‘Loving’ by Henry Green – Pandemonium in the Hallways of the Mansion

 

‘Loving’ by Henry Green    (1945)   –   185 pages

 

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There are so many novels that I want to read that I rarely go back and re-read one.  In fact the last novel I had re-read before ‘Loving’ was ‘The Heart of the Matter’ by Graham Greene way back in 2010.

I wanted to return to the raucous high-spirited fun of Henry Green, and ‘Loving’ is considered his masterpiece.  I have read four novels by Henry Green (‘Loving’, ‘Living’, ‘Party-Going’, and ‘Back’), any of which would have been a delight to re-read.

‘Loving’ is an upstairs/downstairs novel.  However unlike most such novels, here the servants – the household staff – are Green’s main center of attention.   These servants work hard, talk all the time, and fall in love.  They tease each other and laugh or giggle while they do their work.   ‘Loving’ is a raucous warm comedy.

The head butler Charley Raunce spreads havoc everywhere he goes.  He is not above fixing the books to make a little extra money on the side, but he won’t do anything major like steal the Lady’s jewelry because that would be too obvious and spoil his small-time racket.  Charley is always flirting with the maids – Edith and Kate – trying to get one or the other to kiss him.  He is forty, and the maids are twenty, but Edith falls in love with him anyway.  ‘Loving’ takes place during World War II, and there is a shortage of available men.  The mansion where they all work is located in Ireland and is owned by an expatriate lady from England. They are all worried about their families back in England which is being heavily bombarded.

The main thing you notice while reading ‘Loving’ is the lively and vivacious talk.  Henry Green loved to write dialogue, and that is his true strength.  In fact his last two novels, ‘Nothing’ and ‘Doting’, are considered lesser works because they are both almost completely all dialogue.  Green had lost the ability to write the connective tissue that frames the story between the dialogues.  He probably would have been a great playwright.  As it is, Henry Green gave up novel writing at age forty-seven.

However Green did leave behind six excellent novels which are original and unique.   In ‘Loving’, the warmth and the comic joy shared by this small group of people who keep this mansion running is infectious and unlike anything else in English fiction.

I will end with a couple of lines from Henry Green that capture the fun spirit of his writing for me:

“D’you sometimes believe that nothing in the whole wide world matters.

Oh, Ann, but surely simply everything has supreme importance if it happens.”

 

Grade:    A

 

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11 responses to this post.

  1. I read this one when Stu at Winston’s Dad hosted Henry Green week, it’s wonderful. I’ve read Nothing too, (https://anzlitlovers.com/category/writers-aust-nz-in-capitals/green-henry/) which I liked very much. I hope I haven’t had the best of them…

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    • Hi Lisa,
      “Nothing’, along with ‘Doting’, are the only two that weren’t so good according to some critics, because they were almost entirely dialogue. Since you liked ‘Nothing’ very much, you’ve got five other novels that will probably score with you too. 🙂
      His memoir ‘Pack My Bag’ is also supposed to be very fine also.

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  2. I’ve never read anything by Henry Green but would like to at some point in the future. Which of his novels would you suggest as a good place to start?

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  3. You have reminded me about Henry Green – I really enjoyed Loving – and have the remainder of two omnibus editions of his novels still to read.

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    • Hi Heavenall,
      Most of Henry Green’s fictions are published in omnibuses, because his novels are fairly short, but I read only one at a time so I can really enjoy and savor it alone. I’ve been doing this for about 25 years. Henry Green had been almost totally forgotten when his first omnibus of novels was published in 1990, and his fame has been going up since then.

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  4. Oh, I want to go back and read about Charley Raunce! Tony, our Penguins are so old they’re yellow, but I still can read the print in our battered Green omnibus. John Updike wrote about Green, perhaps in the ’80s, and I’m glad to know NYBR reissued him.

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    • Hi Kat,
      I bought the book with the John Updike intro back in the late 1980s or the early 1990s.. In fact the lines I quoted this time are from the John Updike intro. When that book came out , Henry Green had been totally forgotten, and that was the first revival. Now that NYBR is re-printing several of his novels, there will be another revival. I am a big fan of Green because he is so different from everybody else.

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  5. I’ve long wondered about Henry Green. You do make a good case for him. It just sounds so full of life.

    Anyway, I’m downloading a sample. It sounds exactly my sort of thing.

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    • Hi Max,
      From your articles, I get that you prefer authors who are off the beaten path like Yuri Herrara. Henry Green certainly qualifies although he writes nothing like Herrara.

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