Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Glittering Images by Susan Howatch

Glittering Images is the first in a series of 6 novels written in the 1980s by Susan Howatch. The storylines of these novels revolve around the development of the Anglican church during the 20th century. Although each book "stars" a different character, the same cast of characters inhabits the entire series of novels and each novel is set during a different decade of the century. This first novel in the series takes place in the 1920s and the primary character is Dr. Charles Ashworth, a young widowed clergyman, who is sent by the Archbishop of Canterbury to visit, for a few days, the home of the powerful Bishop of Starbridge, Alexander Jardine. The archbishop fears that beyond the facade presented to the public by Jardine, his charming but inadequate wife, Carrie, and his wife’s dedicated companion, Lyle Christie, there lies potential for explosive scandal. It is Ashworth’s mission to determine, within a very short period of time, whether there is any basis for the archbishop’s concern. The main character struggles throughout the book to learn how to keep his "glittering image" (public persona) from overshadowing his real personality. The author has the most engaging writing style I have read in years. Her use of the language is precise and scholarly but engaging and entertaining. The plot is intricately woven, the characters are carefully and fully developed, and the dialogue is fascinating. I was absolutely fascinated with the characters whose lives revolved around determining the will of God in their lives and striving to fulfill their potential in life. The theme of the novel could be summed up in this quote from the last chapter of the book: “Love and forgiveness, truth and beauty, courage and compassion blazed with a radiance which far outshone the cheap glitter of illusion, and I knew then with an even deeper conviction that in serving God man only fulfilled his need to strive to live in that eternally powerful light. St. Augustine’s famous words echoed in my mind: ‘O God, thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.’” Below are a few of the quotes I copied (either for their pithy, clever wording or for their philosophical impact)so that I could consider them in more detail later. “…Christianity could not be a pallid priggish way of life but a glittering realization of one’s finest possibilities. People can be led to Christianity by infinitely diverse routes, and there was no denying that I had been led by Lang’s worldly success to the creed which rated worldly success unimportant. Beyond the glittering image lay the stark absolute truth.” “Our Lord….wasn’t talking legalistically…He was a life-giving spirit, not a legal code personified! …and one of the outstanding aspects of Christianity is that Christ preached compassion and forgiveness, not an inflexible hardness of heart.” “I knew he was only treading a well-worn theological path: an examination of Christ’s words in the light of conditions prevailing in the first-century Palestine was nowadays considered a thoroughly respectable endeavor in the attempt to look beyond the glittering image of Christ in the Gospels to the historical figure about whom so little was known.” “In my opinion Christ had been a good Jew, not “liberal” in the modern sense of extending a credo to its outer limits in the name of freedom, but “radical” in the original sense of cutting back the credo to its roots to rediscover its true spirit.” ”Isn’t lack of understanding responsible for much of the misery in family relationships? …With understanding, forgiveness becomes possible.” “And at last as (he) talked to me with such painful honesty, the miracle of communication occurred, and I was able to understand the full dimensions of his tragedy. Then forgiveness was easy...” “…as I realized he was probably behaving exactly like his Non-Conformist father, I thought what a mysterious force heredity was, spreading like a stain across the texture of personality.” “The sermon, perfectly constructed, immaculately delivered, unfolded itself like a complex flower opening its petals before the sun. I always found it arresting to see an expert in any field doing his work well, and (he) was an expert in homiletics, selecting his intellectual strands sparingly but weaving them with stark skill into a rapier-sharp exposition of Christian teaching. Finally, reaching his peroration, he knotted the intellectual strands into a single dazzling sentence, heightened the power of his delivery and drove home his message with the full force of his oratorical sledgehammer.” (explaining why God is at the center of every action in life) “The sun’s not a mere disc in the sky which you can see whenever you bother to look up. The warmth of the sun permeates the world even on a clouded day, and that’s not mere wishful thinking or sensual illusion. You can see the plants reacting to the warmth. It’s real.” “I agree that a lot of men appear to be interested only in money and sex, but I think too that a lot of men would secretly like to believe that there’s more to life than the materialist’s treadmill. However, society forces them to chase worldly success in order to be esteemed, and then they chase women either to forget how unhappy they are chasing success or because they see women as boosting their value in the eyes of the world.” “ Do you think that God’s been unaware of your difficulties and the suffering you must inevitably have endured? And do you think He’s incapable of reaching out at last to bring you face to face with your troubles so that you can surmount them and go on to serve Him far better than you ever served Him in the past? God hasn’t sent this ordeal to destroy you. He’s come to your rescue at last, and here in this village, here in this house, here in this room where you’ve hit rock-bottom, here’s where you new life finally begins.” “But then they never meet the man I keep hidden. They just meet the man on public display. I call him the glittering image because he looks so well in the mirror. But beyond him…stands the angry stranger who appears in the mirror whenever the glittering image goes absent without leave.” “When a traveler’s staggering along with a back-breaking amount of luggage, he doesn’t need someone to pat him on the head and tell him how wonderful he is. He needs someone who’ll offer to share the load…Consider the possibility that life might be less exhausting if you unloaded some of your bags onto my empty trolley...I’m just the porter with the trolley. I’m not here to criticize the quality of your luggage or to order which bag you should put down. My function is simply to offer you the chance to get rid of any bag which you don’t want to carry any more, but the decision to keep or discard each bag must be yours and yours alone.” “ your … difficulties didn’t begin in that final scene…Who got you into financial trouble by luring you into keeping up expensive appearances? Who kept you from seeking help by demanding that no one should know (your problems)? Who seduced you into that disastrous (job) and then insisted that you stayed there? Who came between you and your wife and prevented you from being honest with her? Who initiated this tragedy and then left your real self bearing the burden of all the guilt and shame? You are not the villain of this story – you’re the victim. It is the glittering image who should be locked up in jail.” “You flung a big stone into that particular pond; stand back now until the ripples reach the edge of the pond and you can see what’s been washed up at your feet. I think you may well find that the wait will pay significant benefits later…” “And there’s something wonderful about a Christian, a real Christian, the kind who practices what he preaches. I said, ‘I can’t forgive myself,’ but she said, ‘Christ can….’” “I could cope with his charming mask merely by disliking it, but the pathos beyond defeated me. I felt threatened by it. I was quite prepared to work out an intellectual formula for forgiveness which would put my beleaguered psyche at rest while enabling me to be a good Christian, but I did not want my emotions involved. My instinct was to lash out, push him away.” “I wondered dimly how anyone ever survived their families.” “But that’s marriage, isn’t it? One long compromise.” “…try not to put yourself on the rack by picturing the present. Remember that you could be seeing the wrong picture, and even if it happened to be the right one you’d be able to erase it. But the future is a different matter. You can draw a picture, erase it and draw another…” “It’s dangerous to make a judgment when one can’t know all the facts… and since only God can know all the facts, one can only conclude that it’s best to leave the judgments to God.” “One afternoon I went to the Cathedral to beg God to help me, but I couldn’t pray, I was so cut off. I just knelt there in the chapel and said God, God, God, over and over in my mind – It was as if I’d dialed a number and was listening to the bell ringing – and I didn’t really expect and answer but then the miracle happened because someone picked up the receiver at the other end of the line.” “I had achieved sufficient concentration to wipe the blackboard of my consciousness clean so that God could write upon it if He wished. Then I prayed again…for the grace of God which would transform my weakness into strength, and again the familiar prayer of Christ echoed in my mind: let thy will, not mine, be done….and the chalk began to write at last on the blackboard of my mind. I could hardly bear to read the message, but I knew I was powerless to erase it.”

1 comment:

tudorcrazy said...

I am a long time devotee of Howatch. I read one of her books every 6 months, like the bible. I am well aware of the religious catharsis she underwent to become a born again Anglo Catholic. That being said, I must remind every Catholic and Christian, that Jesus was Jewish. He would be absolutely horrified at the destruction to civilization his death caused. It is wonderful that Susan being a "real" Christian understands this. Bit to the world of modern Christians, Christ is used to promote hatred, bigotry, and corruption. The very state of Israel is supported by Christians who hate Jews, but they believe that they need Israel to be "born again."
This is so against anyone who is Jewish that it is tragic. Jesus was Jewish, and was trying to reform corrupt practices within Judaism. He would abhor Christianity. That being said, Susan is an intellectual who has given up on mankind, and as a brilliant woman, turned to the only way she could face Christianity. I love her work but she know there is no G-d, she just can't accept the reality of chaos.
Jan Abraham