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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Thursday, May 14, 2015

What did Updike learn from Henry Green?

Staying w/ Henry Green's Loving at least for a while but man he sure doesn't make it easy for you, for all reasons noted in yesterday's post, and in particular by his perverse need to refer to characters by many different names, for ex. the head butler Raunce is sometimes the butler, or Raunce, or Charley, or Arthur - and I may be missing some - and the same holds true for all of the characters - plus he gives little or no guidance or warning as he shifts about about different sets of characters within his (unmarked) chapters. OK, so at bottom it's an upstairs-downstairs novel, with strong emphasis on downstairs, much like about a thousand other British works, and in particular like a few great movies - this form seems particularly well suited for film - not only British but also French (Rules of the Game), Swedish (Smiles of a Summer Night), even American, kinda, that Altman film on a British estate whose title eludes me right now. We see the butler scheming to rake some money off the accounts and pursuing one of the maids - but the most dramatic scene in the section I read last night: one of the maids enters the bedroom of the daughter-in-law (I think, it's all maddeningly unclear) of the head of the "castle" - Mrs. Jack - whose husband is fighting in Europe - and finds her naked in bed with a man (she's off to see her husband, home on leave in London, in a day). So this leads to an incredible amount of gossip, giggling, and speculation among the staff - and what's the point? The usual I guess: corruption and hypocrisy of the nobility, sexual and power tensions among the servants, general indifference to the children. There are some beautiful passages but it's not a writerly novel in the manner of Flaubert or Proust, rarely if ever does Green draw attention to his style or include a showpiece. I'm still a little puzzled as to why Updike says Green taught him how to write, to the extent that anyone can do so - I don't see obvious lessons learned there unless it's the omnipresence of sexuality and the extreme economy of narrative devices - and have to say that if Updike learned from Green it appears that U outdid his mentor. Will keep looking for further signs of the anxiety of influence.

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