52 Poems, Week 36: Song of the Ents and Entwives (Tolkien)
52 Poems, Week 37: First Ode for a Very Young Lady (Anselm Hollo)

Sunday Night Journal, September 9, 2018

In response to recommendations from Rob G and Janet, I recently read Julien Green's Each Man In His Darkness. Well, I guess it wasn't only in response to them. I've run across Green's name now and then over the years in discussions of modern Catholic novelists. It usually turns up toward the end, in an almost afterthought-ish sort of way: "Oh, and there's also Julien Green." I'd always think well I should check him out, too. And then I'd forget about him.

Well, it turns out he's really very good. As a brief much-too-neat but not-entirely-useless one-sentence description, I'd say he's a sort of combination of Greene and Waugh. More Greene, I guess. And not the humorous Waugh but the Waugh of Brideshead Revisited. What this book has in common with Brideshead is mainly the conflict between faith and desire, which of course is equally important in some of Greene's work. It's been a long time since I read The Heart of the Matter, and its plot doesn't bear much resemblance to that of Each Man, but shares with it, at least with what I recall, a grim sense of movement toward tragedy. And the protagonist is somewhat Greene-ian in that he is a Catholic haunted by a faith he'd rather ignore.

I couldn't figure out at first when or where the book is set. If this is stated in the narrative I missed it (which is certainly possible). Green was born in 1900 of American (and Southern) parents in Paris, and he wrote mostly in French. I assumed in the opening pages that the book was set in England (because the family names are Anglo), and in perhaps the 1920s or even earlier, as the protagonist, Wilfred Ingram, is met at a railway station by a horse and wagon. It soon became clear that that was not the case. The book was published in 1960, and I think its setting is meant to be contemporary and American. It may be New York--some large American city, at any rate. 

Wilfred is in his mid-20s, single, and one of a few Catholics in an old and largely Protestant family. He works in a clothing store and spends his nights in what the novel describes, with a word which must have already been somewhat quaint in the 1950s, as "dissipation." That is, he goes out in search of women to have sex with, and he always finds one.

(In passing: perhaps I'm naive, but I'm a little doubtful that even an attractive and charming young man would, in the 1950s, have so reliably and so often found a willing woman, and never the same one twice, as Wilfrid does. Green was gay, and I suspect Wilfred's sex life resembles that of a good-looking young gay man in the metropolis more than that of a straight one.)

In the midst of this he attempts to squelch his Catholic conscience without abandoning the faith altogether. This struggle comes to a head when he finds himself in the grip of an obsessive passion for a married woman. The outcome of that struggle is strongly affected by his relationships with two homosexual characters, who can almost be said to represent the good and evil angels contending for his soul. That's an oversimplification, as the evil one is also Catholic, mostly fallen-away, and is bent on challenging Wilfred's faith to the maximum. And as things turn out...well, I don't want to give away too much. The other homosexual character is Wilfred's cousin Angus, who is in love with Wilfred, and who is, now that I think of it, the most Waugh-ian element in the novel: a well-off, jaded young gay man of no faith, but deep longing underneath a surface cynicism, and an essentially noble and generous character. There is also a decadent old uncle who puts one in mind of Lord Marchmain. 

In short: a novel very much worth reading and placing alongside those of  some of the other names I've mentioned. I'd like to read more Green. He wrote a lot, including nineteen (!) volumes of journals and a four-volume autobiography. Goodness.... Here is his Wikipedia entry.

WARNING: what seems to be the only edition in English of Each Man has an introduction by Giovanni Lucera which gives away the major events of the plot, including the climax. And this is a big deal because the plot is not predictable. So don't read the introduction first. Fortunately it's always my practice, when a novel includes an introduction or preface, to skip it and read it only after the novel itself.

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Another recommendation from Rob G: he sent me the link to this piece in First Things by David Bentley Hart in which Hart recommends the English composer George Butterworth. In the past I would have filed this away mentally and maybe followed up on it sometime, or maybe not. But having access to a streaming service--Tidal in my case--which gives me access to some huge portion of all currently available recorded music allowed me to hear some of Butterworth's music right away. I looked for the orchestral pieces, because I have to admit, with some embarrassment, that the art song is not my favorite form of music. 

Well, I found them, and they are exquisite. And I found them on this recording: 

ButterworthParryBridge

which, according to the review at Arkiv Music, is "very special." I'm always telling my friends who are connoisseurs of classical music that I'm not very sensitive to nuances of performance. But this one really grabbed me. It was the second one I listened to (I don't remember which was first), and it's the one I saved and listened to repeatedly. 

