Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Rage To Live

I have this weakness for John O'Hara. It's not a weakness, though, that I admit to when with others, because his novels are maximalist and pull you slowly into their time and place, and so are not novels that you - if you're of the sort that likes to have regular colonic irrigations, and lunch regularly on pasta salad and white wine, and listen to Vivaldi - would enjoy, ie novels that have nothing unnecessary in them, that are cerebral, and cause you to think how clever the author is.

One of the main characters in "A Rage To Live" - the John O'Hara novel I'm in the middle of - is Grace Caldwell-Tate, a Pennsylvania society matron from Old Money, who is married to Sidney Tate (also from Old Money) with whom she has three children.

Despite being contentedly married, Grace, who is thirtyish and a good-looker, has a passionate affair with Roger Bannon, a rough and roguish building contractor who, before the affair began, she knew had recently beaten up a prostitute. Also, Grace, when Roger had begun showing an interest in her, told him he was the sort of man she hated and despised.

Nonetheless there was an occasion when she agreed to give him a lift in her motor car to somewhere-or-other in the vicinity because he had no other means of getting there. During the ride Roger told Grace how much he was crazy about her. Whereupon she drove the motor car to somewhere secluded, invited Roger into her arms, and before long they were Going At It in the back seat.

Not particularly outlandish for a married woman to do today, you'll be thinking. However, this was in 1917, which means that Grace and Roger were of the Victorian (or, if you insist, the Clevelandian or Harrisonian) generation, who were noted for being extremely prim and proper. Grace risked social and financial ruin should she be caught with Roger. Nonetheless she wanted to see him again after she and he had emerged from the back seat of her motor car.

So, Grace and Roger contrived to meet whenever and wherever they could, and to Go At It. They weren't caught overtly, but tongues began wagging. Roger, realising that the affair wouldn't last long, signed up to go off to war (this was the time of World War One), and the affair ended.

When Sidney Tate, Grace's husband, heard the rumours about her and Roger, he was none too pleased. So none too pleased was he that, as had Roger, he signed up to go off to war, and told Grace that after he came back, it wouldn't be to her. 

Grace told Sidney he was being silly because her thing with Roger had been purely physical, and that she and Roger would never Go At It again. It was over, finished. She loved Sidney, and only Sidney, and would always, she said. Why should he lose his home, and his children and all he held dear just on account of his hurt pride?

Sidney wasn't persuaded by Grace's entreaties, and the marriage effectively ended.

***

Had Sidney been a man of today instead of one of 1917, he likely would have stayed with Grace. However, in 1917 married men just weren't as forgiving of their wives Going At It with other men as they are today. No doubt this was because almost no married women of that time Went At It with other men. Maybe point zero zero zero of one percent did - next to nothing. So, Grace's Going At It  with Roger was an anomaly.

Even today, only fifteen percent of married women Go At It with other men while still married. So that eighty five percent Go At It only with the men they had solemnly vowed to Love, Honour and Obey.

***

As I said earlier, I'm only in the middle of "A Rage To Live", and so have much reading still to do, for it's a big novel. I'm enjoying it so much that I'm not looking forward to when I finish it.

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