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Old 12-17-2019, 07:09 AM   #46
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Going back to the "miracles" after Sarah's death. I have had another look at them and they are indeed nebulous, as I think issybird said she would like them to be. For Richard Smythe's face, there is mention of urticaria (hives), which seems to be something that can clear up quite quickly. Mr Parkis's boy had bad stomach pains and a temperature, both of which went away overnight.

Smythe and Parkis each saw these cures as somehow miraculous, and the priest made some reference to Sarah having been a good woman. But none of that adds up to miraculous, inexplicable cures.
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Old 12-17-2019, 08:34 AM   #47
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Going back to the "miracles" after Sarah's death. I have had another look at them and they are indeed nebulous, as I think issybird said she would like them to be. For Richard Smythe's face, there is mention of urticaria (hives), which seems to be something that can clear up quite quickly. Mr Parkis's boy had bad stomach pains and a temperature, both of which went away overnight.

Smythe and Parkis each saw these cures as somehow miraculous, and the priest made some reference to Sarah having been a good woman. But none of that adds up to miraculous, inexplicable cures.
That's fair. Certainly they wouldn't pass muster for canonization (I assume). I did find the addition of relics in both instances to be interesting, just something to make it murkier still. There's also the placebo effect; the wanting a cure through Sarah's intercession on both parts effecting the desired cure.

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Old 12-17-2019, 12:29 PM   #48
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Isn't illumination an effect? Judges get recused because it is almost impossible to totally ignore your own personal experiences and prejudices. So I see this as a nice ideal, something to try for, but not something that's really achievable.
I think maybe we're talking about two different things? I was referring to elements of the author's life in his book, where I think it's irrelevant to the quality of the book and that a book should be approached without looking at it through that prism. That couldn't be achieved here entirely, of course, as it was obvious Maurice must be a variant on Greene, albeit less successful (or at an earlier point in his career). That doesn't mean that the author's bio can't provide insights, but to the extent a book can only be understood through the author's life, I think it's failed.

As for bringing my own personal experiences, well, sure. It's one reason a book can change as you reread it over the course of your life. However, I really don't need to like a character to find him interesting or successful, nor do I have to agree with his thoughts and actions, so long as they're consistent and believable in themselves.
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Old 12-17-2019, 01:41 PM   #49
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...A related issue is the physical nature of her marriage to Henry. When reading it, I thought it was merely that she was unfulfilled physically; however, I saw in some brief plot description that Henry was in fact impotent. Did I miss that? Because of course if the marriage hadn't been consummated, it was invalid on that basis, also.

Just going back to your question about impotence, the plot description was incorrect. But they hadn’t been intimate since Sarah met Maurice, seven years before. Just before she dies, Sarah writes to Maurice in her diary, recounting a discussion she had with the Priest:

”I’m not really married to Henry any more. We don’t sleep together - not since the first year with you. And it wasn’t really a marriage, I said (to the Priest), you couldn’t call a registry office a wedding. I asked him couldn’t I be a Catholic and marry you?.....Every time I asked him a question I had such hope........No,no,no, he said, I couldn’t marry you, I couldn’t go on seeing you, not if I was going to be a Catholic.”

And to my earlier point about sacrifice and suffering, Sarah says in a bit later in the same passage, after storming out of her meeting with the Priest:

”I slammed the door to show what I thought of priests. They are between us and God, I thought; God has more mercy, and then I came out of the church and saw the crucifix they have there, and I thought, of course he’s got mercy, only it’s such an odd sort of mercy, it sometimes looks like punishment. ...I wish I wasn’t as strong as a horse. I don’t want to live without you.......But what’s the good, Maurice? I believe there’s a God.......I’ve caught belief like a disease. I’ve fallen into belief like I fell in love. I’ve never loved before as I love you, and I’ve never believed in anything before as I believe now.......When you came in at the door with blood on your face, I became sure. Once and for all. ....I fought belief for longer than I fought love, but I haven’t any fight left........I pray to God He won’t keep me alive like this”


That was the end of the diary - she died. She doesn’t leave Maurice because she no longer needs him, or feels internally that it isn’t right; only that it’s forbidden. So her belief didn’t provide her with any comfort at the end; she felt she was in an impossible situation and maybe gave up.

