Archive for M-N

The Bell – Iris Murdoch

TB(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

This was all the rage when I was an undergraduate. A gay Christian was highly unusual then. Now, it’s almost compulsory.

This is a 1958 novel about a lay community sheltering in the grounds of a country estate.

Ex-teacher Michael Meade sets up a secular-religious enclave at his house, Imber Court in Gloucestershire, whose assorted inhabitants seek a “refuge from modernity”, which “with its hurried pace and its mechanical and technical structure” offers “no home to these unhappy souls”. The book depicts the portentous arrival of two visitors: a schoolboy, Toby, “greatly attracted by the idea of living and working, for a while at least, with a group of holy people who had given up the world”; and Dora, the errant wife of a scholar who is returning penitently but reluctantly to her stultifying marriage. Imber is in turn set against a convent of Benedictine nuns across the lake, a “buffer state” between the abbey and the real world in which Murdoch stages a clash of ideals: religious yearning, sexual passion, and the role of spirituality in a materialist era.

Consider, this novel was written in 1958 when homosexuals were whispered about, and called ‘pansies’ or ‘queers’.  Murdoch does not write of Michaels feelings towards Nick or Toby as dirty or twisted but just as a different kind of love.  It was beautifully handled.

In The Bell, Murdoch presents homosexuality through the context of several different characters. Firstly, there is the firsthand perspective of Michael Meade. Michael is inherently, though limitedly, affected by society’s perception of his sexuality, “Michael Meade at twenty-five had already known for some while that he was what the world called perverted”. Despite this understanding, Michael is acutely aware of his inability to separate his sexuality from the rest of his being, especially his religion, “It scarcely occurred to him that his religion could establish any quarrel with his sexual habits. Indeed, in some curious way the emotion which fed both arose deeply from the same source”. Murdoch provides the common societal attitude toward homosexuality through the character of James Tayper Pace. In describing his feelings towards Nick Fawley, James is nothing short of homophobic, displaying stereotypical attitudes reflective of 1950s English society, “‘He looks to me like a pansy,’….‘They’re always trouble-makers, believe me. I’ve seen plenty of that type. There’s something destructive in them, a sort of grudge against society’” . As yet another perspective on homosexuality, Murdoch provides the character of Toby with a more enlightened (though still not accepting) attitude, “In so far as he had up to now reflected on this propensity at all he had regarded it as a strange sickness or perversion, with mysterious and disgusting refinements, from which a small number of unfortunate persons suffered”.

In many ways, Murdoch’s representation of the homosexual experience is a direct reflection of common attitudes during the 1950s in England, “The Bell, Murdoch’s first fictional work that depicts the daily life of a male homosexual in detail, was published only months later in 1958 and accurately illustrates the legal dilemmas facing homosexual men during this era” . Murdoch’s examination of homosexuality during this time period should be considered especially courageous, “Murdoch often portrayed homosexuality in her fiction at times when it was not necessarily in vogue to do so, particularly during sensitive periods of change of legislative control over homosexuality in Great Britain”. In fact, during the 1950s “homosexual acts were still considered by law to be criminal offences” (“Cabinet Papers”). According to the Lesbian & Gay foundation, sodomy “was punishable by life imprisonment, though before 1861 it was a capital crime” (“Lesbian & Gay Foundation”). During the time period just before publication of Murdoch’s The Bell, prosecution against homosexuals was actually on the rise, “Between 1945 and 1955 the number of annual prosecutions for homosexual behaviour rose from 800 to 2,500, of whom 1,000 received custodial sentences” (“Lesbian & Gay Foundation”). As an alternative to imprisonment, some so-called “offenders” opted for a “cure” to avoid jail time, “In the 1950s and 1960s, behavioural therapy was used to try to “cure” gay men. Men convicted of homosexual acts were routinely given electric shock treatment, hallucinogenic drugs and subjected to brainwashing techniques” (Wheeler). According to Brian Wheeler of BBC News, “The most common form of treatment was aversion therapy, of the kind seen in Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange” (Wheeler). This treatment of homosexuality as a disease is reflective of Toby’s attitude in the novel, “He also knew, and differed here from his father, that it was more proper to regard these persons as subjects for the doctor than as subjects for the police”. While medical treatment would be far more desirable than criminalization, this is still a far cry from the attitudes towards homosexuality in England today.

In 1954, in response to increased controversy and media coverage, the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution in Great Britain was formed to reassess the criminalization of homosexuality. Just before publication of The Bell, “The Wolfenden Report was published in 1957. It concluded that the criminalisation of homosexuality was an impingement on civil liberty. While the law should prevent abuse and protect the young and other vulnerable individuals, it should not intrude into matters of personal morality” (“Cabinet Papers”). Another revelation of the Wolfenden Report, was the vocational tendencies of criminalized homosexuals to seek refuge through clerical and teaching positions. Murdoch represents this tendency through Michael’s character. He is not only a teacher in his early career, but also a religious leader, who has dreams of one day becoming a priest. According to Grimshaw, “The guilt and fears some homosexual men experienced also stemmed from the social and moral responsibilities inherent in their vocations. Perhaps choosing such vocations to quell their fears and desires, homosexuals found that these fears paradoxically heightened when they could not suppress their sexual desires through their work”. Essentially, criminalization was driving homosexuals into these kinds of vocations where they attempted to escape themselves, but sometimes failed to do so, inevitably increasing the risk of harm to the young.

It could be said that Murdoch’s treatment of the social question of homosexuality certainly wasn’t undertaken in the search for popularity. It is very much the work of an activist, exploiting social issues through artistic literary means. During this time period, Murdoch also took the stance of activist in her contributions to the publication Man and Society, “Writing for the journal in 1964, Murdoch speaks out against members of society who “simply…make unfounded assumption about what it is to be homosexual,” adding that “the law and social prejudice” create difficulties for homosexual men”. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, homosexuality continued to be a topic of derision and judgment in popular media, “The infamous Sunday Pictorial feature of 1963, ‘How to spot a Homo’, [pictured above] might be less a subject of interest today.  Much use was made of stereotypes of mincing queens and child molesters or corrupters which bore at best marginal resemblance to the generality of gay men, then as now, but were nonetheless often believed”  (“Lesbian & Gay Foundation”). Homosexuality was not decriminalized in England until almost 10 years after the publication of Murdoch’s The Bell. According to the National Archives, “The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalised male homosexuality between consenting adults above the age of twenty-one” (“Cabinet Papers”).

Toby finds the lost medieval abbey bell while diving in the lake, where it was supposedly cast centuries earlier as a curse after a nun had an affair with a man; Dora suggests they secretly swap it for the abbey’s new bell, due to be delivered shortly, as a lark. Needless to say, things don’t go to plan, with consequences that are by turns slapstick and deadly serious.

In The Bell the mechanics by which the adolescent engineer Toby sets about getting an ancient submerged bell out of a lake – a tractor, a rope, an incline, then a makeshift crane and much leverage – are all worked out in such detail that one could imagine Murdoch having made drawings of the whole thing.

Everyone at Imber is trying to figure out how to lead a meaningful life amid the disintegrating ethical certainties of a secular society. But you can’t escape yourself.

The lay community doesn’t survive the scandal of the bell’s resurrection but the abbey remains at the novel’s end – its legacy secured, in fact, by Michael’s leasing of the house and its grounds to the nuns indefinitely.

Her novels often include upper-middle-class male intellectuals caught in moral dilemmas, gay characters, refugees, Anglo-Catholics with crises of faith, empathetic pets, curiously “knowing” children and sometimes a powerful and almost demonic male “enchanter” who imposes his will on the other characters—a type of man Murdoch is said to have modelled on her lover, the Nobel laureate Elias Canetti.

 TB 2Quotations:

[…] since, somewhere, something good existed, it might be that her problems would be solved after all. There was a connexion; obscurely she felt, without yet understanding it, she must hang onto that idea: there was a connexion. She bought a sandwich and took a taxi back to Paddington.

“like a bird out of the tower and fell into the lake.”

“potty communities are good for a feature”

“The bell is subject to the force of gravity.  The swing that takes it down must also take it up.  So we too must learn to understand the mechanism of our spiritual energy, and find out where, for us, are the hiding places of our strength.”

TB 3“I know how much you grieve over those who are under your care: those you try to help and fail, those you cannot help. Have faith in God and remember that He will is His own way and in His own time complete what we so poorly attempt. Often we do not achieve for others the good that we intend but achieve something, something that goes on from our effort. Good is an overflow. Where we generously and sincerely intend it, we are engaged in a work of creation which may be mysterious even to ourselves – and because it is mysterious we may be afraid of it. But this should not make us draw back. God can always show us, if we will, a higher and a better way; and we can only learn to love by loving. Remember that all our failures are ultimately failures in love. Imperfect love must not be condemned and rejected but made perfect. The way is always forward, never back.”
“Those who hope, by retiring from the world, to earn a holiday from human frailty, in themselves and others, are usually disappointed.”
“Our actions are like ships which we may watch set out to sea, and not know when or with what cargo they will return to port.”
“Violence is born of the desire to escape oneself.”
“The talk of lovers who have just declared their love is one of life’s most sweet delights. Each vies with the other in humility, in amazement at being so valued. The past is searched for the first signs and each one is in haste to declare all that he is so that no part of his being escapes the hallowing touch.”
“Toby had received, though not yet digested, one of the earliest lessons of adult life: that one is never secure. At any moment one can be removed from a state of guileless serenity and plunged into its opposite, without any intermediate condition, so high about us do the waters rise of our own and other people’s imperfection.”
“… he felt himself to be one of them, who can live neither in the world nor out of it. They are a kind of sick people, whose desire for God makes them unsatisfactory citizens of an ordinary life, but whose strength or temperament fails them to surrender the world completely; and present-day society, with its hurried pace and its mechanical and technical structure, offers no home to these unhappy souls.”
“The chief requirement of the good life’, said Michael, ‘is that one should have some conception of one’s capacities. One must know oneself sufficiently to know what is the next thing. One must study carefully how best to use such strength as one has. … One must perform the lower act which one can manage and sustain: not the higher act which one bungles.”
“But death is not easy, and life can win by simulating it.”
“Patchway had the enviable countryman’s capacity, which is shared only by great actors, of standing by and saying nothing, and yet existing, large, present, and at ease.”
“You don’t respect me,” said Dora, her voice trembling.

“Of course I don’t respect you,” said Paul. “Have I any reason to? I’m in love with you, unfortunately, that’s all.”

TB 4“Well, it’s unfortunate for me too,” said Dora, starting to cry.”
“Dora watched him for a while, nervously, and then returned to scanning the whole group. Seeing them all together like that she felt excluded and aggressive, and Noel’s exhortations came back to her. They had a secure complacent look about them: the spiritual ruling class; and she wished suddenly that she might grow as large and fierce as a gorilla and shake the flimsy doors off their hinges, drowning the repulsive music in a savage carnivorous yell.”
“Youth is a marvelous garment. How misplaced is the sympathy lavished on adolescents. There is a yet more difficult age which comes later, when one has less to hope for and less ability to change, when one has cast the die and has to settle into a chosen life without the consolations of habit or the wisdom of maturity, when, as in her own case, one ceases to be une jeune fille un peu folle, and becomes merely a woman, worst of all, a wife. The very young have their troubles, but they have at least a part to play, the part of being very young.”
“He went away, bent double with the pains of remorse and regret and the inward biting of a love which had now no means of expression. He remembered now when it was useless how the Abbess had told him that the way was always forward. Nick had needed love, and he ought to have given him what he had to offer, without fears about its imperfection. If he had had more faith he would have done so, not calculating either Nick’s faults or his own. Michael recalled too how, with Toby; he had acted with more daring, and had probably acted wrong. Yet no serious harm had come to Toby; besides he had not loved Toby as he loved Nick, was not responsible for Toby as he had been for Nick. So great a love must have contained some grain of good, something at least which might have attached Nick to this world, given him some glimpse of hope. Wretchedly Michael forced himself to remember the occasions on which Nick had appealed to him since he came to Imber, and how on every occasion Michael had denied him. Michael had concerned himself with keeping his own hands clean, his own future secure, when instead he should have opened his heart: should impetuously and devotedly and beyond all reason have broken the alabaster cruse of very costly ointment.”
“Toby had received, though not yet digested, one of the earliest lessons of adult life: that one is never secure. At any moment one can be removed from a state of guileless serenity and plunged into its opposite, without any intermediate condition, so high about us do the waters rise of our own and other people’s imperfection.”

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Death In Venice And Other Stories – Thomas Mann

DIV 2Some found it depressing, its style tiresome – why can’t it get to the point without all this long-winded Greek stuff? Or is the Greek stuff a justification for the lust?

Others, however, found it contemplative.

In the film, Visconti loses the philosophical content of the Thomas Mann work.

This book reflects many of the most vital ideas discussed in literature during the time of its composition. At the turn of the century, many European writers expressed a biting awareness of cultural and personal decadence, and social and moral decline

Literature of the era also focused to a large extent on issues of homoeroticism: like Death in Venice, Dorian Gray uses a fictional character to serve as a mask for its own homosexual author; Andre Gide’s novel The Immoralist (1902) represents the extreme identity crisis experienced by many European homosexual artists of the time.

Largely inspired by actual events in the life of its author. Mann had been on an island near Venice in 1905 during a cholera outbreak, and he later traveled to the city in May 1911, because, like his character Gustav von Aschenbach, he was exhausted by a difficult stage in his writing and felt the need for escape. On May 18 of 1911, Mann read the obituary for composer Gustav Mahler, who had died at the age of fifty; Mann based Aschenbach’s facial features on Mahler’s. Like Aschenbach, Mann was also homosexual: Although he was married and had six children, his wife is reported to have said that she married simply to have a family, and the publication of Mann’s diaries in recent years have illuminated his many homosexual relationships. Moreover, in 1965, it came to light that the story owed even more to fact than previously suspected: A Polish baron named Wladyslaw Moes identified himself as the boy whom Mann fictionalized as Tadzio. Upon reading the Polish translation of the book in 1923, Moes recognized himself in the portrayal of the boy: Moes’ family had gone to Venice for the sake of his health, and he must have appeared quite sickly; like Tadzio, Moes had slept late and engaged in carefully monitored exercise; Moes’ striped linen suit, red tie, and blue jacket with gold buttons are faithfully rendered in the novella; Moes had played with a rowdy boy nicknamed “Jasio,” echoing Mann’s Jashu. Moes even remembers seeing an older man staring at him raptly in the hotel elevator. Moes waited to publicize his story until after Mann’s death.

A storm begins to brew, and the writer turns homeward; he passes through empty streets past the stonemasons’ yards, where the headstones for sale constitute a sort of graveyard, and stops to read the gilt lettering on a Byzantine mortuary chapel referring to the afterlife.

The descriptions of the dire political situation, the storm, and the menacing-looking stranger (his red hair suggesting the devil) foretell impending dangers. Specifically, the gravestones and mortuary introduce thoughts of death. The Byzantine architecture with its Greek lettering introduces the motif of the classical world, which will pervade the novella. Mann is famous for his economical writing: It is important to realize that there is hardly a wasted word in his text

Mann based the character of Tadzio on a real boy he saw while staying in Lido (Venice) at the Grand Hotel des Bains, where Aschenbach also stays in Death in Venice. The boy was the Baron Wladyslaw Moes, who went by the nickname “Adzio.”