And by the way I liked the work by Frank Bridge, a four-movement suite for strings, as much as the Butterworth. The one by Parry, a suite of dances in the baroque tradition, hasn't made much of an impression on me.

Here's one of the Butterworth pieces, not from the just-mentioned recording, but with pretty pictures.

And here's one of the songs, a link sent to me by another friend, who is probably going to roll her eyes when I tell her that although I love the song (and of course the Houman poem), I sort of wish the singer didn't do that crescendo in the middle. I guess maybe that was the composer's direction. Yes, I am complaining about the singing of one of the world's great baritones, Bryn Terfel. I'm sorry. I really am. 

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I've just acquired two more entries for my list of common phrases heard but not read, and rendered innocently according to the hearer's knowledge, or guess:

for all intents and purposes -> for all intensive purposes

of utmost importance -> of upmost importance

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I've sometimes thought of starting a collection of Links On Which I Did Not Click. " Like this one: "Is Your Pre-Workout Under-dosed?" I have no idea what that means. 

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Less-Than-A-Hurricane Gordon did me a favor. If you read last week's post, you remember I had been trying to direct the creek that flows into the bay away from a course where it was causing erosion. The creek wanders around all the time, depending on wind and water. I had dug an outlet for it straight out into the bay, but the water level in the bay was fairly high and my ditch was filled in overnight. 

NewCreekThe storm dumped somewhere between 7 and 9 inches of rain in 18 hours or so. The resulting flood of runoff down the creek washed a path straight out into the bay, as I had wanted to do. That's the stream you see in the middle of this picture, taken a day or two after the storm, when the very high water had mostly receded, and from more or less the same place as the picture last week of another one of my attempts. Moreover, it shoved a great pile of sand up on the beach and more or less replaced what had been eroded by the creek. I am very pleased by this development.

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I read Each Man... a number of years ago during Lent, and it was quite a kick in the posterior. In a good way. Alas, I've not read any more of Green's work since then, although I have copies of a couple of his other novels.

I have that Butterworth/Bridge CD too, and it's excellent.

This is another very good one, with different pairings:

http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=171205

Ha. I think that's the other one I listened to that didn't grab me in the same way. But I remember thinking that I wanted to hear the Howells viola piece again.

I had that same trouble placing the story in time. Even after I figured out that it was within my lifetime, I still could only think of it as around the turn of the century.

I never did read the introduction.

This book reminded me of others, one of which I could not remember, but now I realize it is Heart of the Matter. I had been thinking it was something I read more recently.

AMDG

I started to read a Green novel maybe 25 years ago and found it too lush and descriptive. I didn't get past page 20. Maybe I would try this one.

I am going to check out the Butterworth - it sounds interesting!

If anyone on this blog has not yet seen 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing', its very worth seeing. I watched it on Amazon Prime Video over the weekend.

I was sort of shocked at some of the language in "Three Billboards", Grumpy. And I am not easily shocked. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, I did. It was kind of situational involving what was happening at the times the language was used.

I haven't seen it. I had seen some favorable comments about, and a few that absolutely trashed it. One of those, if I remember correctly, was from a Catholic theology-literature sort of person on Facebook.

Funny you say that about the lush descriptions in the Green book. I thought it was relatively short on those, except for a few.

I read an NYT obituary of Green which said that he was considered a master stylist in French. He was elected to the Academy Francaise (sp?). I wouldn't say the prose as such is a big draw in this novel. Meaning English prose of course. Not that it's bad but I don't remember ever thinking "that's a brilliant bit of writing."

If Stu was shocked by the language, I'm not sure I'm up to it.

AMDG

~~I was sort of shocked at some of the language in "Three Billboards"~~

The writer/director, Martin McDonagh, is from Ireland, and perhaps he's not aware that some of those words are not used in the US in the same way (or as frequently) as they are in Ireland. I have a friend from Ireland who thought the same thing upon seeing the movie.

I liked it a lot, despite the language; I thought that in its own weird way the story was very "redemptive."

(By the way, McDonagh is the brother of director John McDonagh, who made the film Calvary.)

I didnt notice the language. It gave me a great vision of grace. Its very interesting to hear the director os the brother of the director of Calvary

I read down until he descibes the movie then I stopped till after I watched it. I had heard nothing but praise for the movie last year, from students and colleagues. I think what hooked me was that Teachout says the director made In Bruges, which was a film I liked a lot

https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/mcdonagh-high-ebbing/

I can only read the first paragraph--then it says "subscribe to read more." But Teachout is certainly worth listening to in general.

