Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 579
Kinalty Castle. Ancient Irish castle surrounded by a wall that is somehow symbolic of “neutral” Ireland. While the rest of the world is being sucked into the horrors of World War II, Ireland clings to bygone days and refuses to become engaged in the changing world. The castle is the epitome of old forms, with a rigid social separation of owner and servants. Also a museum of artful decoration with no meaning, it contains a facade with a pseudo-Greek temple and a deliberately ruined wall to give it an appearance of antique authenticity.
Castle interiors. Many upstairs rooms in the castle are closed and filled with dusty sheeted furniture; however, the maids Edith and Kate open the rooms every few weeks to air them out. One day while they play a gramophone and waltz in one of these rooms, Charley Raunce, the former footman, now butler, hears the music, interrupts them, and turns it off. All Edith’s attempts to bring living forms into the castle are stifled. Seeking shelter from the rain one day, Edith and Mrs. Jack Tennant’s children and the pantry boy enter the Greek Temple lit only by dark skylights. There, the little group plays a game of blindman’s bluff, infusing life and joy among the bronze and marble statues, symbols of lives now cold and dead. Raunce interrupts this scene and coldly breaks up the game because he has not yet been transformed by Edith’s love and still feels it necessary to protect the old forms.
The servants go upstairs to take care of Mrs. Tennant, the owner, and her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Jack. Edith, an underhousemaid, finds Mrs. Jack naked in bed with Captain Davenport. This leads to both hilarity and scandal in the quarters of the servants, who hold themselves to a higher standard of morality. Although the flame of erotic love burns high between Raunce and Edith, they restrain themselves until they are safely married in England.
When Mrs. Tennant ventures downstairs to the kitchen to talk to Mrs. Welch, the cook, they hardly understand each other. The social division is so great that they seem to speak unrelated languages. The cook speaks with ambiguity and deviousness to the end in view, mindful of all the traditional taboos, while Mrs. Tennant speaks with direction and overemphasis. When she finishes the conversation in the kitchen she has difficulty breathing and her face is congested.
Castle grounds. Doves and noisy peacocks inhabit the castle grounds, exhibiting more vitality than the human inhabitants of the castle. Raunce, the character who changes the most, is so removed from real life that he becomes ill when, for the first time in years, he leaves the castle and ventures outdoors. The elevated dovecote—a miniature replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa with small balconies to each tier of windows—is another of the castle’s fake adornments. However, the doves that inhabit it are real creatures. One day Nanny takes the children to the dovecote to tell them a story about baby doves, but while she is talking, the children are mesmerized by the activities of the doves themselves, busy fighting, mating, and pushing fledglings out of their nests. In the final scene of the book, Raunce is so completely overcome with pleasure by the vision of Edith feeding birds while iridescent peacocks circle her skirt and doves settle on her shoulders that he experiences almost painful delight.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 195
Allen, Walter. The Modern Novel: In Britain and the United States. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1964. Discusses Green in the context of the British gentlemanly tradition in the modern novel.
Burgess, Anthony. The Novel Now: A Guide to Contemporary Fiction. New York: W. W. Norton, 1967. Speaks of Green as an experimental writer.
Green, Henry. Surviving: The Uncollected Writings of Henry Green. Edited by Matthew Yorke. London: Chatto & Windus, 1992. Green stopped writing novels in 1952, but he continued to write occasional journalism, which is collected in this book. As a bonus there is a perceptive introduction by John Updike, who admits that he was deeply influenced by Green.
Holmesland, Oddvar. A Critical Introduction to Henry Green’s Novels. New York: Macmillan, 1986. A sensible discussion of Green’s ideas of life and how they affect his work.
Karl, Frederick R. A Reader’s Guide to the Contemporary English Novel. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972. A good place to start; examines the novels in readable language and puts Green in the context of his fellow writers.
Odom, Keith. Henry Green. Boston: Twayne, 1978. A volume of the Twayne series. Direct and sensible, with an emphasis on sociological influences.
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