He was a sickly child, kept off school

Gustav Aschenbach, is a combination of two artists’ names from Mann’s time.  Gustav Mahler was a composer who died on the 18th of May in 1911 while Mann was on his vacation in Venice.  The name Aschenbach comes from Andreas Aschenbach, an inventive painter of the time who broke from the popular trend of painting romantic landscapes.  This last name also has a great significance in that “Aschenbach” translates to “ash creek,” and is a reference to both death and the canals of Venice.

He led a life of duty. While Aschenbach was headstrong and intellectually radical as a youth, he now considers his greatest achievement to be his attainment of dignity.

According to Freud, whose works Mann had read, repressed psychological drives soon rise to the surface; we can safely assume that it will not be long before Aschenbach must face the rearing head of his own reigned in nature. Nietzsche explained what he saw as being wrong with late 19th-century Germany: He believed that the Germans were too “Apollonian,” too stiff, too restrained, too cerebral to create truly great art. He predicted that the Dionysian forces would soon erupt if held in check too long and that the result could be devastating. Aschenbach’s psychological repression stands as a symbol for bourgeois Europe’s repression; his overly Apollonian characteristics correspond to an excessive privileging of control and cold formality in the European sensibility. The parallel also extends to the fates of both the writer and his culture: Aschenbach’s death will serve as a prediction of the death of the old hierarchy in the coming war.

So is the old man trying to reconcile his id With his super-ego?

And is tHe comment about Venice being best entered by water some sort of allusion to rebirthing?

He liked Sebastian in art and he wrote a story about a wife who leaves her husband for a youth.

“You will pay” is exceedingly ominous. The journey in the gondola also suggests the voyage to the Underworld taken by many classical heroes, such as Odysseus, Theseus, and Hercules: These heroes entered the realm of the dead by crossing the River Styx at the hands of the skeletal boatman Charon. The episode is only one of a multitude of references to Greek myth, and, as with many of these references, it functions as parody: while the classical heroes’ crossings were proof of their strength and determination,

Although in previous trips to the city he has always been greeted by sun, Aschenbach finds the sky over Venice to be heavy with clouds, making it appear to him a “different Venice” than before.

The city of Venice can be seen as a symbol for Aschenbach himself: Venice is unique for its daring construction; it is a city built in the middle of a lagoon, built and maintained by sheer will over the forces of nature. Similarly, Aschenbach considers true art to be the victory of the will over physical needs and natural impulses, and he considers himself to have accomplished such victories. Yet it is also well known that despite its mask of glory, Venice is gradually sinking, literally rotting from within; again, the same might be said of Aschenbach.

Venice much like we might describe Aschenbach toward the novella’s end: Someone whose days of artistic glory are over, but who longs for a vision of pure beauty even when it has become polluted by age, sickness, and depravity

The black boat is likened to a coffin and linked with death, “the last journey.” Seating himself, however, Aschenbach feels not a sense of dread, but rather one of lulling luxury; he yields to a drowsy languor.

Is Tadzio a symbol of the carefree youth that he never had?

Aschenbach’s initial interest in the boy Tadzio is something he himself does not understand. From the very beginning, Tadzio represents pure artistic beauty. At first, Aschenbach believes that he can admire this beauty dispassionately, from a purely intellectual, aesthetic standpoint. Later, he will try to convince himself that he desires the boy only as an inspiration for more of his principled, dignified writing. By the end of the novella, however, Aschenbach will admit to himself that beauty and art, as represented by Tadzio, are corrupting: Tadzio will lead Aschenbach to abandon all morals and dignity, to surrender himself to decadent passion, as the gesture of “calm acceptance” here foretells.

In the dialogue Phaedrus, Plato imagines Socrates and a beautiful boy named Phaedrus sitting under a tree discussing what the most ideal form of love. They conclude that love is necessary for mankind, and the most pure love can only exist between a man and a boy.

A vision comes to him of Socrates wooing Phaedrus beneath a tree in Athens, teaching him about desire and virtue. In the vision, the elderly, ugly Socrates tells the young and beautiful Phaedrus that Beauty is the only form of the spiritual that may be perceived by the senses, and is, thus, the lover’s path to the spirit. Having this access to the spirit renders the lover even more divine than the beautiful beloved, Socrates slyly explains.

In Greek myth, Hyacinthus is a handsome Spartan youth loved by Apollo, the god of the sun, and Zephyrus, the god of the west wind. According to differing versions, he was either killed accidentally by Apollo or deliberately by Zephyrus, who was jealous of the boy’s love for Apollo. The comparison between Tadzio and Hyacinthus hints that Aschenbach’s love for Tadzio may be ill-fated and harmful to the boy, especially since, according to Nietzche’s philosophy, Aschenbach could be described as overly Apollonion. Aschenbach’s likening of Tadzio to Narcissus has the same effect: Narcissus is a mythic character whose great beauty attracted the nymph Echo; when Narcissus cruelly rejected her, she died from grief, leaving behind only her voice. To punish Narcissus, the gods made him fall in love with his own reflection in a pool, and he pined away on the shore. Thus, the allusion to Narcissus again hints at an ill-fated love, this time more harmful to the lover than the beloved: will Aschenbach die of his love for Tadzio and, like Echo, leave behind only his writings, his voice?

Chlorotic teeth (leaves produce insufficient chlorophyll. As chlorophyll is responsible for the green color of leaves, chlorotic leaves are pale, yellow, or yellow-white, insufficient iron); A form of primary anemia affecting mostly girls at the period of puberty or early womanhood, and characterized by a marked deficiency of hemoglobin in the red corpuscles. The disease is confined almost entirely to females. Noorden, Eichorst, Jurgensen, Hayem, Luzet, and Liebermeister hold that chlorosis never occurs in the male. There seems to be a close relationship between tuberculosis and chlorosis

The spreading sickness in Venice, while important to the story’s plot, is also symbolic of the sickness of passion overtaking Aschenbach. The fact that the Italians deny the severity of the health hazard augments Mann’s portrayal of Venice as a place of artifice, deceit, and corruption.

The pomegranate juice that Aschenbach sips during the performance is symbolic: its red color, the standard color of passion, links it to the strawberries Aschenbach eats upon first seeing Tadzio and to the possibly infected strawberries he will eat closer to his death; so, too, are the recurring devil-like figures characterized by red hair (the musician here is one of these), and when Aschenbach dresses up for Tadzio at the end of the novella, he will wear a red tie. Red comes to symbolize not only passion but also depravity. The pomegranate also has mythical significance: in Greek myth, Persephone is abducted by the god of the Underworld. While in the underworld she unthinkingly eats a seed of a pomegranate, which is known as the food of the dead, and which binds her to spend at least half the year in Hades. Aschenbach’s journey to Venice could also be seen as a journey to the Underworld

The disease is also directly referred to as the cause of moral debauchery: The authorities’ attempts to deal with it have been immoral, and that immorality has reaped further immorality. Immorality itself is here shown to be not only an isolated sin but also a self-propagating entity: Immorality breeds immorality. For a society, or a person, unused to dealing with passion, when that passion escapes it is here portrayed as escalating out of control. Aschenbach has entered a state out of which there is no escape; his initial unrestrained taste of passion has proven inescapable, his own personal pomegranate seed.

The dream sequence definitively links Aschenbach’s descent into passion with the worship of Dionysus. And whereas Aschenbach originally worshipped Tadzio, as a sort of Apollonion statuesque symbol of intellectual beauty and art, he is now the “god” that Aschenbach worships. Tadzio is Dionysian in the way he is feverishly, wantonly, uncontrollably worshipped by Aschenbach. The shift from Apollonion to Dionysian is entirely the progression of Aschenbach. Tadzio himself remains a kid who likes playing on the beach.

In dressing up and wearing makeup, Aschenbach becomes the very image of the grotesque old man he saw on the boat in Chapter 3. The barber’s remark again evokes the question of truth vs. artifice; despite what the barber says, it is clearly the rouge, face powder, and lipstick that are artificial. They represent the vain and deceitful side of art, art intended to conceal truth and seduce others.

The scene in which Aschenbach loses his way in the city streets is representative of the state of his soul; the garbage and overgrown weeds symbolize decay. The strawberries are also symbolic; although Aschenbach has heard the warnings not to eat fruits or vegetables, as they may be infected, he gives into his overwhelming thirst and indulges anyway. Thus, the berries are the “forbidden fruit,” like the taboo love for Tadzio in which Aschenbach indulges in order to satisfy a “thirst” but against his better judgment.

The speech by Socrates in this chapter voices a concern central to much of Mann’s work, that art corrupts morality. Clearly, because Mann was a writer, an artist with words, he must also have felt that art had redeeming qualities. However, Mann uses his novella to show the dangers that art’s sensual side poses, even while the artist must be awake to sensuality in order to achieve true art.

The final passages are extremely mythically imbued. The tussle between Tadzio and Jashu symbolizes the struggle of opposites that takes place throughout the novella; Tadzio is blonde while Jashu is dark-haired (see Chapter 3), Tadzio is delicate while Jashu is sturdy. Jashu has long held a subservient position to Tadzio, just as Aschenbach’s instincts had previously been repressed by his conscious will, just as the Dionysian had been repressed by the Apollonian forces. The novella traces how those forces that are always kept down eventually rise up and break free; this has been the source of Aschenbach’s tragedy. Standing out on the sandbar, having been almost suffocated by the suddenly violent and powerful Jashu, Tadzio appears as the messenger of death, beckoning Aschenbach toward the afterlife.

Ceath’s head or Grim Reaper figure – A death’s head is a human skull or a more subtle representation of death. The death’s head is the dominant leitmotif in this novella, with different representations of the same ominous man appearing in closer and closer proximity to von Aschenbach. First, while in the graveyard, he spots a strange foreigner who bares his teeth ferociously. Next, the frightening gondolier in Venice (who steers a boat that reminds von Aschenbach of a coffin) shares many of the same characteristics as the teeth-baring stranger, including a distinctive hat, reddish hair, and prominent teeth. The gondolier is physically closer to von Aschenbach than the stranger had been, but is still unavailable for conversation. The final appearance of the death’s head occurs symbolically in von Aschenbach’s hotel garden in the form of a singer. The singer again has similar characteristics to the other two symbolic men, including red hair and an important hat, and he pays special attention to von Aschenbach.

His allusions to the composers Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler, the musicians in the gondola and the street, and Tadzio’s name, which sounds like a musical description (adagio means “slowly”), all suggest that art can arouse dangerous emotions. The demonic tempters and messengers of death all have the same physical features and bad teeth; the black gondola, blackened corpses, and snapping black cloth of the camera symbolize death.

Day after day now the god with the flaming cheeks soared upward naked, driving his team of four fire-breathing horses through heaven’s acres, his yellow ringlets fluttering wild in the gale of the east wind.

It’s emphasized that the “god” is “naked,” and that his “yellow ringlets” are “fluttering wild.” Does that remind us of anyone? Well, Tadzio is also described as having a face “ringed by honey-colored hair.” (3.40). And while Tadzio might not appear naked in the novella, certainly this erotic image is in line with Aschenbach’s motives.

In Plato’s Republic, one of the most famous works of ancient Greek philosophy, the sun appears as a symbol for Truth and the Good. The metaphorical “light” of Truth gives form and meaning to all things, just as the sun reveals the shapes and forms of earthly things. But there’s a catch: Like the sun, looking right at the Truth can blind you, so sometimes the best way to access Truth is by considering its many reflections in beautiful forms.

Tadzio, in addition to appearing like the sun god Helios, is described as Aschenbach’s “effigy and mirror” (4.8), perhaps suggesting that his physical beauty, in the Platonic sense, reflects and embodies some philosophical Truth or Higher Good. The question then is whether Tadzio reflects too much of the Truth, becoming, in fact, a mirror in which Aschenbach confronts his own dark, lustful, and self-destructive impulses.

He too had served; he too, like so many of them, had been soldier and warrior, for art was war, a grueling struggle that people these days were not up to for long. A life of self-domination, of “despites,” a grim, dogged, abstemious life he had shaped into the emblem of a frail heroism for the times—might he not call it manly, might he not call it brave? Besides, he had the feeling that the eros which had taken possession of him was in a way singularly appropriate and suited to such a life. Had it not been held in particular esteem amongst the bravest of nations?

“bravest of nations: ” among them is Ancient Greece. Greeks condoned relationships between older men and young boys, something that scholars call pederasty to distinguish it from paedophilia, which is the crime as we know it today. Pederasty plays a role in Homer’s Iliad and in Plato’s Phaedrus, for instance. However, Tadzio’s 14 but doesn’t yet have armpit hair so can’t be ‘excused’ as being a young man; just a child.

Aschenbach makes sense of his attraction to Tadzio by imagining himself metaphorically as a Greek “soldier and warrior,” who leads a disciplined, “abstemious” existence, struggling to make art in an age when “people […] were not up to [it] for long.” Those warriors practiced pederasty, so why can’t he? Right? Right? Or so Aschenbach insists, anyway.

Death in Venice is not celebrating paedophilia. Here, as elsewhere, the novella is using the example of the ancient Greek ideal in order to reveal its apparent perversity. As with Mann’s use of mythological imagery (read up on that elsewhere in this “Symbols” section), ancient Greek imagery enters into Death in Venice ironically, showing the way its idealism conceals some pretty disturbing things. So Aschenbach can call his desire pederasty all he wants—Mann makes sure we know what it truly is.

Death in Venice could very well be a headline in a newspaper bannering across the front page? Newspapers and news play a pretty important role in Death in Venice. News of the epidemic is alternately disseminated and covered up in the international papers Aschenbach reads in his hotel. For the most part, death is exactly what is not being reported on in Venice. And in the final line of the novella, it’s not just Aschenbach’s death that we read about; it’s the fact that his death is news for the “world” that knew him

Tonio Krögerison the same theme but the man here is almost he opposite of the one in Death in Venire as he is not obsessed with duty.

DIV 3Quotations:

personally speaking too, art heightens life. She gives deeper joy, she consumes more swiftly. She engraves adventures of the spirit and the mind in the faces of her vota­ries; let them lead outwardly a life of the most cloistered calm, she will in the end produce in them a fastidiousness, an over­refinement, a nervous, fever and exhaustion, such as a career of extravagant passions and pleasures can hardly show.

he asked his own sober, weary east if a new enthusiasm, a new preoccupation, some late adventure of she feelings could still be in store for the idle traveller.

a solitary, unused to speaking of what he sees and feels,_, mental experiences which are at once more intense and articulate than those of a gregarious man.

“This was Venice, the flattering and suspect beauty–this city, half fairy tale and half tourist trap, in whose insalubrious air the arts once rankly and voluptuously blossomed, where composers have been inspired to lulling tones of somniferous eroticism.”

“passion paralyzes discrimination.”

Such was Venice, the wheedling, shady beauty, a city half fairy tale, half tourist trap, in whose foul air the arts had once flourished luxuriantly and which had inspired musicians with undulating, lullingly licentious harmonies. The adventurer felt his eyes drinking in its voluptuousness, his ears being wooed by its melodies; he recalled, too, that the city was diseased and as concealing it out of cupidity, and the look with which he peered out after the gondola floating ahead of him grew more wanton.

