June 4, 2023

1. Blue Ormer:
The Fiction of G. B. Edwards

Gerald Basil Edwards was born and raised on the island of Guernsey, spent most of his adult life in England, and died in 1976 at the age of 77. He left behind one book, a thick novel called The Book of Ebenezer Le Page. This novel has a high reputation, and is often placed in the canon of modern classics. It’s an excellent novel, I recommend it without qualification. Someone asked me, What’s it about? I said, It’s about life. Don’t be put off if someone says that it’s written in Guernsey dialect; it’s written in readable English, though it has a few odd words from Guernsey.

Edwards may have been too young for World War I, and too old for World War II. Or Edwards may have felt (like his narrator, Ebenezer Le Page) that he didn’t want to fight for England in World War I. Guernsey is close to France, and many Guernsey residents were French-speaking. Guernsey residents probably didn’t feel that they were English or French.

In the 1920s, Edwards moved in London literary circles, and he was viewed as a genius, the next big thing. But when he failed to complete any major works, he was forgotten. He made some money as a teacher of literature and drama; he organized plays, wrote plays, and often burned what he’d written. During World War II, Edwards found a civil-service job in England, and he kept this position until 1960. Near the end of his life, he was rediscovered by a young artist-writer, Edward Chaney, who was born in 1951, and is alive today.

Chaney encouraged Edwards to complete his magnum opus, and after Edwards died, Chaney managed to find a publisher for it. Chaney also wrote a biography of Edwards, Genius Friend: G. B. Edwards and The Book of Ebenezer Le Page. (Edwards’ relationship with Chaney might be compared to Goethe’s relationship with Eckermann, Nietzsche’s with Peter Gast, and Lampedusa’s with Tomasi.)

One person who knew Edwards in the 1920s was J. S. Collis. After Edwards died, Collis wrote,

To Stephen Potter and myself he seemed always a genius. He was the most dynamic person we had ever met.... He had something to say, he spoke from an inner center, as one having authority.... He often spoke at great length and lucidity....

He reacted to life almost with an animal’s lack of calculation. He was really affected by people he met, and made little attempt to conceal his version of their character. Introducing him to someone was like conducting a chemical experiment. If he found the person alien to his taste, say an intellectual sophisticate, he would be unable or unwilling to conceal his reaction. He would grow pale. He would not only lower his eyes but his whole head, slanting his face away from the person. He might not say anything at all, only bow his head still lower....

Stephen Potter and myself were close friends of his for several years, though he was difficult, for one never knew when he might take offence.

Collis says, “[Edwards] had dark hair, a good forehead, marvelous teeth, very brilliant eyes shining with intelligence and warmth — but a sloppy, indeterminate mouth.” Could this “indeterminate mouth” indicate a weak ego? I’ve argued that a weak ego is characteristic of genius.

Edwards’ fiction is written in colloquial English, as is Salinger’s fiction; the narrator, like Salinger’s narrator, is a “regular guy,” not a literary person. Here’s a passage from Edwards’ novel that could have been written by Salinger:

I haven’t got no children, that I know of; but that don’t mean I’ve been a perfect lover. I haven’t led any girl up the garden, either. When I took a girl out I soon let her know what it was I wanted. I kept my nose to the ground and, if there was nothing doing, I trotted off.

Edwards’ tone is casual, but there’s an underlying seriousness in his novel, a preoccupation with death. The narrator of Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is a teenager, but Edwards’ narrator is a man who has lived his life and seen the world; Edwards was older when he wrote his novel than Salinger was when he wrote Catcher. Edwards’ narrator (Ebenezer Le Page) quotes the saying “in the midst of life we are in death.”1 Death is everywhere in Edwards’ novel. Consider the following passage:

I have known one happy marriage, and that was my sister’s; and, if ever a girl deserved it, it was Tabitha. She was a good girl.... Her heart was set on Jean Batiste from Perelle. He was only a young fisherman and lived in a cottage smaller than ours.... He was an only son and lived with his mother, who was an invalid; but when she saw he was going to be all right after she’d gone, she was willing to go....

They didn’t go away for a honeymoon, but settled down right away in their little house at Perelle. It was a hard life for Tabitha. They had enough, but only enough. The ground is sandy round there and they couldn’t grow much; and there was no protection against the southwest winds and, in rough weather, often the waves would go right over the house. Tabitha must have had some anxious times when Jean was out to sea and it was rough. “I always knew he would come back to me,” she said.

Well, she had him for ten years. He had done his training in the Militia and when the war against the Kaiser came, he was among the first to go. He was killed in 1915. Tabby didn’t make a fuss. I never saw her cry.... It wasn’t that she forgot Jean. The last thing she said to me before she died, and she was by no means an old woman, was “I want to go to Jean now.”

