Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Verging (Adventure In A Room)

       Today, being Jane’s next –to-last day before she becomes a “high schooler” (finals ended two days ago; her commencement  – called “Moving Up Day” at her school, which was also her mother’s and grandmother’s  -- is tomorrow), made me think of this very early piece by Henry Green, written while he was an 18-year old Oxford undergraduate.   It is clearly an early attempt at writing his first novel, Blindness, which like his later Back, I find almost unbearable to read because they treat painful subjects in such a “real” way.   The main character in Blindness, a young man just leaving his public school (neatly called “Note”, it is Eton, Green’s public school spelled backward; the man really had a touch in everything he did), is blinded while riding the train home after the end of Term when a rock thrown by a boy shatters the train window.   Amazingly, the same thing happened to me on the Long Island Railroad during high school when my train passed through Forest Hills on my way home from a summer job in Manhattan.   I was unharmed, thank heaven.  This occurred in the era before people sued even if they weren’t hurt and the newspapers and television, because of time and space constraints, didn’t  report  every little weird thing that happened, leaving nothing to memory and future imagination.   

       The Green piece, bearing the excellent title Adventure In a Room, is far from the best thing he ever wrote (the same can be said for Blindness, I think), but shows how very talented he was.  For after Blindness (1926) came Living (1929) and then Party Going (1939) and nothing would ever be the same.

Excerpt from Adventure In A Room (Unpublished c. 1923)

He sat in the Windsor chair, gazing about his room.  It was his last night at Note.  All round were the trifles, the few intimacies of his school life.   For six years he lived with the same old furniture.  He had changed his rooms once or twice, but never the wall paper.  The small brass figure, talking so severely to his dog, must know him very well, he thought.  And it was his last night, tomorrow he would be leaving.  Those pictures too, they had looked down on him all the time he had been at Note.  The paroquet pictures, the few third-rate prints, his own drawing that Armstrong had said showed such originality, his faithful looking glass – all of them must know him well.  His bat he looked on as a pugilist looks on his hands.  He had used his bat for so long without its ever having split that he had come to regard it as part of himself.  The way it ‘drove’ made him think it was alive.  And his books.  Dull school books.  God!  There was a Badminton he had forgotten to return to the school library.  Tomorrow .  .  .  .

(For another kind of "Eton Mess", please see Here for a real seasonal treat.)

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