Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Part II: Exploring "The End of the Affair" and "A Severe Mercy"

Terry, Efrat, and Susan continue their discussion of two novels that were featured prominently in Sylvain Reynard's Gabriel series, particularly "Gabriel's Inferno" and "Gabriel's Rapture." The focus of this post is Graham Greene's "The End of the Affair."

PART II – The End of the Affair

Susan: Let’s dig into “The End of the Affair”. Why do you think SR’s readers should read it in relation to The Gabriel Series?

Terry: The way I see it, the basic question of The End of the Affair is this: how can you hate something that you say doesn’t exist? That’s the core question. Maurice says he doesn’t believe in God, yet he hates God and blames God for losing Sarah. It’s a love story about finding faith—very metaphysical in its own way.

Efrat: That’s a paradox, Terry. The nature of paradoxes is confusing because you can't reach any definite conclusion; there is none in a paradox. This is another reason why this book is so intriguing, and perhaps why SR wanted us to read it – to provoke some thought to this very question.

I found myself thinking about finding faith, God, and spirituality in general quite a bit following my read; partly because Maurice begins as a self-admitted non-believer, but ends up acknowledging God's existence (yet not loving Him).
To get there, Maurice had to realize that his opponent for Sarah’s love is God. God is not a typical love interest, so this was an interesting and unexpected plot twist in this love story, and a pivotal point in Maurice’s journey to realize God’s existence.

Ultimately this book is about finding faith. Every person will have his or her own interpretation of faith and the divine being that brings him/her spiritual joy, and I think every one of us has a pivotal moment that changes a life’s perception so profoundly, for better or worse. In Maurice’s case, it’s not clear if he does end up for the better, but Greene leaves that to the reader’s imagination and thought.

Susan: I can see where SR was intrigued that Maurice had to fight God for Sarah.
How do you fight against something you can't see or feel - something you don't even believe in? It's not completely analogous to Gabriel's situation. I agree that SR may simply be using The End of The Affair to show yet another difficult road to faith or belief, and that's similar to Gabriel. He'd had grace in his life before with his family (and I think the use of the name Grace is not at all a coincidence), but he threw it away for earthly vices. It wasn’t until he was reunited with Beatrice and she bestowed her grace on him that he found his way.

Terry: I found Maurice a very complex character--where I liked him and felt sorry for him in some chapters, and really disliked him in others. But, I think like every work of literature or art that SR includes in his stories, there is a subtext, or some hidden gem that adds to the story of Gabriel and Julia. I think we women (and perhaps men as well) like to believe that when we find a deep love, it’s going to be forever. We get angry and disillusioned if it turns out to be temporary, like it was for Maurice and Sarah. But nothing is promised to us, and maybe we need to learn to enjoy what we have while we have it. Life takes many hidden and unexpected turns.

And let’s not forget that Sarah was married to someone else, so I’m not so sure that Maurice was correct when he makes God the villain. In many ways, all three characters took the easy way out. That is, of course, until Sarah becomes terminally ill and they come together to care for her. The point is that God, or the fates, never meant Sarah and Maurice to share a life together. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Efrat: I agree with what you say, Terry, about becoming disillusioned following disappointment. Another thing I found interesting in The End of The Affair is that Maurice starts the novel as a diary of hate when it is really about love. It is human nature to quickly switch between these two contradicting emotions, especially when there's betrayal involved. In Gabriel’s Inferno, notice how fast Julia passed between the two when she snapped in Gabriel's apartment (from love to hate), and Gabriel passed the other way (from hate to love) when he realized who she really was. And between you and me – don’t we all move between opposite emotions in day-to-day lives? My kids do it all the time…(sigh)

Susan: Maurice’s love for Sarah evoked many emotions he wasn’t used to having. I think that, too, is similar to Gabriel. Maurice was rightfully afraid that Sarah’s newfound faith would come between them even more than her husband could. I think Gabriel viewed that as a cautionary tale, and understood that there were lessons that he and Julia could take away from The End of the Affair.

Efrat: True, and I think that culminates when Julia and Gabriel discuss the novels together, and begin to reach similar conclusions – that their love is human and not angelic, flawless or bulletproof.

One last point on why one should read this book (and not in relation to SR’s work) – I found the novel’s narrative to be very interesting. It moves between times throughout the book, which adds an additional dimension to it and acts as an agent that provokes the reader’s thought and interest. This is definitely not my last Graham Greene’s read 

Efrat: What do you think the similarities are between GI/GR and The End of the Affair?

Susan: The biggest similarity I see between Maurice and Gabriel is that they are both filled with self-loathing. We don't get much idea of why Maurice hates himself so much - at least, I wasn't able to discern that, although perhaps it has something to do with his inability to truly connect with people. And like Gabriel, he disdains others whom he thinks are inferior to him. That hubris is punished in both men when they lose what they love the most (Sarah and Julia), though of course it works out better for Gabriel.

