In anticipation and with desire: from the Love Pavilion to the Corrida
I move now, from the relatively straightforward novels Paul Scott wrote in his younger days, to the more complex productions of the period in which he worked as a full time writer. The first of these is my favourite, a skilful precursor to the Raj Quartet. But it is a very eccentric work, full of abstruse symbols which one is never quite sure of understanding.
22 The complexities of the Chinese Love Pavilion
In 1960 Scott resigned from his job to devote himself to full time writing. His work from then on is more complex than before, making use of heavily charged symbols and different layers of narrative. In a sense the four novels before the Quartet are the hardest of his work to pin down, because the perspectives from which they are presented are so unorthodox and the subjects carry so much more thematic significance for the characters concerned than in themselves they would suggest. Thus in the Quartet or in the earlier novels the emotional responses of characters arise fairly naturally from the situations presented; in these four novels reactions are extravagant, simple occurrences prompt histrionic outbursts. A simple consideration of some of the images the books present will indicate the excesses that concern Scott here: an army officer engaging in initiation rites with his subordinates that involve courtesan dressed as dawn and day and sunset, a man with a parrot on a South Sea island recovering from a divorce, a novelist who appears to have committed suicide after his wife called off an affair with a younger man. Scott’s virtue is that he convinces us of the emotional processes that have contributed to these absurdities; but so compelling are his accounts that it in occasionally necessary I think to stand back and register them for the absurdities they are.
A couple of other general points should be noted before we begin examining these works in detail. Three of them are autobiographical in form, but as I have mentioned with regard to A Male Child it would be dangerous to assume that Scott identifies with the narrators. Rather, though this takes concentration since Scott does not force his narrators to stress their own weaknesses, we should register those attitudes that are presented which are to be judged adversely. A factor that may help in this regard is the second point to be noted, that though these novels vary considerably in their subject matter, they could all be described as being concerned with hopes and desires that do not find fulfilment; and this to some extent is because there is nothing to be given in return by the characters concerned, on account of their own inner deprivation.
The Chinese Love Pavilion, the first of these novels, is I think the most complex. This is because, where the other three are primarily concerned with a single individual, this has more than one personal centre of interest. In this it resembles the novels that preceded it, but whereas in those the major characters interact with each other within relationships that carry the themes of the novel, here they function in isolation and only come together as it were for major cataclysmic events. Thematically of course they are connected, which is why for instance when the narrator Tom Brent says that Saxby stands behind Teena Chang’s death we can credit this even though he had died the day before and could not have been involved in whatever motivation lay behind it; but in tracing the connections between the three major characters I think we have to go beyond their interaction with each other to what they have in common and where they differ in their internal make-up.
I say three major characters, because I am concerned here with the three protagonists: Brent, who was helped by Saxby to find some meaning to his life in India but later felt rejected by Saxby, and then after the war was involved in the hunt for Saxby both to stop him endangering others and also because he felt he had accepted the rejection too easily and thereby abandoned Saxby in his hour of need; Saxby, who could help Tom Brent find fulfilment for his dream but was himself searching for a meaning to his life which seemed to him too full of people and empty of ideals, and who later during the war did find an ideal which involved him killing people; and the old soldier Reid who kept trying to fulfil his ideal through the young soldiers committed to him.
Compared with these the two characters who act out the climax of the book are less noteworthy, the young recruit Sutton who almost certainly kills Teena Chang, and Teena herself who may be the most positive character in the book and who certainly breathes a spirit that contrasts forcibly with that of the others, but who cannot in the end have any lasting effect because the forces that destroy love are too powerful.
Though it might be straining Scott’s symbol overmuch, I think indeed that it would be illuminating to see the three parts of the book, sandwiched between ‘The Door by which men enter’ into the pavilion and ‘The Door by which men go’ , as representing both the three rooms within and the three main characters: dawn stands for the young Brent, ‘The God Hunter’, seeking for fulfilment of an ideal, the green room of day represents Reid, in his ‘Garden of Madness’, working out his obsessions through his subordinates, and the red room of sunset symbolizes Saxby ‘The Flower Dreamer’, sending people up in flames in a strange perversion of a dream. On this account it is wholly appropriate that the prologue is about Teena, for she represents love that is the way in which men can enter the pavilion of love; and the epilogue relates the manner in which Sutton kills her because he is incapable of love. This last interpretation I shall argue for later, but the point is valid even if the alternative is accepted, that Teena killed herself, because the reason given for that in the epilogue is the inadequacy of Brent’s commitment to her so that she killed herself because her love had been betrayed.