THE CRUELTY OF EXCLUSION
Just by the bye, the blog had a considerable number of visitors this week. I hope they'll turn up again! Of course, the word ‘vampire’ appeared in the title. Oops…I’ve written it again. But let’s get on…
I suppose that most fiction writers are aware of the themes in their books. I thought that I was aware of the themes in 'And Such Great Names as These' but only this morning - yes, not two hours ago, and remember that this book was first in print four years ago – I realised that there was another theme, not exactly hidden, but it hadn’t previously occurred to me that four major characters in the story suffer serious exclusion, one of the cruellest ways of treating people.
There is a scene where Dolly tells Joshua what happened in the chapel years earlier, how the bigoted Mr Samways, the chapel elder, had treated her.
She drew a deep breath. Then she took a kitchen chair and drew it up to the table. She rested her worn hands on the oil cloth and as she spoke she drew little circles with her finger tips.
'Your mam was so kind to me,' she began. 'She was a stranger in this town and I was born here but I had more comfort from her than most.'
'I was havin' a baby, and unmarried, and the father off out of the district,' she said. She looked first at Joshua and then at Rob. Her words did not come out angrily or bitterly, just rather wryly. 'It's a sin, ye know. Havin' a baby and not bein' wed.'
And Joshua knew it was, taking her words at face value. Dolly had been a sinner. He knew about sin. The chapel had told him: his mother had told him.
'He stood up in that chapel on the Sunday morning. That Samways. And my mother was there. And you, Rob, and Henry.' She nodded at Henry's photograph as she mentioned his name. 'And Samways stood at the front there and he looked at me and all of us, all the family. Looked at us and without flinchin' he told them, everybody there. I can remember it as if it had happened this mornin'.'
She glanced down at her hands, stretched out along her thighs. She drew a deep breath as though preparing herself to say something devastating.
'One among us has sinned!'
Dolly boomed the words out, stretching out from the edge of her chair towards Joshua. Rob, sitting now by the table, stared out of the window.
'That's what he said. "One among us has sinned."'
There was none of today’s more enlightened attitudes. Bastardy reflected on the mother and her child. Less was said about fathers.
Earlier in the story Mr Samways, for no sound reason, had barred Joshua’s mother, Alice, from going to the chapel. The sense of being an outcast, the devastation, led this frail-minded, devout woman, to her final breakdown.
And hadn’t Ernie Grayson, the useless soldier, complained of his treatment at the hands of his comrades, people from the same part of
, from the same town? He was fighting on the Western Front amid all of the obscenities of that war. What a time, what a place, to feel yourself all alone. England
'And the lads. They hate me,' Little Ernie had confided, ignoring Rob's admission. 'Ye know what they do?'
And he had told Rob every instance of minor cruelty to which he had been subjected, to which he was subjected every day. If it wasn't the Germans, it was the Geordies, his own people.
And so he deserted with terrible consequences.
And Joshua himself faced exclusion from his classmates. Events from my own schooldays are still sharply etched in my mind.
And Such Great Names as These by Allen Makepeace
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