Sunday, March 4, 2012
Wisdom about Love and Art
March daffodils on my dining table
Not all of my favorite books are by authors well-known today, but they’ve stuck with me for years. If you are artistically inclined, give yourself a treat and read Gulley Jimson’s perspective in Joyce Cary’s The Horse’s Mouth. I saw it first as a movie, at age thirty, in Berkeley, 1967. Alec Guinness played Jimson. It is one of the funniest and saddest books I’ve ever read. Here are some of my favorite parts.
Quotes from Joyce Cary’s The Horse’s Mouth.
Gardens. Adam’s work. You have to make the bloody things and pile up the rocks and keep the roses in beds. But you don’t get the thorns in your tender parts, by accident–you get them in your fingers, on purpose, and like it, because a garden as old Randypole Blake would say, is a spiritual being.... It happens every day. The old old story. Boys and girls fall in love, that is, they are driven mad and go blind and deaf and see each other not as human animals with comic noses and bandy legs and voices like frogs, but as angels so full of shining goodness that like hollow turnips with candles put into them, they seem miracles of beauty. And the next minute the candles shoot out sparks and burn their eyes. And they seem to each other like devils, full of spite and cruelty And they will drive each other mad unless they have grown some imagination. Even enough to laugh....
Imagination, understanding. To see behind the turnips, to enter into each other’s minds...love doesn’t grow on trees like apples in Eden–it’s something you have to make. And you must use your imagination to make it, too, just like anything else. It’s all work, work. The curse of Adam. But if he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get anything, even love. He just tumbles about in hell and bashes himself and burns himself and stabs himself. The fallen man–nobody’s going to look after him. The poor bastard is free–a free and responsible citizen. The fall into freedom...
Yes, free to cut his bloody throat if he likes, or understand the bloody world, if he likes, and cook his breakfast with hell-fire, if he likes, and construct for himself a little heaven of his own, if he likes, all complete with a pig-faced angels and every spiritual pleasure, including the joys of love; or also, of course, he can build himself a little hell full of pig-faced devils and all material miseries including the joys of love and enjoy in it such tortures of the damned that he will want to burn himself alive a hundred times a day, but won’t be able to do it because he knows it will give such extreme pleasure to all his friends...
Yes, I said, the fall into freedom, into the real world among the everlasting forms, the solid. Solid as the visions of the ancient man.
To forgive is wisdom, to forget is genius. And easier. Because it’s true. It’s a new world every heart beat. P. 251.
You can’t expect them to like a picture like that. It’s dangerous. It’s an act of aggression. It’s really equivalent to going into a man’s garden and putting dynamite under his wife. Or trying to kidnap his children. Many a man has lost his children like that–on account of some picture which has carried them away. No, if there’s a plot, it’s a fair and reasonable plot, and I won’t have you abusing my friends, even if they are enemies.
When you’re as old as I am, you’ll take my tip: BE FRIENDS WITH YOUR FRIENDS. It may not be prudent, and it is often difficult. But it is better for the liver, lights, and kidneys. After all friendship has one great advantage; if you don’t like your friends, you can always avoid them, and they won’t mind. Not if there is really good feeling on both sides. P. 323 ["lights" are the lungs]
Then a childhood favorite. I wrote this about it for the February Sisters in Crime Guppy Newsletter, First Draft.
My mother read me The Secret Garden when I was nine. How I loved it–I think now because it was a story of transformation. Both children, crabby Mary, who landed with her reclusive uncle at Misselthwaite manor, and Colin, who was a spoiled invalid, change dramatically. The agent of change was Dickon, the healthy boy, who lived nearby and was at ease with growing things and wild creatures. Dickon’s mother gave good advice to all parents: "Children should neither have nothing of what they want nor everything they want."
Mary and Colin meet, and Mary finds a neglected, walled garden. With Dickon’s help, she resurrects it and then brings Colin there. By the end Mary is happy and Colin can walk.
I loved the change and how it was wrought. Dickon declares the seeming dead roses were "wick." Alive! Everything difficult and depressing slowly turns joyful and triumphant. This theme is through all my writing. Partly because of this book, I came to believe that even seemingly hopeless situations could be transformed.
As a young reader, I was hooked by their difficulties and thoroughly relished the gradual transformation of the children and the garden. My mysteries give me the same opportunity to take the reader through suffering and doubt to resolution and hope. The book may also be why I’m a small farmer.
The actual words of Dickon, from The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett: "Mother says as the two worst things that can happen to a child is never to have his own way or always to have it. She doesn’t know which is the worst." P. 139