so… this book is something i read for my modernism class for this summer: loving living party going by henry green. the peacock on the cover is there for a reason – the first novel, loving, has lots of peacocks in it. one of them has its neck broken by a little boy, one of the more exciting things that happen in this story. but that’s detail.
this book was a surprisingly slow read – maybe it was the dated irish / british colloquialisms i had to look up, maybe it was the lack of typographical or other markers showing the start of a new scene, or maybe it was the story – in any case, it took me longer to read than it should have.
the novel has a great number of characters being mentioned, so many that after the first few pages i went and tried to pencil a diagram in the front to try and keep them apart. the main characters however turn out to be the following:
- edith – a servant girl
- charles raunce – a manservant who has just become the butler, since the last butler just died
- kate – edith’s friend and fellow servant girl
- paddy o’conor – an irish lampman
- mrs. tennant – the lady of the house, a wealthy british widow
- mrs. jack – mrs. tennant’s daughter-in-law who has an affair with
- captain davenport – who likes fishing and mrs. jack.
the novel is set in ireland, in the country, sometime during ww2. there isn’t really much action, just talk and talk and more talk. most of it amounts to very little being said – now, this may well be read as social commentary. be my guest. 🙂
edith and kate share a bed and giggle much. they are ‘girly’ girls. they laugh, cry, shriek, phantasize about romance, and generally act stereotypically girly. when edith becomes engaged to charles, kate panics and decides that paddy ‘needs’ her since she cannot bear the thought of being alone.
charles raunce fiddles with the books he is in charge of and regularly puts some money aside for himself (and later his wife-to-be) without the lady of the house noticing. this is a tradition the previous butler practised, and it seems to raunce only fair that he should so augment his salary.
the household is just recovering from the old butler’s death when mrs tennant misplaces a sapphire cluster ring. she apparently has a habit of misplacing valuables, and the servants are slightly annoyed. she goes away, assuming when she returns the ring will have reappeared. edith finds the ring and suggests to raunce to sell it for what it’s worth, for their future together, but he refuses and makes her put it back where she found it (between some cushions). the ring vanishes again. when a supposed insurance agent (a ridiculous character with a lisp, apparently due to recent dental work?!) shows up at the house and wants to ask questions, the servants feel they are being accused of theft. raunce’s servant boy albert (not to be confused with another servant’s nephew who is also named albert) runs away to join the military after he is accused of taking the ring. raunce and edith elope to britain without telling anyone.
now, the peacock. we don’t get to see the scene, we only hear about it afterwards. the peacock is killed by one of the alberts after it goes for his throat. this is a crime that needs to be concealed because the peacocks are precious to paddy o’conor and also to mrs. tennant who sees them as a vital part of the house’s decorations. in the end, she never does find out, seeing that there are over a hundred birds.
there are a few things worth pointing out in this novel, such as the condescending way paddy is treated, even described: whenever paddy speaks, we do not get to hear what he says, – the narrator just tells us that paddy ‘mumbles’ or ‘says (something) lowly’ which then needs to be translated by raunce, mostly, because apparently nobody else can understand what the irishman is saying. paddy shares his quarters with the peacocks he feels so passionately about; his hair is grimy and smelly and unkept, and he does not take care of himself at all. he does, however, do what he can to protect the birds from harm: when he finds one bird has been killed (the cadaver is dug up by the dog) he locks all the other birds up to keep them safe.
there are also two little girls, the aforementioned second albert (who at one point has the ring), and a bunch of other servants.
i’ll be honest and say i didn’t enjoy this book. it seemed to go on for too long, and some scenes are far too overdone for my taste (like the scene toward the end where the servants nearly die laughing as they take turns imitating the agent’s lisp) and i just felt confused for much of the first half of the book. read it when you have time to focus on it and can go back to clear things up when you get confused.