I think Green makes her religious experience sound like a fatal affliction. Who knows, maybe he felt their suffering was a just response to the sin of their affair? Or maybe the organizing principle of Greene’s theology is suffering and sacrifice.

PS. I hope this doesn’t sound argumentative; I’m partly just puzzling it out for myself. But it is interesting that as a group, we can experience the same book so differently. I wonder if it’s just down to differences in our temperaments?

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Old 12-17-2019, 03:11 PM   #50
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Just going back to your question about impotence, the plot description was incorrect. But they hadnít been intimate since Sarah met Maurice, seven years before. Just before she dies, Sarah writes to Maurice in her diary, recounting a discussion she had with the Priest:

ĒIím not really married to Henry any more. We donít sleep together - not since the first year with you. And it wasnít really a marriage, I said (to the Priest), you couldnít call a registry office a wedding. I asked him couldnít I be a Catholic and marry you?.....Every time I asked him a question I had such hope........No,no,no, he said, I couldnít marry you, I couldnít go on seeing you, not if I was going to be a Catholic.Ē

And to my earlier point about sacrifice and suffering, Sarah says in a bit later in the same passage, after storming out of her meeting with the Priest:

ĒI slammed the door to show what I thought of priests. They are between us and God, I thought; God has more mercy, and then I came out of the church and saw the crucifix they have there, and I thought, of course heís got mercy, only itís such an odd sort of mercy, it sometimes looks like punishment. ...I wish I wasnít as strong as a horse. I donít want to live without you.......But whatís the good, Maurice? I believe thereís a God.......Iíve caught belief like a disease. Iíve fallen into belief like I fell in love. Iíve never loved before as I love you, and Iíve never believed in anything before as I believe now.......When you came in at the door with blood on your face, I became sure. Once and for all. ....I fought belief for longer than I fought love, but I havenít any fight left........I pray to God He wonít keep me alive like thisĒ


That was the end of the diary - she died. She doesnít leave Maurice because she no longer needs him, or feels internally that it isnít right; only that itís forbidden. So her belief didnít provide her with any comfort at the end; she felt she was in an impossible situation and maybe gave up.

I think Green makes her religious experience sound like a fatal affliction. Who knows, maybe he felt their suffering was a just response to the sin of their affair? Or maybe the organizing principle of Greeneís theology is suffering and sacrifice.

PS. I hope this doesnít sound argumentative; Iím partly just puzzling it out for myself. But it is interesting that as a group, we can experience the same book so differently. I wonder if itís just down to differences in our temperaments?
Argue away! That's a good part of the fun.

As for your first point, it could be semantics; to me "forbidden" doesn't connote that it's outside of a felt emotion or belief on her part. When she argued about the validity of her marriage with the priest, it's because she in fact did think it would be wrong to leave her marriage, but hoped the priest would overrule her.

I've decided that was the point of the baptism, in fact; her baptism did make her marriage invalid, but no one knew (except her mother, of course, and for whatever reason, she kept her counsel).

Thanks for the reference on when Sarah and Henry stopped sleeping together. For me, that argues the importance of her relationship with Maurice. We know Sarah had engaged in a string of infidelities and that Maurice was the last - that she was weirdly physically faithful to him despite being married and that it was the last, even as she considered a subsequent partner, does tell me it was a deeper relationship than the others.

Coming back around to your postscript, I'd say almost the defining characteristic of this group is that our reading preferences are so very different. So perhaps it's not that surprising that we react differently. Certainly it helps me get out of my own tunnel vision.
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Old 12-17-2019, 05:35 PM   #51
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No doubt our temperaments in part Victoria, and of course whether we enjoy a writer like Greene or not.

Going back to Henry and whether he did love Sarah or not, I think he did love and care for her. The diary entry quoted above implies that it was Sarah who didn’t want a physical relationship with him any more once she got involved with Maurice. He was a gentle man, and wouldn’t have tried to insist on his so-called “conjugal rights”. So he loved her for herself and not for what he could get out of the relationship.

