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Never would she forget that soldier's face...
on 21 November 2014
A barracks in peace-time is the setting. I would guess (no time period specified) this is set in the 1900s, before the First World War. But because this is an American town and I am reporting on the book, not the film (which bombed at the box office) I can’t be more specific.
The main characters are Captain Penderton and his wife Leonora, and her lover Major Morris Langdon who is married to Alison. It’s an overheated tale as Penderton becomes obsessed with an enlisted man, Private Ellgee Williams and the undertones of homosexuality are emphasised by Williams’ provoking habit of riding the horses while he is naked. This is a short book 125 pp., but it is remarkable for the beauty of the writing. McCullers leaves many things unspoken, but the atmosphere is sultry. Meanwhile Ellgee enters the house of Captain Penderton and watches Leonora sleeping. This act of voyeurism has implications, but they are not acted upon.
There is a culminating scene in which Ellgee is caught and the final violence is perpetrated. There are echoes in this book of The Member of the Wedding, her first and most loved book, when a young girl imagines that she will form part of the wedding service and even go away with the young couple. In this book, however, it is young Ellgee, who has been fed all sorts of ugly nonsense about the corrupt nature of women, whose passionate nature is tradduced.
This is sensuality and violence in this novel, but at heart it is sad, if not mordant. In some ways it lacks agency, because of the lack of fulfilment in the emptiness of these rich lives that remain unfulfilled.