Temptations of the craftsman in middle age: diabolical art and Christian vocation in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold.
He is not a Catholic landed gentleman pretending to be an author. He is an author pretending to be a Catholic landed gentleman. But why, you may ask, should he not be both? Because they are not compatible.
J. B. Priestley, "What Was Wrong with Pinfold"
Drunkenness, despair and suicide among artists comes [sic] from their concentration on the task rather than on their own souls. Evelyn Waugh, Diaries
EVELYN Waugh's The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, that "conversation piece' drawn,, as the author confessed, from his own "brief bout of hallucination in 1954 (Waugh, Ordeal n.pag.), has from the first moved critics to consider the man as much as the work. (1) Yet as Priestley's remarks, published a month after its first appearance, make clear, this is also a text that has its biographical foundations serve as an investigation of the artist's proper task. Priestley's response to this exploration is diagnostic; he presents the madness of protagonist and creator as rooted in a spurious faith and in the fundamental inconsistency of religious belief and literary endeavour. While Waugh soon turned Priestley's ad hominizing argumentation against him, (2) he did so by sidestepping this most serious of charges, suggesting that "what gets Mr. Priestley's goat [...] is my attempt to behave like a gentleman" (Essays 527), not a Catholic. Waugh's response notwithstanding, I maintain Priestley accurately identifies the central conflict of loyalties that lies at the heart of Pinfold's trial. The Ordeal is no simple memoir of madness, nor merely an accomplished author's meditation on his art. It is, additionally and crucially, a novel that asks how faith and art might be made part of a single vocation--whether Waugh's own attraction to craft is compatible with his being a Catholic writer--a question much on his mind in the post-war period, as his blunt mission statement in "Fan-Fare" makes clear: "in my future books there will be two things to make them unpopular: a preoccupation with style and the attempt to represent man more fully, which, to me, means only one thing, man in his relation to God" (Essays 302).
This prospectus already entails two, not necessarily related, aims: an insistence upon literary form, on the one hand, and a commitment to a specifically Christian content, on the other. Waugh certainly understood that stylistic excellence could make a masterpiece of work hostile to belief; "[w]e remember the false judgments of Voltaire and Gibbon [...]," he maintains, "because of their sharp, polished form and because of the sensual pleasure of dwelling on them" (Essays 479). Yet while Priestley contends that lunacy threatens Pinfold/Waugh because art cannot be yoked to belief, Waugh's text instead demonstrates that, as my second epigraph suggests, madness and worse threaten him who would divorce the task of art from an active Christian life, who would pursue aesthetic excellence at the expense of the soul's call to communion with its fellows and its God. Thus, while many have affirmed Julie Labay-Morere's claim that the novel works to marginalize, or even subvert, the faith of its hero and author (87), (3) I agree with Gene Phillips that The Ordeal represents "a perfect extension of the religious vision which permeates Waugh's later works" (149). This it does precisely as it allies the reduction of art to craft, not communication, with a retreat from charitable communion with others, condemning mere aestheticism as morally false and spiritually dangerous.
Indeed, having withdrawn from a contemporary world he loathes, Waugh's alter-ego pursues his art as a form of escape: a solitary amusement for himself in the contrivance of objects that forge no communicative bonds between himself and others. But in this rejection of communion, Pinfold surrenders himself to fictions he cannot control, to the hallucinations that torment him over the course of his flight from the world, and into his work, aboard the S. S. Caliban. Autonomous art emerges as scourge, not shelter, a series of perhaps literally diabolical taunts and temptations that only further alienate him from others and from God. Waugh, as Catholic, reveals an orthodox understanding that "the Church is communion; she is the communion of the Word and Body of Christ and is thus communion among men" (Ratzinger 76). Pinfold's flawed aesthetic thus involves spiritual peril. But The Ordeal also demonstrates Waugh's conviction that his literature itself, if it is not to fail aesthetically, must be communicative and communicant, as committed to the second half of "Fan-Fare"'s agenda as to the first. Thus, by abandoning self-sufficient art and reaching out in love to others, Pinfold is not only freed from the demonic power of bad fictions, he is also empowered to take possession of self and world in a successful act of authorship. By returning to a properly Christian vocation, Pinfold is restored as author of a fiction that mitigates his own aestheticism and offers a powerful rebuttal to Priestley's claim that literature and faith are incompatible.
Priestley's review does, however, demonstrate how the novel's autobiographical sources have captivated such critical attention as this book has received. While Martin Stannard insists that it offers "a rich diet for future critics" (Later Years 397), scholars, as yet, have proved an abstemious lot, focusing primarily on the text's relationship to Waugh's own drug-induced breakdown of 1954. Long a self-medicating insomniac, Waugh applied liberal doses of bromide and alcohol; these had, by 1953, exacted a heavy toll. As biographer Selina Hastings reports, his state matched Pinfold's initial malaise almost perfectly: "His face was swollen and congested, the back of his hands frequently mottled with an angry red; he lacked energy, was growing deaf, and suffered from toothache, sciatica and rheumatism" (560). Hoping a change of climate might address the last of these symptoms, Waugh boarded the Staffordshire, sailing from Liverpool to Colombo, on January 29, 1954 (Patey 325). While aboard, forced into withdrawal from bromide, Waugh, like Pinfold, moved quickly from "bromide toxicity to delirium and then to psychosis" (Hurst and Hurst 261), (4) experiencing, as Sykes documents (482-86), many of the hallucinations Pinfold suffers. On his return, still hearing voices, Waugh, after consultation with Father Philip Caraman and psychiatrist Eric Strauss, was diagnosed with bromide poisoning (Hastings 564-65), an explanation which, by itself, worked to quiet the voices that had plagued him on his voyage.