Sarah didn’t want to live and her going out in the rain when she was already sick looks like suicide to me, though no doubt subconscious. She would know it was a sin in the eyes of the church.

ETA: I crossed with you this time issybird, but my iPad must have been on a go slow, looking at the time difference between our posts.

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Old 12-17-2019, 06:05 PM   #52
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Sarah didn’t want to live and her going out in the rain when she was already sick looks like suicide to me, though no doubt subconscious. She would know it was a sin in the eyes of the church.
I have to disagree about this. I think Sarah wished for death, but I don't think she courted it on any level that would render it suicide. She considered herself to be as strong as a horse. Even more, that was a time when the church was death on suicide, so to speak - couldn't be buried in sacred ground and so forth. I think the priest wouldn't have pushed for a Catholic burial if there had been even a whiff of suicide about her. It seems to me her death could be typical of a certain class of hagiography, where the saint-to-be longs for death to keep from sin.

OK, it occurs to me that you were saying that her going out in the rain had to have been subconscious, since she'd know that suicide would be the worst of sins. In which case, ignore what I just said!
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Old 12-17-2019, 06:11 PM   #53
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I think maybe we're talking about two different things? I was referring to elements of the author's life in his book, where I think it's irrelevant to the quality of the book and that a book should be approached without looking at it through that prism. That couldn't be achieved here entirely, of course, as it was obvious Maurice must be a variant on Greene, albeit less successful (or at an earlier point in his career). That doesn't mean that the author's bio can't provide insights, but to the extent a book can only be understood through the author's life, I think it's failed.[...]
I completely agree that a book should be able to be assessed independent of knowledge of the author's personal life, but I'd argue that that is not always feasible (short of being kept ignorant of that background). Indeed, until I read those links, you will see I was arguing that there was no need to assume that Bendrix was based on Greene; author's make up characters all the time, a writer character does not have to be based on the author.

So, it seems to me that when you say "it was obvious Maurice must be a variant on Greene", the mere fact that you know of this background has coloured your perspective. You are now looking at this book as something more deeply personal to the author than if we had assumed it was a work only of the imagination.

And, even assuming you are able read this book without thinking about how it has been influenced by the author's life, I've read other reviews saying that you must interpret this book through knowing about the author's private life and his struggle with Catholicism. Just the fact that this is known as one of the author's "Catholic books" seems to suggest that all Greene's books are being looked at this way.


The additional background knowledge has influenced my interpretation of the book to the extent that I am more inclined to accept the confused nature of its messages - real life is often confused. Also, I had thought that Bendrix was intentionally represented as despicable, now I have to wonder if the author didn't mean it that way, it seems he may have thought these actions and thoughts were ... reasonable?

I had always thought the book a failure, and that hasn't changed. I don't think the prose was anything special, those statistics I posted demonstrate at least one reason why I had that reaction. So yes, I can still assess the text as text, but I can no longer claim my reactions are unaffected by my knowledge of the author.
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Old 12-17-2019, 06:13 PM   #54
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Argue away! That's a good part of the fun.

As for your first point, it could be semantics; to me "forbidden" doesn't connote that it's outside of a felt emotion or belief on her part. When she argued about the validity of her marriage with the priest, it's because she in fact did think it would be wrong to leave her marriage, but hoped the priest would overrule her.

I've decided that was the point of the baptism, in fact; her baptism did make her marriage invalid, but no one knew (except her mother, of course, and for whatever reason, she kept her counsel).

Thanks for the reference on when Sarah and Henry stopped sleeping together. For me, that argues the importance of her relationship with Maurice. We know Sarah had engaged in a string of infidelities and that Maurice was the last - that she was weirdly physically faithful to him despite being married and that it was the last, even as she considered a subsequent partner, does tell me it was a deeper relationship than the others.
Yes, a fair point on the issue of what Sarah felt was Ďforbiddení. She was loyal to her marriage, in her own way, before religion entered the picture. She couldnít tolerate having Maurice laugh at Henry or demean him in any way.

