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A lt e r nat i v e Pa r a dig m s of Li t e r a ry R e a l i sm
Previous Publication by Don Adams: James Merrill’s Poetic Quest (1997)
PRAISE FOR Alternative Paradigms of Literary Realism by Don Adams
“In his judicious study of five under-appreciated modern and contemporary American and British writers, Adams powerfully illuminates not only the individual writers he examines but also the nature of literary reality itself. Demonstrating how allegory, pastoral, and parable are used by modernist writers as an alternative to mimesis, Adams reveals as well the social and political contexts and consequences of such generic choices. Jane Bowles, James Purdy, Ronald Firbank, Henry Green, and Penelope Fitzgerald emerge from this refreshing and probing study as innovative, even revolutionary, writers.” —Claude J. Summers, William E. Stirton Professor Emeritus in the Humanities, University of Michigan-Dearborn and General Editor, glbtq.com “Adams shows how gender and genre are intertwined by establishing patterns of expectations for both human and literary behavior. In this exciting and persuasive study, he demonstrates how misunderstandings of genre-blind readers to the complexities and delights before them. His work will lead us to widen our reading and our tastes and to appreciate works for the richness of their queerness and the depth of their frivolity.” —David Bergman, author of The Violet Hour: The Violet Quill and the Making of Gay Culture “Arguing against the common confusion of realism with the mimetic, Adams offers an imaginative rethinking of subtly diverse genres within the mode of literary realism. His new readings provide fresh ways of thinking about the often misunderstood fiction of five under-appreciated twentieth-century writers. This thought-provoking, stimulating study is illuminated by literary and intellectual surprises, broadly informed by the author’s critical discussions of allegory, parable, and the pastoral as well as intellectual history.” —Andrew Vogel Ettin, Professor of English, Wake Forest University and author of Literature and the Pastoral “In this inviting, perceptive, stimulating, and highly readable book, Adams leads us to a new appreciation of under-read and under-valued authors: Jane Bowles, James Purdy, Ronald Firbank, Henry Green, and Penelope Fitzgerald. Unlike the great modernists Conrad, Eliot, and James, they refused to curtail and abort the old high forms of allegory, pastoral, and parable to signal the pathos of loss in our vision, thoroughly incommensurable with our mimetic realism. Instead, they created alternative, blended atmospheres that allowed full play to the idealizing forms made commensurable somehow, with the life we live, all at once, in the aesthetic, ethical, and spiritual spheres. While registering the characteristic malaise of their age, these writers, so sensitively analyzed by Adams, subtly save us from being stuck in the sad clichés of transcendental homelessness we have settled for.” —Naomi Lebowitz, Lewin Professor Emerita in the Humanities, Washington University in St. Louis “The chapter on Penelope Fitzgerald is seminal and timely; it alone makes this book important . . . The scholarly community will benefit from having a serious study of authors whose work has been deemed unfashionable or even incomprehensible by the literary establishment.” —Annette Gilson, Associate Professor of English, Oakland University
Alt e r nat i v e Pa r adigms of Li t e r a ry R e a lism
Don Ada ms
Realism in literature. 2009. 3. 2. Fitzgerald. 175 Fifth Avenue. 1917–1973—Criticism and interpretation. ISBN 978–0–230–62186–2 (alk. Europe and other countries. a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. the United Kingdom. Penelope—Criticism and interpretation. Martin’s Press LLC. p.R37A33 2009 823Ј. Firbank. Europe and the rest of the world.910912—dc22 Design by Newgen Imaging Systems (P) Ltd. Chennai. Jane Auer. Henry. 7. 2009018038 A catalogue record of the book is available from the British Library. Don. American fiction—20th century—History and criticism. First edition: December 2009 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Printed in the United States of America. 1905–1974—Criticism and interpretation. India. . 1964– Alternative paradigms of literary realism / Don Adams. I. Hampshire RG21 6XS. James—Criticism and interpretation. Bowles. this is by Palgrave Macmillan. Palgrave® and Macmillan® are registered trademarks in the United States. PS374. Ronald. 5. All rights reserved. cm. New York. company number 785998. Basingstoke. NY 10010. Where this book is distributed in the UK.ALTERNATIVE PARADIGMS OF LITERARY REALISM Copyright © Don Adams. Title. 6. Purdy. Palgrave Macmillan is the global academic imprint of the above companies and has companies and representatives throughout the world. First published in 2009 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN® in the United States—a division of St. Green. registered in England. 4. paper) 1. of Houndmills. 1886–1926—Criticism and interpretation. English fiction—20th century—History and criticism. ISBN: 978–0–230–62186–2 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Adams. 8..
In Memory of My Mother .
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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 .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.
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Chapter three was first published as the article: “James Purdy’s Allegories of Love. Vicky Stanbury. Walter Delaney. Maria Jasin. Thien Nguyen. Heath Gatlin. Scarlett Rooney. Jo Beth Mertens. and Emily Stockard. Copyright © 2008 by the University of Texas Press. Christy Auston. Glenn Malone.Ac k now l ed gm e n t s I would like to thank the following for their attention. Ly Pham. and advice: Greg Adams. Mattias Eng. All rights reserved. John Leeds. Chapter four was first published as the article: “Ronald Firbank’s Radical Pastorals. Joanne Jasin. 121–142. Rob Cross. Amy Letter.” from Texas Studies in Literature and Language Volume 50 Issue 1.” from Genre Volume XXXV. . Max Kirsch. Annie Gilson. Craig Goodman. I also would like to thank my students in Florida and Vietnam. Nancy Durbin. Naomi Lebowitz. encouragement. Rich Curtis. Paul Hart. David Hadas. Rod Shene. 1–33. Rose Shapiro. reprinted by permission of the University of Oklahoma. Number 1 (Spring 2002).
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Ch a p t e r O n e Tru t h a s a M at t e r of St y l e: Alt e r nat i v e Pa r adigms of Li t e r a ry R e a lism
This book began as an effort to understand why an author I especially like and admire, the early twentieth-century British novelist Ronald Firbank, has been underappreciated by literary criticism. I started my investigation with the assumption that explicit or implicit sexual prejudice might be to blame, as Firbank’s novels are openly gay. But the critical obtuseness I encountered indicated that there was a more fundamental prejudice at work in the misapprehension of Firbank’s fiction, as even recent critics approaching the author from an explicitly gay-critical viewpoint were prone to misreading and discounting his remarkably deft and subtly attitudinal novels. Then came a revelation. I was reading a recent translation of The Idylls of Theocritus, who is commonly pointed to as the first pastoral poet, while simultaneously preparing to teach one of Firbank’s novels, and I was struck by the remarkable affinity between the two texts. I began to consider in what manner our understanding of Firbank would be altered if we were to think of him as a pastoral writer like Theocritus, rather than as a conventional novelist who is too realistic to be a fantasy writer and too fantastic to be a realist. The results of my investigation into the theory, history, and workings of the pastoral led me to conclude that Firbank had been underappreciated, at least in part, because he has been miscategorized and so misread. To understand what his novels are doing, rather than to criticize them for what they are not, we would need to recover the assumptions, characteristics, and expectations of a neglected literary genre; and to understand why the novels had been so persistently misread as failures of literary realism, we would need to question the exclusion of traditional genres such as pastoral from our contemporary conceptions of realism, and reconsider the nature of the reality that realism purports to represent.
2 / alternative realisms
My illuminating experience reading Firbank as a pastoralist led me to consider whether other writers I liked and admired who had been criticized for being insufficiently or idiosyncratically realistic might be read profitably from the perspective of a traditional genre not normally considered compatible with realism. Subsequent research led to the writing of the four other body chapters in this book, in which I read various underappreciated and/or misunderstood modern and contemporary British and American writers as allegorical realists, pastoral realists, and parable realists. In each case, the effort to understand the writer from the point of view of a traditional genre proved revelatory, leading to fresh critical insights and correcting critical misapprehensions and misinterpretations. The broader issue underlying these revisionary genre-based readings concerns the relationship of literary realism to reality, and our assumptions concerning the nature of reality. Taken as a whole, these essays offer an alternative to mimesis, the dominant theory of literary realism. Mimesis assumes the reality of only that which is materially actual, whereas the alternative realisms considered in this work assume the reality of both actual and virtual, or potential, modes of being. The genres of allegory, pastoral, and parable are particularly apt at embodying and expressing such a dual-natured reality, as they traditionally conceive of the real as being both actual and ideal. Working in and through these genres, the authors discussed in this book have created virtual-potential realities that relate to conventional actuality in existentially complex and ethically challenging ways. We may take Firbank as a case in point. His ingenious generic solution to his predicament as a gay individual and artist in an intensely homophobic early twentieth-century world was to create an idealized pastoral reality in which the intolerant judgments of the actual world have no place, and in which their very absence functions as an implicit criticism of, and complaint regarding, that world. Firbank’s idealized pastoral world without judgment is fully real as potential, but it is only partially actuated in history. For the reader, Firbank’s alternative reality makes an ethical appeal in the form of an existential choice, for we can choose if we want to strive to make his all-tolerant world our own. Each of the authors I consider in this book make some such ethical appeal to the reader in the form of an existential choice. Reality as it is embodied and expressed in their versions of realism is not a finished product, as it is conceived by mimesis, but is an evolving and purposeful creation, in which the reader crucially participates. The alternative realisms these writers practice recognize implicitly that we live simultaneously in two real worlds, the world as given and the world as desired—a condition to which the five authors considered in this study
truth as a matter of style / 3
reacted with different creative strategies. Jane Bowles and James Purdy utilized allegory to create realisms that emphasize the real difference between the world as given and the world as desired. Firbank and Henry Green used pastoral to create realisms in which the given and desired, nature and artifice, are conjoined in one real-ideal world. While Penelope Fitzgerald created parablistic realisms that reveal the world as given to be but the evolving appearance of the world as desired. By insisting upon the reality of both the given actual world and the desired potential world, these writers envisioned alternative worlds for the future, thus fulfilling their most vital existential task as creative artists; for “The future is what artists are,” as Oscar Wilde told us (1100). When, on the contrary, art takes as its avowed ideal and purpose the mere faithful imitation of the world as it is found in actuality, it sinks into “true decadence, and it is from this that we are now suffering” (Wilde 978), and from which we continue to suffer. It is a sad irony of literary history that courageous and prophetic writers like Wilde and Firbank should have come to be categorized as decadents, as more recent creative revolutionaries like Purdy and Bowles have been dismissed as mannered eccentrics. Societal prejudice undoubtedly has played a role in the marginalizing and discounting of such vital figures. Less obvious is the aesthetic and theoretical prejudice whereby the writers considered in this book continue to be judged according to the conventional standards and practice of mimetic realism, the assumptions of which their works innately question and oppose. These writers’ works require a new method of reading literary realism, one that is alert to the complex interactivity between actual and potential worlds they creatively envision and express. My task in this book has been to develop alternative genre-based paradigms of literary realism capable of recognizing, and flexible enough to analyze, the multidimensional and participatory realities of such creations. Alternative Realisms Different genres imply different worldviews—in effect, different realities — that are inherent in the genre itself. The mimetic realist genre implies and endorses a single-realm materialist worldview, which implicitly refutes the reality of the nonmaterial virtual-potential realm. The genres in which the authors in this study operate—allegory, pastoral, and parable—function, rather, as implicit critiques of the single-realm materialist paradigm, while endorsing a dual-realm actual-virtual worldview. The manner in which each of the genres expresses such a worldview is particular to its nature. Allegory emphasizes the overall dual-realm nature of reality by focusing on the divide between the actual and the virtual, becoming and being, the
mode of creative expression and argumentation. In more modern. and the vulgar body double that Dr. materialist-dominant times. so allegory is a . Carroll’s Alice novels.4 / alternative realisms necessary and the ideal. and that. 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. Spenser’s later work The Fairy Queene is the prototypical English allegorical text. Pastoral envisions a potential world in which the realms on the two sides of the divide are fully connected and in which the human is wholly at home within a meaningful and value-laden natural and real world. as does Dante with Beatrice. and ideals are assumed to be ultimately real. so there are an infinity of purposeful and meaningful real worlds. is indicative of the significant distance in worldview between the two texts. 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. 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. he forgets or ignores the fact that meaning is purposefully created relative to viewpoint. Allegorical Realism Allegory emphasizes and expresses what Plato famously referred to as the “real difference” between the necessary and the good (729). The fact that Spenser adopted as his overarching emblem and ideal the actually existent and all-too-human Queen of England. The leg of mutton arising from the serving dish to be introduced to Alice at the end of Through the Looking-Glass. values. In accordance with such a progression. as there are an infinity of viewpoints in the universe. rather than allegorically transforming the incidental human figure into the eternal and transcendent queen of heaven. and Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. and concludes with a writer of parables. Hyde. and even inevitable. In a world in which virtues. this study begins by considering writers of allegory. 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. 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. in which the reality of anything other than actual physical particulars has been denied. Dante’s Commedia is generally acknowledged as the supreme example in the Western tradition of such an expression. allegory is a natural. Jekyll and Mr. the cockroach that Gregor Samsa wakes up as in The Metamorphosis. proceeds to writers of pastoral. as in Stevenson’s Dr.
she never was able to finish her hugely ambitious novel Out in the World. 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. In my chapter on Bowles. who is the subject of chapter two. the allegorical nature and functioning of Bowles’ work. is evident. Although Bowles’ work has many comic elements and characteristics. and both understood their lives to be casualties in the service of their unorthodox visions. As with the work of Bowles. who is the subject of chapter three. particularly in the mock-epic Two Serious Ladies. Bowles was deeply influenced by Weil’s thought and life and felt a spiritual and temperamental affinity with the slightly older philosopher. her work as a whole is tragic and her fictive project incomplete. As with the work of the other writers in this study. The life and career of the contemporary American writer James Purdy. and particularly of her only completed novel Two Serious Ladies. I read her allegorical-realist fiction through the lens of Simone Weil’s metaphysical-realist philosophy. Both writers diagnosed the modern malaise afflicting our age of anxiety as a form of homesickness for a world made meaningful by the real presence of the transcendent. Purdy’s work has the potential to meaningfully alter our contemporary conventional habits of reading and interpretation. Because of a debilitating stroke before the age of forty. but that work has yet to be given the comprehensive genre-based reading that it calls out for. 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. and his body of work from more than a half century of remarkable productivity has the characteristics and lineaments of a major creative statement. When one is alert to the possibility.truth as a matter of style / 5 mode and method for remembering. those conventions have for the most part ill-served Purdy’s fundamentally allegorical work. was more fortunate than that of Bowles. Rightly understood. although only Weil self-consciously insisted upon martyrdom in response. 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. Occasional critics and the author himself have rightly drawn attention to mythical elements in . 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. and to reveal to us that we are sick of our alienated pretend home in the self-evident materialist world that we have mistaken as ultimately and exclusively real.
the prejudices and oppressions of that world. flowerlike. myth is inherently conservative and concentrative. (1084) . It will not be always meddling with others. and pastoral. Purdy’s later pastorals are both implicitly Christian-religious and explicitly homoerotic. It serves as a safe-haven from. by being what it is. In my essay. The personality of man will be as wonderful as the personality of a child. as an overall creative paradigm.6 / alternative realisms Purdy’s work. In his later pastorals. It will know everything. 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 not prove things. or asking them to be like itself. 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. In his prophetic-utopian essay “The Soul of Man Under Socialism. he envisioned a potential world in which such hatred is transformed by the redeeming miracle of love. His fiction. By insisting upon the conjunction of the spiritual and the material in this manner. or as a tree grows. 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. It will grow naturally and simply. It will not be at discord. as a beautiful thing helps us. which has a profound power to disturb. to a pastoral envisioning of an alternative future characterized most forcefully and persuasively by an actuated ideal of brotherly love. And yet it will have everything. It will never argue or dispute.” 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. and I contend that the general argument of his work moves from a satirical indictment of a self-satisfied and altogether hypocritical and misguided modernity. tragedy. and whatever one takes from it. It will have wisdom. to a sorrowful lament for the pathetic and tragic victims of such a world. it will still have. Its value will not be measured by material things. whereas Purdy’s work is innately radical and de-territorializing. And yet it will not busy itself about knowledge. it will help all. so rich will it be. Pastoral Realism The realm of the pastoral has a complex relation to the actual world. And yet while it will not meddle with others. I divide Purdy’s allegories into three subcategories of satire. and implicit critique of. has far more in common with the disquieting allegories of Melville than with the mythical lamentations of Faulkner. to which it frequently has been compared. It will love them because they will be different. It will have nothing. Throughout his work. but.
Thus all desires that arise from hatred. while all desires arising from love are allowed and enabled to thrive. The pioneering work of Firbank. By placing his desiring figures within the pastoral realm. remaining art. The modern metaphysical philosopher Alfred North Whitehead alluded to this mythic emblem in his compelling description of the relation between art and nature. As it equally endorses all love-born desires. 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. and morality is made a by-product of desire. impassioned pastoralism as because of its overt. the pastoral has long served as an imaginative safe-haven for homosexual passion. That such a realm is an ideal makes it no less real. are brought into harmony. which is the defining pastoral preoccupation: It is the nature of art to be artificial. Such an idealized pastoral world is possible only when desire itself has been cleansed of contorting passions that arise from negative emotions. art is the education of nature. are excluded from the pastoral realm. that which enables an individual’s instinctive desire is deemed good. and in which mind and body. In short. has been neglected at least as much because of its innate. Under the pastoral paradigm. whereas that which frustrates it is bad. The ultimate good in such a realm is the ultimately beautiful. anger. The existential and artistic task of the pastoral writer is to remind us of the living reality of that desired potential. societal judgment is replaced by individual taste. bitterness. art and nature. (Adventures 271) The pastoral realm is the imaginative location in which a nature that has been educated by art is envisioned. there is no longer a distinction between desire and need. but in true pastoral fashion he envisioned an improved Eden in which the human is made entirely at home with itself and its environment. In terms of morality. unashamed homosexuality. 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. rather it implies that the nature of its reality is as a desired potential that awaits actuation. who is the subject of chapter four. although it resembles it closely . Thus. For civilization is nothing other than the unremitting aim at the major perfections of harmony. in its broadest sense. art is civilization. such as jealousy. in this ultimately civilized realm. But it is its perfection to return to nature. Firbank ensured that their desire would be given full play. and vice versa. and remorse.truth as a matter of style / 7 Wilde prophesied a return to Eden.
who argued that it is precisely the world as we know it that the prophetic imaginative artist seeks to undermine. 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.8 / alternative realisms enough so as to make them wish to judge it by conventional mimetic fiction standards. In this chapter. as in the literature of the absurd. which is the ultimate pastoral ideal. his idolized precursor. Caprice. provides the ultimate ideal of such a comprehensive reality that is able to encompass an infinity of individual real worlds without contortion or oppression. In such a paradigm. and alter (1100). or of God. the world that is most real is the world most able to integrate the real worlds of others within its own reality. The pastoral effect of such a strategy is to highlight situational context and to de-emphasize individual human will. I employ Whitehead’s revolutionary but neglected philosophy of organism in interpreting Green’s most ambitious and also most pastoral novel. which he decidedly was not. In several of his titles—Inclinations. the environmental landscape is not merely a backdrop for the egocentric human actor. overturn. Concluding. Within the bounds of our knowledge. figures reality as an ongoing creative process between humans as living organisms and their enabling and limiting environments. 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. 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 . In his fiction. mid-twentiethcentury British novelist Henry Green. who is the subject of chapter five. both human and nonhuman. pastel-hued covers. In the pastoral realm. this novel posits a new fictive paradigm for figuring the relation of the human to the other. The human actor is not thereby rendered a passive or merely reactive victim oppressed by his un-chosen environment. 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. In Concluding. The world of Nature. the human world is privileged in being self-consciously real. In offering a vision of the near future. 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. and with such privilege comes the responsibility of caring for the real worlds of less comprehensive organisms. a paradigm that emphasizes the ecological nature of the pastoral. Had he been inclined to didactic argument outside of fiction. Firbank might have responded to such misapprehending critics in the manner of Wilde. but is itself an actor in its own right within the ongoing existential drama of life. Rather. authordesigned and purchased.
while simultaneously transfiguring an alienating material world into our natural and spiritual home. that the novels of the final author considered in this study. the natural pastoral ideal allows no distinction. then. whose appealing and beneficent envisioning encompasses all living things. Penelope Fitzgerald.truth as a matter of style / 9 attractively and compellingly real—and therefore more like nature itself. It is no surprise. the final arbiter of the beautiful. the parablist’s mission is to provide instruction only to the select minority who are spiritually and imaginatively alert. transforming what merely happens within the ongoing narrative of both text and world into what is providentially meant to be. and the good. 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. in turn. he repeatedly instructs them. rather than as complexly coded moral lessons. the necessary. Fitzgerald’s remarkably subtle novels are revealed as demonstrations for reading experience aright. as my essay interprets them. but I am telling you of the spirit of the law. When approached as moral and spiritual parables. while diverting the multitude with an entertaining story. Parable. between which. they were in effect . 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. whose prophetic task is to reveal to all and sundry the forgotten and/or denied reality of an eternal realm of values and ideals. Parablistic Realism As allegory emphasizes and expresses a dual-realm world emblematic of the real difference between the necessary and the good. so parable demonstrates the manner in which such connection is effected within our own lives and worlds. 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. have been treated by critics and reviewers for the most part as entertaining and diverting novels of manners. 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. translating the limited existential into the eternally real. 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. In modern allegory. Unlike the allegorist. The self-consciously providential parablist insists that the text of the world’s actuality be read anew and aright.
Universal materialists were right to suspect genre. The value and function of the alternative paradigms of literary realism these authors created have not been generally recognized by literary criticism.10 / alternative realisms acknowledging the inherent artifice of all knowing. When. There is no more revolutionary aesthetic act. a reality that the authors considered in this study vigorously and vividly demonstrated in their alternative generic approaches. . ethical responsibilities. purposeful. under the influence of the scientific revolution and the Cartesian subjectobject paradigm. denying both the viability and desirability of an ultimately disinterested objectivity. and even a dangerous and willful distortion of things as they really are. and creative possibilities inherent in our subjective viewpoints—but. and participatory nature of all knowing. the idea of genre seemed to be artificial and unnecessary. The failure to understand and engage such texts has political implications. To consider truth a matter of style is to emphasize the limitations and potentialities inherent in any subjective viewpoint. 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. The reality of pluralism is the compelling metaphysical meaning of Wilde’s dictum that truth is entirely and absolutely a matter of style. for an author who challenges an age’s prevailing generic paradigm is revealing and critiquing a world’s most basic assumptions regarding itself. intellectuals in the West began to think of the material realm of actual appearances as the whole of an ultimate and self-evident world. exposes the existential flaws in the mimetic paradigm of selfevident reality. it also alerts us to the authentic existence of other such viewpoints in our pluralistic universe. Within such a world. through implication. 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. in its insistence upon the contextual. Genre tells us that we cannot evade or escape the existential limitations. such an objectivity came to seem a desirable and reachable ideal. affirming Wilde’s pronouncement that “truth is entirely and absolutely a matter of style” (981). for genre.
That work has for many years been available in the single-volume collection that Bowles’ husband. and the other contending that it was writing of the first order and the rare product of genius (Skerl 6–12). which are . But in terms of quality and complexity. one is struck by the differing assumptions at work regarding the author’s intent and its results. conventional critical interpretation and analysis. but the work’s overall allegorical nature has not been recognized. More recently. Contemporary reviewers of the work as it was originally published in the 1940s. hysterical and discardable. tended to divide into highly partisan camps. one side arguing that the work was nonsensical. Reading that criticism. have opened the way for a more sustained and probing thematic critical appreciation of Bowles’ work. as has been attested to by the devotion shown it by several generations of writers.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. feminist. and resistant to. as well as in poststructuralist. the writer and composer Paul Bowles. Allegorical elements of Bowles’ writing have been remarked upon by critics and reviewers. together with various fragments. and postcolonial criticisms. but “tended toward a more consistent affirmation of [Bowles’] literary achievement” (Skerl 13). but until recently her work has suffered from critical incomprehension and neglect. and more recently by the range of criticism that it has begun to attract. trends in gay and lesbian studies. and a handful of stories. the work is substantial. In quantity it seems a meager output—one novel. and then collected and republished in the 1960s. a fact that may be attributed to our contemporary habits of reading. Subsequent commentary was similarly skewed. and then embellished several years later with fragments from unfinished projects. The essentially allegorical nature of Bowles’ work is such that it is both particularly inviting of. one play. edited in the 1960s.
James Kraft focused on the striking manner of Bowles’ unusual style. a near contemporary with whom Bowles felt a particular affinity. Elsewhere he noted that all her terms hide one face. first for what it is. and in fact it stands alone in contemporary literature. means “other. 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]. as well as with the writing of the classic American humorist George Ade. and finally for what it could become” (274). which he described as “prosaically flat and yet richly poetic. (It is worth remembering that the root word of allegory. and manner. Bowles’ work innately and persistently questions these assumptions by both its argument and manner. In his 1969 review of the Collected Works for Novel.”) More recent criticism that is characteristically focused on psychological and sociopolitical contexts and meanings. allos. they are alert to its allegorical allegiances. Several perceptive reviews of the original Collected Works brought out in 1966 noted the allegorical nature of the writing. such as the flat and insistently literalistic surface that points consistently elsewhere—to other meanings and conclusions. For this reason none of the endings in her works is satisfactory. although Bowles had attracted a loyal following among established writers. or perhaps even worse.12 / alternative realisms characterized by the assumptions and limitations of mimetic realism. and which tends to be less interested in and also uncertain of genre designations and traditions. In his insightful review article for the New York Times. characteristics. for Bowles is a remarkable mimic and is spot-on regarding social mannerisms and pretensions. such as Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. then for what it is made into. Ashbery instinctively and rightly classed Bowles’ work with the covert and overt allegories of Franz Kafka and John Bunyan. (276) Although neither reviewer labels the writing allegory outright. as I will explain with reference to the work of the twentieth-century French philosopher Simone Weil. Everything has its meaning. Her writing is unrelated to theirs. In fact much goes on just as before. all her symbols conceal and reveal one image— the movement of life. John Ashbery remarked that. although without explicitly labeling it as such. has been consequently less perceptive in recognizing the allegorical nature and import of Bowles’ writing. nothing neatly finishes. which is itself characterized by our collective assumptions regarding the materialistic nature of reality. But critics continue to be drawn—if unwillingly .
That is one of the reasons why her works escape strict genre definitions. (147) There is a misleading and. Lidia Curti is conscious of an allegorical element in the work. as I will explain). however. 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. as the fictive nature of the work is nothing if not conspicuous and central to its operation. which is. In her 1998 feminist reading of Bowles.one is never quite totally in the world / 13 or. who has been fittingly described as a mystical Christian Platonist. From the viewpoint of conventional mimetic realism. Such. “Caricature . . 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.” Weil. or even possible. as is the obsessive behavior of the “one-track mind” caricatured figures that surround and often accompany them. Curti concludes perceptively. on the contrary. but she does not consider it to be a fitting. as Angus Fletcher noted in his seminal study of the allegorical mode. indeed. successful allegory is innately opposed to disembodied abstraction. Curti’s presumption regarding potential nonfiction designations for Bowles’ writing also is curiously off-base. since it strives for the simplification of single predominant traits. all too typical assumption in this comment regarding the separable “abstract” fictionalizing of allegory. realistic details. characterized by “minute. realistic details.” Indeed. perhaps. However. in the sudden alternating between abstract allegorical situations and minute. providing much of its humor and instruction. and—from an allegorical or spiritual perspective—of life itself. unfortunately. Much of the work of Bowles’ contemporary. is the difficulty of allegory in general. whether it is autobiography or travel writing. always ultra-materialistic on the literal-textual level. as when Edouard Roditi remarked that Bowles’ “major characters are women whose behavior is often odd. that the “difficulties” in Bowles’ work “reside precisely in the unresolved tension between the necessity and yet the impossibility of leaving everyday life” (147). . The traits thus isolated are the iconographic ‘meanings’ of each agent” (34). The allegorical perspective is innate in the spiritual perspective considered from the point of view of “otherworldly” ideals and values.” 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). is focused upon the relationship between the world “above” and the world “here below. if not hysterical or clearly psychopathic. . Simone Weil. Such figures abound throughout Bowles’ writing. is allegorical in essence. unwittingly—to the possibility of such a designation.
We only possess shadowy imitations of good. Katherine Brueck provides a useful gloss of Weil’s thinking concerning the revelatory potential of art. it has no existence” (Anthology 204). 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. Weil contended. It is also in relation to the good that we are chained down like captives. Peter Winch gave a perceptive analysis of Weil’s practical meaning when she spoke of the . . (Gravity 52) The highest art. which is all too rarely realized: Art tends by nature to offer as ultimate what is only apparent reality. such art requires the double vision of allegory and the devotion of the artist as spiritual seeker. “But unless it is expressed. which is to mistake the necessary for the good: Illusions about the things of this world do not concern their existence but their value. explicitly warns us against the error of judging the things of this world on their own terms. Only an artistic genius of the highest order can impart a vision of the really real . We accept false values which appear to us and when we think we are acting we are in reality motionless. since things are unreal for us as values. for we are still confused in the same system of values. But to attribute a false value to an object also takes reality from the perception of the object. The image of the cave refers to values. because it submerges it in imagination. is the product not of imagination but of revelation. (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. by connecting existence to ultimate values. . it reveals the reality of the universe (Waiting 107). Plato’s famous allegory of the cave. Weil contended. In his insightful 1989 study of Weil’s philosophy. but only as appearance. As anything other than appearance it is error” (Gravity 51).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. (36–37) In terms of fiction. Weil implicitly accounted for the necessity of allegory when she stated that the “reality outside the world” (Anthology 202) may only be indirectly expressed.
except from the place. “is the longing for an absolute good. as well as expresses most explicitly the tremendous sense of obligation that Bowles felt toward her fiction as revelation. It is impossible to understand and love at the same time both the victors and the vanquished as the Illiad does. I know that his position is somewhat higher than the summit. alert others to its existence. “But I have a sensual side too. this longing connects us to the “reality outside the world” (Anthology 202. 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. outside the world. and fewer still are able to turn their attention and love to the reality that is the object of this desire. which she dramatized throughout her fiction. She would carry Waiting for God around with her and read it every night before she went to sleep. In each of the three works we consider here. If anyone commented on it. 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. (199) God’s wisdom ultimately is beyond our comprehension. and the later. and in so doing. 204). but it is not beyond our detection and respect. which is always there and is never appeased by any object in the world”. There is no doubt that Jane Bowles felt such an obligation. the novella “Camp Cataract” tells the story as a tragedy.” Weil wrote. relates: When Jane discovered Simone Weil’s writing in the early fifties. she would deflect it from seriousness by saying. Few individuals are willing or able to admit of the longing. Those who are able to do so have an obligation to express their respect for a reality that cannot itself be expressed directly in this world. 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. Winch contends that Weil’s “supernatural” is not referring to a reality that is antinatural. where God’s Wisdom dwells. concerning which Bowles’ fine biographer. which form the major arc of her creative life and thought. “At the center of the human heart.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. The novel Two Serious Ladies is the comic and mock-epic version of this quest. but that it is a way of regarding and understanding reality that is in opposition of and spiritually superior to our own habitual and limited “natural” viewpoint. “Going to Massachusetts” (Collected Works) is the only one of the three to have been likely directly affected by Bowles’ reading of Weil.” (Life and Work 120) . Millicent Dillon. Both of the finished works were published before she first read Weil. she recognized an affinity between Weil’s words and what she herself felt. Weil contended.
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 she complained to her husband Paul that it was impossible for her to contribute successfully to intellectual discussions because she had “no opinions really. and from an early age she trained herself quite consciously for that purpose” (qtd. and rich in both emotion and devotion. profound.16 / alternative realisms Bowles’ clever deflection also serves to relate what any sustained reading of Weil reveals. This is not just neurotic. although he alone says what is true. Despite such telling differences. is remarkably confident and elegant. so much so that her death by starvation and overwork appears almost a natural and inevitable ending. But the act of writing for Bowles was always. Jane Bowles felt similarly stymied in her effort to communicate her inner vision. but simply the truth. witty and sophisticated. Collected Works. on the other hand. remarked of his sister that “her vocation or role or business in life from a very early age was to be a saint. “And not satirically or humorously true. that there is no one to receive it. Andre. Pure unadulterated truth—luminous. as Truman Capote remarked. is unregarded in his pronouncements. Only I become more and more convinced. engaging and brilliant. who was famous in his own right as a mathematical prodigy and genius. by experience and by observing my contemporaries. Near to her death at the age of thirty-four. ( Anthology 30) In another letter to her parents at the same period she compares herself to the Fool in Lear who. 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. and essential” (Anthology 2). Simone Weil’s older brother. the life and work of Bowles and Weil form mirror images of one another. was socially magnetic. because he is a fool. 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. viii). It is very true” (Letters 146). “difficult to the point of true pain” (Jane Bowles. In White 11). which is the spiritually ecstatic nature of Weil’s remarkably clear and persuasive insights. Jane Bowles. she seemed never to have felt at ease or at home in her body. by contrast. and its seeming failure: You think that I have something to give. She lived a complicated and dramatic social and romantic life. In several ways. Weil’s prolific writing. That is the wrong way to put it. drawing upon seemingly inexhaustible physical and emotional reserves (until a collapse and long illness that led to a pathetically drawn-out death). Weil was socially awkward and personally difficult. Weil wrote to her parents regarding her felt mission in life.
in a besieged England. Life and Work 179). 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. she produced her most substantial single work. Life and Work 119). where.one is never quite totally in the world / 17 which she approached the creative task. 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. particularly when it came to making decisions. in Dillon.” adding. even fatal. And that was so even if the choice was between string beans and peas” (qtd. and perhaps therefore harder to fulfill. The Need for Roots. the murder of a life. “I love Tangier. Living in Tangier in the mid-1950s while suffering from the severe writer’s block from which she never entirely recovered. Jane Bowles. Jane’s husband Paul said. Life and Work 238–239). Once there. 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. she used all of her considerable persuasive powers to convince the wartime authorities to allow her to return to Europe.” Dillon observes. (Letters 33–34) The seriousness and solemnity with which Bowles’ approached her writing carried over into her approach to living her life. while slowly working and starving herself to death. Her compulsion to agonize over choices and decisions was legendary. in Dillon. whose sense of vocation and mission was much more amorphous than Weil’s. “She had to choose and to accept the consequences of her choice” (Life and Work 44). “Death is better than a long murder. but like a dying person” (qtd. “Jane’s worry was that a choice had to be made and every choice was a moral judgment and monumental. “She had no capability of relinquishing choice. in Dillon. 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. . 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. Bowles wrote in her journal. away from her protective parents’ watchful eyes. As I move along into this writing I think the part I mind the most is this doubt about my entire experience. and they both agonized over decisions regarding uprooting and relocation.
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. Bozoe is struggling to follow her destiny. We are prompted to ask. “Going to Massachusetts. which necessitates that she leave the apartment she shares with Janet Murphy and go to Massachusetts. Janet Murphy. Have you missed the whole point of my life?” (qtd. In her most notable foray into literary criticism. and her actions are meaningful in ways that she does not entirely comprehend. and in some ways most complex and intriguing. 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. in Dillon. Weil wrote . The blatant mundanity of Bozoe’s “journey”—going to Massachusetts—announces its allegorical nature. The exact purpose of this journey is meaningfully unstated. All allegory innately examines and expresses the manner in which necessity. 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). rather than to be ruled in a passive and reactive manner by necessity. woman quest-figure.” “My life is not my own . this journey is no ordinary trip. in Dillon. “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. 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.” “Your life is your own Bozoe.18 / alternative realisms Going to Massachusetts This recalls a passage in the unfinished manuscript Bowles was working on around that time. . Life and Work 298) In true allegorical fashion. . but is freighted with multiple potential meanings. Bozoe Flanner. She is in the hands of forces she does not control. but it clearly concerns Bozoe’s quest to make destiny her choice. transforms the living individual into an object of fate. who lives with her lover. acting through force.” which concerns her last. (qtd.
which is to turn oneself into a purely reactive object. but she disembarks before arriving at her destination. Or fame in the garage. . that is. How has unconsciousness infiltrated itself into methodical thought and action? . . In one of the notebooks from which much of her published work is taken. Weil wrote that we have to: Try to expose in precise terms the trap which has made man the slave of his own inventions. At any rate we shall have lived. I’m glad I thought of this. . the true subject the centre of The Illiad is force . Naturally darling I love you. to choose to obey it. (Gravity 153) In the portion of Bozoe Flanner’s story that Paul included in the Collected Works. 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 . Weil writes. which is itself allegorically representative of an allpervading and all-encompassing materialism that has severed modern man from the spiritual realm. . . Fame is unworthy of you. and that although going to Massachusetts required more courage and strength than I seemed able to muster. It is why I stopped crying and got off the bus . 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. But it is not enough to obey necessity passively. Selfish because I was thinking in terms of my salvation and not yours.one is never quite totally in the world / 19 in her essay on The Illiad that “the true hero. We have to rediscover the original pact between the spirit and the world in this very civilization of which we form a part. This is no reason for not undertaking it. it is that x that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing ” (Anthology 163). 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. Don’t accept social or financial security as your final aim. paradoxically. Janet’s one-track-mind obsession is with her automotive garage business. Bozoe actually does manage to leave the apartment above the garage and take a bus that is bound for Massachusetts. . the desire for it. Rather “we have to desire that everything that has happened should have happened and nothing else” (Waiting 145). . I don’t feel that I can allow you to sink into the mire of contentment and happy ambitious enterprise . 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. in large part because of a felt ethical obligation to Janet Murphy. . which is both our opportunity and our duty as “thinking creature(s)” (Roots 289). I was at the same time being very selfish in going. . (456–457) . There is only one possible counter to necessity. . and that is. It is better for you to offer yourself. and I’m afraid that if you don’t start suffering soon God will take some terrible vengeance. which represents metonymically the mechanized modern world.
as her torpid life of spiritual unease in the apartment above the garage is a travesty of the heroic quest. Bowles’ central quester figures are not in search of happiness as an end in itself—the absence of which. 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. She eats maybe six of them. with .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 implicitly and explicitly argue for their viewpoint. and yet the more urgently I seek it. Bozoe recognizes that she is a self-thwarted quester. Late Sunday breakfast with popovers and home-made jam. as a motivating factor. The fact that I seldom do seem to gratify those instincts doesn’t matter at all . including their own nature when it is all too human. 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 . which—for quest figures— ultimately concerns the pursuit and fulfillment of their destiny. . . Alone of fictive modes. and this is what they all. Self-expressive and haranguing monologue-speeches such as this— some in letters. . Janet. What these quest figures are seeking is not physical and/or emotional gratification. some in person—are staples of Bowles’ fiction and are one of its most evident allegorical characteristics. Allegorical figures typically present themselves didactically. I have always been seeking my spirit. may help to explain the confusion and dissatisfaction of readers who are trained by mimetic realism to assume such an object of fulfillment. Anything that hinders or thwarts them in that quest is an enemy that must be overcome. To seek its shape is what she has declared she would do—declared not only to herself but to her friends. but spiritual insight and knowledge. 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. . the more like a gorilla I seem to behave—an earthbound gross woman. allegory allows for full expression of this dilemma. but with the same solemn expression on her face. . as she explains to a friend: Bozoe was thin when I first knew her . in various manners. (qtd. Janet Murphy clearly identifies Bozoe’s bodily appetite with her spiritual struggle. (Collected Works 453–454) Bozoe’s solemn Sunday morning binge may be thought of as a travesty of transubstantiation. in Dillon. I’ve kept to the routine. receive. . 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. through both word and deed. content to gratify base instincts.
and he remarks that.” although it is almost certainly modeled after Staten Island.” but it also exhibits and embodies “a structure that lends itself to a secondary reading. one that becomes stronger when given a secondary meaning as well as a primary meaning” (7). is essential” (187). is obvious from an allegorical perspective. as Fletcher remarked. In a like manner. in this effort. it is the emblematic representation of its sense. In an allegory. or rather. It is crucial in reading allegories that are more or less naturalistic in manner not to fill in such missing details. allegory’s much criticized “awkward heavy-handedness . to a certain degree. and in doing so. the island may be any or every island.) In his profound study of Baroque German allegory. which is allegorically significant. and following the introduction. Being undesignated. Of course. and as an allegorical representation it remains irremediably different from its historical realization” (170). 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. the city itself is repeatedly referred to simply and somewhat ominously as “the city. “It often has a literal surface that makes good enough sense all by itself.one is never quite totally in the world / 21 differing results. Two Serious Ladies. Benjamin observed that. “naturalistic detail is ‘cosmic’ universalizing. understood.” Similarly a nearby rural island that one of the major characters moves to is referred to merely as “the island. as are the repeated references to the generic “city. for naturalistic details work differently in an allegorical text than in a work of mimetic realism. the novel need not be read allegorically to be enjoyed and. “nature serves the purpose of expressing its meaning. . (Bozoe’s quest. As Fletcher remarks of allegory in general. Two Serious Ladies The heavy-handed argument of Bowles’ early and only completed novel. in allegory. like the novel in which her story appears. the particular neighborhood locations of the various houses and apartments in which scenes are set are unspecified. The setting of Two Serious Ladies is a case in point. 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). to cover over evidence of its allegorical inclinations. is sadly unfinished. Fletcher . not accidental as it would be in straight journalism” (199). . Rather the detail’s absence or lack of specific emphasis must be read as being itself meaningful. In regard to this vital distinction in allegory between historical realization and emblematic representation. Walter Benjamin noted that allegory is “devoted” to its characters’ “instruction” rather than to their “happiness” (170).” 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.
consistent with being literature at all. 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. Some have attributed Bowles’ idiosyncratic manner to her creative genius. That is certainly not my intention. While many of these thematic and biographical arguments are well-taken. as we have noted. while still in her early twenties. although not as overtly allegorical as Voyage au Bout de la Nuit. (Anatomy 91) Modern fiction has tended to be anti-allegorical in its mimetic and/or mythic prejudices and predilections. Rather. while others have pointed to her seeming ineptness at her craft. In exploring this issue.) As a teenager. “Allegory departs from mimesis and myth” (323). Bowles’ favorite writer was Céline (Dillon. being based upon metaphor. all literature. I am trying to account for the alternative generic nature of the manner in which her fiction operates. 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. however. anti-explicit and anti-allegorical at the other. 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. Life and Work 26–27). which may give us an indication of where she was coming from genre-wise when. it would behoove us to keep in mind Fletcher’s admonition that “allegory is never present as a pure modality” (312). . perhaps fearing that to label it as such is to consign it to the waste-heap of outmoded literary genres. to the most elusive.” In this way. (One would imagine that a Renaissance reader would approach such a text from the other direction. And there are the explicitly allegorical genres of science fiction and fantasy literature. but generically speaking: Within the boundaries of literature we find a kind of sliding scale. is allegorical in essence. she wrote Two Serious Ladies —which. it thrives on their overthrow. Of course there are notable exceptions. at one extreme. Writers such as Bowles. I suspect that readers who are familiar with Bowles’ obviously idiosyncratic but nevertheless realist-seeming fiction may take exception to my designation of it as allegory. replacing them with ideas.22 / alternative realisms remarks that allegory fundamentally “does not accept the world of experience and the senses. As Northrop Frye observed. may well be more pervasively so. ranging from the most explicitly allegorical. with vaguely Marxist and decidedly feminist views and a somewhat unstable psyche.
