to incite the interest of a “Count Pastorelli” on the boat to Athens. . Although she is made miserable by her frustrated desire. in which the various inhabitants lead trivial lives in the service of keeping up suburban appearances. and finally to Olympia. nevertheless.” “Some day. In the afternoon the yew-trees turn quite blue. 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. Miss O’Brookomore has forgotten her pseudo-pastoral advice to Mabel that it is best in life to be “an Indifferentist” (273). Miss O’Brookomore responds with a lament that wholly constitutes chapter twenty: “Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel!” (290) In her anguish.

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. Although all desires are enslaving. so everyone said. if less engaging. appearance is essence. What we know of ourselves. His particular affection is reserved for those characters who. we are given a cast of characters in various stages of retreat. some are less painful than others. among others. Mabel. This has long been recognized as a Proustian dictum. The emotionally frigid. decidedly unpastoral nature of her marriage of appearances to Count Pastorelli is enforced in the closing scenes of the novel. all sexual preferences are equally enslaving and enlightening. and the only thing.” (300)—but it had been nevertheless a true and ardent emotion. but it is Firbankian as well. as Firbank’s contemporary Forster illustrated repeatedly in his novels and stories. having been frustrated and abused by the world at large. is no match for the sterile vacuity of a suburban Edwardian drawing room. In his first published novel. What one wants is the very thing. Powell remarked that Firbank’s fiction is “almost absolutely uninhibited” (12). we know through desire. in which she receives word of his rare visit to her and her family. For Firbank. For Firbank.86 / alternative realisms Miss O’Brookomore’s love for Mabel had been wholly unsuitable according to society’s standards—Mabel’s mother comments. which is perhaps another way of saying that Firbank does not distinguish between appearance and essence. who “was sick. Vainglory. “O-o-o-o-o-o-h!” “It’s her ladyship’s cry. There is Lord Susan. as expressive as any shepherd’s complaint. identified as the modern compulsion to search for the truth of the self in one’s innermost sexuality (69). that one has.” “You’d think Great Pan was dead again—at least.” “Very likely it’s her husband’s handwriting that affects her. suitable or not. . that uninhibited pastoral deity. Firbank is no less an enemy of the ever-encroaching malady of the quotidian. between desire and necessity. Firbank presents a world in which one’s desire is the ground of one’s being. has devoted herself to a life devoid of significant emotional attachment. His insistence on the self-determining quality of desire allows him to escape the trap that Michel Foucault.” (327) Even Great Pan. In his highly idiosyncratic and humorously subversive manner. Firbank in his fiction is repeatedly drawn to the pastoral desire for retirement and retreat. have chosen to withdraw into a private world that is more amenable. on the other hand. “Had I known what sort of a woman she was! But living as we do one never hears a thing.

Mine is a nature that cries for more ethereal things. . having been driven to a state of repugnance by experience of the world at large. Banal passions fail to stir me. ‘If we are all a part of God . . .” and who longs “to go away somewhere and be ugly quietly for a week” (18–19).” “How heavenly she is!” “Such an amusing rhythm—” “I do so enjoy the bypaths. just because I want so much. a Bishop’s widow. of course” (20). Mrs. It was the Egyptian sighing for his pyramid. but for an unfortunate remark . has adopted as the goal of her aimless existence the erection of a “commemorative window to herself” in a rural cathedral. Dear Georgia. I find it exceedingly disappointing. who complains that “the effort to look more or less like one’s photograph is becoming such a strain. Miss Compostella. having been more or less abandoned by her husband in favor of his career.” Mrs. . possibly. Firbank’s characters are well-suited . then God must indeed be horrible’ ” (95).” “Of course her words condemn her. 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). Isn’t there any more?” “No I believe that’s all. in a loose way. Shamefoot (Firbank’s names are always telling). She models her life. Shamefoot said. Shamefoot is safely memorialized and leading a hermit’s life within sight of her own radiant image. The quasi-saint committed to posterity a “somewhat saturnine little song” that is adopted as the novel’s anthem: “I am disgusted with Love. . But the major figure of the novel is the politician’s wife. who “no doubt . and Mrs. . perhaps. . on that of a locally celebrated sixteenth-century figure. Then there is the actress. she was already three parts glass . it’s extraordinary how little I require” (199). Mrs. 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. . The pastoral is concerned with reducing life to the essentials of our individual existence in time and space. Henedge. would have been canonised.” (77) Firbank’s characters. who seems to have “deserted this century for—she had hardly settled which” (6). “of poetry. Cresswell. “Mentally. I am disgusted with Love. By the novel’s conclusion. who. Mrs. is something. 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.

88 / alternative realisms

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)

90 / alternative realisms

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.

‘No. Firbank’s Pastoral Politics: “No One Knows What My Political Opinions Are. . Some of the most insightful and useful contemporary notice of Firbank is focused on the element in his work of camp. just as no wars are just. .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. Sitwell wrote in his memoir that Firbank failed to summon up any enthusiasm whatever over the . . landscape.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. really! She’s like a sack of coals’ ” (Vainglory 31)—it is temperamental behavior in the service of taste. I Don’t Myself ” Firbank’s novels are an implicit sustained and passionate condemnation of moral bigotry.92 / alternative realisms ‘He pounces on those mysterious half-things . His constant undermining of willfulness and seriousness is itself a serious and willful endeavor to keep intolerance and oppression at bay. Firbank’s reaction to the “Great War” is instructive. Firbank’s pointedly eccentric figures and milieus serve the same purpose. until finally ennui forced him to write the book of which he had talked for so long. Firbank’s response to the war was the most constructive one available: [The war] had deprived him of all outside interests. These .” where it serves to remind us that all “desire is culturally relative” (312). who is devoted to the absolute liberty of individual desire. (xii) Firbank’s pronouncement recognizes implicitly that all wars are righteous. . 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. Although there is a certain amount of “bitchiness” involved in their discriminations—“‘Do you think her as graceful as she passes for?’ . war. . whom she cites as one of her examples (278). ‘Graceful?’ . is forced to abjure all ties to conventional morality. . but they recognize that to deal with conventional moral concepts at all is to play on society’s terms. and that society inevitably serves to constrict the free play of individual desire. and sometimes he fixes them!’ ” (Vainglory 22). . They are endured as other oppressions are endured. 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. and art. The pure pastoralist. His novels are not unmoral (on the contrary). protesting that for his part he had always found the Germans “most polite. .

therefore. the least boring. or even the homosexuality of his characters. their modish ecclesiasticism and rural magic bears no relation to philosophic truth. For it is not Firbank’s homosexuality. which. Forster pronounced: there is only one quality that they all share in common: the absence of a soul . . whose notorious and tortured posttrial figure seems the very embodiment of a culture’s fear and intolerance. or of embodying “some fundamental malformation” (E. the product of the war. sense a “war writer. Perhaps the most glaring offender is Forster. . Speaking of “fantasy writers” in general. It is his novels’ pure pastoralism. and of its insistence on treating the homosexual as a tragic figure. 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). Firbank’s posthumous reputation has been . But homophobia no doubt does play a role in defining the reality such readers adhere to. and of Firbank in particular. He was in the best.some imaginary vienna / 93 volumes were. (111) This criticism is echoed with variations by most of Firbank’s early commentators. Firbank would appear to act as an imaginative litmus test for critics: Those who react without prejudice or condescension pass.” (Sitwell xii–xiii) Sitwell is one of the few commentators to avoid condescending to his subject. Wilson 265). their refusal even to acknowledge the moral discriminations of the conventional real world. It would be tempting to dismiss such accusations by placing them under the heading of homophobia—tempting. His fiction is accused of lacking a soul. but misleading. 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. far more truly than any others in the English language. that is at issue so much as his unwillingness to label as wrong or evil any behavior at all. that is at the heart of the critics’ dissatisfaction with them. or of having a “sense of Evil” that is “imperfect” (Jones xviii). the fear of which is so primal as to prompt even a tolerant and imaginative intelligence such as Forster’s into a reactionary position. Few have.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. Firbank refuses to do: Firbank is judged a minor artist by those who still don’t dare recognize Wilde as major aesthete. whose repeated pleas for imaginative tolerance in his essays and novels make his misreading of Firbank particularly disappointing. throughout his fiction.

too. it is all too easy to dismiss a writer like Firbank as politically suspect and/ or naive. With our heightened contemporary political awareness.94 / alternative realisms damaged. 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. which. 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). I don’t myself” (87). so that they. In the highly politicized climate of contemporary criticism and culture. anti-homosexual spirit and fear do not vanish. implicitly declaring. offered a much-needed safe haven to earlier homosexual writers such as Firbank— but one that has turned. in this day of open debate. much as the puritanical critical reaction “disgusting” has been translated into “boring. into an unwitting prison of silence. Often they are merely muted into condescension. His novels would appear to claim political immunity. I would extend her argument to add that this damage to our collective cultural aesthetic has particularly affected our readings of pastoral literature. . As the debacle becomes more distant. in the words of the Queen from The Flower Beneath the Foot : “No one knows what my political opinions are. may be entered into the debate. because of its implicit mode of argumentation. by his post-debacle climate.” (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). as his life was.

Rather. making a world—with the hands perhaps. the characters within its world are busy. he was in effect announcing and describing both his theme and method. as Green demonstrates throughout his fiction—a fact noted by Eudora Welty: In each novel. but certainly with the . he said. but the artist’s feat is merely an especially self-conscious variety of the behavior we all exhibit in our daily lives. 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). which is non-representational” (Surviving 142). for to Green. 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. we are all innately creative artists.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. there is a great deal. In that sense. 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. the artist does indeed play a godlike role. no matter what happens. is “to be alive. In his function of bringing this life into existence. Indeed. The ultimate quality of the work of art. Green’s pastoral-organic realism expresses a reality alternative to that represented by traditional mimetic fiction.O rg a n ic R e a l i sm What’s in a name? When the name is Henry Green. 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. creative becoming is the very nature of existence. To have a real life of its own” (Surviving 241).

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

and the earth adds another millennium to the period of its existence. which is made up of a myriad of subjective organisms.100 / alternative realisms real and reality as it is experienced. in which “process. which are the real actualities: The philosophies of substance presuppose a subject that then encounters a datum. This being the case. as he himself observed in his writings on aesthetics ( Adventures 271). Whitehead’s philosophy. Whitehead’s emphasis on the “vulgar” conceptions of an organism’s environmental and existential context implicitly aligns his philosophy with pastoral envisioning. when it is taken out of its environment—arrested in time and space for the sake of measurement—it no longer exists as itself. and then reacts to the datum. The philosophy of organism presupposes a datum that is met with feelings. Moreover. there is no determinate nexus which in an unqualified sense is either the man or the earth. (Process 179) In Whitehead’s conception. and change are the matter of fact. and progressively attains the unity of a subject. “in which the scientific scheme is recast. conceives of the subject as an interactive creation arising from the ongoing process of events. Subjects were conceived as being essentially separate from their objective experience. and founded upon the ultimate concept of organism” (Science 66). Whitehead contended that “we must start with the event as the ultimate unit of natural occurrence” (Science 103) rather than with the isolable substance. on the other hand. all of nature is composed of organisms . 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. following Descartes. as an operative organism. activity. Whitehead stressed that any organism’s environment is always temporal as well as spatial. But until the death of the man and the destruction of the earth. Rather. made the mistake of taking the isolable substance—including ourselves—as the concrete reality to which events happened. 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. An organism exists in interactive relationship with its environment. At an instant there is nothing” (Science 146). including one’s own body. Whitehead saw his philosophy as contributing toward a revision of our conception of the real. Modern philosophy. This conception annihilates the Cartesian distinction between the human subject and the rest of nature. ( Adventures 204) The organism exists within its environment as “a structure of evolving processes” (Science 72).

or family. What we conceive of as our isolable individual identities is in reality a linked series of events that Whitehead calls “a society. but the difference is one of degree rather than of kind. but societies endure as a continuing series of these events. being aware of this unity and acting upon this awareness. and best of all.” Events occur and then pass away. and the analogy may be extended up the ladder of comprehensiveness to divinity itself. however. whose own work is self-admittedly a continuation and elaboration of several of Whitehead’s key conceptions regarding the nature of the real. evolving amalgamation of this series. in an interactive and environmental manner. 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. or God. it is a part of the “datum that is met with feelings and progressively attains the unity of a subject” (Process 179). whereby it is the society that it is. 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. (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. like . and that personality itself is a special temporally linear cause of such social—that is sympathetic—inheritance. Self-conscious humans.to create a life which is not / 101 progressively attaining the unity of subjects (Nature as a whole. college. and [with] accidental qualities which vary as circumstances alter” (Adventures 204). company. according to Whitehead’s conception of subjectivity. are more unified than other subjects we observe in our environments. we relate to ourselves as subjects to objects. with “an essential character. The process philosopher and theologian Charles Hartshorne. 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. of which we form a part and the essence of which we share. the self that is coming into being relates to the self already in existence as to an objective other. According to this conception. also. as an ongoing process within a changing environment—and to conceive of the individual as a society made up of the continuing. it then automatically turns into an object in the datum that leads to the arising of a new subject. is the most comprehensive of such organisms). Moreover.

This experience claims a relevance beyond the finite immediacy of any one occasion of experience.” Whitehead often refers to it as “an occasion of experience. Whitehead insisted that evolution itself is best understood in aesthetic terms. Whitehead’s contention. 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.102 / alternative realisms a virus. all such natural societies are far more analogous to one another than are any of them to a man-made machine. lamenting that. in effect. reality is most comprehensively conceived of as a process with aesthetic ends and means: The sense of external reality—that is to say. because of its fundamental subjectivity. (Modes 121) Whitehead agrees with Wilde in making the argument that taste— aesthetic significance—is absolutely fundamental. in our understanding of the evolutionary processes of life. animal species. To understand this process is to comprehend the primacy of the aesthetic in characterizing reality: “The characteristics of life are absolute self-enjoyment. Indeed he praised the Romantic poets for their “intuitive refusal seriously to accept the abstract materialism of science” (Science 86). but an acute analogy. When looked at from this perspective. which directs evolution to the end not merely of survival. In order to emphasize the subjective and relative nature of “the event. Whitehead countered that such substances are in effect abstractions from reality. When the interactive and environmental “event” is considered as the most basic constituent of reality. creativity. activity. the sense of being one actuality in a world of actualities—is the gift of aesthetic significance.” Whitehead’s further insight is that. Whitehead . as it is to a work of art that is always in progress. is that the pathetic fallacy is not a fallacy at all. Indeed. Aesthetic significance arises from the process of life. but of self-enjoyment—a pastoral ideal (Science 111). the evolutionary process of actuality may be seen to be analogous not so much to a war machine (the survival of the fittest). aim” (Modes 152). Newtonian science flouted human intuition by contending that the reality of events was the reality of measurable isolated substances at an instant of time. has a personality analogous in crucial respects to that of a human individual. which has long been our mechanical fallback metaphor for explaining the manner in which groups of organisms—be it social networks. 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). or plant. or human bodies—live and work. animal. to return to the parlance of the vulgar: there is no accounting for taste.

I will focus on four of Whitehead’s key revisionary concepts discussed above: 1. 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. and we are all of us changing every day—developing we hope! We leave our marks behind us like a snail. the concept of the individual as an evolving creation arising from the ongoing process of events. All power is derivative from the fact of composition attaining worth for itself. (Modes 119) Whitehead implicitly critiques the abstract notion of “will to power” by asserting that. power is always a means to an aesthetic end and never an end in itself.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. His style is himself.” to which he responded: He can’t do anything else. 3. of the completely real” (Adventures 274). Power is the compulsion of composition. and [with] accidental qualities which vary as circumstances alter” ( Adventures 204). Every other type of composition is a halfway stage in the attainment of actuality. whereby it is the society that it is. the concept of process as being “the very essence of real actuality—that is. “of composition attaining worth for itself” (Modes 119). it is the failure of the fallen angels. 4. 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). in the ultimate sense. each of which has “an essential character. 2. Green was asked whether “a writer should work toward development of a particular style. the concept of reality as an interactive network of societies. The final actuality has the unity of power. Power and importance are aspects of this fact. (Surviving 245) . the concept of reality as a creative process. The Individual As an Evolving Creation In his Paris Review interview. The essence of power is the drive towards aesthetic worth for its own sake. It constitutes the drive of the universe. Concluding. and his own personal favorite among his books (Treglown 182). There is no other fact. In the remainder of this essay.

Green’s biographer. expressions. certainly. We certainly don’t know what other people are thinking and feeling. Green stressed the primary and revelatory role of the carefully observant creative act. in life. “It is only by an aggregate of words over a period followed by an action. which is not very much Green contended in his 1950 essay for the BBC’s The Listener. but particularly through their own words. “A Novelist to his Readers. or what the other felt. commenting that Green “was receptive to other people to a point where he almost ceased to have an existence of his own” (118). that we obtain. Green’s exact contemporary and lifelong friend (they met at Eton). who said of Green: He was a very very complicated and tricky person. in life. are only obstacles to the creator’s ultimate task. of all the people I’ve ever known. what other people are really like? I very much doubt it. exploits none” (17). which is “to create a life which is not” (Surviving 136). both of which. Bruce Bassoff contended in his 1975 monograph on Green that “The English empirical tradition accounts in particular for the epistemological reticence in Green” (33). his sense that “the novel should not violate the privacy of human inwardness” (39). intrudes like a Greek chorus to underline his meaning. Treglown cites the novelist Anthony Powell. Later in the essay. Whatever its source. Welty remarked of Green’s respectful and scrupulous handling of his characters that “he explains none.104 / alternative realisms It is through the examination of such marks that we know what we know about ourselves and others. rather the characters should be allowed to explain themselves. and a voice came out of a corner of the ceiling to tell them what both were like. I really never got to the bottom of him. through their actions. And do we know. Jeremy Treglown. in their dialogue: The kind of action which dialogue is. It is as if husband and wife were alone in the living room. who has no business with the story he is writing. noted that Green’s self-effacing handling of his characters was reflected in his own personal relations. And although we knew each other so well. (qtd. 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. a glimmering of what is going on in someone or even in ourselves” (Surviving 141). he implied. Green’s reticence when it comes to making assumptions about and for his characters is remarkable.” in which he argued against the convention whereby a novelist takes it upon himself to explain his characters to his readers. in Treglown 72) . is held up while the writer. and behavior.

but above all. enigmatic. enveloping. a seventy-five-year-old retired scientist who made an unnamed great scientific discovery as a young man. out of the process of events. When I say carry I mean the proportions —that is. Green responded. and carry it in my head. As Whitehead contended that. Green’s pastoral-organic characters come to life in and through interactive relationships with their enabling. one a day. conventional realist novelists seem not only too certain of their fictive creations. Green responded tellingly: As to plotting or thinking ahead. of which they are both part and product. But try and write out a scheme and you will only depart from it. As with Whitehead in his philosophy. When asked in the Paris Review interview about his method for the handling of a novel’s structure. 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. subtle. “Situation every time” (Surviving 242). and not with an isolated substance. Green in his fiction demonstrates that the carefully observed processes of life itself argue against such notions of certainty and closure. Beginning with such a premise is analogous to Whitehead’s assertion that the philosopher must begin with an event in process. From the point of view of Green’s complex. and who. I let it come page by page. Towards the end of the book your head is literally bursting. having developed. in order to express and represent the actual nature of reality. delicate. and evolving characterizations. is far from being a cause for despondency or despair. (Surviving 243) Again the idea of a living organism is seen to be central to Green’s theme and method.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. Such a conviction. which is the basic business of life in all of its myriad manifestations. limiting. and inhibiting environments. Rock (we never learn his Christian name). This is the exhaustion of creating. The main character in the futuristic world of Concluding is Mr. When asked whether he began writing with a certain character or rather with a certain situation in mind. all too impatient in bringing those creations to life. . My way you have a chance to get something living. the length. The wish for such would seem to Green to seek an easy way out of the difficult but enthralling labor of creation. a subject arises—which. for Green. and that the effort to do so is both futile and self-deceiving. I don’t in a novel. and the notion of the head bursting recalls the birth of Athena—goddess of wisdom—from the forehead of Zeus. Carrying the book in his head is obviously analogous to a pregnant woman’s carrying of a child.

which takes place during one summer day and evening in the near future. an emergency that threatens cancellation of the evening’s planned dance in annual and traditional celebration of the Institute’s founding. Rock is the story’s central figure. but also their intricate relation to one another within that framework. who covets his cottage for the uses of the school and its staff. Temperamentally the names are fitting as well. This brief summary gives little indication of the richness of the novel’s texture.106 / alternative realisms as a reward from the “State. indicating not only their primacy in the story’s complex allegory. On the day in which the novel takes place.” 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. as Rock is a solid and dependable figure. . knowledge) of the children’s absconding. Miss Edge. 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. while Edge is peripheral to him. The two characters most thoroughly enmeshed in and revealed by the novel’s tapestry are Rock and Edge. in which Mr. 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. a younger man who teaches economics at the Institute and lives with the other Institute employees and their 300 students in the transformed mansion. while Edge is anxious and high-strung—edgy. As one would anticipate from their names. 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. who are also the only two figures with overtly emblematic names. who is under the principal’s direct supervision. Rock’s nemesis in the story. Indeed the analogy of a tapestry in progress is entirely apt to Green’s densely woven fiction-making. the Institute’s habitual routine is complicated not only by the impending news of Rock’s election (we never find out its outcome). is a potential danger to Edge’s efforts to contain the damage (that is. Edge is particularly interested in the results of an election held the previous day. More disturbingly for Edge. and his granddaughter attempts to head off Rock’s interference. Rock. the students’ absconding leads to the potential calamity of an official state enquiry and investigation. a collapse that seems to have been hastened and complicated by an affair she is having with Sebastian. fearing that Edge will in turn retaliate against her lover. 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). is the principal of the girl’s school.

who is led to put up a fight for his cottage by the love of his granddaughter and spoiled animals pets. However. Elizabeth seems certain. if not to sympathy. the legal rights of those he chooses to share it with are less certain. 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. we nevertheless understand her behavior and motivations. who fears that Rock will be outmaneuvered by Edge. who is also the chief chink in his armor in his fight with Edge. and the novel’s delightful and surprising conclusion. since we cannot in all self-respect finally approve of her behavior or admire her motives. The one who seems to know Rock best is his doted-upon granddaughter. and such understanding amounts to empathy. 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). She says to her lover. and the whole of Green’s critical effort in his creations is bent upon understanding. Because old age has made him partially deaf and blind. and particularly of one so designated).to create a life which is not / 107 There is no point in the novel when Rock is other than a sympathetic figure. that her grandfather “has forgotten more of [Edge’s] twists and turns than you’ll ever learn” (38). by novel’s end we feel that. if we do not understand Edge ultimately (none of Green’s characters may be so understood). But he also employs his debilities strategically to gain sympathy for himself and to attack and satirize his enemies. Edge is. at least not overtly. Edge’s desire for the cottage arises out of a neurotic need to be in direct bureaucratic control of every aspect of her environment. 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. although he sometimes seems noble and wise. far less sympathetic than Rock. for judgment curtails understanding. as she represents the feared and hated world at large that is ever the enemy of the amenable pastoral retreat. Edge is the pastoral boundary itself. and by his affection for the place itself and his life there. and other times selfpitying and pathetic—a contradictory characterization that is typical of pastoral figures. on the surface (if one can speak of such things with Green’s characters. he sometimes seems very much at the mercy of those with more keen senses around him. For unlike Rock. . and his granddaughter has complicated matters by involving herself romantically with one of the Institute employees. Elizabeth. In terms of the novel’s overt allegory. Although we may judge Edge negatively. however. Green himself does not do so. Although he has legal right to the Institute’s cottage for life.