Interestingly, the newly cured Waugh was anything but reticent about his recent experience. Indeed, he seemed eager to broadcast the news. Soon after his return to England, he wrote Nancy Mitford to report he had "been suffering from a sharp but brief attack of insanity" (Letters 421), news rehearsed to Mary Lygon that June: "I lost my reason in February but got some of it back in March" (426). What he confessed to intimates Waugh was also, uncharacteristically, ready to share with readers. Not only did he inform American audiences, in the Author's Note cited above, and Britons, on the dust-jacket of the first edition, that Pinfold's "bout of hallucination" was equally his; he also responded to mail from readers suffering similar ordeals, confirming to one such that Pinfold's experiences "were almost exactly my own" (493). All of this meant that The Ordeal was received in the first instance as virtual reportage. As Douglas Patey observes, reviewers took Waugh's frank disclosure of the work's genesis as an invitation "to treat the book as a confession rather than a novel, and so to offer not literary criticism but psychological analysis" (339). This invitation, accepted by Priestley, has remained tempting for critics of subsequent decades. Thus, in 1985, Robert Kloss would read the text as symptomatic of clinical paranoia, a condition rooted in Waugh's repression of his homosexuality (99), while Stephen Post's 1990 psychoanalysis traces his madness to ambivalent passions centred upon a remote mother (175). R. Neill Johnson deploys Lacan to reach rather similar conclusions, namely that the novel is about the fantastic construction of ordeals that permit Pinfold/Waugh to establish his virility (18-19). (5)
Yet, for all its debt to the biography and psyche of Evelyn Waugh, the novel not only remains just that, but also, as James Lynch notes, pointedly recasts Waugh's mental breakdown into "an artistic crisis" for the book's author-hero (543). As Robert Murray Davis has expertly shown, the relationship between life and manuscript, or even manuscript and published text, is scarcely one of substantive identity (282-84); far from being a simple transcription of actual events, the composition of The Ordeal reveals Waugh the artist as he omits, revises, and recasts for aesthetic effect. While it may, then, give us "Waugh himself to the life, pinning himself down more stylishly than ever his critics did" (Myers 104), it is also, as such peers as Graham Greene and Anthony Powell were quick to recognize, a masterful work of fiction in its own right (Stannard, Later Years 396). What's more, as the self-conscious and allusive character of the novel's opening "Portrait of the Artist in Middle Age" suggests, this artfully framed work is at least as much a reflection on Waugh's art as on his life, or more accurately on how that art might help or hinder the Christian life he understands himself called to live. Certainly, as the novel opens, we are introduced to a protagonist who is failing to answer this call fully. Equally important, Pinfold's failures are explicitly related, in Waugh's first chapter, to his understanding and pursuit of his literary vocation. If, in other words, The Ordeal is a study of the artist, as such, it is nonetheless committed to exploring how certain conceptions of art may hobble both the work and the life of the Catholic writer.
THUS what Waugh gleefully dubbed "the barmy book" (Letters 477) opens with no obvious prelude to mental breakdown but with a stately meditation on Pinfold's work and its place in literary history. What defines both Waugh's middle-aged novelist and his epoch is a literature marked less by its content, or even its status as communicative act, than by its stylistic refinement and its offer of just those pleasures a Gibbon or Voltaire might afford. Of Pinfold's day, we read that, "[t]he originators, the exuberant men, are extinct and in their place subsists and modestly flourishes a generation notable for elegance and variety of contrivance" (Ordeal 3). Significantly, this gloss on Pinfold's writerly vocation foregrounds craft at the expense of any sense of the literary work as a communicative bridge between self and other. Pinfold heartily endorses such emphasis: "He regarded his books as objects which he made, things quite external to himself to be used and judged by others" (4). Nor are such thoughts on the nature of fiction themselves divorced from autobiography; even in its reflections on art, The Ordeal may be seen to point us back to the life and opinions of the artist. In a BBC interview of 1953, which itself finds fictional expression in chapter one, Waugh, when asked whether he had some message to impart in his writing, demurred in Pinfold-esque terms: "I wish to make a pleasant object. I think any work of art is something exterior to oneself' ("Frankly"). Seven years earlier, in "Fan-Fare," Waugh professed that artful writing is "an end in itself' (Essays 302), not a means or a medium for some message. For the Waugh of the 1950s, style, not substance, was "of the essence of a work of art" (478). In 1946, Waugh argued that it was the fate of middle-aged writers like Pinfold to "become prophets or hacks or aesthetes. [...] I am no prophet and, I hope, no hack" (302). Pinfold's view of art existing for its own sake thus has deep roots in the self-understanding of his creator.
Nonetheless, it is worth noting that this firm insistence on the work's autonomy seems rather at odds with a book which goes out of its way to declare its roots in the author's life and which, even in its discussion of aestheticism, points us to Waugh's own opinions. As Labay-Morere observes, this is itself a book in which it is "impossible to ignore the autobiographical dimension" (89). The novel itself thus contradicts, as Malcolm Bradbury has argued, the very aestheticist position its protagonist cherishes, revealing his work to be not external to him but "the product of the irrationality and chaos within himself' (171). Just as the novel's opening tribute to "elegance of contrivance" in fact offers rather muted praise for the "modest" flourishing of Pinfold's generation, so in the tension between Pinfold as aesthetician and The Ordeal as work, we may see something other than a simple endorsement of the art-for-art's-sake aesthetic Waugh often espoused. Indeed, this tension is the very lens through which Waugh lets us see Pinfold's emerging sickness. The question of art is itself, in significant measure, the introduction to his madness, in ways which raise grave questions concerning Pinfold's own literary ideals.
Certainly, this overture makes clear that, for Waugh's alter-ego, literature is about constructing objects whose virtues lie in the manner of their execution, not in the substance of what they convey or in the destination to which they bear it. As artifacts, not utterances, they serve as diversions, but not, in the view of the Pinfold who rebuffs all inquiry into his work (Ordeal 4), as sites for communion between self and world. Apart from anything else, this early description of Pinfold as artist calls attention to a tidy congruence between his aesthetic and the life he leads. For if Pinfold's work forges no bonds of community between author and audience, so his life comprises a series of retreats from communion with his fellow men. "Since the end of the war," the narrator tells us, "his life had been strictly private" (6). He rejects his age and pursues a morally dubious disengagement from the world: "He abhorred plastics, Picasso, sunbathing and jazz--everything in fact that had happened in his own lifetime.
The tiny kindling of charity which came to him through his religion sufficed only to temper his disgust and change it to boredom" (11-12). As his diminished charity can do no more than turn odium to tedium, so it fails to move him to seek out new relationships, to nourish those he has, or to fulfill more civic roles. Having retreated from modernity to the rustic haven of Lychpole, Pinfold takes "very lightly the duties which he might have thought incumbent on him. He contributed adequate sums to local causes but he had no interest in sport or in local government" (6). Nor does he see himself as part of a larger, national community, having "never voted in a parliamentary election" (6). That he and his wife retreat, as winter settles in, to but two heated rooms is thus an apt reflection of the in-turned life that Pinfold seeks (25). Indeed, identity and art merge for Pinfold in just such a turning away from communion, as the novel presents his persona itself as his most notable work: "the part for which he cast himself was a combination of eccentric don and testy colonel and he acted it strenuously [...] until it came to dominate his whole outward personality. [...] He offered the world a front of pomposity mitigated by indiscretion that was as hard, bright and antiquated as a cuirass" (13). Pinfold's very self is thus captive to a fiction he has authored to serve as breastplate against any who might wish to touch his heart.
