Friday, February 19, 2010

Layering in the novel The Go-Between

Recently Jeanette picked up the book I was reading, The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley. She read the backliner note about this novel being “richly layered” and asked me what that meant. At the time I didn’t come up with a ready answer, but after some thought from the next day on until I finished the book I have come up with the following notes. I had seen the film based on the book and then read the book back in the early 1970s when I was in college, but with a larger frame of reference from the passing decades I now see more of what Hartley was really saying, probably because I’m close point of view in the book which is that of a man in his early sixties.

The book is ostensibly the recounting of a painful incident in the story of a boy growing up which is the basis of his being shut off from the experience of life on an emotional level.

Overlaid on or interwoven into that story frame are the following elements:

A young woman trying to break away from social constraints.

Family structure and organization tested.

An exploration of what true gentlemanliness is.

The effects of sin.

Nostalgia for a past that didn’t fully realize its promise.

Understanding the realm of the senses.

Searching the occult realm and finding it uncontrollable and disastrous.

Learning the rules of society.

Being defined by the words of others.

False responsibility bearing and responsibility abdication.

Maturation and growing a conscience.

The communication process.

Also, there is some overall social criticism against the old caste system and the lack of social mobility in the late Victorian era.

These are not just topics dealt with in these book or themes explored, but definite layers which could be followed out on their own through the length of the book. Others may define “layering” in a different way, but this is how I happened to see it in the book which I just finished reading this morning.

The Go-Between is a painful book. We read it like we do the horrendous Greek tragedies of old because it strikes a chord by telling us unpleasant truths in an insightful way. Pain, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, is a message that something is wrong. In the end of the book the woman who manipulated the storyteller’s childhood world so horrifically is still denying her complicity in the consequences of what she did and redefining the past to keep from taking the blame. Thus, she’s trapped in the past, but Hartley’s now grown character can change, if he will.

When others won’t accept responsibility for the past, it’s up to you to make sense of it. The Christian has the extra resource Jesus. Those who will not learn from pain will never get to all the joys they could.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

35 years

Today marks 35 years since Jeanette and I were married.

When I was much younger I always used to have this idea that you should have or would find a sweetheart on Valentines Day. Twenty-three of them went by with no Valentine. But, no more.

I am so thankful for Jeanette.

She is the one who brought me out of my shyer self of younger years. (I was too embarrassed to ask a waitress for a glass of water.)

She has been a constant source of encouragement and prayer.

She has been my best friend for all of these years.

She has lifted me up more times than I can remember.

I love her.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Of the films examined in this series, this is the second which is centered on the life of a real person. In both cases we are looking at persons of extreme character who met and grappled with the issues of their day. Though Thomas More was beheaded in “A Man For All Seasons” we never sense that he is vanquished or overcome. So it is with Gladys Aylward. Her story is one of the most inspiring and moving you will ever see, a rare Hollywood depiction of Christian strength.

Everyone discouraged Gladys from going to China as a missionary. She had no credentials, either theological or sociological, but she would not be stopped. Her commitment to the ministry Jesus had called her to overcame the objections of others. She was right in following the call. She began with the inn in the title of the film and ended up leading dozens of orphans through the Japanese lines to safety to the tune of “This Old Man” at the beginning of World War II.

Beside the story of her endeavors we see many other wonderful characters. The woman who portrayed the missionary Gladys had gone to help was the kind of woman we wish we had running the women’s and benevolence ministries at our church. I laugh out loud every time I hear her Chinese servant tell the “story of Jesus” when he takes over one night in teaching the gospel lesson. There is a romance in the film which seems to divert the flow of the story, but it is also a mechanism for explaining the times and showing how opposition to her in China itself is overcome by her commitment.

Robert Donat’s last film portrayal was of the mandarin in charge of the village. At first seemingly unfeeling in his tradition, he shows his true colors at the end of his part in the film when he officially declares that he wishes to share the faith of Gladys. I can never see that scene unmoved.

Probably the greatest testimony to her faith was given by a prison guard on
the occasion of a prison riot. He was unwilling to go in and settle things down. He turned to Gladys and said pointedly that he did not have a God who would protect him as she did. It was a challenge to her. While the riot depicted was much less violent than would have been portrayed today she demonstrated her trust in God and was kept through the trial.

At the end of the film, for once, we see a vindication of her character. The man who received her and the children at the place of safety was overwhelmed when he saw that the one who brought them through was “Gladys Aylward, who had been unqualified to go to China.”

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Past Sins

It is the joy of heaven to be able to cover sins. God is done with our past, and He wants us to be done with it, too.

The Book Of Opinions, 25:86, 87