He too had served; he too, like so many of them, had been soldier and warrior, for art was war, a grueling struggle that people these days were not up to for long. A life of self-domination, of “despites,” a grim, dogged, abstemious life he had shaped into the emblem of a frail heroism for the times—might he not call it manly, might he not call it brave? Besides, he had the feeling that the eros which had taken possession of him was in a way singularly appropriate and suited to such a life. Had it not been held in particular esteem amongst the bravest of nations?

For several years now Indian cholera had displayed a growing tendency to spread and migrate. Emanating from the humid marshes of the Ganges Delta, rising with the mephitic exhalations of that lush, uninhabitable, primordial island jungle shunned by man, where tigers crouch in bamboo thickets, the epidemic had long raged with unwonted virulence through Hindustan, then moved eastward to China, westward to Afghanistan and Persia, and, following the main caravan routes, borne its horrors as far as Astrakhan and even Moscow. But while Europe quaked at the thought of the specter invading from there by land, it had been transported by sea in the ships of Syrian merchants and shown up in several Mediterranean ports simultaneously.

Day after day now the god with the flaming cheeks soared upward naked, driving his team of four fire-breathing horses through heaven’s acres, his yellow ringlets fluttering wild in the gale of the east wind.

 There he sat, the master, the eminently dignified artist, the author of “A Wretched Figure,” who had rejected bohemian excess and the murky depths in a form of exemplary purity, who had renounced all sympathy for the abyss and reprehended the reprehensible, climbed the heights, and, having transcended his erudition and outgrown all irony, accepted the obligations that come with mass approbation, a man whose fame was official, whose name had been made noble, and whose style schoolboys were exhorted to emulate—there he sat, his eyes closed, with only an occasional, rapidly disappearing sidelong glance, scornful and sheepish, slipping out from under them and a few isolated words issuing from his slack, cosmetically embellished lips, the result of the curious dream logic of his half-slumbering brain.

 Never had he experienced the pleasure of the word to be sweeter

 The way he stood in the belted white suit he sometimes donned for dinner, inexorably, innately graceful—his left forearm on the parapet, his feet crossed, his right hand on his hip—looking down at the minstrels with an expression that was not so much a smile as an indication of aloof curiosity, of courteous acknowledgment. From time to time he drew himself up and, puffing out his chest, pulled the white blouse down through the leather belt with an elegant tug of both hands. But there were also times when—as the aging traveler noted triumphantly, his mind reeling, yet terrified as well—he turned his head over his left shoulder—now wavering and cautious, now fast and impetuous, as if to catch him off guard—to the place where his admirer was seated.

 “an intellectual, adolescent conception of manliness”?

“For beauty, Phaedrus, mark thou well, beauty and beauty alone is at once divine and visible”?

“Observing all this and much more of a like nature, one might well wonder whether the only possible heroism was the heroism of the weak”?

“His steps followed the dictates of the demon whose delight it is to trample human reason and dignity underfoot.”

“It was the smile of Narcissus bending over the water mirror, the deep protracted smile with which he stretched out his arms to the reflection of his own beauty […].”

 “Nothing is stranger or more ticklish than a relationship between people who know each other only by sight, who meet and observe each other daily – no hourly – and are nevertheless compelled to keep up the pose of an indifferent stranger, neither greeting nor addressing each other, whether out of etiquette or their own whim.”

“The observations and encounters of a solitary, taciturn man are vaguer and at the same times more intense than those of a sociable man; his thoughts are deeper, odder and never without a touch of sadness. Images and perceptions that could be dismissed with a glance, a laugh, an exchange of opinions, occupy him unduly, become more intense in the silence, become significant, become an experience, an adventure, an emotion. Solitude produces originality, bold and astonishing beauty, poetry. But solitude also produces perverseness, the disproportionate, the absurd and the forbidden.”
“A lonely, quiet person has observations and experiences that are at once both more indistinct and more penetrating than those of one more gregarious; his thoughts are weightier, stranger, and never without a tinge of sadness. . . . Loneliness fosters that which is original, daringly and bewilderingly beautiful, poetic. But loneliness also fosters that which is perverse, incongruous, absurd, forbidden.”
“Solitude produces originality, bold & astonishing beauty, poetry. But solitude also produces perverseness, the disproportionate, the absurd, and the forbidden.”
“It is as well that the world knows only a fine piece of work and not also its origins, the conditions under which it came into being; for knowledge of the sources of an artist’s inspiration would often confuse readers and shock them, and the excellence of the writing would be of no avail.”
“(…) nearly all the great things that exist owe their existence to a defiant despite: it is despite grief and anguish, despite poverty, loneliness, bodily weakness, vice and passion and a thousand inhibitions, that they have come into being at all.”
“The observations and encounters of a devotee of solitude and silence are at once less distinct and more penetrating than those of the sociable man; his thoughts are weightier, stranger, and never without a tinge of sadness. Images and perceptions which might otherwise be easily dispelled by a glance, a laugh, an exchange of comments, concern him unduly, they sink into mute depths, take on significance, become experiences, adventures, emotions.”
“Because man loves and honors man as long as he is not able to judge him, and desire is a product of lacking knowledge.”
“The observations and encounters of a man of solitude and few words are at once more nebulous and more intense than those of a gregarious man, his thoughts more ponderable, more bizarre and never without a hint of sadness. Images and perceptions that might easily be dismissed with a glance, a laugh, an exchange of opinions occupy him unduly; they are heightened in the silence, gain in significance, turn into experience, adventure, emotion. Solitude begets originality, bold and disconcerting beauty, poetry. But solitude can also beget perversity, disparity, the absurd and the forbidden.”
“For an important intellectual product to be immediately weighty, a deep relationship or concordance has to exist between the life of its creator and the general lives of the people. These people are generally unaware why exactly they praise a certain work of art. Far from being truly knowledgeable, they perceive it to have a hundred different benefits to justify their adulation; but the real underlying reason for their behavior cannot be measured, is sympathy.”
“This yearning for new and distant scenes, this craving for freedom, release, forgetfulness — they were he admitted to himself, an impulse towards flight, flight from the spot which was the daily theatre of a rigid, cold, and passionate service.”
“Because passion, like crime, does not like everyday order and well-being and every slight undoing of the bourgeois system, every confusion and infestation of the world is welcome to it, because it can unconditionally expect to find its advantage in it.”
DIV 4“His love of the sea had profound roots: the hardworking artist’s desire to rest, his longing to get away from the demanding diversity of phenomena and take shelter in the bosom of simplicity and immensity; a forbidden penchant that was entirely antithetical to his mission and, for that very reason, seductive-a proclivity for the unorganized, the immeasurable, the eternal: for nothingness.”
“To find peace in the presence of the faultless is the desire of the one who seeks excellence; and is not nothingness a form of perfection?”
“It is probably better that the world knows only the result, not the conditions under which it was achieved; because knowledge of the artist’s sources of inspiration might bewilder them, drive them away and in that way nullify the effect of the excellent work.”
“you must know that we poets cannot take the path of Beauty unless Eros joins us and sets himself up as our guide; indeed, though we may be heroes after our fashion and virtuous warriors, we are nevertheless like women, for passion is our exaltation, and our longing must remain love-that is our bless and our shame.”
“…which seemed to hover in a limbo between creation and decay…”
“His yearning for new and faraway places, his desire for freedom, relief and oblivion was as he admitted to himself, an urge to flee-an urge to get away from his work, from the everyday site of a cold, rigid, and passionate servitude.”
“The happiness of writers is the thought that can be entirely emotion and the emotion that can be entirely thought.”
“his steps were dictated by the demon who delights in destroying manfs reason and dignity.”
“…nearly everything great owes its existence to “despites”: despite misery and affliction, poverty, desolation, physical debility, vice, passion, and a thousand other obstacles.”
“Nothing is more curious and awkward than the relationship of two people who only know each other with their eyes who meet and observe each other daily, even hourly and who keep up the impression of disinterest either because of morals or because of a mental abnormality. Between them there is listlessness and pent-up curiosity, the hysteria of an unsatisfied, unnaturally suppressed need for communion and also a kind of tense respect. Because man loves and honors man as long as he is not able to judge him, and desire is a product of lacking knowledge.”
“Like any lover, he desired to please; suffered agonies at the thought of failure.”
“He loved the sea for deep-seated reasons: the hardworking artist’s need for repose, the desire to take shelter from the demanding diversity of phenomena in the bosom of boundless simplicity, a propensity—proscribed and diametrically opposed to his mission in life and for that very reason seductive—a propensity for the unarticulated, the immoderate, the eternal, for nothingness. To repose in perfection is the desire of all those who strive for excellence, and is not nothingness a form of perfection?”
“a noble and active mind blunts itself against nothing so quickly as the sharp and bitter irritant of knowledge. And certain it is that the youth’s constancy of purpose, no matter how painfully conscientious, was shallow beside the mature resolution of the master of his craft, who made a right-about-face, turned his back on the realm of knowledge, and passed it by with averted face, lest it lame his will or power of action, paralyse his feelings or his passions, deprive any of these of their conviction or utility.”
“Only incorrigible bohemians find it boring or laughable when a man of talent outgrows the libertine chrysalis stage and begins to perceive and express the dignity of the intellect, adopting the courtly ways of a solitude replete with bitter suffering and inner battles though eventually gaining a position of power and honor among men.”
“Some minutes passed before anyone hastened to the aid of the elderly man sitting there collapsed in his chair. They bore him to his room. And before nightfall a shocked and respectful world received the news of his decease.”
“It is as well that the world knows only a fine piece of work and not also its origins, the conditions under which it came into being.”
“Solitude favors the original, the daringly and otherworldly beautiful, the poem. But it also favors the wrongful, the extreme, the absurd, and the forbidden.—Thus”
“Greatness! Extraordinariness! Conquest of the world and immortality of the name! What good was all the happiness of people eternally unknown compared with this goal?”
“Who can understand the deeply bonded alloy of order and intemperance that is its foundation?”
“He loved the ocean for deep-seated reasons: because of that yearning for rest, when the hard-pressed artist hungers to shut out the exacting multiplicities of experience and hide himself on the breast of the simple, the vast; and because of a forbidden hankering—seductive, by virtue of its being directly opposed to his obligations—after the incommunicable, the incommensurate, the eternal, the non-existent. To be at rest in the face of perfection is the hunger of every one who is aiming at excellence; and what is the nonexistent but a form of perfection?”
“He had…regarded travel as a hygienic necessity, which had to be observed against will and inclination.”
“That was one of the advantages of his age, that he could be sure of his mastery in every moment.”
“He was young and had been rough with time, listening to its bad advice he had made mistakes, had compromised himself, had trespassed against good behavior and prudence, both in his words and works.”
“He sat there, the master, the artist who had achieved his dignity, the author of “A Wretched Man,” who, employing a form of exemplary purity, had renounced bohemianism and the dismal chasm, had broken with the abyss and reviled all vileness. He had risen high, transcending his knowledge and outgrowing all irony, he had adjusted his responsibilities toward the public and its trust in him-he, whose fame was official, whose name was ennobled, and whose style was a model for schoolboys.”
“The power of the word, with which the cast away is cast away, pronounces the turning away from all moral uncertainty, from every sympathy with the abyss, the reneging of that phrase of compassion, that “to understand all is to forgive all”, and what was beginning here was that “wonder of the reborn impartiality”, which was briefly mentioned in one of the author’s dialogues with not a little mystery. What strange coherence!”
“But he immediately felt he did not really want to take that step. It would lead him back, give his soul back to himself; but when one is frantic, the last thing one desires is to be oneself again.”
“Jewelry, a hot bath, and rest have often made a difference.”
“Nothing gladdens a writer more than a thought that can become pure feeling and a feeling that can become pure thought.”
“Aschenbach stated outright that nearly everything great owes its existence to “despites”: despite misery”
“Because beauty, Phaedo, is the only thing that is divine and visible at the
same time, and so it is the way of the artist to the soul. But do you believe, my
dear Phaedo, that the one who reaches the intellectual through the senses can ever achieve wisdom and human dignity? Or do you believe (and I am leaving this to you) that it is a lovely but dangerous road that leads nowhere? Because you have to realize that we artists cannot take the path of beauty without Eros joining us and becoming our leader; we may be heroes in our own way, but we are still like women, because passion is what elevates us, and our desire is love — that is our lust and our disgrace. Do you see that poets can be neither sage nor dignified? That we always stray, adventurer in our emotions? The appearance of mastery in our style is a lie and foolishness, our fame a falsehood, the trust the public places in us is highly ridiculous, education of the young through art something that should be forbidden. Because how can someone be a good teacher when he has an inborn drive towards the abyss? We may deny it and gain dignity, but it still attracts us. We do not like final knowledge, because knowledge, Phaedo, has no dignity or severity: it knows, understands, forgives, without attitude; it is sympathetic to the
abyss, it is the abyss. Therefore we deny it and instead seek beauty, simplicity,
greatness and severity, of objectivity and form. But form and objectivity, Phaedo, lead the noble one to intoxication and desire, to horrible emotional transgressions rejected by his beautiful severity, lead to the abyss. Us poets, I say, it leads there, for we are unable to elevate ourselves, instead we can only transgress.”

“Aschenbach stated outright that nearly everything great owes its existence to “despites”: despite misery and affliction, poverty, desolation, physical debility, vice, passion, and a thousand other obstacles.”

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HOLDING THE MAN – Tommy Murphy, adapted from the book by Tim Conigrave

 

HTM3The original production, directed by David Berthold, is one of the most successful Australian stage productions in recent years, playing in most Australian capital cities and London’s West End.

Murphy also wrote the script for the 2015 film adaptation, directed by Neil Armfield.

It’s nowhere near as absorbing as the novel.

 The action is made up of multiple episodes, some little more than snapshots, inhabited by people with no back-story. The parents of both boys are reduced to little more than stereotypes and yet how they must have suffered, as must Tim’s partner, John, whose character is also thinly written.

 Act 2 makes many demands on the actors, reflecting the bonding exercises mentioned in the novel.

Murphy has created a flawed play from a flawed book

HTM 4A foot(y)note: The phrase ‘holding the man’ is not explained in the memoir or the play. It is not just that it comes from John’s sport. In Australian Rules Football, ‘holding the man’ is an offence that incurs a penalty; in his case, a cruel and undeserved one.

(There’s plenty of scenes in this film of male bodies colliding with athletic vigour, though also with the kind of tenderness which may seem foreign to the blokey physicality that comes with contact sports. It’s a smart joke about a society that fiercely regulates the nature of romantic relationships, but it’s also the funniest thing about this otherwise very straightforward gay love story.)

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The Folded Leaf by William Maxwell

tfl3(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

Though no classic of “gay fiction” (although it will certainly appeal to gay readers. Spud and Lymie are physically affectionate, going so far as to spend almost their entire college life sleeping in the same bed.), “The Folded Leaf” tells about the intensely intimate, innocuously physical, yet almost entirely platonic relationship between two boys who don’t quite fit in with the crowd and who grow up to be very different men.