WAUGH'S portrait of the artist as recluse presents this armored existence, as much as the pharmacological soup with which Pinfold likewise keeps the world at bay, as the source of that spiritual and artistic, and not just physical, malaise with which his tale deals. While it is true, as the Hursts argue, that the novel offers "a detailed account of [...] bromide psychosis" and so provides a physiological cause for Pinfold's delusions, as much as for his bodily ailments (260), it is perhaps less accurate to declare, as they do, that "bromism is exactly what we are dealing with" here (262). Just as the novel is more concerned with anatomizing Pinfold's art than his medicine chest, so it offers up his moral and spiritual failings as playing an important role in his swift decline. Indeed, from the perspective of the faith he professes, both Pinfold's art and his life seem gravely ill-formed. As Waugh's friend Rev. Ronald Knox observes, communion is foundational to the Catholicism Pinfold shares with his creator: "man finds himself, for supernatural purposes, not as a lonely unit, but as a member of a body corporate" (3). To be a member of the Church Waugh so vigorously embraced is, in other words, to open the self up to communion with Christ in the Eucharist, but also with all those who form that body corporate of the Church. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger writes, Pinfold's Church is quintessentially this twofold act of communion, "the dynamic process of horizontal and vertical unification" with one's fellow communicants and one's God (76). This means that the Christian is called not just to find herself, but to give herself, in loving relation to others, on the model of Christ himself: "Communion means that the seemingly uncrossable frontier of my 'I' is left wide open and can be so because Jesus has first allowed himself to be opened completely" (37). Whatever his occasional claims regarding the uncommunicative nature of his art, Waugh was acutely aware that such communion was the substance of his faith; he often celebrated just this fact. Reporting, for example, on the 1938 Eucharistic Congress in Budapest, he delights in the community forged by the teeming, international assembly: "It was just these crowds, so diverse and so unified, which formed one of the most inspiring spectacles" (Essays 237). Likewise, his 1949 account of his 1930 conversion begins by relating how he, "on firm intellectual conviction but with little emotion" (368), was received into the Church, but concludes with a warm appeal to the reader to "come inside," to join a living community and learn what "the simplest actual member of the Communion of Saints" enjoys (368).
Waugh, then, clearly understood his faith as communion, in both ecclesial and sacramental terms. Yet it is precisely this sense of himself as in communion with others that Pinfold and his aesthetic reject. This rejection is made plain from the outset in the novel's presentation of his identity and his art; it thus helps frame the physical deterioration the first two chapters chronicle. Insofar as he makes "copious use of wine and narcotics" in an attempt to keep the world and others at bay (Ordeal 29), it provides some account for his physical afflictions. But the novel is concerned also to underscore how his comprehensive refusal of communion carries dire spiritual consequences. In this sense, the fact that Pinfold judges the feast of Christmas "always the worst season," a "dread week" to be spent in the seclusion of an alcoholic haze (29), is telling, indeed. While his eagerness, during the holiday, to avoid contact with his children underlines his consistent retreat from intimacy, it also foregrounds how such flight involves a moral cost: a failure of love. Indeed, the novel presents the refusal of communion which finds expression in Pinfold's aesthetic, as well as in his life, as a form of sinfulness, a failure of that essential Christian virtue of charity that leads him near heterodoxy. Thus, we read how "at the very time when the leaders of his Church were exhorting their people to emerge from the catacombs into the forum, [...] and to regard worship as a corporate rather than a private act, Mr. Pinfold burrowed ever deeper in to the rock" (10).
The bestializing language of this passage carries its own less than flattering judgment on Pinfold's pursuit of isolation. In fact, seeking out always "the least frequented Mass" (10), Pinfold strives to live a Catholic faith without that communion his creator understood as definitive of the Church. (6) While this refusal of community mirrors his literary practice, it also, I argue, emphasizes for us the misguided character of his treatment of his art as an escape from, rather than act of, communication. Waugh himself, for all the attraction the role of aesthete clearly held for him, could see that this refusal of community and communication might be problematic for his art. In a 1938 essay, he describes the popularity among writers of retreat to the countryside and concludes "it is a bad thing for literature," as it robs authors of a salutary community of their peers (Essays 257). Similarly, the 1955 article which declares style the sine qua non of literary art also deems a lucidity that recognizes literature's communicative function as a key component of style; in fact, Waugh there condemns no less a stylist than Joyce for failing "this task of communication" (478). Certainly, Pinfold's renunciations of relatedness come under critical scrutiny precisely as they are tied in the book's opening pages to his sickness and to the steady decline of his spiritual health. Having decided that what will cure him of his physical ills is an escape from others on the chaplainfree Caliban (Ordeal 52), Pinfold cannot rouse himself for Mass on the Sunday before his departure (34), itself a grave shirking of Catholic obligation. Moreover, he is uncivil to his mother; though "[i]n childhood Mr. Pinfold had loved her extravagantly[, t]here remained now only a firm pietas" for a woman, with whom he no longer "wished to communicate" (37). Even his wife's worried offer to travel with him is rebuffed (39). Having distanced himself from filial and conjugal love, Pinfold, once embarked, is finally unable to reach out in loving faith to his God: "prayerless, he got himself to bed" (42). (7)
Thus ever more delinquent in terms of moral and religious duties, Pinfold goes forth to his ordeal on the Caliban (a name which already flags for us the literary dimensions of that ordeal), the novel having linked his aesthetic of non-engagement to a whole series of refusals of relationship. In this way, the first two chapters work to vindicate the narrator's caveat that "[h]is trade by its nature is liable to the condemnation of the clergy as, at the best, frivolous; at the worst, corrupting" (10). And just as his spiritual failings emulate his practice of his art, so too his sufferings on the Caliban are presented as a surrender to fictions--hallucinations--he cannot control. For even before his departure, Pinfold's retreat into self and art--into self as art--is shown to have robbed him of creative agency. Work on his latest novel has stalled (25); indeed, a central ambition for his trip is that he will be able to resume writing en route: "I can always work at sea" (33). Yet by the time of his embarkation, he is literally incapable of writing; sitting down to compose a letter of apology to his mother, he finds "[t]he task [...] one of insuperable difficulty" (40). In fact, the voices that plague him on his journey not only prevent his return to literary work (200); they even prevent him from reading others' (e.g., 49, 94). Thus, Pinfold's conception of his literary vocation as an escape from communion not only compromises his spiritual state; it also undermines his art, and leaves him a slave to others' fictions, not master and creator of his own. In his delusions, he loses himself in a realm of bad writing which threatens not just his art, but his life and his soul, as well. That Pinfold's "voices" are dysfunctional art, fictions he takes for truth, is perhaps obvious. Nonetheless, this is a point the text is at some pains to underscore for its reader; in so doing, it stresses how an aesthetic at war with the Christian call to communion is a key source of Pinfold's own passion play.