It’s because he didn’t that the writing lives. That was a cruel fate for him. it is notable that. Interestingly. which is not their essence but their immanence. Process and Reality. Religion 101). and in his absolute refusal to pass judgment upon it. because something sentimental would have got into the writing. Emma Tennant. In his scrupulous observation of and passionate evocation of the aesthetic order of the created world. But if he hadn’t had that complete lack of belief in things. in declining to bow down to them—to engage in special pleading in and through his work—he was creating in good faith. and to Nature as an immanent-transcendent deity. In any case. that the things that Green refused to believe in are all false idols of one sort or another. even in regards to ourselves. Green displays an implicitly devotional attitude toward that order.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. one of Green’s ex-lovers cited by his biographer. what we know of ourselves and of others is similar to what we know of God. in Treglown 253) One could argue. Tennant refers to the living quality of the writing while praising its poetic distance. Whitehead likewise argued that the essence of all being is a mystery that is the province of God’s own creative effort. of course. and that. highlighting the combination of intense engagement and respectful reticence we have already discussed in Green’s relationship to his work. in making her appreciation. the ends are a given. God’s immanence is the actual world in its “aesthetic order” (Whitehead. (qtd. 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. 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. he wouldn’t have been able to write those books with their extraordinary 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. He wasn’t going to have any communism or any fascism or any God or anything at all. in which he argues that God in his . Whitehead makes an intriguingly similar observation regarding God’s creative relation to the world at the conclusion of his great cosmological statement. The creativity is in the means. claimed that it was Green’s very skepticism that enabled his singular creative achievement: He was too clear-sighted to have any religion.

we are all of us Romantic-realists. On the contrary. In that sense. or. The chief vulnerability of such a vision is its very defensiveness. more accurately. Edge’s vision is limited by its defensive egoism. But . and goodness. and by extension. to his whole environment. and her entire creative effort is aimed at making herself invulnerable to weakness. which leads her to try to appropriate her environment as a possession and expression of her self. Their relationship to Edge by contrast is fraught with anxiety stemming. for Edge fears fear itself. He does not create the world. Green is a thoroughgoing Romantic. beauty. from her ego-driven demand of not only obedience. as is every organism.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. Rock’s vision. But with the exception of the traumatized novel Caught. is characterized chiefly by his pastoral devotion to his granddaughter and to his animals. 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. from her administrative control over their lives—but more worrisomely. it lies in the patient operation of the overpowering rationality of his conceptual harmonization. he is the poet of the world. but of devoted subservience—for she is an instinctual dictator. The girls at the institute sense Rock’s pastoral care and respond with easy and generous affection. that is not true or beautiful or good. written during and concerning the firebombing of London during World War II. Concluding offers a remarkably subtle and sophisticated analysis of power relations in human interaction. naturally enough. by contrast. Reality As a Creative Process The difference between Rock and Edge is a difference of creative vision—a difference of taste. Certainly there is a great deal in the world of Green’s fiction. he saves it. as in the world at large. with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth. (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. none of Green’s novels succumb to negative attitudes and emotions. His signal achievement is to be both Romantic and realist at once. as has been noted by many critics. In this. it is not different from any of Green’s novels. of destructive force with destructive force. all of which offer such penetrating analysis.

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. looks upon the state bureaucracy as a menace. Crucially. but he is too absolute in his distinction between the natural and human orders both in the novel and in the world. One might argue that Facknitz is contrasting human thought with natural fact. such impositions cannot alter the fabric of nature but only our perception of it. We fool ourselves by conflating the two.” 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. in true pastoral fashion. Rock lives in harmony with nature because he understands that he is a part of nature. Edge instinctively aligns herself with the authority of the State. For human order is a subset of the natural order. (Academic Search Premier) Facknitz’s point is well taken regarding the supremacy of the natural order as expressed in Green’s novel. while Rock. and to consider that our human “impositions cannot alter the fabric of nature” is to ignore. Mark Facknitz argued that Concluding presents us with “two kinds of 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. and that nature is a part of him. 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. 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. much of which references (or so he believes) his service to the state through his scientific discovery (Concluding 27). while the changes that nature imposes on us are organic and irrevocable. His understanding gives him the ultimate advantage in his fight against . declining even to open or read his mail. among other things. Green says. The instinct for authoritarianism is seen to arise from a human fear ultimately of nature itself in its creative and fertile profusion. is contrasted to the doting grandfather and pet-owner Rock. which he strains to remain free of. and which Whitehead attempted to correct through his philosophy of organism. Edge. In the novel. for while we can impose meaning upon nature. the many species with their own forms of natural order that have been crowded out of existence by such human impositions. In an essay published in 1990. nature’s order is unmediated and absolute.110 / alternative realisms Concluding differs in its scope by making one of its concerns the operation of the “State” as a power player.

. in a small voice and a hiccup. which is represented throughout the novel by symbols and situations concerning sex and death. too late. 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. only too late. The missing student Mary is associated with both. voicing the secret. and when.” she said in anticlimax. Every symbolic indication in the novel would seem to support the romantic explanation. known throughout the Institute. . while Edge’s every home is made a pastoral garden by virtue of his impassioned care of and for the world. whereas Edge’s war is already lost no matter how many battles she wins. for she cannot make a safe home for herself within nature by going against nature. “And then I did realize. I thought it was a . Later she attempts to explain the reaction by saying. Much of the great humor of Concluding revolves around Edge’s neurotic fear of and attempts to prohibit and control change.” the symbolic weight of the situation is too much for Edge. the student helpers discover at the bottom of the pile of flowering branches “a rabbity Rag Doll dressed gaily in miniature Institute pajamas.” A tear began to roll from each of her blue. 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. a dead rabbit.to create a life which is not / 111 Edge. change is something to be not only acquiesced in. civilization as embodied by bureaucratic efficiency and institutional rigidity is always under attack by nature in process. (118) . for it is indicative of a lack of control. For Edge. During the day’s luncheon. Rather every home for Edge will be a fortress in which she is imprisoned by her anxieties and fears. . the fear being that she has run off because of a budding romance or an unwanted pregnancy. old eyes. For Edge. painted with a grotesque caricature of Mary’s features on its own flat face. that she had a terror of rabbits dead. . or else that she has been the victim of some foul play. “How foolish of me . during the process of decoration. sex and death are interchangeable—the one leads to the other. whereas for Rock. and vice versa. but for Edge. but celebrated and appreciated in its own right. 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 ended. who “straightaway fainted” (117). change is to be fought on principle. 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. “I’ll never forgive myself.

old eyes” and her “small voice. 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. Edge’s vision is of a static world of Newtonian order in which a god (in this case Edge herself. is not. (171) Edge’s egoistic wealth of self makes her lonely and vulnerable in a way that Rock. by fainting. 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. Edge’s vision of her self as extended in space to include all that she surveys makes her particularly vulnerable to time. the huge glass in which she sees her own personality reflected. acting on behalf of the “State”) sets in motion a clockwork machine world. On the contrary. cold preoccupation” (203) shielding him from Edge’s entirely self-interested machinations. 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. Ultimately she cannot forgive herself for being a part of nature. in his shared world of others within space and time. but it is an . with his reference to “her blue. It is self-sympathy that protects him from the spell that Edge attempts to cast upon him with her strategic offer of marriage. Edge’s attitude toward her environment is one of ownership and of ego-enlargement.” a sharer of the space-time environment—which is something that Edge is absolutely incapable of. unintentionally admitting her weakness and vulnerability. 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. She may be safe for an instant. And yet. Only one personality is allowed expression in such a system. however. More crucially. but she herself will not. she has called attention to her fears of sex and death (which she unwittingly confirms by reference to the dead rabbit). for others may escape or evade the punishments meted out by her harsh judgment against life. and allows us to acknowledge that the ultimate and inevitable victim of Edge’s repressive regime is herself. it is proof that he is able to relate to himself as to an “other.” he expresses implicit sympathy for one who should be old without being wise. during which he is “contemplating his own death with disinterest” (202). the “vast distance of his final cold. In such a passage Green demonstrates the life-hatred that lies behind Edge’s defensive bureaucratic posture. in the maintenance and care of which any further creative impulse is actively opposed. as well as her neurotic impulse to tuck all structural and personal loose ends into her bureaucratic web.112 / alternative realisms What is unforgivable for Edge is that. even to herself. but the next instant may rob her of that safety.

(202–203) Rock views Edge’s marriage proposal with contempt. whose personalities are enslaved—possessed—by their possessions (1083). to load the dice in favor of one character or another (even Edge is softened and humanized by novel’s end). If one reads Green’s fiction in search of an escape from or weapon against an unsatisfactory world. and of nature as a part of oneself. . 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. there is no one of whom the proposal is more insulting than of Edge herself. In his fictional anatomy of Edge’s ways and means. Rock’s well-tended individual self-respect. When one conceives of oneself as a part of nature. she laughed to herself. who demonstrates by the proposal her absolute cravenness in regards to her bureaucratic position. . From the point of view of his continuing battle with Edge. 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. But then. as Edge’s individual will is inevitably enveloped by her bureaucratic machinery. She herself realizes the absurdity of the marriage proposal from a personal viewpoint: What a desperate expedient to gain possession of a cottage. But in terms of self-respect. Green demonstrates the manner in which such ego-fulfillment results in an enslavement by and to the conventionally real. Her intuitive awareness of her subservience makes her both bitter and dangerous. from every point of view except Edge’s own . as Rock is well aware. antimimetic fiction-making.to create a life which is not / 113 expression that the system itself curtails once it is set in motion. oh well what harm was there? Things would all come out in the wash. So Green’s creative ego requires no flattering reflection or willful defense. and neither does his pastoral-organic realism provide an egoistic escape or opportunity for ego-inflation for the reader. by contrast. may be seen to be a defense of Green’s own particular brand of pastoral-organic. One is reminded of Oscar Wilde’s observation that the system of private property ownership is most damaging to the owners themselves. it is no doubt best that Rock conceives of the proposal as an insult and acts accordingly. or as praise of a particular version of a satisfactory reality. considering that “the suggestion. Green’s refusal to choose sides in and through his fiction. or of one outcome . one’s individual wealth requires no augmentation. She must be mad. was tantamount to an insult offered by the woman” (209) and determining to keep secret the “ludicrous development” (209). almost completely out of control. one is bound to be disappointed. be utterly forgotten come daylight.

both writers demonstrate the manner in which the status quo is a judgment upon itself.114 / alternative realisms or another (the plot of Concluding significantly does not conclude). which likewise refuses to defend its insights against partisan attack. opens his work up to criticism by partisan players. Green’s pastoral-organic fiction resembles Whitehead’s philosophy of organism. Indeed. The same may be said of the life brought forth in a novel of pastoral-organic realism. as you could a child. one that challenges the life-logic of plotted conclusions. Green himself humorously commented that. it is because they both are questioning the assumptions underlying the conventional understanding of reality in their respective areas. (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. once the thing is printed. “when after moving you as they do they come to an end. . 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. by putting your hands round its little wet neck. “there is no determinate nexus which in an unqualified sense is either the man or the earth” (Adventures 204). as Treglown aptly noted: It is a vulnerable kind of art. as long as an organism such as a man or the earth is alive in space and time. they do not (I think) release you like the more orthodox novels and like the greatest novels” (22). Welty remarked of Green’s novels that. in Treglown 187). Green’s ability to create characters’ lives and worlds that continue after their stories end was noted by Stokes. We may recall Whitehead’s assertion that. if a novel is really good. 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. who remarked that Green’s characters “are more like actual human beings than like most fictional characters” (30).” The refusal of Green’s novels to conclude in conventional manners is a chief hallmark of his pastoral-organic realism. (161) In its vulnerable posture. In the work of both Green and Whitehead. it is in a manner that is new to the novel convention. “Concluding is unforgettable. you can’t stop its living. More subtly. and I think it is. you simply cannot strangle it. If both writers fail to engage the status quo directly. the argument is wholly implicit in the observation and insight. If a novel like Concluding is great.

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. 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. and not Edge (205). or else the “writer identifies what is necessarily a subjective experience with reality as such. As persuasive as is North’s argument “that an individual achieves self-creation” in Green’s fiction “by concocting. regardless of its power of compulsion in any particular circumstance. from whatever trash is available. 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). .” 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. it is a demonstration that the more comprehensive composition ultimately carries the day. either “human activity is. Welty remarked of Green’s fiction that There is no need to say whether such writing is of the exterior or interior world . (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. Green’s organic realism. Concluding is Green’s supreme achievement in creating real-world complexity that evades the exterior-interior conundrum. by contrast. The allegorical significance of these names may be considered in various ways. One might think of the Rock as being an emblem of the universe . but that the truest reality is the most comprehensive. a priori. . rendered impotent and robbed of meaning” (36). The competition between Rock and Edge is more than just a duel between competing fictions. argues that there are many realities. all of which are “compositions” (to borrow Whitehead’s key term). What the poet. has found most explicit about life was clear to him before the line between the exterior and interior was ever invented. Green affirms the winner by naming the mansion that is the novel’s setting “Petra” (Rock). thus giving a distorted picture of reality as a whole” (51). and he is this. as Georg Lukács so convincingly argued in his seminal book Realism in our Time. his contention that “Green shows that self-knowledge is fiction. a narrative to inhabit” (195).

which Einstein famously considered to be finite but unbounded. which is continuous: unbounded. in praise of the recovery.” she shouted under the music. as she and her governing partner Miss Baker look down at the whirling figures from the dais upon which they are seated. Although Green clearly is not an orthodox writer. which has no edges—or rather. confined with others to a workshop in which talk is forbidden.” (she was working herself up). 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. and in a rising voice. on which every edge. is only a relative boundary in the bigger-picture scheme of things. and who has learned to scream defiance as an unheard ventriloquist beneath the deafening mechanical hammers. “upon which our Institute is Built. as thought to yell defiance. at that precise moment. Baker.” she answered and beamed at the Students. like Queens upon thrones. with the allusion to Christ’s statement that his church would be founded upon this “rock.116 / alternative realisms itself. but kept her face expressionless. such as the Earth. “Rock” also obviously is emblematic of a Christian worldview. particularly in its contrasting of the caring and nurturing pastoral figure of Rock to the dogmatic and dictatorial Edge. like the surface of a sphere. “there is a Limit. “They can go too far. “They can outstretch themselves. content on the whole to let things slide this night of nights. and this. “My dear.” in reference to the disciple Peter (King James Version Matthew 16: 18). Edge is avidly pursuing the obsessive theme of Rock and his granddaughter in their cottage. the music stopped dead into a sighing silence. (185–186) .” she added. “this Rock” she continued. and of the reality of nature. heard throughout the Hall. Edge’s fixation on maintaining un-breached the defensive boundaries of her territory and power (even her body is unbreached sexually speaking. At the Founder’s Day dance near the novel’s end. 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. and could only go on in a great voice. 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. magnificent.” Miss Baker approved. such as the edge of a continent or mountain range. “But I must mention one thing. Concluding may be seen to have many allusions to a Christian worldview. 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.” when. It was like a prisoner. as a last gesture. As the Pharisees plotted against Christ and his disciples.” Edge agreed.

like a series of waves rolling through a body of water. as an electron’s quantum leap from one orbit to another. further emphasizing Green’s attention to natural processes. vegetables. as Stokes first noted in his insightful monograph (20). which is itself in motion as the universe expands outward. This metaphorical level jump might be thought of.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. to which we in fact wholly belong. and a spiritual argument concerning the supremacy of love. The logic of argument that they create is incredibly complex and yet harmonious withal. . 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. metaphorically. and is in another sense representative of the earth in its elliptical orbit about the sun. and minerals. One might also think of the electron clouds orbiting the nucleus of an atom in motion. 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. and an aesthetic argument concerning the limits of representation and the autonomy of organic creation. since it is the very ground upon which all arguments are made and all values are judged. 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. like that of a supreme lyric poem or a piece of music. The novel itself suggests its own shape as that of a spiral. 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. and a biological argument concerning the fundamental character of interactive process. In his 1982 study of Green. women. and vice versa” (184). which is emblematic of a harmony between linear time (narrative) and circular nature (symbolism). and the process of the natural. These various arguments are nested within and about one another in interactive motion. in his fiction-making. and a psychological argument concerning the isolation created by fear. only to break upon the shore in a conclusion that never finishes concluding. and children are given the attributes of animals. For as well as making a political argument concerning the self-defeating nature of tyranny. When we pay close attention to the subtle and complex allegory emblematized by the chief characters’ names.

rather. and these. Their anxious discussions regarding their future home(s) is concluding as they near the mansion. 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 discombobulated flocks jostle for position. was already poised full faced to a dying world. and this moment was over. . followed by ever greater numbers. “I’m glad I had that once more. . After which these birds came in hundreds.” Mr. even higher dots against paler pink.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 circled a hundred feet above. as the first mass of starlings left while these others settled. In one sense. began to give the alarm in earnest. Rock said aloud. (148–149) The passage sums up the novel in several ways. 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 starlings flew around a little and then. and there was a huge volume of singing. as they descended. They swarmed above the lonely elm. that singing drooped. in one broad spiral led the way down and so. scything the air. 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. as every bird was home. as sky faded fast. until the leader. flat sovereign red gold. black and blunt against faint rose. . they made. when a flock of starlings suddenly descends upon the trees around them for their nightly roost. a huge sea shell that stood proud to a moon which. before roosting. at which Rock is anticipating a continuation of his battle with Edge over the cottage. to send the last arrivals out. which trebled the singing . a cohabitation which goes against the State’s housing policies as well as against Rock’s inclinations. as the succeeding waves of birds dislodge earlier arrivals from their roosts. as they had at dawn. and blackbirds. and to swoop down through a thickening curve in the enormous echo of blood. then suddenly by legion. Once the starlings had settled in that tree they one and all burst out singing. the moon paled to brilliance. Then a third concourse came out of the west. some first starlings flew out of the sky . then finished. in their turn. through falling dusk in a soft roar. Then there were more. 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. began to circle up above. the chorus of hosannas about God’s throne when . or of the sea.

The past is the material with which the future is made. one implication of which is that the past is always present in the future. rather “living” is the creative activity of dying. their object-ness in a world of other objects. paradoxically. And yet to have lived is to have changed the essential character of things. which makes our brief lives a part of the permanency of the world.to create a life which is not / 119 every soul has been called home. As usual with Green.e. through our living—for to Whitehead. and are increased by one. in which there is no such thing as “passive matter” (Whitehead. The much larger category is mind or mentality itself. .’ but also in the sense of ‘drawing inferences’ ” (qtd. Green said of his title that it “could be double-barreled i.) Green’s working title for the novel was “Dying” (Mengham 187). as of Proust’s. in Treglown 184). but it is only a part. which is emphasized in the passage above by the blood-like red of the moon and sky. or of the sea” emphasize continuity and repetition. self-conscious thought is a part of our creative contribution to the world. We are living. so that we can say of Green’s world. implies both an ongoing process and a stage or state within that process. Green’s focus on the moving reflections emphasizes. . Whitehead wrote in Process and Reality that individual creativity is that ultimate principle by which the many. the apt setting for the day’s Armageddon-ish last stand. “Concluding. For the human. by however infinitesimal an amount. become the one actual occasion. in and out again as each pair swung round under chandeliers” (263). It lies in the nature of things that the many enter into complex unity . in the sense of ‘ending. as to Green. (25–26) We contribute our individual change through our creativity—that is. that nothing is ever lost—and that is why Concluding is more apt as a title than “Dying. in their “enormous echo of blood. living and creation are synonymous. which are the universe disjunctively.” by contrast. Might the singing be both argument and praise. the materiality of the dancers themselves. which is the universe conjunctively. as is the whirling gossip it attends to.” For dying is not something that is done . such dehumanization is comforting rather than threatening. The many become one. Being is in essence creative becoming. and therefore we are dying. whose reflections in the polished floor moved “backwards and forwards. but it is also a poignant reminder of the mutability of all things. And yet the spiraling flocks of starlings. Our own bodies as individual organisms . 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. which is something we share with all of nature. and make an analogy as well with the waltzing couples at the coming dance. Modes 115) devoid of subjective experience.

the pastoral—like civilization itself—is necessarily under threat of change. 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. The pastoral mode is most operative in Concluding. taking egoistic refuge within the selfdefeating ideals of invincibility and invulnerability. Each entity requires its environment” (Religion 132). with a single eye” into a fog bank “beyond which. at some clear height. Rock’s congenial and respectful relations with his animal pets indicates an awareness of the mentality at work in nonhuman 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. “the unity of man and his body is taken for granted” (Whitehead. which can live in people who are alive” (Surviving 136). accepts the vulnerability as a given . 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. Modes 114). “There is no such thing as absolute solitariness. as we have noted. like small creatures coming and going in a meadow” (Surviving x). To rid oneself permanently of the threat of the other is impossible. mingled with their environment.” and yet in the history of thought. Rock and Edge cannot marry. Rock knew now there must be a flight of birds fast winging. interactive and enabling environment. as when he observes his pet goose Ted. by contrast.120 / alternative realisms are “the basis of our emotional and purposive experience. . but neither can they leave one another alone entirely. Ted knows where he thought” (3). evolving environments to which the human both contributes and belongs. Edge gives way to paranoia and hysteria. which presents us with an endangered world within a pastoral boundary. emphasizing the innate and intrinsic relation of the living organism to its living environment. By focusing upon the relationship between an individual subject and its necessary. Green said that his goal with his novels was to create “a life . Mr. to step outside of which—as has the missing student Mary—is to be lost indeed. Green and Whitehead in their differing venues were attempting to make the human at home again in nature. shaping. The crucial question is the attitude that one adopts to this threat. In their efforts to counter the isolating. head to one side. “staring. Rock’s humble and congenial pastoral response. which—in generic terms—is an innately pastoral endeavor. As Whitehead argued. 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. thus emphasizing the ecological nature of Green’s pastoral creations. both Whitehead and Green strived to emphasize and investigate the living.

I mean antagonism in its most general sense. observant and inventive pastoral-organic realism. Whitehead argued. Such a creative. By force. or even in defensive armor . 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. With its scrupulous good manners toward character and reader. and interaction with. world-critiquing Modernist forbearers was to meet the tremendous instability of our age with an engaging civility in and through his ever-flexible. the prize has not gone to those species which specialized in methods of violence. Every organism requires an environment of friends. The Gospel of Force is incompatible with a social life. and partly to supply it with its wants. . “the great ages have been unstable ages” (Science 207). and its imaginative and generous observation of.to create a life which is not / 121 and prizes the precious threatened environment accordingly. Its main defect is that it bars cooperation. the environment as a whole. . Green’s creative advance upon his pessimistic. Rather he strives to be at home creatively within and amidst the danger. 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. partly to shield it from violent changes. in general. . which is to internalize the threat. as the “Gospel of Force” may be thought of as the self-defeating creed of Edge and her state bureaucracy. nonaggressive approach to change. (Science 206) “An environment of friends” is intrinsic to the pastoral vision embodied by Rock in his attitude and relations. The pastoralist pointedly refuses to adopt an aggressive posture in regards to danger. is at the heart of the success of life itself: In the history of the world. There is something in the ready use of force which defeats its own object.

