Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, March 25, 2011

Henry Green-Three Novels-Loving, Living, and Party Going

Loving (1945, 187 pages), Living (1929, 177 pages) and Party Going (1939, 145 pages) all by Henry Green

Henry Green is not much in fashion now.  I just did a Google Blog Search and could find no posts dedicated to his work.    According to a bit of research I did, 50 years ago he  was very widely read.   I admit I had never even heard of him until Victoria Glendinning mentioned that Green and Elizabeth Bowen were friends.   Bowen said Green was one the very few English novelists who could reproduce the actual sensations of living.    

Henry Green (the pen name for Henry Yorke-1905 to 1973, UK) was born into real wealth.   His father was a wealthy industrialist, land owner and was an intensely cultured man.    John Updike in his brilliant introduction to these three works  (Penguin Press has very generously printed all three of these novels in one book)  tells us that Green's father was an amateur connoisseur of country dialect.    I could see this spilling over in the novels in Green's wonderful handling of the speech of Birmingham factory workers.   I have said before that I do not like the use of country dialects in novels.   Green is so good at  this I loved it when he did it.   Green was descended from barons on both parental sides.     He grew up in and would always live in a great manors house.      He was educated at Eaton and Oxford.   Upon leaving Oxford (he never completed a degree) he of his own volition went to work on the floor of one of his father's factories.    He would later become a manager but always worked for the family company.     During WWII he was a volunteer fireman.   He married a second cousin and had an odd but enduring marriage.   

He wrote nine novels.   The three I read are considered his best work.   Party Going is considered his master work.   All three of his novels do have an "Upstairs, Downstairs" feel to them.   All of them are about the contrast of the lives of people from the "working classes" and the leisure or moneyed class.    His rich are not the owners of factories they are their  born never to have to worry children.  

Loving is set in an Irish Castle.   It deals with separate and not equal worlds,  with the servants and the masters.    To me Green does a brilliant job depicting the relationships between all the various elements in the novel.    I admit at the end I cringed when I saw the extreme contempt in which the  English mistress of the house held the Irish servants in her employ.

Living seems the most autobiographical of  the three novels.   It is set largely on the floor of a Birmingham, England factory but it also deals with the factory owners.     I loved, and this is a big admission for me, the use of "country dialect" in the novel.    Green has an amazing mastery over language.

Party Going is set in a railroad station.    The station is closed due to extreme fog.    This story mostly deals with the rich people in the VIP cars and how they cope but it also is concerned with how ordinary people deal with it also.    Again, the rich in the story are the pampered adult children of wealth.   I

I love Green's prose.   It is just so amazing.   I wish I could describe it but I cannot.  Here are a few lines from Living I was amazed by:   "Then children went into houses from streets along with these men and girls.   Women gave them to eat.   Were only sparrows now in the streets.    But on the roads, ceaselessly cars came in from country, or they went out into it, in, out".    There are just so many wonderful passages.   His work is also a very acute character study.   Green is not easy on his own class.  

Green took eight years to write Party Going.   He pretty much also lived up to the title and descended more and more into terrible drinking and serial infidelity.   In the last twenty years of his life he developed an extreme interest in the Ottoman Empire.

I think a lot of people who read my blog would love these novels. I for sure did.   They are a little 'odd" and the plot action does not unfold in a straightforward way but once you get 30 pages into his work you might be so in love with his prose you will not care if you can even follow the plot at all.    I found him to be near mesmerizing.

If you have read Green please leave a comment


Mel u



LBC said...

Thanks for the review. I have these books, picked up from a thrift store. I thought they looked interesting, but had no idea what they were about.

Rise said...

I've read Green's first book, Blindness, which was very memorable for me. The writing was full of vivid descriptions. It was a copy borrowed from the UP Main Library.

I'll be on the lookout for more of his works.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for introducing me to this author. His work sounds like my taste. I especially like that you say he's good at dialect, considering it's not my favourite form to read, unless it's done very well.


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

I've read these, too. Loving is the high point, I think. Unbelievbly good dialogue, not the strength of many writers.

James Wood has a great piece on Green, in The Irresponsible Self. You might find it amusing that Green and Eudora Welty were long-time correspondents.

Mel u said...

Amateur Reader-I looked in the archives of the New Yorker for the Wood aricle on Green which I would love to read-found lots of Wood articles on wide range of books but nothing by Wood on Green-

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

The Henry Green piece was first published in The London Times, actually.


Mel u said...

Amateur Reader-ok now I got it- I am a bit slow this morning-thanks very much I will read it soon-

Mel u said...

Amateur Reader-I just read the Wood article-it is a great article just as you said-I might read soon his book Caught based on his experiences as a volunteer fireman-I hope a few people can be convinced to try Green

Mel u said...

Amateur Reader-and others-should I go on to read other novels by Green-the 3 I read seem to be the best regarded-or do I move on knowing I have read the best-I have a "problem" with wanting to read all a writer wrote-but this stops me from reading many other new writers in the time so consumed?

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

I've only read the same three as you - that three-in-one bundle is hard to beat!

Someday I hope to try one or two of the later novels - Nothing is one of them - and the memoir Pack My Bag sounds good.

Unknown said...

I live in Brazil and I'm looking for ANY Green's book. I can't find it anywhere. Neither translated nor in english. Very sad.

Mel u said...

Luis, kindle editions of much of his work are available