How often does it happen that a student studying a book for uni finds her/himself to be all in tears? Maybe more often than I can ever imagine but I can tell you that it only happened to me twice.
Once shortly after my mum’s death in a seminar where we discussed Alan Hollinghurst’s A Stranger’s Child (I might actually write a blog post about this one soon, too). Our lecturer asked us to explain a Henry James remark quoted in the book which he made after the death of Edgar A. Poe about the moment when the totality of a person’s absence hits you full force (I hope I remember the context correctly – it has been 2 years sice the seminar). Long story short, I dared to explain the meaning and started crying.
The other incident when a book we discussed made me cry was when we discussed Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. Back then I could hardly suppress my tears and today when I read the final scene of the chapter “Harvest” again, I couldn’t help it – I was streaming in tears.
Connoisseurs of the novel will know which scene I am talking about. I think it is one of the most heartbreaking scenes in literature (well of what I know anyways). At the end of “Harvest”, the novel’s heroine Chris Guthrie gets a visit from her neighbour Chae Strachan who is on leave from the war (WWI). He has come to tell her the truth about her husband’s death and that he was, in fact, not killed in action but shot as a deserter. Chae tells her how he was allowed to see Ewan, her husband, the night before his execution and he tells her word for word what Ewan told him that night. The reason Ewan deserted was that he came to realise that he didn’t belong in the treches (who did?) but that he should go home to Chris and apologise for the way he treated her when he saw her last. He was a brute then and acted like (excuse my French) an utter arse. He didn’t want to join, and there was no reason for him to do so because he was a farmer working his own land but the gossip from the villagers’ and the constant remarks about him not doing his duty to country and crown made him leave his home and enlist. Ewan’s dilemma was that staying wasn’t an option for him but leaving the land he was so attached to -that he was a part of – and leaving his family breaks his heart, so he turns bitter and vile. Although Ewan knows that it wouldn’t be his war he would fight but the pressure of his community forces him to leave. One day he comes to realise the mistake he had made:
It was that wind that came with the sun, I minded Blawaerie [his farm], I seemed to waken up smelling that smell. And I couldn’t believe it was me that stood in the trench, it was just daft to be there. So I turned and got out of it. […] He knew he had lost her, she’d never be his again, he’d known in that moment he clambered back from the trenches; but he knew that he’d be a coward if he didn’t try though all hope was passed. So out he had gone that, remembering Chris, wanting to reach her, knowing as he tramped mile on mile that he never would. But he’d made her that promise that he’d never fail her, long syne he had made it that night when he’d held her so bonny and sweet and a quean in his arms, young and desirous and kind.[…] Oh, wearied and wakened at last, Chae, and I haven’t cared, they can take me out fine and shoot me to-morrow, I’ll be glad for the rest of it, Chris lost to me through my own coarse daftness. She didn’t even come to give me a kiss at good-bye, Chae, we never said good-bye; but I mind that bonny head of her down-bent there in the close. She’ll never know, my dear quean, and that’s best […] Mind the smell of dung in the parks on an April morning, Chae? And the peewits over the rigs? Bonny they’re flying this night in Kinraddie, and Chris sleeping there, and all the Howe happéd in mist. […] Oh man, mind me when next you hear the peewits over Blaewearie – look at my lass for me when you see her again, close and close, for that kiss that I’ll never give her. (Sunset 226-228)
Novel: Grassic Gibbon, Lewis. Sunset Song. Edinburgh: Polygon, 2006. Print.
Picture mine, though not of the Howe.