Tea Time with Alexis J Hall and Friends ~ Special Guests Julio Alexi Genao

TeaTime with AJH

Prism Book Alliance would like to welcome back special guest columnist Alexis J Hall for Tea Time with Alexis J Hall & Friends. We would like to extend a special welcome to today’s roundtable guest: Julio Alexi Genao

The Charioteer by Mary Renault

Hello, and welcome to the second Thursday Teatime. A quiet one today, so put the kettle on, as  J and I are going to be talking about Mary Renault’s The Charioteer.

The-Charioteer

 

Just as a warning, this is is a discussion not a review, so it assumes you’ve read it, or at are least familiar with it. If not, it might be a little hard to follow, but if nothing else, I hope it’ll inspire you to maybe check it out. It’s one of my favourite books of all time.

The Charioteer is one of Mary Renault’s few “contemporary” novels. She’s most famous for her classical stories, many of which feature frank explorations of homosexual love and desire. Set at the tail end of the second world war, the book focuses on Laurie Odell, who is recovering in hospital from injuries he received at Dunkirk. While there, he falls in love with the quaker and conscientious objector, Andrew Raynes, and coincidentally re-unites with an old school friend, Ralph Lanyon – who was expelled following a scandal with another boy.

AJH: So I’ve read this about three times now – once as a teenager, when I was about thirteen, once at university and once now so I could talk about it with you. It’s one of those books … I don’t think I’ll ever need to not read it. It’s one of those books you come back to.

JAG: yeah, it is infinitely rewarding. i’ve only read it one and a quarter times, and i find things to highlight and marvel at and pontificate about in nearly every paragraph. i’m saying—whatever else mary renault may have been, as a writer she is simply beyond. it was almost as exciting to lose myself in the story as it was to admire the absolute ruthlessness, the… the… relentless, economical brutality of her words. in a line or two, the truth of a thing is filleted, spread for you on a plate—for you to savor, and understand and admire. it’s scary good.

AJH: I agree, it never fails to strip me raw. I pretty much cry every time I read it. I think she’s a sculptor of prose, you know? Like every sentence is this complete artefact  It’s quite a cold thing, in a way, but it feels almost … tangible to me, the way she writes. Like marble. So she takes a thing, an idea, and presents it to you with such astonishing clarity that you can almost walk round and round, just looking at it, and cutting yourself open on the sharp edges. Like there’s this bit about the wounded coming back from front lines:

Many of them had arrived in rags, some half naked, or draped in the wayside gifts of shocked civilians; and few of them had not retained from this experience some traces of a savage, primitive humiliation.

JAG: that’s just… i mean… look at that shit, homie. that’s the ultimate definition of the personal cost of war, beyond physical disfigurement and pain and suffering and death, and well into what those things do to a human being: war makes you small. it… re-calibrates your expectations and your opinion of your place in the universe. and it happens in just the way she said. almost everyone comes home humiliated. aware of how little their will matters in the face of events beyond their control. it is an apt parallel, i think, to what it means to be a gay man. her idea of what it means, rather. subject to forces that are beyond your will. beyond your control. beyond your desires.

AJH: Yes, I think  you’re absolutely right. I think a lot of those themes blend together really effectively: it’s all about the individual in the wider context, and the things that alienate us and bring us down. In the same way that war (and class, gender, queerness, whatever) create these arbitrary distinctions, subject people to cruelty and loss, so does the remorseless expectation of loneliness within Laurie, and nearly all of the other queer characters he encounters. It’s terrifying to me, really, the intensity of that loneliness. Perhaps because there’s an extent to which it’s familiar. I don’t mean on the day to day and I like to hope the world is changing, but I know very few queers of my generation at least (and now I feel old) who haven’t at some point in their life felt helplessly and irreconcilably set apart.

JAG: i think the novel takes this as its premise. and the story is what one might do, having arrived at this knowledge of oneself. it presents a binary decision: bitter, cynical pragmatism, versus aggressively subscribed naivete. the choice is embodied in the two love interests ralph, and andrew. opposite ends of the spectrum. and laurie, between them, in love with them both, but not really understanding why or how.

AJH: This is where I run into a minor amount of trouble because … and I realise this is Modern Me talking, and thus I’m being a bit of a philistine, but I do not GET Andrew. I mean, I get him, I get what he’s supposed to represent. But he’s a pill, dude.

JAG: duuuuuude… i know i sound like some american college student who just discovered german philosophers five minutes ago—but i think she was writing about the closeted homo. i think andrew represents the kind of compromises you have to make to be that oblivious to your own nature. and he’s fucking annoying because of it.

AJH: Yep, I do understand that. And obviously I’m not judging him … with no disrespect to the genre … in what you might call romance novel terms – i.e. requiring him to be emotionally accessible as a love interest. But he’s such a cowardly, tepid little oink that … it feels unbalanced to me.

JAG: oh, i have no trouble at all judging him. he is on the surface this incredibly attractive paragon of purity, but it’s really some dishwater ideal of innocence, and what he needs to be in order to maintain his bland denial of who he is and who he loves is so blind as to be impossible to interact with honestly. as in, being with him would require a man who knows himself to… to lie. to help him lie to himself. it’s a pretty clear indictment of that choice.

AJH: Maybe the problem is that Renault spends less time on Andrew’s hair than she does on Ralph’s. Okay, that was a frivolous point but maybe there’s something in it.

JAG: au contraire. coiffure is a perfectly viable line of enquiry in RILLY SIRRSS LITERARY CRITICISM.

AJH: Hehe. But actually although we’re allowed to know Andrew is hot in some way that Laurie clearly wants to put his dick into but doesn’t feel able to put his dick into because IDEALS … Ralph has a physicality to him that renders him real, as a human, I mean, not just sexually.

JAG: it’s really a very clever character, speaking as a writer who admires the cleverness of another writer well out of my league. everything that makes andrew attractive is the very same as what makes him impossible to be with. you can’t desire him without ruining him. and that seems to me a very clear indication of renault’s thinking: it’s an unsustainable and unhealthy state of being. denial. what good is golden purity if you never get your dick sucked?

AJH: Oh Mary Renault, my dick thanks you. But I wonder if it goes even further than that. Ralph would argue, for example, that his ideal of purity is … nonsense anyway. Meaningless. He’s the one to point out that Andrew has a right to actually know who he is, and what it means. Clearly the novel is concerned with the limitations of queerness in social context (and we can talk a bit about this later if you like) and the inherent loneliness of that … but I think there’s an extent to which the very foundations on which these ideas are based are, well, at the very least nudged at. I mean, WHY is it better for Andrew to live in ignorance? HOW is it good for Laurie to support that and essentially deny this chap he’s supposed to love above all else the reality of real love, of the sort that Ralph offers Laurie. That’s messed up.