Like Salinger, Edwards struggled with marriage. Edwards married and had several children, but abandoned his family after a few years (his wife apparently deposited her children with wealthy families). Countless passages in Edwards’ novel discuss troubled marriages. He writes, “Marriage is a terrible thing, when you come to think of it.” In earlier issues, I discussed the theme of marital trouble in Dickens, D. H. Lawrence, Hardy, and Kipling; it seems to be a major theme in English literature between Dickens and Edwards. Here’s a picture of Edwards:

And here’s a picture of Edwards, looking less cheerful, with his wife:

Another theme of Edwards’ novel, in addition to death and marriage, is friendship. While Edwards depicts marriage as a “terrible thing,” he depicts friendship in a positive way. He writes,

Jim. Jim Mahy. Jim Mahy, my chum. Nobody know where his dust and his bones lie, or exactly where he died, or how; but he is dead. If I don’t put up a monument to Jim Mahy, who will? His children was too young to remember him and, anyway, left Guernsey long ago.... I would give everything I have, and I have more than people think, for him to walk in the back door this minute and say, ‘Wharro, Ebby!’ and I would say, ‘Wharro, Jim!’

I can’t believe that if Jim was alive now he would be an old man. He was never old. The kitchen where I ate so many meals with him was three or four times the size of ours; and there was lovely copper pots and pans on the walls, and always a big fire blazing on the hearth. I will never feel warm and happy again as long as I live, the way I used to feel those Saturday nights when I was sitting in that kitchen having a good supper with Jim.

One day, a rising tide strands Jim and Ebenezer on a small island, and they’re forced to spend the night there.

I wish I could remember what we said to each other that night. I know we sat down on the grass and talked more friendly than we ever had before. Jim was always open with me, and said anything that came into his head; but I wasn’t so open with him, as a rule. That night I was. I could say anything to Jim. If I had done a murder, as it happens I have in a way, I could have told him; and he would have liked me just the same. It was quite dark and we was still talking. There was a few lights twinkling on the land from the farmhouses and the cottages, and the Hanois light [i.e., lighthouse] was going on and off. The sky was pitch black but full of stars. There was millions and millions of them. Jim said, ‘There are a lot of stars in the sky, eh?’ I said, ‘There are a lot of stars in the sky.’

Notice that Ebenezer says, “If I had done a murder, as it happens I have in a way.” Could this be an allusion to Edwards’ relationship with his mother? Edwards said, “My boyhood, adolescence, and young manhood was an increasingly intense fight to the death against my mother.” Did Edwards feel that he willed his mother’s death, and therefore he had committed murder?2

Edwards depicts Ebenezer’s mother as a pious woman, constantly reading the Bible. Meanwhile, Edwards himself was the opposite of pious, he was “a disciple of Nietzsche.” Perhaps one topic on which Edwards and his mother clashed was religion.

Jim Mahy, Ebenezer’s chum, has a bulldog named Victor. When Jim is hospitalized with appendicitis, Ebenezer visits him. On his way to the hospital, Ebenezer stops at Jim’s house.

Victor was in his basket by the fire, looking as miserable as sin. ‘I know what I’ll do,’ I said, ‘I’ll take Victor with me. He’ll cheer Jim up.’ ‘You can’t do that!’ said his mother. ‘Yes, I can,’ I said. ‘Lend me Jim’s overcoat. He won’t be seen underneath.’

I put Victor’s collar on him, and took the strap so I could hold on to him. He walked all the way there on his own four feet. I swear he knew where he was going. He pulled and pulled, and dragged me along, and I could hardly keep up with him going up the Rouge Rue. When I got outside the hospital, I put him under the coat and made him snuggle down. He wanted to peep out, but I wouldn’t let him....

‘I’ve brought somebody to see you,’ I said; and let Victor out on the bed. Golly, it was worth it! I have never seen two such happy people. Victor was jumping up and licking old Jim, and Jim was hugging Victor, and the color came back into his face. There was a scream from the nurse, and other nurses came running in....

When I said good-bye I put him under my coat. Outside I put him down on the road and tried to make him walk home, but all he would do was try and pull me back again to the hospital. I had to carry him all the way....

Last time I saw Jim in this world, before he went back to the War, was outside Salem Chapel, where we stopped to say good-bye. He had come for tea to our house that Sunday afternoon. He didn’t want to go, and I didn’t want him to go; and we stood there like two mommets and there was nothing we could say. At last he said, ‘Well, cheer-bye, then!’ and I said, ‘Best of luck!’ and we shook hands. I watched him go down the road. All of a sudden he turned round and came right back and caught hold of me by the jacket. ‘Remember the day you brought Victor to see me in the Cottage Hospital?’ he said. ‘There isn’t another boy in the world would have thought of doing that!’ and he went off laughing. ‘À la prochaine!’ [till next time] he called out.3

Edwards’ novel contains an extraordinary description of singing (the singer is Christine Mahy):

Christine seemed to think everything she did was holy because it was Christine Mahy did it. I will go so far as to grant she may have been what she thought she was, when she was singing. It wasn’t only every note was pure and every word clear, it was as if she wasn’t singing words she had learnt from a book, or to a tune was being played on the organ for her to sing to, but as if she was making up the words and the music for the first time as she went along, and pouring it out of her full heart as she sang.