Good catch that in the eyes of the Catholic Church, the baptism would make her marriage invalid. Probably it had multiple layers of meaning in book. I reacted to it differently, and saw it as an instance where Greene conflates superstition with religious experience. No person can secretly become a Catholic, or a Buddhist or an anything. The person has to Ďknowí / be a participant or itís without meaning. Otherwise, it just becomes magic.

We canít know for certain what meaning Greene himself ascribed to the baptism, but he had Maurice ascribe great meaning to it. By the end, he was thoroughly freaked out by the possible miracles, secret baptism, etc ..He was on the run, and likely on the brink of turning around to appease God. But thatís a rather primitive response.

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Coming back around to your postscript, I'd say almost the defining characteristic of this group is that our reading preferences are so very different. So perhaps it's not that surprising that we react differently. Certainly it helps me get out of my own tunnel vision.
I feel that way too. I find myself mulling over what everyone has said, irrespective of whether it accords with my own reading of a book. I find everyonesí perspectives thought provoking. Even if I donít know what to reply, I learn things from the dialogue. It deepens my appreciation books; especially the ones I didnít like .
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Old 12-17-2019, 06:26 PM   #55
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I have to disagree about this. I think Sarah wished for death, but I don't think she courted it on any level that would render it suicide. She considered herself to be as strong as a horse. Even more, that was a time when the church was death on suicide, so to speak - couldn't be buried in sacred ground and so forth. I think the priest wouldn't have pushed for a Catholic burial if there had been even a whiff of suicide about her. It seems to me her death could be typical of a certain class of hagiography, where the saint-to-be longs for death to keep from sin.

OK, it occurs to me that you were saying that her going out in the rain had to have been subconscious, since she'd know that suicide would be the worst of sins. In which case, ignore what I just said!
My reaction to that part was not that Sarah was courting death, subconsciously or otherwise, but that she was driven to this extreme by the cruelty of Bendrix forcing himself into her presence. It really seemed to me (before I knew so much about Greene's personal life), that Greene was turning Sarah into a sort of martyr, persecuted in one way or another by all the men of her life (to which we might even add the priest). She had made up her mind, made her commitment, but Bendrix wouldn't leave her alone.
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Old 12-17-2019, 06:38 PM   #56
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It's obvious to me that I don't see Bendrix as being as rotten as others do. He was adrift, he was miserable - if Sarah didn't judge him but thought him full of love, I'm willing to take him on that basis. It doesn't mean that I defend his going to Savage, but I don't think his worst actions define him. He was fighting his own demons.

ETA: Does anyone have an idea what the name "Bendrix" could mean? I haven't come up with a satisfactory interpretation. I take Savage to mean someone entirely without a moral compass. Miles I read as the Latin word "soldier." Bendrix is odd enough that I think it's not random, but what?

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Old 12-17-2019, 06:57 PM   #57
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No doubt our temperaments in part Victoria, and of course whether we enjoy a writer like Greene or not.

Going back to Henry and whether he did love Sarah or not, I think he did love and care for her. The diary entry quoted above implies that it was Sarah who didnít want a physical relationship with him any more once she got involved with Maurice. He was a gentle man, and wouldnít have tried to insist on his so-called ďconjugal rightsĒ. So he loved her for herself and not for what he could get out of the relationship.

Sarah didnít want to live and her going out in the rain when she was already sick looks like suicide to me, though no doubt subconscious. She would know it was a sin in the eyes of the church.

ETA: I crossed with you this time issybird, but my iPad must have been on a go slow, looking at the time difference between our posts.
Sorry, I crossed posts with gmw and Bookpossum . Signs of a vibrant discussion.

I saw Henry that way too Bookpossum. I thought Sarah running out into the rain was partly a death wish as well. I also thought she was desperate to escape Mauriceís visit, because she just didnít have the strength left to resist him again.

The fact he insisted on coming, when she said she was sick and begged him not too, made him partly responsible for her death.

Gmw Thank you - I learn a lot about the craft of writing from your comments. Iíve been pondering what you said earlier about first person narratives being very difficult, because they must tell rather than show, and can come off as self-obsessed. I think thatís very true.