JAG: i think you’ve defined a key theme of the novel. it’s very much a comparison of two ways to live as gay men. on the one hand, you have andrew, whose sexuality is so subsumed as to be a kind of shocking void in nearly every scene he’s in—from his apparent ignorance of his own beauty to his very apparent ignorance of his helpless attraction to laurie. he lives in oblivion; in some pastoral idyll where he can tend to wounded soldiers without really having to examine why he is not one of them himself. and the price of that kind of self deception is… i think renault argues effectively, far too costly. it requires people lie to you, so you can go on lying to yourself. and when he is not permitted this self deception, as when wounded soldiers recovering under his care challenge him for not fighting alongside them, it is demonstrably a very real form of cowardice. and i thought it was crazy impressive, how renault deployed this idea of cowardice, framed as it was by his philosophical objection to war—which code of honor many would call cowardice, and do—but which requires its own incredible bravery to adhere to. in other words, for all the impressive strength of character it required for him to become a conscientious objector in defiance of his family and everyone alive, apparently, it was still, in the end, just another kind of cowardice, with its own consequences.

AJH: I wonder, actually, if it’s partially to do with the Christian and classical traditions? I mean, Renault retreated into the classical world as a setting, because it allowed her to depict male-male love without the unpleasantness of a condemning social context. And she clearly admired the living hell out of classical values. And, like, duh the book is called The Charioteer. But Ralph is the absolute embodiment of classical ideals: he’s beautiful, self-disciplined, powerful, unyielding, almost warlike. Andrew, by contrast, is all about Christian ideals of self-denial and pacifism – I just feel with Renault’s own preoccupations, there was no way the sort of ideas Andrew represents could stand up to Ralph in this book.

JAG: no, certainly not—and i think this is another example of her craftiness. because in the beginning i think we are very clearly meant to admire andrew as some paragon of purity, much in the way christians venerate virginity. but in the end we come to understand what the price of such ostentatious purity is, and that he is, after all is said and done, just a pretty guy who doesn’t get laid. and who the hell can admire that?

AJH: For me, and again modern prejudices at work here, it’s something of a weakness in the text (which I love, by the way, with all the passion in my queer little heart). It never feels like fair fight, and Laurie looks like a bit of a knob for being so invested. Or possibly it was never meant to be – maybe the whole point was to go “hey, isn’t this stupid, guys”. But if there’s to be a struggle, as a reader, I want it to be a struggle I can understand. And I can see it all rationally, but I don’t get much out of it emotionally. Which isn’t helped by all the slightly tedious conversations Laurie and Andrew have about, like, ethics and crap. And Andrew being all like “look, I brought us a blanket for us to snuggle in because I am clearly gagging for it” and Laurie being like “oh no, my dear, think of your PURITY.”

JAG: i wonder if this idea that it wasn’t a fair fight, that andrew was the clearly inferior option, is a conclusion you drew as early as 13. because for me it was a legitimate conflict—that laurie had legitimate reason to be attracted to such a limp dishcloth of a man—because of the very same things you mentioned: he embodies so many ideals judeo-christian societies value. and i wonder if you were able to reject those illusory, troublesome ideals as early as then, or if it’s your adult, er, jaded and done-with-rubbish-religions self that recoils so strongly now.

AJH: I’m aware it’s interpretation, rather than a reality of the text. But texts are to be enjoyed as well as analysed and I do bog down in Andrew being Andrew when I’m reading. (Like, there’s a bit where Laurie is sad his mother is re-marrying and he’s like “how would you feel about that Andrew” and Andrew is like “I’D FEEL FINE BECAUSE IT WOULD MEANT SHE WASN’T DEAD!!!!”. Prick)

JAG: this is you being too shy to tell me that yes, yes you were, in fact, clever enough to recognize andrew for the shitstain he was as early as 13?

AJH: Okay, okay, I’ll stop weaselling.

JAG: [pauses to admire you utterly] like, i read this book when i was 37 and i still found andrew appealing until you shit all over him in a private chat recently—as he plainly deserved. i admire your freedom from… i guess… the fundamentalist christian values that (apparently) still live up my ass. goddammit.

AJH: I think it’s a bit of both actually. When we read books that are too old for us we read them sometimes more truly, I think. And while it’s a love story it’s not a romance, but – as a young AJH – I fell in love with Ralph Laynon from the moment he showed up on page. And half the stuff going on in that book, I didn’t understand, but I understood that Ralph was deeply decent and good and strong.

JAG: i was lanyon’s creature at once. i felt hostility for everyone, everywhere, ever, who contributed to his unhappiness. like, if this were a movie we were discussing, i would insert three lanyon gifs here and coo at them while you go on with the business of seriously (SRRSSLY) analyzing this book.

AJH: Actually I was looking for the line that proves he’s shit hot in the sack.

JAG: allow me to assist you, sir. smut-location is my specialty.

AJH: race you…

JAG: bring it, homie.

Ralph had been concerned to notice him thinking, so early in the night, with the empty room upstairs. It hadn’t taken Ralph long to put a stop to that. He had considerable skill and experience, and his heart was in it.

AJH: Reading this at 13 or whatever, I had no notion what Ralph had considerable skill and experience  at, but I was up for it. I really was. There’s such a wonderful sensuality at times to a book that can often be quite detached. Like the touches, when they happen, are devastating because they’re so rare. The moment Ralph touches the back of Laurie’s neck literally makes me shudder.

JAG: i think this line in particular is an example of the way renault paints pictures in your mind. because really, the line ‘he had considerable skill and experience’ is as plain and direct as can be—but in the context of the scene, it is… to put it baldly, incineratingly sexy.

AJH: Ralph just is. It’s a remarkably explicit book for a non-explicit one, if that makes any sense at all. I really admire that. Laurie is quite sexually prudish – despite being a puddle of want for Ralph he does freak out and run away back to the safety of No Hands Please I’m Quaker – but desire is indicated so very frankly. Even if it has to be elliptical sometimes.

JAG: no! i totally had the same thought! i was like… 1953? and i haz boner and whatnot? why don’t i notice any compromises in the language? any sly, winking little jokes (of which there were plenty, of course)? how was this so uncompromisingly visual and… well, visceral—and still get published?

AJH: A lot of it does happen in the gaps. I think the word queer pops up only twice in the whole book. And until Laurie actually goes to the homo!party, there’s just this … saturating awareness of queerness that fills up all the spaces but doesn’t take any words.