At the end of his life, Ebenezer writes:

I hear Christine singing:

    O Love, that will not let me go,
    I rest my weary soul in Thee!

Sing, Christine: sing! Be not bitter, as Lot’s wife was. Forgive them, forgive them; for they have loved much! ...I wish I could live my life again. I wish I could write my story again. I have judged people. I do not want to judge people. I want to bless. I want to bless every soul who have ever lived and laughed and suffered on this whore of an island, this island in the sun, this island in God’s sea!4

* * * * *

Edwards devotes much space to people and relationships, to quarrels and reconciliations; he rarely philosophizes. One of the few philosophical passages in the novel is a sermon by Ebenezer’s cousin, Raymond. Raymond is a young minister in the Wesleyan/Methodist Church. Raymond’s sermon is unorthodox (“it was not the Gospel of Jesus Christ Raymond preached that night”), and his listeners don’t approve of his sermon. He never preaches again.

Raymond says that paradise is here now, if we open our eyes to it; ecstasy is within our reach. Raymond’s sermon has a Zennish undercurrent, though Edwards doesn’t mention Eastern religion.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” was the text he really preached from. He spoke of everything being changed. He said, “In the twinkling of an eye a veil is lifted; and you see with other eyes and hear with other ears and are given another understanding.” I didn’t understand then, and I don’t understand now; but I know he brought me near to believing in the promise of a happiness I have only known in dreams.

Most preachers expatiated on the tortures of the damned, but “there was no spirit of retribution in Raymond.” Raymond spoke spontaneously. “He said whatever came into his head. He made us laugh, I know; and that wasn’t often done in Chapel.”

Why does Raymond thumb his nose at orthodoxy in his first sermon? Ebenezer wonders later if Raymond intentionally torpedoed his church career (“I have wondered since whether he didn’t engineer the whole thing to get out of what he had let himself in for”). This sort of “engineering” or “arranging” is a subject I’ve often discussed in this e-zine; such arranging is often done semi-consciously.

One might compare Raymond’s sermon with Edwards’ novel; Raymond’s sermon is a miniature version of the novel. Both are casual and light-hearted, both make you laugh, both have an underlying seriousness, both say that ecstasy is right under our noses if only we can appreciate it. It depends on us; the kingdom of heaven is within you.

Raymond spends his honeymoon on Sark, a small island near Guernsey. He calls it “God’s Isle... a miracle risen from the sea.... The view from the Pilcher Monument must be the loveliest on earth.”

After Raymond parts ways with his church, and loses his career, he tries to explain his views to Ebenezer: “God isn’t on record in a book! He is in the nature of every creature.... He is in the nature of the world.... If you want to see where God has trod, you can go to Sark: you don’t have to go to the Holy Land!” Raymond’s religion is a religion of the world, like that of Bruno, Campanella, the emperor Julian, and the Philosophy of Today.

Raymond’s sermon makes a lasting impression on Ebenezer:

I hadn’t forgotten what he had done at that service. He hadn’t made us feel we was miserable sinners; or, as with most preachers, those outside was miserable sinners and our little lot was bound for heaven. He made us feel there was something good deep in the world, and something good deep in everybody.

Raymond finds fault with The Golden Rule, which everyone else seems to regard as the acme of Christian morality. Ebenezer says, “[Jesus] gave us the best rule to live by. Do unto others as you would they should do unto you.” Raymond realizes that this is a self-interested morality; it says, “I’ll give this thirsty man a glass of water because I want to receive a glass of water when I’m thirsty.” Raymond says, “Is it not do unto others as they would you should do unto them?” In other words, Raymond says we should give the thirsty man a glass of water because he wants it, not because we want to receive a glass of water when we’re thirsty.

Raymond says that Jesus was hungry and wanted a fig, but the fig tree had no fruit, so Jesus cursed the tree, even though it wasn’t the season for figs, and therefore Jesus shouldn’t have expected any figs. Ebenezer says that Jesus was “feeling upset at the time.” Raymond says, “He has to be forgiven too.” So Raymond realizes that Jesus has bad moods, Jesus has a dark side, a shadow. Jung makes the same point.

[Spoiler warning: skip the next paragraph, if you plan to read Edwards’ novel.]