This page intentionally left blank .

in particular. For Fitzgerald is first and foremost a moralist. which is not to say that she is a master of scruples in the manner of Henry James. to whom she communicated in subtle parables that grew increasingly . ethical uncertainty. but that it developed so quickly. That we shall know one day The unlikely Indian summer career of the late English novelist Penelope Fitzgerald is good news for slow starters. Rather Fitzgerald is a moralist in the philosophical and spiritual manner of D. she greatly admired (Lubow). Lawrence—to whom she declared herself “devoted” (Basbanes)—a moralist in a time of existential anxiety. however. Although Fitzgerald made a new start and developed a fresh approach to the fictive project with each of her nine novels. Eight more novels were to follow before she died in 2000 at the age of eighty-three. when she was sixty years old. aesthetic and moral progression may be traced in and through them. like Jane Austen—the latter of whom. 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. The absence of the moral element in contemporary critical discourse is certainly not a new or surprising phenomenon. and intellectual drift. John Bayley has written. H. With a few qualified exceptions. 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. What is most remarkable about her career in fiction. never repeating the same kind of novel twice” (ix). She was an intensely spiritual writer addressing a largely skeptical audience. “In a cool modest way Fitzgerald was an experimenter.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. a decided thematic. in entirely unpredictable ways. a mystery. in 1977. is not that it began so late. She published her first novel. or a connoisseur of human nature.

it will be quoted at some length: And the disciples came. . as well as being her most explicitly religious work. Christ himself explained the rhetorical logic of the parable when questioned by his disciples regarding his use of them in speaking to the multitude. In this instance. His response is complex and. In a 1990 interview concerning her penultimate novel. such a discussion is necessary for understanding the full range of implications of her ambitious and broadly ramifying fictive project. but to them it is not given. it is a mistake to speak of the works’ “message. and I should heal them. lest at any time they should see with their eyes. People think that sort of thing is ridiculous these days. and their eyes they have closed. and said unto him. Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. 15) The implication is that revelation only comes to those who are prepared to receive it. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not. don’t they?” (Heller). For this people’s heart is waxed gross. 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. neither do they understand . whereupon the Gospel writer concludes: “And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13: 58).124 / alternative realisms complex and profound as her fiction and its moral message developed. our own skepticism is called for as we remind ourselves of Lawrence’s admonition to trust the tale and not the teller.” but with a moralist such as Fitzgerald. . (Matthew 13: 10–13. but whosoever hath not. and should understand with their heart. for Fitzgerald’s novels are clearly demonstrative of her beliefs and values when they are read aright. she commented. and teaching us to read . and should be converted. which is arguably her masterpiece. and hear with their ears. “I still haven’t put down in any of my books what I really believe. With most novelists. from him shall be taken away even that he hath. The Gate of Angels. as we shall see) to a contemporary audience of skeptical literalists. I’m ashamed of myself—but it would require so much courage. and hearing they hear not. 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. and their ears are dull of hearing. and he shall have more abundance. 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. Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them. to him shall be given. as it is key to our argument. For whosoever hath.

we also must reconsider the nature of the parable form itself. rather. is a story of spiritual renewal and salvation. 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. it may well seem that their meaning is all too clear. and obvious. But that is because. Or perhaps the prodigal son is gay. If contemporary students were given the story of the prodigal son devoid of all context and tradition and asked to interpret it critically. for example. 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. The purpose of this digression is to point out the difficult task facing the contemporary novelist for whom spiritual and moral concerns are paramount. When. 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). a reader from a different historical and cultural tradition and background could not be expected to perceive this seeming obviousness of meaning. judging from my students) will not readily perceive that the parable of the prodigal son. 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. conventional. she replied that she hoped her work reflected.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. When I refer to . through interpretation. 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. In order to read Fitzgerald’s parables aright. The creation of correspondences between text and meaning requires an engaged and responsive interaction with the text. 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. Fitzgerald was asked about the reflection in the work of her feminist and political beliefs. 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. for example. simple-minded. which has come to seem quaint. in an interview. her spiritual beliefs (Byatt xii). When we think of Jesus’s parables. And indeed contemporary readers in the Western tradition who are unfamiliar with the JudeoChristian background (the vast majority of contemporary readers. However. Certainly the very idea of reading aright is apposite to the concept of the parable.

126 / alternative realisms Fitzgerald as a writer of parables. . (Samson) I agree with the observation but reject the limited interpretation. 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. key to understanding the hostility and condescension with which Fitzgerald’s work has on occasion been treated by reviewers. in order to understand the novel’s moral argument. most contemporary readers see not. Her work is actually much stranger and darker. I mean that her fiction has spiritual and moral implications that are central and integral to their meaning. for instance. at least in part.” created. 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. writing in Salmagundi soon after Fitzgerald’s death in 2000. and hearing they hear not. one must look beyond the alltoo-human tragedy to the divine comedy of which it is a part. Ian Samson. by contrast. 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. we must be able to perceive that. I think. Of course Dante is a self-announced allegorist and a reader who ignores the allegorical means and method in his poem is willfully deceived. a momentum in even the most insignificant daily routine or detail. hidden within the narrative’s “vast complications. it gives one just that sense of waste that is given by life itself. 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. Although Samson obviously does not much care for Fitzgerald’s work. To read Fitzgerald’s work according to its intentions. Seeing such a text. Such basic incomprehension is. the ability to suggest that there is a drama. and character development has missed the point and purpose of the text. Fitzgerald observed that. (Samson) To make us perceive such a drama and momentum. operating on a separate spiritual and metaphysical plane is certainly the desired effect of the parable. In an essay on George Eliot’s Middlemarch. and neither do they understand. Hers is the effect of the don and the priest. offered this dismissive. setting. Readers who fail to recognize the parables in Fitzgerald’s fiction. by Dorothea’s unfortunate decisions and failed aspirations.

as is her insistence upon the primacy of moral values in interpreting experience. in her generous gift to Lydgate . We must believe this if we can. As Fitzgerald observed: We have actually seen the effect of Dorothea’s being on those around her. her readers. I realize. ( Afterlife 23) As is made obvious here. Indeed. For our purposes in this essay. the allegory is a revelation. she is primarily a writer of naturalistic stories with moral and spiritual meanings—that is. I would suggest Franz Kafka as a prototypical modern allegorist. whereas Flannery O’Connor and in some respects D. she shares with these writers a tendency to repeat moral points and to demonstrate spiritual values in and through naturalistic narratives. However. the pointed purpose of the work as a moral demonstration remains paramount. a working distinction must be made between parable and allegory. H. by contrast. of parables. In addition to the authors already discussed in this study under the rubric of modern allegory. . Although Fitzgerald’s later work has a pronounced tendency toward the idealized emblematic of classic allegory. Lawrence would be more clearly writers of modern parables. and expectations of. 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. Fitzgerald’s moral argument and sentiment is far from being hidden. that I am culpable of stretching . in her essays and reviews. On these “unhistoric” acts in an undistinguished town in the Midlands. 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. Although Fitzgerald is more subtle and reticent in making her moral arguments than are either O’Connor or Lawrence. . whereas the allegory is broadly revelatory. her insistence upon naturalism in her work is integral to its argument. 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. whose good intentions and generous actions tip the balance of the novel from human tragedy to divine comedy. A traditional allegory typically has multiple meanings and operates in the imaginative space between probabilistic naturalism and the idealized emblematic. A parable. of course. The parable is a demonstration. As Fitzgerald’s work developed. 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.there’s a providence not so far away / 127 is the quiet but “incalculably diffusive” influence of a kindhearted individual.

Idealists. Fitzgerald’s condensed novels have philosophical. as well as spiritual. and economic manners. as they traditionally have been called. a mere blip in the mind of God. which is to direct our attention to what traditionally has been referred to as the realm of eternal verities—the reality of which. They are excluded from the third broad philosophical category of nominalism. as we shall demonstrate. and which has been the dominant school of philosophy of the modern age. 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. implications that are integral to our understanding of them. believe in the reality only of the eternal verities. in contemporary intellectual discourse. philosophical realists believe in the reality of both mind and matter.128 / alternative realisms the concept of the parable in adapting it as a generic category of use in analyzing modern literature. potentialities and actualities (Feibleman 3–10). Although we are all too practiced these days at interpreting literature culturally. 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). as Descartes’ soul is . at least. psychological. the Church took more and more the opposing idealist position that it is the material body in its material world that is the illusion. and of soul and body—as well as in the reality of both generals and particulars. 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. but with the ascendance of a materialistic nominalism. by contrast to nominalists. in sociological. 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. Christian dogma has vacillated over the centuries between the idealist and philosophical realist positions. 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. To consign our interpretation of a spiritual writer like Fitzgerald to the usual cultural categories is to miss the main thrust of her work. under which most contemporary schools fall. In other words. This is the philosophical school to which Fitzgerald decidedly belongs. political. which offered the added benefit of suiting her subtle and clever intellect. Philosophical realists have a foot in both camps. emblematized by Descartes’ hypothesis that the human soul is housed in the pineal gland. which is reserved for those who believe in the reality only of the things of this world. or universals.

” Of course. on the existence. take the liberty of substituting “reality” for “existence” . then. to which he responded by first altering the terms of the question: I will . . the nineteenth-century polymath Charles Peirce. . The realm of the eternal verities had vanished from sight. a different kind of interpretation of the evidence given. . . the metaphysical and religious argument had already been lost. 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.494). the real thing’s characters will remain absolutely untouched . 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. Peirce argued. the question being whether I believe in the reality of God. rather. . . is used in ordinary parlance in its correct philosophical sense . . I myself always use exist in its strict sense of “react with the other like things in the environment. . When the discussion began to focus. I further opine that pretty nearly everybody more or less believes this. is to confuse the existent and the real. or of God’s “nature” (Collected Papers 6. I answer.” on the contrary. .there’s a providence not so far away / 129 a mere nodule in the matter of the body. it would be fetishism to say that God “exists. . of course. To insist upon such an incommensurability. rather than the reality. including many of the scientific men of my generation who are accustomed to think the belief is entirely unfounded. of God. . in that sense. The distinction I am making between the existent and the real is borrowed from perhaps the greatest of American philosophers. The difficulty for the idealists. who adopted as his life’s aim the effort to unify all knowledge.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. which requires a different sort of evidence—or. or ever will have thought them to be . and to understand the implications of that reality for our lives and world. 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). (Collected Papers 6. irrationally. 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.” The word “reality. but in its reality. So. a confusion that he addressed directly in discussing the question of his belief in the existence of God. Yes. 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.

by which he sought to reground human understanding on our actual practice rather than on our theoretical inventions and allegiances. and indeed of all knowledge (Writings 47). although we can never be absolutely certain of doing so in any special case. which closes off investigation. on our limited perceptions—Descartes’ famous cogito. such an assumption amounts to an unexpressed belief. although they use different methods to interpret it. Peirce further contended that the practice of science assumes the reality of the real. the very business of the scientist.311) Although we cannot say with absolute certainty what the real is in any particular case. 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. and it is most likely that we do thus know them in numberless cases. in the bigger picture. “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. The sentiment and argument of Fitzgerald’s fiction is entirely consonant with this admonition. the understanding of which is the goal of science. for whom the cardinal sin is an assumption of absolute certainty of knowledge. 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. which is to become a fetishist of the human mind—that is. 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). belong and contribute. In practice. we can make educated assumptions and assertions concerning it—and the making of such is. for Peirce. a deconstructionist. in which her moral argument is most explicit.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. In her later novels. In the sense of reality as something to be investigated and understood.” Peirce admonished (Writings 229). and thus our conscious values and beliefs. or a reactionary post-humanist—that is. “Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts. the complementary and concluding second stage of which is the movement into recognition . But in theory we have come to base our understanding of reality. This “coming to grief” is the narrative first stage of the repeated and evolving parable of her novels. (Collected Papers 5. a humanist. science and religion (together with philosophy and art) are reading from the same book of nature.

The Taming of Chance : “Peirce positively asserted that the world is irreducibly chancy. although one whose purpose we cannot in this life hope to know. to the point at which he is reduced to living with the pigs he is tending. The question for Peirce is not whether the world is changing and evolving. but he is creating and. The crucial difference in the parable. by contrast. The movements are parallel to the archetypal epic narrative arc of a journey into the underworld and return home. rather we can rely on our observations and intuition (which Peirce—like . and evolving world. In Fitzgerald’s last novel. chance is the necessarily primary characteristic of a growing. or rather series of moments. The Blue Flower. The universal laws that are the glory of natural science are a by-product of the workings of chance” (Hacking 11). What makes Peirce so apposite to Fitzgerald’s implicitly religious fiction (she was in practice a Roman Catholic (Wolfe 17)) is the fact that. requires the concept of a living and evolving God. crucially. perfecting it (Collected Papers 1.615). whereupon he swallows his pride. admits his error. 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. For Peirce. 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. where he is received by his forgiving father with open arms (Luke 15: 11–32). Chance would only be annulled in a perfectly static world—an unliving world. is intimately involved with this evolving world. and returns home. Novalis. who first squanders his inheritance in riotous living. and he argued persistently that the seeming contradiction between a world in which chance is. and will always be. which is based upon the life of the early German Romantic poet and philosopher. The two narrative movements are exemplified in the parable of the prodigal. primary and a world that is divinely providential—“a great symbol of God’s purpose. A living and evolving world. changing. 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. although he demonstrated the manner in which indeterminacy is fundamental to the workings of the world. who is the hero of Ian Hacking’s compelling 1990 study. The moral and mystical transformations that Fitzgerald’s characters undergo are explicitly occasioned by chance. this awakening is a spiritual envisioning—a mystical moment. however.there’s a providence not so far away / 131 and correction. for Peirce. is that the transformative event is a personal moral awakening.119)—is a misunderstanding of the dual nature of reality. a confusion of the everyday existent and the ultimately real. he was nevertheless a committed believer in divine providence. God. of revelation. For Peirce. he not only created it. working out its conclusions in living realities” (Collected Papers 5.

These events have a dual effect on the characters. emphasizing its integral role in the progress of organic creation. draw upon the work of both of these revolutionary thinkers in our analysis of Fitzgerald’s quietly revolutionary fiction. Two Metaphysical Levels of Reality First. it almost seems that Peirce is expanding upon and systematizing Novalis’s prescient intuitions regarding our evolving understanding of the nature of reality. Although Fitzgerald makes no reference in her work to Peirce. in any case. a condensed form of logic (Collected Papers 1. Evolutionary Love Second. while simultaneously prompting them to progress through love to greater knowledge of and integration with a providential reality. and as he himself acknowledged (Writings 339). who died at the age of twenty-eight. as the reading of her work that we are embarked upon will demonstrate. We will focus our discussion of Fitzgerald’s fiction on two main topics that have been introduced above and are summarized briefly below. who was a key figure in the “Jena Circle” of early German Romanticism. the general and the particular. as has been generally noted. Peirce was clearly influenced by this movement of thought. his concerns and preoccupations concerning science and religion. 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. leading to the disintegration of their personalities. to which we now turn. but it is an idea that developed from the earlier work. of God. When one reads Peirce’s voluminous work side by side with the remarkably like-minded but fragmentary production of Novalis. 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. reason and intuition. 2. 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 consider the overall manner in which the two metaphysical levels of reality—which may be labeled variously as the eternal and the existent. overwhelming them with the complexities of experience. which we will take in turn: 1. Two Metaphysical Levels of Reality The idea of two metaphysical levels of reality is implicit throughout Fitzgerald’s fiction.295). and of ourselves. The intuited affinity between Fitzgerald and Peirce is also supported by her late interest in the work of Novalis. We will.132 / alternative realisms Fitzgerald—considered to be superior to conscious reasoning. and the potential and the actual— operate in and through Fitzgerald’s fiction. . which he sometimes referred to as “evolutionary love” (Collected Papers 6.672)).

The Golden Child Fitzgerald’s first novel. 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. or of Fitzgerald’s uncle. in favor of the commonsensical and good-hearted artisan. In that spirit they are functioning allegorically. What is also obvious is that she has a bit of a chip on her shoulder (in reaction. sixty-year-old author of The Golden Child is that she is extremely clever and intelligent.there’s a providence not so far away / 133 in which it is a central thematic preoccupation in more or less conventional narratives. and against the entitled aristocrat. K. and carefully constructed mystery set in contemporary times at the British Museum in London. quietly self-confident. that of the haphazard everyday existent and that of the ultimately reasonable eternal or ideal. the famous Roman Catholic convert priest and mystery author. For an author such as Fitzgerald with a keen moral discrimination. and against the rarefied and bad-natured intellectual. generous-spirited. in favor of the lower and middle-class self-made individual. for example. are very consciously creating such metaphysical implications. What is obvious about the late-starting. the mystery’s ultimately reasonable solution is a moral . 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 morally committed—one might even say morally obsessed. The Golden Child. 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. we will consider the evolution of this idea in her work in some detail. perhaps. Chesterton. Certainly the mystery stories of a religiously minded writer such as G. Ronald Knox. together the two may be thought of as implying the two metaphysical levels of reality. When the novel’s mystery is solved. published in 1977. that of the confused mystery itself and that of its rational solution. 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. perhaps implicit in the genre itself. was an erudite. Since the idea of two metaphysical levels of reality is key to understanding the nature and scope of Fitzgerald’s fictive project. In these writers’ work. attempting to frame in the process the good-natured. 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. and against the snobbish connoisseur. humorous. and humorously hapless mid-level bureaucrat-hero. The mystery convention works innately on two levels.

The highly mannered mystery genre. In the allegorical mystery genre. It is also in part autobiographical. plot and character development lead insidiously to an inevitable impasse. (In Kafka’s allegories. however. she repeatedly demonstrates the manner in which the eternal world is reached in and through the naturalistic material world. The Bookshop. no such transformation—or we might say. as are the three novels that follow it. lends itself to moralistic allegorical argumentation. for she was working against her temperamental and fictive inclinations. for Fitzgerald. her concern with the two metaphysical levels of reality was established. however tentatively. somewhat of a false start. 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. In any case. The Bookshop Fitzgerald’s second novel. Barbara Pym. and in future work she would move on to the naturalistic novel of moral instruction that she eventually would make her own. rather. In Fitzgerald’s later fiction. for instance. rather than to create allegorical arguments that overtly convict. with the publication of this generic mystery novel.) When genre allegory is used as an overt moral instrument. 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). whereas allegory’s focus is on the fundamental and ultimate discontinuity between the two levels. signifying ultimate metaphysical discontinuity. while secretively instructing the elect concerning the means to their salvation. which is transformed in the process into a symbol of eternity and of God’s providence. is to write subtle naturalistic parables that patiently and quietly instruct. like the genres of science fiction and fantasy. in her most characteristic work. It is similar to The Golden Child in that there . whom she admired (Afterlife 276). The transformative agent is chance. in which her coyly instructive parables are most fully developed. the providential meaning of which is grace. is a naturalistic and moralistic novel of manners. Which is all to say that The Golden Child was. no such redemption— takes place. however. similar in some ways to the novels of Jane Austen and of Fitzgerald’s habitually undervalued contemporary. Moreover.134 / alternative realisms judgment upon the haphazard mutable world and a metaphysical correction to our habitually confused understanding. Fitzgerald’s fictive inclination. whereas the parable serves as an entertaining distraction to the multitude.

Violet Gamart wins her duel with Florence Green. and which Novalis referred to when he defined the “moral sense” as “the sense for unity . In the end. “You don’t want a book.” Florence Green has persevered and. and she presumed that he had been acting under orders. knowing that he had come on a kind impulse. she valued kindness above everything. Gamart’s inflated ego). 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. He had not been in the shop for some months. and who maliciously victimize the novel’s hard-put middle-class main figure. she is the undoubted hero of this deft moral tale because of her “kind heart. Mrs.” which. 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. Certainly by “the world’s” standards. who are again among the upper-class elite. the sense for harmony” (Notes 61). the narrator warns us at the novel’s beginning.there’s a providence not so far away / 135 are clear villains. she has even triumphed. Gamart. rather than judgmental and exclusive. rather. Such a morality is generous and inclusive. Florence Green. and it is represented in Fitzgerald’s novel by Florence Green’s persistent good-heartedness amid hardship and attack. I just came in to say ‘A good man gone. Gamart’s specious moral values.’ ” (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. Then she relented. Two books that Florence Green takes with her from her abandoned stock on her ignominious retreat from the town “that had not wanted a . . “is not of much use when it comes to the matter of self-preservation” (7). . 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. or allied with them. offering a martyr’s rebuke to Mrs. in staying true to her kindhearted motives and intentions. which is. We may find evidence of this in her kind behavior toward Mrs. She did not know that morality is seldom a safe guide for human conduct” (100). do you?” “Not exactly. The novel’s primary villain. But by the standards of “the heart. is a thoroughly self-deceived hypocrite who self-consciously adheres to the purest of motives. the morality of which Whitehead spoke when he noted that “morality of outlook is inseparably conjoined with generality of outlook” (Process 19).

the soul. In the series of four essays that comprise Unto this Last. and from which the book series takes its name. to Switzerland in springtime. perhaps fifty years before. is tantamount to “a science of gymnastics which assumed that men had no skeletons” (Ruskin). are operative realities and a system of economics that does not take them into account is unrealistic—“deficient . The text by Ruskin is a case in point. The book must have gone. a complex yet everywhere evident symbol of God’s purpose. and the ideal or spiritual plane on which it exists. the latter of which Ruskin referred to as “the far-reaching ruin” of which material wealth is so often “the gilded index” (Ruskin). Ruskin’s Unto this Last and Bunyan’s Grace Abounding : Each had its old bookmarker in it. Ruskin decried the mid-nineteenth-century selfserving capitalistic economic philosophy that claimed the making of a profit to be an innate moral good. 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. whether it signifies good or evil to the nation in the midst of which it exists. and the Ruskin also had a pressed gentian. quite colourless. 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. With these various literary references at the conclusion of A Bookshop. the understanding of which requires that we translate the everyday material existent into the language of spiritual values. .136 / alternative realisms bookshop” (123) are volumes from the significantly slow-selling Everyman series. merely by the fact of its existence. 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. regardless of the manner in which the profit was made. (123) The anonymous morality-play quotation printed on the marker. Everyman I will be thy guide in thy most need to go by thy side. (Ruskin) The economic “science” that would consider the creation of wealth in a disinterested empiricist manner. . For Ruskin. at what cost of human happiness or misery. . Its real value depends on the moral sign attached to it. The preserved Swiss gentian in the Ruskin likewise points backwards. to the Romantic movement and its great sense of mission in reading nature itself as a universal morality play. in applicability”—no matter how “admirable” its “reasoning” (Ruskin). Ruskin wrote: It is impossible to conclude of any given mass of acquired wealth.

in which good and evil are most clearly identified and opposed. Gamart manages to arrange for the bookshop’s demise without allowing any trace to remain of her personal responsibility for the outcome. The fiction of a modern parable writer such as Flannery O’Connor constantly courts and flouts just such a danger. The principle antagonist is Violet Gamart. the story of her. Human Voices and At Freddie’s.” aptly symbolizing Mrs. with beginnings . by contrast. Offshore Perhaps sensing the aesthetic and spiritual danger of the temptation of an overtly moralistic fiction of heroes and villains. perhaps. In what is perhaps the most perceptive critical essay yet produced of Fitzgerald’s fiction. the names of the major figures have their own moral values—one of which is clearly related to the science of economy. which. Offshore. may be translated into “violent mart.there’s a providence not so far away / 137 In The Bookshop. But in several other senses. Gamart’s take-noprisoners behavior in manipulating the failure of Florence Green’s bookshop enterprise. with minor manipulation. 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. An accomplished system manipulator. as an instructive journey down a road that will not again be taken. Tess Lewis contended that “The Bookshop is Fitzgerald’s darkest novel and contains her most malevolent characters” (Lewis). Florence Green’s name. major work. turned her keen. are decided departures from the dominant mimetic modes of contemporary fiction. Such a clear opposition is in fact a potential danger to the writer with a moral passion. The Bookshop seems most significant. as it leads all too easily to a self-righteous narrowmindedness. The felt confession running throughout Offshore makes this novel her most approachable and. Mrs. as do the novels of Fitzgerald’s friend and contemporary Muriel Spark. clearly aligns her with generous nature itself and its remarkable instinct for regeneration and renewal. but as we read further into Fitzgerald’s fiction. this novel and the two semiautobiographical novels that follow it. Fitzgerald in her next work. O’Connor’s and Sparks’ intensely ironic creative temperaments are at home with fictive structures that are morally overdetermined. most conventional in terms of the subgenre of autobiographical naturalism that has become one of the dominant modes in contemporary fiction. by all accounts. discriminating moral vision on the aspect of her own life history that would seem least to bear scrutiny. no matter how thwarted and oppressed. In regards to that later. for they do not have clearly delineated plots. we will find that such overt moralism is uncongenial to her more meditative and even mystical talent and genius. difficult and strained marriage. in some respects.