JAG: i was going to say earlier, that the binary renault sets up for you is between the false purity of andrew and the cynical, vicious society of the chaps at the queer!party. and i think you’re meant to recoil in horror, comparing them to andrew, and laurie, certainly, but especially—especially—ralph. which is important, because ralph, i think almost… with almost certainty, represents the healthiest navigation between the two extremes. he represents the guy laurie should be with and aspire to and everything. he’s supposed to be the answer to the question: is there no other way? nothing other than abject denial and toxic bitterness and savagery? there is. his name is ralph lanyon, dumbass, and he wants to haz sexorz with you.

AJH: But Ralph is also … borderline alcoholic, I think, at the point Laurie finds him again. And, like Laurie, he makes quite a few mistakes over the course of the story. But I suppose where he redeems himself is that he commits himself to love and vulnerability with a conviction that, err, makes my knees weak. And other parts of me just the opposite.

JAG: his mistakes, it seems to me now, are nothing to either andrew or laurie’s. ralph’s mistakes inform his character. when laurie comes to him intending to announce that he’s gagging for quaker cock, he finds—looking at lanyon’s grave precognition of what is happening, his terrible, terrible dignity in facing it anyway— finds that all the stupid things he’d prepared to say have completely left his mind. lanyon is the answer. lanyon is the clear-eyed understanding of who and what and how, and part of that, i reckon, he’s come by via the intense scrutiny of the bottom of a bottle of whiskey. he’s come by it honestly, in other words. he’s come by his ideas through experience, not self deception, or defensiveness.

AJH: Yeah, we’ve all banged a Bunny in our time, I’m sure. Can’t really hold that against a man. You know, the thing I find kind of … shaky-making about The Charioteer is, God, this book was in 195-sommat and it still feels so absolutely relevant. So absolutely necessary and compassionate and true.

JAG: it’s—and, i mean, i know it’s facile and cliche, but i was thinking: stuff like that —the borderline alcoholism—was sorta vital to the the overall effect of his character on the reader. renault actually introduces him in his first moment of great defeat: being sent down from school. if he were too perfect, if he always knew what to do and what to say and was in command everywhere he went, he’d be irritating. and false, somehow. instead, renault gives him a bunny to humiliate him, and whisky to roughen him, and laurie… laurie to mangle his heart.

AJH: [cries] I meant to ask you, actually, what did you think of the scene right in the middle of the book, where Laurie goes to this queer party? I always find it really devastating.

JAG: in a word: scintillating. in two: grimly scintillating. the thing is all jagged edges and brittle façades and the slow, soft slump into… into the very sort of moral and social decay everyone is always ascribing to homosexuality. it’s meant to freak you the fuck out in the same way it freaks laurie out, and it sets the stage for his associating all that turpitude and defensive bitterness with our poor ralph.

AJH: It’s the great paradox, though, isn’t it? Of community. Because not only do you have to orientate with a society that always threatens to reject you (I find Laurie’s relationships with his friend Reg, and the nurse who falls in love with him really heartbreaking), but also people who are supposedly “like you.” Like how far queerness is what you do and how far it’s who you are. I can remember suffering a similar sort of shock when I first got to university and LGB (as it was in those days) was a thing … and I felt like I had nothing in common with any of them.

JAG: i feel you, bro. for me it was… let’s see. hmm. well, NYC, 1990s, obnoxious AIDS advocacy culture… if you weren’t OUT and if you weren’t PROUD and if you weren’t WEARING A RUBBER RIGHT THE FUCK THAT SECOND you weren’t a kool kid. and then later it was walking into my first gay bar. i was so terrified and so excited i couldn’t even walk through the door. and once i did it was this enormous release, right, this feeling of safety, of, “i am inside and nobody can see me from outside and everybody in this room is like me.” but then it turns out they’re not. that i’m brown, and they’re not. that i’m fat, and they’re not. that i’m, like, 21, and they’re 38. which is of course a dynamic common to us all—but when your whole focus is finding acceptance, or community, or simple identification… it can be a terrible shock.

AJH: Well it stands to reason that when what binds you is pain and loss and rejection that the community you create is going to be … fucked up. Which is not to say that I think all queer spaces are toxic ruins, by any means. I need them, and I value them. But there’s something really harmful about cleaving to people solely because of something as arbitrary as sexuality. Or even the experiences forced upon you because of sexuality.

JAG: we should name our clubhouse TOXIC RUIN. no cleanz allowed.

AJH: Hehehe!

JAG: it can be harmful to cleave to people because of sexuality, but i think what you said earlier is the meat of it: it’s easier because of shared pain. and as ruinously toxic (who’s in charge of designing tee shirts?) as those relationships often prove to be, like that party in the novel… i think it’s still worth giving it a go. especially if it’s all you have.

AJH: No, I agree. It’s just when it’s the … only option, or the default option.

JAG: in the book, renault frames it as a false choice. between toxicity and purity. and we know how that turned out.

AJH: Well, I think that’s perhaps one of the ways we’ve definitely moved on. I mean, relationships within and outside of queer circles are shown as almost inevitably doomed to failure, for Laurie. Not necessarily because of the people, but because of social cruelty. Like what breaks him and Reg is not Reg (Reg actually accepts him) but other people judging them both. Whereas, thank God, some of my best friends are heterosexual 😉

JAG: har har.

AJH: That’s one of those nice … ‘oh thank fuck, we’ve made some progress’ moments. Which seems a really good place to end.

JAG: agreed. thanks for having me, AJH. a pleasure, as always.

AJH: I’m, err, always delighted to have you, dear boy.

Please do join us in comments to talk about The Charioteer. It’s one of my heart-books but I promise not to go after you with a flamethrower if you don’t like it. Have you read it? Do you think it still has something meaningful to say about the lives and loves of queer people in the 21st century? What do you think about Andrew and Ralph, the twin horses of the title? Do you think this is a ‘fair fight?’ – and is it meant to be?

About Alexis J Hall

Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret.

He did the Oxbridge thing sometime in the 2000s and failed to learn anything of substance. He has had many jobs, including ice cream maker, fortune teller, lab technician, and professional gambler. He was fired from most of them.

He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car.

He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.

Connect with Alexis:
Website: quicunquevult.com
Blog: quicunquevult.com/blog
Twitter: @quicunquevult
Goodreads: goodreads.com/alexishall

About our Guests

Julio Alexi GenaoJULIO ALEXI GENAO lives in New York City with three cats and a preoccupation with post-mortem predation. He is also the author of the acclaimed ‘When you were Pixels’,’Taking the Long Way Home’ and ‘A Syntax of Memories’

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

Brandilyn
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41 thoughts on “Tea Time with Alexis J Hall and Friends ~ Special Guests Julio Alexi Genao

  1. I feel like I’m back in university–in a good way. Better actually, because I had no patience for Lit analysis back in the day, whereas now I enjoy the insights and feel smug-by-association.

