The Living and the Dead - discussion
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Eden, Elyot’s sister, who is supposed to represent the living is also emotionally frozen until she is rescued from the “dead zone” by her relationship with Joe Barnett, a “noble” working class boy who is later killed in the Spanish Civil War. Eden then finds her own moral ground through this loss and responds by going to Spain to join the cause.
The most likeable character in the story is Julia Fallon whose personality and nature shines through as the most genuine and pure of spirit. She is the maid to the Standish household and was Elyot and Eden’s nursemaid when they were small children.
White described The Living and the Dead as ‘the wretched book’ and in his Letters, he commented ‘I’m thinking of calling the novel The Living and the Dead. I’m more and more conscious, anyway in this country, of people being divided into two categories – the people who are aware and the people who are, well – just dead. That’s something political labelers never take into account. Tonight I could go out cheerfully and kill off all the dead’. He admits that while writing this book he became increasing discontented with himself and with the book. Unfortunately, this discontent manifests itself in the rambling and disjointed prose.
I thought the best way to approach White’s work was from a chronological point. This novel was published in 1941 and was the only one of White’ novels which is set in London. I am now taking the journey through The Aunt’s Story and the contrast in style and prose is quite marked.
The dramatic jacket illustration on the copy I read was by artist Sidney Nolan.