thus emphasizing the continuity of community implied by the creative process. I’ve got to have that before I can begin to write. Fitzgerald noted that “the story never yields a conclusion. And if one thinks of a conclusion as an ending to a story that makes sense of the story that it ends. my first paragraph.” and is related to our theme of the two metaphysical levels. (Basbanes) But the answer is “no” in that the novels do not conclude in the usual sense. and of being. The Root and the Flower. in these and later Fitzgerald novels. Wendy Lesser noted simply that. or obvious main figures. Fitzgerald implicitly requires that we as readers step in to do so. At the same time. Fitzgerald’s later novels “are woven from the accidents of her characters’ lives. and in doing this. Myers’ profound mystical trilogy. “the narrative contract has been broken” (109). Incidents and incidentals rather than formal plots or tidy story lines govern the books” (Lewis). ‘There is no illusory sense of understanding. then death itself must be considered an ending rather than a conclusion. she points us toward a realm of meaning. but are in large measure open-ended and continuous.’ Myers said.138 / alternative realisms middles and ends. from our mundane point of view. Our limits . In her introduction to L. but the reality of which is implied by our own experience. I can’t choose the ending as I go along. and often indeed leave the reader with more questions than answers regarding the fates of the characters and their lives. as she told interviewer Nicholas Basbanes: I have made a rule for myself: I don’t start [a novel] until I have my title. As Lewis observed. for our own lives’ stories typically do not entirely conclude with tidy narrative completions. which may lead us to question whether the narratives are “governed” at all in the traditional sense. By refusing to conclude the stories of her characters’ lives. ‘on the realization of what is’ ” ( Afterlife 228). 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. H. Such open-ended endings are more “true to life” than are complete conclusions. 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 both “yes” and “no. The answer is clearly “yes” in that Fitzgerald as narrator knows where her novels are headed. 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. to our own satisfaction. one in which we are given multiple characters in complex fictive situations full of narrative uncertainties and incompletions. and my last paragraph. that is obscure to us.

would never be able fully to know us. as Fitzgerald wrote. the latter more often implicit. And by this I mean not just someone who feels we can’t ever know that God exists. their fates after they leave us. or stands in for the other. 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. (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. there are none to human vision” (Afterlife 228). and a million other things we can only imagine. however. The former is explicit. 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. but also someone whose God. Fitzgerald’s own fiction continues in that tradition by operating on two metaphysical levels. these two timelines have no predictable relation to each other. an awareness of what lies beyond those limits. (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. in the author’s words. and yet the sense of both of them is equally strong. I would not have supposed it from reading her novels. one limited and the other limitless. their histories before we met them. or has considered herself to be.there’s a providence not so far away / 139 of understanding do not preclude. 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. a religious person. without overtly excluding . one existential and one eternal. and then the other one around or behind or between these words. which end abruptly and resolutely fail to give us everything. It is not as if one comes after the other. . “Myers has shown that though there are limits to human will. if he did exist. that of human will and that of human vision. a religious writer. brought back the aspect of eternity to the English novel” (Afterlife 229). In Fitzgerald’s work. which is filled with the richness of the characters’ inner lives. However. To me they are the work of a pure agnostic. and she concludes her introduction with the assertion that Myers’ “strange masterpiece . We are given only one of them directly. .

It is the most mannered of Fitzgerald’s novels. Fitzgerald’s characters become less conventional. The Blue Flower. The most conventional protagonists in Fitzgerald’s novels are Waring Smith in The Golden Child and Florence Green in The Bookshop. to the point at which. Rather she is separating and rearranging the elements so that we are made to look at the convention. the enemy of the rational progress of the main character in his/her narrative. Yet they are far less real. In a conventional naturalistic novel. and identity in accordance with the idea of the two metaphysical levels. 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. of course. Fitzgerald herself noted this limitation when reviewing a biography of Virginia Woolf. But before doing so. and their future is determined. (Eder “Penelope Fitzgerald”) Part of the problem with bringing figures in a nonfiction work alive is that they are “all-too-real. Fitzgerald’s fiction becomes more meaningfully mannered. “It almost seems as if the events had all happened simultaneously” as Acocella perceptively observed (432). The progress of her fiction in this sense is. The Blue Flower is composed of short chapters that are almost tableau-like in their mixture of narrative and stasis. was climbing toward. at the same time. she allows chance a crucial constructive role in the creative progress of her fictive world. chance is typically. Reality was a realm that Fitzgerald. In general.” too actual. We will discuss the key functioning of chance in Fitzgerald’s fiction in the next section. . and the characters more provocatively emblematic. radiantly and unaccountably in her imagination. after decades of silent struggle with the all-too-real. we will first examine the manner in which that fiction deconstructs and reconstructs the “character” concepts of individuality.140 / alternative realisms those who are not. It is as though Fitzgerald were saying with her fiction: “He who has ears to hear. Beginning with Offshore. In particular. The Knox Brothers : The figures in the biography offer foreshadowing hints of some of those in her novels . By deconstructing and reconstructing the traditional time sense that is the foundation for conventional plot operation in the naturalistic novel. as the novels progress. in her last novel. they are bounded by actual fact and circumstance. and the reality it represents. let him hear!” (Matthew 11: 15) The sense of the separate operation of the two timelines in Fitzgerald’s fiction increases with each novel. . with new eyes. in which she . a dismantlement of naturalistic narrative convention. and even less realistic. Fitzgerald makes available modes of plot progression alternative to the usual cause-and-effect method. but more real. She found it most comically. personality. But she is not destroying the elements of that convention in a modernist or postmodernist object lesson in deconstructive aesthetics.

the possibility of your returning to Halifax. a homosexual prostitute named Maurice who lives on the neighboring barge. but he’s told me that he believes there’s a Providence not so far . which are moored to the banks of the tidal river. In fact it could be said that the future is more active than the past.” (46–47) Given such ambivalence. who is living in a northern suburb: “I can’t make up my mind. This is no doubt one of the things that Novalis had in mind when he wrote: “We are more closely united with the invisible.” “It’s the first you’ve ever even mentioned this. “Reading a good biography means thinking of unfulfilled conditionals” (Afterlife 205). The potential future is an active part of our present. and especially real possibilities” (Writings 300). since it is that on which we are focused.” “You shouldn’t do it at all. the movements of which make them sometimes afloat and sometimes aground.” “But I’ve been thinking about it. you multiply the things you might have done and now never can. 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. 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). Nenna. Nenna is considering whether to move to shore. and her best friend. who is originally from Canada. Indeed Offshore may be said to be about the at times overwhelming reality of possibilities. The key word is “unfulfilled”—that which didn’t and can never now happen: dead potential. and also whether to make a visit to her estranged husband. to move with her two children back to her home country. The characters who live on the Thames barges. 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.” “Why not. I mean of course about yourself and the little girls. Joel isn’t a Catholic. Nenna. but also of “real vagues. Decision is torment for anyone with imagination. real vagues and real possibilities become as operative as real actuals and real generals. When you decide. it might be consoling to think that one’s fate is—at least in part—out of one’s hands. and as the good biographer must strive to recreate it. But reality as we experience it. as you know. and praying. is a combination of the living actual and the living potential. there’s all kinds.there’s a providence not so far away / 141 observed that. In Fitzgerald’s novels from Offshore forward. Louise. 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. as Nenna’s sister suggests when attempting to convince Nenna. as fully as is the ramifying past.

Now that idea appeals to me. play such a crucial role.” (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. with the simple clarity of a dream vision. One of the most compelling and memorable of Fitzgerald’s stories that is “hollowed out” by a counterstory is “Desideratus. The Short Fiction In his review of Fitzgerald’s posthumously published book of short stories. or perhaps she was not sure how to divide anything . Also the story is too selfconsciously instructional. in the form of an ideal to be approached. but they give a wonderful illusion of having them. For one thing it is set in a very particular time.142 / alternative realisms away from us. (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. really just above our heads if we could see it. and not in the vaguely mythic past. brought up to date here and with its species of strangeness never far away and yet always strictly and beautifully down to earth. It isn’t a matter of the worm turning. noting that In several of the best [of the stories]. Our lives are not the shapes we give them. Perhaps. by keeping the reader glued to the page in anticipation of what’s to come” (xi). as a poor woman. the main account is hollowed out by the vague counterstory of a secondary figure—someone marginal. powerless. as is typical of fairy tales. unconsidered. that wants things to be the way they’re eventually going. Our stories don’t quite belong to us. it is a metaphysical transaction more than a moral one. she had nothing to give. The story begins: Jack Digby’s mother never gave him anything. John Bayley noted that Fitzgerald’s “novels don’t have plots. 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. as we know from the date on a coin that is at the heart of the story. although the implications of that instruction are far from certain. (Eder “Rough-Hewn Lives”) Fitzgerald’s later fiction often has the unnerving effect of unsolved mysteries or mystic runes. 1674. 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.” which progresses in the fated manner of the fairy-tale.

Having nothing with him with which to break the ice. 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. Jack knocks at the door of the house and is admitted by the family tutor. Jonas. (Means of Escape 37) When Jack tells his godmother that he is very happy to have “something of which he could say. than whatever it is you have lost” (Means of Escape 43). When Jack hesitates to answer. However. . but tracks it down to a spot. Mr. . he is immediately presented with a quandary: “I daresay you would rather have a sum of money . returning a week later. as almost every detail in the remarkably condensed story is potentially telling. although by the time she gave it to him he was eleven years old. if he had had the sense to accept it. and offering an overt but uncertain interpretive turn. that the owner of the house is childless. at the depth of perhaps twelve inches” (Means of Escape 39). Jonas leads him into the “dark upper floors” (Means of Escape 43) of the house and into a room in which a boy. though not with much conviction. But he is too late. children. Finding no one about in the yard. When Jack eventually is taken to meet the house’s owner. rather than more. that he mustn’t set too much importance on earthly possessions” (Means of Escape 38). by grounding the story in its naturalistic life drama. it had taken the godmother’s fancy. Piercy. Jonas would in fact have offered him. Mr. loses it. This is my own. which perhaps didn’t fit the case too well. 1663. His godmother. oddly enough. his medal and its frozen puddle are both gone. Digby could have done with fewer. which happened to be Jack’s birthday. the poulterer’s wife. after the spring thaw has set in. . But the wry conclusion. The story concludes: [Jack] quite often wondered how much money Mr. overlooking a “great house” in a valley. Desideratus [“desired one”]. Jack carries the medal about with him everywhere and eventually. . since Mrs.” she “answers. inevitably. who tells Jack. to which he descends. . When he returns to the spot and fortunately finds the medal. who may or may not be dead.there’s a providence not so far away / 143 among the nine children. the winter frosts have buried it beneath “greenish ice as clear as glass . Mrs. Jack leaves the medal in its frozen puddle. where he had once rested while on a cross-country errand. The date on it was September 12. and in whose “cold as ice” hand Jack finds his lost medal. a keepsake in the form of a gilt medal. Anyone who has ever been poor—even if not as poor as Jack Digby—will sympathize with him in this matter. did give him something. is lying. (Means of Escape 46) This is by far the most allegorical of Fitzgerald’s short fictions. On the back there was the figure of an angel and a motto. pulls the story back into the generic sphere of the parable.

or that they afford not only an honest but a literal representation of the workings of some Divinity. the Faith. by desiring. As Novalis wrote in his uncanny Romantic encyclopedia. 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. and that of a very comprehensive kind. which the artist demonstrates by “represent[ing] the unrepresentable” (Werke 2: 840)— proving himself. semiautobiographical fictions. all knowledge of the visible rests on belief of the invisible. but the reality of these final four novels is paradoxically more acute—more real —than that . who limits his knowledge to the given. attempts to expand our vision of reality and to emphasize that. in that sense. and keep watch and ward. 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. but which. either that man’s Senses are themselves Divine. in which he considered the hypocrisy implicit in a narrowly materialistic empiricism: Curious it is . against ‘Mysticism’ and ‘Visionary Theories. like all of Fitzgerald’s best fiction. which may lead us to think that they are more stylistically mannered and less realistic than are Fitzgerald’s earlier. although we may live our daily lives enmeshed in our material worlds. to observe how these Common-sense Philosophers. . namely. as if this were their special trade. “If only I had . These final two novels. . are all generically distinct works of historical romance. men who brag chiefly of their irrefragable logic. we nevertheless in some measure paradoxically possess. in short. So true is it that for these men also. and a theory. then. as Thomas Carlyle pointed out in his influential essay on Novalis. Innocence and The Beginning of Spring.” This story.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. in both life and art. and the two that precede it. But in making the assumption that the given is inherently meaningful. . that is the ultimate reality. 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. a superior realist to the scientist.’ are themselves obliged to base their whole system on Mysticism. Certainly they are more mannered than the earlier work. scientists are no less idealists than are artists. on Faith. . a part of us is looking elsewhere and desires exactly that which we do not have. Perhaps it is desire itself. “Idealism is nothing but genuine empiricism” (Notes 402).

more crucially. When love overtakes him. (One gets the sense that Fitzgerald got a kick out of riffing on the ubiquitous company initials. For RPD is a man both obsessed with his job and horribly overworked— the former contributing to the latter. 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 . But we can only assume. In Human Voices the setting is the Broadcasting House hub of the wartime (WWII) BBC. it is the novels’ settings and their fictive arguments that are in a sense the main characters. is known as RPD. Jeff Haggard. 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. RPD’s most significant relationship is his symbiotic professional relationship with Jeff Haggard. and the argument is a critique of a modern world that has chosen power over truth as a conscious ideal. for the novel ends with the revelation of his falling in love. Human Voices At Broadcasting House. for these novels are more successful at representing the unrepresentable. known as JTA’s. RPD has a number of young women assistants.there’s a providence not so far away / 145 of Fitzgerald’s autobiographical fiction. people are referred to by their functions and titles. while his counterpart. Before he falls in love. who protects his vulnerable. 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”). Immediately preceding the final historical-romance quartet in the chronology of her works are Fitzgerald’s most overtly argumentative novels. the Recorded Programmes Director. and the argument concerns the interrelated. Human Voices and At Freddie’s. uniting the invisible with the visible. In both Human Voices and At Freddie’s. BBC). one presumes. a real person and not simply a set of initials. RPD abruptly quits the corporation and becomes. of whom he demands complete loyalty and. also known as DPP. thus Sam Brooks. while At Freddie’s is set in a school for young actors in post-WWII London. Junior Temporary Assistants. social nature of individual personality. sympathy. His JTA’s seem to be almost interchangeable to him until one of them falls in love with him and changes his life. is referred to as DPP. the Director of Programme Planning. and of fact as truth.

“There isn’t anything at all that mightn’t be otherwise . therefore. DPP is reminded of this when his friend Mac (an American broadcaster who is surely based on Edward R. nations. and as what we know of . (151) Another parasitical character in the book is a half-French JTA.146 / alternative realisms defenseless and single-minded. he complains. had to deal with the consequences. corporations and families.” (229) Speaking a nonverbal language. music is incapable of lying. (250) Neither RPD nor Lise are villainous. the human race would have difficulty in reproducing itself. How can they find anything to broadcast that’s got to be true. which. and furthermore that being unlucky was a sufficient contribution to the world’s work. cannot stop themselves from doing so. Probably you ought to be doing something totally else. thus putting her in a position in which she must rely on the kindness of relative strangers. and one such need is to be needed by others. if this appeal were to fail entirely. “We couldn’t put out music all day!” “Music and silence. 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. . Rather they are needy in ways to which others respond with generosity. . The implication throughout Human Voices is that people in their complex personalities and interactive relations are really little different from societies. After The Bookshop.” (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. Other people. a position with which she is well acquainted: Lise had always felt that she was particularly unlucky. with their own strengths and weaknesses. is only contingent. for everyone has needs. which have personalities and relations of their own. Lise. and couldn’t be anything else?” He gestured towards the piano. to which his practical respondent replies. You’re weakening these people. however. who is compelled to quit her job when she becomes pregnant (she is unmarried). there will be no more egoistic villains in Fitzgerald’s fiction. Words. Of course. In times like these we’ve got to forgo luxuries and that includes the obligation to help others. “The opposite could also be true” (229).

Although Pierce makes such a poor impression and is not very appealing to Hannah romantically. “It’s my duty. which is based on and in the Temple School of drama for youth known as “Freddie’s. to take my school where the power is” (157). a disappointing performance” (82). that he “had never yet given . 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. she recognizes that he possesses a “stubborn incorruptible intensity . one wouldn’t recall having seen him before. (21) Pierce falls in love with his fellow teacher at the school. At Freddie’s. and that not very successfully. At the novel’s end. At Freddie’s. Boney Lewis. . postmodern society content to let advertising dictate the reality it calls its own. and who “countenanced” for her young charges “No TV work. (17) The irony in this most ironic of Fitzgerald’s novel is that Freddie herself. which she could never hope to come near” (92). Meeting Carroll for a second time . who— although lazy and alcoholic—is so adept at his craft. no modeling” (14). read NAUGHT SHALL MAKE US RUE IF ENGLAND TO ITSELF DO REST BUT TRUE. . is not concerned with truth. As she tells a potential financial backer. she proves her allegiance by announcing plans to transform “Freddie’s” into a drama school that trains children for television commercials. Hannah Graves. The foil to Freddie’s entirely flexible.there’s a providence not so far away / 147 ourselves we know in and through language. the school’s proprietess: The words upon it. Pierce Carroll. no film work. and in this sense it is a satire of a contemporary. .” The school’s unofficial motto hangs in a banner in the office and over the head of Freddie herself. although known as a stalwart—even legendary—supporter of the English stage (of Shakespeare in particular). we must accept that our own personalities and identities are necessarily unstable—contingent truth. who had no ability to make himself seem better or other than he was. but with power. which was published in 1982. who herself falls in love with an aging character actor. . At Freddie’s The concept of contingent truth is at the center of the decentered novel. He could only be himself. is a parable about the ascendance of the ideal of power over the ideal of truth. you know. . self-interested identity is a young teacher at the school. written in foot-high letters and scrolled with gilt. It also operates as a critique of . .

she is a conformist. when it comes to one’s struggles with language and meaning. but the choices they do make are nevertheless. Robert Cummings Neville.” 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. 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. but that. 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. a question of power. M. has commented of Charles Peirce that he would have thought the postmodernist critique of logocentrism a wickedness.148 / alternative realisms a post-structuralist intelligentsia obsessed with manipulations of language as a symbol system. 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. Delafield’s Thank Heaven Fasting. “In a conforming society. significantly. “We must accept that comedy is crueler than tragedy. III. Jonathan. who is a nonconformist himself. in any case. although it is a satirical comedy. “The truest poetry is the most feigning” ( As You Like It. Her claim to sympathy is only that” (Afterlife 193). a contemporary critic of postmodernism. a nonconformist—family. (52) At Freddie’s is Fitzgerald’s fictive rebuke to such a substitution. it is merely a question of “which is to be master” (188): that is. In her review of E. For neither Freddie nor Hannah are given good choices (Freddie’s school is perpetually on the brink of financial ruin. and Pierce is a hopelessly unattractive lover).15–17) means not that. and as such it is perhaps her most negative and even despairing novel. one for which the Shakespearean dictum. as all language is feigning. 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. Although he is as hapless as a teacher as he is as a lover.iii. as all language is feigning. he nevertheless is adopted as a kind of surrogate parent by the drama school’s most brilliant student. we must search beyond it for truth. the most convenient ones—those that conform most comfortably with a conforming world. and to critique others in their less successful attempts. As Humpty Dumpty—a protoptypical post-structuralist—says to a skeptical Alice. Along these lines. we can forget the search for truth (which is always. Fitzgerald contended. refusing to put himself forward as an actor—as the other .

Rather Jonathan. This is not to say that Fitzgerald offers no psychological description of or insight into her characters. he wanted to know what someone looked like when they did. The missing dimension implies other dimensions entirely. is only a small part of what is really there” (122). (35) In his method of acting. there is a feeling that the novel’s setting and circumstance in some manner produces or perhaps evolves its characters and plot. He didn’t want to know what it felt like to be desperate enough to jump from a wall. secreting himself and watching the world as a passing show. She is not a “new novelist” in that manner. He felt the compulsion to pretend to be someone else. The effect is to make the material “surface” world more mysterious and more complex. his attention withdrew. “What she gives us on the page. Rather she makes her characters’ psyches only one among many elements reverberating with meaning. In her final four major fictions in particular. To them. 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. Jonathan was born to be one of those actors who work from the outside inwards. By refusing to privilege the psychological viewpoint.there’s a providence not so far away / 149 students instinctively do—and seeming uninterested in general in getting the world’s attention. she manages to suggest. (74) I think that we are meant to understand this as a defense and explanation of Fitzgerald’s own artistic method. The mystery of life in these novels lies on its surface and not in its depths. it is almost as though we had returned to the two-dimensional world and viewpoint of pre-Renaissance representational painting. in which the very lack of depth leads us to “read” the painting metaphorically. appeared to have learned something so important that his whole time was taken up in considering it. the surface is not superficial. 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. which became less interior and psychological and more evidential and materialistic as she progressed from novel to novel. In that sense. . Fitzgerald also works to prevent us as readers from ego-identifying with her characters. her characters no more “own” themselves than they own their world. but in quite a different manner. As Lesser wrote of Fitzgerald’s method. and the key to understanding that life lies in our manner of interpretation of the given. In these mannered novels. Jonathan is a nonconformist as well: When he was told to imagine himself let us say as a young prince.

The drop was a good bit longer.” she told Acocella. To that end. Also it has begun to snow. and exactly the same every time” (160). . In that realm. with a tying up. “[Jonathan’s] object was to get so used to the jump that he could do it without thinking. 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. . Although it would take a certain amount of nerve. and climbs upon them to reach the top of the garden wall for his practice jumps. Once again I believe that we would do best to trust the tale rather than the teller. 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. “I tried to make it clearer. in this instance. but that seemed to spoil it. 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. again and again. they end like poems. and that was the implication Fitzgerald said that she was meaning to give. the eternal return.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. he alerts us to the manner in which Fitzgerald’s endings attempt to represent the unrepresentable eternal realm of a boundless forever-after. Once again Samson offers keen insights despite his obvious distaste (“Forever England” is strictly gratuitous). into the darkness. “To that extent the book’s a failure” (qtd. so I left it. down into the middle of the yard . Samson likewise remarked that Fitzgerald’s “interminable endings” offer neither “an escape” nor a “resolution. Jonathan never stops jumping off of his wall. .” but seem rather almost “a Mobius strip. via the reader—thus demonstrating the ever-ramifying reality of the purely potential. with a culminating image” (Acocella 428). one evening before his opening performance. Still he had other resources. although she realized that many readers missed it. Acocella perceptively observed of Fitzgerald’s later novels that they “cease to end like novels. Forever England” (Samson). though. in Acocella 429). there was nothing to stop him jumping down on the street side and getting out that way. The figure of Jonathan at the conclusion of At Freddie’s is a case in point. (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. Meanwhile he went on climbing and jumping. Jonathan drags some rotten crates from the nearby market into the tiny walled garden behind the Temple School. than the one he was doing at present.