” “I think. (253) It is in the search for such contact that Miss Goering makes plans to sell her luxurious family home (in which she habitually exhibits neurotic signs of boredom and anxiety) in order to force herself into an unfamiliar world— very much against the wishes of her recently acquired living companion.” said Miss Gamelon turning around. Copperfield. of which Miss Goering says: “I remember having visited this . However. they are looking for a reality that is (truly) real (and really true). Christina Goering. In the first of the novel’s three section. “whose sole object in life was to be happy. 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. Her foil as an epic quester in the novel is her friend Mrs. who had “wanted to be a religious leader” (25) when she was young.” (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. “that I like it more than most people. 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. 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. although people who had observed her behavior over a period of years would have been surprised to discover that this was all” (40). “you know so little about what you’re doing that it’s a real crime against society that you have property in your hands. 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. To desire truth is to desire direct contact with a piece of reality.one is never quite totally in the world / 23 Allegorically speaking. Allegorically speaking. as I have explained to you at least a dozen times. Miss Gamelon. in order to work out my own little idea of salvation. one of the serious ladies. is preparing to abandon her gracious family home and inherited wealth in order to pursue her “own little idea of salvation” (28). Property should be in the hands of people who like it. Truth is not the object of love but reality. whose opposition is one of Miss Goering’s first temptations and challenges in her quest for contact with reality: “Well. 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. To desire contact with a piece of reality is to love.” said Miss Goering. It gives me a comfortable feeling of safety.
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). . or at least the avoidance of unhappiness. Another one of Miss Goering’s caricatured tagalong companions. Copperfield is going on a trip to Panama with her husband. (Gravity 39) Weil later qualified herself by noting that “by uprooting oneself one seeks greater reality.” but to be uprooted by others “results in unreality” (Gravity 39). . but perhaps you prefer to surprise us with them rather than disappoint us. but it may be very useful as a tool for one’s spiritual growth and enlightenment. it frightens me so much to go. Really.” said Miss Goering. an obese middle-aged man named Arnold (who would seem allegorically to represent gluttony and sloth among other things). I’m going away!” “Do you mean. This is the fate that awaits Bowles’ second serious lady. Wait until I tell you about it. at which she meets her friend Miss Goering at a cocktail party: “Oh! Christina Goering . “that you are leaving this party?” “No. which had been the acknowledged object of Miss Goering’s way of life in her comfortable family home (25).” We must be rooted in the absence of place. which you know about. It is necessary not to be “myself. Miss Goering. Copperfield.” “I would go anyway.” said Miss Goering.” (15) It turns out that Mrs. . Miss Goering’s story is continued in the novel’s . In making her move to the island. who is introduced in the novel’s first section. Copperfield. (18) The second section of the novel is set in Panama and focuses on the story of Mrs. I am going on a trip.” still less to be “ourselves. Mrs. . Miss Goering is unconsciously heeding the admonition of Simone Weil.” said Miss Goering. Copperfield says to Miss Goering: “I don’t think I can bear it . It’s terrible.” “I know of none at the moment. Mrs. as she wisely intuits. suggests: “I am sure that this island has certain advantages too. who wrote in a notebook: It is necessary to uproot oneself. (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. who—in sharp contrast with his wife—is an eager and committed traveler.
Copperfield. Copperfield does not launch out to face her fears. tellingly. her unexplained eccentricity makes her appear almost antirealistic. Pacifica. however. I suspect that criticism has gravitated toward Mrs. When she first arrives in Panama with her husband. Despite their striking differences. Now there is nothing to carry with you from one place to another. while Mrs. God watched over everybody and all men were brothers. Miss Goering. and as . in a work of perceived mimetic realism. and this tendency is particularly pronounced in more recent criticism. by contrast. and the evident contrast between her presentation. others. Copperfield is her foil. the author has filled in her complex and fascinating psychological portrait in accordance with the norms of psychological realism. is presented mainly through her words and actions. and behavior and that of Mrs. and true to her allegorical nature as questing hero. But unlike Miss Goering. The novel’s ending is punctuated by a final interior soliloquy by Miss Goering following Mrs.” she said to herself. Copperfield’s story clearly is subordinate to that of Miss Goering. the unacknowledged and perhaps unconscious prejudice against which. which she finds in Panama in the form of a soft-hearted but hard-nosed female prostitute named. and of the conventional world such realism represents. They carried Him through the jungles and across the Arctic Circle. Copperfield because of the fact that she is presented in a much more conventionally realistic manner than is Miss Goering. Copperfield attempts to quell her fears in a reverie that is perhaps the most often quoted passage from the novel. and through the effects upon. character. Copperfield. “when people believed in God they carried Him from one place to another. Nevertheless Miss Goering is clearly designated as the novel’s major protagonist and hero. and which is key to its major themes: “Now. Mrs. Mrs. Criticism of the novel. Miss Goering and Mrs. and in an ever-increasing dependence on alcohol.one is never quite totally in the world / 25 third section. which draws to a conclusion with a meeting between her and Mrs. Mrs. and reactions these produce from. In the structure of the novel. has tended to focus more on the figure of Mrs. Copperfield are psychologically fundamentally alike in that they both have a tendency to be dominated by their fears. Miss Goering is neither a deep nor a well-rounded character. From a naturalistic fiction perspective. Copperfield’s departure. In fact. is doubtless at the heart of much of the critics’ historical dissatisfaction with the novel. which implies that Miss Goering is the novel’s chief protagonist or hero. Rather she gradually allows herself to become dominated by a need for comfort and consolation. Mrs. Copperfield is presented to us from both the outside and the inside. in which the two serious ladies’ life choices and trajectories are compared and evaluated. Copperfield serves as an implicit critique of conventional realism’s assumptions and practices.
or maybe the Devil’s. How would you like that?” “You do what you want to with your own life. . You are gloriously unpredictable and you are afraid of no one but yourself. you know. as Miss Goering perceives of herself. (56) Of course we don’t expect a vision of hell in a work of seeming mimetic realism. “Do you think I’d have fun here?” “On.” She laughed heartily. but when we read such passages allegorically.26 / alternative realisms far as I’m concerned. but she nevertheless has a longing for that ultimate good. I tell you this place is God’s own town. Copperfield conceives of Miss Goering as a romantic rebel. That’s my motto. Copperfield has no individual plan for her own salvation. yet somehow there must be someone here who will remind me of something . I hate religion in other people. Mrs. For how long would you want to stay?” “Oh. Of course he is crazy to say that. I don’t know. and her spiritual unawareness is attested to by the fact that she doesn’t believe that Miss Goering has one either. Copperfield as Miss Goering’s foil recognizes that she is in existential dire straits. Unlike Miss Goering. where it does not exist. and we almost had a very bad fight. Mrs. no end of fun. Copperfield says to the hotel owner. Mrs. except by implication. Copperfield is consciously disbelieving of the ultimate values hailing from what Weil called the reality outside the world. all the things that are pleasant in this world. But she is limited by her disbelief to finding that good wholly and solely within the realm of the world here below. The men come off the ship with their pockets bulging. . but not as a spiritual quester. . I heard my husband say that you had a religious nature one day. Janet Murphy. . we can discern that that is exactly what we are being given. these people might as well be kangaroos. a broadly caricatured British ex-pat widow: “I have a feeling I’m going to nestle right here in this hotel. .” said the proprietess. but she assumes this to be the universal condition of mankind in the modern world. as Weil contended that all humans have deep inside their hearts. When she meets Pacifica and accompanies her to the colorful and disreputable hotel in which the younger woman lives and conducts her prostitution business. Copperfield. “Dancing. She said to Miss Goering at the party in section one: “I have the utmost respect for you.” (40) Unlike Bozoe Flanner’s foil. I must try to find a nest in this outlandish place. You don’t need much money. Mrs.” said Mrs.” (15) Mrs. drinking .
who would seem to be the allegorical emblem of self-pity.” said Miss Goering. Miss Goering seems incapable of romantic commitment and of sexualemotional fulfillment. “you make me sound so dreadful! I am merely working out something for myself. from the point of view of contemporary social-psychological morality.” “Oh. For her efforts. “Although I love Pacifica very much. committing herself to a socially ostracizing but personally fulfilling lesbian relationship. longings. as she takes up and drops a series of would-be and actual lovers and partners. Indeed. On the other hand. 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. both male and female. on the other hand. refuses to allow either her many fears or the frustrated and life-defeated characters that are attracted to her to impede her spiritual progress. oblivious to the emotional carnage she is leaving in her wake. on the level of psychological motive and spiritual achievement.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.) Miss Goering.” . I think it is obvious that I am more important” (198). Andy. appropriating the psychologically centered Pacifica in the process as a useful emotional tool. while pursuing her “little idea of salvation” with a seeming single-minded selfishness. Andy. that is focused upon one’s spiritual motives and being. 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. (She tells Miss Goering. as when she announces her imminent departure from a clinging male lover. Copperfield clearly would seem to be the more admirable of the two serious ladies. On the contrary. 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. which runs counter to conventional realism’s system of social and psychological values. which is also the point at which she is able to conquer the fear in her psyche that each relationship has represented. as she courageously extricates herself from an obviously difficult and conventionally constraining marriage in order to follow her seemingly natural inclinations. Mrs. typical of allegory. But a close reading that is alert to the allegorical argument of the novel reveals that. Miss Goering is roundly and repeatedly scolded and abused. The contrast between the two systems of morality is telling and is crucial to understanding the novel’s ethical-allegorical argument. as she gives herself over entirely to her fears. and obsessions. but is an ethical morality. Mrs.
” said Andy. “what should I do then?” “Just remember.” said Andy.” (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. Andy resorts to self-righteous abuse.” “Well.” said Miss Goering. (143) Parallel to Miss Goering’s figured movement from childhood to adulthood is Mrs. Miss Goering’s progress in her spiritual journey is figured by a move away from childhood into adulthood. (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. like a dream that is remembered long after it has been dreamed. Hope. she felt.” “Well.” said Miss Goering.” since “in our time people have no idea at all of spiritual trial” (174). 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.” said Dick. “You’re crazy and monstrous— really.” said Dick. had discarded a childish form forever. “that a revolution won is an adult who must kill his childhood once and for all. with a new future. well. But soon she was aware of a new sadness within herself. but I have thought for a long time now that often. . so very often. You’ve involved yourself with me!” When he perceives that his arguments will not change Miss Goering’s decision to depart. displaying his allegiance to the moral status quo: “You’re crazy. “perhaps my maneuvers do seem a little strange. sneering a bit at Miss Goering. having been abandoned by her final lover—a gangster whom she feared—on the steps of a restaurant: Miss Goering began to descend the stone steps. “You’re not even a Christian.” “I’ll remember. “You’re not alone in the world. . a descent that begins with . You are committing a monstrous act. 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. The long staircase seemed short to her. She stood on the street and waited to be overcome with joy and relief.” “Lunatic!” Andy yelled at her .28 / alternative realisms “You have no right to. Monstrous. Copperfield’s regression to infancy.
Upon her return to the hotel. because it calls to mind a recurrent dream she has in which. she runs to the top of a hill where she finds a female mannequin “about eight feet high” and dressed in black velvet. Mrs. “I certainly did—hooray!” . 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. Mrs. in which Mrs. Suddenly she stood up and placed both her hands firmly in the small of Mrs. rocking back and forth on the bed. The third one she drank more slowly.” She took a hookerful. Copperfield’s back. . “Don’t leave me. but without life. . As she waits for the gin. There just isn’t any other way that’s as good. and held onto her ankles with her hands”: “Be gay . in which Pacifica (in a telling irony) is attempting to teach Mrs. . jumping off the bed.” she said. . at which point they both topple forward and roll down the hill “locked in each other’s arms. a fact that gives her “particular satisfaction” (97–98). Copperfield paid him and he left. Copperfield finds to her dismay that Pacifica is neither surprised nor overjoyed to see her. and shortly after that another. She turned her face and in so doing she brushed Pacifica’s heavy stomach with her cheek. Mrs. (71) Early the next morning. She held on hard to Pacifica’s thigh with the strength of years of sorrow and frustration in her hand. Tonight I want to be a little baby. An ensuing quarrel between the hotel’s proprietess and Pacifica sends everyone off to their respective quarters. . 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. Copperfield accompanies Pacifica to swim in the ocean. “now for a little spot of gin to chase my troubles away.” She wraps the mannequin’s arms around her in the fashion of a leading dance partner. Copperfield turns for comfort to a bottle of gin she has ordered to be brought up to her room. (97) This event is particularly meaningful for Mrs. after a night of carousing. she begins to mimic the behavior of a child: “She lay down on the bed. be gay. put her knees up. 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. At a certain point gin takes everything off your hands and you flop around like a little baby. with a body “fashioned out of flesh.” she called out. .” she sang.one is never quite totally in the world / 29 Mrs.” the mannequin’s body acting as a buffer between herself and the “broken bottles and little stones” over which they roll. Copperfield. Copperfield how to swim: Pacifica swam a little further inland. to escape a chasing dog. It is fitting that the precipitating event takes place in the ocean saltwater that suggests amniotic fluid. “Mrs.” “Now. “You ask for a bottle of gin?” he said. by gay . . Copperfield felt happy and sick at once.
Copperfield and Miss Goering meet in a restaurant in New York. Copperfield. which .30 / alternative realisms In the novel’s last scene. “ that you used to be somewhat shy. Copperfield back to America and who is dressed significantly. What can I do with her? She is like a little baby. which I guard like a wolf. but I have my happiness. with such a beautiful apartment and such beautiful clothes.” Mrs. Copperfield had explained to Miss Goering why she cannot let this happen: “I can’t live without her. Copperfield was getting drunk and looking more disagreeable. and she is such a kind and generous woman. if you remember correctly. You seem to be stodgy now and less comforting. whom I gather you are no longer living with. which. Copperfield’s need and demand of comfort and her utter dependence on Pacifica is not only unattractive.” “That makes no difference to me. Weil contends. she noted the distressing tendency of human love to lead. which is a thing I’ve wanted to do for years.” in which “a person consents to view from a certain distance. “I feel that you have changed anyway and lost your charm. Copperfield. like Mrs. I am not sure that I do now.” (197–198) Mrs.” said Mrs. I’ve admired you very much indeed. “I have gone to pieces. I’d go completely to pieces. in which Mrs. bringing her fist down on the table and looking very mean. 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. It would take a good deal of courage to live with a man like Mr. Pacifica—who has accompanied Mrs. whenever an individual limits the search for the good to the things of this world. and I have authority now and a certain amount of daring. I know I am as guilty as I can be. and without coming any nearer. but I dare say very courageous.” (200) Earlier at the restaurant. Such is the danger. Mrs. Copperfield. but is frightening to behold when one realizes the merciless emotional compulsion that is driving her to enslave financially and emotionally another human being. “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.” said Mrs. There is something horrible whenever a human being seeks what is good and only finds necessity” (Waiting 133).” “But you have gone to pieces. rather. not for a minute. the very being who is necessary to him as food” (Waiting 135).” said Miss Goering. or do I misjudge you dreadfully?” “True enough. while Pacifica was away meeting a boyfriend who wants to marry her. In an essay in which Weil wrote of the potential sacramental nature of human love as “true friendship. Few things in this world can reach such a degree of ugliness and horror. I never had before. “I remember.
The mistake lies precisely in the search for a special state” (Waiting 111). in the literal or metaphorical sense of the word. to read God behind order” (Gravity 136). to read order behind necessity. in our spiritual journey. but we come to understand that its importance resides entirely in its relation to what it is not. the ending serves as the direct and emphatic summation of the novel’s allegorical argument. we arrive at the point at which we can perceive the good in the necessary. In the pertinent passage. Carolyn Allen similarly concluded that the ending proves Miss Goering to be “thwarted by her own lack of insight” (26). “but is it possible that a part of me hidden from my sight is piling sin upon sin as fast as Mrs. We have only to wipe the mirror to read in it symbols inscribed in matter through eternity” (Anthology 249–250). according to Weil. she contended that different kinds of “vice” such as “the use of drugs. 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. 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.one is never quite totally in the world / 31 can only represent the good by implication. The distance between the things of this world and the world above is “the distance between the necessary and the good” (Gravity 105). On the contrary.” 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. Weil listed “superposed readings” that imply an allegorical understanding of existence: “To read necessity behind sensation. In one of her notebooks. This is the point at which Miss Goering anticipates arriving as her quest concludes at the end of Two Serious Ladies. On the other hand. . Copperfield?” This latter possibility Miss Goering thought to be of considerable interest but of no great importance. while Dillon remarked that the ending seems to discount “ending itself” (“Jane Bowles: Experiment as Character” 142). (201) Ashbery remarked that this conclusion is proof of Miss Goering’s grave “delusion” regarding her own behavior (Ashbery). 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. we do not thereby annihilate necessity (it is precisely that which cannot be annihilated). A useful gloss on Miss Goering’s final soliloquy may be found in one of Weil’s touchstone texts.” reflected Miss Goering. When. What is necessary. for it illustrates that Miss Goering has come to understand the real distance between the necessary and the good. the Bhagavad-Gita. in which she makes a final internal soliloquy.
. (54–55) The novel’s conclusion affirms Miss Goering’s hard-won knowledge that. religious. or God. at the end of her quest.32 / alternative realisms the god Krishna tells the hero Arjuna that. and psychological instability and distress. Their distress has blunted their spiritual perception and their reason to the point at which they may not even believe that they are suffering. as Benjamin observed. according to Weil. drink is not what he requires. that is the reality outside of this world. because karma is no longer operative: When you have reached enlightenment. This knowledge alone would carry you Like a raft over all your sin.” Historically. for it leads to enlightenment. which is to be in the most desperate of spiritual . In the meantime. allegory “established itself most permanently where transitoriness and eternity confronted each other most closely” (224). from the point of view of which everything else is “of no great importance. (Roots 61) Weil contended that our failure to recognize the reality of eternal values has resulted in an existential homelessness. historical and psychological uprootedness here below. from the point of view of an achieved enlightenment. The blazing fire turns woods to ashes: The fire of knowledge turns all karmas to ashes. . Our disease is the loss of contact with the good. 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. The way to appease them is not to provide what they insist upon. uprootedness is a cry for help. of which our modern uprootedness is symptomatic. ignorance will delude you no longer . but to have his wound cured. its symptom is our cultural. one’s sins are no longer important. as in periods of great social. It creates obsessions. Such is our present age. And though you were the foulest of sinners. Understood allegorically. 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. which has become a more or less permanent form of distress. but it is one that those who are suffering from being uprooted too often are unable to recognize and interpret. but to bring about the disappearance of the distress. If a man is thirsty because of a wound in the stomach.
The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread. The important thing is that it announces its hunger by crying. As Benjamin remarked: “The only pleasure the melancholic permits himself. Allegory forges a link between the creature and the creator. Allegory is significantly not myth. in a time of distress. A child does not stop crying if we suggest to it that perhaps there is no bread. it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.” which Bowles completed following her move to join Paul in North Africa. It is intolerable to be in this world without a myth” (qtd. in Dillon. Those melancholy few may find in allegory a certain solace. In an anguished outburst in a notebook. and that guarantee her authenticity. Camp Cataract When one is alert to the possibility of its existence. by a lie. which is all the more isolating in that so few are willing or able to recognize the desperate straits they are in. The religious allegorist speaks for a world that the world denies. Weil makes an analogy between the soul in chronic distress and a hungry child: The soul knows for certain only that it is hungry. It goes on crying just the same. the allegorist inevitably arises. it was the last major work of fiction . Weil wrote. In its insistence on the distance between the mutable material realm and its eternal meaning. several years after the publication of the novel. Bowles wrote. but a certainty. or of God. It can only persuade itself of this by lying. but lest.one is never quite totally in the world / 33 straits. rather it is expressive of the absence of a mythical-religious belief system that is all-pervading and all-encompassing. like a prophet from the wilderness. the allegorical manner and argument of the mock epic Two Serious Ladies is fairly obvious. between the necessary and the good. Such is not the case with the novella or long short story “Camp Cataract. allegory expresses a persistent lament that the necessary should be distant from the good. The tragedy for the allegorist is that the conditions that created her. (Waiting 138) In an age in which chronic spiritual hunger has resulted in a collective disbelief in the hunger’s existence. to dramatize the spiritual plight. is allegory” (185). “The distance between the necessary and the good is the distance between the creature and the creator” (Gravity 105). Life and Work 299). for the reality of the hunger is not a belief. are the very conditions that make it likely that she will be ignored and/or misunderstood. “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. She speaks of the (for her) unbearable absence of the good. and it is a powerful one.
The double plot endorses the allegorical distinction between the mutable material world and the world of eternal values. . .” (274) Fletcher noted the tendency of allegory to evolve into symmetrical double plots such as those Bowles employs in her major fiction (184). Camp Cataract is not escape. but she feels that. a husky woman named Beryl.34 / alternative realisms she was to complete. then at some later date I can start making my sallies into the outside world almost unnoticed. Bowles makes the two women sisters. Sadie and Harriet. Harriet. The double plots of the stories of the two sisters.” Escape is unladylike. In general. . (363) . and it implicitly embodies and actively expresses the effort to perceive the latter in the former. Camp Cataract is life. . has been advised by a doctor to take summer vacations at a nature camp. and its tone is much more ominous and subdued. but long enough to imitate roots of childhood . . Copperfield are the two warring sides of the female personality. Kraft noted in his perceptive review of The Collected Works that Bowles writes the same story every time . The older sister. with tragic consequences. Sometimes Mrs. “Camp Cataract” works more in the manner of an extended parable and of a classical tragedy than of a mock epic. but the quest theme is more deeply embedded in the story than in the novel. in order to avoid the appearance of “a bohemian dash for freedom” (362).” Indeed. who suffers from periods of nervous collapse that may be in part hereditary. First I will come here for several years . Miss Goering and Mrs. who has become attached to her: My plan is extremely complicated and from my point of view rather brilliant. “Camp Cataract. where she can relax away from the stress of the crowded city apartment she shares with two sisters and one sister’s husband. I don’t know yet exactly how many. We can nevertheless draw crucial parallels between Two Serious Ladies and “Camp Cataract. As with Two Serious Ladies. Her long-term goal is to move out of the apartment altogether. Both sisters are suffering from the existential distress of uprootedness masquerading as a life of modern comfort and ease. as if she must have a Christina [Goering]-Frieda [Copperfield] contrast in order to construct her sense of reality. as in the story. as she explains to one of the camp employees. but they respond to this distress in markedly different manners. habit isn’t. As I remove myself gradually from within my family circle and establish myself more and more solidly into Camp Cataract. an allegorical approach to “Camp Cataract” leads us to a fuller understanding of the work’s means and manner. long enough so that I myself will feel: “Camp Cataract is a habit. . run parallel in the first half of “Camp Cataract” and then intersect in the second half. she must make this move in stages.
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. explaining to Beryl: “You may wonder how a woman can be shallow and know it at the same time. There must be wretches like that up there. but she fights conscious recognition of this inclination by projecting it onto her sister Harriet. but in spite of the fact that she had wanted to live in that world with Harriet. Harriet’s shallowness would seem to protect her from the fate awaiting her unmarried younger sister. If you see them be sure to give them loving because they are the lost souls of the earth. Harriet remarks that she despises Sadie’s adoration of the family home. (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. as the narrator informs us: Harriet . . . which she takes to be genuine proof of Sadie’s “community spirit” (362). I am afraid of them and afraid for them too. After reading the letter aloud to Beryl. I want to put this to you. who is the story’s main protagonist and its covert quest figure. Sadie. but then. . I fear nomads. 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). was totally unaware of Sadie’s true nature and had fallen into the trap her sister had instinctively prepared for her. this is precisely the tragedy of any person. Sadie’s tragic fate is directly related to the fact that she is not consciously aware that she is on a spiritual quest. . if he allows himself to be griped” (363). 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. Sadie certainly yearned to live in the grown-up world that her parents had established for them when they were children. and because of Harriet. whom she correctly suspects of desiring to escape their home together in the city apartment. She is subconsciously aware of an inclination in her nature to venture into “the world” to make contact with a greater reality. 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). to which she willingly admits. (368) . she did not understand it properly. Knowing that you have an apartment and a loving family must make Camp Cataract quite a different place than it would be if it were all the home and loving you had. because beyond wearing an apron and simulating the airs of other housewives. Also. Sadie did not possess a community spirit at all . In actuality.
no matter what its moral designation in society’s terms. this disaster was as remotely connected with her as a possible train wreck. 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. 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). not in the least startled to discover that the idea of returning with Harriet had been at the root of her plan all along. but whatever it was. awareness of this split was denied her. Rather. And then we’ll come back here. like Mrs. Rather Sadie’s obsessive attachment to her older sister. but fear of God” (Gravity 58). any behavior that is used to divert one from the quest for God is sinful. Sadie anticipates the breakdown. As Weil writes. it is possible to read “Camp Cataract” as being the tortured story of a sister’s incestuous lesbian love for her sibling. The dislocating journey to Camp Cataract widens the split in Sadie’s psyche. Copperfield’s relationship with Pacifica. “How much more I’ll be able to say when I’m sitting right next to her. From the point of view of such an understanding. .” she added simply. 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.” she murmured almost with reverence. Against her sister’s wishes and doctor’s orders. “It is not the pursuit of pleasure and the aversion for efforts which causes sin. 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. is symptomatic of a need for comfort and of an unwillingness to embark upon the quest to make contact with an ultimate reality. 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. (375) Sadie habitually follows her instincts without questioning her motives or considering the likely outcome of her behavior. . and she was thrilled again by the beauty of her own words.36 / alternative realisms As this quotation would seem to support. and she had never reflected upon it” (371). Copperfield’s successful acknowledgment of her lesbian identity. . “. 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.
of whom she is being uncharacteristically solicitous: “First I’ll sit down and then you must tell me what’s wrong. and with the desire. the trip’s failure seems affirmed and Sadie moves into a delusional realm. on the contrary. 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. The climax of the delusion and of the story arrives when Sadie frantically leads an imagined Harriet into the woods near the waterfall. 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. (384) Although Harriet misunderstands Sadie’s motives for wanting her to stay in the family apartment with her. Harriet sat down. as in a dream. in her inmost heart. and Harriet says to Sadie. In the overtly allegorical realm of Sadie’s delusion. Sadie was about to sit next to her when she noticed a dense swarm of flies near the roots. They stop at a small clearing in the woods. Its torn roots were shockingly exposed. she rightly perceives that Sadie’s trip to Camp Cataract is an assault on her independence. Automatically she stepped toward them. the material world through which she has spent her life drifting. This did not in any way alter her intention of accomplishing her mission. an open can of beans some careless person . becomes overwhelmingly and unbearably meaningful and real. In the delusional world. the words to express it had vanished too. . ” she thought. in which she plans to attempt to convince her sister to return to the family apartment. Sadie’s fears and desires are given material being. (391–392) When Harriet is late arriving. whereas the upper trunk and branches lay hidden in the surrounding grove. 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 stepped over to a felled tree whose length blocked the clearing. It is while she is waiting to meet Harriet for the luncheon that Sadie’s breakdown occurs. 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. As she waits for Harriet. In truth all desire to convince her sister that she should leave Camp Cataract and return to the apartment had miraculously shriveled away. but she didn’t have much hope in her. that her trip was already a failure. it seemed to her all the more desperately important now that she was almost certain. .one is never quite totally in the world / 37 “I hope nothing bad happens . “Why are they here?” she asked herself—then immediately she spotted the cause.
For people who are really uprooted there remain only two possible sorts of behavior: either to fall into a spiritual lethargy resembling death . 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. Beryl was spooning “some beans out of a can she was holding” (378). As Weil wrote in The Need For Roots : Uprootedness is by far the most dangerous malady to which human societies are exposed. for she was a most tenderhearted person toward those whom she loved. Harriet is no doubt justified in her fear of Sadie’s neediness. (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. . “I can’t any more. . but which—with her breakdown—has become shockingly exposed. but also is emblematic of that predicament—of Sadie’s innate feeling of being unconnected to. In response to her felt disconnectedness.” Here she collapsed and sobbed so pitifully that Beryl.38 / alternative realisms had deposited in a small hollow at the base of the trunk. for when Sadie first met Beryl upon arrival at the camp’s lodge. I’m much too old. but who has now begun a self-protective effort to extricate herself from Sadie’s increasingly tight emotional grip. (395) The fallen. those who are not yet uprooted. Sadie has attached herself to her older sister. and un-at-home in. for the severity of Sadie’s alienation in the world makes her a danger to those close to her. sprang to her side. 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 . seems to have affirmed Sadie’s sense of dislocation and abandonment. wringing her hands in grief. . or to hurl themselves into some form of activity necessarily designed to uproot. I’m old . She turned away in disgust. . who had shown “great tenderness” toward her during “their childhood together” (393). “I can’t .” Harriet sobbed in anguished tones. . for it is a self-propagating one. further prompting her breakdown—exposing her uprootedness. (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 . Harriet. . The uprootedness not only exposes her predicament. . her world. as well as to herself. . or only partly so. and Harriet’s obvious collusion with and dependence upon Beryl. often by the most violent methods. Beryl’s obvious attachment to Harriet.
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. . Sadie reverses roles with Harriet. “Let’s not go back there . .” A second before covering her face to hide her shame Sadie glimpsed Harriet’s eyes. . impossibly close to her own. she saw Harriet’s tear-filled eyes searching hers. The pilgrimage that Sadie unknowingly embarks upon when she sets off for Camp Cataract is more than a death march. whose suffocating shallowness is representative of a pretend reality the spiritually awakened Sadie can no longer endure. the effect being that she has been set mentally and spiritually adrift. 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. Sweat beaded her forehead and she planted her feet wide apart on the ground as if this animal would be born. however. exhibiting signs of the spiritual lethargy that will lead to her delusion and death. the awakening is figured as a painful birth: She could no longer postpone telling Harriet why she had come . . . Though her vision was barred with pain. just the two of us. It is also an awakening out of the self-induced slumber of her life of anxious dissimulation in the family apartment. clutching at her stomach as though an animal were devouring her. their pupils pointed with a hatred such as she had never seen before. or I’ll suffocate. Sadie’s awakening into a knowledge of her fundamental uprootedness is extended to include an awareness of the uprootedness of the country . In any case. “Go away . her face buried deep in her hands . hearing her own words as they issued not from her mouth but from a pit in the ground. go away . . In her delusional scene with Harriet in the pine grove. “Let’s not go back to the apartment. . . 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. . It seemed to Sadie that it was taking an eternity for her sister to leave. That she herself was making it instead of Harriet did not affect her certainty that this was it. . . .” Sadie said. The shock of awakening into an awareness of her state of uprootedness ultimately proves too much for Sadie’s fragile mental being.one is never quite totally in the world / 39 would seem to indicate that she is already partially uprooted. (396) By virtue of her revelation. but that she is able to achieve such a state of awareness is nevertheless a spiritual triumph.” She was moaning the words over and over again. let’s you and me go out in the world . She opened her mouth to speak and doubled over. . . At last she heard Harriet’s footsteps on the dry branches .
What was it? She was tormented by the sight of an incongruity she couldn’t name” (398). every image stands out and her own words and behavior become overtly meaningful. and yet. holding her hand out to the Indian” (399). the mere world of habitual appearances may seem too fake—too unreal—to endure. complete with headdress and face paint: “She stared intently at his Irish blue eyes. (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. so oddly light in his brick-colored face. where his face loses “any trace of the incongruity that had shocked her so before. Such an understanding emphasizes the allegorical nature of the story. 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. Each of these “unnatural” endings is in the form of a repudiation rather than a culmination. from the point of view of such a world. and the scene in the forest had been a delusion) where she looks closely for the first time at the souvenir seller. Harriet sends Beryl to look behind the waterfall for Sadie. Sadie’s delusional response is to try to hide the Indian chief along with herself behind the waterfall. the manner in which it is an extended parable regarding the life of the undying spirit in relation to mutable everyday . the world of her delusion is more intensely real than the world that precedes and follows it. One might say that such a world— like the experience of the mystic—is too real for normal human comfort. 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.40 / alternative realisms and culture in general when she returns to the souvenir stand (in actuality she had never left it. In Sadie’s delusional world. who is an Irish-American man dressed up to resemble an American Indian war chief. although the Indian who accompanied her behind the waterfall was a figment of her delusion. she would not say anything. and her refusal to return to it is a denial of its ultimate reality. The foaming waters were beautiful to see. and the story ends with Beryl’s return alone: When Beryl returned her face was dead white.1 There seems little doubt that we are meant to understand that Sadie kills herself. had been scheduled to meet her sister (400–401). Sadie’s plunge into the cataract is emblematic of an unwillingness to return to living a life on the surface level of appearances. Fictively. and even when Harriet finally grabbed hold of her shoulders and shook her hard.” just past the time that Harriet. who was twenty minutes late arriving. she stared at Harriet in silence. Sadie stepped forward.
The typical modern realistic fiction creates meaning by the use of symbolically weighted passages surrounded by the scenery of the conventionally real. . the story is also implicitly a critique of the modern conventions of fictive realism. I have often the sensation when I look at it that it’s a solid thing up there. 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. we discover that the story’s title. The title symbol operates ironically in the novel for the most part. The real world in this novel. Although the symbol may seem to speak of radical doubt. “the sky here’s very strange. but an all too actual farce. I suppose. is oppressive in its obvious and seemingly ultimate appearance. In that sense. its use by the author is actually quite didactically certain.” Kit shuddered slightly as she said: “From what’s behind?” “Yes. but it is actually about being blind to their allegorical reality. The story may seem to be about the deception of appearances. “Nothing. we are imprisoned in a meaningless world. We may consider Paul Bowles’ use of the titular symbol in The Sheltering Sky as an example of such use. is innately.” is emblematic of its theme and method. protecting us from what’s behind. and even overwhelmingly meaningful. When one seeks to get “beyond” that appearance to some deeper or virtual or ideal meaning. By contrast. Absolute night. and a cautionary tale regarding the paralysis of the questing spirit in the materialistic modern world. By story’s end. seems to stem from the author’s worried certainty that reality.” said Port . .” “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. and throughout Paul Bowles’ fiction.” the meaningful reality of which is so unbearable that she rushes behind the cataract—“literally” taking shelter in . Just darkness.” (101) Ominous in its ironic symbolism. “Camp Cataract. intensely. The bitter implication of such fiction is that life is neither a divine comedy nor an ennobling tragedy. The sheltering sky is all too encompassing.” and in Jane Bowles’ fiction in general. The sky as symbol questions the ultimate meaning and purpose of reality. we find that there is no there there. Port and Kit. the existential angst implicit in “Camp Cataract. That is the terrifying discovery that Sadie makes through her “delusion. rightly perceived and understood. but it does not question that reality as a given. questioning self-deluding assumptions regarding the goodness of life and the purpose of fate. a couple obviously modeled upon Paul and Jane: “You know.
“A Stick of Green Candy. (Read in the context of Bowles’ writing life. The drawn-out conclusion of Bowles’ writing life is both sad and exasperating. to support Sadie in her “dreaded voyage into the world. 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. It can only be pointed to. we have to understand its blanket repudiation of the habitually real. and of the more general failure of fiction. is a remarkable culmination in the form of a repudiation. Sadie’s suicidal leap. but of months of emotional strain and intellectual overwork. gesturing toward the unrepresentable. To understand Sadie’s suicide. then we must read her life. Much has been written on and debated concerning Weil’s starvation-suicide. in particular. as well as her work. which is the import of this story as regards habitual reality and its representations in conventional fictive realism. The writing that Weil produced in the final year of her life in England. in which she observed that “Kierkegaard’s actual death on the street seems accidental. To understand Weil’s self-starvation. Following the completion of “Camp Cataract” and of one final story.42 / alternative realisms blindness—and then plunges into its “depths.) Paul Bowles felt that his wife’s writing block resulted from her . we have to “read” it as a martyrdom.” The realm that Sadie enters when she plunges into the cataract escapes encapsulation in representation. he represents himself as one who ‘historically died of a mortal disease. allegorically. to indicate that they are not to be trusted. Bozoe Flanner’s struggles with and final failure to go to Massachusetts appear all the more poignant. 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. and even of language itself. and Bowles’ prematurely ended writing life are all indirect expressions. as Naomi Lebowitz reads the life and work of Kierkegaard in her illuminating Kierkegaard: A Life of Allegory.” The words are put in quotation marks. including what is probably her masterwork. but poetically died of longing for eternity’ ” (6).” 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. Bowles had struggled to overcome a writing block that became more and more disabling.” and before a stroke at the remarkably young age of thirty-nine put an effective end to her creative output. If we think of Weil in terms of her vocation as a saint. is profoundly lucid and poignant. Weil’s self-starvation. The Need for Roots. of course. no small part of the felt tragedy of this story is its absolute certainty of its own failure. Several commentators have noted that her death was the product not only of a lack of sustenance. The last half of that work. Indeed.
” And she’d say. reality-questioning experience with her “voyage into the world” in “Camp Cataract. . . and she’d say. say she comes in. 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. it would be easier the other way.” It is an unfinished project that speaks volumes. “I know. Rather it was exactly such conventions that she was challenging in her remarkably original work. She couldn’t use the hammer and the nails that were there.one is never quite totally in the world / 43 effort to handle too much material at once and her unwillingness to rely upon the inherited conventions of fiction: I used to talk to Jane by the hour about writing.” “But why do you want it to be so difficult?” I’d ask her. I’ve got to do it my way and my way is more difficult than yours. I’d say to her. in Dillon. She was a combination of enormous egotism and deep modesty at the same time. Jane told Paul that. In the long unfinished novel tentatively titled “Out in the World. no. but one that has been neglected for the most part by criticism of contemporary fiction. “Just for the first page. not my way. She had to manufacture her own hammer and all the nails.” we may have some notion of the revolutionary—and revelationary—implications of a work titled “Out in the World. she had in mind something of the quality of Balzac. “Well. no. which does indeed operate in a conventional manner. . sees this.” but she wasn’t interested in making it easier . almost in the sense of a morality play. (Dillon. for this novel.” upon which Bowles worked for years. “What don’t you make it simpler? Leave the difficulties for the later scenes?” No. Life and Work 192) Given Sadie’s life-shattering. the creation of a world of sensory and realistic detail. “No. 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. (qtd. But in addition she wanted her characters to be representative. does that.” I’d say. it all had to be difficult from the first paragraph in order for her to have respect for it. That’s your way. each of them to represent an abstraction.
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I soon realized that if my life up to then had been a series of pitched battles. too. peevish. Neither the kind of publishers I had nor the press stood wholeheartedly behind me . . for a period of several years and novels. . Sitwell declared Purdy “a writer of genius” and offered to introduce his work to a commercial publisher in England. 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. American publishers then competed for the right to publish the work that they had spurned earlier. Early on—in the late 1940s and early 1950s—the response from editors and publishers was almost entirely negative. Purdy—spurred by “a kind of psychic impulse”—sent a privately published collection of his fiction to Dame Edith Sitwell. . indignant rejections from the New York slick magazines. and Purdy found himself. But he was not to remain in the media and critical establishments’ good graces for long. (Purdy “Autobiographical Sketch”) In 1956. as Purdy himself humorously and ruefully related in this 1984 autobiographical sketch: In my twenties. if not a financial. and they earned. whom he did not know.Ch a p t e r Th r e e Wh at e v e r Is. success as an author. a critical. In general. My stories were always returned with angry. even more hostile comments from the little magazines. In what must have seemed to the unknown author a more or less miraculous letter of reply. it was to be in the future a kind of endless open warfare. as he relates: Despite all this acclaim coming to me out of total obscurity. . who soon published it to critical acclaim (Purdy “Autobiographical Sketch”). I began sending out my completed stories to magazines . even hostile. if possible. . All editors were insistent that I would never be a published writer. when he was forty-two years old.
been done justice by the leading contemporary critics. it seems to me. completely taken up with trends and ratings and sales. the English critic Tony Tanner. (Lane “Interview”) One of Purdy’s best readers. But first I want to explore the possibility of a more pervasive and generic cause for critical misunderstanding of. 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.” in a recognizably realistic or naturalistic manner (“Elijah Thrush” 63). Purdy’s work—and that is the failure of readers and critics to recognize the allegorical nature of Purdy’s fictionalizing. but they don’t get it because they come with preconceived notions as to what fiction should be and what political correctness should be. . but also lampooned and satirized. Actually I think my books are very 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. Indeed. concurred with Purdy’s assessment regarding the misreading and misunderstanding of his work on the part of critics: “Purdy has never. 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. which—as the author acerbically noted—does not always portray gays as “well-behaved bourgeoisie” (Lane “Interview”).46 / alternative realisms I found the so-called literary establishment parochial and studiedly insensitive to the kind of writing I was engaged in. it was the gay literary-critical establishment that found most to object to in his work. Purdy’s fiction. Mammon. I think intellectuals are the worst sinners because they want everything clear and life is not clear. his work came more and more to be overlooked and dismissed by the publishing and reviewing powers that be. as well as by the literary-critical establishment. is that they simply don’t know how to read his work properly” (“Elijah Thrush” 62–63). and prostrate before their true God. it may be. more recently. Manifest and latent homophobia no doubt lies at the root of much of the neglect of. and negativity in response to. Tanner went on to postulate that. for which Purdy claimed total contempt: “What they call politically acceptable I call philistinism and stupidity” (Lane “Interview”). contemporary taste and habits of reading. and hostility to. although we naturally look for the “relevance” to our lives of what we are reading. there is no reason to assume that such relevance will be fictively “direct. which persistently refused to adhere to any brand of political correctness. as the author complained. (Purdy “Autobiographical Sketch”) As Purdy continued to write novels that not only failed to adhere to. and one reason.
allegory had worked to keep the real richly ambiguous. But perhaps it is our understanding of allegory that is at fault. our more narrow contemporary conceptions of allegory tend to deny the mode this power of ambiguity. I am Elijah Thrush. 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). a few years after Adams’ and Tanner’s comments. values. which prevents the reader from entering the fiction’s imagined reality in a self-forgetful or escapist manner. as our personified emotions. By contrast. inherent in the very words on the page. allegory therefore names the fact that language can signify many things at once . Tanner remarked that. implying that to do so would be to consign him to the realm of the intellectually narrow and second rate. which leads us to question the reality of the world of the text. post-structuralist-influenced reevaluation of the allegorical mode published in 1979. British critic Stephen Adams noted the “Christian existentialist” philosophic basis of Purdy’s work. and the world of its reader. The world as presented in allegory appears paradoxically supra-real and unreal at once. “The criterion of realism is wasted on the theory of allegory” (198). a polysemy. Both critics seem wary of labeling Purdy an outright allegorist. the “literal surface” of the allegorical narrative is innately unstable. Then he adds. noting that “the question of what is real remains ambiguous” (City 107). In contrast to the recognizable and reliable fictive plane of conventional mimetic realism. Tanner likewise is quick to point out that Purdy’s remarkably and self-consciously allegorical novel. “is a book which devours its own allegories” (“Elijah Thursh” 64). “This is not to suggest we are presented with dimly veiled allegories” (10). In a perceptive monograph on Purdy published in 1976. is wrong / 47 As Angus Fletcher commented in his influential study of the allegorical mode. 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 an ambitious. . What is radical about this redefinition is the slight but fundamental shift in emphasis away from our traditional insistence on allegory’s distinction between . Prior to the Enlightenment and its concomitant dissociation of sensibility. The allegorical narrative displays a radical ambivalence. and instincts confront us directly in the text—implying that one of our worlds is fake. suggesting “a peculiar doubleness of intention” (Fletcher 7). . but the possibility of an otherness. in Purdy’s fiction. “people and things both are and are not there” (City 85).whatever is. 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.
