Old Age, Life, Love, and Death: Travels With My Aunt
September 26, 2010 § Leave a comment
Travels With My Aunt is Graham Greene’s first person narration of Henry Pulling, a retired bank manager who meets his 70-ish year old Aunt Augusta for the first time, at his mother’s funeral. A sequence of events leads Henry’s bland, distilled water life to be intertwined with his Aunt’s somewhat eccentric and from his view, amoral lifestyle. This fateful reunion with his aunt causes Henry to reconsider the life he had been living for the past fifty odd years.
And then the reader is thrown a plot twist, which honestly does not come at the very end…
Of Graham Greene’s numerous works, I do believe Travels With My Aunt is underrated. Most have passed off Travels as mere light entertainment, or does not carry enough weight to be taken into serious consideration.
Greene believed that each successful novel he wrote seemed to only set him up for an even greater disappointment through failure of his next.
He categorized his works early on into “novels” and “entertainments”. Novels tended to carry serious weight on philosophical, religious, and moral issues, while the later satiated his readers desire for thrillers and a good laugh. And Greene was one heck of a thriller writer, what with his experiences in the MI6, travels, his brushes with death, and somewhat lurid lifestyle. Stamboul Train (The Orient Express) and Our Man in Havana are some of his best entertainments.
As if a novel had to be “serious” to be given critical merit! I’ll be honest to say that this novel has the depth equivalent of The Power and The Glory (of which has been considered one of his most important works, amongst his “Catholic” novels), even if it is told in a much lighter tone than “Power”.
Greene’s writing progressed, and eventually he stopped labeling his novels into the two categories. This was where we got novels like The Quiet American , and yes, Travels With My Aunt, which was often a blend of edge-of-your-seat entertainment that got you stirred on questions on morality, the human condition, and the consequences of an individual’s decisions.
Here are some of the more interesting lines from this book:
“Age, Henry, may a little modify our emotions, -it does not destroy them.”
“A long life is not a question of ears. A man without memories might reach the age of a hundred and feel that his life had been a very brief one.”
“I made many economies in my youth and they were fairly painless because the young do not particularly care for luxury. They have other interests other than spending and can make love satisfactorily on a Coca-Cola, a drink which is nauseating in age. They have little idea of real pleasure: even their love-making is apt to be hurried and incomplete. Luckily in middle age pleasure begins, pleasure in love, in wine, in food.”
“One’s life is more formed, I sometimes think, by books than by human beings: it is out of books one learns about love and pain at second hand. Even if we have the happy chance to fall in love, it is because we have been conditioned by what we have read, and if I had never known love at all, perhaps it was because my father’s library had not contained the right books.”
“You will think how every day you are getting a little closer to death. It will stand there as close as the bedroom wall. And you’ll become more and more afraid of the wall because nothing can prevent you coming nearer and nearer to it ever night while you try to sleep…”