In the suburbs of Chicago in the 1920s, two boys initiate an unusual friendship: Lymie Peters, a skinny and somewhat clumsy boy who always gets good grades, and newcomer Spud Latham, a star athlete and mediocre student. Spud accepts Lymie’s devotion without questioning it, but once high school ends and the boys enter college, tensions begin to arise between them. Lymie is the first to meet Sally Forbes, but she will fall in love with Spud, and this will mark the beginning of the rift between them. But this rupture will be more than Lymie can bear. William Maxwell provides the reader with a moving portrayal of adolescence and the shift from youth into adulthood.

tflLymie Peters is the ectomorphic and studious introvert who meets Spud Latham, a dim yet muscular teenager who serves “as a kind of reminder of those ideal, almost abstract rules of proportion from which the human being, however faulty, is copied.” Latham is new in town–his father has lost his job, and he lives with his family in a cramped apartment–and he inexplicably gravitates towards Lymie. At first Lymie’s own feelings about Spud’s attentions are ambivalent: “He couldn’t help noticing the scales of fortune were tipped considerably in Spud’s favor, and resenting it.” What the boys have in common, though, is an undercurrent of barely suppressed fury that the people they know and the world around them aren’t the stuff of their daydreams.

tfl2Maxwell is compelling in his ability to transform what should be two excessive stereotypes into recognizable and believable flesh and blood. Even though Lymie almost sycophantically fawns over Spud (even serving as his towel boy at the gym), Spud in return offers emotional protection, social acceptance, and true friendship; in spite of Spud’s increasing popularity, it is a relationship of equals, and the pair is inseparable. Maxwell has re-created the ideal friendship, which many of us once had, if only briefly in our youth–or in our imaginations. Ultimately, however, as with any relationship this close, the snare of jealousy and the fear of being alone gradually introduce crises.

The crisis comes when a mutual acquaintance tells Lymie (and it’s never acknowledged as to whether it’s a true tale he tells) that Spud hates Lymie because of Sally’s friendship. Sensitive Lymie feels entirely betrayed and takes matters into his hands.

Quotations:

“But to live in the world at all is to be committed to some kind of a journey.”

“Very often, looking at Spud, he felt the desire which he sometimes had looking at statues–to put out his hand and touch some part of Spud, the intricate interlaced muscles of his side, or his shoulder blades, or his back, or his flat stomach, or the veins of his wrists, or his small pointed ears.

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As Meat Loves Salt – Maria McCann

AMLS 2

(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

While we worry about the advance of ISIL DAESH, we do well to remember that England used to be in the grip of religious people who killed in the name of their god.

It is a gripping portrait of England beset by war. It is also a moving portrait of a man on the brink of madness.

It is narrated by a brooding, intermittently violent young man named Jacob who does not know himself. In flight from a murder and a brief, disastrous marriage, he joins Cromwell’s New Model Army, from which he and his new friend, Ferris, eventually go AWOL. It isn’t until halfway through the novel that Jacob realizes, and we realize, that the tension between the two men is sexual, and they embark on a torrid affair. Yet in the 1640s, the mild, accepting term “gay” had yet to be coined; bookshops didn’t have whole sections cheerfully devoted to “gay literature.” Rather, homosexuality was a hanging offense. Jacob and Ferris’ passionate, fractious relationship courts calamity.

In the seventeenth century, the English Revolution is under way. The nation, seething with religious and political discontent, has erupted into violence and terror. Jacob Cullen and his fellow soldiers dream of rebuilding their lives when the fighting is over. But the shattering events of war will overtake them.
A darkly erotic tale of passion and obsession,

The world of this “gay” novel is far removed from the comfortable modern one in which such books command their own section in bookshops. In Cromwellian England, homosexuality was a hanging offence, and the lovers’ fierce, obsessive relations are whetted by risk. Aptly, each man struggles for dominance over the other, much as royalist and parliamentary forces struggle for England.

After reading Psalm 115, which had been cited by Cromwell in his address to the troops before the assault on Basing, Jacob reflects on its meaning, “We were to leave them like unto their idols, utterly unable to see, hear, smell, touch, walk,” and then thinks, “I knew what it was to send a soul down into silence.”

If Jacob is “The Bad Angel,” Ferris personifies the good one, moderate and thoughtful, respectful of the feelings of others. Ferris hopes to teach Jacob the finer points of self-control and temperance, although Jacob is single-mindedly incapable of subtlety. Yet Ferris is himself seduced by Jacob’s dark desire until they are engaged in a constant struggle for dominance. Part love story, part exploration of the darkness at the heart of a man’s soul, this novel tackles the most difficult aspects of human nature, exposing the many sides of love/obsession. Engaged in a battle between Heaven and Hell, consumed by their endless erotic adventures, Jacob and Ferris’ humanity is stripped to its bare bones and the author dares the reader to flinch.

Ferris, however, is an atheist. It’s interesting to note that this long ago there were people who used religious language to describe their secular hopes to build a new Jerusalem.

The title comes from a Jewish story: Many years ago in Poland, there lived a rabbi who had a wife and three daughters. One day, the rabbi asks his children a powerful question: “How much do you love me?” His older daughters profess their love in gold and diamonds, but his youngest daughter, Mireleh, declares she loves her father the way meat loves salt. For this remark, she is banished from her father’s home.

Apparently, McCann was a schoolteacher when she wrote this novel, and used to get up at 5 a.m. every weekday to write a few more pages. As one reviewer said: There were times when I could almost smell the putridness of the battlefield, the fragrance of splendidly cooked game in Ferris’ Cheapside home and the filth of the sweaty, unwashed colonists as they vainly toiled away for their New Jerusalem.

AMLS 3Quotations:

On the morning we dragged the pond for Patience White, I bent so far down trying to see beneath the surface that my own face peered up at me, twisted and frowning. The three of us had churned up the water until it was half mud and spattered with flecks of weed before I knocked my foot against something loose and heavy that lolled about as we splashed. I tried to push it away from us, but too late.

‘It is she.’ Izzy’s lips were drawn back from his teeth.

I shook my head. ‘That’s a log.’

‘No, Jacob – here, here-‘

He seized my hand and plunged it in the water near his right leg. My heart fairly battered my ribs. I touched first his ankle, then wet cloth wound tight around something which moved.

‘I think that’s an arm,’ Izzy said quietly.

‘I think it is, Brother.’ Feeling along it, I found cold slippery flesh, which I levered upwards to the air. It was certainly an arm, and at the end of it a small hand, wrinkled from the water. I heard My Lady, standing on the bank, cry out, ‘Poor girl, poor girl!’

Zebedee reached towards the freckled fingers. ‘That’s never – Jacob, do you not see?’

‘Quiet.’ I had no need of his nudging, for I knew what we had hold of. Ever since we had been ordered to drag the pond I had been schooling myself for this.

‘You forget the rope,’ called Godfrey from the warm safety of the bank.

I looked round and saw the end of it trailing in the water on the other side of the pond, while we floundered. ‘Fetch it, can’t you?’ I asked him.

He pursed his lips and did not move. A mere manservant like me must not speak thus peremptorily to a steward, though he were hanging by his fingernails from a cliff.

‘Be so kind as to fetch it, Godfrey,’ put in the Mistress.

Frowning, the steward took up the wet rope.

The pond at Beaurepair had a runway sloping down into it on one side, made in past times to let beasts down into the water. It was coated with cracked greenish mud, which stank more foully than the pond itself. We grappled, splashing and squelching, to drag the thing to                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         the bottom of this slope, then Zeb and I crawled to the top, our shirts and breeches clinging heavily to us. Having forgotten to take off my shoes, I felt them all silted up. Izzy, who lacked our strength, stayed in the water to adjust the ties.

‘Pull,’ he called.

Zeb and I seized an end of rope each and leant backwards. Our weight moved the body along by perhaps two feet.

‘Come, Jacob, you can do better than that,’ called Sir John, as if we were practising some sport. I wondered how much wine he had got down his throat already.

‘Her clothes must be sodden,’ said Godfrey. He came over and joined Zeb on the line, taking care to stand well away from my brother’s dripping garments. ‘Or she’s caught on something-‘

There was a swirl in the water and a sucking noise. Izzy leapt back.

The body sat up, breaking the surface. I saw a scalp smeared with stiffened hair. Then it plunged forwards as if drunk, sprawling full length in the shallower waters at the base of the runway. I descended again and took it under the arms, wrestling it up the slope until it lay face to the sky. The mouth was full of mud.

‘You see?’ whispered Zeb, wiping his brow.

The corpse was not that of Patience Hannah White. Our catch was a different fish entirely: Christopher Walshe, late of this parish, who up to now had not even been missed.

‘He is the servant of Mr Biggin, Madam.’ Godfrey tried yet again, his beard wagging up and down. ‘One of the stableboys at Champains.’

The Mistress pressed her veiny hands together. ‘But why? Where is Patience?’

‘Not in the pond. Not in the pond, which is as good news as the death of this young man is sad,’ fluttered Godfrey. ‘Might I suggest, Madam, that it were good for you to lie down? Let me take the matter entirely in hand. I will send the youngest Cullen to Champains and Jacob shall lay out the body.’

My Lady nodded her permission and went to shut herself up in her chamber. Sir John, ever our help in time of trouble, made for the study where he had doubtless some canary wine ready broached.

My brothers walking on either side, I cradled the dead boy in my arms as far as the laundry, and there laid him on a table.

‘Directly I saw the hand, I knew,’ said Zeb, staring at him. He pushed back the slimy hair from Walshe’s face, and shuddered. ‘It must have been after the reading. Two nights, pickling in there!’

‘A senseless thing,’ said Izzy. ‘He went out the other way, we all of us waved him farewell.’

Zeb nodded. ‘And not in drink. Was he?’

‘Not that I saw,’ I said. ‘Unless you gave him it.’

Izzy and Zeb exchanged glances.

‘Well, did you?’ I challenged.

‘You know he did not,’ said Izzy. ‘Come lads, no quarrels.’

‘I have yet to say a harsh word,’ Zeb protested.

In silence we took off our filthy garments in the laundry and washed away the mud from our flesh. Izzy gasped in lifting the wet shirt over his head and I guessed that his back was paining him.

‘Thank God Patience was not in there.’ Zeb, drying himself on a linen cloth, shivered. ‘But this lad! Poor Chris, poor boy. Suppose we had not looked?’

‘You were wise to leave off your shoes. I fear mine are ruined,’ I said.

‘Dear brother, that is scarce a catastrophe here,’ Izzy replied. He found a basket of clean shirts and tossed one in my direction. ‘That’ll keep you decent until we can get back to our own chamber.’

‘Godfrey could have bidden Caro bring clothes down for us,’ said Zeb. ‘What are stewards for, if not to make others work?’

‘I would not have Caro see this,’ I said.

‘What, the three of us in our shirts?’ asked Zeb.

‘You tempt God by jesting,’ said Izzy. He limped over to the boy and stood a while looking at him. ‘Suppose it had been Patience? I would not be you in that case.’

Zeb started. ‘The Mistress doesn’t know, does she?’

‘No, but it is the first thing thought on if a lass be found drowned,’ Izzy replied.

Zeb considered. ‘But there were no signs – if I remarked nothing – if any man had the chance, that man was I-‘ He broke off, his cheeks colouring.

Izzy crossed the room and took him by the shoulders. ‘They can cut them open and look inside.’

‘Are we in a madhouse? Cut what? Look at what?’ I cried.

The two of them turned exasperated faces upon me.

‘Ever the last to know,’ said Zeb. ‘So Caro has told you nothing?’

‘Our brother has been hard at work, Jacob,’ said Izzy. ‘Patience is with child.’

So that was the key to their mysterious talk: Patience with child by Zeb. The great secret, taken at its worth, was hardly astonishing – I had been watching Zeb and Patience dance the old dance for some time – yet I was riled at not having been told.

‘Two days and not in the pond. She is run away for sure,’ said Zeb. ‘But why, why now?’

‘Shame?’ I ventured – though to be sure, shame and Patience White were words scarce ever heard together, except when folk shook their heads and said she had none.

‘She would not have been shamed. Zeb agreed to marry her,’ said Izzy.

‘What!’ I cried. ‘Zeb, you’re the biggest fool living.’

‘I like her, Jacob,’ protested my brother.

‘Oh? And would you like her for a sister?’

Zeb was silenced. What he liked, I thought, was the place between her legs, for what else was there? We would be all of us better off without Patience. It was impossible any should miss her braying laugh; for myself, I had always found her an affliction. She was Caro’s fellow maidservant and a mare long since broken in, most likely by Peter, who worked alongside us and was roughly of an age with Zeb. Patience and Peter, now there was a match: loud, foolish, neither of them able to read, neither caring to do so. I had a strong dislike to Peter’s countenance, which was both freckled and pimply and seemed to me unclean, yet I was obliged to admit that in many ways he showed himself not a bad-hearted lad, for he worked hard and was ready to lend and to share. I much preferred him to Patience, whose constant aim was to draw men in.

She had tried it once with me, when I was not yet twenty. Coming through the wicket gate with a basket of windfalls from the orchard, I found her in my way.

‘That’s a heavy load you’ve got,’ she said.

‘Move then,’ I told her. ‘Let me lay it down,’ for my shoulders were aching.

‘An excellent notion,’ Patience said, ‘to lay a thing down on the grass.’

She had never before fastened on me, and though I knew her even then for a whore I was slow to take her meaning. My coat was off for the heat, and Patience put her fingers on my arm.

‘You could give a lass a good squeeze, eh?’ She pressed my shoulder so that I felt her warm palm through my shirt. ‘I’m one that squeezes back. I wager you’ll like it.’

‘I wager I won’t,’ I said. ‘I’ve no call for the pox. Now let me through or you’ll feel my arm another way.’

For some time after that we did not speak, but servants must rub along somehow – they have enough to do coddling the whims of their masters – and besides, I think Izzy said something to soften her. Since then we had behaved together civilly, as our work required. Peter was come next, I was pretty sure, and had consoled her for Jacob; but she could never have engaged Zeb’s interest had there been a comelier woman in the house. There was Caro, of course; but Caro was mine.

Caro. Against Patience’s slovenly dress and coarse speech, my darling girl shone like virgin snow. Naturally, there were huffs and quarrels between the two.

‘She’s lewd as a midwife,’ Caro complained to me once. ‘Forever snuffling after us: does he do this, does he do that.’

But I was no Zeb. I treated Caro always with the respect which is due from a lover and never assumed the privileges of a husband. Thus I again thwarted Patience by my self-command.

Self-command was the unknown word to my brother, and could have put no brake on his doings. Foolish indulgence had ruined Zebedee. He was only four when Father died, and missed a guiding hand all the more in that his beauty tempted our mother to spoil him.

‘Zeb must go on with his lute,’ she announced, when it was clear we had scarce a hat between us. To be just, he played well, and looked well even when he played out of tune. We Cullen men are all like Sir Thomas Fairfax, dark-skinned to a fault, but the fault shows comely in Zeb because of his graceful make and his very brilliant eyes. I have seen women, even women of quality, look at him as if they lacked only the bread to make a meal of him there and then – and Zeb, not one whit abashed, return the look.

I lack his charm. Though I am like him in skin and hair, my face is altogether rougher and my eyes are grey. I am, however, the tallest man I know, and the strongest – stronger than Isaiah and Zeb put together. Not that Izzy has much strength to add to Zeb’s, for my elder brother came into the world twisted and never grew right afterwards. ‘Izzy gave me such a long, hard bringing to bed,’ my mother said more than once, ‘you may thank God that you were let to be born at all.’

Now Zeb was to go to Champains, as being the best rider and also the most personable of the menservants. I did not begrudge him the job, for I rode very ill and was generally sore all the next day. My own task was humbler, but not without its interest: to clean the boy’s body for his master to see it, and for the surgeon. This cleaning should rather be a woman’s work, but I was glad to do it for otherwise, Patience being gone, it would fall entirely upon Caro. In the chamber we dressed according to our allotted duty, Zeb taking a well-brushed cassock and some thick new breeches for riding, myself pulling on an old pair over a worn shirt.

