Writing for Immortality – or Not

Electronically leafing through the issue of “Life Magazine” dated August 4, 1952, we came across a ten-page spread about an industrialist/author named Henry Yorke during his day job and Henry Green when he wrote.
The “Life” spread was timed to coincide with the U.S. issuance of Green’s novel DOTING by Viking Press.

It was his ninth book and he was a successful author in his day, as well as a friend to writers like Evelyn Waugh and W.H. Auden. DOTING garnered good reviews:

DOTING has some of the best moments of comedy Mr. Green has yet written.” — Times Literary Supplement
Pain gives a maniacal edge to the wild laughter that lies between the absurd lines.” — V.S. Pritchett, New Yorker
“There is possibly no novelist in business who punctures human pretensions quite so subtly as Henry Green. . . . ” — Atlantic Monthly

Told almost entirely in dialogue, DOTING is a comedy of manners that draws a distinction between those who love and those who dote, which is to say are fond. Set in post-World War II London, the book depicts a series of affairs among five characters, led by middle-aged and married Arthur Middleton, who becomes infatuated with a younger woman.

Green saw himself as a writing pioneer. The “Life” article says he was interested in reducing the novel form to its essentials. Says “Life,” Green “like Hemingway in the early short stories, refused to describe his characters at all, he has made pioneer explorations of all the ways in which they can describe themselves.” (This, by the way, is pretty much accepted writing practice now. Writers are often advised to keep description to a minimum.)

Today, there seem to be all of four copies of DOTING available on Amazon, only one a new reprint. Few, if any of us, have heard of Green, and maybe that would have been okay with him. He generally hid behind his pseudonym and shunned the limelight for his writing. But for writers who dream that their work will live on after they are gone, Green is an object lesson. His novel which he said in “Life” was “an advanced attempt to break up the old-fashioned type of novel” seems hopelessly old-fashioned now. Below is an excerpt taken from a 2001 article in the New York Times:

”All I mean is,” her husband patiently explained ”it must be an entirely different matter, my taking the girl out and a man like Charles to do so. I’m married, for one thing. Everyone knows I’m safe as houses. Whereas Charles, well, he’s just a voluptuary.”
”What’s that, darling?”
”Oh well, let it pass. I’m sorry I ever introduced them, now.”
”You did! But how tiresomely stupid of you, Arthur. You should have known you’d lose her by so doing!”
”You can’t lose what you haven’t got,” the husband objected.
”We won’t go into that again. Not in this crowded place! Yet why are you still sorry?”
”I am for little Ann, because Charles is the man he’s turned out to be.”
”I see, Arthur. So you don’t meet Ann, now?”
”No. And do you ever see Charles?”
”No more, no more!” his wife wailed comically. At which they both laughed in a rather shamefaced way at each other.
”In spite of all your tricks I love you, darling,” Mr. Middleton told his wife.
”You’re a wicked old romantic,” she said, beaming back at him.
”Enough of a one to put a spoke in your works every now and again.”
”Oh don’t worry,” she announced. ”I haven’t done with Charles yet, not by a long chalk!”

The “Life” spread on Green is at the link below: