'The Grove of Ashtaroth' by John Buchan (1912?)
Afegeix-te a LibraryThing per participar.
Aquest tema està marcat com "inactiu"—L'últim missatge és de fa més de 90 dies. Podeu revifar-lo enviant una resposta.
I should say first of all that I'm not absolutely sure this can be classed as a Gothic tale, but it does have a mysterious ruin and ancient secrets and questions of ancestry and identity.
I think this one of the more powerful short stories I've read for a while, but it's been - I'm a bit tentative on choice of word, here - challenging me for a couple of months. I've been trying to work up a piece on it for my blog but the piece kept ending up more a list of questions than any kind of proper essay. So I decided to start a thread here instead. There are all sorts of things in it that I can't make up my mind about, and I'll be fascinated to see how others react to it.
Um ... I was going to put a few of my 'puzzlements', here, but I think I'll leave any readers to be challenged in their own ways ...
Superficially (actually, more than superficially) this story bears a resemblance to the work of Algernon Blackwood. It is about the effect of nature - or something beyond nature - on a particularly sensitive or susceptible person.
Unsurprisingly, it shows its age in some of the attitudes it expresses, as well as what can - in charity to Buchan - be taken as out-of-date beliefs about the non-African origins of the iron age antiquities of Great Zimbabwe. Unfortunately the whole rationale of the story depends on the tower at the centre of the titular grove (explicitly linked in the story to Great Zimbabwe) being of Phoenician or otherwise ancient Semitic origin.
That unfortunately opens Buchan to accusations of racism on two fronts at once; that is by denying that sub-Saharan civilization could have reached the degree of development indicated by the antiquities, while at the same time suggesting that “Jewish blood” leads to a falling away from monotheistic rectitude and into a sort of cruel voluptuousness. This second aspect of the story rather puts me in mind of public schoolboys having “unnatural vices” flogged out of them. Something that didn’t end until long after the time of this story, of course.
That’s the clue, perhaps, as to why this story maybe doesn’t sit right with us: it’s Late Victorian, Imperial, “Heartiness” masquerading as fin-de-siécle aestheticism.
Of course this is not a brand-new opinion of Buchan. On browsing the internet in preparation for this little essay (I was looking for a note of the contents of the Folio Society Short Stories, to see if it was worth hunting for my copy), I can across this quote from Betjeman’s imagining of Oscar Wilde’s arrest:
“So you’ve brought me the latest Yellow Book:
And Buchan has got in it now:
Approval of what is approved of
Is as false as a well-kept vow.
- The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel
You've neatly summed up why I called it 'challenging'.
In addition to the Great Zimbabwe thing, I was struck by the implication that the land travelled through and subsequently built on was uninhabited, virgin territory, just lying there waiting to be exploited.
I found, and still find, the narrative voice's and the author's attitudes to Lawson's Jewishness quite difficult to pin down. In particular, what were we supposed to read into Lawson's getting fat and pasty - is this to be seen as the natural result of Lawson's neglect of his 'manly', outdoor pursuits - or was Buchan here depicting some popular, Victorian/Edwardian stereotype of the Jew? Why is Lawson's collecting of 'Tintorets' and 'Ming pots' slightly suspect - which is, surely, implied? There's an obvious connection, there, with Lawson's grandfather's antique dealing - or is there - what does it mean if intentional?
However, what really fascinated me was the depiction of the destruction of the tower. It strikes a modern sensibility as a quite shocking piece of environmental and archaeological vandalism, but the story itself is almost symbolising this attitude in the narrator's distress at the proceedings. Allied to this, I'm not at all sure how we are to see the narrator's attitude to the stern, Old Testament prophets and their modern counterpart in Jobson.
I found equally difficult the attempt to make sense of the link between the gentle, feminine 'voice' pleading with the narrator (which might, of course, be a figment of his imagination) and the spectacle of Lawson, fat and naked, running around scarifying himself with a knife.
And why doves?
Lots of mixed messages. I tried to work up a blog post about it a week or two back, but it kept ending up as long lists of questions.
With that forewarning, then, I'd hazard some further guesses.
Yes it's a stereotype of the Jew as an "Oriental" prone to voluptuousness and worship of false Gods (or - in this story - being attracted to the "wrong" aspect of Nature?). So Lawson has inherited a character flaw that only comes to light at the grove/tower.
Who's the German who had a "blood and soil" philosophy? Herder? (I could check, I've got the internet, but it's late...) There's that going on too - the East for Lawson, Scotland breeding his opposite in Jobson (that's not an entirely admiring portrait of unbending - I was going to say Calvinism, but I don't know all the various differences and degrees of Scottish Protestantism, so that may be wrong - strict adherence to the word of the Lord, shall we say. The narrator, whom I suppose is the Golden Mean, character wise, I presume is English.
Is there something of "a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do" in his destruction of the tower? Does the strong, silent (lone, and silently suffering in a manly way) Cowboy derive in part from earlier Sons of Empire - in the pages of Argosy, Blue Book and All-Story, perhaps, now long forgotten?
I mentioned the "aspect of Nature" - Lawson responds badly in a grossly physical way, Jobson with abhorrence, the narrator with a sort of spirituality. Like "right" and "wrong" ways to respond to a classical nude?
I don't know if a parallel with the grandfather's business was meant - from an antique shop to "Tintorets" (Tintoretto's, yes?) in three generations. Maybe a Brighton antique shop is considered rather low and mean. Maybe it's code for pawn shop.
#7 - I mentioned the "aspect of Nature" - Lawson responds badly in a grossly physical way, Jobson with abhorrence, the narrator with a sort of spirituality. Like "right" and "wrong" ways to respond to a classical nude?
That's a very interesting point. If the narrator is a 'Golden Mean' in his, albeit suppressed, reaction to the goddess's 'voice', then that makes his distress and despair in the closing pages all the more poignant in that the evil of the situation lies not so much with the grove and tower as with Lawson - the grove and tower (not forgetting the doves) become 'innocent' casualties in the narrator's battle with the evil part of Lawson's heritage. Uncomfortably, that makes the story more overtly anti-semitic, I think.
It can be a problematic business, this reading stories ...
Back soon...(which could be a few days.)