Raymond and his cousin die accidentally — or perhaps I should say, “accidentally on purpose.” Their death seems to be a “willed death.” They go for a walk at night in an area that’s controlled by the Germans, and mined by the Germans. “There was blood on the stones.”

Edwards’ novel depicts Guernsey during the German occupation (during World War II). But Edwards has little interest in politics. His only political comment is that, after World War I, he anticipated that there would be another war. Edwards believes that we must endure the political situation: “As bad as Guernsey is, I hope [Neville] will not butt in and try and change it. It will change quick enough without his help; and for the worse and worse. He must endure it.”

* * * * *

It might be useful to compare Raymond’s church career (such as it was) with Edwards’ literary career. Ebenezer says to Raymond, “If I had your head on my shoulders and could put things into words as you can, I certainly wouldn’t be satisfied with going fishing and growing tomatoes.... It is throwing away the gifts of God.” This is what a friend of Edwards’ might have said to him, when he was leading a retired life, and not publishing anything.

Raymond responds to Ebenezer, “I want to be an ordinary chap. I don’t want to be one of a peculiar people, as Saint Peter says. If there is anything in me, it will come out anyway.” Perhaps Edwards himself wanted to be “an ordinary chap,” not a literary person, not “one of a peculiar people.” Perhaps Edwards felt that if he had a literary gift, “it will come out,” it will emerge in the fullness of time.

Perhaps this attitude, this desire to be an ordinary chap, is the secret of Edwards’ success, perhaps it enabled Edwards to stay closer to life than other writers, and to focus his energy on one extraordinary novel. But academia tends to separate literature from life, so I doubt that Edwards will be a favorite of academics.

Edwards bided his time, he didn’t scramble to advance his literary career. Likewise, Raymond makes no effort to advance his church career. Ebenezer says to Raymond, “You’re soft! ....You got to fight for it. Even a cow got horns!”

* * * * *

Edwards is keenly aware that life is filled with suffering. Near the end of the novel, Ebenezer visits the church where he was baptized, and he sees the Cross, a symbol of suffering. “In front of you, raised up for you to see, is the altar of God with a Cross upon it, and every man-jack ever born is on that Cross. It is true, it is true; and say what they like, it will be true, if they fly to Jupiter and put a sputnik round the sun!” Technical progress will never change the fact that suffering is embedded in life.

But Edwards is equally emphatic in his assertion of the beauty of the world, a beauty that transcends both verbal description and artistic skill. He finds beauty not only in nature but also in man — in man’s appearance, and in man’s inner being, his personality, his vitality. When Ebenezer sees his young friend, Neville Falla, he

couldn’t help thinking what a well-grown, fine-looking boy he was. He swung in with his broad shoulders, and his head thrown back, as if he didn’t care a bugger for anybody. He was looking to the right, and to the left, at everything around him; and himself looked fifty times more alive than anybody else in the market.5

Neville’s vitality kindles Ebenezer’s vitality. After taking leave of Neville, Ebenezer says, “I trotted back to Les Moulins feeling lively as a cricket. I don’t know when I have felt so well. I had no sooner put my head on the pillow than I was sound asleep.” When Ebenezer writes about Neville, “It brought him back to me with all his sparks and full of life.” When Ebenezer is expecting a visit from Neville, Ebenezer is in high spirits, “singing hymns all over the house.”

Ebenezer warns Neville’s girlfriend that Neville needs his art in order to keep his vitality: “He have to go on painting his pictures: family, or no family. If not, he will turn nasty and start smashing things again.”

As Neville needs his art, so too he needs someone to appreciate his art. Neville says, “it takes two to make a picture: the chap who paints it and the chap who looks at it.” Ebenezer stimulates Neville’s art by his appreciation. Ebenezer writes,

He began to tell me about the pictures he was going to paint. He was full of hope and his eyes were shining. There was a view of the Hanois [i.e., the Hanois lighthouse] from Fort Pezeries he particularly wanted to do. “I haven’t dared to try it yet,” he said. I thought how he is like the Hanois himself. He have a light in him.

This inner light can be found in the old as well as the young, in women as well as men. Ebenezer describes Liza thus:

Her poor old back, which was once so straight, was bent.... Her face was wrinkled and her neck was thin; but her mouth was the same, and her chin as firm as ever it was. Her deep-set violet eyes was bright, and she smiled at me; and it was her angel’s smile. She was as beautiful, more beautiful, than the day I saw her first.... Her voice was deep and strong.

Edwards’ emphasis on vitality reminds me of D. H. Lawrence. Edwards had a keen interest in Lawrence, and viewed Lawrence as a kindred spirit. When Edward Chaney met Edwards, Edwards “talked of Lawrence with an extraordinary authority and intimate knowledge of his work and personality.”