I mentioned earlier in reference to Fitzgerald’s first novel. and in order to do so. the high wall. and the play’s foreshadowing—that Jonathan will somehow die from a fall. 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. we embark upon a different fictive terrain from the one that we have been negotiating in her earlier work. Like Peirce. Novalis wrote: “The individual is individualized by one single chance event alone. The entire weight of the novel is poised upon that possibility. but as a perfectly placed fulcrum point can bear the weight of the world. It is not simply that these novels are based upon historical times and places rather than on the author’s autobiographical experience. The prevailing opinion is that change is either entirely chaotic and arbitrary or entirely determined and predestined: evolution or creationism. The Golden Child. from which the novel releases him by concluding when and as it does. the snow falling. something is bound to happen to stop his repetitions. In her final four historical-romance novels. As both a storyteller and a metaphysical-moralist in these novels. our deaths. Evolutionary Love According to our inflexible and literalistic modern way of thinking. Unless we hasten the ending. that is. 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. of probability. are—from our perspective—fortuitous. keeps never coming. chance and providence cannot exist together in a changing world. Fitzgerald ceased to separate her characters into obvious heroes and villains. 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. she attempted to demonstrate the workings of such a world.there’s a providence not so far away / 151 In Jonathan’s all-too-real world. his birth” (Werke 3: 441). and chances are—given the rotten crates. In Fitzgerald’s final four novels. however. Jonathan’s death. 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. take your pick. Fitzgerald clearly believed in the reality of both. Fitzgerald seems to be picking and choosing. its arrival is certain amid uncertainty—a matter of chance. who first conceived of a metaphysical-materialist system in which chance-driven evolution and divine providence may both be operative and true. like our births.

of routine habit and chance alteration. 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. Rather they seem selfdetermined actors in a morality play in which there is no felt separation between the argument and its characters. The Blue Flower. In her final four novels. to various degrees. is determined in large part by what they make of their changing circumstances. and who devoted his mercurial life to saving that marriage. This is all to say that these final four novels give us the feeling of life itself. and then back a century to the Romantic response to that deterministic universe. we have to interpret them as parables of the spiritually ailing modern world. although irreducibly chancy. to a pre-WWI England in which Cambridge scientists are dismantling the atomic basis of the regular and predictable Newtonian material universe. might almost . in its combination of restrictiveness and possibility. for these characters in their lives are the argument itself. who was likewise obsessed with the heart-head estrangement in modern thought and being. Lawrence’s alarm at this heart-head split seems to have drawn Fitzgerald’s attention and devotion to his prophetic work. the novels work backwards in time from a post-WWII Italy in which the last vestiges of the European feudal order are being undone. They are both products and creators of their world. and their fate. 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. Fitzgerald’s final novel. 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. For each of these novels is set at or near particularly fraught historical turning points in which the characters awaken to find themselves. Fitzgerald offers no less than an anatomy and diagnosis of sickened modernity itself. by means of which she found her way to the fragmented writing of Novalis (Basbanes). But what these characters have to choose from has been determined for them (as for us) by luck or fate. which—in these novels—is almost synonymous with history. 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. and their fates are likewise more meaningful—more real—because they have been chosen rather than endured. As a series in a historical quartet. and the implications arising from which they are.152 / alternative realisms But in the final four historical-romance novels. in each of these novels. In order to understand Fitzgerald’s argumentative project with these novels. complete with a regimen for beginning a return to health. the characters are free to choose in that regard.

“in his struggles to bring home to his hearers . the dominant theme is likewise the heart-head split. and Lawrence that Fitzgerald’s final fiction most fittingly. 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.” spoke of the “pull of human love. Innocence. belongs. as her “Russian” novel. In her final four novels. Tolstoy. love becomes not only the dominant theme of her novels. which he addresses by way of arguments concerned with the sickened and perverted nature of modern sexuality. . it almost seems that everything up to the point of these novels’ creation was a prelude and a preparation.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. we find that a central argument is repeated in an obsessive variation on a theme. as Peirce pointed out: “As to God. which she treats as a modern-day malady for which there is only one cure—the miraculous power of love. Ronald Knox. if coyly and complexly. The Beginning of Spring. (Lewis) The transformative love affairs at the heart of these final four novels are far more than mere romantic story lines. the theme is the heart-head split. Lewis observed of this crucial shift in Fitzgerald’s fiction: Most of her early works feature infatuations tangential to the main story lines. Just so. . the Proof of the Supreme Excellency of God. It is the heart that guides the head to this envisioning of the divine. Ruskin. 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. 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). for instance. In O’Connor. but also their catalyzing force. the theme is the reality of evil (and good) in the world. In Lawrence. They imply a revolution in the main characters’ envisioning and understanding of reality that has profound spiritual implications. When we look back at her career from the vantage point of these novels’ prophetic argument. linking the visible with the invisible. which she addresses by way of arguments concerned with the damning effects of moral complacency. which points to something beyond it” (Knox Brothers 215). In any case. But with her sixth novel. In Fitzgerald. it is to the prophetic tradition of Novalis. open you eyes—and . Fitzgerald had written in her joint biography of her father and his brothers that her uncle. When we look at the work of writers of fictive parables. Fitzgerald takes up this argument with the certainty of a prophet who has found her message. the convert Roman Catholic priest.

The Beginning of Spring. which is also a perceptive organ—and you see him” (Writings 377–378). “the final goal of world history—the One of the universe” (Notes 50).” 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). The tie between the two realms—that which links us inextricably to both material nature and the spiritual divine—is the heart’s “emotion. which he labeled the “Gospel of Greed. but by love” (“The Kingdom of God is Within You”). in which the discombobulated individual. Using her instructive method of fictive parable. in Raposa 58). as a stronger emotion eventually overwhelms a weaker one. The argument that positive emotion is both spiritually and logically superior to everyday understanding is a conviction that Peirce shared with Novalis. 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). Peirce labeled his infinite-growth model of reality “evolutionary love. Tolstoy. an idea that he borrowed from Spinoza—whom he famously characterized as a God-intoxicated man—and who contended that. and so of all known forces—inevitably is destined to conquer all. so love— the strongest of all emotions. whose life and thought informs Fitzgerald’s second of her last four novels. (“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. 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. echoed Peirce’s sentiment when he wrote.” he explained. and he prophesied that the “law of love”: will in due time emerge and makes its way to general recognition.” which Peirce defined compellingly as “incomprehensible thought. “is why the highest truths can only be felt” (qtd.” “That.” by replacing it with an “apapistic” or lovecentered model of evolution that is based upon the idea of infinite growth. like the . and is a contention that is repeatedly endorsed by Fitzgerald’s instructive demonstrations in her final four novels. “ All men live not by care for themselves. 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. and the nonsense that has obscured it will disappear of itself. which he felt to be nature’s dominant characteristic—the fight for survival being a subordinate effect (Writings 350).154 / alternative realisms your heart.

and she underwrites a philanthropic “Refuge for the Unwanted” that offers shelter for the infirm aged and for infant orphans. The Gate of Angels. in order to feel at home again in the world. fittingly. “may last a long time” (“A Letter to a Hindu”). the follower of Jesus significant for being both present at his crucifixion and among the first to witness the resurrection. the manner . in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear” (“Prison Notebooks”). the method of fictive parable that she gradually developed and perfected. Such a condition. Innocence In each of her final four novels. The idea of living in a painful period of interregnum is the main theme operating in the first of Fitzgerald’s final four novels. we must learn how to participate in making the world meaningful and real by reading the everyday existent as signs of the eternal. In Innocence. continues that theme. 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 Beginning of Spring. she concludes her extended argument by demonstrating that. This character’s name. and demonstration of. In The Blue Flower. Fitzgerald thus fittingly completed her career as a novelist with an explicit rationale for. Antonino Gramsci. the novel’s central figure is. while further emphasizing that we are saved by what we cannot control or imagine. Innocence. after Mary Magdalene. In the third novel. Maddalena is sympathetically committed to caring for the dying and the newly born. a medical specialist defined in the novel as one who “treats pain whose origin is not clearly traceable” (47). . there is a historical figure or group of figures who have challenged conventional notions of reality. it is the Italian Marxist agitator and theorist. .” he concluded. These few observations give us a sense of the complex metaphorical nature of these final four novels. 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. Salvatore (“savior”). “loses what had hitherto guided his life and lives without direction . In such a world. and which is located in via Sansepolcro—the street of the holy sepulcher (14–15). True to her namesake. a neurologist.there’s a providence not so far away / 155 prodigal son in the parable. 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. The second novel in the series.

“You enjoyed the Brahms?” he asked. however. wells up in him. she has found her salvation.” Perhaps we might agree about everything. like Saul on the road to Damascus. Rossi. certainly. “Of course not.” Chiara gave the doctor her hand. (32) At the same time that he is thinking this. Salvatore Rossini. he must create his own salvation. but she might. When she meets Salvatore at a musical concert. all defensible” (39). “He felt deeply irritated. and even archetypally coded and resonant. The effect of Chiara on Salvatore when they are first introduced by one of his patients is no less profound: “My dear child. but in wonder. This will involve coming to terms with his class resentment. He had an intimation he was lost” (32). Rinaldi. no.” and “who could not escape from the unsettling vision of other points of view. This proves very difficult for Salvatore. Dr. She looked at him politely.” feels himself to be “lost” upon meeting “Chiara” who is destined to be the light of his life. or “savior. I want you to meet Dr. she feels focused for the first time in her life: “When Salvatore had spoken to her all these distractions had settled . he is noticing that Chiara is wearing a sparkling diamond necklace and his instinctive class resentment (he is from a peasant family). the physician must heal himself. who is doing me so much good. . into other existences. often against her will. And how is this lost man to be found again? His name offers the clue. the point of view of every living creature. No more wear and tear of the heart” (39). setting itself against his innate attraction to Chiara. no. 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).156 / alternative realisms in which they are historically. Let us review the overt allegory for a moment: a character named Salvatore. allegorically. Salvatore thought. rather than the other way around—the heart being the superior sensory organ when it comes to life’s most crucial decisions. which was perhaps piqued by his upper-class patient’s failure to remember his name. . . No one ever agrees with me. but most importantly it will necessitate that he learn to trust his heart to guide his head. We could perhaps say that he has been blinded by love. 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.

while. “Think of me as a cripple. Her miscarriage of a child for “no . as well as to his impatience with the superstitious village Catholicism of his peasant mother. After meeting Chiara. Salvatore continues to make their life intermittently overcast by interpreting actions and situations in ways that cast doubt upon Chiara’s love for him. don’t turn away from me. his romantic fate rises to greet him everywhere he goes. that light is come into the world. like Jonah. “But surely it could be arranged without much difficulty?” said Gentillini. 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. . “You might—” “I don’t choose that it should be a matter of arrangement!” Then Salvatore broke off. His self-chosen life-project significantly is not to fall in love and become entangled in an unsuitable attachment. In doing so. “Come back! I’m saying what I don’t mean!” (71).” he manages every topic so that it will “lead him back to the same starting point” of Chiara. as he manages to interpret even offhand remarks of perfect strangers as direct references to his repressed love for Chiara. and men loved darkness rather than light” (John 3: 18–19).there’s a providence not so far away / 157 Salvatore’s decision to be a rational. who searches him out at his workplace. In this instance. like the healing of the lame. Fitzgerald seems to be echoing the words of Jesus to his disciples that “he that believeth not is condemned already .” (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. scientific.” he shouted after her. but “to reform mankind’s prejudices by scientific means” (52). Nevertheless. “with the obstinacy of the lost. if you like. the miracle is provided by Chiara herself. And this is the condemnation. With this play of light and shadow and the allegorical names of the main figures. and abruptly held out his hand. Salvatore’s first instinct is. take my hand. . to run away from his fate. Salvatore repeatedly tries the patience of his best friend and colleague. in response. only to be run off by an outraged Salvatore who demands. Gentillini (who proves gentle indeed in response). “What do you mean by coming here like this?” When. Salvatore is self-condemned by his rejection of Chiara’s love and of his love for Chiara. Chiara “made off quick as a shadow. Even after he and Chiara are married. with whom he invents arguments that enable him to vent his frustration. 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.

Sannazzaro. in which Chiara miscarries. . although he’s not able to admit it. In reality. As an intellectual your place is here . 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. said.” (203) . the miscarriage is emblematic of the failure of the new world to be born. but the loan he requires to complete the purchase of a house. (120–121) Salvatore. he can’t be happy without his piece of land in Mazzata. That was what your father expected of you. 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. is unforthcoming. When Salvatore returns to Mazzata. where he finds Maddalena. watching her minutely. The future for which Nino [Gramsci] suffered and died is impossible without human preparation. 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. but you are the one he chose. Chiara’s aunt. Sannazzaro was the best friend of Salvatore’s dead father. Don’t cut yourself off from Mazzata. Sannazzaro attempts to dissuade him: Hear me out. however. so that he and Chiara are reduced to living in a characterless suburban apartment. “He has to make his career in Florence. Like an Old Testament prophet. and having heard that the land Salvatore sold is to be put again on the market. . rejects Sannazzaro’s prophetic admonition and sells his land. 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. But there’s a sickness and craziness about him because he has cut himself off from the place where he was born. Sannazzaro does not give up easily. an ardent disciple of Gramsci. One of the novel’s most humorous and intriguing characters declares.158 / alternative realisms assignable reason” (194) seems to him a judgment upon their misguided and failed marriage. . and which is due him from his hospital in Florence. Once you’ve sold your inheritance you’ll be quite adrift . which is complicated by the unwillingness or inability of the old world to die. however. whom he attempts to persuade to convince Salvatore to repurchase his inheritance. They are adrift indeed and they function in their displacement as a further symptom of the new world that is unable to be born. La Ricordanza (meaning “memory”). that’s not in dispute. He had other sons. and. the chosen son. the small rural village in the South of Italy in which he was born and raised. like him. he travels to Florence and arrives unannounced at Chiara’s family home. . In the larger allegorical argument of the novel.

characteristics. 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. which she then presents to him through her lawyer as a gift. but he couldn’t listen. “There I can’t agree with you. “He must have known that what I was saying was true. the author of the first pastoral romance. He travels . in any case. Were Chiara present in person.” (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. But since she miscarried.” to which Maddalena responds. the sixteenth-century Italian Arcadia. run into regulatory problems with the expanding state’s social welfare network) and using the money to purchase back Salvatore’s inherited land. she no doubt would have been able to dispel his wrong-headed skepticism with the warmth of her love. Sannazzaro. 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. the pastoral “good shepherd” role of Salvatore’s own namesake. and behavior. Left to his own devices. but to no effect. by the characters’ allegorical names. Salvatore allows his doubts and disbelief in regards to his wife’s and her family’s good intentions toward him to multiply. True to his own inclination to feel insecure in regards to anything having to do with Chiara’s family of genteelly impoverished aristocrats.there’s a providence not so far away / 159 When Maddalena asks why he is telling this to her instead of to Salvatore. until he sees but one way out of his unhappiness and the unhappiness he is causing to others. I find it best to act on impulse” (204). Salvatore interprets the gift as a belittling insult.” “Why couldn’t he listen?” “Because he is unable to diagnose himself.” contending that what is needed in the meantime is “patience. This interpretation is also endorsed. This telling linkage recalls. Maddalena follows up her meeting with Sannazzaro by selling the building housing the “Refuge for the Unwanted” (which has. he says that he already tried to persuade him. True to such a creed. very much against her own wishes. for she would prefer to be with Salvatore. and of romantic desire as being expressive of a desire for union with the divine. 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. she has been recovering at the seaside. as we have seen. who does indeed serve as a kind of prophet in the novel. I don’t put much value on patience.

for the loan of a gun with which he can kill himself. Science has to take its proper place.” Sannazzaro went on. Cesare uncharacteristically interferes in another’s life (and death). Salvatore threw up his hand. It is fitting that Salvatore. and Salvatore is only saved by a miracle when Chiara. I knew it. we can go on like this. now. ‘Good . who repeatedly expresses his belief only in the narrowly factual reasoning of science.” (224) The novel concludes with Salvatore’s departure to join Chiara at the seaside.” Chiara. Her cousin. “We can go on exactly like this for the rest of our lives. calls Cesare in her worry at not having heard from her husband. by a miracle. he’s lonely. obliges. And by ‘good’ I’m not referring. to the improvements brought about by science.” said Cesare.” “But what for?” Cesare considered a little. “I didn’t mean that they won’t be succeeded by good.” “Yes. did know. who is not an interfering man. you understand.” “But he never has a gun. he wanted to borrow one of mine.” “I don’t know whether he’s lonely or not. it mustn’t try to take over from witchcraft. (223) Prompted by Chiara’s uncharacteristic silence. The unexpected silence had its effect on Cesare. “He said he was thinking of shooting himself. She said nothing at all. only to find that Salvatore is there at the estate. 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.160 / alternative realisms outside of Florence to Chiara’s family’s farm where he asks her cousin. only that you and I can hardly expect to live until then. and said. retrieving the loaded gun from Salvatore and telling him that he is wanted by his wife on the phone. “What’s to become of us? We can’t go on like this. who runs the estate. so often misguided. so rarely knowing the right thing to do. “He’s come to talk to you.” “I know. is saved by the miracle of Chiara’s instinctive silence. who is accustomed to speaking to Salvatore every night by phone. named Cesare. He wanted a gun. 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.

” said Giancarlo . if not disastrous. Barney. . are embodied by the eccentric individuals in Chiara’s family of decayed aristocrats. intrinsically connected by hope. The symbolically resonant wedding chest would seem to indicate that the love between Chiara and Salvatore will mellow with time. however. represents vigorous and selfless action for social betterment.’ Who wrote that. seems to be missing” (80). and is embedded in an offhand conversation between Giancarlo and Chiara’s visiting English school friend. is a study in un-self-pitying resignation. however. and it is significant that she and her family “were so constituted as not to feel jealously. as we have seen.there’s a providence not so far away / 161 sense is dead. “Nor do I. “Human sufferings aren’t to be thought about. it is not a typical comedy (none of Fitzgerald’s novels are). 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. resignation is active” (104). “What distinguished them was their optimism. When an activist communist artist asserts to him that “patience is the same as resignation. and she is unflinching in regards to present miseries in pursuit of an ultimate end. its child. by contrast. Even disagreements between them produced hope” (15). as the author forecasts for us (195). said Maddalena. Time Tamed by Love. Maddalena. naturally. Although the novel concludes with a miracle that saves it from descending into a tragedy.” a “serious fault” (178) in a Machiavellian world. by contrast. . . The values the novel endorses. Science. but Nino [Gramsci] quoted it often. as the marriage with which the conventional comedy concludes takes place in the middle of the novel. and it forms a relationship that seems destined to be difficult. Her Aunt. 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. in which he urges her to make an effort to see some of the “many delightful things by quite unknown artists” scattered throughout Italy. represents the power of selfless love. Although Maddalena and Giancarlo would seem to be almost diametrically opposed in their approaches toward life. The novel’s ultimate emblem is one of hope. Chiara herself. killed it one day to find out how it was made. “Patience is passive.” he corrects him: “Surely not. Count Giancarlo. but she obviously is in agreement with his passionate rejection of a dispassionate. only the human future” (127–128). value-neutral science that would presume to be the arbiter of our lives. Maddalena’s brother and Chiara’s father. Signora Contessa?” “I don’t know.” (204) The novel’s pointed religious allegory is indication enough that its author would be unsympathetic with the historical Gramsci’s dogmatic Marxist atheism.” said Maddalena.

“time and again [in her novels] she relates religion to instinct and nature” (Afterlife 49). if left unimpeded by dogma and superstition.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. and he called for a “fundamental cleansing of religious consciousness from all ancient religious and modern scientific superstitions” (Tolstoy). . The same could be said of Fitzgerald. good sense will guide us instinctively to the “missing” realm in which spiritual or religious values are the ultimate realities. Mrs. She seemed to understand that the tendency to dismiss religious consciousness in its entirety is the modern intellectual prejudice that most needed addressing. Tolstoy declared that a superstitious belief in science is as harmful as are religious superstitions. implying that faith in such a creed is one of modernity’s most dangerous errors.” noting that the Preoccupations of Carlingford are unspiritual and often ludicrous. it has a dimension that can hardly be found in Barchester. In this way. The Beginning of Spring The writer of parables is inherently seeking to correct errors that impede our spiritual progress. which likewise are inclusive of the spiritual dimension missing from the fiction of the vast majority of her contemporaries. The Beginning of Spring —wrote in his A Letter to the Hindus. although her human comedy is much narrower than Trollope’s. concerning which Tolstoy—the prophetic figure in the background of Fitzgerald’s next novel. “In the spiritual realm nothing is indifferent: what is not useful is harmful” (Tolstoy). Throughout her novels. (Afterlife 33) That is not to say that Mrs. In his Letter. at least as evidenced by her essays and novels. In her review of the life and work of the prolific Scottish Victorian novelist. 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. but the church no matter how far it falls short is there to link them with an unseen world. Fitzgerald suggests that. Fitzgerald’s corrective critique of the presumptions of a narrowly rationalistic and presumptively infallible science are overt in her final fictions. Fitzgerald observed that. but her critique of religious superstitiousness is far more implicit than is her critique of science. Oliphant is in any way a typically or conventionally religious writer: “Forms of worship interested her very little” (Afterlife 33). Fitzgerald’s later fiction is quietly committed to such a cleansing. Oliphant.

Frank thought. He has inherited from his father a small printing firm. At its most fundamental.” and that any pretension to complete doubt is therefore self-deceiving and irrational (Writings 228). which is set in Moscow in 1913.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. that doesn’t mean it isn’t true” (178). and the workers there. Peirce concluded that the idea that “I am altogether myself. Furthermore. . pardon and remission of sins. for mercy peace. Perhaps. is. “You are workers. and you are not only called upon to work together.571). in the next section of the key passage concerning the blessing of the ikons: The priest was giving a short address. in arguing against the Cartesian “rationalist” dogma that everything must be doubted until it is proven. he is present at the annual ritual in which the local Russian Orthodox priest blesses the workshop’s ikons. itself. health salvation. 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 . Although of English descent and nationality. “the founders of the Press. and its relation to truth and reality. Peirce. but to love each other and pity each . and therefore life. doubt secondary (Writings 296). if so. 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. who wrote the firsthand account of the 1917 Russian revolution. or will be. . Frank was raised in Moscow and considers it home. Fitzgerald takes up precisely this theme of the continuity of the community of individuals. I have faith. the nation. Ten Days That Shook the World ).” Frank thinks to himself “Because I don’t believe this . visitation. . even if I have no belief” (178). connecting us to all that ever was. but in the meaningfulness of reality. As the priest offers a prayer for the Russian royal family. he argued that the presumption that we as thinking individuals can be “absolute judges of truth is most pernicious” (Writings 229). 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. 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. and in the scene to which I refer. Belief or faith is primary. 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. to consider the implications of this faith. such faith implies a belief not in any particular religious dogma or creed. The novel’s main figure is Frank Reid (whose name is perhaps an ironic allusion to the famous American communist John Reed. .