If Waugh's choice of Caliban for his ship, or Pinfold's of "Goneril" as title for the most malicious of his voices, hints that Pinfold might be sailing to a Byzantium of canonical high art, this illusion is quickly dispelled. As Labay-Morere justly observes, "[m]any episodes in Pinfold resound with burlesque overtones which ridicule sentimental drama" (86). In other words, the craftsman's identification with an art which is itself the loftiest of ends, leaves him adrift on a sea of derivative hackwork he cannot control. The voices that proceed to taunt him for the rest of his trip are aesthetically dubious, the stuff of pulp fiction and melodrama. Indeed, what he suffers aboard the Caliban is what one of the voices--an imagined BBC reviewer--denounces his own work for being: a set of fictions marked by "conventionality of plot; falseness of characterization; morbid sentimentality; gross and hackneyed farce, alternating with grosser and more hackneyed melodrama; cloying religiosity [and] an adventitious and offensive sensuality that is clearly introduced for commercial motives" (Ordeal 88). While these failings do not define Waugh's complex Ordeal, they do fairly capture the implausible scenarios that constitute Pinfold's hallucinations. Indeed, these illusions take him on a virtual tour through debased popular cultural forms of his day, through the staples less of Shakespearean tragedy or romance than of religious melodramas, lurid potboilers, spy thrillers, dewy love stories, and whodunit detective novels.
Thus the first elaborate set-piece Pinfold "overhears" is a dialogue between unchaste Billy and his evangelical pastor. While Jeffrey Heath may be correct to claim that this Dissenter's form of pseudo-confession would, for Waugh, already reveal the Caliban as defined by a "barbaric faith" (262), what is certainly true is that this scene is staged as such--as a bit of drama of the hammiest sort; that is, it is presented as failed art. And if Billy's pathetic sobs and his pastor's purple counsel do not alert us, Waugh's narrator is careful to trace its less than sterling literary pedigree for us, informing us that "[Pinfold's] ideas of nonconformity derived from literature, from Mr. Chadband and Philip Henry Gosse, from charades and from back numbers of Punch" (Ordeal 50). Here, as well as in more Catholic vignettes of prayerful consolation in a subsequent hallucination (66), cloying religiosity is much in evidence, and stands as evidence of these illusions' status as bad art. This first act is swiftly followed by that grosser melodrama mentioned above, the gruesome scene of torture and murder enacted by the illusory Captain and the harpy whom Pinfold dubs Goneril. A drama rooted in "personal, physical cruelty" (81), this hallucination is also shot through with offensive sensuality, as Goneril cheers on the Captain's brutality "with undisguised erotic enjoyment" (82): "More. More. Again. Again. Again" (83). Once again, Waugh's novel identifies this play--and distances itself from it--as derivative pulp, a tale "which might have come straight from the kind of pseudo-American thriller [Pinfold] most abhorred" (81-82). His ordeal on the Caliban, then, is presented from the outset not just in terms of his believing fictions to be true, but in terms of his losing himself to art of the worst sort.
STILL other genres play their part in this loss, not just of communion, but of self and vocation. Indeed, the whole of chapter five, with its elaborate plot of Spanish blockades at Gibraltar, British secret agents, and patriotic self-sacrifice, might be torn from the pages of John Buchan or one of his lesser imitators. Here, indeed, Pinfold moves still deeper into the waters of illusion, no longer simply listening to dramas played out elsewhere, but finding himself an active role in them: "He had been chosen as victim. That doom was inescapable. But he would go to the sacrifice a garlanded hero" (140). This intensifying immersion in others' texts continues as the generic register moves from spy novel to Laurentian love story in chapter six. (8) Here, in a lurid, faux-bridal set-piece, Pinfold not only hears Margaret professing her love for him while her parents ready her for its consummation, he also becomes aware that this invisible cast of characters is able to "hear" him, to listen and respond to his thoughts. Pinfold has left England to recover his health in solitary craft, but in this sundering has only plunged himself further into an unreal world that undoes him as author. Most of what he "hears" is flawed fiction, a fact that highlights how his ordeal is the fruit of his flight into uncommunicative craft, a flight that threatens his art as it exacerbates his rejection of communion.
Indeed, the most dangerous of the popular fictions in which his journey deals is that detective story by which he attempts to make sense of all these voices, to create for himself a rational account for all these implausible scenes. His persistence in playing sleuth--seeking a logical explanation for these voices he can hear from afar, for their apparent malice, for their ability to hear his thoughts, even after he has left the ship--leads him perversely deeper into error, as he thereby insists on the truth of these illusions. This process, modeled on a literary genre, threatens his final immurement in the madness which is life as art. (9) Pinfold experiences a moment of triumph when he feels he has cracked the case, putting aside earlier explanations for the voices in terms of faulty intercoms in favor of a new story in which the family of the hostile BBC interviewer from chapter one deploys an experimental telepathy machine, akin to the Box used as a healing contraption by his neighbours back home, (10) "to psychoanalyse [him]" (199, Waugh's italics). That so fantastic a tale is taken as truth reveals how dangerously lost in art Pinfold has become. It proves, too, that his attempt to seal himself up in his craft has ultimately left him lost to art as well. This outlandish "solution" goes hand in hand, as he admits, with his continued inability to write: "All they have done is to stop my working" (200, Waugh's italics). More than this, as a fiction as implausible and melodramatic as the hallucinations themselves, it offers proof of the aesthetic costs of misdirected craft; even his efforts to reclaim agency through narrative produce mad plots that offer only the sensation that "he had come to the end of an ingenious, old-fashioned detective novel" (186-7) to compensate for more firmly imprisoning him in isolation and falsehood.
Thus while Joseph Hynes maintains that Pinfold is ultimately saved from madness by self-reliance (66), the novel makes clear that Pinfold's attempts to save himself through reason and art, through craft alone, only worsen his condition. Even as he abandons the sleeping draught two days out (Ordeal 72), and so begins a physical recovery which sees the end of his rheumatism and his flushed complexion (83; 87), he becomes ever more cut off from others, from truth and from the hope of health. Just as the novel's opening suggests that his malaise is born of a disdain for communion and an embrace of hermetic art, so his retreat into fiction aboard the Caliban engenders only intensified alienation from others. The voices that torment him actively work to sever whatever ties he might forge with his fellow travelers. Unable to make sense of his wild talk of hidden pets, cursing stewards, or murder at sea, Pinfold's shipmates are kept at a distance (e.g., 53-56; 90-93). Later, he views his fellow passengers as conspirators, circulating "overheard" malicious rumors about his politics, his drinking, his ethnicity, and his sexuality (144-156). The work of these illusions, then, is to foster mistrust and suspicion, and so to exacerbate his established tendency to inwardness. Indeed, the actual community aboard the Caliban is finally blotted out by the fictional characters whose identities and intentions come to obsess Pinfold absolutely: "Living and moving and eating now quite alone, barely nodding to Glover or Mrs. Scarfield, Mr. Pinfold listened and spoke only to his enemies and hour by hour, day by day, night by night, carefully assembled the intricate pieces of a plot altogether more modern and horrific than anything in the classic fictions of murder" (187-8). In this way, the degraded art Pinfold has embraced increasingly seals him up in the prison of the self, a condition which only intensifies the power of the voices themselves. This power is not only their object, but something of which they are keenly jealous. Pinfold is most exposed to their fury when he threatens it by communicating with real people who might expose and correct his delusions. Thus when he speaks to the Captain about "hoaxes" being played on him, the angry voices warn against "bring[ing] other people into our business" (184), and a letter to his wife confessing his ordeal is met with a "[w]e'll give you hell for this" (202).