They haven’t read history. or the Queen of Hearts. or own-able. 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. are related to the . which is a collection of lunacies. We contradict ourselves every day. to the simultaneity of the process of signifying multiple meanings. “The final focus of any allegory is its reader. Quilligan argues. (28) In order to understand this multiple-signifying process in allegory. to the literal. as Quilligan observed. (Purdy. as Purdy’s troubled reception history would seem to indicate: The critics seem to think there is such a thing as rational behavior. and .1 By contrast. But that requires that we first admit that we do not fully know or possess ourselves. finally. Life is contradictory. which—with such an interactive text—is necessarily to learn to read ourselves as well. as selves. and the allegorical text does not hesitate to tell us so. quite literally. horizontal.48 / alternative realisms word said and meaning meant. with its insistence upon the horizontal surface of the text (where does a literal character like the Knight of Holiness. clear. self-conscious allegory. it is the mimetic realist mode of writing and reading that tends to take place on two distinct levels. exist if not on the page?). and that we are never. It is in our face. as the reader translates the words on the page into “metaphorical” scenes of fictive reality in the mind’s eye (67). And this we generally are reluctant to admit. allegory insistently questions both world and identity. knowable. we must rid ourselves of the notion that allegory proceeds on two simple. What we are one day. Allegory refuses to provide us with a recognizable world in which we are at home within our assumed values and identities. rather. . the real ‘action’ of any allegory is the reader’s learning to read the text properly” (24). accreting. the world of fiction. but an ethical failure. refuses to allow us to engage our negative capability and to sink into. . Indeed. or drift away into. allegory is constantly reminding us of our precarious position—and thus of our culpability and responsibility—as readers of signifying texts. I guess. Rather. and turns those questions on us as readers. Quilligan commented. and distinct levels—one of material things and one of abstract meanings—and pay close attention. and Quilligan’s effort to teach us to read allegory as an innately interactive and necessarily ambiguous signifying text. “interconnecting and criss-crossing” surface of the text (28). Rather. Lane “Interview”) Purdy’s fictive effort to express our contradictory world and selves through allegory. we’re not the next.
that our concepts of matter. A model is man-made. and in knowledge itself. “I hate allegories” (qtd. More important: the model cannot. and the failure of the effort to create a “Unified Theory” of mathematics to account for all of reality—which. This period also saw the arising of modern science and its claims for a singleness of certainty in truth. By extension. Lukacs concluded: We must recognize . allegory first came into serious disrepute with the Reformation.whatever is. be mistaken for reality. and its persistent play with words and images. and assumptions of the everyday real world have been called into question. like the self-qualifying models of matter Lukacs considers. the metaphysical-epistemic philosopher. 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. 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). As Jon Whitman recently wrote: “The turn to allegorical interpretation repeatedly marks civilizations trying to keep—or in danger of losing—their intellectual . 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). in any case. . and that admit of their own contingency. in Whitman 3). and of the universe. dependent upon its inventor. would explain reality only in the self-limited terms of mathematics itself—both the theoretical scientist and his close cousin. Martin Luther declared unequivocally. with “the affirmation of the Uncertainty and Indeterminacy principle” of physics. it insists upon its own existence as a contingent artifact. Rather. are models. values. With allegory’s focus upon the literal text (its tendency toward personification of abstractions. among other things). its self-conscious symmetries and repetitions. (113) The ethical and epistemic advantage of allegory as a fictive mode is that it does not run the risk of being mistaken for conventional reality. and must not. In the modern Western world. relational reality of any subject and object. it alerts us to the uncertainty innate in all sign systems. and its focus upon the literal—in the sense of historically accurate and interpretatively transparent—truth of scripture. allegory calls the nature of reality itself into question. and on its limitations as a language. It is worth remembering that. before Galileo was charged with heresy and threatened with excommunication. Allegorical interpretation of the world and its texts has tended to flourish in periods in which the conditions. its elaborate framing devices. . As historian John Lukacs argued recently in At the End of an Age.
For today’s typical politically engaged literary critic. Purdy has been more or less ignored by near-contemporary practitioners of deconstruction. the allegorizing literary critic may well resent the creative allegorist’s control over the matter of interpretation (Anatomy 90). contradictions. and Adams laid the groundwork for such an analysis in their work of three decades and more ago. but there is much that remains to be examined and understood. 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. and complexities of sign systems. and in which the technologically enabled merging of cultures with radically different histories and value structures has created ongoing sociopolitical and epistemic crisis.) Early Purdy critics such as Tanner. as contemporary allegorical theorists are quick to point out. of course. as Northrop Frye famously contended. We have only begun to detect the full range of symbolic complexity in Purdy’s novels. Schwarzchild. It is perhaps no surprise. in which the onceprivileged truth of science has come to be understood to be conditional. Our modern world. Allegory requires of its reader that he or she adopt the position of the student. However. read an allegory by learning how to read it” (227). unlike allegorical critics.50 / alternative realisms and spiritual equilibrium” (4). as well as being innately revolutionary in their implicit and explicit political argument. the habits and skills associated with a sophisticated critical allegoresis—by which. the plot of a Jane Austen novel may be interpreted as evoking (unwittingly. for example. Tanner. As Quilligan noted. “Readers of allegory. without an overt philosophic or political argument of their own. as an initiate into the text’s mysteries. (There is the danger. and have yet to comprehend the multiple implications of their allegorical nature. that such a currently unpopular critical project would not be able to see its way past the editorial board and into print. and by those with various Marxist-influenced political agendas. On the other hand. 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. 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. then. is certainly such a civilization. which Purdy . along with all other truths. that Purdy’s best critics have been those of an earlier generation—such as Adams. Indeed. perhaps) the domestic societal tensions created by British Imperial colonization—are not generally useful for reading allegories that are created as such. The irony is that Purdy’s allegorical texts are radically deconstructive of their own fictionalizing. submitting oneself to the text’s tutorial may well seem a dereliction of duty.
but with meaningful differences. To the untutored reader. I would argue that O’Connor’s fiction is typically only partially allegorical. the interchange between them. the convention of embedding key symbolic passages within naturalistic narratives is. and indeed. a writer with whom Purdy has been much compared. and setting . (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. the character of the Misfit. In the story “A Good Man is Hard to Find. The other characters and scenes in the story act as a naturalistic setup and environment for the symbolic climax and its theological-metaphysical argument. as we know. I do not pretend to complete a comprehensive allegorical analysis within the limits of this chapter. 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. A distinction must be made between the type of allegorical fiction that Purdy created. and the contemporary hybrid genre of naturalistic-symbolism that is sometimes referred to as allegory. Purdy’s allegorical novels do not necessarily appear to announce themselves as such. which they don’t understand. science fiction. are clearly meant to be interpreted in an allegorical-symbolic fashion. and his narratives are likewise similar to but different from the narratives of conventional mimetic fiction. Rather.” for instance. and Western. at the conclusion of which the grandmother identifies the Misfit as her son. We might take as an example of the latter the well-known fiction of Flannery O’Connor. is the thematic and symbolic heart of the story. fairly common practice in modern and contemporary fiction. and is then killed by him. when confronted with a wholehearted allegorical text. since they bear a naturalistic veneer. is wrong / 51 himself pointed out (Baldanza 566).whatever is. almost mythic quality. which has a “realistic veneer” but is symbolic through and through. Purdy’s fictions take place in an American world that is often very similar to our own. (Purdy “Artistic Statement”) Unlike the allegorical subgenres of fantasy.) Although O’Connor’s fiction is remarkable for the didactic concision of her symbolic argument. but the actual story has a symbolic. in which every character. however. 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. scene. The outer texture is realistic. and to some extent the character of the grandmother. The characters are being moved by forces. as the author himself explained: My writing is both realistic and symbolic.
and in the earlier novel. with elements of mock-epic and picaresque. As Fletcher noted. languished of an incurable ailment.52 / alternative realisms seems to invite symbolic interpretation and understanding. who was young in 1913. are overtly so. whereas I am Elijah Thrush is characterized by the overt theatricality and symmetrical stasis of the masque. demi-god-like figures. poet. We may witness a sample interchange between them. hopeless love for Elijah Thrush. which serves to throw the reader off his balance. who. her willful.” “countless”—contributes to the reader’s disorientation by insisting upon the un-circumscribable nature of the subject matter. embodied in the two major figures of the text. For Purdy’s fictive world is—like Wonderland—a world apart. plunging him headlong into a fictive landscape in which normal perspectives of reality do not seem to apply.” with his great grandson. . Purdy’s texts provide us with ample clues. “incorrectly. . de-centered sentence structure. Indeed. “the mime. 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. Malcolm is in the form of a quest. however. 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. but the major figures in this novel. Consider the introduction to one of Purdy’s most overtly allegorical novels.” was finally himself in love. 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 . although it may seem to be familiar. But unlike Carroll.” “incurable. and of its larger-thanlife. painter of art nouveau. I am Elijah Thrush : Millicent De Frayne. after ruining the lives of countless men and women. One basis of the action is the running argument and endless jockeying for position between the eternal feminine and eternal masculine principles. the sole possessor of an immense oil fortune. Purdy’s characters habitually tend toward the archetypal. Malcolm. one chief identifying characteristic of allegory is “the lack of that perspective which would create a mimetic world” (171). as in a dream. (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. This dreamlike quality is fostered by the digressive. . there is no knowing where to begin and end the interpretive reading task. In such a text.” “hopeless. The hyperbolic language—“immense. and go on till you come to the end: then stop” (113). if not indecently. if we know how to recognize and to read them.
. is wrong / 53 as Millicent De Frayne interrupts one of Elijah Thrush’s infamous privatetheatre one-man performances (in which he plays variations on the masculine ideal—Narcissus to Priapus). and yet she flatters herself that I am hopelessly enamored of her .” “On the other hand. . creating a repetitive symmetry and rhythm that is essentially ritualistic in nature. I am begging you therefore to run as you would for your lives. .whatever is. 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. That being said. religious allegory. That’s what they saw me doing. . “has corrupted his own great-grandson. this common whore here. kept out of jail only by her wealth. (In his anger he always gave away his age. as his allegorical fiction is not in the least dogmatically religious. Oral Roberts University: I thought it must be a mistake. Ladies and gentlemen. . and there is not a young person in this audience tonight whom he has not either corrupted or will ruin and corrupt. and their inventive plotting against one another. though professionally he listed himself always as twentyeight. give shape to this oddly hilarious and nightmarish novel (that reads like a long night at the circus). has been persecuting me since the turn of the century. as opposed to the naturalistic novel’s principle of narrative development (Fletcher 66–67). In a telling anecdote. however. Purdy related the seemingly unlikely event of being invited to give a reading at the conservative Christian institution. run indeed as if the whole edifice were in flames . For at the heart of allegory lies the symmetrical archetypal ritual as ordering principle. The continual bickering between them.” Millicent De Frayne began her rejoinder. prompting an outraged response from the legendary “mime”: “Damned old bag of bones. and the first book I saw them reading was I am Elijah Thrush. . which she never earned a dime of. I can vouch for the fact . When I teach Purdy’s novels to my literature students. They think these books are like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress or Spenser’s Faerie Queene. this wicked mountebank.) She has the breath of a tribe of cannibals and about as much beauty as an overage anteater. I ask them to attend to the text’s ritualistic and archetypal symbol structure. I went. as the Oral Roberts’ students seemed to be inclined to interpret it. I couldn’t get over it. (Canning 17) Purdy’s surprise is understandable.” (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. stomping in like this in the midst of my most fatiguing number .
by descriptive or working titles. They are sieves through which the character is poured. but they also serve. humorous.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. Abner Blossom. When we seek to understand an allegory’s symbol system. He relished elaborate. with whom he had much in common as a creator. Purdy’s quaintly historic and eccentric names—Eustace Chisholm.” while other Purdy characters are called “the scissors grinder. and at the end of the story it is the name alone that remains. The more time we spend with Purdy’s willful. Nora Bythewaite—may evince a pastoral nostalgia for a lost America. as descriptions. and archaic names perhaps as much as did Firbank. 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. Purdy habitually refers to his characters. outlandish. As if to emphasize the instability and artificiality of identity even further. Fletcher remarks that “the magic of names . Such designations emphasize a character’s generic position in a social and/or archetypal setting and hierarchy. be of a doctrinal religious nature. They are significant artifacts in and of themselves—clues to a virtual world of potential meanings that is hidden in the everyday. and yet strangely fitting and familiar. in art as in life. as all allegory serves to instruct us to examine our lives and behavior. questioning the ideal of progress. like a relic or ruin—which is how we first encounter them. “Parkhearst” signals the end of pastoral innocence: park hearse. the more their evocative names (which are often purposeful and meaningful in and of themselves: “Claire” sees all too clearly. rather. Eloisa Brace.” “the great woman. of course.” “the thespian. . and begin searching. These dramatic epithets are particularly fitting for characters remarkable for their overt theatricality of speech and gesture (recalling their . but it will have an ethical import. and in themselves and their world. for a meaning and relevance in the text. more than any other linguistic phenomenon dominates the allegorical work” (294). . rather than simply as signifiers. Purdy’s names are typically unlikely and eccentric.” et cetera. in their verbal distinctiveness.) come to seem. empty and hollow. etc. paradoxically. the characters’ names are a good place to start. Vance DeLake.” “the horse tender. and to question our assumptions. Allegory is adroit at creating this impression of movement within stasis. like something forgotten. that is other than the obvious. Estel Blanc. So Elijah Thrush is repeatedly referred to as “the mime. Such meaning need not. unpredictable characters. and they refer to one another.” “the little man.
the only way forward at a time when a great deal of imaginative writing had become subsumed within the rhetoric of consumerism. Stadler’s observation echoes that of Benjamin. It is a mistake to conceive of this “other” realm to which allegories refer as a world of final ideas fixed in abstract stasis. like the poor peasant who is a natural-born king. Rather it is a realm of radical signification. . Stadler contended that. in the succeeding novels Purdy published in the 1970s. in which potential meanings coexist and coincide. In the world of these novels authentic being is achieved through fidelity to an obscure. just as speech is expression. as on the other side of Alice’s mirror. toward a realm of metaphorical potential-in-meaning. beginning with the publication of Eustace Chisholm and the Works in 1967.” and from which we normally are separated by the world of human history understood . is not a playful illustrative technique. It is the virtual realm hidden “within plain sight” within the actual. his work evolved from simply suggesting a critique of naturalism to becoming a fully functioning alternative to it. indeed. (8) Again. which has polluted our shared language to the point at which authentic speech has become nearly impossible. is wrong / 55 morality play ancestors). and. 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 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. Benjamin further argued that allegory “is the form in which man’s subjection to nature is most obvious” (166).whatever is. . prefigured script—a logic of the cosmos that is beyond us and is embedded in real speech. contemporary novelist Matthew Stadler traced the development of the theatrical element in Purdy’s fiction. (9) Stadler’s argument regarding “real speech” echoes a contention by Walter Benjamin that “allegory . but a form of expression. But their speech and gestures point insistently elsewhere. Allegories tell us that we are fated to speak our temperamentally prefigured scripts in a world whose ultimate meaning is beyond us. 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. just as writing is” (162). when he explained that the allegorical Baroque German Trauerspiel (“sorrow play”) sought to propel its audience into a richly ambiguous speech world.2 In an excellent recent overview of Purdy’s work and career.
By the means of such narratives. it celebrates the immanence of existence even where this existence is passed in torment” (16). William Blake. including that of our own bodies. or even than the violence in O’Connor’s fiction. unflinching portrayals of physical violence are much more disturbing than the stylized Hollywood version. As George Steiner wrote in his insightful introduction to Benjamin’s posthumously published monograph: “The Trauerspiel is counter-transcendental. Swinburne. James Merrill. for instance. whatever their psychic. particularly in regards to eating. religious or temperamental allegiance. in the ascetic. Purdy’s wrenching. Having lost its vital connection to the material world. the characters are typically ravenous. allegory demonstrates the failure of history as a self-limiting and redeeming story. emphasizing the bodily impulse of the intellect and the innate physicality of language. cliché and stereotype. Full-fledged allegorists such as Dante. They are also prone to spitting when they speak. history attempts. as allegory also seeks to remind us through its focus on its own bodily existence as a text. And yet we are alive and not dead. even when the story it tells is not. O’Connor’s violence is didactically allegorical in nature. are world-affirming materialists in practice. Lewis Carroll. allegory is innately celebratory. and gulping their drinks. The oft-noted violence in Purdy’s work is itself overtly bodily and anti-sensationalistic. Benjamin argued.56 / alternative realisms as the history of progress. smacking their lips. In that sense. In allegory. steadfastly refusing the mind’s abstracting pornographic voyeuristic fantasies of the body. by contrast. 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. Purdy’s materialism is evident in his insistent focus on his characters’ bodiliness. With its emphasis on the limits of signification. By contrast. and Ashbery—that it becomes entirely dependent upon the transcendent and its negative theology. abstractions are embodied within material existence. allegory will not allow us to forget that we are fated to live among the signifying ruins of time. in effect. It is only when allegory tends toward the wholly immaterial abstract—as. metaphysical strain of Romanticism that may be seen running variously through Shelley. the non-allegorical abstraction is consigned to the melancholy half-life of signs that have forgotten that they are existent and contingent things. 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 . bolting their food. Stevens. The story triumphalist history tells us presumes to put borders around our world through the commodification of human life into beginning and end. cause and effect. and Purdy.
and exhausted. and culture. nevertheless. we are. despondent. Regarding such searing.whatever is. From certain viewpoints. indignant. .3 Purdy’s radical allegorical figures are condemned to have the experience but miss the meaning. upon which they seem both commentary and prophecy. nevertheless. bespeaking an innate ambivalence in the nature of things. 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. searching portrayals. Purdy also understood men in their narcissistic. one of the few American writers who seem to understand women” (“Elijah Thrush” 65). Purdy’s allegorical characters are intensely immanent beings bearing potentially unlimited meaning. Elijah Thrush even accuses her of drinking the harvested “milk” of young men’s semen in her determined effort to stay young and active. is wrong / 57 moral theme. . to grind Elijah Thrush to powder” (93). . Such “objects” remind us of our own provisionality. outraged. and not quite godlike. merciless. “Purdy is . Fletcher remarks. is a staple allegorical figure throughout Purdy’s fiction. Benjamin noted. and they tell us that this is the actual condition of life for all of us. But she is. so that a character is made to seem alternately real and supra-real. human and godlike. In this sense. Rare among modern writers. egoistic. “The allegorical agent is not quite human. incredulous. Although we are not prone to identifying with allegorical figures in a self-forgetful. like figures in myth. the persistent paradox of which makes them appear simultaneously willful and determined. our relationship to allegorical figures is innately antagonistic. who feels herself to be. of course. relentlessly feeding off of men. and self-lacerating as any pastoral complaint. wrong-headed. whereas Purdy’s violence and fiction is radically allegorical in its amoral and ritualistic nature. He manages this by constantly shifting focus from the mundane banalities of day-to-day living to the ultramundane intercessions of fate and temperament. self-willed abusiveness and vulnerability. “It is as something incomplete and imperfect that objects stare out from their allegorical structure” (186). but shares something of both states” (61). Tanner concluded. frequently disturbed by the implication of their behavior and circumstance in regards to our own lives and fates. the immensely resourceful Eternal Feminine. Elijah Thrush’s infatuation with his great-grandson is as purely heartfelt. His allegorical novels dramatize the unappeasable anxiety prompted by existence. selfless. enraged. the hapless victim of a historical phallocentric family structure. which prevents a consoling certainty and closure (Fletcher 330). egoistic manner. helpless. The aging “great woman” of enormous wealth and power. as well. remains. society. Purdy used myth to powerful effect. in which she is variously portrayed as vituperative.
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. Like his characters and his readers.58 / alternative realisms They threaten us with their embodiment of mysterious knowledge. Purdy remarked. In allegorical poetry. but they are speaking in a language that we understand imperfectly. progressing by digressing. He likewise refuses to account for or to question their behavior. however. The world of the wandering and meandering plots in these novels is crucially bounded. exhaustively accounting for their behavior from contradictory viewpoints. explained away. Purdy as narrator does not presume to be responsible for his characters or to direct their behavior. Rather. allows its creators a maximum of wish-fulfillment with a maximum of restraint” (69). tracing a trajectory that seems the product of no merely conscious fashioning. as Samuel Beckett remarked of Proust’s characters. allegorical figures in our own right. He can overexplain them. he seems as much at the mercy of their whim as do we. Fletcher noted that allegory’s assent to and endorsement of “cosmic notions of fate and personal fortune . which was more often Purdy’s method. 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. Blake. As readers of allegory. or he can decline to explain them at all. There are two methods by which an author can work to prevent readers from ego-identifying with fictional characters. we. until they become. 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. The solution is implicit in the question—in the discovery of the crime. 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. “I don’t think I’m that conscious of what I’m . It is as though the narrative were inscribing the path of an ongoing criminal investigation or scientific experiment. too. In response to a question regarding his thematic intentions in a particular novel. and Merrill. Purdy’s novels proceed inductively. the author typically dramatizes his role as pilgrim and initiate—as do Dante. except be other than themselves in a world other than their own. in effect. have the experience but miss the meaning—becoming in effect. giving his novels the feel of extended improvisations and works in progress. the allegorical author is figured as a fallible and contingent initiate into the mysteries of existence. Purdy’s characters seem apt to do almost anything at all. In Purdy’s novels. by the unalterable limits of the characters’ temperaments as they collide with their fated circumstance. . In fictive terms. .
remarked that “all of Kafka’s works could be entitled ‘Description of a Combat’ ” (Essays 132).) Rather Purdy’s novels are driven by the characters’ unpredictable temperaments in the grip of uncontrollable circumstances.whatever is. The relationship of a character’s temperament to his circumstances determines whether his fate is good or bad. the same could be said of Purdy’s novels. which is not to say that his novels are un-psychological. refusing to be self-limited by the boundaries of the known and recognized. sometimes between the archetypal characters themselves. in their insistent digressions. tend. also tells the story of the progress of the narrator. and by a mixture of the two. We are not in a position to make such judgments regarding their selves and lives. (As readers. clearly functions in the progress form. To one extent or another. None of Purdy’s novels are what one would regard as typically plotdriven or character-driven. and sometimes between the characters and their fated . Purdy’s allegorical novels proceed variously by the progress and the battle form.” which he labels “battle and progress” (151). but the reasons for and causes of which remain unknown to him (Fletcher 151–153). Fletcher contended that allegories. proceeds in a serial and repetitive fashion. but there are recurring battles throughout. Likewise. but he cannot alter either. In his refusal to account for his own or his characters’ behavior. which the text appears to be expounding and dissecting through its compulsive digressions (Fletcher 156–159). for instance. I am Elijah Thrush. in which the protagonist is an actor in a plot that is fated. Rather it is the reader who is being prompted to alter his behavior and understanding in response to the text’s mysterious instruction. into Elijah’s heir and replacement in his one-man show. by contrast. I’m dealing so deep down with the subject that it’s hard for me to comment” (Lane “Interview”). On the contrary. The progress of allegories is not the causal progression of naturalistic narrative development. which is dominated by the serial battle scenes between Elijah and Millicent. is wrong / 59 doing. perpetually flout the innate story arc of naturalism. non-allegorical structuring traits. but is the ritualistic progress of the quest. Purdy is vigorously anti psychoanalytic. which progress always by opposition. Albert Peggs. for whom the nature of allegory was a central aesthetic preoccupation. they are charting new psychological waters. which are naturalistic. rather to “resolve themselves into either of two basic forms. It is interesting to note that Gilles Deleuze. allowing themselves to be guided by the instinctive divagations of human nature within the determined confines of the same. The “battle” form. it does not occur to us to wish for a happy ending or to long for an improvement in these characters. as a variation on a theme. The picaresque and mock-epic Malcolm. which.
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. Judgment prevents the emergence of any new mode of existence . however. we are an empty shell at one moment. by explaining the innate workings of the body in its own terms—pretending to choose what it has no choice but to endure. As Deleuze commented. however. (Essays 135) For Spinoza. Deleuze concluded: No one develops through judgment. et cetera—but to alter one’s world so that one’s nature can thrive. but it knows nothing of causes” (Spinoza 19). Intolerance. oppression. So it is that we each carry our fates within us: our temperamental loves and hates are godlike in regards to ourselves. . Our loves and hates act instinctively. . and by so doing determine our fate. and the embodiment of a god the next. self-reproach. Like allegorical figures. Its nature is such that it registers effects. human consciousness is primarily an onlooker to the ongoing drama of our fated lives. As viewed through allegory. whether they bring forces to us .60 / alternative realisms circumstance. but it is beyond . It is not a question of judging other existing beings. 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. as Benjamin insisted. For Deleuze. Nature is ultimately mysterious. As Spinoza had said. The mind as consciousness consoles itself. do many things at which the mind is astonished” (167). “Consciousness is by nature the locus of an illusion. The challenge is not to alter one’s nature—to change oneself from evil to good. Spinoza describes the relationship of fate to consciousness in terms of body and mind: “The body can. without thought or hesitation. by virtue of the laws of its own nature. 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. Human nature admits of no judgment—no limit—but itself. . but of sensing whether they agree or disagree with us. . . and misery result from the misconception that we consciously choose and affect that which is fated. each individual’s human nature is his destiny. It loves what enables its fulfillment and hates what hinders it. . but through a combat that implies no judgment . According to the model of reality outlined by Spinoza and Deleuze (which is implicitly endorsed by the allegorical mode). such repetitive and persistent combat is not the existential quagmire it might seem. it is a problem of love and hate and not judgment.
Purdy’s novels are constructive in this sense. fashion. I hate to categorize myself—but I guess I’ll always be a revolutionary. 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. or rather for judgment” (233). We have a government that’s totally corrupt and television is a great bleeding rectum spewing filth which is poisoning everyone. cruelty. 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. and (3) envision a better world of the future. These categories and genres are meant to be suggestive.4 Although we cannot control our loves and hates. we need to understand the different ways in which they work both to destroy and to create through allegory. it’s a great. Not all of Purdy’s novels fit easily into this schema. we may divide the allegorical-political argument of Purdy’s novels into three broad rhetorical categories with generic affiliations. And now it’s very sick because these children are killing one another. Whatever is. nature serves as a reproof against human prejudice—against the inclination to judge and to be judged. In any case. In order to understand the profound political argument in Purdy’s texts. It arises in man himself. in which he expounded upon his view of our American world of the present: It is a culture that despises the soul. The novels (1) critique the world we live in. No one is doing anything about the real problems.whatever is. shallowness. Rather. “There is no evil in the world. as they attempt to dismantle the false gods that so often serve to spoil our lives. For discussion’s sake. (2) lament the world’s casualties. is unnatural. (Lane “Interview”) . the novels engaged in a lament of our failed world’s casualties are allegorical tragedies (I will explain the term). is wrong” (16). conformity. but most of them do. and to trace the general shape and argument of his work in regards to his allegorical means and methods. we can work to create a world in which our loves are given the opportunity to thrive and our hates are disempowered. rather than definitive or exhaustive. The novels that are dominated by a critique of our world and its false gods are satirical in nature. They are destructive as well. All of Purdy’s novels are satirical to one degree or another—although they tended to become less bitingly so as his career developed. while the novels that attempt to envision a better world of the future function as pastoral romances. with the desire for knowledge. Allegory demonstrates the manner in which our all too human judgment all too often fails us. Benjamin wrote in his conclusion. Everything is money. is wrong / 61 reproof—as nothing that is. Purdy demonstrated his allegorical proclivities when he told Christopher Lane: “I think I’ll always be—I hate to say this. great cruel society.
So it is that Cabot’s visit to a quack therapist (where his treatment for “tiredness” consists. mimicking the obsessive-compulsive motions of the consuming marketplace. He proved himself a profound symptomatologist. Through the dramatization of such hyperbole in his satires and tragedies. and as his readers all too often know it. The central consumer in the novel is the “serial rapist” Cabot Wright himself. Purdy’s disturbing allegorical anatomies of social and psychological illness are apt to be misread by readers unfamiliar with the workings of allegory. which the author referred to as “a book about how awful America is” (Canning 36). The most bitter and searching of Purdy’s satires is his 1964 novel. in which he is no longer responsible for his actions. having become a sexual machine. His eventual arrest and incarceration come as a release: When the police began their so-called brutality on him. and his woebegone characters are made to seem like figures in Dante’s Hell. of being hung on a padded sort of fishhook) further awakens the animal instincts in his body and psyche while intensifying his mental stupor. Purdy’s allegorical satires and tragedies serve as an indictment of reality as his characters experience it. . tellingly. as one becomes a more thoroughly invested and enabled consumer. who may be prone to consider that an author’s choice of material is an endorsement of its worldview. while effectively paralyzing his conscious will.62 / alternative realisms The concluding metaphor is meaningfully disturbing. The therapist’s success at engaging Cabot’s animal-instinct mechanism. as a cog in the marketplace mechanism. The insidious nature of survival sickness is such that most attempts to become more alive and healthy serve simply to worsen the disease. which is to live a life so hemmed in by convention and safety. His vivid depiction of abuse and dysfunction demonstrates the manner in which each illness acts as its own scourge. and prison finished what they had started. or emotionally invested in his desires. not only his membrum virile went from “At-tention!” to “Pa-rade rest!” to “At ease!” but the bite which had been so long. ushers the patient into the final stages of survival sickness. all are diagnosed through the dramatized anatomy of individuals suffering from these maladies—and who make others suffer as well. compulsively pursuing their self-styled punishment. Thus the social sicknesses of homophobia and consumerism. Cabot Wright Begins. revealing society’s illness through the misery and dysfunction of its individuals. and the psychological-existential sickness of nihilism. Purdy attempted to call attention to the grisly symptoms of our world’s various sicknesses. that one no longer feels oneself to be alive at all. and to prompt us to consider possible cures. The novel focuses on consumerism and its attendant evils. who is a victim of what Anarchist theorist Raoul Vaneigem diagnosed as “survival sickness” (19). On the contrary.
in a broader sense. whereby a novel about Cabot Wright is being produced even as the novel that tells his story is being devoured by its reader. There is no escape. “I won’t be a writer in a place and time like the present” (228). we may become more thoughtful in our actions. is wrong / 63 the huge false-teeth which Business America fastened at his jugular was off.whatever is. 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. and as . of our role as users in the world. This writing project is finally undone by the “Goethe” of publishers. Rather. who was a privileged son and Wall Street golden boy. The allegorical import of the elaborate framing device. and Malcolm in particular. The effect of such satires—of Cabot Wright Begins. as well. But the allegorical text isn’t content with implicating the author in his user status. (195) The sensational raping spree of Cabot Wright. I am Elijah Thrush. One repeated object of conventional satire is the notion of identity as a stable possession and natural right. but also of the satirical element in the other. by analogy. but it serves to question the very enterprise of the artist in a consumerist world. Our awareness of our role as readers in the text makes us aware. as it alerts us to the fact that we have a hand—however minor—in controlling both text and world. Humbled by our conviction as users. 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. but it is a bitter humor. but it is solace nonetheless.” and “it’s the age of the black faggot and fellatio” (203). is only the purported center of a novel that is. since “rape” is no longer “in. concerned with the failure of various framing characters to complete a novel based upon his story. One is implicated in the consumerist society simply by the fact that one exists in it. This dialogue is in the mouth of the inset novel’s failed author. concluding with the declaration. seems to consume its own project as a fictive endeavor. primarily non-satirical novels—is generally comic. 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. who—after consulting the bookreviewing powers that be (close parodies of actual literary arbiters of the 1960s)—declares the work unpublishable. and more tolerant in our thinking and behavior. This may be painful solace. We are potentially made better persons by such knowledge. It also insists upon the reader’s culpability. identities in Purdy’s satires are presented as improvised tools that we use against one another in our quest for power and control. reminds us of our role in the manipulative consuming machinery of the marketplace.
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life-rafts upon which we blithely float through the years in a spiritual torpor and mental stupor. Purdy’s satires attempt to jolt us out of our daze. So it is that the protagonists in the three overtly satirical novels are made to undergo acute identity crises that make them question their assumptions regarding self and world. At the end of Cabot Wright Begins, the title character writes a letter to the author who had failed to make a novel out of his story, in which he asks, “Do You think there’s a Chance for Me if I ever Find out who I is?” He declares that he is about to leave New York on a journey “with myself and in search of same” (228). That is to say—he is finally about to begin, having discovered—through the help of his hack biographer, who had enabled him to see himself “all in one piece together like a movie”—that heretofore he had been on autopilot, following the script that his society and family had given him, which he had accepted without question (194). Now he has decided “to take up disguises for a while, I think harmless ones. Think I may be a preacher further South or maybe some kind of a quack healer” (194). Cabot Wright has discovered the truth of Wilde’s dictum (endorsed by allegory) that masks are truths, or the closest thing that we have to them, and he is off to spread the word to those who, like his former self, are unable to hear anything other than a sales pitch. The title character’s escape from his own story is a spark of hope at the end of a dark and bitter novel, and reminds us that allegories, by putting frames around themselves, point both to the positive and the negative ramifications of the limits of fiction, of reason, and of identity. The satirical I am Elijah Thrush, by contrast, ends with a vision of fictive imprisonment, as the narrator becomes trapped in his subject matter upon the withdrawal of the subject himself. Near the novel’s conclusion, Elijah Thrush, the famous mime and one-man-show, and the subject of the “paid memoirist” narrator, Albert Peggs, is kidnapped and forcibly betrothed by his obsessed fan and backer, Millicent De Frayne. The aged thespian’s final injunction to his memoirist is a plea that he keep his oneman-show running: “Assume my name if you like, anything . . . Carry on my work” (136–137). The novel concludes with Albert Pegg’s pronouncement to the waiting theatre audience (and to the reader): “I am . . . Elijah Thrush” (138). Albert had earlier complained that he had been made to feel increasingly “unlike [him]self” since first coming into contact with the archetypal pair of Thrush and De Frayne (45), whose hyperbolic and archaic language gradually replaced his own (106). Elijah Thrush himself expresses a doubt as to his identity as a result of his unending battle with his archetypal coeval, Millicent De Frayne: “Are you listening to me, Albert? Oh, you are so distant lately. Now see here. Am I, do you attend me, am I, Albert, really her ?” (101).
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Such questions and doubts prompt us as readers to wonder whether we might also be in danger of losing our identities as a result of our relationship with these characters and their world. All fiction asks of us that we temporarily suspend our identity in order to invest ourselves imaginatively in the world of the text. Allegory, however, goes one step further, questioning the reality of our assumed identities by aggressively obscuring the line between fact and fiction. I am Elijah Thrush functions as a virtual onslaught on, and critique of, the very notion of an innate or essential, “real,” self. In its seemingly endlessly resourceful mannerisms, it, rather, emphasizes the eccentricity of identity, which is presented as innately improvisational and perpetually provisional in nature. With its elaborately interactive theatricality, and its implicit denial of the “inwardness” of its allegorical characters, who are nothing if not obvious—although their allegorical meaning, of course, is not (what depth these surfaces have!)—the novel also serves to call into question the “individual” as a valid, or even useful, epistemic category. Are we all not, rather, multiplicities and assemblages, networks and connections, masks and disguises? By undermining the assumptions of individual identity and autonomy, Purdy insisted that we consider ourselves both in relation to our shaping environments and to our innate and instinctive desires—life’s great “givens.” In his allegorical tragedies—among which I would include 63: Dream Palace, Eustace Chisholm and the Works, Jeremy’s Version, The House of the Solitary Maggot, Narrow Rooms, and On Glory’s Course— Purdy further demonstrated that we are both more and less than the autonomous individual actors we habitually assume ourselves to be. The implicit contention of Purdy’s tragic novels is that the forgotten, hidden gods remain active in our lives, determining our fate. We come face to face with a god when we experience an element in our nature—an instinct, inclination, propensity or drive—that is beyond our control. When in the grips of such a desire or drive, we are in the hands of destiny. The ruling deity in Purdy’s house of fiction is Eros, the god to which even other gods are eventually subject. In one way or another, each of Purdy’s novels may be read as an allegory of love. In the face of love, we cannot reason the need, but must act as compelled, or suffer the consequences. The central figures in Purdy’s tragic novels are typically the victims of a fate or desire they refuse to accept. In a homophobic society and world, it is perhaps inevitable that these victims are sometimes those who are unwilling to accept a homosexual desire, which they, nevertheless, are unable to deny. Caught in between their instinctive desire and their conscious will, these tortured characters self-destruct. In Eustace Chisholm and the Works, a young man who has always thought of himself as straight suddenly finds himself hopelessly in love with another man. He is so outraged by this state
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of affairs that he prompts his own gruesome and violent death (by disemboweling) at the hands of a sadistic army superior—himself driven by a relentless desire for the tortured soldier—rather than allow himself to pursue fulfillment of his desire. A similarly grisly punishment (of being crucified on a barn door) is prepared for himself by a young man in Narrow Rooms who cannot endure the fact that his love for a former classmate has put him at another man’s mercy. Such examples of failed homosexual attachments may have made Purdy an unfit spokesperson for politically correct gay literature and liberation—these violent and self-destructive figures are far from being “well-behaved bourgeoisie”—and yet the intense engagement with hatred of self and other endeavored by Purdy’s work is an overwhelmingly damning portrait of a homophobic (“well-behaved bourgeoisie”) society, whose most pitiable victims are those society members unable to root out the collective hatred in themselves so as to pursue their individual happiness. The self-destructive protagonists in these dark and painful novels are in no way conventional tragic heroes. Their suffering neither ennobles nor enlightens them, nor us (except in obverse fashion). Rather they are like the suffering figures Benjamin described in the allegorical Trauerspiel— victims of history. Benjamin distinguished the allegorical tragedy of the Baroque from conventional symbolic tragedy by pointing out that, in return for the hero’s suffering, the symbolic tragedy insists upon the ethical superiority of the human protagonist, who is rewarded in his misery by a fleeting recognition of hierarchical order, as time intersects with eternity in the transcendent symbolic moment of his ritual sacrifice. By means of this sacrifice, the world is made wholly (if briefly) meaningful, and the suffering human is posited as experientially superior to the changeless gods. Faced with such knowledge, the tragic hero is stunned into silence, and the weary audience goes home saddened but gratified: redeemed (Benjamin 18). Tragic allegory, by contrast, portrays a world characterized by “torrential prolixity” (Steiner 17), in which suffering is the very condition of life, and is the only knowable meaning of time itself, which is otherwise an abstraction signifying one knows not what. This is the site of negative allegory, which inhabits an immanent, historical plane, in which time is not arrested in a transcendent moment of achieved recognition, but stretches limitlessly backwards and forwards, as its weary figures proceed from past ruin to future ruin in the slow burn of decay (Benjamin 177–178). Benjamin’s reading of Baroque German allegory may help us to understand several idiosyncratic features of Purdy’s modern novels, which likewise display a “torrential prolixity”—an unusual characteristic in the minimalist-inclined world of contemporary literary fiction. Purdy’s larger-than-life allegorical figures habitually embark on long speeches and
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extended harangues and complaints, while occupying immense ruined and decaying houses with endlessly meandering hallways, innumerable rooms, and vast vistas. Taking our clue from Benjamin, we may interpret the profuse verbiage and proliferating scenery in these novels as being representative of time as history, which is the prison in which we all are inmates, from the point of view of the life-weary and the world-hating. With no reprieve possible, such tragically fated figures see themselves as being already as good as dead—the living dead—and they inhabit the allegorically haunted world as ghosts, experiencing a suffering existence, the meaning of which they can only guess. This is the hallucinatory limbo state in which we first encounter the ghoulish couple in Purdy’s first allegorical and tragic novel, 63: Dream Palace :
“Why are we dead anyhow?” Parkhearst said, bored with the necessity of returning to this daily statement. “Is it because of our losing the people we loved or because the people we found were damned?” He laughed. One never mentioned the “real” things like this at Grainger’s, and here Parkhearst had done it, and nothing happened. Instead, Grainger listened as though hearing some two or three notes of an alto sax she recalled from the concerts she gave at her home. “This is the first time you said you were, Parkhearst. Dead,” she said in her clearest voice. He sat looking like a small rock that has been worked on by a swift but careless hammer. (122)
There is a crushing ennui and unrelenting gloom pervading 63: Dream Palace and other of Purdy’s tragedies. (There is a great deal of humor as well in these novels, as in all of Purdy’s work; but the mood of gloom prevails. Indeed, as in Shakespeare’s tragedies, the humor serves to deepen the darkness of the mood.) The lost figures in these novels are not so much in hopeless situations as they make every situation in which they find themselves hopeless by means of their self-ignorance and self-hatred—the origin of which, however, is often traceable to their stubborn and tragic adherence to the false values of the failed world in which they live. “Myself am Hell” might be their motto: they carry their doom with them and the ruined world is made to mirror their sorrow. These characters are obviously culpable, and yet childishly innocent. They don’t know why they act and feel as they do, and are bitter mysteries to themselves, as is the case with the murderous Fenton Riddleway in 63: Dream Palace :
He wanted desperately to be rid of Claire and even as he had this feeling he felt more love and pity for him than ever before. As he sat there gazing at Claire, he knew he loved him more than any other being. He was almost
it is not by their author so much as by their frustrated lives and desires.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. ‘unreal’ in itself. “Brawith. Although . (20) When I taught Purdy’s late story. Purdy’s allegorical novels chart the psychological netherworld beyond the boundaries of rational causation and conscious motive. totally representative of ulterior meanings and. Steiner remarked of the capacity of allegory to venture into psychic realms that are generally unendurable: Only allegory. Purdy pushed downwards into the depths of the human psyche— encountering gods and monsters—while holding tight to his allegorical lifeline. (One might try to imagine a contemporary medieval Italian critic making such a charge regarding Dante’s Inferno. which pursue their own narrative logic of revenge. so that he was afraid he would do something violent. therefore. 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.” which renders the remarkably graphic death of a young man from the lingering effects of nauseating war wounds. revealing details of the human situation and truths regarding our nature that we might prefer not to know or own. my undergraduate literature students insisted that it was both unrealistic (“that wouldn’t happen”) and altogether too real for comfort in its intense physicality. literature has never allowed itself to become morbid enough (1055). 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). Purdy seems to have taken up the challenge laid down by one of his chief precursors. And then this tenderness would be followed by fury and hatred and loathing. in that it makes substance totally significant. In such passages and novels. even when giving us such a clear foreshadowing. in terms of our understanding of the human psyche. would strike the sick boy down and harm him. who contended that. In and through his tragic novels.) On the contrary. Oscar Wilde. (164–165) It is remarkable that.68 / alternative realisms sure that he would never feel such tenderness for any other person. Purdy does not appear to be forcing his narrative hand. If his tragic characters are determined. can render bearable an authentic perception of the infernal. They had discovered the paradox that is allegorical signification.
and Out with the Stars all take place behind the pastoral boundary. Garments the Living Wear. Purdy’s tragic novels were written. The pastoral romances. as I suggested at the beginning of this section: the satires highlight the world’s failures. Eustace Chisholm and the Works and Jeremy’s Version . and the grim tragedy of Narrow Rooms was published directly after the pastoral romance of In a Shallow Grave. and The Nephew is a pastoral. is wrong / 69 sometimes truly awful (in the old sense of the world—inspiring awe). as to kill others and ourselves in our effort to be rid of love. although we may go so far. Taken together. for the most part. which is also dark. but darkly comic and hopeful. for instance. A rhetorical logic of argument is implicit in the progression from satire to tragedy to pastoral romance. Purdy’s first three novels established the generic structures he would work with throughout his career: 63: Dream Palace is a tragedy.” these figures will be allowed . even. and of homosexuality in particular. they function as a thematic overture to a remarkably rich and varied career in fiction. in turn. Malcolm is a satire. These period boundaries are not fixed. in the middle period of his career. refusing to limit themselves through an adherence to societal roles and stereotypes. and as the pastoral romances occupied his late period. as his early work is dominated by the satires. it is love (and its perversion: hatred) that determines our lives and selves. these tragic novels are paradoxically affirmative in that they demonstrate that love is stronger than we are. The theme of identity remains constant throughout and is tied in Purdy’s work to the issue of sexuality in general. as love will ever do. and will continue even in death to provide the meaning to his life. which ensures that whatever the reality of the world “out there. portray figures who are typically psychologically and sexually various and ambiguous.whatever is. and the pastoral romances posit a better world of the future. Purdy’s tragic novels serve as excruciating and humbling testimony to the fact that. the satirical and topical I am Elijah Thrush. The later romances of In a Shallow Grave. 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. for Claire is fated to be his one true love. the tragedies lament its victims. This refusal is paralleled by the author’s refusal to allow the effect of inhibiting societal strictures to ruin his pastoral characters’ lives. 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. was published in between the tragic historical novels.