. And this odd fact may indeed give the clue to the way in which readers find themselves hooked. are all separable actions taken by separate parts of the body and they are analyzable as such. or we are sent to them. perhaps one should say. Such is the task placed before Frank (and. We never meet by chance. as every page turns. 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. the hand-to-mouth motion. “The novel’s major events defy reason. and the novel most difficult to unravel in terms of its plot’s causes and effects. and the act of swallowing and digesting.” (178) When the priest contends that “there are no accidental meetings. She never attempts to analyze or to possess her characters . and yet it does not. How can that be? You will say that you didn’t choose to work next to this man or that man. This illogic holds at every level” (229). Although it is not an outright mystery like The Golden Child. Some mystery. so increasingly fascinating and challenging. As Wolfe commented. some secret will surely emerge. us as readers) in this novel in which. drink a glass of water. or this woman. Either this other man. “Little happens without a reason. the mysteries that prompt faith as the only suitable and useful response. The Beginning of Spring is Fitzgerald’s most mysterious novel—the novel most concerned with the mystery of what happens to us and why.” 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. 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. even if the reason is veiled from us” (238). To do so is to believe implicitly in divine providence. of which we are instinctive mechanisms. if that thought comes to you. 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. he happened to be there when I first arrived. in the same way. . The priest is asking his listeners to think of God’s purposeful actions. But remember. . by extension. as Peter Wolfe observed. (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. is sent to us.” but Wolfe is correct in both observations. Of course the mechanisms of the eye-to-glass vision. and effects swerve from their presumed causes. say. it was accidental. that there are no accidental meetings.164 / alternative realisms other. and this makes the novel her most spiritual and religious in terms of the mysteries of faith—or.

imaginatively. Fitzgerald’s uncle. mystery is its proper food” (133). or intellect that have been unexplored. as in this novel. the archetypal quest cycle is meaningfully incomplete. ought to strengthen faith. 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. The incompleteness of the quest is pointedly instructive. or cure that will enable him to return home in triumph. indicating that we. The archetypal quest begins with a significant break-in routine—a trauma. but which do not have the compelling forward movement of the final fictions. whereas Chiara is the obvious goal figure embodying love. The guide figure in The Beginning of Spring is the expatriate English accountant at Frank’s printing firm. by each novel’s end. although. you must become another (Rilke). “Fitzgerald overturns received notions of both probability and behavioral norms and thus deepens our sense of human possibility” (228). in which the hero must discover the grail. who is an eccentrically devoted follower of Tolstoy. attempted “to show that mystery. Ronald Knox. 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. The novel’s mysterious plot and motive prompt a similar response in the reader. as readers. must finish these journeys ourselves. there is no return home in triumph. a different person. which leads the hero out of his home territory (which may be a psychological complacency. each of these novels is insistently episodic—far more meaningfully so than are Fitzgerald’s earlier novels. which also are structured in chapters or sections that are scenes in themselves. the novel’s unwitting quest hero. The archetypal quest is the basic plot structure at the foundation of each of Fitzgerald’s final four parable-novels. or an intellectual pretension.there’s a providence not so far away / 165 In his fascinating study of Christian faith in a nuclear age. although his promptings are significantly ignored. and it is also typical for there to be a guide figure and a goal figure. the vision of such a homecoming has come into sight. as in Innocence ) and into realms of the world. secret. fall. or discovery. as Wolfe observed of this novel. Most of the mystery surrounding plot . in which. in nature as in super-nature. who in various manners embodies divine love. As is befitting of quest narratives. In all four of Fitzgerald’s final quartet of novels. and generously to others in ways that renew his faith in the goodness of life and the possibilities of being. The mysteries in The Beginning of Spring serve the same purpose for Frank Reid. psyche. God and the Atom. Selwyn Crane. Typically in the quest there are a number of tests to be undergone and/or battles to be fought and won. Sannazzaro is the closest to a principal guide figure in Innocence.

it is a challenge to determine for certain whether Selwyn is in fact a broadly well-intentioned. settled. who lives nearby.166 / alternative realisms and motive in the novel is in various ways tied to Selwyn. It is even possible that he is both. rather than investigating himself or calling the police or the local night watchman. who seems meant to emblematize. Frank—complications that effectively revolutionize Frank’s conventional. 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. at which point he is shot at by the young student. as the priest asserted. discovered the break-in. and who unwittingly introduced a revolutionary into Frank’s household. Given all of this potentially damning evidence. as they are not highlighted by the narrator and Frank himself is unsuspecting. Volodya. 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. the student appears to be waiting for him. and then for instigating Frank’s visit to the firm to investigate the break-in. pacifistic and incurably sympathetic Tolstoyan. into the printing firm and then. which takes some effort. 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. mother Russia itself. Lisa Ivanovna. but who also significantly is involved in the romantic and political complications that suddenly beset his employer and friend. But once we do so. and even his identity as a cloudy-minded and caricaturedly earnest disciple of Tolstoy. deciding to go far out of his way in order to alert Frank to it. although in a self-deceiving manner. and seemingly content and happy life. at least in part. who unwillingly attracted Nellie romantically. it becomes very difficult to conceive of Selwyn as a wholly innocent character. by happenstance. and to whom Frank was introduced by Selwyn. the novel’s meaning—which. What is even more suspicious is that. and which thereby makes all of Frank’s sudden misfortunes and accidental missteps . on first reading. who appears a kind of holy fool. there seems little doubt that we as careful readers are meant eventually to question Selwyn’s integrity and honesty. when Frank arrives. Selwyn also allowed for the admittance of a supposed student revolutionary. no meetings are accidents. Once we as readers make these plot connections. a jealous lover of Lisa) into Frank’s printing firm at night. a striking and voluptuous young woman of peasant origin. seems tied to the divinely providential notion that. Selwyn was also involved in prompting the surprise departure from Russia of Frank’s wife. Volodya (who later claims to be. Nellie. and who inadvertently allowed the violent student. Even after repeated readings of the novel. rather.

The Beginning of Spring seems suffused with a pungent mixture of political chicanery and spiritual complexity redolent of its Russian setting. It’s not true that she pretended to make love to me. that she was pretending to look after the children. religion. (276) That these emotions would be genuine beggars belief. by contrast. the moral challenge presented by such a setting for such a figure as Frank. and been the recipients of the winter clothes which wouldn’t go into the trunks. The novel refuses to give us answers to the pressing questions regarding the very nature of life that it raises. seems a late flowering . suddenly make their appearance—with which this most mysterious and surprising of Fitzgerald’s novels mysteriously and surprisingly ends. radically altered his life. as we discover near novel’s end when he is reflecting upon his romantic attachment and domestic alliance with Lisa Ivanovna. forcing us to draw our own conclusions. true grief. is to remain credulous. whoever she is or was and whatever her questionable motives. Human nature in this novel is. Innocence. 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. Each of Fitzgerald’s final four novels is remarkably evocative of the spirit of its place and time. as the Gnostics contended. given to extremes. who manipulated Frank into unwittingly enabling her to abscond to Germany: “It’s not true. She did make love to me” (439).there’s a providence not so far away / 167 seem in some mysterious way fortunate falls—becomes much more dark and ominous. like Russian politics. 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. and romance results in a remarkably Russian-seeming English novel—one that has clear antecedents in Tolstoy. and for us as readers. Frank thought. Dostoyevsky. They must have helped Nellie to pack. and Gogol. The women began to cry. 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. and. Perhaps the sublunary world is in the hands of an evil demiurge after all. for the entire novel). finally inexplicable. 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. Rather it ushers us into a complex mystery and keeps us there. She did look after them. Nellie. It is also true that Lisa. but these were real tears. she has simply left him without warning or explanation). together with the belated Russian spring (both of which have been absent. except in memory. like Russian weather.

buttressed by an earthy and explicitly feminist materialism. this novel seems Fitzgerald’s masterwork. The Blue Flower. Fitzgerald wanted to call the novel “Mistakes Made by Scientists” (249). Such a world is purposeless and valueless to begin with. In many respects. 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. The Gate of Angels. in any case. Since the time of Newton until quite recently. by mass and motion—of physical substances in causal relations with other physical substances. by contrast. though it is hard to believe that her expression of such a desire was anything but facetious. Indeed. given her tendency to embody her intellectual arguments in entertainingly diverting dramatic narratives. privileging the machinelike cause-and-effect operation of natural selection over the creative growth-and-change progression favored by Peirce and others. But a purely material world of things is characterized. Fitzgerald’s final novel. and an instinctively reactive spiritual enthusiasm that opposes all effort at control and systematization. motivation. 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. is evocative of the ongoing argument in English intellectual history between a hard-minded empiricism. rather. carried at times to fanatical extremes that defy human nature. evokes the heady spirit of German Romantic Idealism. and values. 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. Even Darwin in his biological theory of evolution remained to a large extent a prisoner of a narrowly materialistic paradigm. according to Wolfe. addressing more or less directly as it does her primary concern with faith and belief in a spiritual realm of being. Her penultimate “English” novel. There is no doubt.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). although it took several hundred years for the effect of the ensuing impoverishment of our everyday reality to be felt in full. . while making an explicit critique of our modern intellectual pretensions regarding “rational” scientific certainties. both of which paradigms allow for the importance of ideas. purpose.

As the contemporary French physicist Bernard D’Espagnat concluded. it is creatively and interactively real. and my grasp of them far too tenuous. 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). Suffice it to say that the world of quantum physics is a world in which not everything is predictable or describable. for the parable requires such positive choice in order to reveal itself as . rather. he reinstated man at the center of his own description of the world. “positive choice” is integral to the very production of reality in the quantum world (Prigogine and Stengers 225). and even to its being. undermined all such universal determinism. Such a world can no longer be characterized as either objectively or subjectively real. In other words. with Einstein’s theory of relativity. In this world. the physical world was still largely understood to be a Newtonian deterministic world of cause and effect. to be gone into here. Our interactions with the quantum world are as much creation as they are description. The discoveries of quantum physics. The observer becomes an integral part of the picture—the observer observed. however. led by the Danish scientist Niels Bohr. 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. wherefrom Copernicus had expelled him” (207). 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. In 1912. who trained and lectured at Cambridge and the University of Manchester during the period in which Fitzgerald’s novel is set. although. The scientific details of these discoveries are far too complex. “To some extent. 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. It was still possible. 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. and in which these very notions in some senses do not make sense. 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. Bohr undid what Copernicus had accomplished.

as it teaches us to translate the material into its spiritual antecedent and moral value. 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. Daisy has an unshakeable faith in the meaningfulness of life and in its ultimate goodness and rationality. losing . 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. its instruction is nonexistent—just as the quantum world of physics remains in potential until actuated by the investigator’s interrogative. like the quantum realm. (118) The moral challenge for Daisy in The Gate of Angels is to learn to receive life’s gifts as well as its hardships. places the responsibility for choice in the hands of the interpreter. Hating to see anyone in want. This we infer from her behavior. but she could only accept with the caution of a half-tamed animal. True to her emblem.170 / alternative realisms a work of instruction. There are two separate quest-lines that flow through this novel. She is a natural giver. but a doer. As Fitzgerald’s work progressed. only to be brought together again by chance or fate at novel’s end. That we shall know one day ” (63). The characteristic that most distinguishes Daisy is her innate altruism. and who is perhaps the most positive figure in all of Fitzgerald’s fiction. she turned more and more to allegory as the form in which to deliver her instruction. the parable is inoperative. Allegory is an instructive demonstration in itself. is to learn to trust his heart over his head in making his most crucial life choices. Most crucially. as the moral challenge for the novel’s male lead and Daisy’s would-be knight in shining armor. Fitzgerald also has arranged it so that it may be read as a tale of atomic particles in random interaction. The parable-lesson of the novel is to instruct us in a manner of reading whereby the one interpretation implies the other without. Like all intensely allegorical figures. Without the creative participation of the reader. the parable. she wears an emblem that announces her embodied meaning. for she is not a talker. and then are diverted into separate channels. The two come together near the novel’s beginning in a chance collision that is also a natural confluence. Fred Fairly. While it is possible and useful to read the novel in terms of the archetypal-allegorical quest. however. a young nursing student who is also an angel of mercy and an embodiment of revelatory love. At the center of the novel is the character Daisy Saunders. she would part without a thought with money or possessions. 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.

“If you want to get rid of me. James Elder remains in great danger of drowning in despair and self-pity. I want to call you Miss. who is presented to us as not being particularly religious in any conventional sense. “You can’t go in there. Kelly. Things turn out as they (on hindsight) were bound to turn out. in the novel’s allegory. “I’m going in here. making explicit the nihilism he represents. I want to call you the Eternal Woman. Daisy and Fred are brought together in an actual collision as they are bicycling on a country road outside of Cambridge. as Fred Fairly discovers to his distress and ultimate relief. surely there’s easier ways of doing it.” (84) Although he is saved from a physical drowning. which is the recipient one night of a would-be suicide. he says to her. “Nothing they do in here is of any perishing use” (95). Are you ashamed of that?” “I’m not ashamed of anything. This “always might have been” continues to ramify regardless as the free will within necessity. She is working as a nurse-in-training at the Blackfriars hospital in London. as it seems. who is. Daisy is cycling with a male companion. in whom he rightly recognizes an allegorical figure: “I don’t want to call you Nurse. I’m going in there. In the novel’s plot. (95) Once Kelly follows Daisy inside the church. The circumstances in which Daisy first meets Kelly are illuminating of her allegorical character. without which necessity has no meaning. “You’ can’t believe all that. a man—James Elder—who “threw himself off the Adelphi steps into the Thames” (83).” “What’s wrong with going into a church?” asked Daisy. where he is put under the care of Daisy. she in turn attempts to shake him off by walking into a church. by a love affair gone bad.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. When he first meets Daisy and follows her in an attempt to attach himself to her romantically. He is obsessed with seeing his drowning attempt . but one that was undetermined. Daisy. a devil-like tempter (down to his dyed red hair) and a classic unbeliever. prompted. however compromised by convention. only to be rescued by a fisherman and deposited by the local police at the Blackfriars.” “Whatever for?” he cried out. that’s a church!” “Well. is nevertheless respectful of belief. but they always might have been otherwise.” she said.” shouted Kelly in real distress.

” “But they don’t all try to take their own lives. where he convinces her.” (85) Daisy’s insistence that one’s life is not one’s own indicates that her altruism is not just a sentimental stance. 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. Above all. but is based upon an understanding of reality as a continuum of community. a grown woman must expect to spend one fourth of her life in actual pain. in her distress. In his spiteful self-pity. as he desires. where one of the doctors from the Blackfriars is partner in a psychiatric hospital. if he sees his story in the paper. thus ensuring that she will lose her position at the hospital for breaking its rules of confidentiality and putting her in financial distress. Kelly discovers Daisy’s plans from his journalistic informant at the Blackfriars and meets Daisy at the train station. rather than as a collection of self-determined individuals. (72) Although Daisy has not perhaps endured her fair share of physical pain.” said Daisy. seemingly relishing the opportunity to inflict guilt on his lover. “Wapping’s full of them. One might call her an enemy of the profession. at which the matron informed her that “a sick nurse is of no use to the profession.” “There’s plenty of clerks in Wapping. who strategically and spitefully writes the story in such a manner as to finger Daisy. and she thinks that. “How did you get that idea?” “I don’t think you’re meant to talk to me like that.” said Daisy. as the story’s source. to allow him to accompany her there. After she loses her job at the Blackfriars. the attending nurse. It is an understanding that she brought with her to her interview for her position at the hospital.” Daisy felt a rush of admiration. Elder has refused for several days either to eat or drink. So far she herself had done nothing like her fair share. Flo: “She might read it in the paper.” “It’s not your own life. we don’t want a weakly habit of constant complaint. where she hopes to find work. Once in Cambridge they take a room in a disreputable hotel . The editor of the paper is Kelly. remember that while the average man is ill for four days a year. Daisy determines to go to Cambridge. As a rough guide. When the morning comes up like thunder she may see a headline: WAPPING CLERK ATTMPTS FELO DE SE.172 / alternative realisms reported in a newspaper. though. and so at the potential mercy of a romantic predator such as himself. it may snap him out of his funk.

for Fred jamming on the brakes. of all places. went absurdly out of the horizontal and hit him a decisive blow. I think. it would not be too much of a stretch. only to “swerve from their courses by spontaneous chance” (Peirce. as black as pitch. since even old horses make strange noises in a state of terror.there’s a providence not so far away / 173 that rents rooms by the hour. during which a chance collision forcibly separates Daisy from Kelly and lands her in bed. becoming and being. dead or asleep. when without warning a horse and cart came lumbering almost at a canter out of the opening. In any case. to consider the three bicyclists on the road as the atoms of Lucretius free-falling in the void. that is the basic concern of this fiction. 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 novel is the product of this originating event. 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. As the chaos . (53) This is a world-originating scene—a scene in which a world is created from chance. and the blindly lumbering horse and cart recalls the bombarding positive particles with which Cambridge physicists first split the atom. It had no lights and the driver was not holding the reins but either drunk. with Fred Fairly. 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. Given Fitzgerald’s complexly allusive manner of proceeding in her late novels. The glass splintering is remindful of the Cabbalistic creation tale. lolling over the dashboard. then a sound like a vast heap of glass splintering as the world. There was a kind of shriek or scream which might have been from the horse. possibly rather closer than he should have been. endorsing the idea that Daisy and Fred are being given fresh starts by chance or providence. existence and reality. In a sense.) The manner in which we as readers interpret this event is also telling in terms of our own fates and futures. as are the futures of its characters Daisy and Fred. 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. and then they rent bicycles and embark on a cycling tour of the area. (The bed in which the couple end up together is fittingly in a room once used as a nursery. on the side of the head. recreating in miniature creation’s big bang. Writings 325). The novel itself interprets the event in various manners and may even be thought of usefully as a fictive meditation upon these interpretations.

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. From the point of view of a committed scientist and teacher. Fred Fairly. no nature could be created. he most certainly is. what luck. In the material realm. She is responding to Fred’s inability to locate his clothes in the room because of his dizziness. which providence cannot annul. 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. and who has given up his Christian faith because the existence of God has not been proven. to good fortune: “My God. nevertheless does not hesitate to ascribe his bicycle accident. or of providence. “Whatever there is to know. and of a dutiful son. 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. who is an experimental physicist at Cambridge. but which it utilizes as a means of progress in a creative (as opposed to a determined) manner. “It all . he thought” (54). In all his life he had never been called lazy before” (55). That we shall know one day”—an ultimate testament to faith and the hope on which it is based. Daisy’s reaction to being thrown in with Fred as his presumed wife after the accident is also telling.” which leads to encounters and associations between uniformly falling atoms. The two realms are not mutually exclusive. Fred is not lazy. 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. also unprovable. although Fred refuses to believe in a God whose reality cannot be proved through experiment. The irony is that. and so. it is a product of chance and in the spiritual realm an emblem of providence. but also she is irritated at having been put in a false position because of the ring. “It’s just my luck to be in bed with a lazy fellow” (55). but its reason is a matter of chance. and the subsequent event whereby he is taken for Daisy’s husband and placed together with her in a bed. for the realm of providence is inclusive of the realm of chance. he has no difficulty in believing in an atom that is entirely unobservable. (303) Of course the colliding horse and wagon is a physical cause. all that would be reproduced would be the repetitive connection between causes and effects governed by the laws of fate. But from the spiritual point of view emblematized by the inscription on Daisy’s ring. His belief in the unobservable atom is based upon his observation of its effects when experimented upon. to that extent.

In the thirteenth century. our own heart-sickness is the best proof. our world-picture. Of that inevitability. take us back to God. (113–114) Through her fictive parables. there is no escaping from it. as Fitzgerald’s uncle Ronald Knox pointed out in God and the Atom. The supernatural explanation of the collision between Fred and Daisy is given to us in the form of a ghost story. Truth in fiction—that is. play with word-counters and reshuffle our concepts as we will. the hesitations. windows that open on eternity. no less than ourselves. There is a supernatural explanation of the event. one of the five classic “proofs” for the existence of God. 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. rather. and serves as such as a defense of fictive truth as explanation in general. Fitzgerald is attempting to help us to sort out and integrate our ideas. for the hundredth time. based upon chance as ultimate. St. she offers us three interpretations of the world-shattering and world-creating collision between Fred and Daisy. that if we see means being adapted to ends universally or for the most part. when we have not yet sorted out our ideas and integrated. aesthetic . without any room for chance. each of which offers in effect a different contemporary approach to understanding reality. paradoxically and crucially. In The Gate of Angels. in its quantum mode. the argument from an ordered design—the very proof that atomic theory. When we read the novel closely. However. and particularly in her final four novels. as of all other proofs devised to establish the fact of God’s existence. and an allegorical-providential explanation. we find that Fitzgerald as author clearly favors the third explanation as being ultimate. The true lessons of the five proofs. come only when human knowledge is suffering from growing pains. would seem to undermine. we can legitimately infer the existence of a Mind responsible for the adaptation” (Knox 106). If it works it must be true” (22). a natural-factual explanation. The doubts. “moderately enough. for instance. but she doesn’t insist upon it. which is. 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. All our metaphysics. Thomas Aquinas argued. She allows us as readers the freedom to choose.there’s a providence not so far away / 175 hangs together. is that we see his face looking down at us from the end of every avenue of our thought. 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.

During the archaeological excavation. James. and Provost of King’s College. a fictive college of Cambridge. 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. 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). however. The author of the inset ghost story in The Gate of Angels is Dr. In his story. The most successful inhabitants of such a world are those with enhanced powers of negative capability whereby the are able. Matthews’ ghost story. ghost-story writer. As Fitzgerald wrote of M. 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. Cambridge during the period at which Fitzgerald’s novel is set. which is attained by heading in the opposite direction from probability and likelihood. In that sense it serves as a necessary challenge to our habits and assumptions. R. Matthews. though not always when we want it or expect it” (49). It is that which attains to the truth by lying most persuasively. The paradoxical.15–17). In order to be made to fit into the narrow culvert. like his historical model. imagined truth of fiction serves as a permanent goad to. R. Dr. The reality of the soul is at issue in Dr. as Oscar Wilde pointed out to us (982).” 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). Matthews. and questioning of. a medieval text scholar. the Provost of St.176 / alternative realisms truth—is innately paradoxical. from which the few remaining nuns still living there in 1426 were perhaps evicted—a highly unusual event for the period. “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. 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. Lewis Carroll’s Looking-Glass world provides an excellent representation of fictive truth. Dr. James. The name of the fictive college is a clue. to the real-life model for the Provost. Matthews claims to have taken part as a young man in an archaeological excavation at the site of the accident. like the White Queen. is a man of “unclouded faith” (46) who is scornful of the universal truth claims of science and mathematics. M. to believe many unbelievable things (176). the . James.iii. as emblematized by Touchstone’s observation in As You Like It that “the truest poetry is the most feigning” (III. to which he opposes the envisioning of the soul’s “inner eye” that “opens for some of us. the provable truth of fact.

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). At the hearing. Kelly admits that his behavior in coming forward to offer such testimony is purely spiteful in regards to Daisy. Matthews to the ground-breaking scientists at Cambridge is similarly skeptical. In this ghost story. the conclusions true. he thought. (Ruskin) The attitude of Dr. I am simply uninterested in them. as I should be in those of a science of gymnastics which assumed that men had no skeletons. His ghost story. Such an explanation is provided by the unbeliever Kelly. 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. and he identifies the farmer-defendant himself as the driver of the wagon. on that supposition. 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. moreover. and the science deficient only in applicability. thus reaffirming his role in the plot as a devil figure and as Daisy’s tormentor. Kelly provides a natural. It might be shown. that would . and that when these results were effected. The reasoning might be admirable. “Science. With such a testimony. and quite conceivably backwards” (31). or stretch them into cables. which accounts for the bicycle accident by arguing that the colliding horse and wagon. for which no driver had been found. that it would be advantageous to roll the students up into pellets. even though the itinerant day laborer who was the supposed driver of the wagon has not been found. an immoral woman. Kelly provides the story of his trip to Cambridge with Daisy and of their checking into the disreputable hotel together and subsequent bike trip. He can assent to moralistic society’s designation of Daisy as a loose woman and a bad person. the re-insertion of the skeleton would be attended with various inconveniences to their constitution. Kelly’s damning testimony provides Fred Fairly with a life-altering choice. factual explanation for the collision while at the same time inflicting further harm upon Daisy by charging her in public with being. in effect. who hid her true nature in order to pursue an advantageous marriage with Fred—a marriage. was leading them nowhere. serves as a fictive admonishment and challenge to any merely factual scientific explanation. were compelled by supernatural forces still haunting the murder site. flatten them into cakes.

