Friday, 24 May 2013

The Judge's Story by Charles Morgan

published 1947  chapter 3







The sun was warm on his hands, though his face was in the shade, and he began to nod in the balmy scent of the July day, almost knowing in his heart that his Athenian would never be written.

The world is too much with us; late and soon, 
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:

-- Julia’s favourite sonnet.

“And what are you doing there, Gasky?” Julia’s voice asked beside him, and he opened his eyes to see Vivien, in a flowered cotton frock, and to feel her hand on his shoulder, forbidding him to rise. But he rose and kissed her so that she might know he wasn’t old and hadn’t been asleep.




observations: This week Stella Gibbons’ Westwood featured twice on the blog: one of the main characters, Gerald Challis, is assumed to be a wicked picture of Charles Morgan, a now mostly-forgotten writer of the time. He wrote about Art, Love and Death, and once said that we use humour to avoid emotion and vision and grandeur of spirit. This view did not make him popular – another non-fan was Nancy Mitford, who said of this book:

It’s about an awful old upright judge who talks in a ghastly affected way & says thankee kindly & is keen on Hellenism & Humanism & sometimes disappears to write his great book called The Athenian.

She too intended to make fun of him in a novel, but her correspondent Evelyn Waugh replied that this would be pointless, as none of her readers would know who he was. (It has always been true that Morgan had a much higher reputation in France, where Mitford was living: rather like Norman Wisdom in Albania).

And indeed the book is not full of jokes (although there is very nearly one where the Judge is asked what translation of the Odyssey he used as a bedtime story for a little girl – his own, of course, and he read it to her in Greek too). It is tackling the big issues in life and although the manner is rather precious, it becomes quite engrossing. The first time I read it I raced through it, gasping at one point, and very anxious to know what would happen. On a second reading, it’s all a bit flimsy and a lot more questions arise – WHY can’t the woman above do anything about the problems (you mustn’t worry yourself dear)? Why is the extremely villainous Severidge more interesting than all the other characters? What is WRONG with the Judge? It’s also true that on first reading Morgan tricks you (very cleverly) into ignoring a key point, which is the actual value of an antique book at the centre of the plot. When you take out the questions of honour, and the author’s hatred for Severidge, the events of The Judge's Story look somewhat different.

The sonnet is by Wordsworth: its relevance to the plot is heavy-handed, but it is still an A-list poem.

The picture, Portrait of a girl in a flowered dress by Alfred Henry Maurer,  came from The Athenaeum website.

6 comments:

  1. Probably a bit too flowery for me that dress, plus I don't reckon they'll have it in my size!

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  2. Well the Judge surely had flowing robes that would fit anyone...

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  3. Moira - I respect an author who can distract the reader from a key point until s/he is ready to reveal it. One thing I thought with this novel. The relationship between the Judge and Vivien. I don't see as much of the 'ward' kind of character in today's novels as there used to be. I wonder how easy it would be to write a credible novel with that kind of character today...

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  4. That's a very good point Margot, you've got me thinking about wards in books. They were such a feature in the past, with that ill-defined relationship, one that can go either way. It featured a lot in books - I wonder how much in real life? Certainly books today would be uncomfortable with the idea of a male unrelated guardian for a young girl/woman.

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  5. Great post Moira. Norman Wisdom in Albania - really?!
    The only ward I can think of offhand is Lisbeth in the Larsson trilogy (which I haven't read so might have that wrong).

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  6. Oh good one Audrey, you are right about Lisbeth, and I can't think of any others.

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