If this vicious circle of ever escalating isolation threatens Pinfold with madness, and so with a final break from a world shared with others, it also clearly moves him toward the severance of ties to his faith, as well. Put simply, it is not just Pinfold's reason, but his soul which is in danger. As we have seen in his relations with his mother and children, his retreat from others already involves a dereliction of the Christian duty to charity and compassion. On the ship he boards to be more fully alone with his art, however, the voices push Pinfold toward more specific immoral acts. These apparitions seek not only to alienate Pinfold from his fellows, but to prevent religious observance and to drive him to mortal sin. First, they succeed in extending that abandonment of prayer which coincides with his embarkation. While chapter six has him "for the first time in three days" actually saying prayers before bed (164), this attempt at communion is short-lived. We later read that "[h]e had given up any attempt at saying his prayers; the familiar, hallowed words provoked a storm of blasphemous parody from Goneril" (195). Again, the object is to sever relations and thwart communication, this time with God.
A similar end may be discerned in the voices' efforts to tempt Pinfold to other sins at odds with his Church's teachings. Thus, while he has always been faithful to his wife (169), Pinfold is not immune to their offer that he take virginal and adoring, if invisible, Margaret to his bed. This weakness is, moreover, rooted in his tendency to aesthetic rather than moral standards. Even his Christian virtues seem matters of taste and so less than steady bulwarks: "He had, since his acceptance of the laws of the Church, developed what approximated to a virtuous disposition; a reluctance to commit deliberate grave sins, which was independent of the fear of hell; he had assumed a personality to which such sufficiently forbidden actions were inappropriate" (169). The adultery being considered in chapter six would most certainly count as such "deliberate grave sin" from a Catholic perspective, but what he has to shield against it is less prayer and piety than a commitment to the persona, the fiction of identity, he has forged for himself. As we have seen, this facade, crafted to keep others at bay, is less than a sure moral foundation. The flattery of Margaret's attentions make him ready to break faith with wife and Church both, and to initiate this illusory maiden into the debased tradition of erotic instruction outlined by her father: "He'll be gentler and kinder and cleaner; and then, when the right time comes, you in your turn can teach a younger man--and that's how the art of love is learned and the breed survives" (167-8). This love is far removed from the charity of communion, reduced to mere husbandry and mechanics, not just in the words of the imagined father, but in Pinfold's own planning for the sexual act itself: "But how to get her [to the bunk] silently and gracefully. How to shift her? Was she portable? He wished he knew her dimensions" (170).
If this adultery already committed in Pinfold's heart, a reduction of love to mere physical dimensions, might be counted to his discredit, the voices ultimately seek a far more deadly sin. Persistently, over the last half of his journey, Pinfold's unseen companions counsel suicide, and so not simply death but damnation, the loss not just of art and self but of his eternal soul. Waugh introduces this theme in the very first chapter, when we learn that the BBC interviewer's next subject, actor Cedric Thorne, has just been found dead by his own hand (21). Aboard the Caliban, the hallucinations urge this fate for Pinfold, as well: "You can hear me, can't you, Gilbert?" Goneril taunts him, "You wish you were dead, don't you, Gilbert? And a very good idea, too. Why don't you do it, Gilbert? Why not? Perfectly easy" (145). This is a refrain taken up with gusto for the rest of his trip, the voices insisting that, "Best place for him would be over the side" (149; see also, 148, 161, 197). As his 1938 review of a history of suicide reveals, Waugh understood it to be fundamentally antithetical to the Christian faith; indeed, he there credits Christianity with denormalizing the practice and argues that rising rates coincide precisely with the decline of religious observance in the West (Essays 224). For Waugh, the Church's teaching on this matter has always "been consistent and uncompromising" (223); this is the gravest of sins as it rejects not just a teaching but all manner of relationship with others. As Chesterton puts it, "[t]he man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world," the whole of Creation, and thus his Creator, as well (78). Far, then, from empowering him, Pinfold's retreat from relatedness into fiction only threatens him with corporeal and spiritual destruction.
PERHAPS as a means to underscore the stakes here, the novel refuses to foreclose upon a supernatural account for his ordeal. Indeed, Waugh would write after his own journey that "I do not absolutely exclude the possibility of diabolic possession as [its] source" (Letters 494). For a time, in fact, he seemed convinced by this account. Stannard reports that, after it was proved that the BBC interviewer could not be behind Waugh's afflictions, he "became convinced that he was possessed by the Devil" (Later Years 346); according to Sykes, he even appealed to Fr. Caraman to arrange an exorcism (486). Such ready belief might be attributed to his addled state, but Waugh, as an orthodox Catholic, took this possibility seriously, and far from abandoning it when he came, some years later, to draft his novel, worked instead to foreground this possibility. By means of late, authoritative revisions, The Ordeal pointedly hints that Pinfold's own trials might have their source in something other than pharmaceutical excess. Pinfold himself asks why, if the voices were all in his head, the fruit of bromism, their attacks were not more devastating: "I mean to say, if I wanted to draw up an indictment of myself, I could make a far blacker and more plausible case" (Ordeal 229). That the doctor who confirms the poisoning diagnosis bears the name Drake might also, as Johnson suggests, indicate we are meant to view his solution to be quackish rather than definitive (17). More striking is the fact that Pinfold's chief tormentor comes to be named Angel. As Davis notes, this is a very late emendation; the BBC interviewer and the shipboard family Pinfold imagines bear the name Andrews through the bulk of the manuscript (290). (11) Waugh exploits this change of name to hint that Pinfold's tormentor might be literally angelic, if fallen. Certainly, when Pinfold identifies him by this name, Angel is taken aback and expresses this in rather pregnant idiom: "'Why do you call me Angel?' he asked fiercely. 'What the devil do you mean by it?'" (Ordeal 197). To be clear, the text never definitively endorses his speculation that it is "literally the Devil who is molesting [him]" (216, Waugh's italics), but the late introduction of this diabolical element nonetheless works to underscore how rooted in spiritual dereliction Pinfold's suffering may be and how dangerous his rejection of communion in art and life really is.
THESE hints at the supernatural thus also help direct our attention to the role played in his restoration to sanity, health, and creative agency not just by communication with others, but by a return to an active faith. Davis is right to claim that "Pinfold's isolation and inability to communicate are at least symptoms if not actual causes of his problem, and only when he is able to communicate [...] is he able to quell the voices" (293). Indeed, perhaps the novel's pivotal moment comes when, for the first time since leaving port, Pinfold takes up his pen, writing to inform his wife of the awful "experiments" to which he has been subjected (Ordeal 198). In writing to recount his strange experiences, Pinfold is still trafficking in the fantasies that imprison him, but he is also using these fictions in a new way, one at odds with the aesthetic articulated at the book's outset: as a means to communicate, to reach out to a beloved other. In eliciting her concerned counsel that he return home--"Implore you return immediately" (216, Waugh's italics) reads her cabled response--Pinfold's letters home play a key role in his ultimate rescue. More immediately, his use of writing as communicative bridge empowers him to resist his tormentors and to take decisive action, such as leaving the ship at Port Said, news of which intention concludes the first letter to Mrs. Pinfold (200). The importance of communication to his cure is highlighted at the very end, when the last thing to stand in the way of his liberation is what Lane astutely dubs the "temptation" of Angel's offer to leave him in peace (115); "Just say nothing, and you'll never hear from us again," Angel assures him as they near London (Ordeal 221). This is a temptation to forego communication and to remain significantly entrenched in a world of fiction, for if he accepts this bargain, Pinfold accepts the truth of the whole Angel/BBC fantasy and remains secretly subject to the voices' power, even if they be stilled. Pinfold's refusal of this bargain, a choice in favor of communication and community, leaves Angel "a beaten man" (224), and indeed within a few pages, the voices have ceased.
With this return to health and lucidity following close on the heels of his correspondence with his wife, it is perhaps not unreasonable to conclude, with Katharyn Crabbe, that Mrs. Pinfold herself is his savior, her love "his greatest spiritual strength" (163). Certainly her readiness to meet the voices' fictions with fact--for example, that Angel of the BBC has been in England the whole time (Ordeal 225)--precipitates the final quieting of Pinfold's tormentors. Yet at least as important to his recovery is his parallel return to spiritual and sacramental communion. As Jacqueline McDonnell notes, Pinfold's is a tale not just of a sick man healed, but of "a sinner who is saved" (114). As Pinfold's malaise is marked, and even exacerbated, by his abandonment of prayer and holy obligations, so his return to both fortifies him. In this way, the Miltonic overtones of the climactic chapter--"Pinfold Regained"--are less than wholly ironic; for what the novel closes with is Pinfold's redemption as much as his cure, a specifically Christian salvation which has a saving influence on his work as well. Thus, in the second letter to his wife, Pinfold himself begins to wonder whether he might need the attention of the clergy to deal with his afflictions, writing, "it might be worth consulting Father Westmacott when I get back" (Ordeal 216, Waugh's italics). Here, communion with the beloved opens into a fuller communion, nudging Pinfold towards his Church and the faith whose observance has faltered in perfect step with his illness. But this letter also suggests that his final cure will entail ecclesial and not just human community.
This suggestion is confirmed by a very late addition. Altogether absent from the Ransom manuscript, a last-minute emendation sees Pinfold, soon after posting this second letter, attending the Mass "for the first time since he had been struck ill" (218). Given the names of his tormentors, and his growing suspicion that his trials might be diabolical, it is significant that this church is "dedicated to St. Michael and the Angels" (219). Pinfold himself notes the irony of this, yet in naming the parish in which Pinfold returns to sacramental communion after the vanquisher of Satan, Waugh is once again cuing readers to consider a spiritual account for his travails and signaling the importance of the faith to Pinfold's own triumph over his demons, however internal or external we take them to be. It is certainly the case that the most hateful of the voices cannot enter here; Angel and Goneril fall silent, and only Margaret joins him inside (219).12 What's more, this return to the Church is positioned so as to have a decisive role in Pinfold's return to home and health; the next thing we read is his arranging passage and departing for England, which suggests the empowering nature of this spiritual reconciliation (219). The homeward journey itself is recorded with extreme but charged economy, one which hints, once more, that Pinfold's peril lies in his estrangement from Christian community: "Across the Moslem world the voices of hate pursued Mr. Pinfold. It was when they reached Christendom that Angel changed his tune" (21920). Even once home, the offices of the Church seem necessary to lay the voices to rest, for if they are thrown into desperation by the solicitude of Mrs. Pinfold, it is Fr. Westmacott's words that seem finally to abjure them. When Pinfold accepts his wife's report of the priest's firm conviction that "the whole thing's utterly impossible. There just isn't any sort of invention" like the telepathy Box Pinfold imagines (226), the voices are finally stilled. Together, the use of writing as a means to community and the return to ecclesial communion work to exorcise that faulty, demonic art, to which Pinfold's idolization of craft has left him hostage.
Yet this return to faithful communion does not, as Priestley would have it, establish the incompatibility of art and belief. His liberation from his retreat into fiction means not the death, but rather the birth, of Pinfold as author. While Post maintains that his journey achieves simply "a status quo ante" (173), returning Pinfold, unchanged, to his starting point, I agree with John H. Wilson that Pinfold emerges from persecution positively changed and morally strengthened (3). He is, at minimum, changed in that he is no longer the torpid victim of writer's block we meet at the outset. The novel's final scene has Pinfold, long kept from authorship by besetting fictions, settling down "to work for the first time since his fiftieth birthday" (Ordeal 232). What he turns his pen to, here, is not the novel he had hoped to complete aboard the Caliban, but the account of his journey itself. Waugh's flamboyantly recursive last lines, which have Pinfold penning the start of the book we have just read--"The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold/A Conversation Piece/Chapter One/Portrait of the Artist in Middle Age" (232, Waugh's italics)--convey, then, not stasis, but progress. (13) By entering into communion, both secular and spiritual, Pinfold is empowered to produce an art that transcends the lurid schlock of his own ordeals--that turns those very flawed pieces into literature--and to become a creator, not a creature, of fiction. In short, the embrace of communication and communion, those things disdained by his initial aesthetic, secures his recovery and allows him to assume the mantle of novelist Priestley would deny him.
In this way, I argue, Waugh proposes that one can only fulfill a writerly vocation if one takes seriously, in art and life, the Christian call to communion. The novel dramatizes how the twofold agenda Waugh laid out in "Fan-Fare," the very article in which he first embraced writing as his vocation (Essays 302), requires giving proper priority to the second, rather than the first half--to man in relation to God, rather than to mere devotion to style (302). Waugh understood each soul as called to a personal vocation; his God "wants a different thing from each of us, [...] something which only we can do" (410). Waugh at midcentury understood his God-given task in literary terms, but this meant having to make his art, in which he took a craftsman's delight, serve a larger purpose. As he wrote in 1949, "[t]he Church does not exist in order to produce elegant preachers or imaginative writers or artists or philosophers. It exists to produce saints" (386). His pressing personal task was to take his art and make it consonant with that job, to achieve for himself the balance he saw in the career of Ronald Knox, "a man born with every aptitude and sensibility that make for literary eminence, who has without betrayal of that vocation subordinated it to, and harmonized it with, a higher" (Essays 348). The Ordeal, in its portrait of an artist tempted by craft away from charitable communion with others, warns against the spiritual and aesthetic costs of a loss of balance in such matters. In presenting loving communication and religious observance as the substance of its hero's return to health and artistry, the novel also reveals Waugh's own approximation to the model of Knox, his own full-throated proclamation that this one author at least must also be Priestley's "Catholic landed gentleman" if he is to render what service he can to his God.