(73) Garnet’s war wounds are such that he almost literally wears his heart on his sleeve. which implicitly condemns the world as we know it. which the novels demonstrate. 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. is about to be forced off of his land. whose origins on a sheepfarm. Iser points out the innate revolutionary and utopian political nature of pastoral artifice. the first of Purdy’s late romances. he employs a beautiful young wayfarer. which. The difficulty is that Garnet. Garnet is fittingly and humorously preoccupied with writing love letters to his old high school sweetheart. as Purdy’s romantic protagonists testify. I emphasize the pastoral nature of these late romances not only because of the traditional affiliation of the pastoral mode with homosexual desire. . “When he played the harmonica I knew he was not human. 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. but always in such a way that the latter is refracted as the reorganization of the former. sort of goat voice” (36). the first-person war-veteran narrator of In a Shallow Grave. but he wished me to be left in a safe quiet place” (97). The vulnerability of Garnet Montrose. Potter Daventry. and of the ability of the desiring figure to remain constant in his emotion. rather it is present in the felt vulnerability of the pastoral realm and landscape. while explicitly envisioning a better world of the future. “hillbilly. Garnet himself gradually becomes convinced of Daventry’s immortal origins. exposing the bones” (30). and because of the novels’ many pastoral elements and references. who lives conveniently just down the road. I have been turned inside out in all respects. 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. “I knew then there was god. like the forlorn shepherd in Virgil’s Ninth Eclogue. is made all too evident by his unhealed wounds from Vietnam: When I was blown up. . like . but also because of the utopian nature of pastoral-allegorical argument. As letter messenger and general go-between.70 / alternative realisms to pursue their desires unhindered by anything other than the natural failure of those desires to ensure response from the beloved. For Eros is the most elusive of spirits. and he is so “touchy” that his flesh “all falls away at the slightest pressure.” and concludes. An allegorical-pastoral figure par excellence. and I knew also he would leave me . The historical world also appears both as what it is and what it ought to be” (48). The allegorical “double-vision” of the pastoral ensures that the historical world is not denied in favor of some never-land.
and Quintus must contend with the inherited history of racial divide and hatred. it is a vengeful heterosexuality itself—in the figure of a pair of jealous wives—that threatens the happiness and fulfillment of homosexually and artistically inclined figures. The progress of love in these novels is opposed by oppressive elements in the world at large. Out with the Stars is perhaps Purdy’s most tender novel (rivaled in sentiment only by the remarkably poised and poignant early pastoral The . and his arms was stretched out as if he would enfold me” (128).whatever is. Daventry. 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). of all people. as the love of Garnet and his young black servant and friend. Christ. Mr. is enabled by the god-in-life figure of Daventry. and the Great God Pan in a strangely moving union that revivifies the mythical-allegorical image of both. and is crowding one hundred years of age. Through the intercession of a last-supper-like ceremony in which he sheds and shares his blood. Garnet. class distinctions and the threatening state apparatus. There is an enabling Eros figure such as Potter Daventry in each of Purdy’s late romances. in Shakespeare’s comedies and romances. We have too intimately known the virus of the power of state and church. Hennings—a fabulously wealthy and powerful international financier. cannot now be dismayed for long by the virus of pest or plague. 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). Hennings delivers an impromptu oration to a gay audience mobilized by the AIDS epidemic. and bitter harangues. Daventry miraculously saves the property (healing Garnet’s worst wounds in the process). In the novel Out with the Stars. as well as with the lingering ravages of war. Frye noted that. is wrong / 71 the fields and forests of Arcadia. In the character of Potter Daventry. 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. which are overcome in miraculous fashion with semidivine aid. Purdy called In a Shallow Grave a “religious” novel (Canning 18). At one point in a narrative that is punctuated by theatrical speeches. he links the figures of the Good Shepherd. In In a Shallow Grave. Mr. while in Garments the Living Wear. who also is politically revolutionary and sexually ambidextrous. border the ocean. Quintus. In a Shallow Grave is also a homosexual (or at least homosocial) coming out novel. in which he identifies the disease as yet another manifestation of oppression of homosexuals: “We. tearful confessions.
In its various openly affectionate but also critically acute portraits of the gifted artist in battle with an uncomprehending. serving. In its multiple figurings of the individual as artist. Out With the Stars serves as an extended improvisation on a favorite pastoral theme. the pastoral qualifies its vision by admitting the presence of the oppressing other. the novelist and photographer Carl Van Vechten (figured as “the leading hedonist of his day” (110)). without indulging in the pyrrhic victory of wish-fulfillment. a thematic pastoral mainstay. The novel serves as an affecting pastoral elegy for one of Purdy’s early friends and supporters. It is the novel in which Purdy represents most directly the fertile relationship between love and art. while functioning as a complex meditation on the role of the gay artist in contemporary society. although that other is not allowed to triumph. as it does. Equally as important. life as it might or ought to be. Out with the Stars shines a discerning light backwards on the often psychologically difficult and painful novels that came before. The young composer Val Sturgis cannot salvage either of his two doomed love affairs. but. “So Polyphemus shepherded his love by singing / And found more relief than if he had paid out gold” (93). bigoted. rather. distracted. art. without engaging in an outright argument.S.O. Each of Purdy’s pastoral romances is centered upon the death of one or more of its key figures. The persistent presence of death serves to . The pastoral has long been a refuge and tool of gay artists.) Out With the Stars also serves as an homage to the great gay composer and cultural catalyst. however. in typical allegorical fashion. as an implicit critique of an oppressing world. The pastoral does not tell us that its version of reality is life as it is. and for the artist in general. Garments the Living Wear. and serves as a fictive explanation and accounting for the whole of Purdy’s art. and a dash more on his temples” (124). Virgil Thomson—another friend of the author and champion of his work. but he can make beautiful song of them. proving himself the natural heir of Theocritus’s lovelorn Cyclops. particularly in the most outrageously mannered of the novels. and love. Rather. one of the novel’s Firbankian characters “found an old bottle of V.P. 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. (On the brink of a riot.72 / alternative realisms Nephew ). it allows the artist to imagine a world that is different from the reality we know. and superstitious society. 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. brandy and put just a few drops on his tongue. in his natural and necessarily antagonistic relationship with the world around him.
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). psychology.whatever is. calling attention to its fictional status. and of his allegorical fiction in general. The lesson of Purdy’s allegorical pastorals. by demonstrating the complex uses of language. paradoxically. when the Greek myths came to be interpreted in the language of philosophy. which leads us back to our “subjective childhoods. In his remarks on the conclusions to Shakespeare’s comedies and romances. 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. As we emerge slowly and painfully from the enchantment of science as certain . and with the Reformation’s insistence upon the transparent and singular.” as Frye remarked (A Natural Perspective 159). It also works to prevent a giving way to sentimentality.” and a pastoral-romantic envisioning. The mannered pastoral proclaims its artificiality. The implications of allegory are both humbling and enabling. enabling literary fictionality to be perceived” (Iser 24). it insists that we are not in ultimate control of our existence. 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. while we cannot change our nature. The demise of the pastoral. Frye distinguished between a regressive and infantilizing sentimentality. we might say—also saw the development of allegory as a fictive form. and yet. With its emphasis upon the ultimate provisionality and fictionality of all language and knowledge. and of allegory in general. in both of which “the language of the work of art manage[s] to involve its audience with its vision” (289). and science (Whitman 9–10). Both allegory and comedy conclude by reaching out to us as reader and audience. the mode that first “thematizes the act of fictionalizing. and the power of fictive models. The demise of myth as religion—as natural reality. is that. literal and historical truth of scripture. with the creation of the pastoral. is wrong / 73 enhance the preciousness of life itself. Quilligan further observed that allegories work in a manner similar to the social resolutions of comedy. in the West coincided with the establishment of science as certain truth. Allegory thus works both to disenchant and to re-enable. in which they invite us to participate (A Natural Perspective 159). Frye noted that Shakespeare’s comedies and late romances always conclude with such a vision. we can change our world. 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).
. In the political and social realm of today. it is perhaps inevitable that allegory has begun to reemerge as a fictive mode and method—one that endorses a pluralistic approach to both text and world.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. 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. that has relegated his work to the literary and cultural margins in our time. I believe. and it is his very relevance to these most painful and problematic of contemporary arguments. 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.
while Firbank as author absolutely refuses to adopt a self-conscious and subjective manner. Firbank’s narratives progress in an almost arbitrary manner. his narrative devious. or to react to that work in a hostile manner. Our usual habits of reading certainly have not prepared us to consider Firbank in a critical fashion.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. We have traditionally looked for a novel’s argument in its narrative progress. in which reliance on plot is reduced to a minimum. his characters are finished at conception. 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. . or not at all. M. 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). “Re/Orientations” 176–177). and authorial exposition. his characterisation stylised” (11). they do not analyze themselves or seek to make of the reader a confessor. avoiding nearly all commentary on the material he is presenting. E. character development. The questions that we are accustomed to ask of naturalistic mimetic fiction are lost on him. and although they are continually striking psychologically revealing poses. 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. and inviting none from the reader. 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.
In several disheartening cases. when the English-speaking literary world was still recoiling from the Oscar Wilde scandal. S. The quality and usefulness of more recent approaches to Firbank (which are within the purview. 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). of Gay and Lesbian studies. if we can create an emotion by describing something else. generally. 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. the tide may have begun to turn in the author’s favor. In the last several years. but influenced by a variety of contemporary theoretical schools) is highly mixed. If narrative and speech have speeded up. . and time (Lane. if we can safely let characters speak for themselves and then fail to keep up a conversation. Ivy Compton-Burnett. Evelyn Waugh’s first novels owe an especial debt to Firbank’s perfection of a peculiarly modernist brand of comic concision. “Re/Orientations” 183–184). V. As for now. Firbank has no standing” (227). if we can swing out of one episode into another. it is in part due to Firbank’s frantic driving. (545) Firbank’s reputation reached its qualified height with the full-blown success of his literary inheritors (stylistically speaking) in the 1940s and 1950s. Firbank was a pioneering homosexual novelist who courageously fashioned unapologetic novels around unabashed homosexual characters in the teens and twenties. Among the next generation of English novelists. . That remains to be seen. a pederast incapable of adult love (Kopelson). 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. “In official academic studies of modernism.1 and in another he is labeled a racist. as critics working in and around Gay and Lesbian studies have sought to rescue Firbank from critical neglect. In one account he is accused of being an immature homosexual. in one or two convulsive laughs . This is one of the several ways in which he is surprisingly similar to his French contemporary. and Henry Green pointed to Firbank as an early and crucial influence.76 / alternative realisms More favorable early criticism was focused upon Firbank’s innovations in narrative technique. ethnicity. without an awful grinding of literary gears. With his characteristic critical acuity. however. writers as diverse as Powell. . an unwitting expositor of his class. as critic Robert Caserio recently lamented. Firbank is made the victim of narrowminded standards of contemporary critical correctness. Marcel Proust.
Most modern fiction can be categorized as belonging in one fashion or another to our inherited tradition of mimetic realism. and expectations of a neglected literary mode.2 Both Goldman and Clark emphasize manners in which Firbank frustrates attempts at traditional interpretation and ascription of meaning. 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. we have to resurrect the conventions. Firbank and the Pastoral Mode: “Do What Thou Wilt Is Here the Law” The aspects of Firbank’s novels that are most confusing and off-putting to contemporary readers and critics are pastoral in nature. and 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. . limitations.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. More imaginative critical analysis has made substantive contributions to our contemporary understanding of this neglected novelist. Jonathan Goldman considered Firbank’s trademark “frivolity” from a deconstructionist perspective as a prime example of the inherent elusiveness at play in any language. In order to appreciate Firbank’s success and significance as a novelist. In what follows. From a related sociopolitical viewpoint. It is to this alternative and opposing pastoral tradition that Firbank’s fiction most truly belongs. In the ancient world another tradition arose in direct response and opposition to the dominant epic model: the pastoral. atmosphere. 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). and scenery. and it is within the context of its principles and practice that his novels attain their fullest and most resonant meaning. but most provokingly in that employed by imaginative literature (292). In a useful essay. which is in many respects a fictional variation on the original epic model supplied by classical and Biblical traditions. His focus on the incidentals of landscape. I pursue a similar policy of recontextualization by attempting to understand Firbank outside of the standard fictional models and genres.
Callimachus—and his late heir. attempted to open up a new field of imaginative endeavor. in “Idyll Four” (I have added quotation marks in keeping with the comparison to modern fiction): “Corydon. He gave me them to graze. the hackneyed and the popular” (Wells 38).” “It’s pitiful! They haven’t the heart to graze. In the illuminating “Introduction” to his translations of Theocritus’ Idylls. and it is typical of Theocritus’s allusive.” “Rabid wolves in the fold would have done less harm. were creating in an acutely selfconscious literary atmosphere. Theocritus. Didn’t you know?” “The Games! Since when has he been keen on sport?” “They say he’s a proper Heracles in the ring.” “Poor beasts! The worse for them if he’s neglectful. The Alexandrian poets. the third-century BC Greek Alexandrian poets working in the shadow of Homer and Sophocles.” “So their master has disappeared! Where’s he gone?” “To Olympia. It is instructive to compare Wells’ translation of a Theocritan “Idyll” to a passages from a Firbank novel.” “Listen to the cows lowing.” “And perhaps at dusk you milk them on the quiet?” “The old man watches and brings their calves to suck. They miss their master. of a taste that veers away from the grand. to surprise by little refinements of style. 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. to break up a narrative by passing lightly over the main action and making much of lesser incidents. and elusive.” “And I’m a Pollux! or so my mother says. In making their choices they concentrate on narrowly literary goals and avoid giving an explicit moral or philosophical dimension to their writing” (22).” (69–70) This is the idyll’s introductory passage. to keep the reader always conscious of a process of selection. Consider the playfully offhand manner in which Theocritus handles the dialogue between two herdsmen. as it were. Firbank—“likes to come at his subject from unexpected and constantly varying directions. of an established scene and relationship. with Milon.” “He went off with his dumb-bells and twenty sheep. manner that we begin in the middle. Battus and Corydon.78 / alternative realisms The earliest pastoral writers in the classical tradition. contemporary English poet Robert Wells comments. is the most famous. the purported progenitor of the pastoral. like his older model and contemporary. “The Alexandrian poets face the problem of what to select from the past with great deliberateness. who do these cows belong to? Philondas?” “They’re Ageon’s herd. . of which Theocritus.
the pastoral is inevitably resurrected as a means for giving life to individual dreams and desires. it is not unserious. is all too keenly felt.” “What’s he like?” “Don’t ask me. far from being imperfect or undeveloped. In the Firbank passage a sense of the tragic is evident in Mrs.” “Was it a party?” “Nothing but literary-people with their Beatrices . is less important than the manner in which one is speaking. found in the . and by whom. “It isn’t up to much. Firbank. The famous lightheartedness of the pastoral might be thought of as consolation for a sense of the tragic in life that. it was a merry meal.” (392) Both writers create a world through allusion and implication in which tone is all-important and characters and actions are reduced to vehicles for the maintaining of a mood or attitude. Oh. In both writers. and the atmosphere created. Although the pastoral is characteristically lighthearted. Anything good she sells—on account of bailiffs. What is being said. My dear the scum! Half-way through supper Dore got her revolver out and began shooting the glass drops off her chandelier. Rather it is implicitly striving to undermine the overly serious and moralistic in the service of individual temperament and freedom.” “I should like to see her trousseau. following the Wilde scandal. any sense of tragedy is comically consigned to the masterless cows. Sixsmith’s hopeless sighing as she enviously imagines the obviously upper-class (though momentarily impoverished) bride’s trousseau. in one form or another?). Sixsmith sighed. either in life or art. . but not dwelt upon. In the Theocritus passage. Pritchett’s concise and insightful characterization of Firbank’s novels aptly describes Theocritus’ Idylls as well.” “Who gave it?” “Dore Davis did: to meet her betrothed—Sir Francis Four. the poetry in the evanescence. It makes one tired to look at him.” “It’s true I had. but the simple cowherds seem genuinely to sympathize with the animals’ feelings of dislocation and neglect.some imaginary vienna / 79 Firbank’s narratives routinely proceed in a similarly breezy fashion. . “The comedy is in the inconsequence. who was a homosexual in a time when. the tragedies of life are noted. it was not safe to be so openly.” Mrs. the tragedy in the chill of loneliness and desolation which will suddenly strike in a random word” (546). The pursuit of unfettered desires is the object and occupation of all legitimate pastoral figures. as in this dialogue between two society matrons in Caprice : “You must have been out to supper. In times of societal repression (and what society is not repressive.
which is sometimes labeled The Golden Age.80 / alternative realisms pastoral an imaginative safe haven in which to create his own—or a temperamental character’s—version of heaven. Firbank was forced to underwrite each of his novel’s publication. a state of affairs that he found both demoralizing and demeaning. and elegy—which have generic-sounding names but which are more inclusive and general than genres proper” (Alpers 46). served to assure his creative freedom. In another an “eccentric” Spanish cardinal is in pursuit of an elusive and all-too-worldly altar-boy. The forward-looking Utopian. satire. novel. romance. Arcadia. At its heart. and art above all. Despite these “different images and nomenclature. Except for one late novel published at their own expense by Brentano’s in America (at the helpful suggestion of Carl Van Vechten. friendship over family. and is dreamed of by a different type of temperament. But his inherited wealth.” the “relationships and values” of the pastoral remain constant (Ettin 69). H. is a wish-dream which cannot become real . Firbank’s fiction is proof of the pastoral’s enduring appeal. as W. necessarily believes that his New Jerusalem is a dream which ought to be realized. In whatever manifestation. In the world of the pastoral every wayward temperament is allowed to pursue its desire. comedy. . or Eden. leisure over labor. the pastoral is an attitude toward life that favors freedom over responsibility. the pastoral has a vision of an idealized past world. that great champion of literary margins). In a novel set on a fictionalized Caribbean island. but the novels he created were considered unmarketable by English publishers. an aging lesbian “biographer” courts a vapid but alluring teenage girl as they travel through Greece together. the past over the future. and the novels’ lack of popular success. desire over sublimation. therefore. (Dyer’s Hand 410) . Firbank’s overwhelming desire was to be a successful novelist. In one novel. retirement over engagement. . And in yet another. a native country woman moves to the capital in order to pursue her dream of entering polite European society. on the other hand. Recent theorists have argued persuasively that the pastoral should be recognized as one of the universal “types of literature—like tragedy. which takes on different characteristics in different times and cultures. although not always successfully. 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. They contend that the pastoral is an undying mode of literature (the term I have been using). 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.
and to make no demands on others that are not directly related to the pursuit of his desire. The pastoral writer. that would impinge on the pleasure of mere being is restricted from this world. The creation and appreciation of art. the pastoral is all too often a dream-fiction. in which there is no distinction to be made between reality and artifice. together with the pursuit of sexual pleasure for pleasure’s sake (never for procreation. which is perfectly useless and free. such as labor. However. false. His only responsibility is to do what he pleases. In the actual world. naturalistic mimesis. Anything that hinders an individual’s pursuit of pleasure is a snake in his garden. which has become synonymous with fake. which leads to responsibility). and spells the end of Eden-Arcadia. are the primary occupations of traditional pastoral figures. Our insistence on the presence of a provable. Our modern obsessions with scientific progress. the pastoral Arcadian does not hold himself responsible for the realization of his dream. to follow the natural course of his desire. social improvement.3 In the pastoral realm. Such writers are necessarily naturalistic. and provable fact run counter to the inclinations of the pastoral toward a retreat into a world of private imagination. who spend the majority of their time in various states of contemplative repose. who is committed to creating visions of artificial innocence in implicit opposition to our . and it could be argued that within the canon of accepted major novelists of the last two hundred years. The assumptions and conditions of the modern world work to discredit traditional pastoral values. reflects our interest in the actual and the natural. or at least likely. a place where one may be entirely at home in one’s natural or chosen identity. “Annihilating all that’s made / To a green thought in a green shade. and where they would like to be again. the pastoral is frequently employed by writers in a quasi-utopian manner as a wishful reminder of where they have been (in their dreams). Anything. as Auden points out. or social responsibility. The dominant literary mode of the last two centuries. family ties.some imaginary vienna / 81 Unlike the hardworking Utopian. which we collectively assume to be true.” as Marvell famously put it (101). It offers an imaginative safe haven. Although the practical efforts required to actually change the world are beyond the (pure) pastoralist’s will and ability. reality in our most highly valued literature serves to limit authors who would be taken seriously to portrayals of demonstrable experience. there are no primarily nonnaturalistic authors. and our distrust of the artificial. there are no artificial restrictions against desire. if the world somehow (here the pure pastoralist is at a loss) could be made different. That is its primary appeal for the homosexual such as Firbank in a repressive heterosexual society. in reality. his task is still a vital one. as he strives to keep alive the dream of innocent pleasure.
. 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 negligible. Early in his career. to achieve. The pastoral “illusion” of time as “unending duration” (Ettin 141) inevitably undermines the naturalistic notion of the relationship of time to cause and effect. thereby highlighting the disparity between the pastoral ideal and the locations we actually inhabit day in and day out. Waugh likewise contended that Firbank’s antinaturalism enabled him to be “the first quite modern writer to solve for himself . the aesthetic problem of representation in fiction. of which each of his fictions is a fragment” (207). For each of these writers. is automatically excluded. both in fact and fiction. or vice versa. in Brophy 569). With Firbank’s fiction. and Bishop’s Brazil are all privileged spaces to which one withdraws in memory and imagination. 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. I am thinking of writers like Forster. 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. Although there is a tendency in his novels to move from the city to the country. Merrill’s Sandover. or to be exact. 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. Firbank’s pure pastoralism separates him.82 / alternative realisms knowledge of experience. He elaborated in a critical essay in which . Auden commented that Firbank was one of his favorite modern novelists because he deals “with Eden” (265). As might be expected. by contrast. and enlightening biography. as well. and which serve to upbraid the modern world at large for its self-serving notion of material and spiritual progress linked. In his Paris Review interview. from most other homosexual writers of the past century. self-indulgent. James Merrill. the withdrawal to the privileged pastoral space or viewpoint takes place within the context of the work itself. a new. and branded unserious. Willa Cather. and Elizabeth Bishop. eccentric. Brigid Brophy argued that Firbank “is the novelist who freed fiction from naturalism. Forster’s Italy. in Brophy 98). freed it again in the twentieth century” (xiv). 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. Brophy contends that “Firbank’s is a single fictional world. that is to say. Cather’s western prairie. the Christian mythic pastoral realm. .
At the same time. are necessarily kept outside of the boundary of his work. which serve to limit the free operation of desire. Society’s narrowing prejudices and laws. Poggioli. . or at least quite as normal as heterosexual” (148–149). In his fictional world. 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. in the Greek and Latin pastorals written and inspired by Theocritus and Virgil. to the nineties and the Yellow Book ” (112). True to the cowherd nature of the pastoral. Earlier in the century. Auden’s definition of Eden as a place “where its inhabitants may do whatever they like to do. as it used to be called . such as homosexuals in the modern world. David Halperin argues that the pastoral as an imaginative locus “has existed from time immemorial—it was not invented” (85). No less than Proust. Ettin commented that. Although Firbank’s fiction as a whole serves as a protest against discrimination and oppression. thus consigning Firbank’s fictional world to the boundaries of a passing age in literature and art. although he is full of complaints. . given free reign. so that we may be never less free than when doing exactly as we please. observed that the pastoral mode arises inevitably as a protest from those “excluded from the privileges of free love” (61). By tradition.some imaginary vienna / 83 he defined Eden as “a past world in which the contradictions of the present world have not yet arisen” (409). Firbank proves himself an ardent exponent of free love in refusing to distinguish between needs and desires. 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. In his diffident “Introduction” to The Complete Ronald Firbank. the novelist avoids a fight. “Reason not the need” might be the humorously self-serving motto of his pastoral figures. Firbank gives us in his fiction an elaborately detailed anatomy of human desire. Powell wondered why Firbank “should continue to be reprinted. the pastoral mode has offered a haven to homosexual desire. . In his historical study of Bucolic poetry. . particularly to those whose innate desires are denied by society at large. though in a far different manner. it does not address such issues directly. “homosexual romantic and erotic relationships . has a pronounced tendency to enslave. Firbank recognizes that desire. Forster had contended that Firbank belongs to the “ fin de siecle. The pastoral daydream seems to be a part of our very nature. likewise. . 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. are usually accepted as if they were normative. as well as the location of our cultural origins.
. Firbank presents us with the story of the love of an older woman for a younger woman. it is also the case that most love affairs in the pastoral realm are unrequited.” (208) It doesn’t take long. at fifteen. Still. she is quite old enough to break her lover’s heart in using her to her own ends of getting out of the house and finding a husband. who—true to pastoral form—is barely more than a child. “to go with you!” Slightly startled. It’s Extraordinary How Little I Require” The pastoral daydream. is preparing to travel to Greece in order to pursue research on her latest subject (all of whom tend to resemble herself). On the train to Marseilles.” she said. . supposing?” “Supposing—I only say ‘supposing’—supposing you were to accompany me to Greece . “Another tunnel!” . While it is true that individuals in the pastoral are free to pursue their desires wherever they may lead them.” Sparkling.” “ . Firbank is in danger of being misread by the modern reader who is unacquainted with the pastoral mode of implicit argumentation. Miss O’Brookomore took from a cardboard box a cigarette. Miss Collins rose. however. 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. “Only at the thought. when she is accosted by the irrepressible Mabel Collins: “What would I not give.” she cried. for instance: Miss Collins covered her face with a soiled suede glove. Dark against the brilliance. although she is more than willing to offer an endless patter of inanities.” The Biographer considered her. The older woman. .” she explained. tends to be both wish-fulfilling and anxiety-laden. “I could clap my feet in the air. And to receive new ones in return. Firbank’s Pastoral Daydreams: “Just Because I Want So Much. “has always been to exchange ideas with someone. In Inclinations. . . “Supposing . the “Biographer” Geraldine O’Brookomore.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. like all dreams. “My chief amusement. . for Miss O’Brookomore to discover that Mabel Collins has very few ideas of her own.
and finally to Olympia. Firbank qualifies her sadness in the second half of the novel.” “Some day. . You can almost hear the clouds go by. whims and foibles” (271). On the contrary.” (220–221) But Miss O’Brookomore is. to Arcady. where the “food is vile” (245) and where the “continual singing of the cicadas require some excluding” (266). . please—I’m altogether incurious.” “The quietness . in which the various inhabitants lead trivial lives in the service of keeping up suburban appearances. . Although she is made miserable by her frustrated desire. . In the afternoon the yew-trees turn quite blue. I may arrange your sayings in a wreath . dear. Miss O’Brookomore has allowed herself to become enamored of a foolish girl whom she cannot even bring herself to respect. 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. nevertheless.” “Our coachman once—” “No. Miss O’Brookomore warns. “What is it?” “Nothing.” “It’s too hot for rough games. which is “nothing but cliques and coteries” (277). where Miss O’Brookomore is “all veins and moods. which is “literally overrun” with sheepdogs (231). . . 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.” “I’m that already. “Take my word for it . But I won’t lean back—for fear of contracting something . entirely smitten with her young companion. .” (303) . Miss O’Brookomore has forgotten her pseudo-pastoral advice to Mabel that it is best in life to be “an Indifferentist” (273). and from whence the Count at last succeeds in making off with Mabel Collins. which is set in the decaying country house owned by Mabel’s family. Miss O’Brookomore pays the emotional price for a pastoral devotion to the pursuit of her desires. You’ll arrive so tired. Mab. who also manages to incite the interest of a “Count Pastorelli” on the boat to Athens. . Miss O’Brookomore responds with a lament that wholly constitutes chapter twenty: “Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel!” (290) In her anguish. to Delphi. and whose company she can barely tolerate. infectious.some imaginary vienna / 85 “You should really rest. The Count pursues the two women on their travels throughout Greece: to Parnassos.” “Let’s all lie down on the grass as if we were dead. but entirely self-interested Mabel Collins.
as expressive as any shepherd’s complaint.” “You’d think Great Pan was dead again—at least. as Firbank’s contemporary Forster illustrated repeatedly in his novels and stories. suitable or not. “O-o-o-o-o-o-h!” “It’s her ladyship’s cry. that uninhibited pastoral deity. in which she receives word of his rare visit to her and her family. For Firbank. some are less painful than others. Firbank presents a world in which one’s desire is the ground of one’s being. Firbank is no less an enemy of the ever-encroaching malady of the quotidian. we know through desire. . What we know of ourselves. all sexual preferences are equally enslaving and enlightening.86 / alternative realisms Miss O’Brookomore’s love for Mabel had been wholly unsuitable according to society’s standards—Mabel’s mother comments. but it is Firbankian as well. In his highly idiosyncratic and humorously subversive manner. between desire and necessity. appearance is essence. among others. we are given a cast of characters in various stages of retreat. is no match for the sterile vacuity of a suburban Edwardian drawing room. Vainglory. “Had I known what sort of a woman she was! But living as we do one never hears a thing.” “Very likely it’s her husband’s handwriting that affects her. which is perhaps another way of saying that Firbank does not distinguish between appearance and essence. who “was sick. What one wants is the very thing. has devoted herself to a life devoid of significant emotional attachment. In his first published novel.” (327) Even Great Pan. on the other hand. This has long been recognized as a Proustian dictum. Mabel. so everyone said. having been frustrated and abused by the world at large. Powell remarked that Firbank’s fiction is “almost absolutely uninhibited” (12). His insistence on the self-determining quality of desire allows him to escape the trap that Michel Foucault. that one has. if less engaging. identified as the modern compulsion to search for the truth of the self in one’s innermost sexuality (69). have chosen to withdraw into a private world that is more amenable. Although all desires are enslaving. Firbank in his fiction is repeatedly drawn to the pastoral desire for retirement and retreat. The emotionally frigid. and the only thing. For Firbank. There is Lord Susan. 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. decidedly unpastoral nature of her marriage of appearances to Count Pastorelli is enforced in the closing scenes of the novel.” (300)—but it had been nevertheless a true and ardent emotion. His particular affection is reserved for those characters who.
Shamefoot is safely memorialized and leading a hermit’s life within sight of her own radiant image.” “Of course her words condemn her. But the major figure of the novel is the politician’s wife. . I find it exceedingly disappointing. in a loose way. has adopted as the goal of her aimless existence the erection of a “commemorative window to herself” in a rural cathedral. . Banal passions fail to stir me. It was the Egyptian sighing for his pyramid. . and who ends by retreating into the arms of the Church of Rome.” Mrs. is something. . Henedge. Isn’t there any more?” “No I believe that’s all. Shamefoot said.some imaginary vienna / 87 of the world at three-and-twenty” (6). a Bishop’s widow. . “Mentally.” (77) Firbank’s characters. Mrs. ‘If we are all a part of God . she was already three parts glass . having been more or less abandoned by her husband in favor of his career. Then there is the actress. 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. would have been canonised. 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. just because I want so much. Firbank’s characters are well-suited . Mrs. of course” (20).” “But that she should have arrived at a state of repugnance.” “How heavenly she is!” “Such an amusing rhythm—” “I do so enjoy the bypaths. “of poetry. who “no doubt . Dear Georgia. Mine is a nature that cries for more ethereal things. .” and who longs “to go away somewhere and be ugly quietly for a week” (18–19). The pastoral is concerned with reducing life to the essentials of our individual existence in time and space. I am disgusted with Love. . Cresswell. but for an unfortunate remark . perhaps. She models her life. . By the novel’s conclusion. The quasi-saint committed to posterity a “somewhat saturnine little song” that is adopted as the novel’s anthem: “I am disgusted with Love. who seems to have “deserted this century for—she had hardly settled which” (6). and Mrs. on that of a locally celebrated sixteenth-century figure. who. possibly. Shamefoot (Firbank’s names are always telling). it’s extraordinary how little I require” (199). having been driven to a state of repugnance by experience of the world at large. then God must indeed be horrible’ ” (95). Miss Compostella. who complains that “the effort to look more or less like one’s photograph is becoming such a strain.
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to the task of looking past worldly success and failure to the essential loneliness of existence. His cast of wealthy widows, figurehead royalty, decadent clerics, and desultory artists possesses the leisure of having nothing better to do than to ponder the state of their souls while pursuing their whimsical desires. Not infrequently, they are compelled to criticize life itself:
“She made excursions into three different religions. And she always came back dissatisfied and grumbling.” “The world is disgracefully managed, one hardly knows to whom to complain.” (Three More Novels 101) “I agree with V. G. F.,” the Hon. Lionel Limpness murmured, fondling meditatively his “Charlie Chaplin” moustache—“Life ought not to be.” “It’s a mistake to bother oneself over matters that can’t be remedied.” (Five Novels 43)
Literature has rarely, if ever, handled existential angst with such a light touch. By reducing life to its essentials, and banning all possibility of worldly achievement, the pastoral inevitably becomes fixated on the two great givens of existence, sex and death. Firbank’s novels are full of memento mori. Firbank’s own health was always precarious. In his affecting tribute to Firbank, Osbert Sitwell recalled that, in the novelist’s final years before dying at the age of thirty-nine, “the sable angel of death ever hung over him” (xxviii). Two of the novels, Caprice and Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli, actually conclude with the death of their major figures. Cardinal Pirelli was Firbank’s last completed novel, and we can find throughout it, if we choose, premonitions of the author’s imminent death. The Cardinal is the only masculine character in Firbank to receive book-length attention, and he is—of all Firbank’s characters—the one most likely to linger as a personage in the reader’s imagination. His death at the novel’s conclusion is the furthest Firbank came in his fiction to portraying a tragic view of existence, perhaps in anticipation of his own untimely end. The reader’s sense of the tragic at novel’s end is the inevitable product of the sudden demise of a fully realized fictional character. In his well-defined individuality, Cardinal Pirelli is a Firbankian anomaly. The novelist’s characters tend to blend together. This is partially the effect of Firbank’s capacity and propensity for portraying his figures through quick-sketch caricatures. An aging stage-actress in Caprice is given to us in a few bold strokes:
Mrs. Mary was large and robust, with commanding features and an upright carriage. She had a Redfern gown of “navy” blue stuff infinitely laced.
some imaginary vienna / 89 One white long hand, curved and jewelled, clung as if paralysed above her breast. (371)
The hand, of course, gives her away. Another hand, in Vainglory, tells us all that we need to know about Lady Georgia:
She stretched out a hand, listlessly towards a red, colossal rose. So many talismans for happiness fettered her arms! She could hardly move but the jingling of some crystal ball, or the swaying of some malachite pig, reminded her of the fact that she was unhappy. (7)
Lady Georgia, like all of Firbank’s characters, is a finished product, the sum of her experience. These characters do not develop, but unfold, like a flower. They serve to illustrate that personality is destiny: What you see is what you get. I would suggest that Firbank refuses to allow his characters to develop in the conventional novelistic manner because of his unwillingness to allow the figure of the human ego to eclipse his larger, pastoral themes of the vanity of all human wishes and the fleeting-ness of our time on earth. Psychologically, we cannot resist identifying with the striving ego, and the conventional mimetic-naturalist novel obligingly gives us endless opportunities to experience the ego-hero’s quest for self-fulfillment. Firbank chooses to diminish the figure of the ego in his work by placing his characters in situations where they will neither need, nor be able, to strive for conventional fulfillments; and by focusing, rather, on the worlds of weather, landscape, and art that surround them. The central figure in The Flower Beneath the Foot, the future “Saint” Laura de Nazianzi, writes tellingly in her memoirs, “It was about my eighteenth year that I conquered my Ego” (Two Novels 8). Even Cardinal Pirelli, whom Firbank presents to us in greater psychological and realistic detail than any other figure, is diminished in his egoism—and contentedly so—in favor of the world at large. As the novel progresses, he is driven to retreat to his idyllic country residence in order to plan a defense of his unconventional ecclesiasticism, which he is to present to the Pope in Rome. But in such a pastoral setting, he finds himself in no mood for a fight:
A sigh escaped him. Divided by tranquil vineyards and orange-gardens from the malice and vindictiveness of men it was difficult to experience emotions other than of forgiveness and love. “Come, dears, and kiss me,” he murmured, closing consentingly his eyes. (320)
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Firbank can risk the unpastoral plotline of an upcoming heresy trial in Rome because he knows that his Cardinal will not live that long. We may sense as much in the course of our reading from various foreshadowings, as when the Cardinal’s serving-boy, and the object of his affection, says:
“Last night, I’ll tell you, sir, I thought I heard old ‘Wanda’ on the wind.” “Old Wanda, boy?” “She rings for deaths, sir.” “Nonsense, child; your little ears could never hear as far.” (326)
But the child proves correct in his prophecy, for even little ears are attuned to this particular bell. Earlier in the novel, the “Superintendent-of the-Palace” distinguishes between the various church bells of the cathedral city:
They were sounding Matteo now, a little bell with a passionate voice. “The pet!” Madame Poco paused to listen. She had her “favourites” among the bells, and Matteo was one of them. Passiaflora, too—but Anna, a light slithery bell, “like a housemaid in hysterics,” offended her ear by lack of tone; Sebastian, a complaining, excitable bell, was scarcely better,—“a fretful lover!” She preferred old “Wanda” the Death-bell, a trifle monotonous, and fanatical perhaps, but “interesting,” and opening up vistas to varied thought and speculation. (312)
For the pastoral writer, it is death that gives life its achingly transient value, and all pastorals are implicitly, and often quite explicitly, elegiac in nature. Cardinal Pirelli’s death is fittingly bucolic. He is in amorous pursuit of the young serving-boy when he drops dead in the heart of the cathedral:
Now that the ache of life, with its fevers, passions, doubts, its routine, vulgarity, and boredom, was over, his serene, unclouded face was a marvelment to behold. Very great distinction and sweetness was visible there, together with much nobility, and love, all magnified and commingled. (341–342)
In the pastoral realm, death is both friend and enemy. It alone has the power to cure the ache of life, but in so doing it gives the lie to the cherished pastoral illusion of time as unending duration. It is only natural that a devoted pastoralist such as Firbank would be obsessed with that in the face of which his every creation is thrown, like stones in the ocean. Sitwell recalled that Firbank was “always impressed by the moral of the tombstone-shop opposite” his favorite hangout of the Café Royal.
Dark inscriptions could be read on them, expressive of morbid hopes or fears, while, after any riot at the Café, when one or two people had been
some imaginary vienna / 91 forcibly requested by the giant in charge of such procedure to leave the premises, they could be seen ricocheting across the road towards these graveyard paraphernalia, or standing, staring in return at the uniformed figure against this ominous and inevitable background. “It ought to be a warning to us all” Ronald would remark as he watched such scenes. (xxvi)
Deaths are scattered throughout Firbank’s novels: sudden deaths and slow deaths, violent deaths and welcome deaths. It is the felt presence and fear of death that may help to account for one of the most conspicuous oddities of Firbank’s fiction, the propensity of his characters to indulge in sadomasochistic behavior. (An obsession with sadomasochism is another notable similarity between Firbank and Proust.) One old dowager says to another in Valmouth, “May a woman know, dear, . . . when she may receive her drubbing?” (192). And when a visitor arrives at the house, the butler accounts for his employer’s tardiness in receiving her by announcing, “The mistress, I presume, is with the scourge” (163). Such behavior in such a setting is primarily talismanic, a way to ward off evil and strife; but it also serves as a reminder to Firbank’s leisurely figures, in the midst of their plush lives, of the inevitable end of life. While self-abuse may be a neurotic response to the ever-present threat of death, Firbank’s characters spend much more of their time and energy engaged in avid appreciations of life. They are instinctual idolaters, particularly of one another. The heroine of The Flower Beneath the Foot anticipates an upcoming assignation with an impromptu paean:
“What, what a dearest!” Mademoiselle de Nazianzi sighed beneath her breath. And all along the almost countless corridors as far as her bedroom door she repeated again and again: “What, what a dearest!” (Five Novels 7)
While in Valmouth, a “Negress” masseuse confesses:
I have known what love is, I! . . . Dair are often days ven I can neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, ven my fingers hab no strength at all (massage den is quite impossible)—I am able only to groan and groan and groan—ah, my darling! (178)
Carried too far, romantic appreciations are, of course, one of the most exquisite forms of self-abuse. It is perhaps more prudent—and certainly less taxing—to be an admirer of the landscape, “The turquoise tenderness of the sky drew from her heart a happy coo” (Valmouth 217); or of a personality, “ ‘I always admired her,’ Lady Parvula remarked, ‘you’d almost say she was a man’ ” (Valmouth 179); or of a work of art, “ ‘Certainly I adore his work,’ Mrs. Asp admitted.