‘Just wait, we will be suspected for this,’ Zeb said to me, combing out his hair. ‘You especially.’

‘Me?’

‘You quarrelled with him that night.’

‘I wouldn’t call it a quarrel,’ I protested. ‘We disagreed over his pamphlets, what of that?’

‘Jacob is right,’ said Izzy. ‘Hardly a drowning matter.’

Zeb ignored him. ‘It will put off your betrothal, Jacob.’

Izzy turned to me. ‘Take no notice. He wants only to tease, when he should be examining his accounts before God.’

‘What!’ Zeb was stung in his turn. ‘Patience isn’t dead, nor did I send her away. I heard her news kindly, sour though it was.’

‘So why would she leave?’ I pressed him.

He shrugged. ‘Another sweetheart?’

Izzy and I exchanged sceptical looks. Like all beautiful and fickle persons, Zeb aroused a desperate loyalty in others.

‘Are you not afraid for her, with a boy found drowned?’ Izzy demanded.

Zeb cried, ‘Yes! Yes! But what can fear do?’ He buttoned up the sides of his cassock. ‘Best not think on it.’

‘Think on your duty to her,’ said Izzy.

Zeb grinned. ‘Let us turn our thoughts rather to Jacob’s betrothal. Now there everything is proper. A little bird tells me, Jacob, that Caro has been asking the other maids about the wedding night.’

‘Away, Lechery,’ said Izzy, ‘and mend your thoughts, lest God strike you down on the road.’

Swaggering in boots, Zeb departed for the stables.

‘Talking of my wedding night and his friend dead downstairs! He’s as shameless as his whore,’ I fumed.

‘He is always thus when he is unhappy.’ Izzy spoke softly. ‘His weeping will be done on the road to Champains.’

I snorted.

As a child I was afraid of the laundry with its hollow-sounding tubs. When later I courted Caro I did it mostly in the stillroom amid the perfume of herbs and wines, or – in fine weather – in the rosemary maze. The room where Walshe lay had a smell of mould and greasy linen, and as a rule I avoided it, not a difficult thing to do for men’s work rarely brought them there.

I dragged off the boy’s wet clothing and arranged him naked on the table. The silt in his mouth looked as if, stifled in mud, he had tried to gorge on it. I let his head droop from the table-end into a bucket of water and swabbed out his mouth with my fingers before squeezing more water through his hair.

When I bent down to check the ears for mud, I saw the nape of his neck strangely blackened, so rolled him onto his side. What I found gave me pause. Great bruises darkened the back of his neck, his thighs and the base of his spine, as if blood was come up to the skin. Perhaps all drowned men were thus marked. Pulling him face upwards again, I then worked down the body to his feet, which were wrinkled and colourless, hateful to the touch. As I went, I dried him on linen sheets found in one of the presses. Caro would be angry with me for that but she must bear it patiently unless she wanted to lay out the corpse herself. That I would not permit, for the thought of her tears unnerved me.

My thoughts being troubled, I was glad to work alone. The turning and lifting came easy to a man of my strength, for he might be sixteen and was as small and light as I was big and heavy. Little warrior. He lay utterly helpless beneath my hands.

‘Where is your knife?’ I asked.

The skin of his breast shone pale as cream where the flesh was unhurt. I stroked it and ran my hand down one of the thighs. So slender, so unformed. No glory in dispatching such. And no defence to say the Voice had urged me on.

Going to the stillroom for bandages, I found some ready torn. First I packed the boy’s fundament, stuffing him tight. Next I bound up his jaw, and weighted down the eyelids with coins. He might as well be laid out for immediate burial, as there would be precious little for the surgeon to discover. Even a natural, I thought, could see what had done for this young man.

Christopher Walshe had been slit from above the navel to where his pale hair thickened for manhood at the base of the belly. The belly itself showed faintly green. The wound was deep, and, now I had rinsed it free of brownish water, a very clean and open one, for the blood had drained off into the pond like wine into a soup, leaving no scab or cleaving together of the flesh. Walshe had a boy’s waist and hips, without any padding of fat to take off the ferocity of the blade, which had pulled right through his guts. His ribs and shoulders were dappled, in places, with blue.

There would be more bruising around his feet and ankles. I examined them, and found long bluish marks which might give the surgeon a hint, unless it were concluded that he had scuffled foot to foot with someone.

I put my finger into the wound. The edges curved a little outwards like the petals of a rose, and after an initial tension my finger slid in full length. He was cold and slippery inside. I withdrew the finger and wiped it on my breeches.

In the scullery every servant, even my gentle Izzy, was grown surly. That was a sign I recognised and had interpreted before I was given the news.

‘Sir Bastard is come home,’ said Peter, who had not been present at the pond-dragging and now stared sulkily at the table.

I groaned. Sir Bastard, or to give him his proper name, Mervyn Roche, was the son and heir and so disliked as to make Sir John popular in comparison.

‘Will he stay long?’ I asked. Much as I hated Mervyn, this once I was glad enough to talk of him, for I dreaded giving a report of the boy’s wounds and seeing the horrified faces of my fellows.

‘Who knows?’ Izzy scratched with his fingernail at a crust of candlewax on Sir Bastard’s coat. ‘Look at this – stained all over and he throws it at me, expects it spotless tomorrow.’

‘Why doesn’t he buy new? He has money enough,’ I said, lifting down the tray of sand.

‘Drinks it away, like father like son,’ said Peter. ‘He is awash already.’

‘Even his father doesn’t go whoring.’ I laid the first plate in the sand and began rubbing at it with my palm until there came a bright patch in the grey, then moved on so that the brightness spread. Usually I liked scouring pewter, but it would take more than a pleasant task to lift my mood with the weight that lay on me. And now Mervyn was in the house.

‘As the pamphlet said, scum rises to the top,’ I went on. It galled me to be a servant to such as he, lecherous, intemperate, devoid of wit or kindness, forever asking the impossible and, the impossible being done, finding fault with the work.

‘Sshh! No word of pamphlets,’ said Izzy.

At that instant Godfrey came into the room. ‘I have talked with both Master and Mistress,’ he announced.

‘And?’ asked Izzy.

‘They have promised to speak to him. Peter, it were better you did not serve at table. Jacob and I will be there.’

‘What’s this?’ I did not understand what was meant.

‘O, you don’t know,’ said Izzy. ‘Sir – ah – our young Master hit Peter in the face this morning.’

Peter turned the other side of his head to me. The eye was swollen.

‘I will not ask what for, since to ask supposes some reason,’ I said, and went on scouring.

‘Humility is a jewel in a servant,’ said Godfrey. ‘It is not for us to cavil at our betters.’

‘Or our beaters,’ the lad muttered.

‘To hear you talk,’ I said to Godfrey, ‘a perfect man were a carpet, soiled by others and then beaten for it.’

‘And hearing you,’ he returned, ‘it is clear you have had some unwholesome reading lately. Take care the Master does not catch you at it.’

‘How should that happen unless I left it lying in a wine jug?’

‘Jacob,’ said Izzy. ‘Get on with your work.’

Such impudent abuses as these Roches put on us, grew out of that slavery known as The Norman Yoke. That is to say, the forefathers of these worthless men, being murderers, ravishers, pirates and suchlike, were rewarded by William the Bastard for helping him mount and ride the English people, and they have stayed in the saddle ever after. The life of the English was at first liberty, until these pillaging Barons brought in My Lord This and My Lady That, shackling the native people and setting them to work the fields which were their own sweet birthright. Now, not content with their castles and parks, the oppressors were lately begun to enclose the open land, snatching even that away from the rest of us. Roche, this family were called, and is that not a Frenchy name?

Though Caro thought our Mistress not bad, I had noted how little My Lady, as well as her menfolk, had trusted us since the war began. When they thought we were listening their talk was all of wickedness and its punishment. The King has Divine Right on his side, one would say, and another, New Model, forsooth. New noddle, more like, and there would be loud laughter. Then Sir Bastard might put in his groatsworth, how the rebels were half fed (for they thought it no shame to rejoice in such hunger), half drilled, half witted, so that the victory could go only one way.

But we heard things from time to time, for all that the Roches kept mum or even spoke in French before our faces – indeed, so stupid was Mervyn that he had been known to do so before Mounseer Daskin, the cook, who could speak better French than any Roche had spoken since 1066 – and we took heart. Servants came to visit along with their masters, and whatever their sympathies they brought news from other parts of the country. We were on our guard, however, in speaking with these, for there were those who made report of their fellows.

‘It is said Tom Cornish is an intelligencer,’ Izzy told me one day. This Cornish had once been a servingman, and was now risen in the world – too high for any honest means. He farmed land on the far side of Champains, and his name was a byword throughout the country for a dedication to the Royalist cause bordering on that religious madness called enthusiasm, and commonly supposed only to afflict those on the Parliamentary side.

‘You recall the servants who were whipped?’ Izzy went on.

I nodded. Not a year before, two men from Champains had been tried for being in possession of pamphlets against the King.

‘Well,’ Izzy went on, ‘it was Cornish brought them to the pillory.’

‘Impossible,’ I answered. ‘Say rather Mister Biggin.’

Biggin was the master of the accused men, and had made no move to defend them.

‘Him also. But the one they cried out against was Cornish,’ Izzy insisted. ‘Gentle Christians both. More shame to Biggin, that he let them suffer.’

‘You forget they had a serious fault,’ said I.

‘Fault?’

‘Choosing their own reading. But Izzy, Cornish does not live at Champains. How would he know of it?’

‘Tis said, he fees servants. Most likely, some who come here.’

It was not like Izzy to suspect a man without cause. I noted his words carefully, and I guess he spoke to the rest, for we were all of us exceedingly discreet.

Our masters were less so. Sir John, when in his cups, left his private letters lying about, and his son was alike careless. Mercurius Aulicus, the Royalist newsletter, appeared in the house from time to time; lately, we had noted with growing excitement, it was finding less and less cause to exult. Naseby-Fight, in June, had been followed by Langport, not a month later, and the half drilled half fed had triumphed in both. ‘The Divine Right,’ jeered Zeb, ‘seems sadly lacking in Divine Might.’

Izzy pointed out that the soldiers on both sides were much of a muchness, for though the Cavaliers prided themselves on their fighting spirit and high mettle, they had the same peasants and masterless men to drill as their opposites.

‘Besides, Sir Thomas Fairfax is a gentleman,’ he added, ‘and this Cromwell a coming fellow.’

Not that we were reduced solely to Mercurius Aulicus. Godfrey was right, I had found me some reading and was very much taken therewith, considering it not at all unwholesome.

It was begun a few months before, by chance. Peter went to visit his aunt who worked at Champains, and there met Mister Pratt, one of the servants, and had some talk with him.

‘Eight o’clock behind the stables,’ Peter whispered to me that night. I went there after the evening meal, along with my brothers.

Peter held out a sheaf of papers. ‘Here, lads, can you read these?’

Izzy took them and bent his head to the first one. ‘Of Kingly Power and Its Putting Down. Where had you these?’

I snatched at another. ‘Of True Brotherhood – printed in London, look.’

‘Will it do?’ asked Peter. ‘And will you read it me?’

‘We shall all of us read it,’ Izzy promised.

These writings became, in time, our principal diversion. After the first lot, they were brought after dark by ‘Pratt’s boy’, that same Christopher Walshe who later lay in the laundry, naked under a sheet.

It was our pleasure on warm evenings sometimes to take our work outside, behind the stables where Godfrey never went, Zeb and Peter drinking off a pipe of tobacco as part of the treat. There we would read the pamphlets. Printed mostly in London, they spoke of the Rising of Christ and the establishment of the New Jerusalem whereby England would become a beacon to all nations.

‘A prophecy, listen.’ Zeb’s eyes shone. ‘The war is to end with the utter annihilation of Charles the Great Tyrant and the Papist serpent – that’s Henrietta Maria.’

‘I know without your telling,’ I said.

‘Measures are to be taken afterwards. In the day of triumph, er, O yes here ’tis – The rich to be cast down and the poor exalted. Every man that has borne a sword for freedom to have a cottage and four acres, and to live free-‘

We all sighed.

‘There shall be no landless younger brothers, forced by the laws to turn to war for their fortunes, and no younger brothers in another sense neither, that is, no class of persons obliged to serve others merely to live.’

‘A noble project,’ said Peter.

At that time these writings were the closest any of us came to the great doings elsewhere, for at Beaurepair things went on much as they always had, save that the Master and Mistress were by turns triumphant and cast down. We had escaped the curse of pillage and its more respectable but scarce less dreaded brother, free quarter: no soldiers were as yet come near us. Sir John was too fond of his comfort to equip and lead a force as some of the neighbours had done, so he neglected to apply for a commission and his men were kept at home, to pour his drink.

In the reading of our pamphlets we servants were, for an hour or so, a little commonwealth. Though Peter and Patience could not read, the rest of us took turns aloud so that all might hear and understand the same matter at the same moment, and then fall to discussing it. Izzy had taught Caro her letters and she did her part very prettily, her low voice breathing a tenderness into every word she spoke. I would sit with my arm round her, warming to that voice and to the serious expression of her dark eyes as she, perhaps the least convinced of us all, denounced the Worship of Mammon.

‘So, Caro, the Golden Calf must be melted?’ Zeb teased her one time.

‘So the writer says,’ my love answered.

‘And the Roches levelled with the rest of us?’ he pressed. ‘What say you to that?’

Caro returned stubbornly, ‘I say they are different one from another. The Mistress-‘

‘The Mistress favours you, that’s certain,’ put in Patience, whose coarse skin was flushed from too much beer at supper.

‘And not unjustly,’ I said. ‘But what is favour,’ I asked Caro, ‘that you should take it from her hand? Why are not you rich, and doing favours to her? Surely God did not make you to pomade her hair.’

‘She deals kindly with me nonetheless,’ Caro retorted. ‘God will weigh us one by one at judgement, and she is clean different to Sir Bastard.’

‘That may be,’ I allowed, ‘but she trusts us no more than he does. Besides, we cannot put away one and not the other.’

‘If Mammon be pulled down,’ Izzy warned, ‘we must take care the true God be put in his place and not our own wanton desires – the God of simpleness, of truth in our speech and in our doings, the God of a brotherly bearing-‘

He paused, and I saw his difficulty. We Cullens were the only brothers present, and Zeb and myself were constantly at one another’s throats.

The night before Patience ran off, we spoke long on a pamphlet circulated by some persons who farmed land together. Young Walshe had but just brought it, and having some time free he stopped on for the talk – ‘Mister Pratt knows where I am,’ said he – and sat himself down between Zeb and Peter to get a share of their pipe. I thought him overfamiliar, even unseemly, passing his arm around Zeb’s waist, but Zeb liked him well and on that night he sat with his arm round Walshe’s shoulders, and laughed when the lad’s attempts to smoke ended in coughing, though it was he that paid for the tobacco. Patience lolled against Zeb on the other side, and a man would be hard put to it to say which fawned on my brother more, herself or the boy.

Our debate was not strictly out of the pamphlet, but grew out of something beside. The writers freely said of themselves that they shared goods and chattels, but it was rumoured of them that they had also their women in common and considered Christian marriage no better than slavery.