Bradbury, Malcolm. "America and the Comic Vision?' Evelyn Waugh and His World. Ed. David Pryce-Jones. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1973. 165-82.
Chesterton, G. K. Orthodoxy. 1908. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995.
Crabbe, Katharyn. Evelyn Waugh. New York: Continuum, 1988.
Davis, Robert Murray. Evelyn Waugh, Writer. Norman, OK: Pilgrim Press, 1981.
"Frankly Speaking." 16 November, 1956. The Spoken Word: Evelyn Waugh. BBC, 2008.
Hadas, Pamela White. "Madness and Medicine: The Graphomaniac's Cure." Literature and Medicine 9 (1990): 181-93.
Hastings, Selina. Evelyn Waugh: A Biography. London: Vintage, 2002.
Heath, Jeffrey. The Picturesque Prison: Evelyn Waugh and His Writing. Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen's UP, 1982.
Hurst, Daniel L., and Mary Jane Hurst. "Bromide Psychosis: A Literary Case." Clinical Neuropharmacology 7.3 (1984): 259-64.
Hynes, Joseph. "Varieties of Death Wish: Evelyn Waugh's Central Theme." Criticism 14 (1972): 65-77.
Johnson, R. Neill. "Shadowed by the Gaze: Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies and The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold." Modern Language Review 91.1 (1996): 9-19.
Kloss, Robert J. "Evelyn Waugh: His Ordeal." American Imago 42.1 (1985): 99-110.
Knox, Rev. R. A. The Church on Earth. New York: Macmillan, 1929.
Labay-Morere, Julie. "'Voices at Play' in Muriel Spark's The Comforters and Evelyn Waugh's The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold." Etudes britanniques contemporaines: Revue de la societe d'etudes anglaises contemporaines 30 (2006): 83-93.
Lane, Calvin W. Evelyn Waugh. Boston: Twayne, 1981.
Lynch, James J. "Evelyn Waugh During the Pinfold Years." Modern Fiction Studies 32.4 (1986): 543-59.
McDonnell, Jacqueline. Evelyn Waugh. Macmillan Modern Novelists. Houndmills: Macmillan, 1988.
Myers, William. Evelyn Waugh and the Problem of Evil. London: Faber and Faber, 1991.
Patey, Douglas Lane. The Life of Evelyn Waugh: A Critical Biography. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.
Phillips, Gene D. Evelyn Waugh's Officers, Gentlemen and Rogues: The Fact behind His Fiction. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1975.
Post, Stephen L. "His and Hers: Mental Breakdown as Depicted by Evelyn Waugh and Charlotte Perkins Gilman." Literature and Medicine 9 (1990): 172-80.
Priestley, J. B. "What Was Wrong with Pinfold." Evelyn Waugh: The Critical Heritage. Ed. Martin Stannard. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984. 387-92.
Ratzinger, Joseph, Cardinal. Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today. Trans. Adrian Walker. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996.
Stannard, Martin, ed. Evelyn Waugh: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984.
--. Evelyn Waugh: The Later Years, 1939-1966. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992.
Sykes, Christopher. Evelyn Waugh: A Biography. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982.
Waugh, Evelyn. The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh. Ed. Michael Davie. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979.
--. The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh. Ed. Donat Gallagher. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1984.
--. The Letters of Evelyn Waugh. Ed. Mark Amory. New Haven and New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1980.
--. The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold: A Conversation Piece. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1957.
--. "The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold." Ms. Evelyn Waugh Collection. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin. 1956.
Wilson, John H. "Persecution Mania in Waugh's Life and Work." Evelyn Waugh Newsletter 22.1 (1988): 1-3.
(1) Conor Cruise O'Brien, reviewing as Donat O'Donnell for the Spectator, recoiled from the autobiographical substance of the text, calling it "a little embarrassing" (Stannard, Heritage 380). Other reviewers were more laudatory but still intent on reviewing the writer as much as the work. The anonymous critic for the Times Literary Supplement, for example, likewise took the novel as an "experiment in self-examination," but praised it for yielding "much the best thing that has ever been written about [Waugh]" (382). Similarly, Philip Toynbee, in the Observer, would complain of the "mannered precision" of the book's prose style (386), but could still applaud an autobiographical frankness he deemed remarkable for its lack of self-pity or apology (387).
(2) In a caustically civil reply in the Spectator, Waugh expresses concern for Priestley's own mental health. Waugh first notes that Priestley's review seeks to "admonish [Waugh] about the state of [his] soul, a subject on which [Waugh] cannot allow him complete mastership" (Essay 527), before proceeding to argue that what, in Priestley's view, most imperils that soul is Waugh's failure to identify his art with the interests of the proletariat. A less than solicitous Waugh commiserates with what he argues is Priestley's disappointment that the war failed to spark revolution, and with his recognition that the noble working classes have perhaps only a limited interest in his own literary work. Such frustrations, Waugh speculates, are themselves traumatic "enough to inflame the naked artist with an itch of persecution mania" (529).
(3) While Labay-Morere's 2006 claim that the novel evokes the "genre" of the Catholic novel only to subvert it articulates a uniquely strong version of this argument (87), the tendency to minimize or simply overlook the role of faith in Pinfold's tale has been widespread. R. Neill Johnson's 1996 essay, "Shadowed by the Gaze" offers a parallel dismissal of the book's Catholicism, maintaining that Pinfold's ordeal reveals the foundation of this faith, "the spiritual necessity of being stripped of all identity, exposed as nothing in the eye of the great Other, whom Waugh would call 'God'" (19), to be the very stuff of madness. Earlier, Calvin Lane insists that, in this most autobiographical of his fictions, Waugh's Catholicism is "surprisingly underplayed" (117). More bluntly, Joseph Hynes asserts that Pinfold's "religion enters neither into the nature of his aberrations nor into his cure" (69). As I hope to make clear, Pinfold's malaise is, in fact, repeatedly associated with his falling away from Christian virtues, and their revival plays a pivotal role in his return to health and to artistic agency.
(4) Declaring that, "[t]his piece of literature stands as the most complete monograph on a case of bromism" they know of (260), Daniel and Mary Jane Hurst detail at some length how Pinfold's ordeal cleaves to the known symptomology of bromide toxicity and withdrawal and so provide an invaluable resource for readers of Waugh's text and life.
