Monday, February 24, 2014

Exploring "The End of the Affair" and "A Severe Mercy"

Introduction from Terry (@terrythenurse):

Works of art and literature hold a prominent place in Sylvain Reynard’s “Gabriel” series. In previous blog posts, I have discussed several of the literary and visual art masterpieces that SR uses to enhance his tale of love, sin and redemption, and I hope you enjoyed learning about their subtle correlations to the complex story of Gabriel and Julia.

In this post we’re going to do something different. A short time ago, Susan (aka Mango, or @SerendipitousMC), Efrat (@efratnoy) and myself found ourselves discussing SR’s use of The End of the Affair (Graham Greene) and A Severe Mercy (Sheldon Vanauken) in Gabriel’s Inferno and Gabriel’s Rapture. Both Greene’s and Vanauken’s books deal directly with loss, a questioning of the existence of God or a higher power, and the difficult road to “accept the things we cannot change.” (St. Francis)

Our discussion was varied and wide-ranging, and took place shortly before the publication of Gabriel’s Redemption, the third book in the series. We hope you find it both interesting and evocative. We’d love to hear your thoughts on this as well!

Before we start our discussion, I’ve included a short Goodreads summary of each of the books in the event our readers have not read them:

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

The love affair between Maurice Bendrix and Sarah, flourishing in the turbulent times of the London Blitz, ends when she suddenly and without explanation breaks it off. Two years later, after a chance meeting, Bendrix hires a private detective to follow Sarah, and slowly his love for her turns into an obsession.

Efrat: *whispers* (Parenthetically, it should be noted that there are two movie renditions of this novel; the most recent one with Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore:)

A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken, C.S. Lewis (Contributor)

Beloved, profoundly moving account of the author's marriage, the couple's search for faith and friendship with C. S. Lewis, and a spiritual strength that sustained Vanauken after his wife's untimely death.

PART I – The Significance of the Books to Gabriel’s Inferno and Gabriel’s Rapture

Susan: Why do you think SR referenced The End of The Affair and A Severe Mercy in the first two of his novels?

Efrat: Both The End of The Affair and A Severe Mercy are books about loss, sacrifice and finding God.

In this post we discussed parallels to characters and similar messages between SR’s novels and both books, which are all intriguing (and IMHO – brilliant), but in the context of the novels’ storyline, I believe The End of the Affair serves as the seed of spirituality that was planted for Gabriel to begin his journey of finding faith and spirituality himself, which culminates in Gabriel’s Rapture.

Julia’s reading of A Severe Mercy gave her a glimpse of what could result in a pagan love (which was new to her at the time), as well the idea of sacrifice as a means to getting to a better state of affairs – something she ultimately had to accept and experience herself.

Terry: I think that *in general* both are about finding one’s faith, and that it is (usually) a painful journey due to the sacrifices and self-insight that come with it. As I mentioned earlier, I think SR used it in his novels because he is faithful and prayerful, and he wanted us to think about welcoming God in our own lives. To me, SR is and will always be a teacher (I hesitate to use the word “professor” because I don’t want to confuse him with Gabriel). Using the books to both entertain and to teach his readers is brilliant. In addition, I agree with Efrat here. I think both books set the stage for Gabriel’s spiritual growth. And, obviously, it opens a different discussion about our own spiritual lives, and if/how they compare or are even nourished by reading them.

I find Julia an interesting character because she has always felt that she was not worthy of love, yet Gabriel actually worships her. How she deals with it (and even questions it) shows her developing emotional maturity. Gabriel, on the other hand, seemed to go from one extreme to the other, as you both point out. Perhaps he worships her because she accepts him so totally, even with his obvious flaws and egoism. But, I sense that this insistence to worship her is about to get him into trouble. It’s just not realistic to view someone that extremely.

Susan: I think you both said it beautifully. I agree with your thoughts on this. I would only add that Gabriel was also attracted to Julia’s goodness and selflessness. There were few enough people in his life with those qualities, and it almost seemed to reaffirm his belief that anyone could possess them.

Efrat: What is the overall message we are to find reading these two novels in parallel and in connection?

Terry: I totally agree that SR’s message is that there is a place for human love (chaste or not) and a place for love of God. But love of God has to come first as no human love can meet all one’s needs as love of God can –not that we’re necessarily conscience of it, but that we do acts of mercy and charity and try to live God’s directives as best we can. I think that is what it means to love God-- to follow his teachings in both the old and new Testaments.

Susan: SR makes a point of noting that love of God should come before pagan worship, such as love of another or love of earthly goods. And it seems that Gabriel and Julia are punished later for their relationship, once the University gets wind of it. It could be SR's way of saying that God will show you the error of your ways when you worship a false god.

But God can be merciful. All the couples we discussed here had a painful journey, but ultimately they came out stronger for it, if only because they were deeply affected by what they learned. Julia and Gabriel were either wise or lucky enough to acknowledge what they did wrong before they lost each other for good.