” 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. Some of the most insightful and useful contemporary notice of Firbank is focused on the element in his work of camp. Firbank’s pointedly eccentric figures and milieus serve the same purpose. They are endured as other oppressions are endured.92 / alternative realisms ‘He pounces on those mysterious half-things . . protesting that for his part he had always found the Germans “most polite. and that society inevitably serves to constrict the free play of individual desire.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. ‘No. .5 and even to conventional notions of reality. The pure pastoralist. and art. . until finally ennui forced him to write the book of which he had talked for so long. . . (xii) Firbank’s pronouncement recognizes implicitly that all wars are righteous. His novels are not unmoral (on the contrary).” where it serves to remind us that all “desire is culturally relative” (312). Sitwell wrote in his memoir that Firbank failed to summon up any enthusiasm whatever over the . 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. Although there is a certain amount of “bitchiness” involved in their discriminations—“‘Do you think her as graceful as she passes for?’ . . 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. war. These . Firbank’s reaction to the “Great War” is instructive. because one has no choice. really! She’s like a sack of coals’ ” (Vainglory 31)—it is temperamental behavior in the service of taste. landscape. ‘Graceful?’ . I Don’t Myself ” Firbank’s novels are an implicit sustained and passionate condemnation of moral bigotry. . Firbank’s response to the war was the most constructive one available: [The war] had deprived him of all outside interests. and sometimes he fixes them!’ ” (Vainglory 22). Much of what might be labeled the camp element in Firbank’s work is tied to his characters’ rarefied appreciations of personality. who is devoted to the absolute liberty of individual desire. whom she cites as one of her examples (278). just as no wars are just. His constant undermining of willfulness and seriousness is itself a serious and willful endeavor to keep intolerance and oppression at bay. Firbank’s Pastoral Politics: “No One Knows What My Political Opinions Are.
Firbank refuses to do: Firbank is judged a minor artist by those who still don’t dare recognize Wilde as major aesthete. For it is not Firbank’s homosexuality. throughout his fiction. and of Firbank in particular. Firbank’s posthumous reputation has been . sense a “war writer. It is his novels’ pure pastoralism. that is at issue so much as his unwillingness to label as wrong or evil any behavior at all. or of embodying “some fundamental malformation” (E. that is at the heart of the critics’ dissatisfaction with them. which.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 would appear to act as an imaginative litmus test for critics: Those who react without prejudice or condescension pass. and of its insistence on treating the homosexual as a tragic figure. It would be tempting to dismiss such accusations by placing them under the heading of homophobia—tempting. or of having a “sense of Evil” that is “imperfect” (Jones xviii). therefore. whose repeated pleas for imaginative tolerance in his essays and novels make his misreading of Firbank particularly disappointing. Forster pronounced: there is only one quality that they all share in common: the absence of a soul . but misleading. Speaking of “fantasy writers” in general. 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). Few have. their modish ecclesiasticism and rural magic bears no relation to philosophic truth. Wilson 265). the product of the war. But homophobia no doubt does play a role in defining the reality such readers adhere to. far more truly than any others in the English language. their refusal even to acknowledge the moral discriminations of the conventional real world. . Perhaps the most glaring offender is Forster. He was in the best. the fear of which is so primal as to prompt even a tolerant and imaginative intelligence such as Forster’s into a reactionary position. (111) This criticism is echoed with variations by most of Firbank’s early commentators. there is nothing to be saved or damned.some imaginary vienna / 93 volumes were. or even the homosexuality of his characters. the least boring. His fiction is accused of lacking a soul. Brophy argues that Firbank’s “minor” status as a novelist is directly tied to the evident influence on his work of Wilde. whose notorious and tortured posttrial figure seems the very embodiment of a culture’s fear and intolerance.” (Sitwell xii–xiii) Sitwell is one of the few commentators to avoid condescending to his subject. .
into an unwitting prison of silence. As the debacle becomes more distant. His novels would appear to claim political immunity. because of its implicit mode of argumentation. In the highly politicized climate of contemporary criticism and culture. too. I don’t myself” (87). which. so that they.” (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). Often they are merely muted into condescension. in this day of open debate. by his post-debacle climate. it is all too easy to dismiss a writer like Firbank as politically suspect and/ or naive. as his life was. in the words of the Queen from The Flower Beneath the Foot : “No one knows what my political opinions are. offered a much-needed safe haven to earlier homosexual writers such as Firbank— but one that has turned. implicitly declaring. I would extend her argument to add that this damage to our collective cultural aesthetic has particularly affected our readings of pastoral literature. With our heightened contemporary political awareness. 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). much as the puritanical critical reaction “disgusting” has been translated into “boring.94 / alternative realisms damaged. may be entered into the debate. 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. . anti-homosexual spirit and fear do not vanish.
O rg a n ic R e a l i sm What’s in a name? When the name is Henry Green. for to Green. In that sense. as Green demonstrates throughout his fiction—a fact noted by Eudora Welty: In each novel. no matter what happens. 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 characters within its world are busy. we are all innately creative artists. he said. 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. creative becoming is the very nature of existence. To have a real life of its own” (Surviving 241). In his function of bringing this life into existence. is “to be alive. Indeed. but certainly with the . Green’s pastoral-organic realism expresses a reality alternative to that represented by traditional mimetic fiction. the artist does indeed play a godlike role. making a world—with the hands perhaps. Rather. he was in effect announcing and describing both his theme and method. When the young British aristocrat Henry Yorke chose the pen-name Henry Green at the beginning of his novelistic career in the 1920s. Green’s effort to remake the modern novel resulted in a pastoral-organic realism that approaches and presents human beings in social situations as organisms in environments. The ultimate quality of the work of art. 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).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. but the artist’s feat is merely an especially self-conscious variety of the behavior we all exhibit in our daily lives. there is a great deal. which is non-representational” (Surviving 142).
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
Subjects were conceived as being essentially separate from their objective experience. and the earth adds another millennium to the period of its existence. on the other hand. Whitehead stressed that any organism’s environment is always temporal as well as spatial. which are the real actualities: The philosophies of substance presuppose a subject that then encounters a datum.100 / alternative realisms real and reality as it is experienced. ( Adventures 204) The organism exists within its environment as “a structure of evolving processes” (Science 72). (Process 179) In Whitehead’s conception. Whitehead contended that “we must start with the event as the ultimate unit of natural occurrence” (Science 103) rather than with the isolable substance. made the mistake of taking the isolable substance—including ourselves—as the concrete reality to which events happened. they were subjected to experience in and through the course of events. all of nature is composed of organisms . and progressively attains the unity of a subject. Moreover. “in which the scientific scheme is recast. This conception annihilates the Cartesian distinction between the human subject and the rest of nature. 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. activity. Rather. which is made up of a myriad of subjective organisms. At an instant there is nothing” (Science 146). and founded upon the ultimate concept of organism” (Science 66). as an operative organism. following Descartes. and then reacts to the datum. as he himself observed in his writings on aesthetics ( Adventures 271). This being the case. when it is taken out of its environment—arrested in time and space for the sake of measurement—it no longer exists as itself. including one’s own body. there is no determinate nexus which in an unqualified sense is either the man or the earth. Whitehead saw his philosophy as contributing toward a revision of our conception of the real. in which “process. and change are the matter of fact. The philosophy of organism presupposes a datum that is met with feelings. Whitehead’s philosophy. Modern philosophy. Whitehead’s emphasis on the “vulgar” conceptions of an organism’s environmental and existential context implicitly aligns his philosophy with pastoral envisioning. But until the death of the man and the destruction of the earth. 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. conceives of the subject as an interactive creation arising from the ongoing process of events. An organism exists in interactive relationship with its environment.
(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. however. with “an essential character. college. What we conceive of as our isolable individual identities is in reality a linked series of events that Whitehead calls “a society. is the most comprehensive of such organisms). at all levels. we relate to ourselves as subjects to objects. or family. 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. 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. The process philosopher and theologian Charles Hartshorne. whose own work is self-admittedly a continuation and elaboration of several of Whitehead’s key conceptions regarding the nature of the real. it then automatically turns into an object in the datum that leads to the arising of a new subject. Self-conscious humans. it is a part of the “datum that is met with feelings and progressively attains the unity of a subject” (Process 179). Once the subject is evolved. but the difference is one of degree rather than of kind. whereby it is the society that it is. of which we form a part and the essence of which we share. and that personality itself is a special temporally linear cause of such social—that is sympathetic—inheritance. like . the self that is coming into being relates to the self already in existence as to an objective other.to create a life which is not / 101 progressively attaining the unity of subjects (Nature as a whole. company. as an ongoing process within a changing environment—and to conceive of the individual as a society made up of the continuing. but societies endure as a continuing series of these events. evolving amalgamation of this series. and the analogy may be extended up the ladder of comprehensiveness to divinity itself. Moreover. 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. according to Whitehead’s conception of subjectivity. in an interactive and environmental manner. or God. and best of all. are more unified than other subjects we observe in our environments. also.” Events occur and then pass away. being aware of this unity and acting upon this awareness. According to this conception. and [with] accidental qualities which vary as circumstances alter” (Adventures 204).
or human bodies—live and work. activity. the sense of being one actuality in a world of actualities—is the gift of aesthetic significance. but of self-enjoyment—a pastoral ideal (Science 111). Whitehead . Whitehead insisted that evolution itself is best understood in aesthetic terms. in our understanding of the evolutionary processes of life. which has long been our mechanical fallback metaphor for explaining the manner in which groups of organisms—be it social networks.” Whitehead’s further insight is that. Aesthetic significance arises from the process of life. to return to the parlance of the vulgar: there is no accounting for taste. animal. the evolutionary process of actuality may be seen to be analogous not so much to a war machine (the survival of the fittest). animal species. but an acute analogy. Indeed. Whitehead countered that such substances are in effect abstractions from reality. or plant. This experience claims a relevance beyond the finite immediacy of any one occasion of experience. has a personality analogous in crucial respects to that of a human individual. which directs evolution to the end not merely of survival. When looked at from this perspective. lamenting that. as it is to a work of art that is always in progress. it becomes clear that the standard of measurement that may be usefully applied to it is necessarily relative and subjective: “ ‘Value’ is the word I use for the intrinsic reality of an event” (Science 93).” Whitehead often refers to it as “an occasion of experience. When the interactive and environmental “event” is considered as the most basic constituent of reality. Whitehead’s contention. In order to emphasize the subjective and relative nature of “the event. reality is most comprehensively conceived of as a process with aesthetic ends and means: The sense of external reality—that is to say. aim” (Modes 152). all such natural societies are far more analogous to one another than are any of them to a man-made machine. creativity. because of its fundamental subjectivity. 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. (Modes 121) Whitehead agrees with Wilde in making the argument that taste— aesthetic significance—is absolutely fundamental. Indeed he praised the Romantic poets for their “intuitive refusal seriously to accept the abstract materialism of science” (Science 86). is that the pathetic fallacy is not a fallacy at all. in effect.102 / alternative realisms a virus. Newtonian science flouted human intuition by contending that the reality of events was the reality of measurable isolated substances at an instant of time. To understand this process is to comprehend the primacy of the aesthetic in characterizing reality: “The characteristics of life are absolute self-enjoyment.
In the remainder of this essay.” to which he responded: He can’t do anything else. of the completely real” (Adventures 274). 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). Green was asked whether “a writer should work toward development of a particular style. the concept of the individual as an evolving creation arising from the ongoing process of events. His style is himself. “of composition attaining worth for itself” (Modes 119). power is always a means to an aesthetic end and never an end in itself. it is the failure of the fallen angels. All power is derivative from the fact of composition attaining worth for 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. Power is the compulsion of composition. the concept of reality as a creative process. The final actuality has the unity of power. The Individual As an Evolving Creation In his Paris Review interview. Every other type of composition is a halfway stage in the attainment of actuality. and [with] accidental qualities which vary as circumstances alter” ( Adventures 204). (Surviving 245) . (Modes 119) Whitehead implicitly critiques the abstract notion of “will to power” by asserting that. The essence of power is the drive towards aesthetic worth for its own sake. There is no other fact. Concluding. and his own personal favorite among his books (Treglown 182). I will focus on four of Whitehead’s key revisionary concepts discussed above: 1. whereby it is the society that it is. Power and importance are aspects of this fact. I will apply Whitehead’s philosophical— and implicitly pastoral—reenvisioning of the nature of the real in an analysis of the pastoral-organic literary realism practiced by Green in his most complex and comprehensive novel. It constitutes the drive of the universe. the concept of process as being “the very essence of real actuality—that is. 3. the concept of reality as an interactive network of societies. each of which has “an essential character. in the ultimate sense. and we are all of us changing every day—developing we hope! We leave our marks behind us like a snail. 4. 2.
who said of Green: He was a very very complicated and tricky person. noted that Green’s self-effacing handling of his characters was reflected in his own personal relations. both of which. he implied. and behavior. are only obstacles to the creator’s ultimate task. (qtd. Welty remarked of Green’s respectful and scrupulous handling of his characters that “he explains none. Later in the essay. which is “to create a life which is not” (Surviving 136). Treglown cites the novelist Anthony Powell. Bruce Bassoff contended in his 1975 monograph on Green that “The English empirical tradition accounts in particular for the epistemological reticence in Green” (33). Green’s biographer. Green’s exact contemporary and lifelong friend (they met at Eton). expressions. It is as if husband and wife were alone in the living room. who has no business with the story he is writing. exploits none” (17). but particularly through their own words. intrudes like a Greek chorus to underline his meaning. which is not very much Green contended in his 1950 essay for the BBC’s The Listener. that we obtain. 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. or what the other felt. a glimmering of what is going on in someone or even in ourselves” (Surviving 141). and a voice came out of a corner of the ceiling to tell them what both were like. in Treglown 72) . We certainly don’t know what other people are thinking and feeling. his sense that “the novel should not violate the privacy of human inwardness” (39). “A Novelist to his Readers. 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. in life. Jeremy Treglown. And although we knew each other so well. in their dialogue: The kind of action which dialogue is. certainly. Whatever its source. is held up while the writer. I really never got to the bottom of him. through their actions. “It is only by an aggregate of words over a period followed by an action. of all the people I’ve ever known. what other people are really like? I very much doubt it. commenting that Green “was receptive to other people to a point where he almost ceased to have an existence of his own” (118). And do we know. in life. rather the characters should be allowed to explain themselves. Green stressed the primary and revelatory role of the carefully observant creative act.104 / alternative realisms It is through the examination of such marks that we know what we know about ourselves and others.
and inhibiting environments. But try and write out a scheme and you will only depart from it. When asked whether he began writing with a certain character or rather with a certain situation in mind. but above all. The main character in the futuristic world of Concluding is Mr. and carry it in my head. delicate. a seventy-five-year-old retired scientist who made an unnamed great scientific discovery as a young man. From the point of view of Green’s complex. My way you have a chance to get something living. out of the process of events. Green responded. for Green. (Surviving 243) Again the idea of a living organism is seen to be central to Green’s theme and method. Green in his fiction demonstrates that the carefully observed processes of life itself argue against such notions of certainty and closure. a subject arises—which. limiting. is far from being a cause for despondency or despair.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. When asked in the Paris Review interview about his method for the handling of a novel’s structure. conventional realist novelists seem not only too certain of their fictive creations. which is the basic business of life in all of its myriad manifestations. . all too impatient in bringing those creations to life. having developed. Rock (we never learn his Christian name). Towards the end of the book your head is literally bursting. I let it come page by page. the length. As with Whitehead in his philosophy. enigmatic. and not with an isolated substance. Green responded tellingly: As to plotting or thinking ahead. Green’s pastoral-organic characters come to life in and through interactive relationships with their enabling. and that the effort to do so is both futile and self-deceiving. Carrying the book in his head is obviously analogous to a pregnant woman’s carrying of a child. and the notion of the head bursting recalls the birth of Athena—goddess of wisdom—from the forehead of Zeus. This is the exhaustion of creating. and who. in order to express and represent the actual nature of reality. Beginning with such a premise is analogous to Whitehead’s assertion that the philosopher must begin with an event in process. The wish for such would seem to Green to seek an easy way out of the difficult but enthralling labor of creation. As Whitehead contended that. “Situation every time” (Surviving 242). 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. Such a conviction. and evolving characterizations. I don’t in a novel. of which they are both part and product. subtle. one a day. enveloping. When I say carry I mean the proportions —that is.
As one would anticipate from their names. the Institute’s habitual routine is complicated not only by the impending news of Rock’s election (we never find out its outcome). who is under the principal’s direct supervision. while Edge is peripheral to him.106 / alternative realisms as a reward from the “State. 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. The two characters most thoroughly enmeshed in and revealed by the novel’s tapestry are Rock and Edge. while Edge is anxious and high-strung—edgy. but also their intricate relation to one another within that framework. 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. in which Mr. 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. Miss Edge. Rock. fearing that Edge will in turn retaliate against her lover. a younger man who teaches economics at the Institute and lives with the other Institute employees and their 300 students in the transformed mansion. which takes place during one summer day and evening in the near future. This brief summary gives little indication of the richness of the novel’s texture. and his granddaughter attempts to head off Rock’s interference. an emergency that threatens cancellation of the evening’s planned dance in annual and traditional celebration of the Institute’s founding. knowledge) of the children’s absconding. Indeed the analogy of a tapestry in progress is entirely apt to Green’s densely woven fiction-making. but by the fact that two of the Institute’s teenage students have gone missing overnight (one is later found—while one remains missing at novel’s end). as Rock is a solid and dependable figure. Rock is the story’s central figure. is a potential danger to Edge’s efforts to contain the damage (that is. who covets his cottage for the uses of the school and its staff. On the day in which the novel takes place. the students’ absconding leads to the potential calamity of an official state enquiry and investigation. . More disturbingly for Edge. Temperamentally the names are fitting as well. a collapse that seems to have been hastened and complicated by an affair she is having with Sebastian. is the principal of the girl’s school. Edge is particularly interested in the results of an election held the previous day. Rock’s nemesis in the story. indicating not only their primacy in the story’s complex allegory. who are also the only two figures with overtly emblematic names.” 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.
and such understanding amounts to empathy. In terms of the novel’s overt allegory. The one who seems to know Rock best is his doted-upon granddaughter. She says to her lover. who is also the chief chink in his armor in his fight with Edge. Although he has legal right to the Institute’s cottage for life. and particularly of one so designated). and by his affection for the place itself and his life there. far less sympathetic than Rock. Although we may judge Edge negatively. for judgment curtails understanding. since we cannot in all self-respect finally approve of her behavior or admire her motives. however. by novel’s end we feel that. 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. at least not overtly. and the novel’s delightful and surprising conclusion. Green himself does not do so. For unlike Rock. Edge is the pastoral boundary itself.to create a life which is not / 107 There is no point in the novel when Rock is other than a sympathetic figure. Elizabeth seems certain. we nevertheless understand her behavior and motivations. on the surface (if one can speak of such things with Green’s characters. Edge is. who fears that Rock will be outmaneuvered by Edge. the legal rights of those he chooses to share it with are less certain. However. if we do not understand Edge ultimately (none of Green’s characters may be so understood). Edge’s desire for the cottage arises out of a neurotic need to be in direct bureaucratic control of every aspect of her environment. if not to sympathy. and his granddaughter has complicated matters by involving herself romantically with one of the Institute employees. he sometimes seems very much at the mercy of those with more keen senses around him. . Elizabeth. 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). although he sometimes seems noble and wise. and the whole of Green’s critical effort in his creations is bent upon understanding. and other times selfpitying and pathetic—a contradictory characterization that is typical of pastoral figures. But he also employs his debilities strategically to gain sympathy for himself and to attack and satirize his enemies. as she represents the feared and hated world at large that is ever the enemy of the amenable pastoral retreat. who is led to put up a fight for his cottage by the love of his granddaughter and spoiled animals pets. 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. that her grandfather “has forgotten more of [Edge’s] twists and turns than you’ll ever learn” (38). Because old age has made him partially deaf and blind.
Green displays an implicitly devotional attitude toward that order. highlighting the combination of intense engagement and respectful reticence we have already discussed in Green’s relationship to his work. even in regards to ourselves. in which he argues that God in his . Whitehead likewise argued that the essence of all being is a mystery that is the province of God’s own creative effort. Religion 101). God’s immanence is the actual world in its “aesthetic order” (Whitehead. Emma Tennant. claimed that it was Green’s very skepticism that enabled his singular creative achievement: He was too clear-sighted to have any religion. 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. That was a cruel fate for him. In his scrupulous observation of and passionate evocation of the aesthetic order of the created world. he wouldn’t have been able to write those books with their extraordinary poetic distance. what we know of ourselves and of others is similar to what we know of God. because something sentimental would have got into the writing. 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. 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. Tennant refers to the living quality of the writing while praising its poetic distance. one of Green’s ex-lovers cited by his biographer. which is not their essence but their immanence. Process and Reality. Whitehead makes an intriguingly similar observation regarding God’s creative relation to the world at the conclusion of his great cosmological statement.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. In any case. of course. (qtd. But if he hadn’t had that complete lack of belief in things. in Treglown 253) One could argue. in making her appreciation. that the things that Green refused to believe in are all false idols of one sort or another. 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. The creativity is in the means. it is notable that. and that. and in his absolute refusal to pass judgment upon it. Interestingly. It’s because he didn’t that the writing lives. the ends are a given.
as is every organism. and her entire creative effort is aimed at making herself invulnerable to weakness. The girls at the institute sense Rock’s pastoral care and respond with easy and generous affection. from her administrative control over their lives—but more worrisomely. and goodness. he is the poet of the world. But . Their relationship to Edge by contrast is fraught with anxiety stemming. it is not different from any of Green’s novels. and by extension. all of which offer such penetrating analysis. it lies in the patient operation of the overpowering rationality of his conceptual harmonization. is characterized chiefly by his pastoral devotion to his granddaughter and to his animals. (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. to his whole environment. Concluding offers a remarkably subtle and sophisticated analysis of power relations in human interaction. more accurately. On the contrary. His signal achievement is to be both Romantic and realist at once.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. Certainly there is a great deal in the world of Green’s fiction. but of devoted subservience—for she is an instinctual dictator. with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth. Green is a thoroughgoing Romantic. which leads her to try to appropriate her environment as a possession and expression of her self. as in the world at large. that is not true or beautiful or good. beauty. In this. we are all of us Romantic-realists. none of Green’s novels succumb to negative attitudes and emotions. He does not create the world. by contrast. naturally enough. from her ego-driven demand of not only obedience. written during and concerning the firebombing of London during World War II. of destructive force with destructive force. Reality As a Creative Process The difference between Rock and Edge is a difference of creative vision—a difference of taste. as has been noted by many critics. or. he saves it. 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. for Edge fears fear itself. But with the exception of the traumatized novel Caught. Rock’s vision. The chief vulnerability of such a vision is its very defensiveness. Edge’s vision is limited by its defensive egoism. In that sense.
Edge. among other things. Mark Facknitz argued that Concluding presents us with “two kinds of order. is contrasted to the doting grandfather and pet-owner Rock. Green conceives of such power as being not inhuman but all too human. but human thought is nothing if not natural fact in its own right. 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. In the novel. (Academic Search Premier) Facknitz’s point is well taken regarding the supremacy of the natural order as expressed in Green’s novel. 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. and that nature is a part of him. in true pastoral fashion. while Rock. 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. the many species with their own forms of natural order that have been crowded out of existence by such human impositions. much of which references (or so he believes) his service to the state through his scientific discovery (Concluding 27). One might argue that Facknitz is contrasting human thought with natural fact. which he strains to remain free of.110 / alternative realisms Concluding differs in its scope by making one of its concerns the operation of the “State” as a power player. His understanding gives him the ultimate advantage in his fight against . but he is too absolute in his distinction between the natural and human orders both in the novel and in the world. Crucially. The instinct for authoritarianism is seen to arise from a human fear ultimately of nature itself in its creative and fertile profusion. and which Whitehead attempted to correct through his philosophy of organism. declining even to open or read his mail. for while we can impose meaning upon nature. In an essay published in 1990.” his descriptions of which are in some ways analogous to the distinction I have been making between Edge and Rock: Human order is willful and tenuous. Edge instinctively aligns herself with the authority of the State. such impositions cannot alter the fabric of nature but only our perception of it. We fool ourselves by conflating the two. Rock lives in harmony with nature because he understands that he is a part of nature. For human order is a subset of the natural order. Green says. looks upon the state bureaucracy as a menace. and to consider that our human “impositions cannot alter the fabric of nature” is to ignore. nature’s order is unmediated and absolute. while the changes that nature imposes on us are organic and irrevocable.
during the process of decoration. I thought it was a . but celebrated and appreciated in its own right. Every symbolic indication in the novel would seem to support the romantic explanation. For Edge. 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. for she cannot make a safe home for herself within nature by going against nature.” the symbolic weight of the situation is too much for Edge. or else that she has been the victim of some foul play. The missing student Mary is associated with both. “And then I did realize. painted with a grotesque caricature of Mary’s features on its own flat face.” she said in anticlimax. . but for Edge. for it is indicative of a lack of control. voicing the secret. civilization as embodied by bureaucratic efficiency and institutional rigidity is always under attack by nature in process. which is represented throughout the novel by symbols and situations concerning sex and death. known throughout the Institute. who “straightaway fainted” (117). sex and death are interchangeable—the one leads to the other. and vice versa. . . in a small voice and a hiccup. a dead rabbit. . “I’ll never forgive myself. old eyes. (118) . “How foolish of me . Much of the great humor of Concluding revolves around Edge’s neurotic fear of and attempts to prohibit and control change. the fear being that she has run off because of a budding romance or an unwanted pregnancy. the student helpers discover at the bottom of the pile of flowering branches “a rabbity Rag Doll dressed gaily in miniature Institute pajamas. while Edge’s every home is made a pastoral garden by virtue of his impassioned care of and for the world.” she ended. only too late. 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.to create a life which is not / 111 Edge. whereas for Rock.” A tear began to roll from each of her blue. During the day’s luncheon. whereas Edge’s war is already lost no matter how many battles she wins. too late. For Edge. 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. change is to be fought on principle. Rather every home for Edge will be a fortress in which she is imprisoned by her anxieties and fears. that she had a terror of rabbits dead. and when. 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. Later she attempts to explain the reaction by saying. change is something to be not only acquiesced in.
unintentionally admitting her weakness and vulnerability. Edge’s attitude toward her environment is one of ownership and of ego-enlargement. is not. but it is an .” a sharer of the space-time environment—which is something that Edge is absolutely incapable of. for others may escape or evade the punishments meted out by her harsh judgment against life. Parallel to Edge’s implacable judgment against herself is Rock’s instinct for self-pity as he considers the inevitable end of life to which old age is delivering him. but she herself will not. Only one personality is allowed expression in such a system. she has called attention to her fears of sex and death (which she unwittingly confirms by reference to the dead rabbit). More crucially. Edge’s vision of her self as extended in space to include all that she surveys makes her particularly vulnerable to time. as well as her neurotic impulse to tuck all structural and personal loose ends into her bureaucratic web. On the contrary. 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. old eyes” and her “small voice. In such a passage Green demonstrates the life-hatred that lies behind Edge’s defensive bureaucratic posture. And yet. cold preoccupation” (203) shielding him from Edge’s entirely self-interested machinations.” he expresses implicit sympathy for one who should be old without being wise. the “vast distance of his final cold. during which he is “contemplating his own death with disinterest” (202). with his reference to “her blue. the huge glass in which she sees her own personality reflected. Edge’s vision is of a static world of Newtonian order in which a god (in this case Edge herself. acting on behalf of the “State”) sets in motion a clockwork machine world. however. It is self-sympathy that protects him from the spell that Edge attempts to cast upon him with her strategic offer of marriage. in his shared world of others within space and time. 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. by fainting. She may be safe for an instant.112 / alternative realisms What is unforgivable for Edge is that. 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. and allows us to acknowledge that the ultimate and inevitable victim of Edge’s repressive regime is herself. even to herself. in the maintenance and care of which any further creative impulse is actively opposed. Ultimately she cannot forgive herself for being a part of nature. it is proof that he is able to relate to himself as to an “other. but the next instant may rob her of that safety. (171) Edge’s egoistic wealth of self makes her lonely and vulnerable in a way that Rock.
as Edge’s individual will is inevitably enveloped by her bureaucratic machinery. In his fictional anatomy of Edge’s ways and means. and neither does his pastoral-organic realism provide an egoistic escape or opportunity for ego-inflation for the reader. (202–203) Rock views Edge’s marriage proposal with contempt. Green demonstrates the manner in which such ego-fulfillment results in an enslavement by and to the conventionally real. But in terms of self-respect. whose personalities are enslaved—possessed—by their possessions (1083). from every point of view except Edge’s own . oh well what harm was there? Things would all come out in the wash. and of nature as a part of oneself. was tantamount to an insult offered by the woman” (209) and determining to keep secret the “ludicrous development” (209). Rock’s well-tended individual self-respect. she laughed to herself. But then. or of one outcome . . one’s individual wealth requires no augmentation. So Green’s creative ego requires no flattering reflection or willful defense. there is no one of whom the proposal is more insulting than of Edge herself.to create a life which is not / 113 expression that the system itself curtails once it is set in motion. by contrast. When one conceives of oneself as a part of nature. one is bound to be disappointed. Her intuitive awareness of her subservience makes her both bitter and dangerous. may be seen to be a defense of Green’s own particular brand of pastoral-organic. as Rock is well aware. 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. or as praise of a particular version of a satisfactory reality. From the point of view of his continuing battle with Edge. . considering that “the suggestion. She must be mad. Green’s refusal to choose sides in and through his fiction. almost completely out of control. She herself realizes the absurdity of the marriage proposal from a personal viewpoint: What a desperate expedient to gain possession of a cottage. If one reads Green’s fiction in search of an escape from or weapon against an unsatisfactory world. One is reminded of Oscar Wilde’s observation that the system of private property ownership is most damaging to the owners themselves. who demonstrates by the proposal her absolute cravenness in regards to her bureaucratic position. be utterly forgotten come daylight. antimimetic fiction-making. it is no doubt best that Rock conceives of the proposal as an insult and acts accordingly. 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. to load the dice in favor of one character or another (even Edge is softened and humanized by novel’s end).
Welty remarked of Green’s novels that. as Treglown aptly noted: It is a vulnerable kind of art. “Concluding is unforgettable. you can’t stop its living. one that challenges the life-logic of plotted conclusions. the argument is wholly implicit in the observation and insight. in Treglown 187). it is because they both are questioning the assumptions underlying the conventional understanding of reality in their respective areas. “there is no determinate nexus which in an unqualified sense is either the man or the earth” (Adventures 204). opens his work up to criticism by partisan players. “when after moving you as they do they come to an end. both writers demonstrate the manner in which the status quo is a judgment upon itself. More subtly.114 / alternative realisms or another (the plot of Concluding significantly does not conclude). In the work of both Green and Whitehead. once the thing is printed. as long as an organism such as a man or the earth is alive in space and time. 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. and I think it is. it is in a manner that is new to the novel convention. which likewise refuses to defend its insights against partisan attack. they do not (I think) release you like the more orthodox novels and like the greatest novels” (22). by putting your hands round its little wet neck. 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. If both writers fail to engage the status quo directly. Indeed. as you could a child. We may recall Whitehead’s assertion that. (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.” 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. Green himself humorously commented that. you simply cannot strangle it. The same may be said of the life brought forth in a novel of pastoral-organic realism. Green’s ability to create characters’ lives and worlds that continue after their stories end was noted by Stokes. 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. If a novel like Concluding is great. . if a novel is really good. who remarked that Green’s characters “are more like actual human beings than like most fictional characters” (30). Green’s pastoral-organic fiction resembles Whitehead’s philosophy of organism.
from whatever trash is available. it is a demonstration that the more comprehensive composition ultimately carries the day. thus giving a distorted picture of reality as a whole” (51).” 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. a narrative to inhabit” (195). Concluding is Green’s supreme achievement in creating real-world complexity that evades the exterior-interior conundrum. North referred to the novel as “the most extreme example of Green’s belief that the exterior world is not necessarily an objective truth but can be as subject to personal desires as the interior world” (180).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. rendered impotent and robbed of meaning” (36). and not Edge (205). his contention that “Green shows that self-knowledge is fiction. or else the “writer identifies what is necessarily a subjective experience with reality as such. but that the truest reality is the most comprehensive. as Georg Lukács so convincingly argued in his seminal book Realism in our Time. The competition between Rock and Edge is more than just a duel between competing fictions. Green affirms the winner by naming the mansion that is the novel’s setting “Petra” (Rock). What the poet. has found most explicit about life was clear to him before the line between the exterior and interior was ever invented. either “human activity is. and he is this. Green’s organic realism. by contrast. One might think of the Rock as being an emblem of the universe . As persuasive as is North’s argument “that an individual achieves self-creation” in Green’s fiction “by concocting. The allegorical significance of these names may be considered in various ways. all of which are “compositions” (to borrow Whitehead’s key term). 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. . argues that there are many realities. a priori. . 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. regardless of its power of compulsion in any particular circumstance.
116 / alternative realisms itself.” she shouted under the music. at that precise moment. “upon which our Institute is Built. (185–186) . Edge’s fixation on maintaining un-breached the defensive boundaries of her territory and power (even her body is unbreached sexually speaking. and in a rising voice. “They can outstretch themselves. as she and her governing partner Miss Baker look down at the whirling figures from the dais upon which they are seated. on which every edge.” she added. “Rock” also obviously is emblematic of 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. Although Green clearly is not an orthodox writer. 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. Concluding may be seen to have many allusions to a Christian worldview. like the surface of a sphere. the music stopped dead into a sighing silence. which Einstein famously considered to be finite but unbounded. It was like a prisoner.” in reference to the disciple Peter (King James Version Matthew 16: 18).” she answered and beamed at the Students. As the Pharisees plotted against Christ and his disciples.” (she was working herself up). but kept her face expressionless. such as the Earth. At the Founder’s Day dance near the novel’s end. with the allusion to Christ’s statement that his church would be founded upon this “rock. and who has learned to scream defiance as an unheard ventriloquist beneath the deafening mechanical hammers. content on the whole to let things slide this night of nights. magnificent. as a last gesture. “My dear. “there is a Limit. “this Rock” she continued. is only a relative boundary in the bigger-picture scheme of things. as thought to yell defiance. particularly in its contrasting of the caring and nurturing pastoral figure of Rock to the dogmatic and dictatorial Edge. “But I must mention one thing.” Edge agreed. 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. “They can go too far. and could only go on in a great voice.” when.” Miss Baker approved. which is continuous: unbounded. confined with others to a workshop in which talk is forbidden. and of the reality of nature. which has no edges—or rather. like Queens upon thrones. heard throughout the Hall. Edge is avidly pursuing the obsessive theme of Rock and his granddaughter in their cottage. 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. Baker. in praise of the recovery. such as the edge of a continent or mountain range. and this.
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.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. For as well as making a political argument concerning the self-defeating nature of tyranny. in his fiction-making. and a biological argument concerning the fundamental character of interactive process. which is itself in motion as the universe expands outward. metaphorically. vegetables. and is in another sense representative of the earth in its elliptical orbit about the sun. further emphasizing Green’s attention to natural processes. and minerals. These various arguments are nested within and about one another in interactive motion. In his 1982 study of Green. . and an aesthetic argument concerning the limits of representation and the autonomy of organic creation. like a series of waves rolling through a body of water. and vice versa” (184). When we pay close attention to the subtle and complex allegory emblematized by the chief characters’ names. as an electron’s quantum leap from one orbit to another. and a psychological argument concerning the isolation created by fear. 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. women. 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. The logic of argument that they create is incredibly complex and yet harmonious withal. as Stokes first noted in his insightful monograph (20). which is emblematic of a harmony between linear time (narrative) and circular nature (symbolism). and children are given the attributes of animals. This metaphorical level jump might be thought of. The novel itself suggests its own shape as that of a spiral. like that of a supreme lyric poem or a piece of music. One might also think of the electron clouds orbiting the nucleus of an atom in motion. since it is the very ground upon which all arguments are made and all values are judged. 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. and a spiritual argument concerning the supremacy of love. only to break upon the shore in a conclusion that never finishes concluding. and the process of the natural.
a cohabitation which goes against the State’s housing policies as well as against Rock’s inclinations. to send the last arrivals out. 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. black and blunt against faint rose. as the first mass of starlings left while these others settled. that singing drooped. After which these birds came in hundreds. In one sense. followed by ever greater numbers. began to give the alarm in earnest. before roosting. when a flock of starlings suddenly descends upon the trees around them for their nightly roost. scything the air. they made.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. and to swoop down through a thickening curve in the enormous echo of blood. Then a third concourse came out of the west. flat sovereign red gold. rather. Their anxious discussions regarding their future home(s) is concluding as they near the mansion. in their turn. . as the succeeding waves of birds dislodge earlier arrivals from their roosts. But the line “and there was a huge volume of singing” is decidedly biblical in its cadence and phrasing and calls to mind. then suddenly by legion. the chorus of hosannas about God’s throne when . not the least of which is its humorous and poetic naturalizing of the struggle for a home. 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. as the discombobulated flocks jostle for position. as sky faded fast. then finished. “I’m glad I had that once more. until the leader. in one broad spiral led the way down and so. . as they had at dawn. and there was a huge volume of singing. a huge sea shell that stood proud to a moon which. Once the starlings had settled in that tree they one and all burst out singing. and these. and blackbirds. as they descended. (148–149) The passage sums up the novel in several ways. at which Rock is anticipating a continuation of his battle with Edge over the cottage. Then there were more. through falling dusk in a soft roar. they circled a hundred feet above. or of the sea. Rock said aloud. The starlings flew around a little and then. even higher dots against paler pink. . 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. and this moment was over. . as every bird was home. the moon paled to brilliance. which trebled the singing . They swarmed above the lonely elm. the birds’ singing may be thought of as an enormous argument. some first starlings flew out of the sky . until all was black above that black elm. was already poised full faced to a dying world. began to circle up above.” Mr.
Green’s focus on the moving reflections emphasizes. Might the singing be both argument and praise. which are the universe disjunctively. their object-ness in a world of other objects.’ but also in the sense of ‘drawing inferences’ ” (qtd. which is the universe conjunctively. As usual with Green. “Concluding. by however infinitesimal an amount. (25–26) We contribute our individual change through our creativity—that is. through our living—for to Whitehead. which is something we share with all of nature. Whitehead wrote in Process and Reality that individual creativity is that ultimate principle by which the many. self-conscious thought is a part of our creative contribution to the world. in the sense of ‘ending.) Green’s working title for the novel was “Dying” (Mengham 187). 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. as is the whirling gossip it attends to. which is emphasized in the passage above by the blood-like red of the moon and sky.” by contrast. Our own bodies as individual organisms . We are living. . And yet to have lived is to have changed the essential character of things. . such dehumanization is comforting rather than threatening. The past is the material with which the future is made. And yet the spiraling flocks of starlings. but it is also a poignant reminder of the mutability of all things. or of the sea” emphasize continuity and repetition. as to Green. rather “living” is the creative activity of dying. one implication of which is that the past is always present in the future.to create a life which is not / 119 every soul has been called home. The many become one. whose reflections in the polished floor moved “backwards and forwards. paradoxically. which makes our brief lives a part of the permanency of the world. the materiality of the dancers themselves.” For dying is not something that is done . in which there is no such thing as “passive matter” (Whitehead. become the one actual occasion. that nothing is ever lost—and that is why Concluding is more apt as a title than “Dying. as of Proust’s. Green said of his title that it “could be double-barreled i. in and out again as each pair swung round under chandeliers” (263). implies both an ongoing process and a stage or state within that process. Being is in essence creative becoming. Modes 115) devoid of subjective experience. in Treglown 184). the apt setting for the day’s Armageddon-ish last stand. It lies in the nature of things that the many enter into complex unity .e. in their “enormous echo of blood. but it is only a part. and therefore we are dying. and make an analogy as well with the waltzing couples at the coming dance. For the human. so that we can say of Green’s world. The much larger category is mind or mentality itself. living and creation are synonymous. and are increased by one.
which presents us with an endangered world within a pastoral boundary. To rid oneself permanently of the threat of the other is impossible. Rock’s humble and congenial pastoral response. both Whitehead and Green strived to emphasize and investigate the living. like small creatures coming and going in a meadow” (Surviving x). which can live in people who are alive” (Surviving 136). Each entity requires its environment” (Religion 132). . In their efforts to counter the isolating.120 / alternative realisms are “the basis of our emotional and purposive experience. as we have noted. emphasizing the innate and intrinsic relation of the living organism to its living environment. Edge gives way to paranoia and hysteria. Rock and Edge cannot marry. but neither can they leave one another alone entirely. Modes 114). Green said that his goal with his novels was to create “a life . nature-alienating tendencies of a dualistic scientific humanism that conceived of the self-conscious human as different in kind from the rest of nature. Rock knew now there must be a flight of birds fast winging. mingled with their environment. to step outside of which—as has the missing student Mary—is to be lost indeed. 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. Rock is this favored world’s prototypical pastoral figure as Edge is the representative of the threatening world outside—her name labeling her as the pastoral boundary itself in its defensive posture. . The crucial question is the attitude that one adopts to this threat. head to one side. thus emphasizing the ecological nature of Green’s pastoral creations. 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. at some clear height. Ted knows where he thought” (3). by contrast. taking egoistic refuge within the selfdefeating ideals of invincibility and invulnerability. Green and Whitehead in their differing venues were attempting to make the human at home again in nature. As Whitehead argued. as when he observes his pet goose Ted.” and yet in the history of thought. “There is no such thing as absolute solitariness. the pastoral—like civilization itself—is necessarily under threat of change. shaping. with a single eye” into a fog bank “beyond which. accepts the vulnerability as a given . evolving environments to which the human both contributes and belongs. By focusing upon the relationship between an individual subject and its necessary. “the unity of man and his body is taken for granted” (Whitehead. which—in generic terms—is an innately pastoral endeavor. interactive and enabling environment. Mr. The pastoral mode is most operative in Concluding. Rock’s congenial and respectful relations with his animal pets indicates an awareness of the mentality at work in nonhuman nature. “staring.
and its imaginative and generous observation of. world-critiquing Modernist forbearers was to meet the tremendous instability of our age with an engaging civility in and through his ever-flexible. or even in defensive armor . is at the heart of the success of life itself: In the history of the world. The pastoralist pointedly refuses to adopt an aggressive posture in regards to danger. . Every organism requires an environment of friends. . Rather he strives to be at home creatively within and amidst the danger. By force. and partly to supply it with its wants. and interaction with. in general. the prize has not gone to those species which specialized in methods of violence. (Science 206) “An environment of friends” is intrinsic to the pastoral vision embodied by Rock in his attitude and relations. The Gospel of Force is incompatible with a social life. “the great ages have been unstable ages” (Science 207). partly to shield it from violent changes. 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.to create a life which is not / 121 and prizes the precious threatened environment accordingly. as the “Gospel of Force” may be thought of as the self-defeating creed of Edge and her state bureaucracy. Whitehead argued. Such a creative. With its scrupulous good manners toward character and reader. Its main defect is that it bars cooperation. Green’s creative advance upon his pessimistic. I mean antagonism in its most general sense. observant and inventive pastoral-organic realism. . the environment as a whole. 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. There is something in the ready use of force which defeats its own object. nonaggressive approach to change. which is to internalize the threat.