—apart from your front entrance—and quite inexplicable. is no mere opportunist. moreover. who is unaware of her status as such. which seems set against their happiness. Or he can follow his heart. Fred begins to doubt his heart’s knowledge. “after seeing Daisy at close quarters for let us say half an hour” that “he must marry her” (103): I cannot live without Daisy. they are both testing fate. Fitzgerald arranges it so that their surprise meeting is dependent upon a freak occurrence that might also be thought of as a miracle. which stipulates celibacy for its members. concerning which Dr. In fact. has a “running joke” with the College Master. with no greater meaning. is a matter for the reader’s interpretation. to give me Daisy. there are no causes and no effects—there is no purpose in the universe. however. if we interpret it as a mere coincidence. There is no God. but if there were. Fred thought. and they leave their final meeting convinced that they will never see one another again. Our interpretation turns upon our willingness. the ghost-story-writing Provost of St. Matthews. (104) Fred’s heart has led him to a conclusion and a discovery that his head entirely denies. or unwillingness. then the happy ending follows naturally as the reward of providence. by fate or chance they do meet again. as old as the college itself.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. it could be shown that there was an intention. Angelicus. since the only thought in the mind of the builders seems to . Angelicus. Angelicus. and she instinctively refuses to give Fred the evidence his doubting head craves. no spiritual authority. as to the potentially providential nature of the novel’s ending. If we interpret the freak occurrence as a miracle. 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. But with Kelly’s damning testimony. However. in the south-west wall” of the College of St. to consider Daisy as not merely a good-hearted caregiver who happens to be in the right place at the right time. throughout recorded and unrecorded time. Daisy. The miracle involves a “strangely tall and narrow gate. which had told him. providing a potential happy ending to their seemingly ill-starred romance. 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. The truth to her identity. no design. then the happy ending is likewise a mere lucky happenstance. dear Master. He points out that the door is the walled college’s “only opening. James who is a frequent dinner guest at St. but as a divinely inspired ministering angel of mercy—an angel.

” “No-one. and if it were to stand open. however.” said the Master. . and then she takes her leave: She got up. has any authority to do either. not much more. “nor of who shut it again. . This was much easier than you would have thought. of who opened your gate. or even if they had not.” as Daisy diagnoses—which may have been caused by his sensing of the unfamiliar breeze blowing through the open door.” There was no inscription on the gate. Matthews. 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. (167) The elderly man is the Master himself. (167) . 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. . in Cambridge. who is blind. . in the records of the college expenses. She heard a very faint cry. clear voice he said. and no entry. but Daisy was used to this. for installing it.” said Dr. who or what do you imagine might come in?” “I should not like to think about that. Angelicus. pulling the tall door shut. but as a narrow passageway to spiritual transformation for the willing disciple. . 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. . “There was no mention. meant that she met Fred Fairly walking slowly back to St. She felt no surprise . standing wide open. She must have spent five minutes in there. ?” [ellipsis in text] Daisy picked up her bag and leaving the consternation behind her went out the way she had come in. The iron deadlock clashed tightly home. who would not have been surprised . “But if anyone had. not even the Master.there’s a providence not so far away / 179 have been to keep visitors out. and gently detached it. (30) The door that seems to have been designed “to keep visitors out” is an emblem of the parable form itself. .” said the Treasurer. which serves as a spiritual blank wall for the unenlightened. . and who has had a fainting spell—“an ordinary syncope. a human cry of distress. The slight delay. The patient did not want to let go of her hand. on either occasion. She was one of the few people. On the other hand it was noted in the annals that it had twice been found standing open . . it can’t be . . In a weak. however. “Surely. She came to a door as narrow as a good-sized crack. Daisy knelt down . 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. brushing down her skirt.

no matter what spiritual values the will espouses and embodies. as represented by the absolute unpredictability of “the moment at which a radium atom will explode” (50). fictional— thus underwriting a worldview that endorses the triumph of the individual will as a thing good in and of itself. I should believe more. and he argued that. Ronald Knox. “It’s the belief that is the miracle!” (84) Such belief is a gift of grace. He noted that the ascendance of chance as the dominant force in the world. 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. though not always when we want it or expect it” (49). God and the Atom. as they did in the old days. so the individual soul is the primary unit of the spiritual realm (187). In such a worldview. Knox opposed the idea of individual self-integration and restraint. 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. would contribute to a tendency to view all meaning and order as provisional and. ultimately. or to integrate his personality in accordance with a world that is becoming “more perfect” as it grows toward the ideal of God . This interpretive decision is a revelation of the interpreter’s own moral progress. but it is a gift that can be denied.” “Miracles don’t make people believe!” Fritz cried. informs his fiancé in The Blue Flower when she attempts to justify her spiritual skepticism: “Perhaps if I saw a miracle. who is later known as Novalis. power reigns supreme. pointing out that the “primary function” of the tremendous energy within the atom is to “hold things together. just after the nuclear bombing of Japan.” and not to blow them apart. Writing in 1945. as the individual atom is the primary “unit” of the material realm. To such a worldview. as Fitzgerald’s uncle. 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). emphasized in the conclusion to his book on the importance of religious faith in a nuclear age. 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. 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. as Fritz Hardenberg.

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. We are her educators—her moral tangents—her moral stimuli” (Notes 73).there’s a providence not so far away / 181 (123): “Man. ( Afterlife 264) The Blue Flower dramatizes the radiant and joyful. with his marvelous talent for the clearest possible everydayness. 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. In a review essay on the English poet Philip Larkin. 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. Rather the novel is an examination of the difficulty and necessity of not merely transcending but. transforming the material world in and through spiritual envisioning. Novalis’s fragmented. he combined the torment of the romantic conscience and. . but that would be a misreading. The Blue Flower In his philosophy and poetry. And freedom means not doing what he likes. “Nature will become moral. and at times tormented and embarrassing. clarified novel as a satire on the vaporous idealist in an all too solid and practical world. In drawing upon the life and work of the prototypically romantic Novalis in her final novel. the atom is free to choose. The unsuspecting reader might be inclined to interpret this sharp-edged. therefore. more crucially. but to work towards bringing our world as a whole into closer harmony with the ultimate ideal of divine love. the romantic vision. The Blue Flower —likewise contended that it is the ultimate task of man not only to integrate his individual personality. Instinct is the genius in paradise” (Notes 340). life of a fated and devoted romantic visionary in an insistently everyday world. unfinished work is remarkably suggestive and elusive and impossible to summarize at all adequately in a small space. however embarrassing it might be. Fitzgerald observed that. Novalis—the subject of Fitzgerald’s final novel. but doing what he wants to do” (Knox 149).

the known. mystical. “Introduction. Fitzgerald in The Blue Flower creates a naturalistic story (in this case. . . operating as an allegory of the relationship between soul and body. the dignity of the unknown. spirit and matter. which. (Werke 2: 545) In Fitzgerald’s complex rendering.” xi).” 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. “Introduction. Sophie von Kuhn. In this operation the lower self becomes identified with a better self . five years before Fritz himself succumbed to the disease. the relationship between Fritz and Sophie is a demonstration of such lingua romana. . the everyday. This yields again its original meaning . 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. 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. . unknown. . . 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. This bold figuring is undercut throughout by a humorous and practical materialist-feminist . infinite. . His ultimate aim became “to reunite all the separate sciences into a universal science” (Notes. a mysterious semblance. By giving the common a higher meaning. It receives a common expression . a historical story as well) that lends itself to allegorical interpretation. Reciprocal raising and lowering. I romanticize it—For what is higher.182 / alternative realisms As is typical in her final novels. . Romantic philosophy. 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. one uses the inverse operation . In the historical life of Friedrich von Hardenberg (1772–1801). who died of tuberculosis at the age of fifteen. Lingua romana. only seem separate to us because we do not any longer know how to read and interpret them correctly. he argued. like his father) first meets and becomes engaged to Sophie. 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. 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. the finite the appearance of the infinite. The operation is still entirely unknown. until the time in which she becomes ill and dies.

he is informed by her older stepsister. . and pushes home the argument through the extended treatment of Sophie’s painful and debilitating mortal illness. . Jesus Christ returned to earth!” “That was all very well for him.” (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.” “I would not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. You would be wanted as a liar . the Mandelsloh: “If you stayed here.’ ” . you would not be wanted as a nurse . She did not believe in life after death. that would be ridiculous. any more than I could lie to myself. . but she did not believe everything that was said there.there’s a providence not so far away / 183 critique of masculine verbosity and intellectual-spiritual presumption. They kept the days of penitence. Fitzgerald maintains this argumentative dialogue throughout the novel. The relationship is revealed in the dialogue between Fritz and Sophie as he attempts to understand her character and personality: “Now. and Sophie as the body equally insistent in her espousal of the factual truths of materiality. and when he volunteers to nurse Sophie himself at her family home. “But you would not want to hurt a poet’s feelings. . Sophigen. I think a little better. “I respect the Christus. She answered readily. . but if I was to walk and talk again after I was dead. and Fritz went abruptly out of the room. . “And if I could not say that. (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. After a moment Fritz cried out. .” said Sophie.” . “Shall I stay?” Still she said nothing. his refusal seems rather proof of the soul’s immortality—of the spirit’s insistence upon taking leave of the failed body . would you think of me as a coward?” “My idea of cowardice is very simple. You would have to say to her—‘You look a little better this morning.” said Sophie.” “I don’t know to what extent a poet lies to himself. of course. and on Sundays they went to the church. .” The Mandelsloh said nothing.” said the Mandelsloh. He asked her about her faith.” “I don’t think about it at all. tell me what you think about poetry. “I could not lie to her. Yes. “But Sophie. 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.” “She is my spirit’s guide. She knows that.

” “Yes that’s so. giving the lie to all notions of a self-enclosed existential system or of a self-sufficient individuality. As an allegory of body and soul. Fritz senses her frustration but misreads it as love for an absent person. It is that in which the spirit moves. which she feels compelled to keep secret. In her final hours. it is not the key to anything higher. the major shift occurred when he turned against the solipsistic idealism of his teacher Fichte. Language refers only to itself. even if not completely . He attempts to draw her out: “Words are given us to understand each other. and the goal of which is love. Love connects us to that which is beyond us.” (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. Sophie “in her fantasy. . “There is no place in it for love” (29). It is a story that is both brokenhearted and triumphant. because speaking is its pleasure and it can do nothing else.” Fritz says to himself in The Blue Flower. In a chapter of The Blue Flower entitled “The Nature of Desire. To do so is to limit one’s reality to the realm of signs—a limitation that the signs themselves endorse.” xxix)—a progress that is fueled by love. whom he has nicknamed Justen.” “In that case it might as well be nonsense.” Fritz has a conversation with a young woman friend named Karoline Just. 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. “I see the fault in Fichte’s system. 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. 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.” “And to write poetry. had kept thinking she heard the sound of horse’s hooves” (225).” objected Karoline. as love always survives its mortal incarnations. In his subsequent philosophizing. The Blue Flower tells the love story of love stories—the narrative at the heart of all other romances. and substituted his own theory of being as an infinite progress or approximation toward the realm of ideals that is the ultimate reality (Notes. and which moves the spirit—the emotive . . In Novalis’s development as a philosopher.184 / alternative realisms that can no longer sustain its presence. but you mustn’t ask too much of language. as deconstruction has driven home to us—which is to be hopelessly unrequited in one’s relation to reality. “Introduction. Justen. She is secretly suffering from unrequited love for him and is frustrated by her inability to express her desire. referring to nothing other than themselves. Language speaks.

Fitzgerald in effect demonstrated Novalis’s dictum that “Idealism is nothing but genuine empiricism” (Notes 402). is not so much a reproof of conventional naturalism as it is a correction of it. . which Novalis labeled “a singular image of the eternal kingdom . 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. . in which she deftly intertwined conventional fictive naturalism with religious and metaphysical allegory. prompted by Nature itself. we would see ourselves in its midst” (Notes 234. ‘I am’ has no meaning without ‘There is’ ” (Afterlife 226). In this sense. “is just as real as the pigeon dung and the bloated corpse. . If we suddenly became as elastic as was necessary.there’s a providence not so far away / 185 proof of the spirit’s reality. Fitzgerald’s mature method in the final four historical-romance novels. it is that which arises naturally and inevitably from our attentive interaction with Nature itself. “The life of the spirit. 341).” Fitzgerald wrote.

This page intentionally left blank .

inspired by post-quantum physics.” existing as “events” that are “immaterial. as Spinoza (another source of Deleuze and Guattari’s virtual model) famously envisioned in the Ethics (306). unlike the state of affairs. but meanwhile we live within eternity. Northrop Frye noted the general allegorical basis of realism when he wrote that “a genuinely realistic play has. that is useful as an analogy for explaining the fictive workings of an allegorical text. The virtual world. there is always a meanwhile to restore the event. In their late collaboration. Bowles’ story would seem to endorse such a forecast. 2.” which “are superimposed on one another. would likely suffer more acutely than other nations from the disintegrative social and psychological effects of uprootedness. while exerting a negative “dominating influence” on cultures that had yet to be uprooted (Roots 50). un-embodied energy. This is a “dead-time” world in which “nothing happens” but “everything becomes” outside of the rational chain of cause and effect (Deleuze and . post-structuralist theorists Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari posited a “virtual-actual” model of reality. whereas times succeed each other” (158).” All events coexist in this world of “meanwhiles. Three Whatever Is. an allegorical relationship to what both author and critic think of as real life” (A Natural Perspective 9–10). within time. being a nation of relatively recent arrivals from elsewhere. like the realm of fiction itself. ideal without being abstract. in a world of pure potential that has nothing to do with time as duration. this world is envisioned as a realm of pure. In a related argument concerning the history of drama. Weil predicted that America. According to their model. which history has born out.” within the material world of our bodies and lives within time. unlivable: pure reserve ” (156). does not pass away with time: “When time passes and takes the instant away. Writing just a few years before the publication of Bowles’ story. in a series of passing instants. (In the terms of post-quantum physics. incorporeal. What is Philosophy? . the “virtual” is a world that is “real without being actual. We live in actuality. built into it.) This virtual realm of events is continually “actualized in a state of affairs. Is Wrong: James Purdy’s Allegorical Realism 1.No t e s Two One is Never Quite Totally in the World: Jane Bowles’ Allegorical Realism 1. but the event. both is and is not the world in which we live our lives.

There is a time line or “arrow of time” (clinamen. By contrast. such as Captain Stadger in Eustace Chisholm and the Works and Roy Sturtevant in Narrow Rooms. 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. Likewise the behavior of the avenging black woman with the purse in O’Connor’s story. More accurately. Prigogine and Stengers apply the coresonance model to the debate on the origin of the universe. creating matter. even more. of magic. 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. On the contrary. In his insightful Reader’s Guide (see Works Cited) to the two volumes on Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Deleuze and Guattari.” is easily understandable within the context of American racism. it condemns conventional . These divine agents are comprehensible within conventional contexts of religion and history. just as Daniel Haws’ and Sidney De Lakes’ acquiescence to punishment is indicative of their own self-hatred. this eternal world of meanwhiles is envisioned as the home of the gods. In the absence of matter. Certainly their rage may be attributed to their self-hatred regarding their homosexual impulses.” the Misfit explains his behavior in terms related to Christian dogma (which he has learned imperfectly). there are many time lines. and explains its relationship to contemporary post-quantum theory: “If all this talk of VIRTUALITY and ACTUALITY sounds mystical or mythic. But such behavior and emotion is not explicable within any conventional religious moral system. Purdy’s agents of divine retribution. “A Good Man is Hard to Find. “Everything that Rises must Converge. by providing a dimension rigid enough to limit it but flexible enough to absorb it. from which it serves as an implicit critique of complacent rationalist conceptions of reality. 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 presence of matter muffles the turbulence by giving it an outlet. After the initial contraction-dilation. They theorize that the virtual is inherently unstable because it is composed of different particles that are in constant flux. but only to the extent that quantum mechanics and astrophysics are. and of myth. as many as there are universes that will have been. 3. it may well be. Allegory may be thought of as operating in a self-conscious manner upon the boundary between the virtualmythical and the actual-material worlds. In O’Connor’s story. In fictive terms.” 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. A universe is born (and Lucretius is vindicated). The energy is unstable as the void and immediately dilates. the turbulence in the virtual is amplified to the point of an explosive contraction releasing an unimaginable amount of pure energy. at maximum entropy. or “swerve. the material universe goes on dilating slowly until its future is consumed by its past and it disappears into maximum entropy. Then it all starts over again.188 / notes Guattari 159). What we get in the form of “chance” and indeterminacy is overflow from the actual’s absorption of the virtual. but in ways that do not harmonize. seem expressions of irrational and supernatural fury. and as a rebuke to narrow-minded mimetic habits of reading and interpretation.

The serpent’s promise to the first men was to make them ‘knowing both good and evil. and because of our culture’s general acceptance of that claim. By keeping his love. 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. The full passage by Benjamin follows: “By its allegorical form evil as such reveals itself to be a subjective phenomenon. with the desire for knowledge. as an abstraction. Kopelson writes. it is at home in the Fall” (233–234). those who “love from afar?” What about Dante and Beatrice? . obviously.notes / 189 morality itself. Knowledge of good and evil is. Jung. in the name of human nature. Freud is un-useful for allegorical creators. Freud’s claim of scientific truth status has had the effect of putting a perpetual licensed withholding on his system.’ and must say it to the beloved” (68). The Bible introduces evil in the concept of knowledge. the canny pederast who thinks he is stealing love is really only paying a different price for it. anti-artistic subjectivity of the baroque converges here with the theological essence of the subjective. it is basically only knowledge of evil. are condemned by their own natures. is secondary. then at least away from his beloved. 5. Four Some Imaginary Vienna: Ronald Firbank’s Pastoral Realism 1. 4. the triumph of subjectivity and the onset of an arbitrary rule over things. would seem to operate like open software for the allegorical creator. then. 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. if not to himself. Related as it is to the depths of the subjective. by contrast. or rather for judgment. It ensues from contemplation. and behold it was very good. he may be that which according to his way of thinking is an impossibility—a pederast in love. the opposite of all factual knowledge. It is ‘nonsense’ in the profound sense in which Kierkegaard conceived of the word. There is no evil in the world. We may note in passing that Freud has proved particularly un-useful for modern and contemporary creative allegorists (as contrasted. “Unfortunately. In the very fall of man the unity of guilt and signifying emerges as an abstraction. whereas the admittedly allegorical system of archetypes designed by his onetime disciple. The contrast applies as well to the victims of the divine agent. with allegorical critics. Purdy’s characters. because of his insistence upon the provable scientific truth status of his own remarkably allegorical system.’ But it is said of God after the creation: ‘And God saw everything that he had made. The enormous.’ Knowledge of evil therefore has no object. as knowledge. and the author delivers them to the judgment prepared for them. and the history that created it. which they are helpless to alter. who have thrived upon his work). The allegorical has its existence in abstractions. as a faculty of the spirit of language itself. But must he? What about the scores of unrequited lovers in literature. But he is not a pederastic lover. The lover must say ‘I love you. Knowledge of good. The knowledge. is the origin of all allegorical contemplation. the ultimate instigator and arbiter of our fate. It arises in man himself.

Criticism condemning Firbank’s fiction for violating narrow contemporary standards of political correctness is a more recent version of critical misunderstanding. tone. essentialized. transgressive sexuality is that it became the experience/identity for a utopian vision of the future” (216). . from which it arises” (292). .190 / notes 2. Goldman writes. The utopian tendency of the pastoral is related to a similar tendency in the history of the homosexual. “The historical importance of a radical. all solemnity in gesture. . 6. 5. in which he prophesies the arrival of “a spirit who plays . See Clark and Kiernan (works cited). with all that was hitherto called holy. 3. and condescension. as if it were their most incarnate and involuntary parody” (347). morality. word. intolerance. Michel Foucault comments. but frivolity foregrounds this space. . untouchable. 4. good. . eye. Firbank’s refusal to accede to society’s moral standards of judgment calls to mind Nietzsche’s conclusion to The Gay Science. when it confronts all earthly seriousness so far. and task so far. “A concern with the gap between signifier and signified is not unique to writers of the frivolous. divine .

1949. Frank. by Jane Bowles. 1978. March 10. Stephen. Adams. Bruce. 1956. Signet: New York. London: Verso. By Penelope Fitzgerald. Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints. Introduced by Truman Capote.” Rev. The Sheltering Sky. New York Times Book Review. New York: Ecco. Jane. Paul. John. Edited and translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood. Carolyn J. Allen. New York: Harcourt. Barfield. David. 2007. Edited and introduced by Millicent Dillon. Edited by George Plimpton.3 (July 1974): 566–582. 1997. Alpers. London: Macmillan. 19–36. January 29. 1985. 1991. “Up from the Underground. 1996.html. 241–270. Baldanza. Own.Wor k s Ci t ed Acocella. Bassoff. Joan. The Beginning of Spring. Out in the World: Selected Letters of Jane Bowles 1935–1970. The Bible in the King James Version. 1985. Bergman. Nashville: National Publishing Company. Basbanes. Nicholas. Columbia. New York: Random House. My Sister’s Hand in Mine: An Expanded Edition of the Collected Works of Jane Bowles.” http://www. Introduced by Aldous Huxley. London: Vision. Bowles. “Northern Gothic. Offshore. What is Pastoral? Chicago: U of Chicago P. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP. Benjamin. 1965. Brophy. Saving the Appearances. New York: Harper.” In A Tawdry Place of Salvation: The Art of Jane Bowles. The Origin of German Tragic Drama. Edited by Jennie Skerl. Introduction. Fourth Series. Madison: Wisconsin UP. Walter. H. of The Collected Works of Jane Bowles. 2007. 2003. Introduced by George Steiner. Introduced by Wilfrid Sheed. 1973. John. James Purdy. “The Narrative Erotics of Two Serious Ladies. 1967: 5 Auden. ———. Human Voices. ———. SC: U of South Carolina P. Translated by John Osborne. New York: Everyman-Knopf.” The Southern Review 10.georgejr. 1976. 1975. . Gaiety Transfigured: Gay Self-Representation in American Literature. Paul. Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow. com/98/views/pfitzgerald. W. Bayley. Bowles. 2002. Bhagavad-Gita: The Song of God . ix–xiv. 1976. 1978. Toward Loving: The Poetics of the Novel and the Practice of Henry Green. New York: Penguin. “The Bloom is on the Penelope. Prancing Novelist: A Defense of Fiction in the Form of a Critical Biography in Praise of Ronald Firbank. New York: Random House. Ashbery. The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work. The Dyer’s Hand. Brigid.

