Friday, January 13, 2017

Redemption While Stockpiling Sin

For redemption we may search
while we also stockpile sin,
hoping in the synagogue and church
that the Lord accepts our spin.
Opium and booze don’t stop
worshippers who throng the chapel,
asking for a lollipop
while like Eve they share an apple.

It’s very hard to drop belief
in God for someone who believes.
It would cause the sort of grief
Wodehouse would get by dropping Jeeves,
a man whose speech was just as stiff
as drinks he served his master who
would fall off wagons but no cliff
as drinking men so often do.

Martin Nolan writes about Graham Greene’s book “The Quiet American”.  Greene’ books were the source of more movies than any other 20th century writer.  The runner up was Rudyard Kipling.  Nolan writes:

The current version is not anti-American, Sir Michael insists, but “anti the 300 to 400 people who started America's entry into the Vietnam War." Sir Michael describes himself as "the most pro-American foreigner there is." The same could not be said for Fowler who, in the book, recalls explaining to Vigot the sarcastic title used to describe Pyle: "He's a good chap in his way. Serious. Not one of those noisy bastards at the Continental," he remembers saying, mentioning the hotel where the United States correspondents gathered. ‘“Quiet American.’ I summed him precisely up as I might have said, ‘a blue lizard,’ ‘ white elephant.’”
Greene's characters, in their staggering search for redemption, often stockpile sin. While Fowler wallows in opium, booze and brothels, he is uninterested in nationalism, imperialism or Communism. For Greene, God and guilt always trump politics and its affectations.
"Be disloyal," a troll-like guru rants at a boy in "Under the Garden," an autobiographical Greene short story of 1963. "It's your duty to the human race. The human race needs to survive and it's the loyal man who dies first from anxiety or a bullet or overwork. If you have to earn a living, boy, and the price they make you pay is loyalty, be a double agent — and never let either of the two sides know your real name. The same applies to women and God. They both respect a man they don't own, and they'll go on raising the price they are willing to offer. Didn't Christ say that very thing? Was the prodigal son loyal or the lost shilling or the strayed sheep?"

Fowler tells Pyle, "I wish sometimes you had a few bad motives, you might understand a little more about human beings." Greene occasionally wandered toward good intentions himself. In 1953, he told Waugh that he wanted to "write about politics and not always about God." Waugh waspishly replied: "I wouldn't give up writing about God at this stage if I was you. It would be like P. G. Wodehouse dropping Jeeves halfway through the Wooster series."

This poem anticipates “Dropping God,” which I wrote on 1/5/09:


“It’ll be a great relief,”
said Graham Greene, “not writing
about God.” Belief
he found quite unexciting,
although he’d written lots
about it, every novel
mainly based on plots
against God by the devil.

Evelyn Waugh replied
“I wouldn’t, were I you,
drop God as if He’s died,
for if you do you’ll rue
the action. God’s the booster,
believable as Jeeves
whom Wodehouse knows that Wooster
can’t drop since he believes.”

I  added the final quatrain of “Stockpiling” after reading the 1/6/17 TLS  review of Highballs for Breakfast: The very best of P. G, Wodehouse on the joys of a good stiff drink edited by Richard T. Kelly, by y Sophie Ratcliffe, who teaches at the University of Oxford, where she is a Tutor in English at Lady Margaret Hall. She writes:

Richard T. Kelly’s enjoyable book sources a wide range of Wodehouse’s writings on drinking, from his early journalism through to Blandings and Mr Mulliner. Against a backdrop of country houses and English pubs, we brood on beer and wine, while New York offers a fresh world of “green swizzles” and “lightning whizzers”.

An opening survey of Wodehousean euphemisms, from “stewed to the gills” to “tanked to the uvula” feels a touch more route march than pub crawl, but Kelly’s selection soon finds a gentler pace. Generous extracts put a frame around some of Wodehouse’s particular gifts. Wodehouse, of course, knows about alcohol’s downside. Bertie Wooster’s “research” into the varieties of nauseous experience is reassuringly precise (“there are six varieties of hangover,” he tells his friend Claude Cattermole (“Catsmeat”) Potter-Pirbright, “the Broken Compass, the Sewing Machine, the Comet, the Atomic, the Cement Mixer, and the Gremlin Boogie”). But Wodehouse offers us a narrative in which all is never lost – pain always has the possibility of cure. Jeeves, after all, first “floated” into Wooster’s life “noiselessly through the doorway like a healing zephyr”. His employment as Bertie’s valet, and the beginnings of one of fiction’s greatest partnerships, depends on the timely provision of “a glass on a tray” to help “a morning head”:

1/31/03, 1/13/17 #2968

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