Like Edwards, Lawrence sought vitality, the inner light, “spontaneous-creative fullness of being.” In an earlier issue, I wrote, “Looking at Lawrence’s work as a whole, Leavis says ‘he has an unfailingly sure sense of the difference between that which makes for life and that which makes against it; of the difference between health and that which tends away from health.’”

Both Lawrence and Edwards turn away from traditional religion, book religion. They both turn to a religion of vitality, a religion of beauty — natural beauty, human beauty, aesthetic beauty.

* * * * *

“Ormer” is one of the “Guernsey words” in The Book of Ebenezer Le Page. Edwards writes,

The food I like best of all foods is ormers; but you can’t always get them. My father used to take me with him ormering. It was always at the spring tide when the sea was right down; and you had to go in up to your knees to get to them. If it was at night and fine weather, there would be a big moon shining on the rocks and on the wet sand and on the water....

He’s a funny creature when you see him close to. He have holes in the shell on his back, but I don’t know what for. My mother knew how to cook ormers....

I can’t say what ormers taste like. They are not like fish, flesh, or fowl. They are like no other food on earth. I have heard of the nectar of the gods. Or is it ambrosia they feed on? That must be ormers. Well, my poor old mother is in heaven now, if she is anywhere at all. If they got any sense up there, they will get her to cook them a meal of ormers. I can just see her banging away at the old ormers with a flat iron and her sleeves rolled up and singing “Where is my wandering boy tonight?”

Ebenezer walks out on a jetty with his friend Liza.

There was very few people about, and none came as far as where we was sitting. The sun was setting on the other side of the island, and the sky over our heads was streaks of gold; and there was a purple mist low down. I remember how we sat and watched the lights come up along the Esplanade and round the harbor and on the ships in the Pool. ‘It’s lovely here,’ Liza said in a whisper. ‘Yes,’ I said. I had to whisper too: everything was so still. The long island of Sark was only a shadow, and a shadow was creeping across the wide meadow on Herm, and Jethou was a dark hump I could only just make out, when the moon began to rise out of the mist. It was only the tip at first; but it grew and grew until it was big and round and copper-colored, and the light from it upon the sea and upon the islands was a glory I cannot speak. There was no words passed between us, and we wasn’t even touching; yet I felt she was near to me, nearer to me than any woman have ever been, before or since.

Thomas Wolfe describes a person “stilled in great wonder” by a setting sun; Ebenezer and Liza are stilled in great wonder. In an earlier issue, I said, “In the presence of the sublime, we forget ourselves, we lay aside our reason, we’re transported by a kind of ecstasy, we’re reduced to silent wonder. The sublime elevates us.” Edwards attains the sublime.

* * * * *

Each of the Karamazov brothers represents a facet of Dostoyevsky’s own personality. Likewise, Edwards put part of himself into Ebenezer, and part of himself into Raymond. Raymond is a reader, as Edwards was, and as Ebenezer isn’t. Raymond’s wife has a child by another man. Likewise, Edwards’ wife had two children by other men as well as two by Edwards, according to Edward Chaney.

Edwards’ probably felt that his career had flopped, that he had disappointed his wife (Kathleen), that his wife had thought he would become a successful writer. Edward Chaney writes,

Kathleen’s worldly aspirations, including it seems theatrical ones, may have been disappointed by the failure of Gerald’s career. Perhaps suggestive of this is when Raymond, who lost his job as a minister, says of his wife: “I disappointed her all ways... She thought I was going to be a famous preacher; and I wasn’t.”6

Raymond’s mother tries to leave him the family home in her will, but Raymond destroys her will, and the family home goes to Raymond’s father. These events reflect Edwards’ own life. When Edwards’ father remarried, Edwards viewed his father’s new wife as an evil woman; he even thought she might poison him if he visited. Raymond has the same attitude toward his step-mother, who is called “horrible Mrs Crewe.”

After Edwards’ father remarried, he sold the family home, and Edwards felt disinherited, leading to a rupture between Edwards and his father, and between Edwards and the island of Guernsey. In his last years, Edwards lived in a boarding house near Weymouth, the closest English town to Guernsey.

His Weymouth landlady remembered him thus:

He was a man of dynamic character, yet full of feeling and sympathy. Proud but humble, he had a superb memory. He could remember conversations of fifty or sixty years before, word for word. He hated machines, modern technology, he thought they had brought so many bad things into the world. He needed nothing, and lived on a small pension. All he possessed could be packed in a small suitcase. He was charming and endearing; he was despairing and moody. A man of heights; and of deepest, blackest depths. I cannot do him justice in a short comment. All I can say is that it was a great privilege to have known him.

