Posts Tagged ‘Literature’

An extract from The Lawless Roads by Graham Greene, an account of his travels in the Mexico of 1938. Thanks to Sir William Wilmot for giving me the book to accompany me on my travels.

El Retiro is the swagger cabaret of Socialist Mexico, all red and gold and little baloons filled with gas, and chicken a la king. A film star at one table and a famous singer, and a rich men everywhere. American couples moved sedately accross the tiny dance floor while the music wailed, the women with exquisite hair and gentle indifference, and the middle aged American businessmen like overgrown schoolboys a hundred years younger than their young women. Then the cabaret began – a Mexican dancer with great bold thighs, and the American women lost a little of their remote superiority. They were being beaten at their own game – somebody who wasn’t beautiful and remote was drawing the attention of their men. They got vivacious and talked a little shrilly and powdered their faces, and suddenly appeared very young and inexperienced and unconfident, as the great thighs moved. But their turn came when the famous tenor sang. The American men lit their pipes and talked all through the song and then calpped heartily to show that they didn’t care, and the women closed their compact and listened – avidly…

Then the Waikiki, on a lower level socially and morally. Armed policemen (later that night the place was raided for Perez, the drug trafficker).  Lovely sexual instruments wearing little gold crosses, lolled on the sofas; a man had passed out altogether beside a blue soda water bottle. Small intimate parties struggled obscurely with shoulder straps, and presently got up and made for the hotel a little way down the street. My friend thought I might be lonely and insisted on finding me an American girl – there was only one in the place, and she was called Sally. I said I didn’t want her, but she obviously had for him (he was a Mexican) the glamour of foreignness. He said, ‘She’s nice. She’s refined – and interesting. You’ll like to talk to her. You’re a writer. She’ll tell you all about her life.’

I said, ‘I don’t want to talk to her about her life.’ You could see it all around without asking questions – in the red velvet sofas and the blue soda-water bottles and the passed out Mexican. But my friend had got a girl and he wanted me to have an American – somebody I could talk to easily. He kept on asking everybody, ‘Where’s Sally?’ and presently they found her – so there she came, picking a refined way across the dance floor, pasty, genteel, and a little scared, and very badly dressed. She said, ‘Yes, sir,’ ‘No, sir,’ ‘Yes, sir’ to everything I said. The formality, the subservience, the terrible refinement were uncanny.

My Mexican friend said, ‘She’s pretty, eh?’ and I had to look at that infinitely plain pasty face with all the vacancy of drug-stores and cheap movies and say, ‘Yes, fine.’


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The following is an extract from Sense and Sensibility, and to my mind perfectly sums up why I am beginning to really enjoy Jane Austen and why she has been read by so many millions of people; terse and deeply entertaining dialogue, perfect characterisation and an entertaining wander through issues that preoccupy us now as fervently as they did the characters placed in the early 19th century. 

To bring those who have not yet the book up to speed, the “Sense” of the novel is Elinor, and the Sensibility is Marianne (her sister). The scene is thus; Elinor, Marianne, Margaret (the third sister) and their mother, Mrs Dashwood are at their new home in Devon many miles from their native Sussex.  Edward Farrars, a former potential love match for Elinor has called. Willoughby (as referred to) is the absent lover of Marianne.

“‘What are Mrs. Farrars’s views for you at present Edward?’ said she [Mrs Dashwood], when dinner was over, and they had drawn round the fire; ‘are you still to be a great orator in spite of yourself?’

‘No. I hope my mother is now convinced that I have no more talents than inclination for public life.’

‘But how is your fame to be established? for famous you must be to satisfy all of your family; and with no inclination for expense, no affectation for stranger, no proffession, and no assurance, you may find it a difficult matter.’

‘I shall not attempt it. I have no wish to be distinguished; and I have every reason to hope I never shall. Thank Heaven! I cannot be forced into genius and eloquence.’

‘You have no ambition, I well know. Your wishes are all moderate.’ 

‘As moderate as those of the rest of the world, I believe. I wish, as everybody else, to be perfectly happy; but, like everybody else, it must be in my own way. Greatness will not make me so.’

‘Strange if it would’ cried Marianne. ‘What have wealth or grandeur got to do with happiness?’

‘Grandeur has but little’ said Elinor, ‘but wealth has much to do with it.’

‘Elinor for shame!’ said Marianne; ‘money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction, as far as mere self is concerned.’

‘Perhaps,’ said Elinor, smiling, ‘we , may come to the same point. Your competence and my wealth are very much alike, I daresay; and without them, as the world goes now, we shall both agree that every kind of external comfort must be wanting. Your ideas are only more noble than mine. Come what is your competence?’

‘About eighteen hundred or two thousand a year; not more than that.’

Elinor laughed. ‘Two thousand a year; One is my wealth! I guessed how it would end.’

‘And yet two thousand a year is a very moderate income,’ said Marianne. ‘A family cannot well be maintained on a smaller. I am sure I am not extravagant in my demands. A proper establishment of servants, a carriage, perhaps two, and hunters, cannot be supported on less.’

Elinor smiled again, to hear her sister describing so accurately their future expenses at Combe Magna [the estate of Willoughby].

‘Hunters!’ repeater Edward; ‘but why must you have hunters? Everybody does not hunt.’

Marianne coloured as she replied, ‘But most people do.’

‘I wish’ said Margaret, striking out a novel thought, ‘that somebody would give us a large fortune apiece!’

‘Oh that they would!’ cried Marianne, her eyes sparkling with animation, and her cheeks glowing with the delight of such imaginary happiness.

‘We are unanimous in that wish I suppose’ said Elinor, ‘in spite of the insufficiency of wealth.’


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