Teachout says at some point in that article that 'Three Billboards' is in no sense a comedy. I don't agree. I think its a very black, 'Infernal Comedy.' IE a hellish comedy. And so it has the language of hell. Swearing in books or movies is not quite the same as swearing in real life. Literature and films are their own aesthetic world.

Well, it's now on my Netflix queue. At the top.

Now that Rob says the director of Calvary is his brother I can see the analogies

Haven't seen Billboards, but just watched a trailer for it; looks pretty wrenching, even with some over-the-top funny dialogue. But I have watched In Bruges, twice, and I found it mostly terribly sad, and couldn't get past that to let the grace come through.

Billboards is pretty wrenching at times also, but I found it more explicitly redemptive than In Bruges.

Speaking of wrenching, I am up to the series finale of Rectify, the 4th and final season of which has been incredibly moving in places. It also has been very "redemptive," although in a somewhat different way than Billboards or Calvary: more Southern American Protestant than Irish Catholic. Think Horton Foote or To Kill a Mockingbird. I'm not sure whether creator Ray McKinnon is any sort of Christian believer or not, but he certainly treats the faith seriously and shows respect for it in his characters. There is one subplot in which one of the major characters over the course of the story has a crisis of faith, and it is handled extremely sympathetically and respectfully.

I find myself hesitant to watch the final episode in the same way I was with Breaking Bad: I'm mostly convinced that they won't fumble on the one yard line, but still worry that they might. Full report later.


I need to see this

Grumpy, had you started it then gave up after season 1 or something? I think Mac did, but I thought someone else here did as well. I can understand that, as that first season was pretty painful to watch.

Yes, I did, and I'm 99% sure Grumpy did, too, for more or less the same reason: just too psychologically painful, and not really much movement, just static misery.

Re the treatment of Christianity: I remember a moment in which a group of evangelical women, I think in a Bible study group, casually cited Aquinas. Not impossible I guess but it struck me as highly implausible.

I vaguely remember that scene -- I think that the main character, Daniel, had mentioned Aquinas to her earlier (he had read him in prison), and she repeated it to her friends.

Lots of misery, yes. And it is deliberate in its pacing. But there are hints of redemption all along, sparse in the early episodes but more prominent as things proceed. (The scenes in which Daniel remembers his only friend on death row, a young repentant black man, are marvelous and extremely moving.)

I have a couple friends who gave up on it because they didn't find it "gripping." Well, yeah; but then it's a drama not a thriller, even if there is an underlying mystery constantly bubbling under the surface.

Yes now I remember! My actual plan for fall viewing is to be totally uncool and rewatch The Wire. How uncool is that

I watched the first one and couldnt go on

So something smusing happened! I was telling a grad student how much I liked Three Billboards and he demurred saying it was magical, allegorical and had an unbelievable character conversion. Say hello to myself 25 years ago!

I put Three Billboards on my queue. We will see.

AMDG

I can't wait to hear what Mac and Janet say about 3 Billboards.

It'll be at least a week, probably more, before I watch it. Current Netflix dvd at home is High Noon, which as far as I know I've never seen. Maybe when I was a kid.

So, Grumpy, "magical" and "allegorical" were negatives to you 25 years ago? I guess I'm not surprised at allegorical.

As for watching The Wire, sounds very cool to me. I probably will sometime.

And re Justify, I also didn't care much for most of the characters, especially the main one himself. I will say though that I'm curious about how the crime actually came about.

Yeah it is/was me! Making my own demands on me

I’m very pleased about the sand :)

Me too. Thanks.

"I also didn't care much for most of the characters, especially the main one himself."

Well, yes, that would be a hindrance. In a drama for sure, more so than in a cop series or a thriller.

That wouldn't have stopped me if I'd like it otherwise, of course. But that didn't help. There was an incident involving coffee....

Yes. Well, it never gets any worse than that (not even close actually) and that particular incident serves as the catalyst for a number of other developments, as you may imagine.

Yeah, I think that was already under way at the point where I stopped watching.

I watched 3 Billboards, and it was really good except that every other word was the same 4-letter word. I'm not sure why anyone who can write as well as the person who wrote this movie can write, would rely so heavily on a word that has been so completely drained of any power to shock or amuse.

I'm still trying to decide how I feel about the end of the movie.

AMDG

I may be able to watch it next week sometime.

I had pretty much the same reaction, Janet. Just felt that it was "jarring" considering characters and situations during which some words were used. Don't want to say too much, since Mac has not watched yet.

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