Edward Chaney recalled,

I was an art student, spending the summer in a Dorset village, when I first met Gerald, introduced by a young pianist whose parents took in lodgers. One day she told me that they had a new lodger who had known D. H. Lawrence. This had me introducing myself more or less immediately. While I was disappointed to discover that he had never actually met Lawrence, I was far from disappointed by the man himself, his extraordinary erudition and vividly articulate and forthright presence.

Edwards’ erudition might be compared to that of Lampedusa and other outstanding writers. Like Lampedusa, Edwards taught others, especially younger people. When Edwards was about 40, he was working as a government bureaucrat in London. He became close friends with a co-worker, a 25-year-old woman, Jean Dresser. “She thought him ‘an extraordinary phenomenon,’ ‘a sublime raconteur’ and ‘a wonderful educationalist [who] brought me the joy of many books,’ citing Joseph Conrad and Isak Dinesen in particular.”

But then Edwards had one of the angry outbursts that he sometimes had. Jean called it “a savage attack,” and she “immediately handed in her notice and they never saw each other again.” Chaney writes, “I was never on the receiving end of this quasi-bipolar side to his personality but his Dorset landlady described similar episodes, albeit in an ultimately affectionate context.”

Ebenezer (Edwards’ protagonist)

confesses to getting so angry he feels “he is going to break in two... The worst of it is that it is not for reasons anybody else would get angry” ....This is very close to Geoffrey Thomas’s diary account of Gerald’s “furious” but subsequently self-critical outbursts whilst directing Strindberg.7

* * * * *

Sherwood Anderson advised Faulkner, “Write what you know.” When I discussed Jane Austen, I said,

Austen focuses on people — their feelings, conversations, actions — and spends little time on descriptions of furniture, curtains, flowers, etc. Perhaps we can explain her popularity by saying “people are interested in people.”

If we combine Anderson’s maxim and my maxim, we get, “Write about the people you know.” This is what Edwards did.

The best description of Edwards’ style comes from a French critic, Hubert Juin, who “enthused about the miraculous freshness of Gerald’s prose, and his capacity to seem as if he were speaking rather than writing.”8 As John Fowles wrote in his introduction to Edwards’ novel, “Its voice and method are so unusual that it belongs nowhere on our conventional literary maps.” William Golding said of Edwards’ book, “To read it is not like reading but living.” Great literature carries us beyond books, it brings us into contact with life itself.

2. Kissinger

Kissinger recently turned 100, but his mind is still sharp. He was interviewed by Tunku Varadarajan of the Wall Street Journal.

Kissinger says in the interview, “I think the offer to put Ukraine into NATO was a grave mistake and led to this war.” This is the same view that Kennan and Mearsheimer expressed.

Kissinger continues, “But its scale [i.e., the scale of the Ukraine war], and its nature, is a Russian peculiarity, and we were absolutely right to resist it.” Now Ukraine should be brought into NATO, Kissinger says. “I’m in the ironical position that I was alone when I opposed membership, and I’m nearly alone when I advocate NATO membership.”

Varadarajan says that Kissinger “would like the terms of the war’s end to include the return to Ukraine of all territory with the controversial exception of Crimea.” Crimea may be a sticking point; the war will be difficult to end.

* * * * *

Kissinger says that the “overriding problem” for the U.S. is our own political dysfunction. What’s the cause of this dysfunction? “There’s no element of pride and direction and purpose left.” We’re consumed by “angst generated by events of ‘300 years ago.’”

This is obviously an allusion to the liberal obsession with slavery, racism, etc. The liberal bogeyman of Republican authoritarianism, Republican storm-troopers, is not our chief problem, Kissinger implies. Our chief problem is “woke” madness, not MAGA madness. Unlike those who fear MAGA madness, Kissinger had firsthand experience of authoritarianism and storm-troopers.

Liberals are going to destroy the country with radical policies in order to defeat a bogeyman who exists only in their own imaginations. The damage that liberals do is real, their enemy is imaginary. When you forgive student loans (as liberals do), you do real damage: you make our debt problem worse, you set a precedent that a student loan isn’t really a loan, you corrode the moral fiber of the country by saying that hard work and frugality are for fools, and you turn democracy into blatant vote-buying.

Kissinger says that Democrats and Republicans must cooperate, but cooperation is almost impossible when Democrats believe that the biggest threat to the U.S. is the MAGA movement, and Republicans believe that the biggest threat to the U.S. are liberal policies. Kissinger says, “There has to be something, some level, in which the society comes together on the needs of its existence.”

It’s difficult to see what this unifying agent would be. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine won’t unite us; a Republican president might change Ukraine policy. The China threat won’t unite us; Biden recently proposed freezing defense spending. I don’t think Democrats will stand up to China. Biden’s wild domestic spending (forgiving student loans, etc.) will make it impossible to increase defense spending.