(5) Other instances of critics seduced into the role of therapist include both Pamela Hadas and Martin Stannard. While the latter, like Patey, laments that "the book has always been read as autobiography rather than fiction" (Later Years 396), his 1992 biography cannot resist offering diagnoses of the author very much in step with those of Kloss and Johnson. Thus, for Stannard, too, The Ordeal "is a book about impotence: sexual and artistic impotence" (349). Hadas detects a similar undercurrent in the text, noting how Pinfold experiences madness as regression to the dependent, asexual state of infancy (190).
(6) That we are meant to perceive in Pinfold's malaise a betrayal of his faith's call to communion is, I think, suggested by revisions Waugh made to these introductory pages. The holograph manuscript held at the Harry Ransom Center reveals that these two chapters underwent extensive reworking. A notable passage in the 1956 manuscript which does not survive into the published text goes out of its way to relate Pinfold's Catholicism to that experience of communion Ratzinger and others detail: "he became from time to time increasingly aware of a process operating without conscious effort of his own, drawing himself into a communion which owned a remote cousinship to the prayers of the holy" ("Ordeal" 2). Even this rather modest description of Catholic communion is removed from the novel; nothing in the published work's opening shows Pinfold's religious observance to entail even so attenuated an experience of the communion of the Saints. Such a deletion, I argue, points to a fairly clear authorial intention to emphasize the spiritual nature and costs of Pinfold's comprehensive flight from relationship.
(7) Once again, late emendations foreground the significance of Pinfold's spiritual dereliction as contributory to his ordeal. In the Ransom manuscript, this mention of his failure to pray is a later insertion that appears near the start of chapter three ("Ordeal" 18). For publication, Waugh moves it so as to let it stand as the conclusion of chapter two, with its grim catalogue of Pinfold's symptoms. Both the late insertion and ultimate emphasis through climactic positioning in this instance march in step with what is a consistent trend in the composition toward underscoring faith and communion, and their enervation, as at the heart of Pinfold's struggles as both man and artist.
(8) Waugh's diaries reveal that this particular hallucination, drawn from his experience, was, even originally, derivative in this way. In a 1961 entry, Waugh reports having read accounts of the obscenity trial of D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, and having encountered therein "the ludicrous scene between Mellors and Lady C.'s father" (781). In this dreadful passage, Waugh hears anew the same voice he heard on the Staffordshire and that he wrote into The Ordears sixth chapter: "This father of Lawrence's was the father I had heard urging his daughter to my cabin" (781).
(9) As Waugh himself writes in the "Author's Note" to the American edition, "[h] allucination is far removed from loss of reason," particularly for a professional story-teller (Ordeal n.pag.). Rather, the reason is busily active, the novelist's instincts hard at work, constructing a plausible plot-line only to ensnare the mind with fictions: "The reason works with enhanced power, while the materials for it to work on, presented by the senses, are delusions" (n.pag.). Waugh's understanding of madness thus resembles that of fellow Catholic convert, G. K. Chesterton, for whom, "[t]he madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason" (24). Significantly, the gravest such loss, for Chesterton, is faith, which, as communion, Pinfold, too, forfeits and so suffers the madness of the autonomous, reasoning mind.
(10) Christopher Sykes describes the Box as a new means of faith-healing which made its appearance in the West Country at mid-century, and notes that Waugh himself had heard about it through acquaintances, such as Lady Diana Abdy and Patrick Kinross, who had sought, or knew those who had received, cures through its agency (480). Indeed, a neighbor of the Waughs, Diana Oldridge, was an enthusiastic devotee of the contraption (Stannard, Later Years 345) and served as inspiration for the Pinfold's neighbor, Reggie Graves-Upton, who is similarly keen on the device and introduces it to the narrative long before Pinfold's departure (Ordeal 8). The best description of the actual contraption may be found in diary entries dating to the period of Waugh's composition of the novel. In 1956, he describes it as an "apparatus like a wireless set, electrified, and fitted with dials. She [the operator] puts hairs or blood in one cavity while in another she inserts various medicaments" so as to heal the donor, even at long distance (Diaries 754).
(11) In fact, though Davis claims that this change of names happens sometime between manuscript and published text (290), the name "Angel" does appear late in the manuscript itself, as an insertion on the reverse of page 80 of the Ransom document ("Ordeal" 80). Though Davis rejects the idea that this change holds any supernatural resonance, insisting "that the voices were at worst morally neutral" and scarcely demonic (290), so late and dramatic a change argues strongly in favor of the position that Waugh wished readers to place Pinfold's peril in a specifically Christian context and to understand threats to his person and his art as having more than narcotics as their source.
(12) This anomaly joins other depictions of Margaret to raise some questions concerning her status among the Angels, questions which have some bearing on the plausibility of a demonic account for the voices. From the first, this character seems rather allied with Pinfold's neglected faith and so perhaps eligible for the role of "good angel," rather than devil. When she first appears, not yet named, it is to pray the rosary over the wounded seaman in a chapter three hallucination (66). Similarly, she is consistently Pinfold's defender and readily professes her love for him. Yet as the failed seduction scene of chapter six makes plain, her attractiveness as a character does not necessarily grant her sanctity; there it serves to draw Pinfold to mortal sin. Later, too, it is she who offers him the clues, about beards (162) and the wireless (158), which lead him to believe in the reality of the bearded BBC interviewer, Angel, and his plot to drive Pinfold to suicide with his infernal Box. Similarly, at the very end she commands him to accept Angel's offer of silence (222). Here, too, her attractiveness leads him further into fiction and madness, further away from communication and communion, the two things the novel clearly identifies as essential to his cure, and his return to the status of author, rather than subject, of fiction. As such, there is some justification for reading Margaret as the greatest danger, the most demonic of all the voices that beset Waugh's alter-ego.
(13) This conclusion is itself a late decision in the composition process. The novel in manuscript offers two discrete endings, one of which has Pinfold already well launched into "an account of my barminess" ("Ordeal" 81) and another which halts abruptly with his comment that refusing Angel's offer of silence means he can now use his experiences in a book (82). Neither loops back to the novel's opening to present Pinfold's text as that which we have just finished. Patey maintains that this late change was occasioned by Waugh's having read, in manuscript, Muriel Spark's first novel, The Comforters, another tale of writerly madness, in which our heroine is a character in her own book overhearing the narration of her life, a torment she frees herself from only by writing her own novel (339). This suggested influence is altogether plausible, given the high esteem in which Waugh held this text, for which he provided both a blurb--"She can report me as saying: 'brilliantly original and fascinating'" (Letters 477)--and a laudatory review, some four months before The Ordeal was published. In this generous notice, he not only remarks its similarity with his own forthcoming work, but even praises Spark's exploration of hallucination as "more ambitious" and "accomplished" than his own (Essays 519).
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|Author:||DeCoste, Damon Marcel|
|Publication:||Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2011|
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