‘Does “women in common” mean that the woman can refuse no man?’ asked Patience, looking round at the men present. Except when she gazed on Zeb, her dismay was so evident that for a moment the talk was lost in laughter, not least at her sudden assumption of chastity. I laughed along with the rest, thinking meanwhile that she had nothing to fear from me. I took none of Zeb’s delight in women who fell over backwards if you so much as blew on them. In Caro I had settled on a virgin, and one whom I would not take to my bed until we had been betrothed.

‘Does it mean that men are held in common too?’ jested Izzy. ‘It seems to me that if no woman is bound to no man there can be no duty of obedience, and so a woman may as well court a man as a man a woman. So may the man refuse?’

Peter considered. ‘Obliged to lie down with all the women!’

‘For the sake of the community,’ said Zeb with relish.

‘But whose would the children be?’ asked my darling.

Zeb answered her, ‘The mother’s who had them.’

‘Fie, fie!’ I said. ‘The rights of a father cast away! Whoredom, pure and simple.’

‘Look here,’ urged Walshe. ‘It is set down, To be bound one to the other, is savagery.’

There was a pause. Everyone, Walshe included, knew I was soon to be espoused to Caro.

‘Am I then a savage?’ I asked.

‘Jacob, it was not Chris that said it,’ replied Patience. ‘He put their case only.’

The rest looked at me.

‘Am I-‘

‘There would be incest,’ put in Izzy, laying his hand on my shoulder. ‘Jacob is right. Brother and sister, all unknowing.’

‘That happens now,’ said Peter. ‘And not always unknowing.’ Zeb looked up at once, seeming to search Peter’s face, but Peter did not observe him and went on, ‘There’s bastardy too, and many a man raising another’s son.’

Zeb ceased staring. The boy, catching my eye upon him, shrank like a woman closer to my brother’s side. I became aware of Izzy’s fingers kneading the back of my neck.

‘Bastardy there may be, but ‘twould be worse where they are,’ Patience insisted. ‘And what of old and ugly persons? None would have ’em!’ She gave her horrible honking laugh.

‘Those do not marry as it is,’ I said through gritted teeth.

Izzy shook his head. ‘Some do, and they have rights invested in the spouse’s estate and on their body. But in such a commonwealth none would live with them. They would be the worse for it.’

‘They might burn, but they wouldn’t starve,’ Peter said. ‘Which they do frequently now.’

‘You cannot get round the incest,’ said Izzy.

Caro said, ‘I want my own children,’ and blushed.

Zeb, sitting opposite her, tapped her foot. ‘Don’t you mean you want your own man? Want him all to yourself?’

‘Stop it,’ she hissed.

‘I shall call you sister,’ said Zeb, ‘and you can call him,’ he assumed a doting expression and spoke in a mincing, squeaky voice, ‘husband. O Husband, I’ve such an itch under my smock-‘

Peter whooped. I gave Zeb a kick that would afflict him with more than an itch.

‘Behold, a tiger roused!’ he shouted, eyes watering. Caro’s cheeks were inflamed. I kicked Zeb again and this time shut him up.

Through it all the boy watched me and said nothing. He had still not begged my pardon, and from time to time I let him see that I was also watching him.

‘Our talk grows foolish,’ said Izzy. ‘An unprofitable choice of reading, but we will do better next time.’ He got up and walked off in the direction of the house.

We were not often so rowdy, for though Zeb’s spirits were usually too high, he loved Izzy and would be quiet for him if not for me. Peter was coarse-minded, but never quarrelsome. A deal of interesting matter and many ideas came first to me in those talks, for example the thought of settling in New England.

Now the date of my betrothal to Caro was fast approaching, and Sir Bastard back among us, the Norman Yoke incarnate. I was no more safe from his blows and pinches than was Peter, my size being no bar to a craven who relied upon my not striking back. Had he and I been servants both, he would have run a mile rather than encounter with me. I did not want to serve him at dinner, for he would be too drunk to care what he did and in this condition he was at his most hateful. That Godfrey would be there was some comfort, for the brute was aware that My Lady listened to her steward more than to any other servitor. But what was My Lady, in that house? Those who should show a manly dignity were sunk into beasts – no, not beasts, for beasts are seemly among themselves, and have even a kind of society, whereas such degenerates as these desire only a bottle.

I pressed hard with the sand, polishing out the knife scratches in the pewter, scouring as if to wipe the Roches from the face of the earth. The burnished plates I stacked in neat piles, for I hated a slovenly workman. When I did a job I did it well, and Caro was the same: I loved her deft grace as she moved about the house. Had we the wherewithal we could have run an inn or shop together, for she was skilled with all manner of things and clever with money.

Not that I was marrying her for that. She seemed to me simply the likeliest girl I ever saw, with a sweet child-like face which gave a stranger no hint of her quick wit. She was good-humoured too, able to charm me out of my melancholy and wrath. Zeb had tried over the years to win her, and failed; I looked on, defeated in advance, until Izzy spoke to me one day.

There is another brother she prefers.

What, Izzy, is she yours?

No, Jacob, nor Zeb’s nor mine. Who does that leave?

At first I would not believe him. It had never fallen out that anyone, man or woman, preferred me to Zebedee. Then at Christmas we played a kissing game and I saw that she managed things so as to get in with me.

‘Forfeit,’ Izzy cried. ‘You must give Jacob a kiss.’

Her mouth was so soft and red that I longed to put mine against it, but was afraid lest I spoil my chances with some clumsiness.

‘Turn,’ she whispered, and tugged at my sleeve so that my back was between us and the company. I bent down and we kissed with open eyes, Caro’s utterly wide awake and innocent even as, unseen by the rest, she put the point of her tongue between my lips.

Afterwards Zeb asked, ‘Did she suck your soul out?’ and laughed; he told me all the company had seen me shake while kissing, and thus roused me to a blushing fit that lasted half an hour.

But I began to keep company with Caro. We had that talk which all lovers have, Why me, and Since when. She said I was a man and Zeb a boy, and during the kiss which followed her hand brushed against my body as if by chance. Like a fool, I spent days wondering did she understand what she had done to me.

Next to Caro, Patience showed cumbersome as a cow. Impossible, I thought, that she should hold Zeb, who was constantly seeking new pleasures. Whereas Caro, delectable Caro, should hold me for ever. More than once of late I had been woken at night by Izzy laughing and punching me, and when I asked him what was ado he would not tell.

‘Haste and get married,’ was all the answer he would give. Peter and Zeb, who shared the other bed (only Godfrey had a chamber of his own) laughed along with him. In the dark I blushed worse than before, for I suffered hot, salt dreams and had some idea of what I might have done.

I was slow with her. After Kiss Day, as I afterwards thought of it, after she called me a man to Zeb’s boy, I was still unsure and sometimes thought that for all she said, she must like Zeb better than me, for all women did. At times I even fancied, God forgive me, that she had perhaps turned to me following an earlier adventure with him.

One day I looked out of the window and saw her talking most earnestly with Zeb some yards off. I rose and quietly opened the window a crack before ducking beneath the sill.

Caro’s voice came to me: ‘…and sees nothing of my difficulty.’

‘Jacob all over,’ Zeb said. ‘But to the purpose. He must be put out of hope, you know.’

‘I cannot do it!’ she cried. ‘Two brothers…(here I missed some words, for my ears were throbbing)…to do something so cruel.’

‘But the longer it goes on, the crueller,’ said Zebedee.

There followed a silence. I rose and peeped out of the window: they had joined hands.

‘Shall I undertake to tell him?’ asked Zeb.

Caro cried, ‘Indeed, Zeb, you are too kind!’ and then, before my very eyes, they embraced, out there in the garden where any might see. I pulled the window to and sank to the floorboards, trembling.

The rest of that afternoon was passed in planning Zeb’s death, various ways, and devising punishments for Caro. During the evening meal I spoke not a word to either, even when directly addressed, and saw my fellow servants exchange puzzled or offended looks. Afterwards, when all was cleared away, I sat by myself at the kitchen fire polishing the Master’s boots. Zeb and Caro were most likely keeping out of my sight, and they were wise, for every time I thought of Zeb taking her in his arms, my jaw set and my own arms and shoulders became hard as iron.

The door opened and I glared upwards. It was Izzy.

‘I have made a discovery today,’ I said at once.

‘Have you?’ His voice was mild. ‘Will you tell me what?’

‘Acting the ambassador? Be straight. You are come to make their excuses.’ I bent forward and spat into the grate.

Izzy contemplated me. ‘Who are they? My business with you concerns no excuses.’ He pulled up a chair next to mine.

‘Well?’ I snapped.

‘Nay, I can’t talk to you in that style. Would you rather I went away?’

‘Zeb is courting Caro,’ I burst out before I could stop myself. ‘Don’t you know it?’

‘You amaze me. How did you make this – discovery?’

I told him what I had seen and heard. Izzy’s face quickened with some inner revelation before I was halfway through.

‘This is – none of it what you think,’ he began slowly.

‘What, not the embrace!’

He scratched his nose. ‘Jacob…there’s a thing I must break to you. Somewhat ticklish.’

I thought, You are in the right of it there.

‘Caro has sought Zeb’s counsel.’

‘Why not mine?’

‘It concerns you.’ Izzy glanced up at the ceiling as if wishing himself anywhere else in the world. ‘She has sought mine also, and her difficulty is-‘

‘How to break off with me!’

‘She wonders why you wait so long to declare yourself.’

I was silenced.

He took a great breath and went on, ‘If I may speak my mind – take note, this is none of her saying! – you make a fool of her, keeping company so long and the day not settled on. She has never wanted any but you. I thought you had a great mind to her also, and you can be sure the Mistress would be pleased. Where then lies the impediment?’

‘She is mighty familiar with Zeb,’ I answered slowly, and then, filling with stubborn anger, ‘I will not espouse her, or any, where I think my brother might have been before me.’

That was the only time in my entire life I saw Isaiah in a passion.

‘Do you ever raise your eyes and look about you?’ he hissed. ‘Everyone knows where Zeb’s delight lies, except the hulking idiot who is his brother.’

I gaped at him.

‘Besides, now is too late,’ Izzy went on, his eyes gleaming, ‘for such talk! You have kept company with her for months and given no hint. I repeat, you make a fool of her, and – I promise you! – if one word of your – madness – gets out, you’ll make such a fool of yourself as you’ll never live down.’

‘He embraces her.’

‘Because he sees her unhappy! And should they kiss, what is it to you? You are not espoused, and if you like it not the remedy lies in your own hands.’

I was stunned, partly at this view of the matter, but mostly at what he had said of Zeb. ‘Zeb in love? Who?’

‘O, a certain maid whose ear he has been nibbling, full in your view, these past months. She has two eyes and a mouth and her name begins with P.’

Things that I had taken for jests came back to me: Zeb arm-wrestling Patience, or begging a lock of her hair ‘for lying on a maiden’s hair brings a man sweet sleep’.

‘Caro does not wish to break off, then-?’ I faltered.

Izzy rolled his eyes.

I went on, ‘Yet they spoke of cruelty – said it was cruel.’

‘You. You’re cruel to Caro.’

‘To Caro…?’ They had talked of a he. I was about to explain his mistake when the truth came to me. The cruelty Zeb had spoken of was my own, and the sufferer Izzy. My elder brother had never ceased to love Caro, that was it; he had but loved her more tenderly as she turned away from the shared kindnesses of their early years towards something different with me. O Izzy, Izzy: he was the better man of us two, I own it freely, but he was not the sort of man a maid dreams of taking to her bed, and he had been forced to learn it over and over as he watched me win her. I could hardly bear to look at him as he sat there, smiling in defeat.

‘Cruel to Caro, yes.’ I must now conceal my pity.

‘I would see her happy,’ he returned simply. ‘I thought her happiness must lie with you.’

He it was, I remembered now, who had first told me of her preference.

‘But I begin to think I was mistaken.’ Izzy stared ahead of him. ‘Lord, what brothers I have. One eats women and the other starves them.’ His voice trembled as he rose to leave the room.

‘Don’t go, Izzy.’ I flung my arms round him from behind. ‘Wait and see – I will declare myself.’ Even as I said it I felt what a bittersweet promise this must be to him.

He turned to me and we pressed our faces together, the way we had always made up our quarrels as children. I had to bend down now, having so far outgrown my childhood protector. His face was damp around the eyes and for a moment I felt with horror that he was about to cry, but his gaze was bright and steady.

As he put me away from him, Izzy said quietly, ‘You are near as handsome as he, and bigger.’

‘Don’t make me more of a fool than I am,’ I answered.

‘There, I knew you would not hear it.’

‘You love me too well, Izzy.’

He sighed. ‘Very well, think yourself ugly. But Jacob,’ he went on, ‘be not so harsh with Zeb.’

I said I would not.

Going to seek out Caro, I found Zeb and Patience in the scullery, his arms about her as she scraped at a dirty dish, and I wondered at my blindness for so long. My own darling I discovered moping in the great hall. When she saw me she rose, and would have quitted the room, but I stepped up to her and begged her forgiveness. Before we parted that night, our betrothal was a settled thing.

The Mistress furnished Caro with a good dowry. All the money I could afford for her portion had been put by out of my own sweat, and was not bad considering the little that servants such as ourselves could scratch together. Neither of us could fairly hope for more if we meant to stay where we were.

My brothers and myself had been born to better fortunes than we enjoyed, but our father, though godly, was strangely improvident. I found my inheritance wasted and my estate encumbered, was his constant cry throughout my childhood. Yet all shall be paid off, and you, Isaiah, shall inherit-

AMLS 5Dust and debt. There was nothing else for Izzy to come into. The day after we buried Father, I found Mother weeping in her chamber, the steward standing over her and papers scattered all around.

‘Jacob,’ she screamed at me as if it were my doing, ‘O my boy, my boy,’ and fell to tearing her lace collar. I took it for the grief, and wept along with her, until the steward came forward saying, ‘Pray, young master, send your brother Isaiah to us.’

When Izzy came out from the chamber he told me that we were nine-tenths ruined. The house and lands were certain to be seized. The steward was at that instant writing a letter for Mother to sign, begging our neighbour Sir John that of his goodness he succour a distressed widow of gentle birth and her three helpless children.

Sir John Roche was not in those days the wineskin he is since become, and his wife (who inclined to a somewhat Papistical style of worship) was known for her rather short-sighted charity. Our mother was given a cottage in the village and the three helpless children were put to work in the fields on Sir John’s estate. This was perhaps not what Mother had in mind.

Margett, who was at that time the cook at Beaurepair, later enlightened me. We were in the kitchen together and her forehead shone greasily as she bent over a pig she had on the spit. I thought her grey hair very ugly, but her face was kind, if wrinkled, and from her I could find out things the others kept secret.

‘Your father owed Sir John a deal of money,’ Margett said. ‘Turn the handle there, it’s about to catch. Lost a fortune by him, the Master did.’

And so he wished us to work his fields. It was every inch my mother, not to have understood this. She understood nothing but weeping, coaxing and prayer.

When we were let fall into the furrow, I was ill prepared for my new life. For one thing, I was then accustomed to the attentions of servants (though unlike Mervyn Roche, I had been taught always to address them with respect). Now I found a great abatement of rest and of comfort, whether I were in the field or cooped up in the dark cramped place that was become our home.

Most unendurable was the utter loss of all means of raising myself from the earth. My books were left behind in our old house. Weary as I was, I would gladly have had them by me. I could read well and was skilled in reckoning, knew my rhetoric and Scripture, and had begun the ancient tongues some years before.

