I’ve stumbled on a fascinating essay by Leo Robson about Henry Green, in a back-issue of The New Yorker. The piece pulls together a number of points we’ve been discussing about Green’s style and intent, and wraps it around with biographical nuggets and insightful comments about Green’s novels and stories. Robson also traces the rise and fall and rise of Green’s reputation. … I especially like Robson’s discussion of Loving: among other things, he compares the novel with Jean Renoir’s film,The Rules of the Game (1939).
Here are two PDF’s – one of the entire article (8 pages), and one containing his analysis of Loving (1+ pages)
Finally, I paste below Robson’s discussion comparing Green’s Loving with Renoir’s The Rules of the Game.
Green was an obsessive cinema-goer, and “Loving,” in its plot and setting, has strong resemblances to Jean Renoir’s “The Rules of the Game” (1939), which concerns upstairs-downstairs antics at a French villa over a shooting weekend. Between the Mozart waltz during the opening credits and the closing shot of symmetrical shrubbery, an atmosphere of chaos reigns: decorum and ceremony are continually undone by the overflow of human feeling. “Loving” begins with “Once upon a day” and ends with “happily ever after,” but along the way Green thwarts the reader’s desire to impose a sense of order on the action. (Those fairy-tale phrases are booby-trapped, too: “Once upon a day” is confounding, and it’s not clear that the ending will be happy in the least.) A game of blindman’s buff played by the servants in “Loving” is similar, in its position and its import, to a game of hide-and-seek in “The Rules of the Game.”
Renoir and Green also share the use of a perspective that is neither omniscient nor subjective—one that is partial and imperfect, but not obviously unreliable. In “The Rules of the Game,” the camera, rather than anticipating where its characters will go, can hardly keep up with their movements. The Green narrator sometimes knows a lot and at other times is likely to throw up his hands and say, “It may have been a few days later that . . .” Neither novel nor film tells us much of its characters’ histories.
Encoded in these habits is a wider aversion to authorial confidence and an embrace of human mystery. As Octave, the character played by Renoir in “The Rules of the Game,” says, “Everyone has their reasons,” so Raunce tells a housemaid, “Everyone has their feelings.”