In terms of your current discussion with Issybird , Iíll just add, quite off topic , that I think Iím more likely to make an unconscious assumption that the protagonist is revealing things about the authorís personal life, when I read first person narratives. I doubt Iím alone in making that mistake. So, thatís another reason why the format is challenging for an author to pull off. Now back to your previous discussion about authorís independence ....
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Old 12-17-2019, 07:08 PM   #58
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It's obvious to me that I don't see Bendrix as being as rotten as others do. He was adrift, he was miserable - if Sarah didn't judge him but thought him full of love, I'm willing to take him on that basis. It doesn't mean that I defend his going to Savage, but I don't think his worst actions define him. He was fighting his own demons.

ETA: Does anyone have an idea what the name "Bendrix" could mean? I haven't come up with a satisfactory interpretation. I take Savage to mean someone entirely without a moral compass. Miles I read as the Latin word "soldier." Bendrix is odd enough that I think it's not random, but what?
Two quotes that define the Bendrix character for me, one from the start, pretty much our introduction to the character:
Quote:
ĎHowís Sarah?í I asked because it might have seemed odd if I hadnít, though nothing would have delighted me more than to have heard that she was sick, unhappy, dying.
and one from closer to the end:
Quote:
In the taxi I let my hand lie on her leg like a promise, but I had no intention of keeping my promise.
Everything, from start to finish, always about himself, with no care or concern for anyone around him. Even as we get to the absolute end:
Quote:
Youíve robbed me of enough, Iím too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone for ever.
it's still all about Bendrix. If this was Greene is disguise, I find it perfectly obvious why he should have struggled with his faith.


As for the name "Bendrix", it made me think of Benadryl - it's been around since 1946, apparently. Doesn't seem likely. Not sure this helps either:
Quote:
ĎItís a long time since weíve seen you, Bendrix.í For some reason I am a man known by his surnameóI might never have been christened for all the use my friends make of the rather affected Maurice my literary parents gave me.
, but I did wonder if it was significant to the author.
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Old 12-17-2019, 07:25 PM   #59
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[...] Gmw Thank you - I learn a lot about the craft of writing from your comments. I’ve been pondering what you said earlier about first person narratives being very difficult, because they must tell rather than show, and can come off as self-obsessed. I think that’s very true. [...]
Oh dear. I fear that your knowledge of my background has influenced how you interpret my comments.

(Sorry, it seemed like an opportunity too good to resist.)

But on this subject, Bookpossum earlier noted similarities between The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and this one - alluding to abusive relationships and the use of a woman's diary. The similarity I had noticed was the use of first-person perspective and cost of that choice: both books had to cheat via the introduction of a diary (that doesn't read like any diary I know) in order to provide a separate perspective.

Once you become aware of this sort of stuff you start to notice it a lot. Greene had sufficient experience that I am sure he knew what he was facing when he started, so I'm not really criticising the choice in this instance, but we see so much first person narrative these days that I find this sort of cheat stands out to me.

Last edited by gmw; 12-17-2019 at 07:34 PM. Reason: Expansion and correction.
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Old 12-17-2019, 07:40 PM   #60
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It's obvious to me that I don't see Bendrix as being as rotten as others do. He was adrift, he was miserable - if Sarah didn't judge him but thought him full of love, I'm willing to take him on that basis. It doesn't mean that I defend his going to Savage, but I don't think his worst actions define him. He was fighting his own demons.

ETA: Does anyone have an idea what the name "Bendrix" could mean? I haven't come up with a satisfactory interpretation. I take Savage to mean someone entirely without a moral compass. Miles I read as the Latin word "soldier." Bendrix is odd enough that I think it's not random, but what?
I thought giving the PI report to Henry was rotten, but I didn’t think Maurice was evil; I thought he was immature. He was miserable. His own needs and insecurities sabotaged his relationships with others.

We know very little about his life or why that was so. As you say, the glimpse Sarah offers is quite different. She says he threw himself under a wall to save someone else, etc. But it’s hard to get a rounded picture of him with most of the book written as self-talk. I don’t think I enjoy the format - in this case, it’s quite limiting.

Sorry, I’ve got nothing on the name “Bendrix”.
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