‘A forward lad for his age,’ our tutor, Doctor Barton, had told my father. ‘He might be trained up in the law perhaps, and become secretary to some great man.’

Now the forward lad found himself grubbing at roots, spreading dung, pulling thistles. When there was nothing else to do a boy could always be set to scare crows. Alone in the field where none could see me at it, I wept. Zeb, too young to grasp that we would be wasted in this valley of humiliation, was less wretched, though from time to time he would whine, ‘When are we going home?’

The other workers were at first somewhat in awe of us, but when they understood that for all our polish we were penniless, things altered. Very soon they made no difference between us and themselves.

‘Here, young Cullen, take this off-a me; don’t stand there gawking,’ said a man who could not read. I felt myself bitterly degraded. When I perceived that I was forgetting what I had been taught, that my only study now would be scythes and manures, terror seized me.

Izzy, finding me one day in a fit of despair, knelt by me in the field and crooked his arm about my neck. ‘A man’s value lies in his obedience to God’s will,’ he said. ‘We are as precious to Him now as ever we were.’

‘He does not show it.’

‘Indeed He does. We eat and drink; we have good health, and one another,’ he reproached me. But I lacked his greatness of heart.

Margett also told me that about this time, My Lady passing by in the carriage was struck by the sight of the three ‘black-boys’ labouring in her field. She made enquiries, and found that while she had thought us to be living on the charity of the Roches, her husband had reduced us to peasants.

‘That was an evil day for him. The sermons!’ Margett gloated. ‘Table lectures, fireside lectures, pillow lectures! – until he said she might bring you to the house. A fellow was sent for you directly, before the Master could change his mind.’

I remembered that. When the man came into the field and bade us follow him, for we were now to work indoors at Beaurepair, he must have thought we would never move off. Izzy stood motionless and speechless, while I dropped to my knees thanking God, for I knew what we had escaped. Servitude inside the house was still bondage in Egypt, but we were now shaded against the noonday heat.

Caro’s fortune was even humbler than my own. Margett told me that Caro’s mother, Lucy Bale, had been a maid at Beaurepair in time past, a woman about the Mistress’s own age and her entire favourite.

‘It ended sadly, though,’ the woman said. ‘In the same year that the Mistress married Sir John, Lucy found herself with child. That’s a fault easily wiped out, to be sure! – but her Mathias was killed. An unlucky fall.’

Later, Godfrey told me more. Lucy, it seemed, bore up under her shame with no little dignity. Sir John would have sent her away, but his wife argued that provided she showed herself repentant, she should stay, else she would surely sink to a most degraded condition. In the event she had no chance to sink, for she died in giving birth to her daughter.

The child, which was of a rare white-and-gold beauty (both Lucy and Mathias were, said Godfrey, bright as sovereigns), was christened Caroline and put under the care of the then steward’s wife, to be raised up a servant. I remembered her being shouted for, and once, when she might be six or seven, dragged by her hand through the great hall, trembling, for the steward’s wife was sharp of tongue and temper. Had Mathias lived, Caro should have been called Caroline Hawks, but none of his kin wished to claim her, so she kept the name of Bale. Izzy, finding her one day weeping in the garden, took her in his arms and dried her eyes and nose on his shirt. He called her Caro for short, and Caro she became.

‘Come along, Jacob.’ Godfrey stood before me, smoothing down his collar. ‘Leave that for later and wash your hands. The meat is ready to go out.’

I rinsed the sand off my fingers in a bowl of water before following him into the kitchen. The roast was set upon a wheeled table, and as fragrant as the stalled ox must have smelt to the Prodigal – a fine piece of mutton stuck with rosemary. Around it stood dishes of carrots and peas, a pigeon pie and sweet young lettuces dressed with eggs, mushrooms and oil.

‘Let us hope they leave plenty over,’ I said to Godfrey.

‘Amen to that.’ The steward poured wine from a decanter, held it up to the light and sipped it. ‘Very pleasing. I will help you with the dishes and then come back for the drink.’

We trundled in with the mutton, my mouth watering. Someone, most likely Caro, had set up the table with such precision that every cup and dish was in absolute line, not a hair’s breadth out. No pewter today; instead, the plate glittered. At one end of this perfection sat My Lady, her hair like string and face flaky with white lead; at the other, Sir John, bloated and purplish. To his mother’s right Mervyn sprawled like a schoolboy in a sulk, tipping the chair back and forth on two of its four legs. He was far gone in drink. I silently thanked Godfrey, grate on me as he might, for keeping Caro away. Only men and whores should serve Mervyn Roche.

When he saw us he shifted in the seat with annoyance and almost fell backwards.

‘Mother!’

‘Yes, my darling?’

‘Mother, why don’t you get a proper butler? Here’s the steward serving the wine – what does he know of it? – and none but that booby to help him. If there be any wine.’

‘It is decanted, Sir, and I am going back for it directly,’ Godfrey soothed.

‘I saw a man at Bridgwater carve in a new way entirely,’ Mervyn announced. ‘It was a wonder to see how he did it – here-‘

To my amazement he leapt from his seat and held out his hands for the carving knife and fork.

Godfrey kept his hands on the trolley but dared do no more; he looked helplessly at My Lady. Sir John, seemingly oblivious, stared at the ceiling.

‘Do you think you should, my sweet?’ Lady Roche implored. On receiving no reply she tried for help elsewhere. ‘Husband, if I may speak a word? Husband?’

‘Might a man eat in peace?’ the husband grunted.

Mervyn glared at his mother, then snapped his fingers to me. ‘You, Jacob. Give it over here. Christ’s arse, if I can’t carve a joint of meat-!’

The Mistress winced at her son’s foul tongue. I took the roast to him and laid the knife and fork ready. Godfrey disappeared through the door leading to the kitchen. I stood back, arms by my sides as I had been taught. He made a fearful butchery of it, hacking in chunks the sweet, crisp flesh which the cook had so lovingly tended. I saw his mother sigh. When the best part of the meat was ruined I brought forward the plates and shared out the tough lumps between the diners. Why, O God, I was thinking, do You not let slip his knife?

‘A butler, I say,’ he persisted, cutting into the pigeon pie with rather more finesse than he had displayed in carving the mutton.

‘Where is the need?’ asked his mother. ‘We live in a very small way here.’

‘Aye, I’ll say you do!’ He pushed off with his legs from the table, almost dropped backwards onto the floor, but retrieved the balance of the chair just in time. ‘Where is Patty?’ This was his name for Patience.

‘Patty is no longer with us,’ came the reply.

‘What! Dead!’

‘No.’ My Lady began crying.

‘What, then?’

‘Run away. Or-‘ She shook her head.

Mervyn glanced at her, took a gobbet of flesh and chewed on it. ‘If she’s run away she’s a fool. You,’ he again snapped his fingers at me, so that I itched to twist them off, ‘tell that Frenchified capon I’ve had better mutton in taverns.’

AMLSI bowed and took my chance to escape him a while. Going out of the door I met Godfrey returning with the wine and I hoped it might find better favour than the meat. Best of all would be if it were poisoned. One thing was cheering: Sir Bastard might scorn me but I had beaten him to the woman he desired. Setting aside his sulks and his drink-stained eyes, Mervyn was handsome, especially round the mouth, with its fierce scarlet lips hemming in very white teeth. In him a man might see what his father had been when young, just as in Sir John his son’s fate was laid out plain – if the son were fortunate, for his whoring was proverbial and a lucky pox or clap might yet shorten his days. He had always had a thirst for Caro. If I could think at all on my wedding night, I should take a minute to exult over him.

In the kitchen the cook, used to madness in his masters, shrugged when I told him the insults heaped on the roast.

‘I have a syllabub for that lad,’ he told me. ‘A special one. Don’t you go tasting, Jacob. Barring Godfrey, everyone’s helped with it.’

‘Not me,’ I said. I took my turn and spat in the thing too, stirring in the spittle. A voice like Father’s somewhere in my head said, Sweetly done, my boy. I carried in the syllabubs, placed the defiled one before Mervyn and stood the picture of submission, watching him eat it.

The man who had joined with us servants in taking this small but choice revenge was called Mister, or Mounseer, Daskin. Between him and Mervyn was deadly hatred. We were out of the ordinary in having a foreign cook. Margett, who had told me of my father’s debt to Sir John, dropped dead one day while arranging a goose on the spit, and the Mistress, who clung still to some pretence of elegance, tormented Sir John for a French cook, such as were just then starting to be known in London.

‘I will have my meat done in the good old English way,’ said the husband, who had no hankerings after hautgousts, hachees or dishes dressed a-la-doode. ‘There will be no French cooks at Beaurepair while I am master.’

His next dinner taught him better: the meat was bloody, and the sauces full of grit. Sir John glared about him. ‘Is the wine spoilt?’ he asked.

‘Not at all,’ his wife replied.

‘Then why have we none on the table?’

‘The cellar key is lost.’

Sir John knew when he was beaten, and bade the Mistress do what she would.

His wife let him down gently. Letters of enquiry to her friends in Town brought forth a number of likely men, but she settled on Mister Daskin who was but half French, could speak our language and cook in the English way beside. He arrived in the coach one wet October afternoon, a small dapper man in London clothes, looking about him with pleasure. It was said that fashionable life had hurt his health.

‘Up all night, and then working again all day,’ he told me. ‘Never, Jacob, never go to London!’

‘You will find it very dull here,’ I answered.

‘Now that is exactly what I like.’

It seemed he found promise of saner living in our old stone house with its surrounding fields and trees. The first meal he cooked for the household was served to Mervyn, and I guess he was never so pleased with his bargain since.

Daskin was not bad for someone half French. He was a Protestant, and he gave good food to the servants as well as the masters. Peter sometimes assisted him in the kitchen, but more often it was either Caro or Patience, and Caro told me she had picked up a great deal of knowledge concerning preserves and puddings from Mounseer, who was not jealous of others seeing what he did. Most of what was cooked was done in the English style, for after a week or so during which her pride would not let her speak, the Mistress was forced to admit that she did not care for French feeding, and Sir John’s roasts were restored to him.

When Mervyn had given his final belch and strewn bread about the table, the Mistress joined her hands and offered up thanks. Her son rattled off the words through force of habit, so that by happy accident I was able to hear him thank God for what he had just received.

After they had got down from the board Peter came to help me clear away.

‘Look at that.’ I pointed out the roast, now stiffening as it cooled. ‘That’s how he carves.’

‘Still alive, was it? Kept running about?’

The room felt cleaner with Mervyn gone. Daskin came in and wheeled off the meat, muttering words in French that any man could translate only by studying his face. We returned the plate to the sideboard and carried the slipware to the scullery to be washed along with ours.

In the room where we had our own food there was a smell of onions and cider. Caro was laying out the dishes; Daskin bent over the mutton, trying to save what he could. I was suddenly very hungry. The syllabub could not be spoken of before Godfrey, who was there examining a fork which Mervyn had bent out of shape, but it hung in the air between us all, a secret pleasure to set against the gloom of that morning’s discovery.

‘There’s nothing wrong with this meat,’ said the cook. ‘If I myself carve what’s left you’ll find it as tender a roast as you’ve had.’

‘We never thought otherwise,’ Izzy assured him.

‘I have made onions in white sauce,’ added Caro, looking sweetly on me because she knew how I relished this dish. I sat on the end of the bench next to the place she would take when she left off serving.

The meal was set before us and Godfrey led us in asking God’s blessing. As soon as folk began spooning up onions and handing about the bread, the talk turned to Chris Walshe, and to Patience.

‘Is Zeb back from Champains yet?’ I asked.

‘No,’ said Peter. ‘I guess they’ll keep him there awhile.’

‘What for? All he did was drag the pond.’

‘This is fine mutton, Mounseer,’ said one of the dairymaids, who seemed to have got the sheep’s eyes into her own head to judge by her glances at him.

‘Did Chris – was Chris hurt, Jacob?’ asked Caro.

‘He was,’ I answered. ‘Has nobody been to look?’

‘I locked the laundry after you laid him out,’ said Godfrey. ‘It is neither seemly nor respectful for everyone to go goggling at the lad.’

‘There’s something in that,’ said Izzy. ‘But tell us, Godfrey, how was he wounded?’

The steward hesitated.

‘Jacob knows already,’ urged Peter.

Godfrey said, ‘Well. It was no accident.’ He looked at me.

‘Stabbed,’ I supplied.

A general gasp and then a buzz, not unlike pleasure, rose from the company.

‘There are bad men about,’ said Godfrey. ‘Be watchful. The Mistress has instructed me to look over all the locks and bolts, and I should be obliged if you would bring me to any weak ones.’

‘And still no sign of Patience,’ said Caro.

‘Did she quarrel with one of you? Had she any trouble?’ the steward asked.

‘None,’ Caro said. ‘No trouble.’

I turned to her and saw her face quite innocent. I pictured Zeb, how he would have answered, perhaps mopping up sauce on a bit of bread, and his eyelashes lying modest on his cheek like a girl’s.

The great hall by torchlight was now a gilded slaughterhouse, with pictures everywhere, filthy idolatries in paint and in stone. I glanced up in blinking the warm water from my eyes and saw wood carved fine as lace. Velvet and gold tissue ran with gore or were caught on pikes and torn from the walls: men were blown up and fell in gobbets through jewelled windows. I saw one soldier ram a sword down another’s throat, and heard the scream grow shrill and then choke off as the blade was driven home. Above them, high on the far wall, a marble Christ pale in death looked down from the cross upon His people.

“it is a curious thing to be reading such matter as this and have a woman serve us. The last time I read such things I was a servant myself, and now I have one.”

“There was once a man who heard his wife and her lover together. He heard the secret things the wife whispered to the lover, and said only, ‘yes, that is she.’But then the lover pleaded to be touched, and the husband clenched his fists; and when the man cried aloud then the husband’s nails cut deep into the palms of his hands.”

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E. M. Forster: A New Life by Wendy Moffat

EMFANLThis is a well-researched book with a detailed bibliography. Forster’s character is filled out as the book progresses. Some thought it a little turgid and stodgy, dry and uninteresting. Though it offered new insights you didn’t get a strong feeling of what he was like.  It’s gossipy in places, which leaves a sour taste.

Moffat’s book is a timely reminder of the struggles that gay men – some remembered like Forster, many forgotten in the tide of civilisation – endured for us who came later, who must be thanked for the liberties we take for granted today.

However, the author focuses on his sexuality rather than is achievement There are so many other dimensions to his life and he was one of the greatest novelists of the early Twentieth Century.

His childhood was stifling, bought up in an all-women household and smothered with rules. As a sort of escape, he had a strong interior life and was reading by age four though never formally taught to do so.

He has an encounter with as paedophile which didn’t seem to do him any harm but which confirmed what he already knew about his sexual orientation.

Then, as now, there were very ‘out’ homosexuals who despised Morgan’s hesitant celibacy, regarding it as cowardice and who were not interested in the aetiology of homosexuality.

He wrote to A J. Ackerley 1,100 times in 50 years.

The author is more sympathetic to Morgan than is Damon Galgut, though the latter has an imaginative telling of his visit to the Barbarar caves compared with Moffat’s dull prose.

Forster was right not to assume that liberal Germany wouldn’t change tack. This should be a warning to all who think ‘things can only get better.’

