From "Herself Surprised"
first published 1941
Sara Monday, the narrator here, is the common-law wife of Gulley Jimson, an artist. Rozzie is a friend of Sara: her late husband owned a pub.
And he said over and over again, what was true, that we couldn’t expect people to understand his pictures. They were a new idea, and just because they were new, they surprised people and made them laugh.
“No, my dear Sall, I can’t complain that people don’t understand me—I ought to be damn glad that they don’t hang me or shoot me. That’s what a lot of them would like to do.”
This was really true, for one man wrote to us and called Gulley a Bolshevist and said that if he dared exhibit again, he would beat him up. “What we want in England,” he wrote, “is a few blackshirts to deal with scum like you.”
But Gulley laughed at him too, and said that it had been the same with William Blake, some people wanted to put him in Gaol, and after he died one religious man burnt nearly all his work. And now Blake was in all the poetry books. “It’s only that some people don’t like anything till it’s a hundred years old,” he said.
Gulley was reading Blake, who was a poet who lived about a hundred years ago, and illustrated his own poems. I think Gulley agreed very well with Blake when he told me Blake used to play Adam and Eve with his poor wife, and draw her too. Once he threatened to take two wives and he always claimed the right, and this was like Gulley, who used to argue that it would not matter to me if he had another woman so long as she did not interfere with me or my pleasure. So I would tell him that if he meant Rozzie, he might try, but I didn’t think he would succeed, and if he did, it would be the end of him. For Rozzie was a man-killer and had killed her own husband.
From To Be A Pilgrim by Joyce Cary.
first published 1942, the second in a triilogy: "Triptych"
Time: the nineteen thirties. The narrator here is Tom Wilcher, a retired lawyer. He is being cared for by his niece Ann, in the ancestral home Tolbrook House in Dorset. Some time earlier, Ann and her husband Robert became estranged from each other. Robert fell in love with Molly, a milkmaid working for them. They ran off together, leaving Ann with her elderly uncle. Subsequently, she received news that Molly was pregnant with Robert’s child. In this scene, Robert and Ann have got back together. Ann explains the new arrangement to her horrified uncle.
“Is he coming to prayers?”
“I’ll send out and tell him.”
And in a few minutes, Robert, still in his blue overalls, comes into the nursery. For since we have returned home again, he has been as regular at prayers as Ann. I even think he is more serious than Ann, for I can feel his attention. I do not ask why this miracle has happened, or how Robert and Ann were reconciled. When on my first day out of bed, I saw the girl, Molly Panton, forking the new straw into the bull pen, I exclaimed to Ann, “What, is she here? And what about the baby?”
“The daughter’s here too.”
“Good God, what are you thinking of? What will people say?”
“Robert doesn’t seem to mind. And I suppose she’s too stupid to mind anything.”
“You had no business to allow such an arrangement—it’s perfect madness.”
“I had no choice. It was one of Robert’s conditions.”
“So, Robert made conditions?”
“No apology, no explanations?”
“He said he wanted to keep an eye on the daughter, and he’d never get anyone better than Molly with cows.”
“And what were your conditions?” I asked, feeling ready to shake the girl.
“I didn’t make any. I saw it wouldn’t do.”
“Why, it’s incredible. What are you made of—are you Robert’s doormat—have you no pride at all?” etc. For I was disgusted. “And have you reflected that you’ve wrecked your life—and probably Robert’s. It’s ruin for a boy like that to get his own way.”
“Well, he has got a way and I wasn’t sure I had, and you know, uncle, it’s not a final arrangement. We’re just going to try how it works—there’s no promises on either side.”
“I see, everything left to chance and luck, and you expect it’s going to work, as you put it. The work will be yours.”
“Yes, it’s going to be rather a job, but up to now, everyone has been a model of discretion—even Robert5.”
“Discretion,” I said, and then I could not help laughing. “Very well,” I said, “I’m an old fool—I don’t understand anything, but I thought you modern girls had some pride.”
“Well,” Ann said, “I am rather inclined to be proud of this arrangement—even Robert can’t say I’ve been prejudiced. And as for Molly, you know, uncle, I feel rather sorry for her. I still don’t know why she wants to hang about.” A touch of feminine spite which gave me a little solace, for I felt that, after all, the girl was not completely incomprehensible to me.
“I daresay,” I said, “she hopes for another baby."
“I daresay,” Ann said, in a mild tone, “But it’s not going to happen yet. Robert did promise me that—only one at a time.” And she added, “otherwise Robert himself would look ridiculous. Not that he cares. But I do. Or I think I do.”
The scientific enquirer peeped out again, and indeed every time I think I have come close to this girl’s nature, she recedes from me again onto a distance I can’t penetrate.
She is again pregnant, I gather she is already in her fifth month, so that she lost no time in what she describes as the Lincoln negotiations. But if perhaps she has a Delilah of the more scientific kind, in her composition, she does not betray her to me. She appears, more than ever before, preoccupied with some problem, and as before, in her pregnancy, she is careless and troublesome to us. She will not take her emulsion, etc, and she insists on going out alone, unless Robert or I can catch her.