  2. My response would probably be as long as your discussion because, yeah. So I shall simply say YES, I feel it all.

    You guys are fantastic to infinity for having and sharing this convo with us.

    This book is already on my list. Mebbe one of yas will break into my tbr and place it at the top o the mountain??

    the part about feeling the shock of not being the same in a place you thought you’d have and feel that… like a bucket of ice water. This is something I’ve definitely experienced. It stays with you. <<<< duh, yeah? Lol

    You did a fab job in the discussion without revealing much about the story.

    lovelovelove

    • We were a bit worried about treading that line – between being just about comprehensible for people who hadn’t read, but also not wrecking everything, so I’m glad it came across okay 🙂 And, honestly we could have probably babbled on for ages. I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

      And – yes – I agree with you about the cold water sensation of feeling alienated when you’re supposed to be part of a community.

      You should definitely bump it up your tbr – though I should probably warn you, even on re-reading, it’s kind of a slow book for me? Some books I romp through, some I take my time. This book rewards time 🙂

  3. Is this where we are supposed to discuss?

    I thought your comment re: Laurie’s attraction to Andrew ” And I can see it all rationally, but I don’t get much out of it emotionally” was interesting because for me it made more sense put in reverse; i.e. rationally it seemed like Ralph was the obvious choice, but sometimes the heart wants inexplicably. Agree, though, that Andrew did not do much for me emotionally. He was almost more there to be a source of stress for Laurie than for the reader to care about.

    • i remember feeling a distinct attraction to andrew in the beginning, m’self. i recoil from the idea of him now, and i wonder if that’s because my personal journey as a gay dude involves making the kind of risks and staking the kind of claims he refuses to.

    • Thank you for joining the conversation, Miriam 🙂

      That’s a really good point – I hadn’t quite considered it that way round, but it makes a lot of sense.

      I think one of the problems with Andrew for a modern reader is that he represents some sort of ideal that isn’t seen as desirable any more – this sort of highly-rarefied, almost abstract Christian purity thing.

      Although obviously the unattainable other is a romantic thing that cuts across centuries 🙂

  4. I’ve already stumbled upon “The Charioteer” this week and have been quite curious about it. So, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts about this book and the discussion around it. It’s always a pleasure listening to your talks!

    Since I haven’t read the book yet, I fear I can’t contribute that much to a discussion, but will keep tabs on the comments.

    A few years ago I read following essay collection (at least parts of it):
    “Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity” by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

    It is a collection of essays that confronts and challenges the very notion of belonging. I have a very bad memory for details, so I actually can’t tell you that much more about the essays. I only remember that there were essays by people from all different kinds of groups. Topics were gender, sexuality, skin colour, disability…
    What I remember though is that I, coming from a point of mainstream belonging, was seriously shocked that minorities or marginalised groups wouldn’t even find acceptance or belonging in the group they supposedly belonged to.
    It seemed a common problem in the Queer community, that you had to label yourself or define yourself into a subgroup or otherwise you weren’t a member of the club, weren’t accepted, didn’t belong, because you were not the right ‘queer’. And I thought that this was seriously fucked up.

    • it’s pretty shitty, but yes, marginalized groups can be even more blatantly exclusive and toxic towards people who don’t fit into their sense of whatever ideal they hold in esteem at the moment.

      online gay dating sites are notorious for profiles that explicitly prohibit fats, bottoms, blacks, whites, short guys, little dicks, or femmes.

      it’s a problem of psychology, if you ask me.

        • that we are conditioned to find only certain things attractive and certain things unattractive. like we idealize masculinity and secretly abhor open femininity as a symbol of everything other people revile about gayness

          • Also I think marginalised groups almost inevitably end up drawing up their hierarchies of power and control – it’s just a sort of unbreakable abuse cycle of othering.

            But also – less depressingly – I think it’s important to remember that humans are complex and marvellous and there are just as many things to unite us as to alienate us … and expecting to be “like” someone because of one trait or experience you share is pretty darn foolish 🙂

            Of course the flip side of that is it *can* be extremely rewarding when you find people who fit you – whether because of your race or gender-identity or sexuality or, y’know, your less than fashionable hobby 🙂

  5. OMGawd, this brought back so many feels!! I love that book, tho I am surprised that I do – it’s so standoffish and cold half of the time but then there’s Ralph… I was rooting for him from the start to finish. 😀 I couldn’t believe how much Laurie got invested in Andrew – he reminded me a clueless kid, which did not feel right.

    SUCH a great discussion, guys! You both pointed out things I missed or didn’t understand while reading.. For that I thank you from the bottom of my heart! Aaand now I’ll have to read it again, this time with my eyes wide open! ^^

    • Eee, so happy you loved it.

      I see what you mean about the book being/seeming stand-offish. As I said in the discussion with J, I think the merciless intensity of the prose can *feel* cold but … I think it’s more about expecting emotions and reactions to be *handed* to us, as a reader. Whereas the emotion in The Charioteer is very, very subsumed and the story its telling is in the gaps and the spaces and the margins. I think once you stop peering under things and listening to the silence, it’s actually astonishingly powerful.

      Like the bit near the beginning when Laurie learns he’ll walk with a limp all his life:

      “Then he slipped down in bed with the caution of a criminal, lest the counterpane should be disturbed and some nurse come to straighten it. Luckily this fear was a kind of distraction; soon he was able to blot his eyes on the sheet and come to the surface again.”

      That’s … kind of … so heartbreaking. Those secret tears, and the need to keep them secret.

  6. I love these posts by Alexis and Julio–they read like a very cool podcast. I’ve not yet red The Charioteer, but just bought it the other week and it is in my primed and ready to read list. I appreciate reading this post and having it inform my read.

  7. I haven’t read the book so I can’t really add anything to the discussion but I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts on it. Thank you for sharing them!

  8. I love this book so very much. I read one of the commenters found it ‘standoffish and cold’ I didn’t find it that way. The English attitude after the war and through the fifties was very ‘clipped speech’ and repressed, but it is what isn’t said that reveals the emotion and tensions. I am full of admiration for The Charioteer’s language and imagery. This book will stay with me forever.

    • for me, the coldness was in the absolutely merciless clarity of the prose—in the sense that it clinically dissected every craven impulse one might feel when faced with the challenge of knowing one is queer, for instance. for me, I experienced multiple flavors of shame—shame at being different, and shame at being unable to stop myself from exploring that difference—and what I did in those days to reconcile this crisis of identity…

      …I’m not proud of it.

      and this book openly and without excuses or rationalization spelled it all out. the cowardice and the excuse making and the embarrassing lengths one might go to in order to avoid accepting fundamental truths about one’s identity.

      and did it without sentimentalism.

      coldly. and rationally. and accurately.

      I have never felt more seen or understood, and it amazes me that it was written so long ago.

      • I don’t think it could be written now because I think we could not allow ourselves to be that clinical or rational. I think maybe in this time it could be only written by someone who has felt that loneliness and isolation, so it would be so hard to keep empathy and maybe even sentimentalism out of the text. I think the way language was expressed and used in 1950’s England helped Mary Renault write in a way that sharply dissected truths without staying around to witness the bleeding afterwards…

    • I think Aija is right is that it kind feel “stand-offish” in the sense that … a lot of the emotion *is* kept subdued and at a remove. So you are being kept a distance (partially because of the type of story that is being told) but I think once you get used to navigating the gaps it’s actually very emotionally intense.

      It’s a book that has stayed with me all my life. I presume it will until I die 🙂

  9. AJH & JAG, you’re killing me. Quit being so damned *interesting*! *sobs* *spends entire rest of life writing comments* *blows up Prism by exceeding maximum word count*
    I . . . apologize for all the words. But you knew I would do this, right? Sorry if this is hard to follow or repetitious, my thoughts were all over the place 😛

    So, I read this book only once, but quite recently. I really like what you both say about the way Mary Renault wrote, as I was so struck by that too. I love this JAG: “relentless, economical brutality of her words”.

    And AJH: Omg, your entire paragraph about her being “a sculptor of prose”! Good grief, what a stunningly beautiful image. It so perfectly describes something I sensed but hadn’t isolated, that her writing feels almost 3 dimensional, & also the cold, almost analytical beauty of it. Yes, exactly! Though she got quite poetic at time & I thought that equally beautiful. I love these: “The blackberries tasted of frost and faint sun and smoke and purple leaves: sweet, childish and sad”. “Under the pale sun, beauty and fate and love and death ached through him.” “The light from the door grew narrow behind her, turning to a strip, to a line, to a memory drawn on a slab of darkness.”

    Another thing you said, AJH, that struck me, as it was what initially impressed me most about this book, was this: “A lot of it does happen in the gaps.” & “there’s just this … saturating awareness of queerness that fills up all the spaces but doesn’t take any words.”

    Yes, the dense meaning of the spaces *between* the words & lines just blew me away. And *instantly* made me think of this, from your post at: http://wonkomance.com/2014/09/04/someday-i-will-be-kissed-in-the-pouring-rain/ : “Sometimes I think this is all gaydar really is: intense awareness of negative space, an ability to read between the lines. If you want to be able to recognise queer couples, all you have to do is watch for the innumerable, significant ways they don’t touch.”
    To me, so much of this book is like the literary version of *exactly* that same thing. And for exactly the same reason. It seems a thing to admire, in a way, the ability to communicate in this silent, arcanely symbolic dance, while at the same time it’s unspeakably sad for the necessity of it.

    I loved Ralph & absolutely thought he was the right person for Laurie, & see what you both mean about it not feeling like a balanced choice, between Ralph & Andrew. I think it’s because Andrew is so idealized & not a real person for Laurie in many ways. Not even presented by the author as an entirely real person, I think. It’s almost the choice between a man of flesh & an idol representing the spiritual as utterly divorced from the carnal. But I think for Laurie, it *is* a very powerful dilemma, because he’s imbued his idol with such value & authority which, of course, is what makes an idol in the first place. With Renault’s fascination with classicism, I wonder if it represents a choice she struggled with herself. I think it can be a valid choice for people to choose to live spiritual rather than carnal lives, but when they are queer people living in a world that demonizes queerness, you have to consider the attraction to such a choice as likely influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by that intolerance.

    That said, I saw Andrew much less negatively than you both did. I don’t know if that’s because I’m not a queer man or just a different person, or maybe just not a very discerning reader & missing a lot, which I have an uneasy feeling might have been the case. But I wasn’t sure Andrew was necessarily self-deceiving or in denial, so much as that his life was simply unexamined. Though maybe those are just versions of the same thing? I’m not sure.

    I also thought Andrew was legitimately attractive in ways not rooted in venerating some problematic concept of innocence. First, he’s obviously nice-looking. But also I thought Andrew had some attractive personality traits. I didn’t see him as “cowardly” “tepid” “bland” or “a pill”; he did say some “pill-ish” things, that one about Laurie’s mother definitely, but I didn’t feel that completely defined him. To me Andrew came across as quiet, shy, mild-mannered, polite, sweet & genuinely kind, if failing in the self-awareness department. An earnest sort of person who sincerely wants to do & be good, not for brownie points but just because. I didn’t see it as fake or sanctimonious, for the most part. Obviously his idea of what constitutes “good” is based on his religion, so yeah, there’s a fair amount of Christian ideals in it, sacrifice, humility, don’t judge, do unto others, forgiveness, etc., but I see those as things that have merit outside a specific religious context. I didn’t see him as representing *fundamentalist* “values”, per se; that word means something very different to me, synonymous, in practice anyway, with extremism, very judging & restrictive of personal liberty & behavior, & actually antithetical to the things I just said above.

    But I assume the real issue is this idea of innocence as a kind of distilled purity that is sullied by sex or more particularly, would be sullied by sex with another man. Which I agree, has everything wrong with it.

    To me, Andrew’s innocence didn’t read like this: “dishwater ideal of innocence, and what he needs to be in order to maintain his bland denial of who he is and who he loves is so blind as to be impossible to interact with honestly. as in, being with him would require a man who knows himself to… to lie. to help him lie to himself. it’s a pretty clear indictment of that choice.”

    I really think that idea of Andrew’s innocence as this oh-so-virtuous-purity that must not be besmirched is all in the way *Laurie* frames it, not necessarily what Andrew believes or projects. It’s all based on Laurie’s internalized homophobia, his wish to be other than he is & desire to “spare” Andrew that. I don’t see Andrew as “impossible to interact with honestly”; I see the source of that inability in *Laurie*.
    I wonder what the author’s own attitude was. Did she share Laurie’s? Or is she challenging it?

    I also think the fact that Laurie values Andrew’s innocence in the wrong way & for wrong reasons, doesn’t necessarily mean the innocence itself is a character flaw in Andrew. I read his *actual *innocence – as opposed to Laurie’s conception of it, not as some untouchable purity, but more as *unknowing*. Not as in “ignorant”, or “you don’t know what you *should* know”, just unknowing in the way of a child. Being still in that state of unquestioning acceptance, not yet aware of things outside your circumscribed little world. Not because of some kind of self-blindness or self-rejection or noble self-sacrifice, but more just a less developed state of consciousness. Perhaps a case of arrested development. But I think it *can* be common in persons who’ve lived very ascetic or sheltered lives. Andrew seems to live mostly in his head. He felt to me almost like someone who had joined a monastic order at a very early age & had trained his awareness to . . . I guess you *would* call it a kind of denial, of the physical, of the sexual, but to me it’s much broader than just denial of queerness. It’s also an altruistic setting aside of *all* his needs in favor of serving what he sees as the common good & I don’t think it’s inherently problematic to be or live that way, if it’s a conscious choice. I guess the problem with Andrew is that I don’t think it is, it’s just a habit he grew up with that has never been looked at or challenged.

    I didn’t see evidence of Andrew being homophobic, toward himself or others. Maybe that was coming, maybe it wasn’t. This sentence, just after Laurie kissed him: “Just at this moment, when Andrew was looking up with a kind of strangeness which was only the threshold of some feeling not yet formed.” What does “strangeness” mean? Awareness of his own emotions? Of physical desire? The beginning of some feeling of “wrongness”? We never get to find out.

    Maybe this is way out of wack, but I even considered that Andrew might be actually asexual, or low sexual, though plainly he was strongly romantically attracted to Laurie. So I felt while that could be denial, it could also be something else. It felt like he was in love with Laurie in the way children are in love with their crushes, in this adoring & but asexual or pre-sexual way, as you would fall in love if sex didn’t exist.

    Maybe it’s a problem that I’m looking at Andre the way I would a real person who behaved this way, rather than as a literary character created by an author & whose behavior has a purpose in the narrative. Maybe “asexual” makes no sense in that context. I guess it depends on what he was meant to represent. If she intended him as symbolic of denial of sexual orientation, or of being closeted, it doesn’t work. But then again, maybe he’s not a symbol of that as much as a symbol of this spiritual vs carnal. I’m also now questioning, would she really need a character to symbolize being in the closet, when essentially *all* the characters are closet?

    Anyway, to me, it almost doesn’t matter about Andrew, whether he’s ascetic or in denial or just unaware. Because the crux, in my mind, is Laurie’s *response* to him. Not so much what Andrew *really* is, but what Andrew represents *to Laurie*. It’s Laurie who is idealizing asexual love, not necessarily Andrew. I think Laurie sees Andrew as a “sleeping beauty”, but rather than seeing him on the cusp of awakening & that as a positive, it’s Laurie’s judgment that it’s better for Andrew to remain forever asleep. And obviously there’s such internalized homophobia in that. Laurie thinks of Andrew being awakened as something ruinous to him. Whereas I actually felt there were suggestions in the text that Andrew was sort of trustingly putting his fate in Laurie’s hands, like maybe he *wanted* the awakening & wanted Laurie to be the one to do it, but Laurie made this arrogant, unilateral decision that it was for Andrew’s own good that he not do so.

    Um, by the way, I really did like Laurie, in case it sounds like I didn’t. We all have our flaws 🙂 I found him a very poignant character.

    Though I definitely wanted Laurie to end up with Ralph, there was something very bittersweet in that doomed little romance with Andrew. I felt, in this acutely aching kind of way, that it *should* have been able to just unfold between them so naturally. Laurie even felt the truth of that, just before he kissed Andrew :

    “At this moment he could feel nothing in himself from which Andrew ought to be protected. With a simplicity which this knowledge made to seem quite natural, he leaned over and kissed him. Even when he had done it he felt no reaction or self-reproach. It was as if it had happened before and they both remembered.”

    I thought that was quite beautiful & moving. There’s such a sweetness to it. But the fact it couldn’t be that & the reason felt almost tragic. Regardless whether they were ultimately right for one another in other ways, the way something potentially beautiful wasn’t allowed to happen because of all the bullshit social framework & Laurie’s assimilation of that felt heartbreaking. It was like watching two lovers part so one can go off to die in a pointless war he doesn’t – or shouldn’t – even have to fight.

      • Thank you J! I’m really pleased you thought so! I was a bit worried about it, to be honest. Also, sorry, I thought I replied to you on this before, but I think that was just on Facebook 😉

    • I love this comment, Pam. I need a bit to think about it though, not because I disagree but because … I’m a little shamed by your readerly generosity in being able to see so much good in Andrew 🙂 When I am grumpy and impatient 🙂 Proper reply incoming tomorrow.

      • Aww! Thank you AJH! <3 I certainly didn't mean to shame you about anything though! But, ooh, I made you think more thoughts? Exciting! Also, payback, as you always do this to me 😉 I'm really interested to read your "proper reply" 🙂

  10. OK, so sorry, but want to add one more thing, about an area of this discussion I didn’t touch on in my first comment, but was actually quite meaningful to me.

    The scene you referred to AJH, where Laurie goes to the queer party. That scene also struck home for me, very much. All those overheard conversations that must have made him feel like the only human in a room full of aliens. As opposed to the rest of the time, in straight society, when he must have felt like an alien himself.

    And then what you said, about the LGB group when you first went to university. Squeezed my heart. And what JAG said about going to a gay bar. That awful feeling of alienation intensified because it’s in a place where you’re supposed to belong.

    Brought back memories. Being young & someplace with a group of people to which I, ostensibly, belonged to in some way, though typically superficially, co-workers or friends of a friend. Then sitting there with a pasted on smile as people talked about life experiences I couldn’t relate to & other things so remote from anything I thought or knew or felt, or believed or was interested in. ” That painfully acute sense of estrangement, of . . . actual grief. Of thinking, aren’t there *any* people like me? That intense consciousness of *difference* like physical discomfort. Thinking “god, what am I doing here?” The almost panicky urgency to leave but feeling trapped by politeness.

    My perspective is different because there is really is no “community” for people who are just “different” for a multitude of reasons, none subsumable under any particular heading. The queer community, actually, especially our little online community of friends within & tangential to that, is probably the closest thing I’ve ever felt to having that 🙂 But obviously there are differences there too, which every now & then jump out as if to remind me, oh yeah, that’s right, you don’t quite fit there either 😛

    I mean, to be perfectly honest, & this is embarrassing, I had a teensy bit of that reaction to this discussion, when I realized how differently the two of you viewed Andrew as compared to me. Silly & I obviously got over it, but it actually felt briefly sad/scary. Hard to explain. I know, I’m totally weird. I think, it was mainly as it was you, AJH. I’m so used to agreeing on most of what you think about . . . important stuff. If not, usually as I try to comment, in process of trying to explain my opposing position I invariably deconstruct it, have some perspective shift & end up going, damn it, never mind, he’s right 😉 I know I’ve told you this before, but same damn thing used to happen to me all the time when I argued with my late brother. You’re the only other one 😉

    BTW, I did exactly that in the previous Teatime discussion; I bet you never read my final comment on that: http://www.prismbookalliance.com/2014/11/tea-time-with-alexis-j-hall-and-friends-special-guests-e-e-ottoman-julio-alexi-genao-and-beverley-jansen/#comment-55545 You should like it – I had epiphany & ended up agreeing with you 😉 )

    But, back from tangents, & you touched on this , in part, talking about the problem of finding community based on one thing, whether it’s sexuality or anything else: The thing is, no one actually “fits”, that’s an illusion. Groups are just collections of individuals with one or two things in common. Even if they are important things, everything else about everyone in the group, is unique. And unique is good!

    I think, what it’s really about is that, those of us who have experienced deep rejection & alienation for being different are so sensitized to different-ness that it’s painful. We keep looking for evidence that we are “like” others, because it feels like some kind of validation that we belong to the human race, while uniqueness has associations with defectiveness or freakishness.

    Whereas, people who haven’t experienced this don’t go looking for confirmation that they belong to the human race. They don’t need to. Their default assumption is that they do.

    But if we could somehow put it all on a spreadsheet, I really wonder if those of us who feel and/or are seen as “different” would actually have any more total points of variance than those regarded or regarding themselves as “normal”. Or if it’s only greater intolerance of certain traits that makes it appear that way. If that makes any sense?

    Also, off topic, but AJH, do you have the Christmas cartoon “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” in the UK? I know JAG knows what I’m talking about. The claymation one with Burl Ives narrating as a snowman? That cartoon is such a metaphor for nonconformity & I wonder if anyone thinks of it as a metaphor for queer? Rudolph not being like the other deer because of his nose & having to cover it to fit in, the elf who wants to be a dentist, the” Island of the Misfit Toys”! For some reason I particularly felt such kinship with those misfit toys. They have stuffed versions of them & I once bought the little polka-dotted elephant as my “mascot”, which I still have 🙂

    • Pam, I can’t tell you how much I love this comment <3
      Since I haven't read the book I can't join the discussion in essence but what me the most were AJH's and Julio's personal feelings/stories of inclusion/exclusion. This issue which you elaborate further, the feeling out of place in situations/places where you expect to belong, resonated deeply with me. I think people who are more sensitive or have a more acute sense of self, always feel a bit outside, or at least on the fringe in any group.

      My first year in university was marked by his sense of strong sense of disappointment and anxiety because I felt that I didn't really fit there and I so wanted and expected to find people like me there. I worked really hard to make myself at home and by the time I graduated I felt part of this community and even wanted to stay and teach (which for one reason or another didn't happen).

      Occasionally, this feeling of not belonging does make me sad and quite pessimistic about life but I think it's only normal. As Pam says, the perfect fit is just an illusion, a wishful thinking.

      • Thanks Ellie, I’m glad you liked it 🙂 This exclusion thing has been a major theme in my life, so it always resonates deeply with me too. I think you may have something there, about the more sensitive/acute sense of self. But also think that gets super-amplified by experiences that are actively excluding, like bigotry or familial rejection or peer bullying, until you almost feel like you glow in the dark or something. So if you’ve had that, it’s hard to tell which came first, sort of a ” the chicken or the egg” thing. But it’s probably some of both, you start out (maybe?) sensitive, which probably sets you apart all by itself & also makes you react more strongly to exclusion, maybe leads to some sort larger behavioral change in response to it than a less sensitive person might have, withdrawal or defiance or acting out, which leads to even further exclusion. It’s kind of a vicious cycle. But finding some sort of sense of community, even if it’s just individual by individual, connecting with friends, is really helpful, even though the “perfect fit” doesn’t exist. I don’t think we really need people to be exactly like us, in fact that would be really bizarre, a world full of clones. What we really want/need is unconditional acceptance, & if you have that & give that it really doesn’t matter how different we are from each other, because it’s all beautiful. I’ve made so many new friends this year, every one very different from me just as much or more than they are the same. But I love all the differentness, really *love* it 🙂 Vive la différence! 😉

  11. Andrew.

    The book is entirely from Laurie’s perspective, and he’s a fucking unreliable narrator. Especially where Andrew is concerned. We get little true glimpses of Andrew, but mostly have to parse him out between lines.

    Here’s what I know…
    Raised pacifist by his single mom until she died when he was 12, then raised by grandma who is hawkish, while the country is gearing up for war, until he’s 14, then raised by his seriously hawkish aunt and uncle. He’s a fucking teenager, trying to figure out who he is, while all that is happening. That is some seriously destabilizing shit. So I don’t fault him for not having his sexuality all figured out.

    He’s courageous in that he picked who he thinks he is, a pacifist, and he embraces that completely (rocklike integrity or mulish obstinancy). If that requires him to do jobs everyone else doesn’t want to do with a cheerful disposition, sure. Near the beginning, when they first meet, Willis almost knocks over Andrew’s bucket and Laurie stops him. Andrew says “That was very kind of you, but it will have to come out sometime, if that’s how he feels. We have to cope with all that ourselves, I mean. It’s the least we can do, after all, isn’t it?” That meant a lot to me. He’s made he’s choice, he’s seeing it to the end, and that includes taking abuse. He is wrestling with his understanding of himself throughout the book, right to the very end, and it gets all tangled up in his feelings about Laurie.

    He leaves the control in Laurie’s hands because he perceives Laurie to be older and more experienced. He keeps making passes at Laurie and Laurie responds like the prude he is. At a point Andrews asks “You’re not that much older than me, are you?” Subtext, “I though you had all this stuff figured out, but you REALLY don’t.”

    What? You doubt that he’s made passes? Dude, he’s constantly creating openings that freak Laurie out, but he’s never too overt because he’s protecting his own sexual identity, he’s not sure Laurie is queer, he’s not sure Laurie is into him, he’s not sure Laurie is single.
    Exhibit A: The first time they talk outside, he takes his shirt off “trails his foot in the stream.” I think he’s totally conscious of his own beauty, and he’s working it, which makes Laurie shiver and turn away.
    B. Goes to a party and when Laurie asks him who he dances with and what he talked to Nurse Adrian about “Yes, we talked about you. We were in favor of you.”
    C. When they meet outside and talk about the Phaedra, Andrew is practically begging him to be clear. It’s about Love? Read it to me. Go on, don’t stop. COME ON! I want to borrow the book. Huh. Someone inscribed it to you. Is he your boyfriend? Laurie: “Just for the record, I have neither seen nor heard from Lanyon since the day he left…. Does that cover everything?” Andrew: “It shouldn’t it? A lot of people would just have told me to mind my own business. Don’t take any more notice of me.” Obviously you still love him. Well, let’s test this one more way. Light me a cigarette. I am leaning up on my elbow, tilting my head so you can kiss me. Laurie: lights cigarette, leans down, then took the cigarette away and quickly hands it at arm’s length across.
    Andrew. FUUUUCK. You are giving me such mixed messages. FUUUUCK.
    D. Let’s bring a blanket… sure, Laurie, so we can stay warm. Laurie: Oh my GOD you said “blanket.” That is soooo dirty.

