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Why i love Charles Morgan

Tuesday 17 June 2008

“He lifted his hands to his face and, finding that they were not rid of the smell of paint, began to wave them in the air. This producing no effect. he fetched two handfuls of pine-needles, returned to his bench and rubbed them slowly between his palms until all were fallen. After that, he drew his feet up under him, and, having smelt his hands again, wrinkled his nose and gave up his attempt.

     “His brown hair threw out, here and there, upward twirls of no great dignity, and his face – a blunt-angled face that retained the chunkiness of a boy’s – was almost as brown as the hair. The warmth of its colour gave a special emphasis to eyes not brown but blue and far-looking, with a steady liveliness of their own – the eyes of a northern seaman who surprisingly inhabited the body of a brown bear.

     “After a little while, he pulled his shirt away from his ribs and wriggled himself that the air might move across his flesh ; he revolved his arms slowly with the same purpose ; he sniffed the pine-trees. There couldn’t be a better evening, he said to himself, and was grateful, and still.”

– from Chapter 1 of The Voyage (1940), (page 15 of the Reprint Society’s 1942 edition)

The Voyage, so far, is set in the vineyards of France’s Charente region. So far i’m only up to page 17 so don’t tell me what happens! I read Morgan’s The Empty Room years ago, and all i remember of it is the atmosphere. This extract exhales the same atmosphere.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Maddox Jude permalink
    Sunday 25 May 2014 2.32 pm

    My father (born in 1919) was a big fan of Charles Morgan, and on his advice I picked up ‘The Voyage’ in a second hand bookshop 25 years ago. It’s still one of my favourite books.

    The publishing industry requires that a story must be immediately gripping, and people, if they want to sell books, are just not permitted to write like Morgan anymore. We are surrounded by ripping yarns, and to describe a book as ‘literary’ is the kiss of death. But reading a novel from this era requires your full attention; it is hard work.

    You get out of literature what you put into it. This is a very deep book indeed. It’s not bursting at the seams with LOLs, but the book engages the senses, the proprioceptors, the soul. You inhabit another world.

    Here’s a part that particularly resonates (p72 of Reprint society copy): the manipulative Victor Vincent’s perspective on the soulmates whom he wishes to destroy, and whose unconventional love story is just a part of this book:

    ‘Have you ever seen blood pumped from an artery?’

    Bette answered, ‘No,’ but he did not hear her.

    ‘It is like that,’ he continued. ‘To be near her is like being spurted with blood.’ Still outwardly calm, he passed his hands over his face, wiping it, and allowed them to rest upon the arms of his chair. ‘That, you see, is what they have in common … Barbet. Therese. It gushes from them.’

    ‘What gushes from them?’

    He wished to be silent, not to confess himself even to his sister. She watched his lips parting and closing, and his tongue came out to wet them.

    ‘Life,’ he said at last, and no sooner had he said it than he began to stretch himself and smirk and jig in his chair, for fear that she might understand him too well.’

    • mand permalink
      Sunday 8 June 2014 1.12 pm

      Welcome to the Travel Hopefully Blog, Maddox! Very sorry I’ve taken so long to respond. (I’m not here regularly at the moment.)

      Great to meet another Charles Morgan fan. ‘The Voyage’ was my own introduction to his writing too. It’s difficult selecting one or two passages to illustrate “that thing he does”, isn’t it? The thing that makes me mentally gasp at how accurately he understands a person’s internal experience, complete with subtleties and contradictions, and how well he expresses it. With beauty in the mix as well as precision.

      Yes, the style requirement for novels has shifted over the decades, in line with lifestyles. I suppose most people these days have to grab a quarter of an hour with a book between tasks, or before falling asleep. And the industry, flooded with wannabes and pressured by business parameters, insists that a choice can be made in a couple of sentences.

      For myself, delights exist in both kind of writing. Sometimes I can’t face being chivvied from one scene to the next; sometimes I can’t take the time to allow a story and setting to unfold peacefully. So I feel lucky to live now, when we have the range available. From the writer’s point of view, of course, they’re very different skills to master. Certainly learning to cut out the chaff benefits almost any work! In the field of poetry rather than fiction, I can’t overstate the value I gained from writing for Twitter, for example… 😉

  2. Tuesday 12 May 2009 12.28 pm

    I only have The Voyage and, erm, somewhere in this house, The Empty Room, i’m afraid, Jessica. I didn’t know he was an Inkling – having read less about him than by him. Thanx!

  3. Monday 11 May 2009 8.55 pm

    Hey, really interested you like Charles Morgan. I have been trying to find copies of his books – have you got a loan copy of the Greater Trumps?? He was one of the Inklings – I have read a Gareth Knight history of this most remarkable of literary coteries and am very interested in his work and that of Owen Barfield.

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