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a mystery. For Fitzgerald is first and foremost a moralist. or a connoisseur of human nature. H. ethical uncertainty. whose fiction attempts to address itself to the perceived crisis. John Bayley has written. She published her first novel. and intellectual drift. in entirely unpredictable ways. “In a cool modest way Fitzgerald was an experimenter. the moral approach is not the manner in which Fitzgerald’s work has been considered and appreciated by the reviewers and critics. is not that it began so late. when she was sixty years old. however. she greatly admired (Lubow). aesthetic and moral progression may be traced in and through them. With a few qualified exceptions. in 1977. a decided thematic. but that it developed so quickly. Lawrence—to whom she declared herself “devoted” (Basbanes)—a moralist in a time of existential anxiety. never repeating the same kind of novel twice” (ix). She was an intensely spiritual writer addressing a largely skeptical audience. The absence of the moral element in contemporary critical discourse is certainly not a new or surprising phenomenon. Rather Fitzgerald is a moralist in the philosophical and spiritual manner of D. Eight more novels were to follow before she died in 2000 at the age of eighty-three. 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. Although Fitzgerald made a new start and developed a fresh approach to the fictive project with each of her nine novels. That we shall know one day The unlikely Indian summer career of the late English novelist Penelope Fitzgerald is good news for slow starters. What is most remarkable about her career in fiction.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. to whom she communicated in subtle parables that grew increasingly . in particular. which is not to say that she is a master of scruples in the manner of Henry James. like Jane Austen—the latter of whom.
. Christ himself explained the rhetorical logic of the parable when questioned by his disciples regarding his use of them in speaking to the multitude. and I should heal them.124 / alternative realisms complex and profound as her fiction and its moral message developed. such a discussion is necessary for understanding the full range of implications of her ambitious and broadly ramifying fictive project. Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. . as we shall see) to a contemporary audience of skeptical literalists. it will be quoted at some length: And the disciples came. and said unto him. which is arguably her masterpiece. lest at any time they should see with their eyes. for Fitzgerald’s novels are clearly demonstrative of her beliefs and values when they are read aright. The Gate of Angels. I’m ashamed of myself—but it would require so much courage. whereupon the Gospel writer concludes: “And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13: 58). it is a mistake to speak of the works’ “message. His response is complex and. In this instance. as it is key to our argument. 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. 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. to him shall be given. Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them. and hear with their ears. For whosoever hath. “I still haven’t put down in any of my books what I really believe. and their eyes they have closed. neither do they understand . People think that sort of thing is ridiculous these days. our own skepticism is called for as we remind ourselves of Lawrence’s admonition to trust the tale and not the teller. 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 should be converted. but to them it is not given. and he shall have more abundance. and their ears are dull of hearing. she commented. don’t they?” (Heller).” but with a moralist such as Fitzgerald. and should understand with their heart. from him shall be taken away even that he hath. With most novelists. In a 1990 interview concerning her penultimate novel. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not. and hearing they hear not. as well as being her most explicitly religious work. and teaching us to read . For this people’s heart is waxed gross. (Matthew 13: 10–13. 15) The implication is that revelation only comes to those who are prepared to receive it. but whosoever hath not.
in an interview. Or perhaps the prodigal son is gay. rather. judging from my students) will not readily perceive that the parable of the prodigal son. her spiritual beliefs (Byatt xii). a reader from a different historical and cultural tradition and background could not be expected to perceive this seeming obviousness of meaning. for example. When. 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. When I refer to . 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. conventional. Certainly the very idea of reading aright is apposite to the concept of the parable. which has come to seem quaint. for example. we also must reconsider the nature of the parable form itself. she replied that she hoped her work reflected. it may well seem that their meaning is all too clear. simple-minded. and obvious. is a story of spiritual renewal and salvation. But that is because. 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. 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.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 we think of Jesus’s parables. The creation of correspondences between text and meaning requires an engaged and responsive interaction with the text. The purpose of this digression is to point out the difficult task facing the contemporary novelist for whom spiritual and moral concerns are paramount. In order to read Fitzgerald’s parables aright. However. If contemporary students were given the story of the prodigal son devoid of all context and tradition and asked to interpret it critically. And indeed contemporary readers in the Western tradition who are unfamiliar with the JudeoChristian background (the vast majority of contemporary readers. 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). through interpretation. 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. 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. Fitzgerald was asked about the reflection in the work of her feminist and political beliefs.
Of course Dante is a self-announced allegorist and a reader who ignores the allegorical means and method in his poem is willfully deceived. the ability to suggest that there is a drama. To read Fitzgerald’s work according to its intentions. one must look beyond the alltoo-human tragedy to the divine comedy of which it is a part. . for instance. In an essay on George Eliot’s Middlemarch. at least in part. and hearing they hear not. setting. Fitzgerald observed that. it gives one just that sense of waste that is given by life itself. 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. (Samson) To make us perceive such a drama and momentum. offered this dismissive. 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. most contemporary readers see not. by contrast. and character development has missed the point and purpose of the text. Readers who fail to recognize the parables in Fitzgerald’s fiction. 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. Her work is actually much stranger and darker. a momentum in even the most insignificant daily routine or detail. by Dorothea’s unfortunate decisions and failed aspirations. and neither do they understand. I mean that her fiction has spiritual and moral implications that are central and integral to their meaning. we must be able to perceive that.” created. operating on a separate spiritual and metaphysical plane is certainly the desired effect of the parable. writing in Salmagundi soon after Fitzgerald’s death in 2000. (Samson) I agree with the observation but reject the limited interpretation. 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. Such basic incomprehension is. in order to understand the novel’s moral argument. hidden within the narrative’s “vast complications. Seeing such a text. Although Samson obviously does not much care for Fitzgerald’s work.126 / alternative realisms Fitzgerald as a writer of parables. key to understanding the hostility and condescension with which Fitzgerald’s work has on occasion been treated by reviewers. I think. Ian Samson. Hers is the effect of the don and the priest.
Indeed. I realize. In addition to the authors already discussed in this study under the rubric of modern allegory. in her essays and reviews. A parable. whose good intentions and generous actions tip the balance of the novel from human tragedy to divine comedy. ( Afterlife 23) As is made obvious here. her yet more generous visit to Rosamund. We must believe this if we can. Although Fitzgerald is more subtle and reticent in making her moral arguments than are either O’Connor or Lawrence. As Fitzgerald’s work developed. she shares with these writers a tendency to repeat moral points and to demonstrate spiritual values in and through naturalistic narratives. A traditional allegory typically has multiple meanings and operates in the imaginative space between probabilistic naturalism and the idealized emblematic. by contrast. in her generous gift to Lydgate . whereas the allegory is broadly revelatory. 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. her readers. However. of parables. traditionally has a fairly simple (but not simplistic) moral and spiritual meaning that is exemplified by a story that is wholly or almost wholly naturalistic and probable. Lawrence would be more clearly writers of modern parables. On these “unhistoric” acts in an undistinguished town in the Midlands. and expectations of. H. I would suggest Franz Kafka as a prototypical modern allegorist.there’s a providence not so far away / 127 is the quiet but “incalculably diffusive” influence of a kindhearted individual. a working distinction must be made between parable and allegory. which is to say that the allegorical elements of the later work are employed in the service of the parable’s instruction. her insistence upon naturalism in her work is integral to its argument. For our purposes in this essay. the growing good of the world may partly depend. whereas Flannery O’Connor and in some respects D. the pointed purpose of the work as a moral demonstration remains paramount. that I am culpable of stretching . . The parable is a demonstration. she is primarily a writer of naturalistic stories with moral and spiritual meanings—that is. . Fitzgerald’s moral argument and sentiment is far from being hidden. the allegory is a revelation. as is her insistence upon the primacy of moral values in interpreting experience. of course. Although Fitzgerald’s later work has a pronounced tendency toward the idealized emblematic of classic allegory. As Fitzgerald observed: We have actually seen the effect of Dorothea’s being on those around her. One further distinction between the parable and the allegory is that the parable is pointedly instructive (to those with ears to hear).
and economic manners. 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. as well as spiritual. and of soul and body—as well as in the reality of both generals and particulars. at least. which offered the added benefit of suiting her subtle and clever intellect. the Church took more and more the opposing idealist position that it is the material body in its material world that is the illusion. implications that are integral to our understanding of them. in contemporary intellectual discourse. believe in the reality only of the eternal verities. To consign our interpretation of a spiritual writer like Fitzgerald to the usual cultural categories is to miss the main thrust of her work. and which has been the dominant school of philosophy of the modern age. as they traditionally have been called. 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. a mere blip in the mind of God. philosophical realists believe in the reality of both mind and matter. political. Although we are all too practiced these days at interpreting literature culturally. as Descartes’ soul is . by contrast to nominalists. Christian dogma has vacillated over the centuries between the idealist and philosophical realist positions. Fitzgerald’s condensed novels have philosophical. but with the ascendance of a materialistic nominalism. They are excluded from the third broad philosophical category of nominalism. or universals. emblematized by Descartes’ hypothesis that the human soul is housed in the pineal gland. psychological. 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. 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). under which most contemporary schools fall. in sociological. potentialities and actualities (Feibleman 3–10). This is the philosophical school to which Fitzgerald decidedly belongs. which is reserved for those who believe in the reality only of the things of this world. Philosophical realists have a foot in both camps. 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. as we shall demonstrate.128 / alternative realisms the concept of the parable in adapting it as a generic category of use in analyzing modern literature. Idealists. In other words. which is to direct our attention to what traditionally has been referred to as the realm of eternal verities—the reality of which.
” Of course. Yes. . the real thing’s characters will remain absolutely untouched . (Collected Papers 6.” on the contrary. but in its reality. . The difficulty for the idealists. . or of God’s “nature” (Collected Papers 6.494). I further opine that pretty nearly everybody more or less believes this. and to understand the implications of that reality for our lives and world. of course. which requires a different sort of evidence—or. in that sense. 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. 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). a confusion that he addressed directly in discussing the question of his belief in the existence of God. take the liberty of substituting “reality” for “existence” . is to confuse the existent and the real.there’s a providence not so far away / 129 a mere nodule in the matter of the body. the nineteenth-century polymath Charles Peirce. 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. I answer. of God. the metaphysical and religious argument had already been lost. . on the existence. . . Peirce argued. When the discussion began to focus. . 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. then. . including many of the scientific men of my generation who are accustomed to think the belief is entirely unfounded. To insist upon such an incommensurability. The distinction I am making between the existent and the real is borrowed from perhaps the greatest of American philosophers. . The realm of the eternal verities had vanished from sight. rather. it would be fetishism to say that God “exists. the question being whether I believe in the reality of God.” The word “reality.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. rather than the reality. who adopted as his life’s aim the effort to unify all knowledge. . 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. a different kind of interpretation of the evidence given. irrationally. . or ever will have thought them to be . So. 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. to which he responded by first altering the terms of the question: I will .
the understanding of which is the goal of science. in the bigger picture. on our limited perceptions—Descartes’ famous cogito. the complementary and concluding second stage of which is the movement into recognition . 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.” Peirce admonished (Writings 229). the very business of the scientist.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. and thus our conscious values and beliefs. In the sense of reality as something to be investigated and understood. and it is most likely that we do thus know them in numberless cases. which is to become a fetishist of the human mind—that is. belong and contribute. such an assumption amounts to an unexpressed belief. although we can never be absolutely certain of doing so in any special case. for whom the cardinal sin is an assumption of absolute certainty of knowledge. by which he sought to reground human understanding on our actual practice rather than on our theoretical inventions and allegiances. The sentiment and argument of Fitzgerald’s fiction is entirely consonant with this admonition. although they use different methods to interpret it. science and religion (together with philosophy and art) are reading from the same book of nature. “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. and indeed of all knowledge (Writings 47). a deconstructionist. (Collected Papers 5. In practice. “Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts. we can make educated assumptions and assertions concerning it—and the making of such is. This “coming to grief” is the narrative first stage of the repeated and evolving parable of her novels. But in theory we have come to base our understanding of reality. Peirce further contended that the practice of science assumes the reality of the real. or a reactionary post-humanist—that is. 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. a humanist. in which her moral argument is most explicit. which closes off investigation. 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).311) Although we cannot say with absolute certainty what the real is in any particular case. In her later novels. for Peirce.
of revelation.there’s a providence not so far away / 131 and correction. whereupon he swallows his pride. The universal laws that are the glory of natural science are a by-product of the workings of chance” (Hacking 11). The question for Peirce is not whether the world is changing and evolving. to the point at which he is reduced to living with the pigs he is tending. primary and a world that is divinely providential—“a great symbol of God’s purpose. for Peirce. requires the concept of a living and evolving God. chance is the necessarily primary characteristic of a growing. which is based upon the life of the early German Romantic poet and philosopher. although he demonstrated the manner in which indeterminacy is fundamental to the workings of the world. working out its conclusions in living realities” (Collected Papers 5. although one whose purpose we cannot in this life hope to know. crucially. however. where he is received by his forgiving father with open arms (Luke 15: 11–32). God. perfecting it (Collected Papers 1. but he is creating and. Chance would only be annulled in a perfectly static world—an unliving world. 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. In Fitzgerald’s last novel. The two narrative movements are exemplified in the parable of the prodigal. For Peirce. and evolving world. he was nevertheless a committed believer in divine providence. The movements are parallel to the archetypal epic narrative arc of a journey into the underworld and return home. admits his error. or rather series of moments. Novalis. rather we can rely on our observations and intuition (which Peirce—like . The Blue Flower. 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. who first squanders his inheritance in riotous living. is intimately involved with this evolving world. A living and evolving world. For Peirce. by contrast.615). and he argued persistently that the seeming contradiction between a world in which chance is. this awakening is a spiritual envisioning—a mystical moment. 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. What makes Peirce so apposite to Fitzgerald’s implicitly religious fiction (she was in practice a Roman Catholic (Wolfe 17)) is the fact that. The moral and mystical transformations that Fitzgerald’s characters undergo are explicitly occasioned by chance. The crucial difference in the parable. changing. is that the transformative event is a personal moral awakening. The Taming of Chance : “Peirce positively asserted that the world is irreducibly chancy. a confusion of the everyday existent and the ultimately real.119)—is a misunderstanding of the dual nature of reality. who is the hero of Ian Hacking’s compelling 1990 study. he not only created it. and returns home. and will always be.
We will focus our discussion of Fitzgerald’s fiction on two main topics that have been introduced above and are summarized briefly below. Two Metaphysical Levels of Reality First.295). reason and intuition. it almost seems that Peirce is expanding upon and systematizing Novalis’s prescient intuitions regarding our evolving understanding of the nature of reality. 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. the general and the particular. leading to the disintegration of their personalities. to which we now turn. as has been generally noted. 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. of God. Peirce was clearly influenced by this movement of thought. as the reading of her work that we are embarked upon will demonstrate. but it is an idea that developed from the earlier work. which he sometimes referred to as “evolutionary love” (Collected Papers 6. draw upon the work of both of these revolutionary thinkers in our analysis of Fitzgerald’s quietly revolutionary fiction. . The intuited affinity between Fitzgerald and Peirce is also supported by her late interest in the work of Novalis. while simultaneously prompting them to progress through love to greater knowledge of and integration with a providential reality. 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. Two Metaphysical Levels of Reality The idea of two metaphysical levels of reality is implicit throughout Fitzgerald’s fiction. We will. emphasizing its integral role in the progress of organic creation. When one reads Peirce’s voluminous work side by side with the remarkably like-minded but fragmentary production of Novalis. and of ourselves. Although Fitzgerald makes no reference in her work to Peirce. which we will take in turn: 1. 2. a condensed form of logic (Collected Papers 1. and as he himself acknowledged (Writings 339). who died at the age of twenty-eight. Evolutionary Love Second. These events have a dual effect on the characters. his concerns and preoccupations concerning science and religion. who was a key figure in the “Jena Circle” of early German Romanticism. 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. and the potential and the actual— operate in and through Fitzgerald’s fiction.672)).132 / alternative realisms Fitzgerald—considered to be superior to conscious reasoning. in any case.
there’s a providence not so far away / 133 in which it is a central thematic preoccupation in more or less conventional narratives. the mystery’s ultimately reasonable solution is a moral . together the two may be thought of as implying the two metaphysical levels of reality. and carefully constructed mystery set in contemporary times at the British Museum in London. For an author such as Fitzgerald with a keen moral discrimination. 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. perhaps implicit in the genre itself. we will consider the evolution of this idea in her work in some detail. the famous Roman Catholic convert priest and mystery author. K. generous-spirited. In that spirit they are functioning allegorically. What is obvious about the late-starting. perhaps. 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. attempting to frame in the process the good-natured. Ronald Knox. Since the idea of two metaphysical levels of reality is key to understanding the nature and scope of Fitzgerald’s fictive project. The mystery convention works innately on two levels. The Golden Child. published in 1977. and humorously hapless mid-level bureaucrat-hero. and morally committed—one might even say morally obsessed. Certainly the mystery stories of a religiously minded writer such as G. for example. in favor of the lower and middle-class self-made individual. humorous. 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. sixty-year-old author of The Golden Child is that she is extremely clever and intelligent. When the novel’s mystery is solved. Waring Smith. was an erudite. or of Fitzgerald’s uncle. that of the confused mystery itself and that of its rational solution. that of the haphazard everyday existent and that of the ultimately reasonable eternal or ideal. and against the snobbish connoisseur. In these writers’ work. quietly self-confident. Chesterton. The Golden Child Fitzgerald’s first novel. 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. and against the entitled aristocrat. 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. What is also obvious is that she has a bit of a chip on her shoulder (in reaction. in favor of the commonsensical and good-hearted artisan. are very consciously creating such metaphysical implications. and against the rarefied and bad-natured intellectual.
Which is all to say that The Golden Child was. signifying ultimate metaphysical discontinuity. however. whom she admired (Afterlife 276). which is transformed in the process into a symbol of eternity and of God’s providence. her concern with the two metaphysical levels of reality was established. The Bookshop. The transformative agent is chance. 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). however tentatively. somewhat of a false start. no such transformation—or we might say. and in future work she would move on to the naturalistic novel of moral instruction that she eventually would make her own. the providential meaning of which is grace. 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. plot and character development lead insidiously to an inevitable impasse. for instance. (In Kafka’s allegories. The Bookshop Fitzgerald’s second novel. for Fitzgerald. no such redemption— takes place. in her most characteristic work. rather. lends itself to moralistic allegorical argumentation. whereas the parable serves as an entertaining distraction to the multitude. she repeatedly demonstrates the manner in which the eternal world is reached in and through the naturalistic material world. Barbara Pym. is a naturalistic and moralistic novel of manners. as are the three novels that follow it. In the allegorical mystery genre. It is similar to The Golden Child in that there . Fitzgerald’s fictive inclination.134 / alternative realisms judgment upon the haphazard mutable world and a metaphysical correction to our habitually confused understanding. Moreover. similar in some ways to the novels of Jane Austen and of Fitzgerald’s habitually undervalued contemporary. In Fitzgerald’s later fiction. The highly mannered mystery genre. while secretively instructing the elect concerning the means to their salvation. rather than to create allegorical arguments that overtly convict.) When genre allegory is used as an overt moral instrument. however. like the genres of science fiction and fantasy. is to write subtle naturalistic parables that patiently and quietly instruct. in which her coyly instructive parables are most fully developed. with the publication of this generic mystery novel. for she was working against her temperamental and fictive inclinations. In any case. whereas allegory’s focus is on the fundamental and ultimate discontinuity between the two levels. It is also in part autobiographical.
. Gamart’s inflated ego). the narrator warns us at the novel’s beginning. Certainly by “the world’s” standards. Violet Gamart wins her duel with Florence Green. which is. and who maliciously victimize the novel’s hard-put middle-class main figure. In the end. is a thoroughly self-deceived hypocrite who self-consciously adheres to the purest of motives. 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. She did not know that morality is seldom a safe guide for human conduct” (100).” which. rather than judgmental and exclusive. or allied with them. she has even triumphed. do you?” “Not exactly. Mrs. “is not of much use when it comes to the matter of self-preservation” (7). in staying true to her kindhearted motives and intentions. We may find evidence of this in her kind behavior toward Mrs.there’s a providence not so far away / 135 are clear villains. Then she relented. 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. she is the undoubted hero of this deft moral tale because of her “kind heart. He had not been in the shop for some months. offering a martyr’s rebuke to Mrs.” Florence Green has persevered and.’ ” (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. 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. The novel’s primary villain. the sense for harmony” (Notes 61). “You don’t want a book. Gamart’s specious moral values. . and which Novalis referred to when he defined the “moral sense” as “the sense for unity . and it is represented in Fitzgerald’s novel by Florence Green’s persistent good-heartedness amid hardship and attack. rather. Two books that Florence Green takes with her from her abandoned stock on her ignominious retreat from the town “that had not wanted a . But by the standards of “the heart. Such a morality is generous and inclusive. I just came in to say ‘A good man gone. and she presumed that he had been acting under orders. she valued kindness above everything. Florence Green. who are again among the upper-class elite. as the Austenian narrator informs us: “She always acted in the way she felt to be right. the morality of which Whitehead spoke when he noted that “morality of outlook is inseparably conjoined with generality of outlook” (Process 19). knowing that he had come on a kind impulse. Gamart.
whether it signifies good or evil to the nation in the midst of which it exists. 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. Ruskin decried the mid-nineteenth-century selfserving capitalistic economic philosophy that claimed the making of a profit to be an innate moral good. In the series of four essays that comprise Unto this Last. quite colourless. just as sternly as that of a mathematical quantity depends on the algebraical sign attached to it. . Its real value depends on the moral sign attached to it. The text by Ruskin is a case in point. is tantamount to “a science of gymnastics which assumed that men had no skeletons” (Ruskin). (123) The anonymous morality-play quotation printed on the marker. .136 / alternative realisms bookshop” (123) are volumes from the significantly slow-selling Everyman series. (Ruskin) The economic “science” that would consider the creation of wealth in a disinterested empiricist manner. apart from its moral value—its value to the human soul—Ruskin argues. regardless of the manner in which the profit was made. The book must have gone. 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. are operative realities and a system of economics that does not take them into account is unrealistic—“deficient . Ruskin wrote: It is impossible to conclude of any given mass of acquired wealth. . Ruskin’s Unto this Last and Bunyan’s Grace Abounding : Each had its old bookmarker in it. Everyman I will be thy guide in thy most need to go by thy side. and the ideal or spiritual plane on which it exists. and the Ruskin also had a pressed gentian. the understanding of which requires that we translate the everyday material existent into the language of spiritual values. a complex yet everywhere evident symbol of God’s purpose. at what cost of human happiness or misery. the latter of which Ruskin referred to as “the far-reaching ruin” of which material wealth is so often “the gilded index” (Ruskin). in applicability”—no matter how “admirable” its “reasoning” (Ruskin). to Switzerland in springtime. and from which the book series takes its name. perhaps fifty years before. With these various literary references at the conclusion of A Bookshop. For Ruskin. merely by the fact of its existence. 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. the soul.
Florence Green’s name. but as we read further into Fitzgerald’s fiction. An accomplished system manipulator.there’s a providence not so far away / 137 In The Bookshop. The Bookshop seems most significant. Fitzgerald in her next work. the names of the major figures have their own moral values—one of which is clearly related to the science of economy. as it leads all too easily to a self-righteous narrowmindedness. The principle antagonist is Violet Gamart. In what is perhaps the most perceptive critical essay yet produced of Fitzgerald’s fiction. Gamart’s take-noprisoners behavior in manipulating the failure of Florence Green’s bookshop enterprise. clearly aligns her with generous nature itself and its remarkable instinct for regeneration and renewal. perhaps. this novel and the two semiautobiographical novels that follow it. most conventional in terms of the subgenre of autobiographical naturalism that has become one of the dominant modes in contemporary fiction. The fiction of a modern parable writer such as Flannery O’Connor constantly courts and flouts just such a danger. in which good and evil are most clearly identified and opposed. no matter how thwarted and oppressed. difficult and strained marriage. may be translated into “violent mart. as an instructive journey down a road that will not again be taken. are decided departures from the dominant mimetic modes of contemporary fiction. Human Voices and At Freddie’s. as do the novels of Fitzgerald’s friend and contemporary Muriel Spark. 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. by contrast. we will find that such overt moralism is uncongenial to her more meditative and even mystical talent and genius. In regards to that later. Mrs. discriminating moral vision on the aspect of her own life history that would seem least to bear scrutiny. But in several other senses. The felt confession running throughout Offshore makes this novel her most approachable and. in some respects. Tess Lewis contended that “The Bookshop is Fitzgerald’s darkest novel and contains her most malevolent characters” (Lewis). Such a clear opposition is in fact a potential danger to the writer with a moral passion. Offshore Perhaps sensing the aesthetic and spiritual danger of the temptation of an overtly moralistic fiction of heroes and villains. by all accounts. turned her keen.” aptly symbolizing Mrs. Gamart manages to arrange for the bookshop’s demise without allowing any trace to remain of her personal responsibility for the outcome. major work. Offshore. for they do not have clearly delineated plots. which. with minor manipulation. the story of her. O’Connor’s and Sparks’ intensely ironic creative temperaments are at home with fictive structures that are morally overdetermined. with beginnings .
Our limits . (Basbanes) But the answer is “no” in that the novels do not conclude in the usual sense. I’ve got to have that before I can begin to write. my first paragraph.138 / alternative realisms middles and ends.’ Myers said. ‘on the realization of what is’ ” ( Afterlife 228). By refusing to conclude the stories of her characters’ lives. for our own lives’ stories typically do not entirely conclude with tidy narrative completions. but the reality of which is implied by our own experience. then death itself must be considered an ending rather than a conclusion. she points us toward a realm of meaning. And if one thinks of a conclusion as an ending to a story that makes sense of the story that it ends. from our mundane point of view. ‘There is no illusory sense of understanding. or obvious main figures.” and is related to our theme of the two metaphysical levels. The answer is both “yes” and “no. as she told interviewer Nicholas Basbanes: I have made a rule for myself: I don’t start [a novel] until I have my title. and often indeed leave the reader with more questions than answers regarding the fates of the characters and their lives. Wendy Lesser noted simply that. In her introduction to L. The answer is clearly “yes” in that Fitzgerald as narrator knows where her novels are headed. one in which we are given multiple characters in complex fictive situations full of narrative uncertainties and incompletions. thus emphasizing the continuity of community implied by the creative process. Incidents and incidentals rather than formal plots or tidy story lines govern the books” (Lewis). Fitzgerald implicitly requires that we as readers step in to do so. Such open-ended endings are more “true to life” than are complete conclusions. I can’t choose the ending as I go along. H. At the same time. “the narrative contract has been broken” (109). Fitzgerald noted that “the story never yields a conclusion. Fitzgerald’s later novels “are woven from the accidents of her characters’ lives. that is obscure to us. As Lewis observed. but are in large measure open-ended and continuous. which may lead us to question whether the narratives are “governed” at all in the traditional sense. The Root and the Flower. Myers’ profound mystical trilogy. 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. But if one convention has been abandoned—that of the conventional mimetic novel in which we ego-identify with a main character’s narrative progress—another has been created in its place. in these and later Fitzgerald novels. and of being. to our own satisfaction. and my last paragraph. 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. and in doing this.
a religious person. if he did exist. their fates after they leave us. 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. . We are given only one of them directly. However. that of human will and that of human vision. a religious writer. 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. or has considered herself to be. . one existential and one eternal. which end abruptly and resolutely fail to give us everything. as Fitzgerald wrote. I would not have supposed it from reading her novels. “Myers has shown that though there are limits to human will. their histories before we met them. would never be able fully to know us. but also someone whose God. In Fitzgerald’s work. It is not as if one comes after the other. (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. (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. or stands in for the other.there’s a providence not so far away / 139 of understanding do not preclude. And by this I mean not just someone who feels we can’t ever know that God exists. brought back the aspect of eternity to the English novel” (Afterlife 229). an awareness of what lies beyond those limits. The former is explicit. and she concludes her introduction with the assertion that Myers’ “strange masterpiece . these two timelines have no predictable relation to each other. however. which is filled with the richness of the characters’ inner lives. the latter more often implicit. there are none to human vision” (Afterlife 228). Fitzgerald’s own fiction continues in that tradition by operating on two metaphysical levels. and yet the sense of both of them is equally strong. without overtly excluding . in the author’s words. one limited and the other limitless. and a million other things we can only imagine. To me they are the work of a pure agnostic. 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. and then the other one around or behind or between these words.
“It almost seems as if the events had all happened simultaneously” as Acocella perceptively observed (432). Beginning with Offshore. In a conventional naturalistic novel. The Blue Flower is composed of short chapters that are almost tableau-like in their mixture of narrative and stasis. in her last novel. radiantly and unaccountably in her imagination. after decades of silent struggle with the all-too-real. to the point at which. was climbing toward. and the characters more provocatively emblematic. The most conventional protagonists in Fitzgerald’s novels are Waring Smith in The Golden Child and Florence Green in The Bookshop. and the reality it represents. The progress of her fiction in this sense is. Fitzgerald makes available modes of plot progression alternative to the usual cause-and-effect method. Rather she is separating and rearranging the elements so that we are made to look at the convention. let him hear!” (Matthew 11: 15) The sense of the separate operation of the two timelines in Fitzgerald’s fiction increases with each novel. as the novels progress. . Yet they are far less real. they are bounded by actual fact and circumstance. The Knox Brothers : The figures in the biography offer foreshadowing hints of some of those in her novels . We will discuss the key functioning of chance in Fitzgerald’s fiction in the next section.” too actual. It is as though Fitzgerald were saying with her fiction: “He who has ears to hear. Fitzgerald’s fiction becomes more meaningfully mannered. and even less realistic. The Blue Flower. of course. In general. (Eder “Penelope Fitzgerald”) Part of the problem with bringing figures in a nonfiction work alive is that they are “all-too-real. Reality was a realm that Fitzgerald. the enemy of the rational progress of the main character in his/her narrative. and their future is determined. and identity in accordance with the idea of the two metaphysical levels. with new eyes. She found it most comically.140 / alternative realisms those who are not. we will first examine the manner in which that fiction deconstructs and reconstructs the “character” concepts of individuality. a dismantlement of naturalistic narrative convention. she allows chance a crucial constructive role in the creative progress of her fictive world. chance is typically. in which she . . at the same time. Fitzgerald’s characters become less conventional. An intriguing distinction between the realistic and the real in Fitzgerald’s work was made by Richard Eder in his review of Fitzgerald’s biography of her father and his brothers. but more real. But she is not destroying the elements of that convention in a modernist or postmodernist object lesson in deconstructive aesthetics. But before doing so. personality. By deconstructing and reconstructing the traditional time sense that is the foundation for conventional plot operation in the naturalistic novel. It is the most mannered of Fitzgerald’s novels. Fitzgerald herself noted this limitation when reviewing a biography of Virginia Woolf. In particular.
I mean of course about yourself and the little girls. a homosexual prostitute named Maurice who lives on the neighboring barge. The characters who live on the Thames barges. but also of “real vagues. who is living in a northern suburb: “I can’t make up my mind. The key word is “unfulfilled”—that which didn’t and can never now happen: dead potential. Nenna. When you decide.” “Why not.” “It’s the first you’ve ever even mentioned this. Indeed Offshore may be said to be about the at times overwhelming reality of possibilities.” (46–47) Given such ambivalence. Decision is torment for anyone with imagination. to move with her two children back to her home country. as fully as is the ramifying past. and also whether to make a visit to her estranged husband. This is no doubt one of the things that Novalis had in mind when he wrote: “We are more closely united with the invisible.there’s a providence not so far away / 141 observed that. real vagues and real possibilities become as operative as real actuals and real generals.” “You shouldn’t do it at all. the movements of which make them sometimes afloat and sometimes aground. who is originally from Canada. and her best friend. as Nenna’s sister suggests when attempting to convince Nenna. 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. is a combination of the living actual and the living potential.” “But I’ve been thinking about it. which are moored to the banks of the tidal river. and especially real possibilities” (Writings 300). the possibility of your returning to Halifax. since it is that on which we are focused. But reality as we experience it. The potential future is an active part of our present. but he’s told me that he believes there’s a Providence not so far . there’s all kinds. and as the good biographer must strive to recreate it. Nenna. 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. 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). In fact it could be said that the future is more active than the past. it might be consoling to think that one’s fate is—at least in part—out of one’s hands. Joel isn’t a Catholic. “Reading a good biography means thinking of unfulfilled conditionals” (Afterlife 205). as you know. Louise. you multiply the things you might have done and now never can. and praying. Nenna is considering whether to move to shore. 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. In Fitzgerald’s novels from Offshore forward.
142 / alternative realisms away from us. powerless. unconsidered.” which progresses in the fated manner of the fairy-tale. Perhaps. John Bayley noted that Fitzgerald’s “novels don’t have plots.” (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. as is typical of fairy tales. as a poor woman. The Short Fiction In his review of Fitzgerald’s posthumously published book of short stories. For one thing it is set in a very particular time. and not in the vaguely mythic past. play such a crucial role. (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. 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. (Eder “Rough-Hewn Lives”) Fitzgerald’s later fiction often has the unnerving effect of unsolved mysteries or mystic runes. 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. in the form of an ideal to be approached. that wants things to be the way they’re eventually going. Now that idea appeals to me. Our lives are not the shapes we give them. 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. One of the most compelling and memorable of Fitzgerald’s stories that is “hollowed out” by a counterstory is “Desideratus. or perhaps she was not sure how to divide anything . Also the story is too selfconsciously instructional. the main account is hollowed out by the vague counterstory of a secondary figure—someone marginal. The story begins: Jack Digby’s mother never gave him anything. Our stories don’t quite belong to us. although the implications of that instruction are far from certain. with the simple clarity of a dream vision. 1674. she had nothing to give. noting that In several of the best [of the stories]. really just above our heads if we could see it. as we know from the date on a coin that is at the heart of the story. by keeping the reader glued to the page in anticipation of what’s to come” (xi). but they give a wonderful illusion of having them. it is a metaphysical transaction more than a moral one.
. Jack knocks at the door of the house and is admitted by the family tutor. though not with much conviction. the winter frosts have buried it beneath “greenish ice as clear as glass . When he returns to the spot and fortunately finds the medal. which perhaps didn’t fit the case too well. Mr. . Piercy. Mrs. But the wry conclusion. . although by the time she gave it to him he was eleven years old. did give him something. Jonas leads him into the “dark upper floors” (Means of Escape 43) of the house and into a room in which a boy. . 1663. Desideratus [“desired one”]. a keepsake in the form of a gilt medal. pulls the story back into the generic sphere of the parable. but tracks it down to a spot. where he had once rested while on a cross-country errand. if he had had the sense to accept it.” she “answers. which happened to be Jack’s birthday. Jack leaves the medal in its frozen puddle. Having nothing with him with which to break the ice. The story concludes: [Jack] quite often wondered how much money Mr. Finding no one about in the yard. His godmother. his medal and its frozen puddle are both gone. than whatever it is you have lost” (Means of Escape 43). that he mustn’t set too much importance on earthly possessions” (Means of Escape 38). rather than more. loses it. children. This is my own. and offering an overt but uncertain interpretive turn. Digby could have done with fewer. But he is too late. The date on it was September 12. Anyone who has ever been poor—even if not as poor as Jack Digby—will sympathize with him in this matter. by grounding the story in its naturalistic life drama. who tells Jack. . Jack carries the medal about with him everywhere and eventually. who may or may not be dead. at the depth of perhaps twelve inches” (Means of Escape 39). overlooking a “great house” in a valley. However. inevitably. Jonas. oddly enough. he is immediately presented with a quandary: “I daresay you would rather have a sum of money . (Means of Escape 46) This is by far the most allegorical of Fitzgerald’s short fictions. is lying. (Means of Escape 37) When Jack tells his godmother that he is very happy to have “something of which he could say. after the spring thaw has set in. it had taken the godmother’s fancy. since Mrs. On the back there was the figure of an angel and a motto. and in whose “cold as ice” hand Jack finds his lost medal. When Jack hesitates to answer. 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. Mr. the poulterer’s wife. returning a week later.there’s a providence not so far away / 143 among the nine children. that the owner of the house is childless. to which he descends. When Jack eventually is taken to meet the house’s owner. Jonas would in fact have offered him. as almost every detail in the remarkably condensed story is potentially telling.
which the artist demonstrates by “represent[ing] the unrepresentable” (Werke 2: 840)— proving himself. a part of us is looking elsewhere and desires exactly that which we do not have. Certainly they are more mannered than the earlier work. we nevertheless in some measure paradoxically possess. 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.” This story. and that of a very comprehensive kind. to observe how these Common-sense Philosophers. men who brag chiefly of their irrefragable logic. in short. attempts to expand our vision of reality and to emphasize that. . then. all knowledge of the visible rests on belief of the invisible. the Faith. like all of Fitzgerald’s best fiction. and keep watch and ward. on Faith. as Thomas Carlyle pointed out in his influential essay on Novalis. Innocence and The Beginning of Spring. or that they afford not only an honest but a literal representation of the workings of some Divinity. These final two novels. in which he considered the hypocrisy implicit in a narrowly materialistic empiricism: Curious it is . 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. “Idealism is nothing but genuine empiricism” (Notes 402). although we may live our daily lives enmeshed in our material worlds. scientists are no less idealists than are artists. but the reality of these final four novels is paradoxically more acute—more real —than that . . by desiring. and the two that precede it. which may lead us to think that they are more stylistically mannered and less realistic than are Fitzgerald’s earlier.’ are themselves obliged to base their whole system on Mysticism. against ‘Mysticism’ and ‘Visionary Theories. either that man’s Senses are themselves Divine. Perhaps it is desire itself. a superior realist to the scientist. But in making the assumption that the given is inherently meaningful. in both life and art. namely. 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. semiautobiographical fictions. that is the ultimate reality. are all generically distinct works of historical romance. “If only I had . who limits his knowledge to the given. and a theory.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 that sense. but which. as if this were their special trade. . . So true is it that for these men also.
social nature of individual personality. sympathy. Immediately preceding the final historical-romance quartet in the chronology of her works are Fitzgerald’s most overtly argumentative novels. of whom he demands complete loyalty and. But we can only assume. Human Voices and At Freddie’s. is referred to as DPP. 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 . more crucially. known as JTA’s. BBC). and of fact as truth. one presumes. the Recorded Programmes Director. it is the novels’ settings and their fictive arguments that are in a sense the main characters. RPD has a number of young women assistants. For RPD is a man both obsessed with his job and horribly overworked— the former contributing to the latter. (One gets the sense that Fitzgerald got a kick out of riffing on the ubiquitous company initials. and the argument is a critique of a modern world that has chosen power over truth as a conscious ideal. 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”). RPD abruptly quits the corporation and becomes. is known as RPD. the Director of Programme Planning. His JTA’s seem to be almost interchangeable to him until one of them falls in love with him and changes his life. also known as DPP. and the argument concerns the interrelated. Before he falls in love. who protects his vulnerable. In both Human Voices and At Freddie’s. for these novels are more successful at representing the unrepresentable. thus Sam Brooks. 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. Human Voices At Broadcasting House. RPD’s most significant relationship is his symbiotic professional relationship with Jeff Haggard. for the novel ends with the revelation of his falling in love. a real person and not simply a set of initials. In Human Voices the setting is the Broadcasting House hub of the wartime (WWII) BBC.there’s a providence not so far away / 145 of Fitzgerald’s autobiographical fiction. When love overtakes him. while At Freddie’s is set in a school for young actors in post-WWII London. while his counterpart. people are referred to by their functions and titles. uniting the invisible with the visible. Jeff Haggard. Junior Temporary Assistants.