Efrat: Good point, Susan. But do you think it is self-loathing, or just loneliness? Gabriel was lonely. He admitted it, and Julia emphasized it later on a couple times. I would argue that both Maurice and Gabriel were vain in their relationships with people, and vanity is a deadly sin for which they’ve both paid dearly.

Susan: I do think it is self-loathing. Gabriel thought he was beyond redemption for the sins of his previous life. He didn’t think he was worthy of the love he clearly craved until he found Julia. I also think Maurice and Gabriel have major control issues, and to a large extent, faith is giving up control.

Or maybe Maurice just needs a purple towel...

Terry: Oh, I agree with Susan. I think both Gabriel and Maurice were both lonely and filled with self-loathing. Maurice is not very likable through most of the book, and Gabriel certainly has his nasty moments, too.

Efrat: I’m still not over the purple towel comment… *laughing!*

Seriously now – control is also a theme that occurs in GI/GR and I think this is one of the reasons why SR underscored this book so much, and why he wanted us to read it. Because your own sense of control is *always* false - there will always be bigger and greater things that you cannot control. Gabriel realizes this the hard way in Rapture when his well-thought-out plans crumble, simply because he wasn’t as omniscient as he thought he was, and couldn’t control all the variables.

In The End of The Affair, Maurice realizes that this greater force is God, whether he liked Him or not. In GI/GR, Gabriel realizes it is Love, and later on recognizes faith as a healing agent when he has a spiritual awakening in Assisi. Notice that Maurice's and Gabriel's stories end differently - Maurice ends up resenting God (although believing He exists) while Gabriel ends up more faithful.

Or, perhaps like Terry said before – it’s fate; because accepting your fate requires relinquishing your control, or sense of control.

Terry: I think this is where you and I disagree, ladies. I’ve always viewed Gabriel as very faithful and certainly a believer. He says so several times. He constructs himself as a sinner, and to believe in sin means to believe in its antithesis, which is God. What I find so endearing about him is that he is so fascinated with Julia’s unquestioning belief. He’s world-weary and looking for answers; she sees the good always (sometimes to her detriment.) Gabriel is already a believer, so he’s not a parallel to Maurice, in my opinion.

Thank you again for reading! We welcome your comments.

Part III will be posted on Friday, Feb. 28.


Renata said...

Another great post, Ladies.

This form of construction is very interesting post, it seems that we are hearing you talk. The opinions are so clear and deep that neither makes you want to say anything, just listen. anyway, I believe that when you publish something really wish others to read and talk us about it. I agree with Terry. Gabriel, in my opinion, has always been a believer and that it can be considered different from Maurice. Gabriel always considered sinful and, therefore, one can say that he is a believer. Had faith. What, in my opinion, lacked hope and trust in God's love and the possibility of redemption and forgiveness, which he found, in my opinion, in Assisi, also as a result of the merit of his sacrifice shares in favor of Julia. note that we can say that the sin of vanity and pride can make you think that your sin can be greater than the love and mercy of God. Maurice, in my opinion, nourishes a selfish love towards Sarah, where the only goal is the satisfaction of his desire to be with her. he does not love her more than himself, not the love to the point of wanting her happiness first even if it is not on his side. is another type (or stage) of feeling, in my opinion.Well, it is a complex subject and my English is not as it should be, so I'm hoping that the three of you understand me and forgive me the mistakes. thank you again. Maybe I still go back to review other times ... ;)

Jdt said...

Hello Ladies! You made my day actually with both your post!

I must say I agree with Terrys last comment, I see Gabriel as a believer, a man with faith. He sees himself as a sinner, not worthy, and hates himself. For finding peace within himself he is strugeling after redemption. Gabriel in my heart and mind is a faithful character saved by love, hope and faith.
Maurice makes a total change from non believer to believe in God but also resenting him. I think/feel that by SR weaves or mention this book, is to remind the reader that love or life is something that we can not take for granted. Or maybe when you deepened your faith you don't need to have the sense of control you had before, you just flow by and are content.

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

Xoxo /Judith

Unknown said...

Great post as usual! I agree with Terry. I don't see Maurice's love/hate emotion with God as a complex one.I don't think he was ever a non-believer. To me, it's a basic human emotion we all experience at one time or another. When you were young, you might hate your parent because they won't allow you to do something you desperately want to do, yet you still love them. You might even say you hate God for taking a loved one from you before their time, and yet, you still pray to him knowing they're at peace and without pain anymore. Gabriel was never a non-believer because he always saw himself as a sinner.
Thanks again for your insightful views.

nana7 said...

Thank you ladies for doing this. I think it's great that you explore the books, art, and places in the Gabriel series. I'm waiting for our local library to have this book available.

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