Further Musings

Beauty smote his heart, he looked up from the forsaken land & hope returned to him

Archive for February 2012

A World Lost

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I just finished A World Lost, a brief novel set in Port William and written by Wendell Berry.  This one tells the story of Andy Catlett’s journey to understand the murder of his favorite uncle and namesake, Uncle Andy.  I continue to read these stories because the move me.  In a town where I am still unconnected I miss the deep emotional connections to others.  Berry reminds me of that connection and for that I’m grateful.

A World Lost is a brief, thoughtful tale that ruminates on its main characters.  The grown Andy recounts his boyhood encounters with Uncle Andy and he studies his memories from his childhood and what he learned in the years since.  The tale isn’t a murder mystery but rather a character sketch by a man who looked up to his uncle with the worship and adoration that only a small boy can give.  His uncle is as different a man from his father as a man can be.  Uncle Andy is as brash, impulsive, and often full of liquor as his father is steady, intense, and sober.

For reasons that no one in the book knows, Uncle Andy was married to a frail needy woman named Judith of whom nothing was every asked.  In return, she asks everything of everyone.  Berry’s words about who she became after her husband’s death haunt me and are his most powerful descriptions:

As her afflictions grew she seemed to become increasingly self-concerned.  Her sufferings finally were not at all conditioned by the understanding that others also suffered; she suffered in an almost pristine innocence, as if she were the world’s unique sufferer and the world waited curiously to hear of her pains.  She was so prompt and extravagant in pitying herself that she drove all competitors.

One afternoon when I was fifteen I called out to one of my friends, and in the same instant looked across the street and saw Aunt Judith (now blind from glaucoma).  She had recognized my voice, and she turned to stare sightlessly towards me … I went on as I intended to go, pretending under her following blind gaze that it was not my voice that she had heard and that I was not myself.

For want of compassion – aware that I would inevitably fail to be compassionate enough, but also for want of enough compassion – I denied that I was who I was, and so made myself less than I was.  This was my first conscious experience of a shame that was irremediable and hopeless – a shame, as I now suppose, that Uncle Andrew may have met in himself, in her presence, many a time.

This surely was the punishment that she dealt out, wittingly or not, willingly or not, to Uncle Andrew and to the rest of us.  And if at times in the past I could abandon her to the self-martyrdom of the self-absorbed, and though I see now better than then how impossible she was, still I am sorry.  For I can no longer forget that loss and illness and trouble, however a person may exploit them, cannot be exploited without being suffered.  Aunt Judith exploited them and suffered them, and suffered her exploitation of them.  She suffered and she was alone.

And so she is inescapable.  In my mind I will always see her standing there in the street, her head tilted stiffly up, hopelessly hoping for some earthly pity greater than her pity for herself.” Selections from Chapter VIII.

Written by furthermusings

February 12, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Posted in Reviews

Working from home

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South Carolina does has its advantages, especially in the spring.

Written by furthermusings

February 8, 2012 at 4:03 pm