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Loving; Living; Party Going (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics) Paperback – February 1, 1993
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"His novels made more of a stylistic impact upon me than those of any writer living or dead."
"Green's novels reproduce as few do the actual sensation of living."
About the Author
John Updike, author of Rabbit, Run and other celebrated works, is a preeminent American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet.
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Give yourself time to become acclimated to Green’s considerable idiosyncrasies. You sort of graduate from “I can’t read this!” to “May I please read this to someone aloud?” It doesn’t take that long, and once you've got the hang of it, you’re in for one of the greatest rides available in literature in the English language.'' The masterpiece of these three novels under one roof is probably Loving, but all three have abundant life.
Green’s narrative prose in Loving and Living doesn’t fare well quoted out of context, but here’s a splash of dialogue from Living, involving iron-moulder Joe Gates, recently freed from a short stay in prison:
“‘Ow did you find it in there, Joe?” said bar tender. (Note: Green usually disposes with the article before a noun in Living.)
“‘They didn’t ‘ave no beer in there,’ said Mr. Gates, ‘and I said to the superintendent I says I can’t understand your not having no beer, water’s what lions and gorillas, rhinoceroses, donkeys, birds, tarts and eagles drinks, but moulders must ‘ave beer I said. Two ‘alves, Reuben, I brought my mate along with me tonight. ‘“
And here’s a paragraph from Party-Going, which has the most conventional narrative prose of the three novels:
“Those nannies, like the chorus in Greek plays, knew Miss Fellowes was very ill. Their profession had been for forty years to ward illness off in others and their small talk had been sudden strokes, slow cancers, general paralysis, consumption, diabetes and of chills, rheumatism, lumbago, chicken pox, scarlet fever, vaccination and the common cold. They had therefore an unfailing instinct for disaster, and Fate they found rightly was most often exaggerated, they could foretell from one chilblain on a little toe the gangrene hat would mean first that toe coming off, then that leg below the knee, next the upper leg and finally an end so dreadful that it had to be whispered behind hands.”
By all means, get an edition that includes John Updike’s introduction, which surely helped to bring Green’s work to the attention of a richly deserved wider audience.
This observation in his novel PARTY GOING may be taken as a questioning motif hanging over all of Henry Green’s fiction.
Critics have echoed each other, to tell us Henry Green succeeded at “creating life” in his novels. Rebecca West may have been first; West and each critic after in turn is correct. Life is what Henry Green, aka English upper class, businessman Henry Yorke (1905-1973) wanted to make vivid on the page and quick in the mind of the reader. Life: why do we do as we do? Why do we say what we say? What do we mean by what we say?
Henry Green drew upon his own experiences in the making of this account of a gaggle of smart set 1930s Londoners starting a much anticipated Continental holiday, but delayed by heavy fog at the train station.
Henry Green, in his young thirties during the era depicted, was a player. PARTY GOING (published in 1939) tells us how Green played, or might have felt and acted during his playing days. . . . “with a wifey at home.” “. . . Back to Julia as he was now, and with Angela in reserve he would much rather Amabel stayed behind.”
PARTY GOING moves the reader from scene to scene, through a series of conversations within a London train station and the adjoining hotel. Green has creates a layered narrative, which annoyingly, put this reader to the effort of tracking and linking the various ongoing conversations. The alternative premise, that any particular statement is interchangeable in the mouth of any one of the other players, seems implausible as a Henry Green device.
The meaning of words on a page made into dialogue is seldom self-authenticating. There is required the descriptive narrative, the suggestive aside, the clarification, all of which function as stage management, which Green might have preferred to leave out but couldn’t:
“ ‘What I want now is some brown paper and a piece of string,’ Miss Fellowes quite firmly said and all the attendant could get out was, ‘Well I never did.’ Not so loud though that Miss Fellowes could hear. “
“She went behind Max and said, ‘Don't move it's me,’ and willed her leg when it touched his, to tell him she was glad.”
These young Brits, affluent, bored, spoiled, snobbish, on the make, are incapable of serious conversation. But Green wants his reader to listen up!
Trivial palaver is a Trojan Horse, carrying within true and false affection, a readiness to mislead or to love, humiliate or comfort, wound or embrace, draw blood or heal.
Auntie May, who lives alone, came by herself to the train to see her niece off on her continental vacation; she is taken ill and carried into a hotel room, where she becomes vividly aware of the peril she suddenly must confront, Auntie knows these bantering youngsters hold real power over servants and the sick: her niece, already withholding treatment, might send Auntie May to an asylum.
Henry Green caressed his characters’ dialogue with metaphors as malleable as putty:
Inert luggage = headstones:
A man - hired to locate luggage in a rr station, mobbed with stranded passengers each with their own mounds of baggage - “making his way from one grieving mourner to another, as they sat abandoned, cast away each by his headstone, they were like the dead resurrected in their clothes . . . “
a beautiful woman = a Welsh landscape:
“. . . the newspapers had picked her . . . Amabel had grown to be some Beauty Spot in Wales. Whether it was pretty or suited to all tastes people would come distances to see it and be satisfied when it lay before them.”
a sexually conquering woman = a cat:
“. . . she was most like a cat that had just had its mouse coming among other cats who had only had the smell.”
A display of feeling = spilled wine:
“. . . When people paid no attention to his feelings this made him talk of these the more, so much so it was like a man whose hand trembles trying to pour wine into a jug, he misses it and that wine falling on the table, shows red no more but is like water.”
Henry Green, aware of social inequity, makes observations which can be taken as progressive sympathies. Servants who surround the uppers are consigned to demeaning, essential labors which make pampered lives possible; the dismissive comments of the wealthy conceal from no one the frozen condition of the indispensable servants: “they were underneath and kept there.”
Attractive women, trapped in the railroad station, where they are subjected to crudities by trapped men, were returning home from employments they had been given owing to their good looks.
Green view, implied in many strands of conversation, is that the rich care little for possessions and more greatly value personal connections. Why? Anything lost “could be replaced. This rule applied to everything they had accept themselves, being so rich they could not be bought, so they laid more store than most on mutual relationships.”
One of the party goers is enchanted when the crowd below her hotel window begins to sing “like sheep with golden tenor voices, so she was thinking, happily singing their troubles away and being good companions.” Green corrects: “What she could not tell was that those who were singing were Welshman up for a match, and what they sang in Welch was of the rape of a Druid's silly daughter . . .”
This and the rest of Henry Green’s nine uniquely valuable novels continue off-and-on out of print. Apparently, this sin is to be corrected soon in 2017, by reissues. Grab up this or another Green novel. Recommended above others by this reader is the brief and brilliant novel, BACK.