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