Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ho – hum!

Too much solemnity makes Charles Morgan a dull and drab writer. Charles Langbridge Morgan, to be precise. This Brit writes well enough but the tone of voice and the whole mood of his play, The Burning Glass (1953), gave me a sense of deep unease, almost malaise. I find it difficult to believe that anyone could write with such deadly seriousness continuously with nary a half smile for relief. It’s no wonder his work has been neglected by and large. His sensibility and views to me seem conservative and of the extreme Right. The biographical sketch at the website dedicated to him mentions that he was a fan of Churchill apart from “the Book of Common Prayer, Keats’s letters, and the prose of Addison”. That kind of makes eminent sense when you’re reading him. He must have been a melancholy introvert, I reckon. He appears to be uncomfortable in his surroundings and sometimes within his own skin, if you get what I mean. His The Burning Glass I happened to read in an abridged version “adapted” for adult readers whose second language is English. I happened to find it lurking in a stack of old books. I hope Jennifer Taylor who worked on the adaptation did full justice to his style and flavour. This humourless play – no apology for this priceless aside: I came across a Daily Mail news story (11-03-2008) headlined ‘The cheek! Humourless American says we Brits are miserable. You've gotta laugh’, about travel writer Eric Weiner’s claim that the Brits “don’t merely enjoy misery – they get off on it” – is about the moral dilemma of a weather control scientist. He has accidentally stumbled upon a way to set his weather machine so that it can concentrate the solar heat and aim it at any target to wreak total destruction. Both he and his wife are – you guessed it! – paragons of virtue. His partner is not. He is a rebel and keeps bad company. At the height of the Cold War, he refuses to part with his knowledge to the Briish PM. The worthy seems to be no Churchill and accepts his terms that he or his wife would only “set” Machine Six to do the dirty work in case of an attack by the opposition. There is an East German spy lurking in the neighbourhood. He kidnaps the straight-laced paragon of virtue. In his absence, the equally straight-laced Paragon No.2 “sets” Machine Six in order to strike the fear of God in the atheist Commie hearts with proof that Britain has the ultimate weapon and won’t hesitate to use it under extreme provocation. Paragon No.1 is released and all ends well, except for the death of his partner. Ho-hum! Were the pre-Hiroshima Einstein and Oppenheimer his inspiration?