What is Philosophy? Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell. New York: New Directions. Female Stories. 1981. Clark. Edited by Ellen G. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. 1989. 1946. Facknitz. Five Novels: The Flower Beneath the Foot. ix–xxx. 1988. . Jonathan. Canning. Thomas. New York: New Directions. Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli.1 (Spring 1990): 10–23. “The Edge of Night: Figures of Change in Henry Green’s Concluding. Byatt. Caserio. Richard. “Rough-Hewn Lives: Penelope Fitzgerald’s Final Collection of Stories. Sexual Dissidence. “Novalis.” In Breaking the Sequence: Women’s Experimental Fiction. ———. Lidia. Mark A. New York: Columbia UP. Princeton: Princeton UP.” Twentieth Century Literature 36. New York: Signet. Amherst: U of Massachussetts P. 1986. Curti. 1988. New York: Columbia UP. Andrew V. August 31. Caprice. 1995. Millicent. 2001. 1994. Berkeley: U of California P. The Revival of Realism. Deleuze. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P. William Lane. A. 1983. Smith and Michael A. Penelope. Port Washington. New York: Oxford UP. By Penelope Fitzgerald. Translated by Daniel W. “Penelope Fitzgerald. 134–155. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.” The New York Times. ———. New York: Counterpoint. Gilles. Gay Fiction Speaks: Conversations with Gay Novelists. Feibleman. Academic Search Premier. A Little Original Sin: The Life and Work of Jane Bowles. ———. ———. 2000. Carroll.7 (1829): 97–141.” The Foreign Review 4. 1991. New York: Mariner. Ronald. Carlyle. James. 1962. Firbank. 1995. Prancing Nigger. In Search of Reality. The Means of Escape: Stories.192 / works cited Brueck. New York: New Directions. 2000. November 26. “Artifice and Empire in Ronald Firbank’s Novels. New Haven: Yale UP. Richard. 55–71. 2006. Albany: SUNY Press. San Francisco: City Lights. 1997. Her Family’s Eyes and Heart. October 10. Three More Novels: Vainglory. NY: Kennikat Press. ———. New York: Springer. Deleuze. 1998. 2000. Valmouth. Lewis. Inclinations. Translation and preface by Robert Hurley. Robert. The Afterlife: Essays and Criticism.2 (1997): 227–235. Literature and the Pastoral . 1984. “Jane Bowles: Experiment as Character.” Western Humanities Review 51. New York: New York UP. Katherine T. Two Novels: The Flower Beneath the Foot. Essays Critical and Clinical. Bernard. 2003. Greco. Eder. The Artificial Princess. Prancing Nigger. Dillon. Ettin. Dollimore. Female Bodies. Introduction.” Camp Grounds: Style and Homosexuality. “Degenerate Personality: Deviant Sexuality and Race in Ronald Firbank’s Novels. The Redemption of Tragedy: The Literary Vision of Simone Weil. Gilles and Félix Guattari. D’Espagnat. Edited by David Bergman. Fitzgerald. Friedman and Miriam Fuchs. 1960.” The New York Times. S.

The Taming of Chance. New York: Mariner. Jonathan. Holmesland. 1950. Zoe. 1990. Oddvar. New York: Continuum. God and the Atom. Robert F. Concluding. Princeton: Princeton UP. Fletcher. Henry.” The Independent. 1994. Ronald. Boston: Beacon. ———. New Haven: Yale UP. New York: Mariner. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP. Ian. M. Translated by Robert Hurley. ———. Wolfgang. Innocence. 2001. A. Charles. August 25. The Fictive and the Imaginary: Charting Literary Anthropology. Victor. Penelope. James. Jones. 1995. 1978. Offshore. Heller. New York: Everyman. David M. New York: Everyman. 1988. Gramsci. Goldman. Maine: Thorndike. The Means of Escape. 1980. E. Compton-Burnett. 49–73. 1965. IL: Dalkey Archive.wikiquote. ———. Northrop. Frivolity Unbound: Six Masters of the Camp Novel . New York: Viking. New York: St. New York: Vintage. The Gate of Angels. Forster. Princeton: Princeton UP. 1990: 29. 1986. 1993. Iser. Kiernan. Michel. Abinger Harvest : New York: Meridian. . New York: Mariner. “Affairs of the Heart in Defiance of Reason. Surviving: The Uncollected Writings of Henry Green. Ithaca: Cornell UP.” Narrative 7. Three More Novels. 2008. A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance. The Beginning of Spring. “Jane Bowles as Serious Lady. 2000. Allegory: The Theory of a Symbolic Mode. Edited by Matthew Yorke. By Ronald Firbank. Thorndike.3 (1968): 273–277. Martin’s. Stanford: Stanford UP. The History of Sexuality: Volume I: An Introduction. 1979. ———. 1983. “Pederastic Trappings: Gide and Firbank. 1964. 1978. Anatomy of Criticism. In Three Novels. The Golden Child. 1990. Champaign. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Ernest. SØren. 1977. Kevin. New York: Mariner. Knox. ———. A Critical Introduction to Henry Green’s Novels. In Three Novels. Foucault. Antonio. Frye. 1945. New York: Mariner. At Freddie’s. 273–440. New York: Mariner. Hacking. ———. Angus. Introduced by John Updike.” Novel 1. 1986. The Blue Flower. 1990. Introduction. H. ———. Halperin. Whitehead and the Modern World.org/wiki/Antonio_Gramsci April 15. Before Pastoral: Theocritus and the Ancient Tradition of Bucolic Poetry. Human Voices. ———.3 (1999): 289–306. 1982. Hartshorne.. Kierkegaard. New York: New Directions. New York: Mariner. and Lowe. 1993. The Bookshop. Edited and Translated by Reidar Thomte and Albert B. 133–271.works cited / 193 Fitzgerald. 1980. New York: Sheed & Ward. Johnson. 1957. ———.” Love’s Litany. 1955. “The Parrotic Voice of the Frivolous: Fiction by Ronald Firbank. ———. New York: Columbia UP. The Concept of Anxiety. Kraft. and Max Beerbohm. http://en. ———. Kopelson. Anderson. I. Green. 1986.

2002. München: C. 1991. “Re/Orientations: Firbank’s ‘Anglophobia’ and the Sexual Nomad. 1961. At the End of an Age. North. Brian. November 7. Marvell. 1975. Massumi. 1974. Albany: SUNY Press. 1992.194 / works cited Lane. Academic One File. 2003. 1981. Henry Green and the Writing of His Generation. The Complete Ronald Firbank. Tagebücher und Briefe. 40:1 (Fall 1998): 71–90. 1992. 1982. Burks. Friedrich. New York: Penguin.” The Ruling Passion. 1–3. Lubow. Florida Atlantic University Library. The Gay Science. 1931–1935. 1958.” Studies in Contemporary Fiction. Introduction.7 (March 2000): 29. Translated by Walter Kaufmann. Christopher. Edited by Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss. . Lebowitz. Lewis. 7–8. Edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. Kierkegaard: A Life of Allegory. vols. Robert Cumminigs. “Penelope. vols. Broward County Library. Wood. Expanded Academic ASAP. The Complete Collected Essays. Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia. Purdy. Lesser. New York: Vintage. New Haven: Yale UP. New York: Random House. Peirce. Edited by Zachary Leader. A Reader’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari. 1–6. Realism in Our Time. Georg. Collected Dialogues. The Complete Poems. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. 1981. Tess. 2007. Order Out of Chaos: Man’s New Dialogue with Nature. 1962.” New Criterion. Werke. Renato. “An Author of a Certain Age. 18.” In On Modern British Fiction. Poggioli. New York: Bantam. Pritchett. MA: Harvard UP. The Oaten Flute: Essays on Pastoral Poetry and the Pastoral Ideal. “Out with James Purdy: An Interview. 1984. The Idiom of the Time: The Writings of Henry Green. By Ronald Firbank. Michael. May 21. London: Duckworth. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia. Lukacs. Translated. 1961. John. New York: Dover. Powell. V. James. 1955. S. Edited by Justus Buchler. 2007. Prigogine. “Between Head and Heart: Penelope Fitzgerald’s Novels. ———. Hanser. Oxford: Oxford UP. 1995. Expanded Academic ASAP. Rod. Plato. Florida Atlantic University Library. Cambridge. MA: Harvard UP.” The New York Times Magazine. The Highroad Around Modernism. Edited by Hans-Joachim Mähl und Richard Samuel. 63: Dream Palace and Other Stories. Lukács. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. Wendy. ———. c1978–c1987. August 15. 176–192. July 3. Edited by Elizabeth Story Donno. Novalis. Neville. Philosophical Writings of Peirce. Cambridge. 1984. Nietzsche. London: Penguin. Andrew. Ilya and Isabelle Stengers. Albany: SUNY Press. C. Edited and Introduction by David W. Naomi. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP. Edited by Arthur W. Princeton: Princeton UP. S. vols. 2002. 107–125. MA: MIT Press. New York: Harper. 1999. 2006. Durham: Duke UP. Mengham. Anthony. Cambridge. 1985. ———. Arthur.

Tanner. ———. Rilke. The House of the Solitary Maggot. Peirce’s Philosophy of Religion. . New York: FSG. The Nine Novels of Henry Green. Samson. Baruch. New York: Heretic Books. 1985. The Language of Allegory: Defining the Genre. New York: Harper. 1961. 1959.jamespurdysociety.” Salmagundi.works cited / 195 ———. 1973. New York: Bantam. 2000. Out With the Stars. New York: New Directions. Edouard.R. 2005. 2008. February 10. New York: Da Capo. April 20. 2000. “Sallies into the Outside World: A Literary History of Jane Bowles. Ethics. Roditi. William. San Francisco: City Lights. Narrow Rooms. 1987. San Francisco: City Lights. WilsonWeb. 2006. “James Purdy’s I Am Elijah Thrush. 2005. 1860. 1990. Unto This Last. New York: New Directions. The Origins of German Tragic Drama. 1966. ———. Oxford: Oxford UP.ac. Sontag.jamespurdysociety. ———. New York: FSG. Quilligan. Edited by Juliet Dusinberre. 1992.H.” In New Directions in Prose and Poetry 26. Malcolm. 1979. April 20. “Introduction” to Walter Benjamin’s. Bloomington. Tony.1 (Winter 2000): 6–12. ———. Edited by James Laughlin. Florida Atlantic University Library. http://www. Garments the Living Wear. Spinoza. ———. 1973. John. New York: Da Capo. 1989.org/ ———. By Ronald Firbank. http://www. 1964.” The James Purdy Society.” The James White Review 17.poetryconnection. ———. http:// www. Rainer Maria. London: Verso.bris. Michael L. On Glory’s Course.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 12.net/poets/Rainer_Maria_ Rilke/4421 June 10. 2005.” The James Purdy Society.2 (1992): 182–194. Parkinson. ———. Cabot Wright Begins. ———. Introduction by Paul Binding. George. New York: Macmillan.” In A Tawdry Place of Salvation: The Art of Jane Bowles. Edited by Jennie Skerl. James. Ruskin. Jennie. Steiner. Matthew.efm. Subtle. Five Novels. Against Interpretation. 1989. Eustace Chisholm and the Works. New York: Penguin. ———. 2005. http://www.org/ Purdy. Jeremy’s Version. 1971. Skerl. 1988. 1959. Susan. 1997. ———. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP. In a Shallow Grave. I am Elijah Thrush. Stokes. Originally published in The Cornhill Magazine. “Artistic Statement. San Francisco: City Lights. Edward. London: Arden. ———. ———. Shakespeare. Ian. 1985. “An Autobiographical Sketch. The Nephew.uk/het/ruskin/ March 20. 1–18. “The Theater of Real Speech. Translated by John Osborne. Sitwell. Maureen. New York: Doubleday. “Oh. IN: Indiana UP. Ithaca: Cornell UP. 2008. “The Fiction of Jane Bowles as a Form of Self-Exorcism. As You Like It. 128/129 (Fall 2000/Winter 2001): 48–57. Edited and translated by G. Raposa. Osbert. Introduction. New York: Grove. 2005. Stadler. City of Words: American Fiction 1950–1970. New York: Carroll & Graf. 2007.

April 10. New York: Random House. . “Living and Loving. 2000. New York: Harper. Oscar. Romancing: The Life and Work of Henry Green. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. New York: The Free press. Sherburne. ———. New York: The Free Press. White. Columbia. New York: Grove. Wilson. Boston: Brill. 1925. Weil. ———. Treglown. http://en. Gravity and Grace.” Twentieth Century Literature 29. 1933. Religion in the Making. 1951. 2004. Eudora. New York: Routledge. Raoul. ———. An Anthology.org/wiki/Leo_Tolstoy. Whitehead’s Philosophy: Points of Connection. Edited by Janusz A. Wilson. 1952. 1929. Simone. Wilde. London: Penguin. Adventures of Ideas. New York: Meridian. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P. London: Pending Press. Interpretation and Allegory: Antiquity to the Modern Period . Polanowski and Donald W. 2008. ———. 1981. New York: Random House. SC: U of South Carolina P. Welty. Translated and introduced by Robert Wells. Wolfe. New York: The Free Press. London: Collins. Jon. Peter. 1986. Edited and introduced by Jon Whitman. New York: Farrar. The Need for Roots. Whitehead. Translated by John Fullerton. 2004. 1983.196 / works cited Theocritus. Modes of Thought. George Abbott. Edmund. Process and Reality.wikiquote. 1977. Peter. Introduction. Science and the Modern World . New York: The Free Press. 1966. Edited and introduced by George Abbott White. Boston: Beacon. The Book of Pleasures. ———. The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. 2004. The Idylls. Tolstoy. Waiting for God. Angus. 1989. Albany: SUNY Press. 1926.4 (Winter 1983): 384–386. 2000. Alfred North. Whitman. The Shores of Light: A Literary Chronicle of the 1920s and 1930s. Simone Weil: Interpretations of a Life. Jeremy. 1952. Vaneigem. Winch. Understanding Penelope Fitzgerald . ———. ———. 1989. Edited and Introduced by Sian Miles. The Eye of the Story. Simone Weil: The Just Balance. Lev. 1938.

19. 3. 170. 68 Bishop. 130 D’Espagnat. Truman. 32–34. 11. 93 The Bhagavad-Gita. 56. 127. 128. Jonathan. Paul. John. 73–4. Stephen. 68. 31 artifice. 134. William. 62. William Lane. Ivy. Walter. 150 Adams. 43 Brophy. 12. 81 Ashbery. 167 . 56. 33. E(lizabeth) M(onica). 66–7 Bergman. 31 Dollimore. Niels. 58 Benjamin. 176 Caserio. 34. 169 Bowles. 36 Bowles. 50. 60–1. 106. 76 Cather. 21. 126. Brigid. 189n Delafield. 138 Bassoff. Willa. 123. 80–3 Austen. David. Thomas. Jane. 123. René. Samuel. Robert. 32. 142. 78 Capote. George. Carolyn.” 15. 16 Carlyle. 16. 144 Carroll. 148 Deleuze. Elizabeth. 93–4 Brueck. 9. 2–5. 117. 42. Nicholas. 18–19 Out in the World. 77. 3. 52. 15. Bernard.I N DEX Acocella. 74 Bohr. John. Jane. 17. 18. 47 Ade. John. 127 Allen. 140. 18. 4. 22. 53. 5.” 15. 56 Auden. 9. Lidia. Lewis. 33 as distinct from parable. 12 allegory. 134 Basbanes. 22 Chesterton. Fyodor. 47–61. 187n “Camp Cataract. 107. Joan. 31 Binding. 17. 5. Gilles. Paul. 56. Katherine. 188n allegorical realism. 27. 12. 4. 58. 41–2. 11–43. 164 Beckett. 21–33. 12. 190n Compton-Burnett. 82 Céline. 55–7. 64–8. 43 Two Serious Ladies. 82. Bruce. 50. 187–8n Descartes. G(ilbert) K(eith). 133 Clark. 136 Callimachus. 33. 12–14. 187n as distinct from myth. 104 Bayley. 161. 31. 11–74. 13 Dante Alighieri. 15. Millicent. W(ystan) H(ugh). 82 Blake. 4–6. 76 Curti. 92 Dostoyevsky. 70. 18 “Going to Massachusetts. 59–60. 14 Bunyan. 43. 58. 169 Dillon. 182–5. 33–43 The Collected Works of Jane Bowles. 156. 100. 10. 5. 20–22.

145. 6 Fichte. 72. 180. 140. 127. 88 The Complete Ronald Firbank. 42 Lesser. 144. 153 Lucretius. 155. 8. 99. 8. 12–13. 93–4.198 / index Eder. 131. 133–4. Antonio. 126 Facknitz. 71. 123. 137. 167 Offshore. 6. 110 Faulkner. Northrop. 139. Johann Gottlieb. 54. 140. 184. Penelope. 153. 180. 137 as distinct from mode. Robert. Angus. 144. 133–4. 151 “Desideratus. 58. 116. 12. 13. 190n Frye. 3. Georg. 115 . 47. 46 Lawrence. D(avid) H(erbert). 82. George. 28. Mark. William.” 142–4 The Gate of Angels. 42 Kiernan. 123–85 At Freddie’s. 151. 4. 137. Ian. 51. 138. Fêlix. 91. 144. 137–42 Fletcher. 149 Lewis. 165. 181–5 The Bookshop. 88 The Flower Beneath the Foot. 167 Goldman. 145 Einstein. Ronald. 103–21 Guattari. 152. 127. Kevin. 165. 173. 86. 78 homosexuality. E(dward) M(organ). 89. 155–62. Franz. 124. 188n Lukács. 77. 77. 162–8 The Blue Flower. 137. Jonathan. 52. 8. 89. 189–90n Caprice. 134–7. 185 The Illiad. Henry. 86. David. Christopher. 22. Søren. 83 Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli. 73 James. 54. Wolfgang. 188n. 155–8. 134 Kierkegaard. Nikolai. 19 Iser. 168–81 The Golden Child. 9. 168. 169 Eliot. 22. 153 Lebowitz. 76. 181 Kopelson. 140. 9–10. 94 Inclinations. 140. 21–2. 77. 84 Vainglory. 79. 155. 75–94. 50. 59. 175. 146. 1–3. 155. 190n Knox. 91 Fitzgerald. 161 Green. 137. 57–9 Forster. Richard. 7–8. 174. 93 Foucault. 128–9. 70. M(ontague) R(hodes). 190n Gramsci. 184 Firbank. Wendy. 83 Hartshorne. Albert. 3. Ronald. 83. 65–6. 34 Lane. Michel. 96–7. 133. 81–3. 153. 153. 5. 76. 80 Gogol. 95–121 Caught. 190n idealism. 164 Human Voices. 124. 187n genre. 142. 73. 109 Concluding. 7. 1–3. 176 Kafka. 131 Halperin. 187–8n Hacking. 8. 92 Valmouth. 12. 101 Holmesland. 168. 189n Kraft. Charles. 147–51 The Beginning of Spring. 75. 145–7 Innocence. James. 69–71. 79. Naomi. Tess. 152. 96 Homer. Oddvar. 8. 86. 34. 138. 61.

162–5. Marcel. Ilya. 33 naturalism. 4. 72 The House of the Solitary Maggot. 134 Pynchon. 139 myth. 130–1. 188n materialism. 148. 7. 64–5. 65 I am Elijah Thrush. 21. 69 Narrow Rooms. Martin. 162. 63. Michael. 179. Thomas. 81 Massumi. 31. 136–7. 58. 152. 129–32. 137. 51. 139. 110. 154. 138. 159 Peirce. 14 pluralism. 76. 182. 54. 180–4 Melville. Friedrich. Brian. Barbara. 175. 95. 12. 97. 52. 65. 53. 41. 113–15. 69 In a Shallow Grave. 141. 52–3. 62–4 Eustace Chisholm and the Works. 91. 9. 153. 3. 115 Novalis. 188n Oliphant. 188n Garments the Living Wear. 56. 137. 185 as distinct from allegory. 104 Prigogine. James. 163. 5–6. 47. 121. 144. 107. 71. 105. 65. 65 Out With the Stars. 113 mimetic materialism. 78 Purdy. George. 95–121 pastoral realism. 190n nominalism. 75–94 pastoral-romance. 134. Rod. 123–86 The Paris Review. 33–4. 9. 174 Pritchett. 134. 65. 22. 59. L(eopold) H(amilton). 69. 96. 47. 151. 1. 69–74. 71–2 Pym. 102. 69 Malcolm. 114. 25. 109. 2. 152. Robert Cummings. 128–30 North. 102. 3. 4. 33. 185 Neville. 141. Herman. James. 76. John. 74 Poggioli. 4 mimetic naturalism. 114 parable. Edward R(oscoe). 9. 77 Murrow. 81–2 mimetic fiction. 147. 56. Andrew. 184. 162 Painter. 49 Luther. 55. 6 Mengham. 103. 188n The Nephew. 83. 59. 63. 127 parablistic realism. 152–5. 69–72. 69. 185 O’Connor. Margaret. 111. 103. 173. 188n as distinct from allegory. 135. 96. 86. 148 Nietzsche. 127. 34. 82 mimesis. 54. 82 mimetic realism. 2. 168 Plato. Anthony. 168–71. 22. 103. 2–6. Charles Sanders. 120. 46. 67–9 Cabot Wright Begins. 76. 65. 79 Proust. 143. 153. Flannery. 77–94. 86. 116. 55. 59. 13. 19. 121 pastoral-organic realism. 83. 82. 10. 159. 57. 125–7. 100. 112. 68. 57. 43. V(ictor) S(awdon). 154. 22 . 51. 146 Myers. 12. 81–2. 3. 119 Ptolemy Philadelphus. Renato. 95. 21. 83 Powell. 69. 71. 75. 61. 105 pastoral. 75. 61. 10. 150. 73. 140. 13. 69. 181. 75. 2–4. 45–74 63: Dream Palace. 3. 169–70. 123–8. 56. 5. 69. 190n pastoral-organicism. 58. 49 Marvell. 69 On Glory’s Course. 75.index / 199 Lukacs. 128. 117 Merrill. 6–9. 182. 143–4. 70–1 Jeremy’s Version.

24. 113. 47. 73 realism. Anthony. 45 Sitwell. Andre. 76. 80 Virgil. William. 42. Robert. 57 Theocritus. 76. 148 Shelley. 88. 3. 176 Williams. 154. John. Edward. Isabelle. 76 Winch. 47. Maureen. 26. 83. 50. 103 metaphysical realism. 109 Reed. 102. 25. 128 psychological realism. 40. 162. 21–2. 36. Jeremy. 56 Sitwell. Edith. Ian. 3. 67. 27. 119–21. 34. 4 Spinoza. 13. 126. 43. 189n philosophical realism. 139. 153. 79. 95 see also Green. 147. John. Jacapo. 38. Peter. 16 Weil. 98. 82. 41. 10. 83. 3. 137 Spenser. Edouard. John. 64. 77 parablistic realism. Tennessee. 50 Shakespeare. 104. 187n quest. 117 Swinburne. 174 Stevens. 117. 159 Thomson. Henry . 123–86 pastoral-organic realism. 135 Whitman. 115 Whitehead. Robert Louis. Tony. Henry. 56 Stevenson. 95–122 pastoral realism. 177 Salmagundi. 98 Yorke. 167 Treglown. 95. 115. 46. 1. 47. 42. 30–3. 72. 108–10. 97. 92 Sophocles. 165. 162 Updike. 55 Steiner. 15 Wolfe. 98–103. 68 Stengers. 47. 114. 97. 12. 26. 126 Samson. 114. 17 Wilson. 43 literary realism. Virgil. Lev. 13 Ruskin. Muriel. 75–94. 99. 4 Stokes. 1–3. 73. 165 Roditi. 72 Tolstoy. 14. 92. 12–19. 70. Jon. 97 Weil. 78 Spark. Carl. Edmund. 168–9. 6–8. Bettina. 78 Welty. 93 Sontag. 36. Raoul. 60.200 / index quantum physics. 78–9. 10. 159 Schwarzchild. 105. 97 allegorical realism. Gerald. 163 Rilke. 187n Wells. Percy Bysshe. George. 164–5. 25 romantic realism. Evelyn. 4–6. 5. Oscar. 5. 154. Alfred North. 62 Van Vechten. 96 Wilson. Osbert. Baruch. Simone. 48. 136. 11–74. 97. 23. Wallace. 104. the. 6–9. 93–4. 114 Trollope. 120 Vaneigem. 166. 114. 72. 168 Yorke. 165 Quilligan. 117. Angus. Rainer Maria. 8. 150 Sannazzaro. 187n alternative realisms. Edmund. Matthew. Susan. 2–3 fictive realism. 56. 153. 12. Eudora. 49 Wilde. 41. Peter. 56 Tanner. 187n Stadler. 128 mimetic realism. 90. 9. Algernon Charles. 159 Waugh. 7. 1–3. 68. 50. 71.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful