Happy Independence Day! God bless America, we have so much to be grateful for! The fact that I am about to leave amber waves of grain and purple mountains majesty behind, for a while at least, continues to solidify from a fanciful notion into a concrete reality, which of course bears up some curious thoughts on this national holiday. It makes me wonder what sort of national identity I will find in Scotland, England, and anywhere else my travels may take me, as well as what image of “America” I will bring. I pray that whatever cultural identity we carry at home and abroad, we will all embrace each others’ dignity and individual character with a profound value for the inherent and inalienable rights of human life which is at the heart of our nation’s spirit and the spirit of so many other nations and peoples around the globe.
I am nearly done with the prose selections of my London reading list, having just finished Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair several days ago. I can confidently state that The End of the Affair is one of the most challenging and enigmatic books I have read. The themes are clearly developed, the characters vividly believable, and the plot simple, but together they defy the reader’s understanding. At its surface, the novel shares the same features as some of my favorite works: characters struggling to discern the demands of their own morality and searching for strength to do what is right, Christian motifs and symbolism, and even a detective who doubles as comic relief; but for the severity of the narrator’s angst, I would probably have had no reason not to applaud it as a fine, complex novel with intriguing Catholic messages.
The narrator, Marcus Bendrix, is a reflection of Greene himself, a man with a preoccupation with self-analysis and a certainly degree of misanthropy. His bitterness overshadows the love of the titular affair and, as he admits, “So this is a record of hate far more than of love.” Love and hate continually collide throughout the plot and the affair between Bendrix and a married woman, Sarah Miles. While Bendrix tends to hate—in retrospect to the events of the novel at least—Sarah tends to love. For her, the end of her affair with Bendrix is the result of the start of a truer love: her love of God. Her story becomes a forcible tale of conversion, full of self-loathing which gives way to moments of faithful comfort. Greene uses excerpts from Sarah’s journal to delve into her inner character without leaving Bendrix’s self-centered narration. That journal reflects a mind that is just as murky and troubled as Bendrix’s yet aware of a growing brightness that threatens to shatter the complacency of her shadowy moral life. On the brink of a conversion to Catholicism, she tries with all of her might to hate God and disprove his existence so that she will not have to resign her self-indulgent life to serve him and admit to her guilt in betraying her husband.
If one thinks of the common adage that hate is not the opposite of love, indifference is, then the dichotomy of love and hate in the novel makes a bit more sense. The main characters harbor such intense human feelings that they must either hate or love, but loving proves more painful than hating and becomes the preferred response. What else makes this novel so challenging? I can’t say exactly what it is, but I think the puzzle lies in the somewhat disappointing ending. As a great fan of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, I can appreciate stories of terrific inner turmoil with religious underpinnings, but I still want them to have a happy, reassuring ending. I feel I can avoid more explicit spoilers by simply saying that you will not find a good deal of reassurance and peace in the final chapters of The End of the Affair.
Such an elusive book always begs for re-reading, so I am sure I will picking it up again sometime in the future! Sorry if the review got a dry and essay-like: I am missing my courses and critical analysis papers, so I really couldn’t help it. Next on the list are the King’s Cross Station scenes from the Harry Potter series and those pesky poems. Okay, I like poetry once I get round to reading it, but to do that I have to put down my beloved novels, which I am not eager to do. I will get it to eventually.
With transportation arrangements in place, the next item on the London and Edinburgh tour checklist is to order tickets for a few attractions we plan to see, like Westminter Abbey and the Charles Dickens museum. All I can say about Brexit for now is that it has made British prices slightly more affordable for American travelers, but that it really the only positive thing I have to say. I trust that the British people will make it through whatever challenges arise (they have been through quite a lot in their history, after all). For now, I just can’t wait to join them on their beautiful island in a month and three-quarters. Until then, here’s to the dear old US of A and all who have shaped and protected her in the past 240 years!