Efrat: I think SR wanted us to realize that worshiping and loving earthly things is always easy (for example, a high paying job or promotion, a fancy car, an attractive partner… the list goes on, and frankly, never ends). It’s human nature to wish for material things and to always want more of that (as Madonna said best in ‘Material Girl’, and ironically made a fortune from ).

But, understanding who you are as an individual, finding a meaning to your life from within, accepting what cannot be changed, having the willingness and dignity to sacrifice when needed and finding joy in the little things that are God and are everywhere, is always more difficult. It’s a lengthier process but is a journey that is much more profound and a whole lot more rewarding.

Terry: Susan and Efrat, what enticed you to read both books?

Efrat: As opposed to other pieces of literature mentioned, both A Severe Mercy and The End of The Affair carried a different form of mention which stood out and signaled to me that there was something special in them, and therefore worth reading.

Notice a few things - one, both books are mentioned quite a bit and more than any other work of art. Two, they both take an active role in the storyline - rather than serving as a backdrop to illuminate a scene, the protagonists are actively reading these books, commenting on them, and discussing them with each other and even finding analogies with respect to their own situation.

As opposed to other works of literature, which are discussed as having been read in the past tense, Gabriel takes a journey with The End of The Affair in the present, and it plays an active part of the storyline along with Julia’s reading of A Severe Mercy.

Lastly, A Severe Mercy is Grace’s favorite book. Grace is a special character as she’s not present though she is very active in Gabriel’s and Julia’s journey, and has had a profound effect on them both. If such an important and cultured character had a favorite book, it must carry much importance, and is likely a very good read. All this tells the readers that they’re both important pieces of literature that are worth reading; on their own or in relation to SR’s novels.

To be honest, I wasn’t familiar with Graham Greene or Sheldon Vanauken before, but took the Professor’s, Julia’s and Grace’s word that they’d be good reads 

Terry: I have always enjoyed the Catholic literature genre, and, like you, Efrat, I was intrigued that SR chose these particular books to have such an impact on Gabriel (as opposed to a book like Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, for example). There were so many hints in Inferno and Rapture that these would be good reads, so I was drawn to them. In a way, the books are minor characters. That being said, in order for it to have meaning as a character, it would need to be read and understood.

Susan: Part of the joy of reading SR’s work is that you can always find something new to explore – art, literature, language, food, Scotch. I’d always meant to read Graham Greene, and this was as good an incentive as any. And as you both said, the fact that it was prominently mentioned is intriguing. I thought it might give me even greater insight into Gabriel‘s story, particularly once Julia becomes a part of it.

I had similar feelings about A Severe Mercy. I was curious to read the Vanaukens’ story and to see how it might parallel the journey of Gabriel and Julia.

Part II, where we discuss The End of the Affair, will be posted on Wednesday.

Thanks for reading! We welcome all comments.


Renata said...

Good thoughts, Ladies! ;) Thank you for allowing us to join the conversation of you ...

We can translate these posts to Portuguese?! I'm sure Portuguese readers (ther is about 9 countries in the world) would like to be able to follow these posts... ;)

Unknown said...

I've never seen a story dissected and compared to other classics as much as the Gabriel series has been. I read "The End of the Affair" as well as seen the movie with Moore & Fiennes with my husband. It left us both in tears. The next book you should review is "Shadowlands" which I'm sure you know is the story of C. S.Lewis. I'd love to read your take on his very interesting life, and maybe find comparisons as well. You all do a remarkable job! :)

MeilleurCafe said...

Renata, I'm sure it would be fine if you wanted to translate these to Portuguese. I can send you the entire document with all the posts if you want. Just let me know! ~Mango

Jdt said...

You are great as always! ThAnk you Terry, Efrat and Susan for sharing your thoughts in this post. I really enjoyed your reflections. Thanks to Sylvain Reynard's Gabriel's Inferno and Gabriel's Rapture readers can discover many great books (among many other things, like art, music... ) and thoughts/feelings.
I read The End of the Affair by Graham Green before, and was really happy finding it mentioned in The Gabriel series. After reading GI & GRa I felt the need to reread the book ... For I felt the deep connection to Gabriel and Julia, not to mention Grace.
A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken was new read for me. I bought the book and read it this Summer. I believe love means kind of sacrifice from us all. It does not matter if it is pagan or spiritual love. I also could mention the need to read The Four Love by C.S.Lewis

These books as you analyze are about love, sacrifice, loss and of course finding love to God. SR fascinating/beautiful and talented writing emphasizes these human feelings in both Gabriel and Julia. These beautiful characters are making a journey that is based on sacrifices, unconditional love both pagan and spiritual, charity and redemption.

Thank you Ladies for sharing your reflections!
Thank you Sylvain Reynard for writing The Gabriel ~Series.

Xoxo /Judith

Post a Comment


©2012 All Rights Reserved | Website Designed by Website Design Credit

Powered by Blogger