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Henry Green: Loving
The Big House novel is one of the themes to be found in Anglo-Irish novels, where the action takes places in the manor house, around which the entire village/town revolves. In this novel, Green makes the Big House the centre of the world. Things are going on outside – there is the war (World War II) and glimpses of the lives of others in London and elsewhere – but all the action takes places in the Big House. At the start of the story, Eldon, the butler is dying and Arthur Raunce is planning to take over not only his job but also his perks (i.e. cooking the books). Mrs. Tennant, the owner, tries to exert control over her household and, indeed, thinks she has control but she does not. Most of the story is about what happens downstairs. Apart from the loss of her ring, which is found by one of the servants and seems to pass around them before finally being restored to Mrs. Tennant, most of these actions (minor in themselves) take place without her knowledge. Sometimes she sees the results, such as the sudden departure of the pantry boy, more often she does not. Indeed, the servants know more about the upstairs people than she does, such as her daughter-in-law’s extramarital arrangements. But, despite the fine portrait of Raunce, the new butler, the excellent way Green shows the downstairs flooding upstairs when Mrs. Tennant leaves and the triumph of the downstairs over the upstairs, the whole thing lacks passion. It seems to me that Green was more concerned with trying to get an authentic voice of the downstairs than with telling a good story. In his introduction, John Updike, says he has seen people crying after reading this book. Must have been the onions. A writer’s writer.
First published 1945 by The Hogarth Press