Julien Green said that his novels allow glimpses of “great dark stirrings,” which he believed to be the deepest part of the soul. Quietly, but inevitably, this novel probes the deepest aspects of Adrienne Mesurat’s being. Green believed from the beginning of his literary career that a novelist is “like a scout commissioned to go and see what is happening in the depth of the soul,” who then comes back to report what was observed. The writer never lives on the surface, but only inhabits the darkest regions. In his diary, Green observes: “The anguish and loneliness of my characters can almost always be reduced to what I think I called a manifold dread of living in this world.” Although Green’s characters rarely express ideas, his books hold a view of the world, a philosophy. The Closed Garden stands at the head of his works, both in form and in implied statement.
It has been said that the inspiration for The Closed Garden was a painting by Maurice Utrillo: The novel has the sunlit yet melancholy dullness readers find in many of Utrillo’s street scenes. Green has also been compared with Emily Brontë for the intensity of his atmosphere and with Honoré de Balzac for his realistic rendering of French provincial life. These comparisons, however, are true only in part. Green is himself first of all, with his own powers and compelling insights.
The characters in The Closed Garden try to preserve their lives as they are, but nothing can stay the same. Even passivity is a choice, an action that must have consequences; and these consequences can force one forward to the destiny waiting at the end. Monotony can lead as inevitably as more colorful events to tragedy—and perhaps more inescapably. People can tangle themselves in tragic fates without realizing until too late (if ever) what happened. Green seems to imply in his tale that the inarticulate suffer as deeply as the more intelligent and sophisticated.
Adrienne Mesurat lives surrounded by quiet, but still deadly, selfishness. Her father thinks only of his own comfort, and her sister lives only for her illness. Adrienne is crushed beneath their wills—wretched and hardly knowing why. Green suggests that her condition is a metaphor for that of most of humanity. What happens when she wakes up and tries to break loose from her invisible bonds? Life does not have the happy ending of the fairy tale. There can be only one ending. It is not contrived tragedy: It emerges from the characters themselves. “The author creates characters,” wrote Green, “and the characters create the plot.”
The style of The Closed Garden is typical of Green’s elusive, subtle manner. His prose is quiet and unobtrusive. André Gide commented about...
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