    There’s a bunch more if you read through it. It’s subtle, but also it’s so not.

    What does Ralph have over Andrew? Sure, he has sexual experience and confidence. Also, he knows that Laurie is queer, he likes to steer and Laurie needs to be steered at this point, and he has a ROOM of HIS OWN. Laurie and Andrew don’t have any private space, and that is a huge deal. I feel like they were finally getting there, and their kiss is interrupted. COME ONE, Renault, GIVE THEM A BREAK!!!

    Given a little more time to figure out who they are, because that has been seriously interrupted by a war, Andrew might become the new Lord Crane for all we know. Dude has to mature a bit, and find his confidence. I hope he survives ambulance work so he can.

  12. Laurie and Ralph

    At the end, in Ralph’s letter to Laurie, he writes “I can see now that I was wrong even at school; I should have gone the whole way, which in those days would probably have shocked you and put you against it all, or shut up about it all together.” Looking at Phaedrus, there are three arguments, which I liken to a sequentially maturing sexual integration. In the first argument, Lysias states that one should be with someone one doesn’t love (in this context, a gay man should be with a woman). This choose won’t cause gossip, will bypass jealousy, will give one a much bigger pool to choose from, and will avoid making bad decisions based on the madness of love. At school, Laurie became clear that he’s gay, and that he can’t deny it and just marry a woman he doesn’t love.

    Laurie gets stuck in the second argument. Andrew says the argument seems hardly worth stating the first time, let alone redoing it. Laurie says it’s amusing, and in fact, perfectly true (and then he starts to describe the third argument and gets stuck after how dark and unruly the second horse is, and is never able to fully articulate it). The parts that Renault includes describe exactly what Laurie is doing to Andrew… projecting what is most pleasing to himself onto Andrew, putting him on a pedestal, rather seeing Andrew for who he is.

    The third argument I don’t fully have a handle on yet. Reading a summary of a translation wasn’t doing it for me on Wiki, so I went to the translation, and I’d have to study it a whole lot more than I have time for, because I’m way to busy Facebooking. My feel for it, though, is that we have two horses, one representing good and reason, and the other poor mannered and representing all of our base desire. Laurie remembers this part best… the dark horse is scruffy and shaggy, bloodshot eyes and flat face, and all kinds of ill mannered.

    Laurie has decided that his physical sexual desires are the dark horse, and he associates this with his previous sexual encounter, the behavior he saw at the party, and unfortunately, a bit with Ralph.

    Ralph, on the other hand, has worked through all of that, and for him, the dark horse represents everything negative we associate with sexuality… all the internalized and external homophobia, all the disfunction from living in a homophobic culture, any socialized rule that tells us our sexuality is bad. Physical sexuality is part of the beautiful, well-mannered horse for him, which is why it is so satisfying when he gets together with Laurie, because we know he will help Laurie mature. Laurie, totally enjoying the physical sexuality, also pushes back. When Ralph has planned everything out, Laurie gets frustrated, and the subtext is “I’m not there yet, I haven’t integrated that part of myself yet and you can’t rush me.”

    At the end, the horses rest and their heads drop side by side till their long manes mingle. Oh, the romantic in me wants to be very literal and see that as Ralph and Laurie, after a long journey, mingling. But really, or maybe simultaneously, it represents that Laurie is finally integrating physical love into all that is good and honorable. And that integration is really the point of the book, not the love triangle. I think it could have easily been Andrew, but it would have taken more time. Ralph needed to be loved, immediately, of course we are all rooting for him.

    “Thus great are the heavenly blessings which the friendship of a lover will confer upon you, my youth. Whereas the attachment of the non-lover, which is alloyed with a worldly prudence and has worldly and [miserly] ways of doling out benefits, will breed in your soul those vulgar qualities which the populace applaud, will send you bowling round the earth during a period of nine thousand years, and leave, you a fool in the world below.”

  13. So maybe that was all a statement of the obvious. But the thing that feels different is that I wasn’t seeing the book through the lens of a love triangle, I was seeing it through one person’s sexual evolution. It really could have been Andrew or Ralph, I loved them both. I was PISSED when Dave and Laurie decide that he shouldn’t see Andrew. I had to read that part five times. WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED? So pissed. He held that line to the very end, not letting Andrew express himself bluntly. Gr.

    It also felt really important to the story that when he left Andrew, he wasn’t leaving him for Ralph. He was letting Ralph the betrayer go. So he was leaving Andrew just to fully satisfy his need to “protect” him.

    If you saw any of this differently, I would love to know. This book kept my brain circling for months now.

  14. I’ve just finished rereading The Charioteer minutes ago and wanted to talk with someone about it. I’m glad I found this forum.
    A different perspective on Andrew from me. I came of age just at the beginning of Stonewall so I have a lot of empathy with having to remain hidden.
    Remember, being gay was illegal in England. A false move would put you in prison and ruin your life forever.
    Laurie had come to terms with himself, mostly through the ill-fated Charles affair, but he was inexperienced himself..Andrew didn’t understand his own feelings and had nothing to guide him. This was unlike Laurie who had public school bumming, and a later tryst.

    It would have been understood in 1959 still that to reveal oneself could mean catastrophe. Laurie knew Andrew had some feelings but was aware the physicality of gay love might be frightening to a naive young man.

    To me, Laurie was looking to find something real, not like a Sandy or a Bunny. With Andrew he felt be could possibly carve out “pure” path.

    Ralph points out that would have been false and Andrew had the right to self-knowledge.

    I saw the attraction to Andrew but was Team Ralph all the way.
    I didn’t recall the ending. When I first read it as a teen, a lot of the nuance went over my head. Gay novels were just starting to be available to a wide audience.
    In rereading it I saw that much of the book still resonates, but I suspect younger readers don’t truly understand the circumspection that was necessary to survival in that era. At least to the ruinous extent that it was.
    Thanks for a wonderful discussion.

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