Why does Biden stand up to Russia, but not China? Russia is today’s problem, China is tomorrow’s problem, and Biden only thinks about today. On his desk, Biden keeps a quote from Zelda Fitzgerald:

Why should all life be work, when we all can borrow?
Let’s think only of today, and not worry about tomorrow.

China is a bigger threat than Russia, economically and militarily; countering the China threat requires a bigger commitment, a commitment that Biden seems unwilling to make.

In many of his key appointments, Biden practices affirmative action. When he’s choosing a Vice President, or a Supreme Court Justice, or a Joint Chiefs Chairman, he begins by excluding white males. Isn’t this racism? What happened to Martin Luther King’s dream that “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”?

In the Republican primary contest, DeSantis is taking a combative, polarizing approach, while Tim Scott is taking an upbeat, positive approach. I think Scott and Haley would both be stronger candidates than DeSantis in the general election. But the non-Trump candidates seem likely to destroy each other in the primary, allowing Trump to sail to victory.

We can only hope that all the non-Trump candidates drop out except one, and that one is able to defeat Trump, and then win the general election, and then get re-elected. Republicans shouldn’t nominate a candidate like Trump, who can only serve one term.

3. Miscellaneous

A. Norman Davies was born in England and became a historian specializing in Poland. His first book was White Eagle, Red Star: The Polish-Soviet War, 1919–20. He wrote a two-volume work called God’s Playground: A History of Poland, then a shorter work called Heart of Europe: A Short History of Poland. In recent years, Davies has written about more general topics — the history of Europe, the history of World War II, etc. In a controversial decision, Davies was denied tenure at Stanford.

Davies’ former assistant, Roger Moorhouse, now writes on his own. Moorhouse wrote Berlin at War: Life and Death in Hitler’s Capital, 1939-45. He also wrote about attempts to assassinate Hitler, and he wrote introductions to numerous Hitler memoirs — the memoirs of Hitler’s chauffeur, the memoirs of Hitler’s secretary, etc.

B. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965) is an acclaimed Ukrainian movie, praised for its “costume and color.” It’s about a farming community, a minority group, in southwestern Ukraine. It has a dream-like quality, as if the director were trying to break all the rules of Socialist Realism. I don’t recommend it.

C. The Song of Sparrows (2008) is an Iranian film that’s popular with critics and the public. It’s entertaining, and it holds your attention, but it doesn’t quite touch you, or persuade you that these are real people. Like many contemporary films, it focuses on people at the bottom rung of the social ladder. Perhaps today’s filmmakers think that people in the middle and upper classes lead boring lives.

D. Last Train Home (2009) also deals with people on the bottom of the social ladder. Last Train Home is a non-fiction film about migrant workers in China, struggling to get a train home for the NewYear holiday. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the film is about the life of the average Chinese citizen. It’s a powerful film, I recommend it.

E. Up the Yangtze (2007) also deals with people on the bottom rung of the social ladder. It resembles Last Train Home, and it was made by some of the same filmmakers. Up the Yangtze takes you inside a cruise ship on the Yangtze River; the ship is giving people a last look at the river, before it’s flooded by a giant dam. The film also takes you inside a shack on the shore of the river, where a peasant family is struggling to survive, and adjust to the dam. The film shows that there’s something heroic in the life of the illiterate peasant. The film is available for free from Kanopy; it’s also available from Apple TV.

4. E-bikes

It seems that every town with bikepaths is debating whether to allow e-bikes on bikepaths. I recently had a head-on collision with an e-bike on a bikepath. The e-bike should have been on the right half of the bikepath. But it was making a sharp turn to the right, and descending a steep hill, so its momentum carried it into the center of the bikepath, perhaps even onto the left half of the bikepath.

Meanwhile, I was ascending the same hill. I should have been on the right half of the bikepath, but I had come into the center of the bikepath to avoid a pedestrian. I heard a scream, as the woman riding the e-bike realized that she was going to collide with me. Both of us were thrown onto the ground. Her bike seemed to be new; perhaps she was still getting familiar with this e-bike.

If e-bikes are allowed on bikepaths, collisions are inevitable, and some collisions will cause serious injuries. Collisions often happen when vision is obstructed by a curve in the path, and when pedestrians and bikes are crowded together.

A dedicated bikepath (such as I was on) seems safe, because there are no cars in the area, but it can be dangerous when people are going fast in opposite directions, and vision is obstructed. A bike lane in a city might be safer, since it usually has bikes going in only one direction, not both directions, and since pedestrians are usually on the sidewalk, not among the bikes.