How can they find anything to broadcast that’s got to be true. had to deal with the consequences. which. and as what we know of . which have personalities and relations of their own. is only contingent. who is compelled to quit her job when she becomes pregnant (she is unmarried).” (229) Speaking a nonverbal language. to which his practical respondent replies. After The Bookshop. . therefore. music is incapable of lying. You’re weakening these people. corporations and families. nations. (250) Neither RPD nor Lise are villainous. and couldn’t be anything else?” He gestured towards the piano. thus putting her in a position in which she must rely on the kindness of relative strangers. the human race would have difficulty in reproducing itself. and one such need is to be needed by others. Other people. Of course. cannot stop themselves from doing so. Rather they are needy in ways to which others respond with generosity. 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. The implication throughout Human Voices is that people in their complex personalities and interactive relations are really little different from societies. however. and furthermore that being unlucky was a sufficient contribution to the world’s work. In times like these we’ve got to forgo luxuries and that includes the obligation to help others. he complains. there will be no more egoistic villains in Fitzgerald’s fiction. DPP is reminded of this when his friend Mac (an American broadcaster who is surely based on Edward R. “We couldn’t put out music all day!” “Music and silence. “There isn’t anything at all that mightn’t be otherwise . for everyone has needs. with their own strengths and weaknesses. Probably you ought to be doing something totally else. Lise. a position with which she is well acquainted: Lise had always felt that she was particularly unlucky.” (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. if this appeal were to fail entirely. . Words.146 / alternative realisms defenseless and single-minded. “The opposite could also be true” (229). (151) Another parasitical character in the book is a half-French JTA.
although known as a stalwart—even legendary—supporter of the English stage (of Shakespeare in particular). the school’s proprietess: The words upon it.there’s a providence not so far away / 147 ourselves we know in and through language. At Freddie’s. The foil to Freddie’s entirely flexible. which is based on and in the Temple School of drama for youth known as “Freddie’s. we must accept that our own personalities and identities are necessarily unstable—contingent truth. read NAUGHT SHALL MAKE US RUE IF ENGLAND TO ITSELF DO REST BUT TRUE. At the novel’s end. is not concerned with truth. and that not very successfully. who had no ability to make himself seem better or other than he was. that he “had never yet given . It also operates as a critique of . 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. . you know.” The school’s unofficial motto hangs in a banner in the office and over the head of Freddie herself. no film work. is a parable about the ascendance of the ideal of power over the ideal of truth. (21) Pierce falls in love with his fellow teacher at the school. Pierce Carroll. and who “countenanced” for her young charges “No TV work. no modeling” (14). one wouldn’t recall having seen him before. . (17) The irony in this most ironic of Fitzgerald’s novel is that Freddie herself. who— although lazy and alcoholic—is so adept at his craft. Boney Lewis. “It’s my duty. a disappointing performance” (82). At Freddie’s. and in this sense it is a satire of a contemporary. At Freddie’s The concept of contingent truth is at the center of the decentered novel. . . but with power. which was published in 1982. who herself falls in love with an aging character actor. self-interested identity is a young teacher at the school. she recognizes that he possesses a “stubborn incorruptible intensity . Although Pierce makes such a poor impression and is not very appealing to Hannah romantically. written in foot-high letters and scrolled with gilt. 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. postmodern society content to let advertising dictate the reality it calls its own. Hannah Graves. . to take my school where the power is” (157). which she could never hope to come near” (92). . Meeting Carroll for a second time . He could only be himself.
he nevertheless is adopted as a kind of surrogate parent by the drama school’s most brilliant student. Jonathan. a contemporary critic of postmodernism. Delafield’s Thank Heaven Fasting. Robert Cummings Neville. For neither Freddie nor Hannah are given good choices (Freddie’s school is perpetually on the brink of financial ruin. In her review of E. a question of power. although it is a satirical comedy.” 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. but the choices they do make are nevertheless. one for which the Shakespearean dictum. 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. Fitzgerald contended.148 / alternative realisms a post-structuralist intelligentsia obsessed with manipulations of language as a symbol system. the most convenient ones—those that conform most comfortably with a conforming world. significantly. a nonconformist—family. we must search beyond it for truth. Along these lines. III. who is a nonconformist himself. It might be noted in this respect that Pierce is from a “black Protestant”— that is. in any case. As Humpty Dumpty—a protoptypical post-structuralist—says to a skeptical Alice. she is a conformist. “We must accept that comedy is crueler than tragedy. Her claim to sympathy is only that” (Afterlife 193).iii. but that. and as such it is perhaps her most negative and even despairing novel. 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. as all language is feigning. “In a conforming society. we can forget the search for truth (which is always. Although he is as hapless as a teacher as he is as a lover. it is merely a question of “which is to be master” (188): that is. has commented of Charles Peirce that he would have thought the postmodernist critique of logocentrism a wickedness. and to critique others in their less successful attempts. refusing to put himself forward as an actor—as the other . contingent) and content ourselves with attempts to feign most successfully. (52) At Freddie’s is Fitzgerald’s fictive rebuke to such a substitution. “The truest poetry is the most feigning” ( As You Like It. 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. and Pierce is a hopelessly unattractive lover). M. as all language is feigning. when it comes to one’s struggles with language and meaning.15–17) means not that.
she manages to suggest. there is a feeling that the novel’s setting and circumstance in some manner produces or perhaps evolves its characters and plot. To them. Fitzgerald also works to prevent us as readers from ego-identifying with her characters. in which the very lack of depth leads us to “read” the painting metaphorically. This is not to say that Fitzgerald offers no psychological description of or insight into her characters. 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. In that sense. but in quite a different manner. he wanted to know what someone looked like when they did. Jonathan was born to be one of those actors who work from the outside inwards.there’s a providence not so far away / 149 students instinctively do—and seeming uninterested in general in getting the world’s attention. By refusing to privilege the psychological viewpoint. As Lesser wrote of Fitzgerald’s method. Rather she makes her characters’ psyches only one among many elements reverberating with meaning. the surface is not superficial. He felt the compulsion to pretend to be someone else. his attention withdrew. and the key to understanding that life lies in our manner of interpretation of the given. “What she gives us on the page. The missing dimension implies other dimensions entirely. Rather Jonathan. which became less interior and psychological and more evidential and materialistic as she progressed from novel to novel. it is almost as though we had returned to the two-dimensional world and viewpoint of pre-Renaissance representational painting. In her final four major fictions in particular. her characters no more “own” themselves than they own their world. (35) In his method of acting. 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 effect is to make the material “surface” world more mysterious and more complex. (74) I think that we are meant to understand this as a defense and explanation of Fitzgerald’s own artistic method. She is not a “new novelist” in that manner. 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. He didn’t want to know what it felt like to be desperate enough to jump from a wall. . appeared to have learned something so important that his whole time was taken up in considering it. The mystery of life in these novels lies on its surface and not in its depths. is only a small part of what is really there” (122). secreting himself and watching the world as a passing show.
Still he had other resources. in this instance. again and again. though. Meanwhile he went on climbing and jumping. than the one he was doing at present. “[Jonathan’s] object was to get so used to the jump that he could do it without thinking. The drop was a good bit longer. Jonathan never stops jumping off of his wall. . To that end. via the reader—thus demonstrating the ever-ramifying reality of the purely potential. they end like poems. Once again Samson offers keen insights despite his obvious distaste (“Forever England” is strictly gratuitous). The figure of Jonathan at the conclusion of At Freddie’s is a case in point. and climbs upon them to reach the top of the garden wall for his practice jumps. the eternal return. . one evening before his opening performance. into the darkness. and exactly the same every time” (160). In that realm. in Acocella 429). although she realized that many readers missed it. with a culminating image” (Acocella 428). Acocella perceptively observed of Fitzgerald’s later novels that they “cease to end like novels. and that was the implication Fitzgerald said that she was meaning to give.” but seem rather almost “a Mobius strip. there was nothing to stop him jumping down on the street side and getting out that way. Jonathan drags some rotten crates from the nearby market into the tiny walled garden behind the Temple School. 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. with a tying up. down into the middle of the yard . he alerts us to the manner in which Fitzgerald’s endings attempt to represent the unrepresentable eternal realm of a boundless forever-after. Samson likewise remarked that Fitzgerald’s “interminable endings” offer neither “an escape” nor a “resolution. “I tried to make it clearer. 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. 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.” she told Acocella. Forever England” (Samson). but that seemed to spoil it.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. Also it has begun to snow. . (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. so I left it. Once again I believe that we would do best to trust the tale rather than the teller. “To that extent the book’s a failure” (qtd.
The prevailing opinion is that change is either entirely chaotic and arbitrary or entirely determined and predestined: evolution or creationism. After The Bookshop. chance and providence cannot exist together in a changing world. Fitzgerald seems to be picking and choosing. who first conceived of a metaphysical-materialist system in which chance-driven evolution and divine providence may both be operative and true. take your pick. Like Peirce. and the play’s foreshadowing—that Jonathan will somehow die from a fall. like our own. its arrival is certain amid uncertainty—a matter of chance. Unless we hasten the ending. In Fitzgerald’s final four novels. that is. she attempted to demonstrate the workings of such a world. from which the novel releases him by concluding when and as it does. so the ending of the novel bears the weight of the future so that it does not come down in any particular direction. something is bound to happen to stop his repetitions. but as a perfectly placed fulcrum point can bear the weight of the world. I mentioned earlier in reference to Fitzgerald’s first novel. his birth” (Werke 3: 441).there’s a providence not so far away / 151 In Jonathan’s all-too-real world. In her final four historical-romance novels. keeps never coming. . however. the high wall. As both a storyteller and a metaphysical-moralist in these novels. the snow falling. Evolutionary Love According to our inflexible and literalistic modern way of thinking. It is not simply that these novels are based upon historical times and places rather than on the author’s autobiographical experience. of probability. The Golden Child. 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. and chances are—given the rotten crates. and in order to do so. our deaths. 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. we embark upon a different fictive terrain from the one that we have been negotiating in her earlier work. Fitzgerald clearly believed in the reality of both. like our births. are—from our perspective—fortuitous. The entire weight of the novel is poised upon that possibility. 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. Fitzgerald ceased to separate her characters into obvious heroes and villains. Jonathan’s death. Novalis wrote: “The individual is individualized by one single chance event alone.
the novels work backwards in time from a post-WWII Italy in which the last vestiges of the European feudal order are being undone. But what these characters have to choose from has been determined for them (as for us) by luck or fate. and then back a century to the Romantic response to that deterministic universe. In order to understand Fitzgerald’s argumentative project with these novels. to a pre-WWI England in which Cambridge scientists are dismantling the atomic basis of the regular and predictable Newtonian material universe. 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. the main characters in these novels are engaged in determining their fates in a vigorously interactive manner unavailable to Fitzgerald’s earlier characters. For each of these novels is set at or near particularly fraught historical turning points in which the characters awaken to find themselves. As existential actors. and their fate. of routine habit and chance alteration. 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. for these characters in their lives are the argument itself. which—in these novels—is almost synonymous with history. Fitzgerald’s final novel. and the implications arising from which they are. although irreducibly chancy. to various degrees. This is all to say that these final four novels give us the feeling of life itself. the most telling symptom of which is the split between heart and head that has come to seem an intrinsic element of the human condition. in each of these novels.152 / alternative realisms But in the final four historical-romance novels. the characters are free to choose in that regard. The Blue Flower. by means of which she found her way to the fragmented writing of Novalis (Basbanes). might almost . is determined in large part by what they make of their changing circumstances. we have to interpret them as parables of the spiritually ailing modern world. As a series in a historical quartet. and their fates are likewise more meaningful—more real—because they have been chosen rather than endured. in its combination of restrictiveness and possibility. who was likewise obsessed with the heart-head estrangement in modern thought and being. to a prerevolutionary Russia in which that order is just barely hanging on. Fitzgerald offers no less than an anatomy and diagnosis of sickened modernity itself. and who devoted his mercurial life to saving that marriage. They are both products and creators of their world. complete with a regimen for beginning a return to health. Rather they seem selfdetermined actors in a morality play in which there is no felt separation between the argument and its characters. In her final four novels. Lawrence’s alarm at this heart-head split seems to have drawn Fitzgerald’s attention and devotion to his prophetic work. alert.
if coyly and complexly. it is to the prophetic tradition of Novalis. for instance. which he addresses by way of arguments concerned with the sickened and perverted nature of modern sexuality. When we look back at her career from the vantage point of these novels’ prophetic argument. and Lawrence that Fitzgerald’s final fiction most fittingly. linking the visible with the invisible. Lewis observed of this crucial shift in Fitzgerald’s fiction: Most of her early works feature infatuations tangential to the main story lines. the convert Roman Catholic priest. open you eyes—and . “in his struggles to bring home to his hearers . it almost seems that everything up to the point of these novels’ creation was a prelude and a preparation. love becomes not only the dominant theme of her novels. But with her sixth novel. In her final four novels. the theme is the reality of evil (and good) in the world. (Lewis) The transformative love affairs at the heart of these final four novels are far more than mere romantic story lines. as Peirce pointed out: “As to God. Ronald Knox. as her “Russian” novel. the theme is the heart-head split. Just so. Fitzgerald had written in her joint biography of her father and his brothers that her uncle. Innocence. In Lawrence. It is the heart that guides the head to this envisioning of the divine. Ruskin.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. . In any case. the Proof of the Supreme Excellency of God. we find that a central argument is repeated in an obsessive variation on a theme. . The Beginning of Spring. 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. In O’Connor. which she treats as a modern-day malady for which there is only one cure—the miraculous power of love. 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). When we look at the work of writers of fictive parables. which she addresses by way of arguments concerned with the damning effects of moral complacency. Fitzgerald takes up this argument with the certainty of a prophet who has found her message. the dominant theme is likewise the heart-head split.” spoke of the “pull of human love. but also their catalyzing force. which points to something beyond it” (Knox Brothers 215). In Fitzgerald. Tolstoy. belongs. They imply a revolution in the main characters’ envisioning and understanding of reality that has profound spiritual implications. 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.
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). The argument that positive emotion is both spiritually and logically superior to everyday understanding is a conviction that Peirce shared with Novalis. whose life and thought informs Fitzgerald’s second of her last four novels. and he prophesied that the “law of love”: will in due time emerge and makes its way to general recognition. Peirce labeled his infinite-growth model of reality “evolutionary love. in Raposa 58). (“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.” “That. “ All men live not by care for themselves. in which the discombobulated individual. and the nonsense that has obscured it will disappear of itself. echoed Peirce’s sentiment when he wrote. Using her instructive method of fictive parable. and is a contention that is repeatedly endorsed by Fitzgerald’s instructive demonstrations in her final four novels.” which Peirce defined compellingly as “incomprehensible thought. as a stronger emotion eventually overwhelms a weaker one. The Beginning of Spring.” he explained. and so of all known forces—inevitably is destined to conquer all. and with it will go the evil from which humanity now suffers. “the final goal of world history—the One of the universe” (Notes 50). 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).” by replacing it with an “apapistic” or lovecentered model of evolution that is based upon the idea of infinite growth. which he felt to be nature’s dominant characteristic—the fight for survival being a subordinate effect (Writings 350). an idea that he borrowed from Spinoza—whom he famously characterized as a God-intoxicated man—and who contended that. Tolstoy.” and noted that it was in accord with “the Gospel of Christ [which] says that progress comes from every individual merging his individuality in sympathy with his neighbors” (Writings 363). which he labeled the “Gospel of Greed. so love— the strongest of all emotions. like the . which is also a perceptive organ—and you see him” (Writings 377–378). 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. but by love” (“The Kingdom of God is Within You”).154 / alternative realisms your heart. “is why the highest truths can only be felt” (qtd. The tie between the two realms—that which links us inextricably to both material nature and the spiritual divine—is the heart’s “emotion.
the follower of Jesus significant for being both present at his crucifixion and among the first to witness the resurrection. Such a condition. there is a historical figure or group of figures who have challenged conventional notions of reality. the method of fictive parable that she gradually developed and perfected. 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. while further emphasizing that we are saved by what we cannot control or imagine. and demonstration of. Maddalena is sympathetically committed to caring for the dying and the newly born. and she underwrites a philanthropic “Refuge for the Unwanted” that offers shelter for the infirm aged and for infant orphans. Antonino Gramsci. The Beginning of Spring. the manner . “loses what had hitherto guided his life and lives without direction . This character’s name. True to her namesake. in order to feel at home again in the world. Salvatore (“savior”).” he concluded. the novel’s central figure is. fittingly. Innocence. in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear” (“Prison Notebooks”). and which is located in via Sansepolcro—the street of the holy sepulcher (14–15). a medical specialist defined in the novel as one who “treats pain whose origin is not clearly traceable” (47). The Gate of Angels. a neurologist. after Mary Magdalene. In The Blue Flower. Fitzgerald thus fittingly completed her career as a novelist with an explicit rationale for. The idea of living in a painful period of interregnum is the main theme operating in the first of Fitzgerald’s final four novels. she concludes her extended argument by demonstrating that. In the third novel. 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. In Innocence. . it is the Italian Marxist agitator and theorist. we must learn how to participate in making the world meaningful and real by reading the everyday existent as signs of the eternal. continues that theme. “may last a long time” (“A Letter to a Hindu”). Innocence In each of her 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.there’s a providence not so far away / 155 prodigal son in the parable. . In such a world. These few observations give us a sense of the complex metaphorical nature of these final four novels. The second novel in the series.
but she might. . the point of view of every living creature. . This will involve coming to terms with his class resentment. I want you to meet Dr. who is doing me so much good. She looked at him politely. allegorically. When she meets Salvatore at a musical concert. Rossi. Salvatore thought. “You enjoyed the Brahms?” he asked.” Chiara gave the doctor her hand. the physician must heal himself. or “savior.” feels himself to be “lost” upon meeting “Chiara” who is destined to be the light of his life. 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). which was perhaps piqued by his upper-class patient’s failure to remember his name. rather than the other way around—the heart being the superior sensory organ when it comes to life’s most crucial decisions. Let us review the overt allegory for a moment: a character named Salvatore. The effect of Chiara on Salvatore when they are first introduced by one of his patients is no less profound: “My dear child. no. often against her will. This proves very difficult for Salvatore. He had an intimation he was lost” (32). (32) At the same time that he is thinking this. We could perhaps say that he has been blinded by love. 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). like Saul on the road to Damascus. all defensible” (39). wells up in him. into other existences. but in wonder. and even archetypally coded and resonant. Salvatore Rossini. he must create his own salvation. And how is this lost man to be found again? His name offers the clue. . Dr. but most importantly it will necessitate that he learn to trust his heart to guide his head. certainly.” and “who could not escape from the unsettling vision of other points of view. she has found her salvation. “Of course not. 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. Rinaldi. no. No one ever agrees with me. however.” Perhaps we might agree about everything. setting itself against his innate attraction to Chiara. “He felt deeply irritated.156 / alternative realisms in which they are historically. No more wear and tear of the heart” (39).
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. while. take my hand. if you like. the miracle is provided by Chiara herself. Salvatore continues to make their life intermittently overcast by interpreting actions and situations in ways that cast doubt upon Chiara’s love for him. like Jonah.” (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. that light is come into the world. in response. . only to be run off by an outraged Salvatore who demands. his romantic fate rises to greet him everywhere he goes.” he shouted after her. And this is the condemnation. His self-chosen life-project significantly is not to fall in love and become entangled in an unsuitable attachment. With this play of light and shadow and the allegorical names of the main figures. Gentillini (who proves gentle indeed in response). who searches him out at his workplace. In this instance. Her miscarriage of a child for “no . “Think of me as a cripple. “You might—” “I don’t choose that it should be a matter of arrangement!” Then Salvatore broke off.there’s a providence not so far away / 157 Salvatore’s decision to be a rational. 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. as well as to his impatience with the superstitious village Catholicism of his peasant mother. as he manages to interpret even offhand remarks of perfect strangers as direct references to his repressed love for Chiara. Salvatore is self-condemned by his rejection of Chiara’s love and of his love for Chiara. “What do you mean by coming here like this?” When. “But surely it could be arranged without much difficulty?” said Gentillini. to run away from his fate. with whom he invents arguments that enable him to vent his frustration. don’t turn away from me. In doing so. “with the obstinacy of the lost. and abruptly held out his hand. Salvatore’s first instinct is. Fitzgerald seems to be echoing the words of Jesus to his disciples that “he that believeth not is condemned already . Salvatore repeatedly tries the patience of his best friend and colleague. Nevertheless. scientific. After meeting Chiara. like the healing of the lame. . Chiara “made off quick as a shadow. “Come back! I’m saying what I don’t mean!” (71). Even after he and Chiara are married.” he manages every topic so that it will “lead him back to the same starting point” of Chiara. and men loved darkness rather than light” (John 3: 18–19). but “to reform mankind’s prejudices by scientific means” (52).
Sannazzaro does not give up easily. the small rural village in the South of Italy in which he was born and raised. That was what your father expected of you. and. 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. said. however. Chiara’s aunt. whom he attempts to persuade to convince Salvatore to repurchase his inheritance. an ardent disciple of Gramsci. . is unforthcoming. 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. . Like an Old Testament prophet. Once you’ve sold your inheritance you’ll be quite adrift . rejects Sannazzaro’s prophetic admonition and sells his land. and which is due him from his hospital in Florence. . Sannazzaro was the best friend of Salvatore’s dead father. but the loan he requires to complete the purchase of a house. although he’s not able to admit it. In the larger allegorical argument of the novel. Sannazzaro. When Salvatore returns to Mazzata. that’s not in dispute. where he finds Maddalena. One of the novel’s most humorous and intriguing characters declares. however. 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. which is complicated by the unwillingness or inability of the old world to die. the miscarriage is emblematic of the failure of the new world to be born. Don’t cut yourself off from Mazzata. The future for which Nino [Gramsci] suffered and died is impossible without human preparation. They are adrift indeed and they function in their displacement as a further symptom of the new world that is unable to be born. he can’t be happy without his piece of land in Mazzata. “He has to make his career in Florence. so that he and Chiara are reduced to living in a characterless suburban apartment. he travels to Florence and arrives unannounced at Chiara’s family home. the chosen son. . (120–121) Salvatore. 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. and having heard that the land Salvatore sold is to be put again on the market. But there’s a sickness and craziness about him because he has cut himself off from the place where he was born. He had other sons. in which Chiara miscarries. In reality. like him. watching her minutely.” (203) . As an intellectual your place is here . La Ricordanza (meaning “memory”). Sannazzaro attempts to dissuade him: Hear me out. but you are the one he chose.158 / alternative realisms assignable reason” (194) seems to him a judgment upon their misguided and failed marriage.
and behavior.” to which Maddalena responds. True to such a creed. I find it best to act on impulse” (204). characteristics. “He must have known that what I was saying was true. the author of the first pastoral romance. But since she miscarried. Sannazzaro. Left to his own devices.there’s a providence not so far away / 159 When Maddalena asks why he is telling this to her instead of to Salvatore. the sixteenth-century Italian Arcadia.” (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.” “Why couldn’t he listen?” “Because he is unable to diagnose himself. “There I can’t agree with you. run into regulatory problems with the expanding state’s social welfare network) and using the money to purchase back Salvatore’s inherited land.” contending that what is needed in the meantime is “patience. True to his own inclination to feel insecure in regards to anything having to do with Chiara’s family of genteelly impoverished aristocrats. Salvatore interprets the gift as a belittling insult. in any case. very much against her own wishes. he says that he already tried to persuade him. This interpretation is also endorsed. I don’t put much value on patience. for she would prefer to be with Salvatore. Were Chiara present in person. which she then presents to him through her lawyer as a gift. as well. 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. who does indeed serve as a kind of prophet in the novel. but to no effect. This telling linkage recalls. and of romantic desire as being expressive of a desire for union with the divine. Maddalena follows up her meeting with Sannazzaro by selling the building housing the “Refuge for the Unwanted” (which has. but he couldn’t listen. 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. she no doubt would have been able to dispel his wrong-headed skepticism with the warmth of her love. 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 we have seen. until he sees but one way out of his unhappiness and the unhappiness he is causing to others. the pastoral “good shepherd” role of Salvatore’s own namesake. Salvatore allows his doubts and disbelief in regards to his wife’s and her family’s good intentions toward him to multiply. by the characters’ allegorical names. He travels .
” Chiara. “He’s come to talk to you.” “But what for?” Cesare considered a little. to the improvements brought about by science.” (224) The novel concludes with Salvatore’s departure to join Chiara at the seaside. Salvatore threw up his hand. by a miracle. only to find that Salvatore is there at the estate. for the loan of a gun with which he can kill himself. who repeatedly expresses his belief only in the narrowly factual reasoning of science. who runs the estate.” “I know. who is accustomed to speaking to Salvatore every night by phone. so often misguided. Cesare uncharacteristically interferes in another’s life (and death). is saved by the miracle of Chiara’s instinctive silence. it mustn’t try to take over from witchcraft. She said nothing at all. did know. And by ‘good’ I’m not referring. named Cesare.” “But he never has a gun. we can go on like this. and Salvatore is only saved by a miracle when Chiara. “He said he was thinking of shooting himself.” “Yes. calls Cesare in her worry at not having heard from her husband. retrieving the loaded gun from Salvatore and telling him that he is wanted by his wife on the phone. only that you and I can hardly expect to live until then. who is not an interfering man. you understand. The unexpected silence had its effect on Cesare.” said Cesare. (223) Prompted by Chiara’s uncharacteristic silence. It is fitting that Salvatore. now.” Sannazzaro went on. I knew it. “What’s to become of us? We can’t go on like this. he’s lonely. “We can go on exactly like this for the rest of our lives.160 / alternative realisms outside of Florence to Chiara’s family’s farm where he asks her cousin. he wanted to borrow one of mine. “I didn’t mean that they won’t be succeeded by good. He wanted a gun. Science has to take its proper place. 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. so rarely knowing the right thing to do. obliges. ‘Good . and said. Her cousin.” “I don’t know whether he’s lonely or not. 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.
Signora Contessa?” “I don’t know. Her Aunt. and she is unflinching in regards to present miseries in pursuit of an ultimate end. Barney. in which he urges her to make an effort to see some of the “many delightful things by quite unknown artists” scattered throughout Italy. and is embedded in an offhand conversation between Giancarlo and Chiara’s visiting English school friend. and it forms a relationship that seems destined to be difficult. . killed it one day to find out how it was made. Time Tamed by Love. by contrast. Chiara herself.’ Who wrote that. by contrast. The values the novel endorses. “Human sufferings aren’t to be thought about. but Nino [Gramsci] quoted it often. but she obviously is in agreement with his passionate rejection of a dispassionate. represents the power of selfless love. The novel’s ultimate emblem is one of hope. as the author forecasts for us (195). Maddalena’s brother and Chiara’s father. “Nor do I. Although the novel concludes with a miracle that saves it from descending into a tragedy.” he corrects him: “Surely not. . intrinsically connected by hope. Science. are embodied by the eccentric individuals in Chiara’s family of decayed aristocrats.” said Maddalena. however. “Patience is passive.” (204) The novel’s pointed religious allegory is indication enough that its author would be unsympathetic with the historical Gramsci’s dogmatic Marxist atheism. “What distinguished them was their optimism.” said Giancarlo . 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. as the marriage with which the conventional comedy concludes takes place in the middle of the novel.” a “serious fault” (178) in a Machiavellian world. Even disagreements between them produced hope” (15). as we have seen. is a study in un-self-pitying resignation. represents vigorous and selfless action for social betterment. and it is significant that she and her family “were so constituted as not to feel jealously. said Maddalena. naturally. Count Giancarlo. however. seems to be missing” (80). if not disastrous. only the human future” (127–128). value-neutral science that would presume to be the arbiter of our lives. . it is not a typical comedy (none of Fitzgerald’s novels are). its child.there’s a providence not so far away / 161 sense is dead. Although Maddalena and Giancarlo would seem to be almost diametrically opposed in their approaches toward life. The symbolically resonant wedding chest would seem to indicate that the love between Chiara and Salvatore will mellow with time. When an activist communist artist asserts to him that “patience is the same as resignation. Maddalena. 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).
Tolstoy declared that a superstitious belief in science is as harmful as are religious superstitions. The Beginning of Spring The writer of parables is inherently seeking to correct errors that impede our spiritual progress. although her human comedy is much narrower than Trollope’s. . good sense will guide us instinctively to the “missing” realm in which spiritual or religious values are the ultimate realities. “In the spiritual realm nothing is indifferent: what is not useful is harmful” (Tolstoy).” noting that the Preoccupations of Carlingford are unspiritual and often ludicrous. “time and again [in her novels] she relates religion to instinct and nature” (Afterlife 49). but the church no matter how far it falls short is there to link them with an unseen world. Oliphant is in any way a typically or conventionally religious writer: “Forms of worship interested her very little” (Afterlife 33). implying that faith in such a creed is one of modernity’s most dangerous errors. and he called for a “fundamental cleansing of religious consciousness from all ancient religious and modern scientific superstitions” (Tolstoy). it has a dimension that can hardly be found in Barchester. but her critique of religious superstitiousness is far more implicit than is her critique of science. Mrs. In this way. The Beginning of Spring —wrote in his A Letter to the Hindus. if left unimpeded by dogma and superstition. Fitzgerald’s later fiction is quietly committed to such a cleansing. The same could be said of Fitzgerald. In his Letter. at least as evidenced by her essays and novels. (Afterlife 33) That is not to say that Mrs. She seemed to understand that the tendency to dismiss religious consciousness in its entirety is the modern intellectual prejudice that most needed addressing. 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. which likewise are inclusive of the spiritual dimension missing from the fiction of the vast majority of her contemporaries. In her review of the life and work of the prolific Scottish Victorian novelist. Fitzgerald suggests that. Throughout her novels. Oliphant. concerning which Tolstoy—the prophetic figure in the background of Fitzgerald’s next novel.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. Fitzgerald observed that. Fitzgerald’s corrective critique of the presumptions of a narrowly rationalistic and presumptively infallible science are overt in her final fictions.
” Frank thinks to himself “Because I don’t believe this .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. Peirce. connecting us to all that ever was. in the next section of the key passage concerning the blessing of the ikons: The priest was giving a short address. At its most fundamental. He has inherited from his father a small printing firm. . even if I have no belief” (178). Frank thought. As the priest offers a prayer for the Russian royal family. I have faith. but in the meaningfulness of reality.571). in arguing against the Cartesian “rationalist” dogma that everything must be doubted until it is proven. health salvation. in that it assumes that we are absolutely separate as individuals and are not a part of a continuum of community that stretches out in both time and space. Belief or faith is primary. Perhaps. 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 . who wrote the firsthand account of the 1917 Russian revolution. such faith implies a belief not in any particular religious dogma or creed. Fitzgerald takes up precisely this theme of the continuity of the community of individuals. for mercy peace. . which is set in Moscow in 1913. pardon and remission of sins. the nation. and its relation to truth and reality. and you are not only called upon to work together. 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. itself. he is present at the annual ritual in which the local Russian Orthodox priest blesses the workshop’s ikons. Frank was raised in Moscow and considers it home. and the workers there. . but to love each other and pity each . visitation. Peirce concluded that the idea that “I am altogether myself. he argued that the presumption that we as thinking individuals can be “absolute judges of truth is most pernicious” (Writings 229). “You are workers. that doesn’t mean it isn’t true” (178). if so. and in the scene to which I refer. doubt secondary (Writings 296). and therefore life. The novel’s main figure is Frank Reid (whose name is perhaps an ironic allusion to the famous American communist John Reed. Ten Days That Shook the World ).” and that any pretension to complete doubt is therefore self-deceiving and irrational (Writings 228). Furthermore. 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. Although of English descent and nationality. is. “the founders of the Press. or will be. 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. . to consider the implications of this faith.
This illogic holds at every level” (229). say. Either this other man. or we are sent to them. the mysteries that prompt faith as the only suitable and useful response. that there are no accidental meetings. Such is the task placed before Frank (and. and the act of swallowing and digesting. is sent to us. are all separable actions taken by separate parts of the body and they are analyzable as such. The Beginning of Spring is Fitzgerald’s most mysterious novel—the novel most concerned with the mystery of what happens to us and why. How can that be? You will say that you didn’t choose to work next to this man or that man. he happened to be there when I first arrived. so increasingly fascinating and challenging. or this woman. Although it is not an outright mystery like The Golden Child. (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. and the novel most difficult to unravel in terms of its plot’s causes and effects. . We never meet by chance. To do so is to believe implicitly in divine providence. “Little happens without a reason.” 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. As Wolfe commented. and effects swerve from their presumed causes. She never attempts to analyze or to possess her characters . Some mystery. perhaps one should say.” but Wolfe is correct in both observations.” (178) When the priest contends that “there are no accidental meetings. as every page turns. some secret will surely emerge. us as readers) in this novel in which.164 / alternative realisms other. in the same way. But remember. of which we are instinctive mechanisms. Of course the mechanisms of the eye-to-glass vision. It is a feat indeed to create a novel of which it can be observed both that “little happens without a reason” and that “illogic holds at every level. by extension. And this odd fact may indeed give the clue to the way in which readers find themselves hooked. and yet it does not. even if the reason is veiled from us” (238). the hand-to-mouth motion. 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. it was accidental. The priest is asking his listeners to think of God’s purposeful actions. as Peter Wolfe observed. if that thought comes to you. “The novel’s major events defy reason. 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. . and this makes the novel her most spiritual and religious in terms of the mysteries of faith—or. drink a glass of water. .
which also are structured in chapters or sections that are scenes in themselves. Fitzgerald’s uncle. fall. in nature as in super-nature. each of these novels is insistently episodic—far more meaningfully so than are Fitzgerald’s earlier novels. Ronald Knox. attempted “to show that mystery. in which the hero must discover the grail. mystery is its proper food” (133). although his promptings are significantly ignored. who in various manners embodies divine love. as Wolfe observed of this novel. God and the Atom. the novel’s unwitting quest hero. ought to strengthen faith. In all four of Fitzgerald’s final quartet of novels. Selwyn Crane. or an intellectual pretension. must finish these journeys ourselves. as in this novel. and it is also typical for there to be a guide figure and a goal figure. by each novel’s end. the archetypal quest cycle is meaningfully incomplete. secret. or discovery. The archetypal quest begins with a significant break-in routine—a trauma. and generously to others in ways that renew his faith in the goodness of life and the possibilities of being. indicating that we. as in Innocence ) and into realms of the world. Sannazzaro is the closest to a principal guide figure in Innocence. “Fitzgerald overturns received notions of both probability and behavioral norms and thus deepens our sense of human possibility” (228). as readers. a different person. although. imaginatively.there’s a providence not so far away / 165 In his fascinating study of Christian faith in a nuclear age. 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. Typically in the quest there are a number of tests to be undergone and/or battles to be fought and won. you must become another (Rilke). in which. the vision of such a homecoming has come into sight. or cure that will enable him to return home in triumph. The mysteries in The Beginning of Spring serve the same purpose for Frank Reid. there is no return home in triumph. or intellect that have been unexplored. 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. who is an eccentrically devoted follower of Tolstoy. As is befitting of quest narratives. Most of the mystery surrounding plot . psyche. whereas Chiara is the obvious goal figure embodying love. The novel’s mysterious plot and motive prompt a similar response in the reader. but which do not have the compelling forward movement of the final fictions. The archetypal quest is the basic plot structure at the foundation of each of Fitzgerald’s final four parable-novels. The guide figure in The Beginning of Spring is the expatriate English accountant at Frank’s printing firm. The incompleteness of the quest is pointedly instructive. which leads the hero out of his home territory (which may be a psychological complacency.
166 / alternative realisms and motive in the novel is in various ways tied to Selwyn. Selwyn was also involved in prompting the surprise departure from Russia of Frank’s wife. Volodya (who later claims to be. rather. Selwyn also allowed for the admittance of a supposed student revolutionary. as they are not highlighted by the narrator and Frank himself is unsuspecting. Volodya. at least in part. and which thereby makes all of Frank’s sudden misfortunes and accidental missteps . who appears a kind of holy fool. settled. as the priest asserted. by happenstance. What is even more suspicious is that. who seems meant to emblematize. and who unwittingly introduced a revolutionary into Frank’s household. Once we as readers make these plot connections. the student appears to be waiting for him. 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. it is a challenge to determine for certain whether Selwyn is in fact a broadly well-intentioned. when Frank arrives. the novel’s meaning—which. and even his identity as a cloudy-minded and caricaturedly earnest disciple of Tolstoy. but who also significantly is involved in the romantic and political complications that suddenly beset his employer and friend. there seems little doubt that we as careful readers are meant eventually to question Selwyn’s integrity and honesty. But once we do so. it becomes very difficult to conceive of Selwyn as a wholly innocent character. although in a self-deceiving manner. Nellie. who unwillingly attracted Nellie romantically. and to whom Frank was introduced by Selwyn. a jealous lover of Lisa) into Frank’s printing firm at night. Frank—complications that effectively revolutionize Frank’s conventional. at which point he is shot at by the young student. It is even possible that he is both. deciding to go far out of his way in order to alert Frank to it. discovered the break-in. no meetings are accidents. on first reading. and then for instigating Frank’s visit to the firm to investigate the break-in. 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. rather than investigating himself or calling the police or the local night watchman. a striking and voluptuous young woman of peasant origin. and seemingly content and happy life. which takes some effort. Given all of this potentially damning evidence. mother Russia itself. and who inadvertently allowed the violent student. Lisa Ivanovna. who lives nearby. pacifistic and incurably sympathetic Tolstoyan. into the printing firm and then. Even after repeated readings of the novel. 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. seems tied to the divinely providential notion that.
Each of Fitzgerald’s final four novels is remarkably evocative of the spirit of its place and time. together with the belated Russian spring (both of which have been absent. the moral challenge presented by such a setting for such a figure as Frank. Frank thought. she has simply left him without warning or explanation). 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. true grief. who manipulated Frank into unwittingly enabling her to abscond to Germany: “It’s not true.there’s a providence not so far away / 167 seem in some mysterious way fortunate falls—becomes much more dark and ominous. whoever she is or was and whatever her questionable motives. and romance results in a remarkably Russian-seeming English novel—one that has clear antecedents in Tolstoy. but these were real tears. given to extremes. Human nature in this novel is. 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. The novel refuses to give us answers to the pressing questions regarding the very nature of life that it raises. religion. like Russian weather. suddenly make their appearance—with which this most mysterious and surprising of Fitzgerald’s novels mysteriously and surprisingly ends. The Beginning of Spring seems suffused with a pungent mixture of political chicanery and spiritual complexity redolent of its Russian setting. radically altered his life. It’s not true that she pretended to make love to me. She did make love to me” (439). and for us as readers. Perhaps the sublunary world is in the hands of an evil demiurge after all. like Russian politics. She did look after them. It is a challenge that Frank meets. Rather it ushers us into a complex mystery and keeps us there. is to remain credulous. Nellie. 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. They must have helped Nellie to pack. (276) That these emotions would be genuine beggars belief. seems a late flowering . by contrast. finally inexplicable. as the Gnostics contended. and. and been the recipients of the winter clothes which wouldn’t go into the trunks. The women began to cry. except in memory. Innocence. Dostoyevsky. It is also true that Lisa. and Gogol. that she was pretending to look after the children. 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. for the entire novel). When Frank announces to his household of servants that his wife Nellie has gone away on a trip for an unspecified period (in effect.
both of which paradigms allow for the importance of ideas. and values. buttressed by an earthy and explicitly feminist materialism. Fitzgerald’s final novel. . The Blue Flower.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). Her penultimate “English” novel. in any case. 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. privileging the machinelike cause-and-effect operation of natural selection over the creative growth-and-change progression favored by Peirce and others. carried at times to fanatical extremes that defy human nature. Indeed. But a purely material world of things is characterized. by contrast. rather. is evocative of the ongoing argument in English intellectual history between a hard-minded empiricism. this novel seems Fitzgerald’s masterwork. Fitzgerald wanted to call the novel “Mistakes Made by Scientists” (249). though it is hard to believe that her expression of such a desire was anything but facetious. according to Wolfe. by mass and motion—of physical substances in causal relations with other physical substances. In many respects. The Gate of Angels. addressing more or less directly as it does her primary concern with faith and belief in a spiritual realm of being. purpose. Since the time of Newton until quite recently. and an instinctively reactive spiritual enthusiasm that opposes all effort at control and systematization. Even Darwin in his biological theory of evolution remained to a large extent a prisoner of a narrowly materialistic paradigm. Such a world is purposeless and valueless to begin with. given her tendency to embody her intellectual arguments in entertainingly diverting dramatic narratives. There is no doubt. evokes the heady spirit of German Romantic Idealism. the world as described by science has been an ultimately physical world—a world of material things— rather than a spiritual or an organic world. while making an explicit critique of our modern intellectual pretensions regarding “rational” scientific certainties. 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. motivation. although it took several hundred years for the effect of the ensuing impoverishment of our everyday reality to be felt in full.
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. for the parable requires such positive choice in order to reveal itself as . In this world. to be gone into here. It was still possible. “positive choice” is integral to the very production of reality in the quantum world (Prigogine and Stengers 225). it is creatively and interactively real. the physical world was still largely understood to be a Newtonian deterministic world of cause and effect. rather. 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. what the experimenter can know is dependent upon the question that is asked. who trained and lectured at Cambridge and the University of Manchester during the period in which Fitzgerald’s novel is set. It is also the period at which the Newtonian model of a deterministic material universe was beginning to be dismantled—or perhaps we should say evolved —by the very physicists responsible for its characterization. In other words. The scientific details of these discoveries are far too complex. Our interactions with the quantum world are as much creation as they are description. undermined all such universal determinism. and my grasp of them far too tenuous. although. In 1912. 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. 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). As the contemporary French physicist Bernard D’Espagnat concluded. “To some extent. he reinstated man at the center of his own description of the world. led by the Danish scientist Niels Bohr. however. wherefrom Copernicus had expelled him” (207). Suffice it to say that the world of quantum physics is a world in which not everything is predictable or describable. with Einstein’s theory of relativity. The discoveries of quantum physics. Bohr undid what Copernicus had accomplished. The observer becomes an integral part of the picture—the observer observed. Such a world can no longer be characterized as either objectively or subjectively real. 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. and even to its being. and in which these very notions in some senses do not make sense.
The two come together near the novel’s beginning in a chance collision that is also a natural confluence. she would part without a thought with money or possessions. she wears an emblem that announces her embodied meaning. The characteristic that most distinguishes Daisy is her innate altruism. At the center of the novel is the character Daisy Saunders. is to learn to trust his heart over his head in making his most crucial life choices. the parable is inoperative. as it teaches us to translate the material into its spiritual antecedent and moral value. There are two separate quest-lines that flow through this novel. (118) The moral challenge for Daisy in The Gate of Angels is to learn to receive life’s gifts as well as its hardships. Allegory is an instructive demonstration in itself. and then are diverted into separate channels. losing . As Fitzgerald’s work progressed. She is a natural giver. That we shall know one day ” (63). Fitzgerald also has arranged it so that it may be read as a tale of atomic particles in random interaction. she turned more and more to allegory as the form in which to deliver her instruction. for she is not a talker. one for Daisy and one for Fred. Without the creative participation of the reader. Daisy has an unshakeable faith in the meaningfulness of life and in its ultimate goodness and rationality. places the responsibility for choice in the hands of the interpreter. This we infer from her behavior. only to be brought together again by chance or fate at novel’s end. like the quantum realm. While it is possible and useful to read the novel in terms of the archetypal-allegorical quest. the parable. its instruction is nonexistent—just as the quantum world of physics remains in potential until actuated by the investigator’s interrogative.170 / alternative realisms a work of instruction. 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. The Gate of Angels is Fitzgerald’s most thoroughly allegorical novel—seeming almost like a morality play when interpreted metaphorically. but she could only accept with the caution of a half-tamed animal. as the moral challenge for the novel’s male lead and Daisy’s would-be knight in shining armor. and who is perhaps the most positive figure in all of Fitzgerald’s fiction. True to her emblem. but a doer. however. Most crucially. The parable-lesson of the novel is to instruct us in a manner of reading whereby the one interpretation implies the other without. Fred Fairly. a young nursing student who is also an angel of mercy and an embodiment of revelatory love. Like all intensely allegorical figures. Hating to see anyone in want. 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.
