Tuesday, 2 October 2012

An aunt in a bathing suit

the book:

Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene

published 1969 chapter 16


 
 

Hoping to discover a more encouraging quotation, I opened Rob Roy again and found a snapshot lying between the leaves: the square yellowing snapshot of a pretty girl in an old-fashioned bathing-dress taken with an old-fashioned Brownie. The girl was bending a little towards the camera; she had just slipped one shoulder out of its strap, and she was laughing, as though she had been surprised at the moment of changing. It was some moments before I recognized Aunt Augusta and my first thought was how attractive she had been in those days. Was it a photograph taken by her sister, I wondered? But it was hardly the kind of photograph my mother would have given my father. I had to admit that it was more likely he had taken it himself and hidden it there in a volume of Scott which my mother would never read. This then was how she had looked – she could have hardly been more than eighteen – in the long ago days before she knew Curran or Monsieur Dambreuse or Mr Visconti. She had an air of being ready for anything.

 



observations: Graham Greene was born on October 2nd 1904. Shortly after finding the photo above, Henry Pulling will go to visit his father’s grave in the company of Aunt Augusta, and find that he died on October 2nd 1923, an interesting coincidence, as is the fact that ‘Henry’ was Graham Greene’s actual first name. Paternal death can be strange in Greene for other reasons – there is a memorable short story, A Shocking Accident, in which a 9-year-old schoolboy hears that his father has been killed by a falling pig, and this fact rather blights his life, as well as raising the question ‘what happened to the pig?’

In his early writing years GG divided his books into ‘novels’ and ‘entertainments’. He dropped the distinction (even for the early books) long before this one was published, but you feel Travels might have qualified as an entertainment, and none the worse for that. Henry is a rather dull bank manager. Aunt Augusta comes into his life while attending his mother’s funeral, and proceeds to change his whole future, involving him in travel, law-breaking, and low company, and it all goes down a treat. It is not clear how long it is supposed to take the reader to guess something that apparently only occurs to Henry in the final pages – hinted at in the extract above.

Greene’s Brighton Rock (a much more miserable affair, despite being ‘an entertainment’) has featured
on the blog.  He was a fan of Muriel Spark, and he worked for the magazine at the centre of this novel.

The
picture is from the UW digital collections – previous spectacular photos from the same source here and here.

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