“If e-bikes are dangerous, why not ban them from bikepaths?” Anyone who has purchased an e-bike will want to ride it on bikepaths. They’ll argue that e-bikes are safe when ridden responsibly. And they’ll argue that people who are elderly or infirm can’t ride a regular bike. Hence many towns will decide to allow e-bikes on bikepaths.

When I discussed plane crashes, I noted that they always have multiple causes, just as historical events have multiple causes. My collision also had multiple causes.

© L. James Hammond 2023
visit Phlit home page
become a patron via Patreon
make a donation via PayPal

1. See The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, Part One, Ch. 3, last sentence. Edwards says that this saying is “in the Bible,” but I haven’t found it there. It seems to be from The Book of Common Prayer. back
2. Perhaps Edwards’ relationship with his mother was excessively close, like Proust’s relationship with his mother. Perhaps Edwards and Proust were “sons of Jocasta.” Proust loved his mother deeply, but he felt that he had willed her death, and that he was guilty of thought-murder. Proust was the elder of two sons. I suspect that Edwards was an eldest son, or an only son, or an only child. back
3. Jim isn’t drafted into the army, he volunteers, perhaps because he wants to escape his unhappy marriage. In an earlier issue, I discussed a Lawrence story in which enlistment is a kind of suicide. I also discussed a Kipling novel in which there’s an unhappy marriage, followed by enlistment and death. back
4. Part III, Ch. 20
Apparently Christine’s singing was inspired by a novel called The Rosary, by Florence Barclay. “The male hero of [The Rosary], Garth Dalmain, falls for a woman as she sings a religious song.... Jane Champion’s singing of ‘The Rosary’ foreshadows Christine Mahy’s singing of the hymn ‘O love that will not let me go’ ....Jane actually hears a housemaid singing that hymn at a crucial moment in The Rosary.”

In Edwards’ novel, Raymond is fond of Florence Barclay’s novels, and takes his mother to see the movie version of The Rosary. The Edwards-Barclay connection was pointed out by Peter Goodall.

Goodall also links Edwards’ novel to a novel by Hall Caine called The Manxman. Caine’s novel is also an “island novel,” it’s set on the Isle of Man. In Edwards’ novel, Raymond is fond of Caine’s works, and takes his mother to the movie version of The Manxman.

Goodall says, “The plot of The Manxman has some interesting parallels to Edwards’ novel: the vying of two cousins, who deeply love each other, for the love of the same woman; and the theme of unsuitable marriage bringing down a promising career.” Caine, like Edwards, deals with Puritanism and witchcraft. I mentioned in an earlier issue that Caine had a particular interest in the supernatural (the occult). Edwards grasps telepathy, and often mentions it, but I wouldn’t say that Edwards has a deep understanding of the occult. (An example of telepathy in Edwards’ novel: Liza says that the paternity of Edna’s son is a mystery. Ebenezer writes, “Nobody knew who the father was. I didn’t say a word, or give a sign, but it flashed through my mind [that I was the father], and Liza saw it flash, God knows how!”)

Goodall says that Victor Hugo lived on the Channel Islands for 18 years, and wrote a novel called Toilers of the Sea, which is set on Guernsey. Hugo’s protagonist, like Edwards’ protagonist, leads a solitary life. Both protagonists “are disappointed in love and both novels end with acts of generosity and reconciliation.” Both novels deal with Guernsey’s “Neolithic remains.”

So it’s clear that Edwards’ novel was influenced by various other novels. Many of these novels are actually mentioned in Edwards’ novel, as if Edwards were helping us to trace the genealogy of his novel. Edwards’ novel is both derivative and original, both bookish and full of life. back

5. Part III, Ch. 14
Neville and his girlfriend, Adèle, can be compared to Edward Chaney and his wife, Lisa. Ebenezer gives his manuscript to Neville, as Edwards gave his manuscript to Chaney. Edwards said that he wrote about Neville and Adèle before he met Chaney. Did Edwards anticipate meeting Chaney? Did he meet Chaney by willing to do so? Was Chaney a necessary part of his life, his destiny? I’ve often commented on how art anticipates life — for example, how Proust described the death of Albertine before the real Albertine died. back
6. This quote is from an essay that Chaney wrote as a preface for The Illustrated Edition of The Book of Ebenezer Le Page; this illustrated edition was privately printed, and is hard to find. Chaney’s essay is online here. back
7. Ibid back
8. This is Chaney’s paraphrase of Juin. Here are Juin’s own words (my translation, then the original):

“A kind of miracle is achieved by the strange freshness of the writing, or rather, the marvelous naivete of the writer. G. B. Edwards doesn’t think about writing, his only need is to speak.”

“Une sorte de miracle tient à l’étrange fraîcheur de l’écriture, sinon à la merveilleuse naïveté de l’écrivain. G. B. Edwards ne songe pas à écrire, il a pour seul impératif de parler.” back