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. He is obsessed with seeing his drowning attempt . Daisy and Fred are brought together in an actual collision as they are bicycling on a country road outside of Cambridge.” shouted Kelly in real distress. Things turn out as they (on hindsight) were bound to turn out. as it seems. as Fred Fairly discovers to his distress and ultimate relief. Kelly. surely there’s easier ways of doing it. (95) Once Kelly follows Daisy inside the church. in the novel’s allegory. making explicit the nihilism he represents. “I’m going in here.” “What’s wrong with going into a church?” asked Daisy. by a love affair gone bad. he says to her. Daisy is cycling with a male companion. is nevertheless respectful of belief. but they always might have been otherwise.” she said. I want to call you Miss. without which necessity has no meaning.” “Whatever for?” he cried out. She is working as a nurse-in-training at the Blackfriars hospital in London. in whom he rightly recognizes an allegorical figure: “I don’t want to call you Nurse. Are you ashamed of that?” “I’m not ashamed of anything. prompted. a man—James Elder—who “threw himself off the Adelphi steps into the Thames” (83). only to be rescued by a fisherman and deposited by the local police at the Blackfriars. which is the recipient one night of a would-be suicide. a devil-like tempter (down to his dyed red hair) and a classic unbeliever. that’s a church!” “Well. This “always might have been” continues to ramify regardless as the free will within necessity. “You can’t go in there. Daisy. where he is put under the care of Daisy. who is. I’m going in there. The circumstances in which Daisy first meets Kelly are illuminating of her allegorical character.” (84) Although he is saved from a physical drowning. she in turn attempts to shake him off by walking into a church. who is presented to us as not being particularly religious in any conventional sense. “Nothing they do in here is of any perishing use” (95). When he first meets Daisy and follows her in an attempt to attach himself to her romantically. but one that was undetermined. I want to call you the Eternal Woman. “If you want to get rid of me. James Elder remains in great danger of drowning in despair and self-pity. “You’ can’t believe all that. however compromised by convention. In the novel’s plot.
though. One might call her an enemy of the profession. When the morning comes up like thunder she may see a headline: WAPPING CLERK ATTMPTS FELO DE SE. Above all.” (85) Daisy’s insistence that one’s life is not one’s own indicates that her altruism is not just a sentimental stance. Daisy determines to go to Cambridge. “How did you get that idea?” “I don’t think you’re meant to talk to me like that. and so at the potential mercy of a romantic predator such as himself. as the story’s source. the attending nurse. As a rough guide.” said Daisy. After she loses her job at the Blackfriars. The editor of the paper is Kelly. and she thinks that. So far she herself had done nothing like her fair share. where he convinces her. Flo: “She might read it in the paper.” “But they don’t all try to take their own lives. Kelly discovers Daisy’s plans from his journalistic informant at the Blackfriars and meets Daisy at the train station. but is based upon an understanding of reality as a continuum of community.” Daisy felt a rush of admiration. Once in Cambridge they take a room in a disreputable hotel . thus ensuring that she will lose her position at the hospital for breaking its rules of confidentiality and putting her in financial distress. as he desires. In his spiteful self-pity. if he sees his story in the paper.” said Daisy. It is an understanding that she brought with her to her interview for her position at the hospital. we don’t want a weakly habit of constant complaint. where one of the doctors from the Blackfriars is partner in a psychiatric hospital.172 / alternative realisms reported in a newspaper.” “There’s plenty of clerks in Wapping. in her distress. (72) Although Daisy has not perhaps endured her fair share of physical pain. it may snap him out of his funk. who strategically and spitefully writes the story in such a manner as to finger Daisy. Elder has refused for several days either to eat or drink. “Wapping’s full of them. at which the matron informed her that “a sick nurse is of no use to the profession. seemingly relishing the opportunity to inflict guilt on his lover. rather than as a collection of self-determined individuals. where she hopes to find work.” “It’s not your own life. 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. remember that while the average man is ill for four days a year. to allow him to accompany her there. a grown woman must expect to spend one fourth of her life in actual pain.
then a sound like a vast heap of glass splintering as the world. In any case. The glass splintering is remindful of the Cabbalistic creation tale. that is the basic concern of this fiction. possibly rather closer than he should have been.there’s a providence not so far away / 173 that rents rooms by the hour. 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. 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. Given Fitzgerald’s complexly allusive manner of proceeding in her late novels. recreating in miniature creation’s big bang. it would not be too much of a stretch. existence and reality. since even old horses make strange noises in a state of terror. as are the futures of its characters Daisy and Fred. lolling over the dashboard. of all places. Writings 325). becoming and being. during which a chance collision forcibly separates Daisy from Kelly and lands her in bed. There was a kind of shriek or scream which might have been from the horse. (53) This is a world-originating scene—a scene in which a world is created from chance. As the chaos . to consider the three bicyclists on the road as the atoms of Lucretius free-falling in the void. when without warning a horse and cart came lumbering almost at a canter out of the opening. only to “swerve from their courses by spontaneous chance” (Peirce. In a sense. 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 black as pitch.) The manner in which we as readers interpret this event is also telling in terms of our own fates and futures. and that she has constructed the novel in such a manner that we as readers are given the ultimate choice concerning that act. on the side of the head. the novel is the product of this originating event. went absurdly out of the horizontal and hit him a decisive blow. I think. dead or asleep. and then they rent bicycles and embark on a cycling tour of the area. It had no lights and the driver was not holding the reins but either drunk. endorsing the idea that Daisy and Fred are being given fresh starts by chance or providence. (The bed in which the couple end up together is fittingly in a room once used as a nursery. for Fred jamming on the brakes. 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. The novel itself interprets the event in various manners and may even be thought of usefully as a fictive meditation upon these interpretations. with Fred Fairly. and the blindly lumbering horse and cart recalls the bombarding positive particles with which Cambridge physicists first split the atom.
but which it utilizes as a means of progress in a creative (as opposed to a determined) manner. nevertheless does not hesitate to ascribe his bicycle accident. From the point of view of a committed scientist and teacher. no nature could be created.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. and so.” which leads to encounters and associations between uniformly falling atoms. he thought” (54). although Fred refuses to believe in a God whose reality cannot be proved through experiment. But from the spiritual point of view emblematized by the inscription on Daisy’s ring. Fred Fairly. His belief in the unobservable atom is based upon his observation of its effects when experimented upon. (303) Of course the colliding horse and wagon is a physical cause. The two realms are not mutually exclusive. Daisy’s reaction to being thrown in with Fred as his presumed wife after the accident is also telling. to that extent. also unprovable. “It’s just my luck to be in bed with a lazy fellow” (55). which providence cannot annul. Fred is not lazy. all that would be reproduced would be the repetitive connection between causes and effects governed by the laws of fate. he has no difficulty in believing in an atom that is entirely unobservable. That we shall know one day”—an ultimate testament to faith and the hope on which it is based. or of providence. who is an experimental physicist at Cambridge. In the material realm. In all his life he had never been called lazy before” (55). but also she is irritated at having been put in a false position because of the ring. The irony is that. 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. 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. 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. and of a dutiful son. he most certainly is. 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. “It all . “Whatever there is to know. it is a product of chance and in the spiritual realm an emblem of providence. what luck. for the realm of providence is inclusive of the realm of chance. She is responding to Fred’s inability to locate his clothes in the room because of his dizziness. and who has given up his Christian faith because the existence of God has not been proven. to good fortune: “My God.
Fitzgerald is attempting to help us to sort out and integrate our ideas. play with word-counters and reshuffle our concepts as we will. In The Gate of Angels. and serves as such as a defense of fictive truth as explanation in general. without any room for chance. The true lessons of the five proofs. aesthetic . our own heart-sickness is the best proof. However. based upon chance as ultimate. rather. for the hundredth time. in its quantum mode. She allows us as readers the freedom to choose. All our metaphysics. a natural-factual explanation. we find that Fitzgerald as author clearly favors the third explanation as being ultimate. there is no escaping from it. In the thirteenth century. There is a supernatural explanation of the event. St. come only when human knowledge is suffering from growing pains. If it works it must be true” (22). one of the five classic “proofs” for the existence of God.there’s a providence not so far away / 175 hangs together. take us back to God. as of all other proofs devised to establish the fact of God’s existence. the argument from an ordered design—the very proof that atomic theory. the hesitations. no less than ourselves. The supernatural explanation of the collision between Fred and Daisy is given to us in the form of a ghost story. each of which offers in effect a different contemporary approach to understanding reality. 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. The doubts. paradoxically and crucially. for instance. when we have not yet sorted out our ideas and integrated. (113–114) Through her fictive parables. as Fitzgerald’s uncle Ronald Knox pointed out in God and the Atom. would seem to undermine. windows that open on eternity. and an allegorical-providential explanation. “moderately enough. she offers us three interpretations of the world-shattering and world-creating collision between Fred and Daisy. 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. that if we see means being adapted to ends universally or for the most part. Thomas Aquinas argued. Truth in fiction—that is. but she doesn’t insist upon it. our world-picture. and particularly in her final four novels. Of that inevitability. When we read the novel closely. we can legitimately infer the existence of a Mind responsible for the adaptation” (Knox 106). which is. 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. is that we see his face looking down at us from the end of every avenue of our thought.
R. In that sense it serves as a necessary challenge to our habits and assumptions. the . James. as emblematized by Touchstone’s observation in As You Like It that “the truest poetry is the most feigning” (III. though not always when we want it or expect it” (49).iii. 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. ghost-story writer.15–17). imagined truth of fiction serves as a permanent goad to. from which the few remaining nuns still living there in 1426 were perhaps evicted—a highly unusual event for the period. 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. which is attained by heading in the opposite direction from probability and likelihood. Matthews. It is that which attains to the truth by lying most persuasively. During the archaeological excavation. like the White Queen. the Provost of St. as Oscar Wilde pointed out to us (982). In his story. to which he opposes the envisioning of the soul’s “inner eye” that “opens for some of us. like his historical model. and questioning of. a fictive college of Cambridge. Matthews’ ghost story. James. The most successful inhabitants of such a world are those with enhanced powers of negative capability whereby the are able. M. a medieval text scholar. The paradoxical. Dr. 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). is a man of “unclouded faith” (46) who is scornful of the universal truth claims of science and mathematics. to the real-life model for the Provost. Lewis Carroll’s Looking-Glass world provides an excellent representation of fictive truth. The author of the inset ghost story in The Gate of Angels is Dr. James. and Provost of King’s College. Matthews claims to have taken part as a young man in an archaeological excavation at the site of the accident. The reality of the soul is at issue in Dr.” 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). Cambridge during the period at which Fitzgerald’s novel is set. R. The name of the fictive college is a clue. Dr. 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. however. the provable truth of fact. As Fitzgerald wrote of M.176 / alternative realisms truth—is innately paradoxical. In order to be made to fit into the narrow culvert. “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. to believe many unbelievable things (176). Matthews.
The reasoning might be admirable. With such a testimony. It might be shown. He can assent to moralistic society’s designation of Daisy as a loose woman and a bad person. and that when these results were effected. were compelled by supernatural forces still haunting the murder site. Kelly provides the story of his trip to Cambridge with Daisy and of their checking into the disreputable hotel together and subsequent bike trip. Kelly provides a natural. which accounts for the bicycle accident by arguing that the colliding horse and wagon. for which no driver had been found. he thought. Such an explanation is provided by the unbeliever Kelly. “Science. 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. (Ruskin) The attitude of Dr. even though the itinerant day laborer who was the supposed driver of the wagon has not been found. the re-insertion of the skeleton would be attended with various inconveniences to their constitution. factual explanation for the collision while at the same time inflicting further harm upon Daisy by charging her in public with being. who hid her true nature in order to pursue an advantageous marriage with Fred—a marriage. in effect. moreover. Kelly’s damning testimony provides Fred Fairly with a life-altering choice. and the science deficient only in applicability. At the hearing. Matthews to the ground-breaking scientists at Cambridge is similarly skeptical. 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. In this ghost story. Kelly admits that his behavior in coming forward to offer such testimony is purely spiteful in regards to Daisy. and quite conceivably backwards” (31). or stretch them into cables. I am simply uninterested in them. flatten them into cakes. His ghost story. on that supposition. that would . an immoral woman. that it would be advantageous to roll the students up into pellets.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). was leading them nowhere. thus reaffirming his role in the plot as a devil figure and as Daisy’s tormentor. and he identifies the farmer-defendant himself as the driver of the wagon. the conclusions true. serves as a fictive admonishment and challenge to any merely factual scientific explanation. as I should be in those of a science of gymnastics which assumed that men had no skeletons.
dear Master. which seems set against their happiness. has a “running joke” with the College Master. The truth to her identity. In fact. But with Kelly’s damning testimony. Fred begins to doubt his heart’s knowledge. then the happy ending is likewise a mere lucky happenstance. concerning which Dr. if we interpret it as a mere coincidence. There is no God. they are both testing fate. to consider Daisy as not merely a good-hearted caregiver who happens to be in the right place at the right time. and she instinctively refuses to give Fred the evidence his doubting head craves. which had told him. or unwillingness. who is unaware of her status as such. “after seeing Daisy at close quarters for let us say half an hour” that “he must marry her” (103): I cannot live without Daisy. throughout recorded and unrecorded time.—apart from your front entrance—and quite inexplicable. is a matter for the reader’s interpretation. Angelicus. as old as the college itself. Fred thought.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. Our interpretation turns upon our willingness. Daisy. Angelicus. however. as to the potentially providential nature of the novel’s ending. no design. it could be shown that there was an intention. (104) Fred’s heart has led him to a conclusion and a discovery that his head entirely denies. Matthews. in the south-west wall” of the College of St. 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 if there were. with no greater meaning. providing a potential happy ending to their seemingly ill-starred romance. the ghost-story-writing Provost of St. there are no causes and no effects—there is no purpose in the universe. which stipulates celibacy for its members. is no mere opportunist. 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. by fate or chance they do meet again. and they leave their final meeting convinced that they will never see one another again. to give me Daisy. then the happy ending follows naturally as the reward of providence. since the only thought in the mind of the builders seems to . However. The miracle involves a “strangely tall and narrow gate. James who is a frequent dinner guest at St. no spiritual authority. moreover. but as a divinely inspired ministering angel of mercy—an angel. Or he can follow his heart. Angelicus. He points out that the door is the walled college’s “only opening. If we interpret the freak occurrence as a miracle. Fitzgerald arranges it so that their surprise meeting is dependent upon a freak occurrence that might also be thought of as a miracle.
The slight delay.” as Daisy diagnoses—which may have been caused by his sensing of the unfamiliar breeze blowing through the open door. . This was much easier than you would have thought. Daisy knelt down . She came to a door as narrow as a good-sized crack. but Daisy was used to this. but as a narrow passageway to spiritual transformation for the willing disciple. not even the Master. or even if they had not. ?” [ellipsis in text] Daisy picked up her bag and leaving the consternation behind her went out the way she had come in. for installing it. has any authority to do either. meant that she met Fred Fairly walking slowly back to St.” There was no inscription on the gate. “There was no mention.” “No-one.” said the Treasurer. She must have spent five minutes in there. . who or what do you imagine might come in?” “I should not like to think about that. 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. of who opened your gate. “But if anyone had. which serves as a spiritual blank wall for the unenlightened. “Surely. In a weak. and if it were to stand open. it can’t be . pulling the tall door shut. and then she takes her leave: She got up. who is blind. She heard a very faint cry. however. clear voice he said. . (167) . and gently detached it. and no entry. who would not have been surprised . 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. “nor of who shut it again. She was one of the few people. . however. on either occasion. (167) The elderly man is the Master himself. . . . in the records of the college expenses. and who has had a fainting spell—“an ordinary syncope. She felt no surprise . (30) The door that seems to have been designed “to keep visitors out” is an emblem of the parable form itself. 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. The iron deadlock clashed tightly home. On the other hand it was noted in the annals that it had twice been found standing open . 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. Angelicus.” said Dr. standing wide open. a human cry of distress. The patient did not want to let go of her hand. . brushing down her skirt.there’s a providence not so far away / 179 have been to keep visitors out. .” said the Master. . not much more. Matthews. in Cambridge.
who is later known as Novalis. or to integrate his personality in accordance with a world that is becoming “more perfect” as it grows toward the ideal of God . To such a worldview. ultimately.” “Miracles don’t make people believe!” Fritz cried. emphasized in the conclusion to his book on the importance of religious faith in a nuclear age. “It’s the belief that is the miracle!” (84) Such belief is a gift of grace.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. as they did in the old days. informs his fiancé in The Blue Flower when she attempts to justify her spiritual skepticism: “Perhaps if I saw a miracle. Ronald Knox. though not always when we want it or expect it” (49). Knox opposed the idea of individual self-integration and restraint. He noted that the ascendance of chance as the dominant force in the world. so the individual soul is the primary unit of the spiritual realm (187). no matter what spiritual values the will espouses and embodies. This interpretive decision is a revelation of the interpreter’s own moral progress.” and not to blow them apart. and he argued that. 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 Fitzgerald’s uncle. fictional— thus underwriting a worldview that endorses the triumph of the individual will as a thing good in and of itself. but it is a gift that can be denied. as the individual atom is the primary “unit” of the material realm. just after the nuclear bombing of Japan. Writing in 1945. 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). as represented by the absolute unpredictability of “the moment at which a radium atom will explode” (50). In such a worldview. I should believe more. God and the Atom. pointing out that the “primary function” of the tremendous energy within the atom is to “hold things together. as Fritz Hardenberg. which calls to mind the eye of the needle through which the elect travel into paradise and the mysterious “inner eye which opens for some of us. as the structure of the atom constrains its energy within itself. power reigns supreme. 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. would contribute to a tendency to view all meaning and order as provisional and.
Novalis’s fragmented. life of a fated and devoted romantic visionary in an insistently everyday world. In drawing upon the life and work of the prototypically romantic Novalis in her final novel. And freedom means not doing what he likes. 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. unfinished work is remarkably suggestive and elusive and impossible to summarize at all adequately in a small space. Instinct is the genius in paradise” (Notes 340). Fitzgerald observed that. We are her educators—her moral tangents—her moral stimuli” (Notes 73). Rather the novel is an examination of the difficulty and necessity of not merely transcending but. and that it is our duty as the earth’s most self-conscious and. ( Afterlife 264) The Blue Flower dramatizes the radiant and joyful. “Nature will become moral. 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. The Blue Flower —likewise contended that it is the ultimate task of man not only to integrate his individual personality. with his marvelous talent for the clearest possible everydayness. but to work towards bringing our world as a whole into closer harmony with the ultimate ideal of divine love. The Blue Flower In his philosophy and poetry. and at times tormented and embarrassing. In a review essay on the English poet Philip Larkin. The unsuspecting reader might be inclined to interpret this sharp-edged. Novalis—the subject of Fitzgerald’s final novel. the atom is free to choose. however embarrassing it might be. more crucially. transforming the material world in and through spiritual envisioning. he combined the torment of the romantic conscience and. but that would be a misreading. . therefore. but doing what he wants to do” (Knox 149). clarified novel as a satire on the vaporous idealist in an all too solid and practical world.there’s a providence not so far away / 181 (123): “Man. 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. the romantic vision.
(Werke 2: 545) In Fitzgerald’s complex rendering. five years before Fritz himself succumbed to the disease. Romantic philosophy. he argued. In this operation the lower self becomes identified with a better self . the relationship between Fritz and Sophie is a demonstration of such lingua romana. . Sophie von Kuhn. Lingua romana.” xi). This bold figuring is undercut throughout by a humorous and practical materialist-feminist . a mysterious semblance. Fitzgerald in The Blue Flower creates a naturalistic story (in this case. 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. “Introduction. It receives a common expression . His ultimate aim became “to reunite all the separate sciences into a universal science” (Notes. . who died of tuberculosis at the age of fifteen. The operation is still entirely unknown. a historical story as well) that lends itself to allegorical interpretation. In the historical life of Friedrich von Hardenberg (1772–1801). mystical. I romanticize it—For what is higher. . until the time in which she becomes ill and dies. . which. the everyday. . . infinite. only seem separate to us because we do not any longer know how to read and interpret them correctly. “Introduction. 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.182 / alternative realisms As is typical in her final novels.” 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. 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. By giving the common a higher meaning. one uses the inverse operation . the known. the finite the appearance of the infinite. unknown. 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. operating as an allegory of the relationship between soul and body. . . 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. Reciprocal raising and lowering. the dignity of the unknown. This yields again its original meaning . spirit and matter. like his father) first meets and becomes engaged to Sophie.
“But Sophie. .” said Sophie. . “I respect the Christus. (221–222) Fritz’s refusal to attend upon Sophie in her final illness seems a failure of character—a display of simple cowardice—but when the scenario is read through the eyes of allegory. . “I could not lie to her. They kept the days of penitence. .” . his refusal seems rather proof of the soul’s immortality—of the spirit’s insistence upon taking leave of the failed body . but she did not believe everything that was said there. Yes.” “I don’t know to what extent a poet lies to himself.” (82–83) This typically humorous and telling interchange may be interpreted as a dialogue between body and soul—Fritz as the soul insisting upon immortality and poetry.’ ” . She did not believe in life after death. he is informed by her older stepsister.” said Sophie.” “She is my spirit’s guide. “And if I could not say that.” The Mandelsloh said nothing. and on Sundays they went to the church. and Sophie as the body equally insistent in her espousal of the factual truths of materiality. the Mandelsloh: “If you stayed here. Fitzgerald maintains this argumentative dialogue throughout the novel.” “I don’t think about it at all. tell me what you think about poetry. She knows that. 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. After a moment Fritz cried out. that would be ridiculous.” “I would not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. you would not be wanted as a nurse . any more than I could lie to myself. You would have to say to her—‘You look a little better this morning. but if I was to walk and talk again after I was dead. “Shall I stay?” Still she said nothing. Jesus Christ returned to earth!” “That was all very well for him. . and pushes home the argument through the extended treatment of Sophie’s painful and debilitating mortal illness. I think a little better. He asked her about her faith. . of course. and Fritz went abruptly out of the room. “But you would not want to hurt a poet’s feelings.” said the Mandelsloh. would you think of me as a coward?” “My idea of cowardice is very simple.there’s a providence not so far away / 183 critique of masculine verbosity and intellectual-spiritual presumption. The relationship is revealed in the dialogue between Fritz and Sophie as he attempts to understand her character and personality: “Now. . . Sophigen. You would be wanted as a liar . She answered readily. and when he volunteers to nurse Sophie himself at her family home.
but you mustn’t ask too much of language. Justen. because speaking is its pleasure and it can do nothing else. “There is no place in it for love” (29). even if not completely . He attempts to draw her out: “Words are given us to understand each other. “Why not? Nonsense is only another language. the major shift occurred when he turned against the solipsistic idealism of his teacher Fichte. Sophie “in her fantasy. Love connects us to that which is beyond us. .” “Yes that’s so. In Novalis’s development as a philosopher. She is secretly suffering from unrequited love for him and is frustrated by her inability to express her desire. 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. which she feels compelled to keep secret. The Blue Flower tells the love story of love stories—the narrative at the heart of all other romances. As an allegory of body and soul.” Fritz has a conversation with a young woman friend named Karoline Just. it is not the key to anything higher.” (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.184 / alternative realisms that can no longer sustain its presence. and which moves the spirit—the emotive .” “In that case it might as well be nonsense. To do so is to limit one’s reality to the realm of signs—a limitation that the signs themselves endorse. 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 the goal of which is love. and substituted his own theory of being as an infinite progress or approximation toward the realm of ideals that is the ultimate reality (Notes. It is that in which the spirit moves. It is a story that is both brokenhearted and triumphant.” “And to write poetry. . giving the lie to all notions of a self-enclosed existential system or of a self-sufficient individuality. Language refers only to itself. In a chapter of The Blue Flower entitled “The Nature of Desire.” xxix)—a progress that is fueled by love. Fritz senses her frustration but misreads it as love for an absent person. In her final hours.” objected Karoline. as love always survives its mortal incarnations. Language speaks. referring to nothing other than themselves. whom he has nicknamed Justen. “Introduction. “I see the fault in Fichte’s system. as deconstruction has driven home to us—which is to be hopelessly unrequited in one’s relation to reality. whose theory of the self in its world reduced “being to structures via which the subject thinks about it” (Bowie). had kept thinking she heard the sound of horse’s hooves” (225). In his subsequent philosophizing.” Fritz says to himself in The Blue Flower.
which Novalis labeled “a singular image of the eternal kingdom . “is just as real as the pigeon dung and the bloated corpse. . we would see ourselves in its midst” (Notes 234. 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.” Fitzgerald wrote. “The life of the spirit. it is that which arises naturally and inevitably from our attentive interaction with Nature itself. If we suddenly became as elastic as was necessary.there’s a providence not so far away / 185 proof of the spirit’s reality. . In this sense. 341). . Fitzgerald in effect demonstrated Novalis’s dictum that “Idealism is nothing but genuine empiricism” (Notes 402). in which she deftly intertwined conventional fictive naturalism with religious and metaphysical allegory. Fitzgerald’s mature method in the final four historical-romance novels. ‘I am’ has no meaning without ‘There is’ ” (Afterlife 226). prompted by Nature itself. is not so much a reproof of conventional naturalism as it is a correction of it.
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inspired by post-quantum physics. (In the terms of post-quantum physics. but the event.” existing as “events” that are “immaterial. Northrop Frye noted the general allegorical basis of realism when he wrote that “a genuinely realistic play has. In their late collaboration. Writing just a few years before the publication of Bowles’ story. incorporeal. unlike the state of affairs. We live in actuality. This is a “dead-time” world in which “nothing happens” but “everything becomes” outside of the rational chain of cause and effect (Deleuze and . would likely suffer more acutely than other nations from the disintegrative social and psychological effects of uprootedness. whereas times succeed each other” (158).” All events coexist in this world of “meanwhiles. an allegorical relationship to what both author and critic think of as real life” (A Natural Perspective 9–10). the “virtual” is a world that is “real without being actual. in a world of pure potential that has nothing to do with time as duration. as Spinoza (another source of Deleuze and Guattari’s virtual model) famously envisioned in the Ethics (306). Is Wrong: James Purdy’s Allegorical Realism 1. 2. while exerting a negative “dominating influence” on cultures that had yet to be uprooted (Roots 50). Weil predicted that America. this world is envisioned as a realm of pure. which history has born out. According to their model.” within the material world of our bodies and lives within time. does not pass away with time: “When time passes and takes the instant away. In a related argument concerning the history of drama.) This virtual realm of events is continually “actualized in a state of affairs. Bowles’ story would seem to endorse such a forecast.No t e s Two One is Never Quite Totally in the World: Jane Bowles’ Allegorical Realism 1. The virtual world.” which “are superimposed on one another. unlivable: pure reserve ” (156). post-structuralist theorists Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari posited a “virtual-actual” model of reality. but meanwhile we live within eternity. like the realm of fiction itself. being a nation of relatively recent arrivals from elsewhere. that is useful as an analogy for explaining the fictive workings of an allegorical text. in a series of passing instants. both is and is not the world in which we live our lives. ideal without being abstract. there is always a meanwhile to restore the event. built into it. What is Philosophy? . within time. Three Whatever Is. un-embodied energy.
In the absence of matter. By contrast. Prigogine and Stengers apply the coresonance model to the debate on the origin of the universe. just as Daniel Haws’ and Sidney De Lakes’ acquiescence to punishment is indicative of their own self-hatred. seem expressions of irrational and supernatural fury. there are many time lines. Likewise the behavior of the avenging black woman with the purse in O’Connor’s story. it condemns conventional . and of myth. Purdy’s agents of divine retribution. by providing a dimension rigid enough to limit it but flexible enough to absorb it. and as a rebuke to narrow-minded mimetic habits of reading and interpretation. of magic. as many as there are universes that will have been. and explains its relationship to contemporary post-quantum theory: “If all this talk of VIRTUALITY and ACTUALITY sounds mystical or mythic. but in ways that do not harmonize. The presence of matter muffles the turbulence by giving it an outlet. These divine agents are comprehensible within conventional contexts of religion and history. Allegory may be thought of as operating in a self-conscious manner upon the boundary between the virtualmythical and the actual-material worlds. 3. the turbulence in the virtual is amplified to the point of an explosive contraction releasing an unimaginable amount of pure energy. but only to the extent that quantum mechanics and astrophysics are. creating matter. A universe is born (and Lucretius is vindicated). What we get in the form of “chance” and indeterminacy is overflow from the actual’s absorption of the virtual. More accurately. the material universe goes on dilating slowly until its future is consumed by its past and it disappears into maximum entropy. 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). “A Good Man is Hard to Find. or “swerve. The energy is unstable as the void and immediately dilates. 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. But such behavior and emotion is not explicable within any conventional religious moral system. In his insightful Reader’s Guide (see Works Cited) to the two volumes on Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Deleuze and Guattari. Then it all starts over again. In O’Connor’s story. even more. such as Captain Stadger in Eustace Chisholm and the Works and Roy Sturtevant in Narrow Rooms. On the contrary.” is easily understandable within the context of American racism. After the initial contraction-dilation.” in Lucretius’s vocabulary) leading out of the void through the material world and back into the void. “Everything that Rises must Converge. it may well be. In fictive terms. Certainly their rage may be attributed to their self-hatred regarding their homosexual impulses. from which it serves as an implicit critique of complacent rationalist conceptions of reality. 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. at maximum entropy. There is a time line or “arrow of time” (clinamen. this eternal world of meanwhiles is envisioned as the home of the gods.” the Misfit explains his behavior in terms related to Christian dogma (which he has learned imperfectly). Brian Massumi explores in-depth the relationship between the virtual and the actual in post-structuralist thought. They theorize that the virtual is inherently unstable because it is composed of different particles that are in constant flux.188 / notes Guattari 159).
Knowledge of good. Kopelson writes. Four Some Imaginary Vienna: Ronald Firbank’s Pastoral Realism 1. and behold it was very good. In the very fall of man the unity of guilt and signifying emerges as an abstraction. The contrast applies as well to the victims of the divine agent. who have thrived upon his work). and the history that created it. The lover must say ‘I love you. The Bible introduces evil in the concept of knowledge. It ensues from contemplation. Freud’s claim of scientific truth status has had the effect of putting a perpetual licensed withholding on his system. in the name of human nature. it is at home in the Fall” (233–234). The allegorical has its existence in abstractions. The knowledge. But he is not a pederastic lover. But must he? What about the scores of unrequited lovers in literature. with allegorical critics. obviously. which they are helpless to alter. as an abstraction. it is basically only knowledge of evil. and the author delivers them to the judgment prepared for them. anti-artistic subjectivity of the baroque converges here with the theological essence of the subjective.’ and must say it to the beloved” (68).’ Knowledge of evil therefore has no object. because of his insistence upon the provable scientific truth status of his own remarkably allegorical system. It is ‘nonsense’ in the profound sense in which Kierkegaard conceived of the word. 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. 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. by contrast.notes / 189 morality itself. 4. with the desire for knowledge. The serpent’s promise to the first men was to make them ‘knowing both good and evil. then. Related as it is to the depths of the subjective. as a faculty of the spirit of language itself. and because of our culture’s general acceptance of that claim. By keeping his love. the triumph of subjectivity and the onset of an arbitrary rule over things. Freud is un-useful for allegorical creators. the ultimate instigator and arbiter of our fate. Knowledge of good and evil is. if not to himself. “Unfortunately. Purdy’s characters. he may be that which according to his way of thinking is an impossibility—a pederast in love. 5. are condemned by their own natures. or rather for judgment. the opposite of all factual knowledge. is the origin of all allegorical contemplation. I believe. those who “love from afar?” What about Dante and Beatrice? . It arises in man himself. The enormous. as knowledge. would seem to operate like open software for the allegorical creator. There is no evil in the world. is secondary. Jung.’ But it is said of God after the creation: ‘And God saw everything that he had made. whereas the admittedly allegorical system of archetypes designed by his onetime disciple. The full passage by Benjamin follows: “By its allegorical form evil as such reveals itself to be a subjective phenomenon. the canny pederast who thinks he is stealing love is really only paying a different price for it. We may note in passing that Freud has proved particularly un-useful for modern and contemporary creative allegorists (as contrasted. then at least away from his beloved.
morality. . as if it were their most incarnate and involuntary parody” (347). 3. 4. and condescension. word. . 5. in which he prophesies the arrival of “a spirit who plays . all solemnity in gesture. tone. essentialized. Michel Foucault comments. transgressive sexuality is that it became the experience/identity for a utopian vision of the future” (216). from which it arises” (292). “A concern with the gap between signifier and signified is not unique to writers of the frivolous. Criticism condemning Firbank’s fiction for violating narrow contemporary standards of political correctness is a more recent version of critical misunderstanding. and task so far. Goldman writes. intolerance. when it confronts all earthly seriousness so far. “The historical importance of a radical. divine . good. with all that was hitherto called holy. . but frivolity foregrounds this space. 6. The utopian tendency of the pastoral is related to a similar tendency in the history of the homosexual. untouchable. See Clark and Kiernan (works cited).190 / notes 2. . Firbank’s refusal to accede to society’s moral standards of judgment calls to mind Nietzsche’s conclusion to The Gay Science. . eye.
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93–4 Brueck. 189n Delafield. 12. 187n as distinct from myth. 15. Paul. Katherine. 10. 82 Céline. 188n allegorical realism. 42. Brigid. 77. 56. Bernard. 50. Gilles. 52. Jonathan. 43 Brophy. 31 Dollimore. 2–5. 93 The Bhagavad-Gita. 56. 18 “Going to Massachusetts. 182–5. 134 Basbanes. Joan. 169 Dillon. 5. 11–74. 33. 34. John. Millicent. 32. 18. 187n “Camp Cataract. Samuel. 21–33. 53. 18. G(ilbert) K(eith). 31. 17. 164 Beckett. Elizabeth. 12. 18–19 Out in the World. 68 Bishop. 127 Allen. 4. 144 Carroll. 21. 60–1. 31 artifice. 17. 33 as distinct from parable.” 15. 170. 12–14. 123. 130 D’Espagnat. 33. 138 Bassoff. 12. 47 Ade. 5. 70. 107. 33–43 The Collected Works of Jane Bowles. David.” 15. 150 Adams. 134. 16 Carlyle. 3. Stephen. 31 Binding. 62. 128. 187–8n Descartes.I N DEX Acocella. 41–2. René. 9. Carolyn. Nicholas. 20–22. 43 Two Serious Ladies. John. 22. William Lane. 4–6. 55–7. W(ystan) H(ugh). Bruce. 123. 140. 58 Benjamin. 32–34. 78 Capote. 76 Cather. E(lizabeth) M(onica). 133 Clark. 4. Robert. 56 Auden. Walter. 161. Fyodor. 148 Deleuze. Ivy. 100. 43. 47–61. 50. 11. 19. 59–60. Lewis. Paul. 73–4. 58. 156. 167 . 117. Jane. Thomas. 66–7 Bergman. 56. 22 Chesterton. 74 Bohr. George. Niels. 169 Bowles. 14 Bunyan. 127. 58. 142. 5. 64–8. 15. 80–3 Austen. 16. 36 Bowles. 176 Caserio. 82. 12 allegory. 104 Bayley. 9. Lidia. Willa. 82 Blake. 13 Dante Alighieri. 190n Compton-Burnett. Jane. 136 Callimachus. 126. 92 Dostoyevsky. 3. John. 27. 76 Curti. 11–43. Truman. 106. 68. William. 81 Ashbery.
Nikolai. 188n Lukács. 6 Fichte. Ronald. Kevin. 34 Lane. 149 Lewis. Wolfgang. 153. Oddvar. 13. 155–8. Robert. 73 James. 3. 190n Gramsci. 54. Northrop. 140. 84 Vainglory. 12. 46 Lawrence. 4. 128–9. 51. 8. 93–4. 181–5 The Bookshop. 103–21 Guattari. James. 140. 95–121 Caught. 153 Lucretius. 80 Gogol. 91 Fitzgerald. D(avid) H(erbert). 165. 151 “Desideratus. 22. Mark. 54. 71. 133–4. Naomi. 42 Lesser. 86. 1–3. 140. 144. 124. 161 Green. 190n idealism. 142. 83. 94 Inclinations. 99. 7. 50. 86. 153. 83 Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli. 70. 180. 19 Iser. E(dward) M(organ). 152. 189–90n Caprice. 155. 58. 137–42 Fletcher. 123–85 At Freddie’s. 138. 8. 134–7. 167 Goldman. 176 Kafka. 93 Foucault. 89. 168. 137. 187–8n Hacking. 73. 75. 88 The Complete Ronald Firbank. 155–62. 124. 137. 140. 131. 79. William. 9. 96 Homer. 28. 34. 127. 134 Kierkegaard. 190n Knox. 180. 116. 7–8. 133. M(ontague) R(hodes). 126 Facknitz. 42 Kiernan. 88 The Flower Beneath the Foot. 57–9 Forster. Franz. 137 as distinct from mode. 77. 77. 92 Valmouth. Richard. 181 Kopelson. 52. 21–2. Charles. 164 Human Voices. Johann Gottlieb. 9–10.” 142–4 The Gate of Angels. Søren. Jonathan. 155. 144. 81–3. 110 Faulkner. 76. 168. 153. 190n Frye. 8. 174. 169 Eliot.198 / index Eder. 79. 6. Antonio. 144. 138. 69–71. 145. David. Angus. 96–7. 137. 76. 47. 147–51 The Beginning of Spring. 165. 82. 189n Kraft. Christopher. 173. 139. Wendy. 75–94. 101 Holmesland. 152. 89. 65–6. 61. 8. Albert. 187n genre. 123. 162–8 The Blue Flower. 22. 12. 155. 3. 184. 109 Concluding. 1–3. 59. 168–81 The Golden Child. 127. 91. 145 Einstein. 86. Ronald. 151. 12–13. 8. Georg. 131 Halperin. 78 homosexuality. Penelope. 167 Offshore. 137. 175. 184 Firbank. 133–4. 72. 145–7 Innocence. 115 . 77. Tess. George. Henry. 188n. 146. 153 Lebowitz. Michel. Ian. 83 Hartshorne. 185 The Illiad. 5. Fêlix.
95. 148 Nietzsche. 7. 185 O’Connor. 103. 180–4 Melville. 119 Ptolemy Philadelphus. 190n pastoral-organicism. 116. 69 Narrow Rooms. 159 Peirce. Charles Sanders. 75. Edward R(oscoe). 3. 182. 75. 188n Garments the Living Wear. 55. 184. 188n as distinct from allegory. 21. 173. 4. 168 Plato. 120. 59. George. 135. L(eopold) H(amilton). 69 In a Shallow Grave. 75. 71–2 Pym. 73. 174 Pritchett. 82 mimetic realism. 71. 81 Massumi. 72 The House of the Solitary Maggot. 51. 53. 110. 65. 152. 144. 76. 57. 83. 141. 31. Renato. 69–72. 117 Merrill. 74 Poggioli. 2. 2. 3. 188n The Nephew. 22. 61. 151. Martin. 123–8. 12. 123–86 The Paris Review. 68. 22. 102. Brian. 134. 129–32. 55. 69. 81–2. 154. 79 Proust. 54. 105 pastoral. 67–9 Cabot Wright Begins. 121. Robert Cummings. Herman. 9. 13. 54. 12. 168–71. 58. 6–9. 127. 82 mimesis. 181. James. 25. Michael. 49 Marvell. 86. 3. 86. 43. 6 Mengham. 69. 82. 103. 9. 56. 41. 163. Rod. 125–7. 81–2 mimetic fiction. 22 . 115 Novalis. James. 128. 152–5. 59. 83. 153. 75–94 pastoral-romance. 69–74. 109. 65 Out With the Stars. 47. 130–1. 159. 65. 138. 107. Andrew. 188n Oliphant. 64–5. 114 parable. 34. 19. 121 pastoral-organic realism. Barbara. 61. 69 On Glory’s Course. 56. 47. 97. 58. 150. Anthony. 114. 46. 113–15. 113 mimetic materialism. 146 Myers. 3. 49 Luther. 9. 69. 56. 71. 139 myth. 69. 185 Neville. 45–74 63: Dream Palace. 139. 140. 33–4. 33. 95. 14 pluralism. 169–70. 65. 95–121 pastoral realism. 105. 137. 33 naturalism. 13. V(ictor) S(awdon). 69. 52. 10. 182. 147. 111. 112. 162–5. 4 mimetic naturalism. 143. Flannery. 70–1 Jeremy’s Version. 134 Pynchon. 185 as distinct from allegory. 143–4. 153. 4. 63. 134. 77 Murrow.index / 199 Lukacs. 91. 162. John. 57. 51. 78 Purdy. 137. Marcel. 5. 63. 96. 162 Painter. 62–4 Eustace Chisholm and the Works. 136–7. 5–6. 1. 100. 127 parablistic realism. 152. 77–94. 59. 96. 148. 65. 75. 175. 128–30 North. 65 I am Elijah Thrush. Ilya. 154. 179. 104 Prigogine. 10. 69 Malcolm. 83 Powell. Margaret. 188n materialism. 103. Thomas. 76. 2–4. 21. 190n nominalism. 141. 52–3. 102. Friedrich. 2–6. 76.
79. 3. 45 Sitwell. Edmund. 166. Tony. 126 Samson. 5. 26. Evelyn. 187n Stadler. 73 realism. Simone. 5. Isabelle. 114. 1. 119–21. Rainer Maria. 47. 56 Sitwell. 92. 46. 4–6. 117. 56 Stevenson. 68 Stengers. Ian. 165. 3. 114 Trollope. 23. 98–103. 99. 4 Stokes. 93–4. 159 Thomson. 77 parablistic realism. 50. 136. 139. 150 Sannazzaro. 162 Updike. 47. 64. 97. 21–2. 47. Henry. 50 Shakespeare. Oscar. 95–122 pastoral realism. 7. 117. 115. 167 Treglown. 10. 82. 68. 41. 11–74. Edward. 78 Welty. 72. George. 43. 117 Swinburne. Henry . 25 romantic realism. 3. 38. 56 Tanner. 27. 98 Yorke. 128 mimetic realism. 70. 154. 6–9. 24. 9. 4 Spinoza. Gerald. 174 Stevens. Wallace. William. 113. 123–86 pastoral-organic realism. 104. Edouard. 49 Wilde. 30–3. the. 10. 78 Spark. 164–5. 72. Osbert. 83. Peter. 15 Wolfe. Andre. 135 Whitman. 187n alternative realisms. 159 Waugh. 103 metaphysical realism. Peter. 1–3. 105. Angus. 109 Reed. 16 Weil. 76. 97. Jon. 48. 153. 55 Steiner. John. 26. 137 Spenser. 163 Rilke. Baruch. 83. 42. 104. 41. Alfred North. Eudora. 25. 12–19. 12. 98. 62 Van Vechten. 67. 76 Winch. Muriel. 177 Salmagundi. 165 Quilligan. 189n philosophical realism. Robert. Anthony. Edith. 72 Tolstoy. 114. 56. 108–10. Algernon Charles. 159 Schwarzchild. 187n quest. 57 Theocritus. John. Lev. 75–94. 176 Williams. 1–3. 40. 165 Roditi. 73. 14. 90. Virgil. 147. 97 Weil. 154. 126. 50. 120 Vaneigem. Bettina. 115 Whitehead. 17 Wilson. 187n Wells. 97. 148 Shelley. 97 allegorical realism. 6–8. Maureen. Edmund. 102. 128 psychological realism. Tennessee. 78–9. 95 see also Green.200 / index quantum physics. 88. 36. 13 Ruskin. 93 Sontag. 34. Carl. 92 Sophocles. 71. Jacapo. 36. John. 12. 43 literary realism. 76. 95. 153. 42. 60. 8. Jeremy. 47. Robert Louis. 162. 80 Virgil. Matthew. Susan. 114. 2–3 fictive realism. 168 Yorke. Raoul. 13. 96 Wilson. 168–9. Percy Bysshe.
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