I was surprised that a doctor blamed prostate trouble on frequent masturbation, though there is some modern research that backs this up – but if masturbation more than once a week by young men increases the likelihood of prostate cancer, it’s a surprise than more men don’t get it – though masturbation is good for the over 50s in this respect..

Reference is made to paintings by Cadmus which scandalised the US navy.

Cadmus The Fleet

Cadmus YMCA

And this painting includes a portrait of Forster:

Paul Cadmus, What I Believe

It’s interesting that so many people from the world of arts and literature knew each other – a small world. He met Edward carpenter, who was a prophetic figure while Forster didn’t have it in him to be such.

I had to look up bies = an evil spirit and bézique = literally “correspondence” or “association”, referring to a card game. Also ‘cleats’=  shoes.

 Quotations:

 Within weeks of meeting Morgan, Hugh boldly announced he was an atheist, and proceeded to separate Morgan from the last remnants of his faith. To HOM it was clear that not only was church practice hypocrisy, but the very concept of Christ was humbug. Along with John Maynard Keynes, who would become perhaps the greatest economist of the century, HOM led a public attack under the banner of secularism on the college’s sponsorship of a Christian mission in the slums of East London. Like many undergradu­ate political protests, the atheists’ “sincere and bellicose” display verged on comedy. They sent a representative to present a petition of grievances timed to interrupt prayers at High Table. Just as the provost intoned, “In the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord,” there was a scuffle; the rude emissary was escorted out of the hall, and a don piped up loudly: “Would you mind pass­ing the potatoes?” The renegades won the day; it was decided that college work with the London poor could be done through a secular organization.

Under Hugh Meredith’s influence, Morgan lost his faith “quietly and quickly.”

The idea of a god becoming a man to help man is overwhelming to anyone possessed of a heart. Even at that age I was aware that this world needs help. But I had never much sense of sin, and when I real­ised that the main aim of the Incarnation was not to stop war or pain or poverty, I became less interested and ended by scrapping it.

“saner than anyone else I know … He’s strong because he doesn’t try to be a stiff-lipped stoic like the rest of us, and so he’ll never crack.”

 “When I am 85 how annoyed I am with Society for wasting my time by making homosexuality criminal. The subterfuges, the self-consciousness that might have been avoided.

He was right that the legal changes came painfully slowly. In July 1967, when Morgan was eighty-eight, the Sexual Offenses Act was finally passed. Sex between men who desired each other, were alone in a house, and over twenty-one was legalized—provided that neither of the men was in the armed forces or the merchant navy. And, in a final fillip, the new law applied only to men living in England and Wales.

 ‘He wanted intimacy, love, and domesticity akin to marriage’.

“He delicately ascertained the perfect needful thing, and made it occur with a minimum of fuss.” He had “a gift for friendship”

“began a campaign to have sex of some kind with someone”

For more than fifty years Forster entered political fights from the position of the underdog. Almost every week one could read a pithy and pointed letter to the editor in his inimitable voice. He protested against fascism, against censorship, against communism, against “Jew-Consciousness,” against the British occupation of Egypt and India, against racism and jingoism and anything that smelled of John Bull. Morgan’s public voice wasn’t stentorian. He raised it, tremulously, often alone, against the edifice of conformity. As self-proclaimed gay men, Isherwood and Lehmann adopted the American neologism adopted by the men who resisted police harassment at the Stonewall Inn in Sheridan Square, the men who embraced gay liberation, who eschewed the medical term homosexual, which had marked them for decades as a “species.”

The previous July, just after he arrived at King’s for his residency, Lancaster found himself alone in an octagonal room where a tiny black-and-white television had been installed on a tea cart before the fireplace as a begrudging acknowledgment of the wider world. Next door was the Fellows’ Senior Combination Room, on whose claret-colored walls the portraits of great Kingsmen—all friends of Morgan, all dead—gazed down: Rupert Brooke, a Roger Fry self-portrait, Duncan Grant’s painting of Maynard Keynes. In contrast, the little room had barely enough room for two armchairs and a couple of vitrines stuffed with ancient pottery that flanked the Gothic window. It was a nondescript time in the midmorning, and the BBC was broadcasting coverage of the first moon landing. Decades later, Lancaster still remembered the scene clearly. Morgan “shuffled in, asked me what it was, settled down to watch” on the armchair beside him. He leaned forward conspiratorially toward Mark. “I’m not sure they should be doing that,” he said quietly.

And so, one evening at the studio, after a particularly hectic party, they’d started—and it had been really very funny and not the least disgusting—but quite hopeless. They sat up in bed and laughed and laughed. “Oh Edward!” laughed Margaret—for she was pretty tight, too—“I shall never be able to sleep with a man again. At the critical moment I shall always think of you.” … “I might return the compliment,” said Edward.

“For Isherwood, shepherding Forster’s gay fiction posthumously into print was both a sacred trust and a political adventure. He believed that publication would give Forster a second life as a pioneer of gay writing. Publishing ‘Maurice’ was part of his long campaign to celebrate sexual freedom and repudiate homophobia and hypocrisy.”

“Though he burned great bonfires of ephemera, Morgan carefully preserved the record of his gay life. Thousands of unpublished pages of letters, diaries, essays, and photographs tell the story of the life he hid from public view. Some of the pages are scattered in archives. Some have been coaxed out into the world from remarkable hiding places — a vast oak cupboard in a London sitting room, a shoebox humbly nestled among mouse faeces in a New England barn. Many of Morgan’s surviving friends have told their stories for the first time. Only in 2008 were the final entries in his private diary, restricted from view since his death, opened to readers. All his long life Morgan lived in a world imprisoned by prejudice against homosexuals. He was sixteen when Oscar Wilde was sent to prison, and he died the year after the Stonewall riots.”

“I have plunged into an anxious but very beautiful affair. It seemed to me — and I proved right — that something precious was being offered me and that I was offering something that might be thought precious. . . . I should have been right to take the plunge, because if you pass life by it’s jolly well going to pass you by in the future. If you’re frightened it’s all right — that’s no harm; fear is an emotion. But by some trick of the nerves I happen not to be frightened.”

“Between them, Morgan and May deftly carved out an intimate space for their respective ‘marriages’ to their beloved Bob, with the long weekends for May and the short weekends for Morgan.”

“It was as much psychological as physical. It seemed to go straight through the small of my back into my ideas, without involving my thoughts.”

Like Jane Austen sketching her moral vision on the “little bit of ivory” of provincial domestic life, Morgan discovered the richness and complexity of his entire oeuvre, his whole aesthetic enterprise in a single subject: the search of each person for an honest connection with another human being… He would anchor his plots in the domestic sphere that had been so richly explored by Austen and George Eliot. He would concern himself with their themes: the right choice for a marriage, the tug-of-war between propriety and personal freedom, the moral complexities of an interior life, the pressures of a small community upon an individual’s moral actions.

It emerged that Lawrence’s diagnosis of Morgan’s problem was that he must “satisfy” his “implicit manhood” but “He tries to dodge himself—the sight is painful.” “Why can’t he take a woman and fight clear to his own basic, primal being?” Lawrence lectured Bertrand Russell. Because, he confidently concluded without pausing for an answer, Morgan “sucks his dummy—you know, those child’s comforters—long after his age.” If Morgan would only act, he could become “pregnant with his own soul.” Lawrence told a friend that he found Morgan “very nice.” But he wondered “if the grip has gone out of him.” For his own part, Morgan suspected a different problem in Law­rence’s psyche: suppressed homosexual tendencies.

Even when Morgan had been at Nassenheide, British anxiety about the Hun was palpable. In August 1914 war was declared against Germany. The shadow of war had lingered for so long that “up till the last moment it was impossible to believe that the thing was really going to happen.” The fact of war frayed Morgan’s friendships. Even Malcolm’s wife, Josie Darling, who was dear to his heart, became irritable. Stop dreaming, she told him, enlist in the army, and “face facts.” He gave her a sharp answer. “Don’t say ‘face facts’ to me, Josie. Everybody keeps saying it just now, but the fact is, it’s impossible to face facts. They’re like the walls of a room . . If you face one wall, you must have your back to the other three.”

He confessed to Goldie, “What’s to occupy me for the rest of my life, I can’t conceive.” It was impossible not to comprehend his predicament, and impossible to do anything about it. He told Florence, “I am leading the life of a little girl so long as I am tied to home.”

Policing purity was endless, maddening work. The vast majority of the occupants of Alexandria were beyond their reach, subject by default to the Egyptian Native Penal Code. Under these laws, inherited from the Napo­leonic Code, neither consensual homosexual acts nor male prostitution was illegal. To one administrator charged with developing new “offenses against morality” for a draft penal code, the native population’s blind eye to homo­sexual practices was particularly galling. It was “unthinkable,” he wrote, that young people, “the most precious asset of a State,” should be “exposed to the moral and physical corruption in the toleration of unnatural offenses.” Martial law allowed the British authorities to begin making the crooked straight and the rough places plain.

In his own routine tenderness, Morgan detected a parallel feeling to the love of the men for one another in the muddy trenches. Like them, he found his intimacy disguised by the shape of his duties. Gradually, without senti­mentalism, he came to feel that the greatest story of the war was to be found in compassion. And he heard beneath their words a truer story of gay love and friendship. The small notebook collated fragments, but to him the frag­ments glowed with meaning. Here was the deeper record of the meaning of the war: individual and human, not political. From the verbatim snippets of men in their most extreme trials he gleaned a hidden story that could not be erased. He named this section of the notebook “Friendship.” Under this ti­tle, he collected little tessellated fragments to recover its power

In 1938, Morgan told William Plomer he was “trying to construct a philoso­phy.” It was built out of the bricolage of the “liberalism crumbling beneath him.” Too secular to be a credo, the essay was titled “What I Believe.” It began startlingly.

I do not believe in Belief. But this is an age of faith, and there are so many militant creeds that, in self-defence, one has to formulate a creed of one’s own. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy are no longer enough in a world which is rent by religious and racial persecution, in a world where ignorance rules, and science, who ought to have ruled, plays the subservient pimp.

“Truly we live in strange times,” Morgan told him, “and the only thing which is really real in them is love.”

In vain Morgan had tried to counsel Joe against his attraction to venal guardsmen, thieves, and opportunists whom he routinely tried to “rescue”: “Joe—, you must give up looking for gold in coal-mines—it merely prevents you from getting amusement out of a nice piece of coal.”

The social climate, too, had to be cleansed. Sir Theobald Mathews, the new puritanical director of public prosecutions, was appalled by the lax enforcement of the laws against indecent acts. The provinces were holding up their end, but London was a den of vice. Arrests for homosexual acts were duly reported in the newspapers euphemistically as “grave” offenses, “serious” offenses, crimes too horrible to name. But the tabloids echoed the lament of Viscount Samuel in the House of Lords, who decried the “insidi­ous poisoning” of Britain’s “moral state,” complaining that juvenile crime and adultery were rampant, and “the vices of Sodom and Gomorrah, of the Cities of the Plain, appear to be rife among us.” To curb this scourge, police agents provocateurs were sent out to entrap homosexuals through solicita­tion; a special division of the Metropolitan Police was formed solely to patrol public urinals.

The home secretary, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, had prosecuted Nazis at Nuremberg; now he undertook a crackdown on vice. The number of prosecu­tions for homosexual offenses skyrocketed. Even powerful and famous men were paraded as examples in the press—including the recently knighted actor Sir John Gielgud and the Labour MP William Field. In the most sensa­tional case, three prominent men were charged with conspiring to commit indecency: the young peer Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, his second cousin Michael Pitt-Rivers, and Peter Wildeblood, chief diplomatic correspondent for the Daily Mail. The press was tipped and the timing of the arrests was orchestrated by the police so the story could appear prominently on the front pages of the Sunday newspapers. The evidence used to convict the men came from love letters—seized in kit searches of the RAF airmen who were their working-class lovers—and a warrantless search of Wildeblood’s flat.

Newspapers were in a race to outdo one another in salacious reporting, spinning out contradictory stereotypes about sexual criminals with increas­ing certainty and fervor. In May 1952 the Sunday Pictorial devoted a full-page feature to ways to recognize these “Evil Men”; nine years later it helpfully explained “How to Spot a Homo.” Readers could discern a homo­sexual by his sedate tweed jacket, suede shoes, and pipe, or alternately be his telltale effeminate manner and mincing step. These “exposés” reflected the anxieties born of the paradox that homosexuals, forced to live a double life, proved to be quite successful at it.

Popular explanations for the causes of homosexuality, in psychology books and newspapers, sermons and speeches, oscillated between the idea of an alien class of humans, diabolical and separate from normal people, or natural and contagious consequence of men being in each other’s company and kept away from the company of women. War service had brought on an epidemic of this problem. Or excess mother love. Or absent fathers. Morgan sent a copy of a letter he had published asking for “less social stigma” toward homosexuals to Lord Samuel, as a kind of catnip. The viscount took the bait. “Incomprehensible and utterly disgusting as [homosexuality] appears to all normal people,” Lord Samuel replied to Morgan, “it seems to have the ca­pacity to form a habit as potent as alcohol or narcotics.”

The law that had sent Montagu and his friends to prison was the same law under which Oscar Wilde had been convicted in 1895. Goaded by concerns about public indecency on the streets, in 1954 the Home Office appointed a committee of mandarins—clergy and peers and respectable academics—to investigate the twin problems of female prostitution and male homosexual­ity. So it was that Sir John Wolfenden, former headmaster of a public school, now vice chancellor of Reading University, assembled a fifteen-person com­mittee that would bear his name In September 1957 the Wolfenden Report recommended that “homosexual activity between consenting adults over the age of twenty-one in private be no longer a criminal offense.” It took a de­cade more to enact these recommendations into law—and even then the statute was “mild and aetiolated.” It applied only to England and Wales, excepted members of the armed services, set the age of consent for homo­sexuals (at twenty-one) four years above that for heterosexuals, and denoted “private” space very narrowly. (Since anywhere a third person was likely to be present—whether present or not—was defined as public space, even the interior of one’s own home was not always deemed private for the application of the law.) After the Sexual Offenses Act went into effect in 1967, prosecu­tions of homosexual acts soared. The vaunted milestone in homosexual rights was largely symbolic.

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Blue Sky Adam by Anthony McDonald

BSA(Not discussed by the group but written in a personal capacity.)

I read Adam several years ago and enjoyed it so it was good to read the sequel too. I also read his first novel, Orange Bitter, Orange Sweet.

At twenty-two Adam inherits a vineyard in southern France. Leaving old loves and friends behind, he finds himself somewhat isolated. Stephane, Adam’s sexy new neighbour comes to his rescue, and is soon giving Adam much more than advice on managing his vineyard. Then Adam’s teenage lover reappears on the scene.

Each of the central characters in Blue Sky Adam is intricate and plausible. The males are clearly the dominant force – though Stéphane’s sister Françoise is well-drawn and given an intriguing edge.  Each faces personal conflicts BSA 2that echo those of Adam’s: who, and what, does he truly want? (Though to describe this as his ‘Gethsamene moment’ is way over the top.) Though secondary characters, Michael and Sean each develop substantially throughout the narrative with their tentative experiences in relationships highlighting one of the novel’s themes: that sexuality isn’t as black or white as it is often perceived to be, and that this in itself need not be an issue.

I enjoyed reading about regions that I know only as labels on wine bottles.

This book made a few hours go by quickly and it was delightful to read.

The author worked very briefly as a musical instrument maker and as a farm labourer before moving into the theatre.

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