The Mouth of Hell; Folly Down revisited


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A hitherto unpublished review of 'Mr. Weston's good wine', by T.F. Powys
  The Mouth of Hell; Folly Down revisited. Sue Bridgwater  It was well over thirty years ago that I first read Mr. Weston’s good wine and in those days I was a fairly conventional Christian believer, of the Methodist persuasion. The book seemed to me then to be shot through with truth and hope and beauty, to sing a hymn of praise rather than telling a story. Returning to it in a PostChristian frame of mind, I still find it compelling, and want to bring it to the attention of those who may not yet have discovered it, for its many strengths and insights. !owever, it is far less simple to me now, and in places terrifying, with hope and despair woven elo"uently through its pages. It resembles nothing so much as a Mediaeval Morality Play, in which !ellmouth gapes open to receive the blasphemers, and !eaven shines above, a promised reward for the faithful. The location of these in, respectively, the back of a #ord van and the lights of an advertising slogan, does nothing to lessen that terror.$ “…. one of the most penetrating statements on the role of the Christian God in the post-Constantinian era.”   This closing sentence of Ronald %lythe&s introduction to the '()* !ogarth reprint of Mr. Weston’s good wine  may perhaps be something of a discouragement to a keen fiction reader, seeking to discover the nature of Powys& book. +et, replete with theological subtleties though it be, Mr. Weston  remains ust that  a work of fantasy, or mythopoeic, fiction. -hat are its pleasures, then, and what are its distinctive "ualities -hy should the modern reader find anything of interest in this /least modern of writers0 i  Sue Bridgwater on  Mr. Weston’s good wine  (This printing 15-12-13)1  #rom the first, it is clear that we are not in a novelistic world, despite Powys& choice of a title from that most novelistic of writers,  1ane 2usten. 2lthough the book opens with a description of a /#ord car, of a type that is commonly used,0 parked in the high street of a country town in '(34, the story soon carries the reader beyond the commonplaces of historical time and geographical location. /-riting as an allegorist or fabulist rather than any sort of conventional realist0 ii , Powys lays before us the unfolding of a cosmic event5 the visit of the Creator to !is creation, the passing of a night in an 6nglish country village that e7tends into 6ternity.-hat readerly pleasures can be found in this #irstly, that delight in discovering the threads of the wellwoven 2llegory 8 always a clever device for an author to employ, as it draws the reader in by boosting his or her own sense of cleverness. The plot and its symbolisms are all worked out so satisfactorily. Mr. -eston, the silverhaired winemerchant purveying 9ark and :ight wine, is ;od, the purveyor of death and of love. !is travelling companion and assistant, Michael, who /had risen to high distinction in the firm, having once, by his strength and courage, "uelled a mutiny that arose amongst the workers in Mr. -eston&s bottling department0 iii , is of course Michael the 2rchangel, overthrower of :ucifer. Mr -eston /had once written a prose poem that he had divided into many books0 iv  and so on. <econdly, there is the pleasure that may be found in less esoteric forms of #antasy writing5 the triumph after perilous struggles, of ;ood over 6vil. 2nd thirdly, the humour. #or surely no work of pure  Theology was ever so packed with humour as is Mr. Weston’s good wine . $ Sue Bridgwater on  Mr. Weston’s good wine  (This printing 15-12-13)2   Turning first to the eternal struggle between ;ood and 6vil5 it soon strikes the reader that the boundaries between these are not set where a mainstream Christian believer might be e7pected to set them. =or are they closely correspondent to what a 3' st  century reader might believe '(3>s sensibilities and public morality to be. Powys has his own uni"ue take on this battle.2t the time of Mr. -eston&s visit, the village of #olly 9own lies in a sort of moral mist like the valley&s meteorological mists that sometimes hide it from sight. -ithin it the characters blunder and stumble about, influenced now by /good0 and now by /evil0. The Rector, =icholas ;robe, has lost his faith following the death of his wife, and although he continues to treat his parishioners in a /gentle and loving0 v  manner, there is some sense that it is this vacuum in his soul which has in part led to the moral vacuum in the community.?f the commonplace temptations of country village life, the two predominant ones 8 drink and carnality 8 are omnipresent, but both imbibing and se7uality are presented in a deeply ambivalent way. The unnaturally long evening passed in the Pub is almost sacramental in its effect on the people who e7perience it, while the symbolism of drinking wine is replete with goodness and salvation. <e7ual appetite and physical congress are not seen as depraved in themselves but may in the right circumstances be holy and pure. Indeed, when we are shown in Mr. ;robe&s memory the nature of his lost beloved wife, she is far from the traditional /@icar&s wife0 stereotype and e7udes an earthy and innocent se7uality that is transformed in her daughter to a spiritual intensity.<he had with her all the wild, naughty ways of a spoilt child that knew nothing, only love, and he loved her the more, of course, because that was all that she cared for. <he was never tired of laughing at him, and he, good man, liked to be laughed at. vi Sue Bridgwater on  Mr. Weston’s good wine  (This printing 15-12-13)3   !owever, the e7ploitative and cruel aspects of se7ual demands and of the abuse of power are clearly present, employed as traps and snares by the maleficent and treated too casually by the thoughtless and selfish. The three characters most clearly on the side of /good0, in that Mr. -eston&s approval of them is obvious, are the Rector5 his daughter  Tamar5 and :uke %ird. These run a gamut of types of religion. Mr. ;robe is the professional, with his painful secret at his heart. :uke %ird is the holy fool, striving to model himself on <t. #rancis and preaching to the rather surprised beasts of the local fields. Tamar is the mystic, seeking always the apotheosis of ecstasy5 she /knows0 that one day her 2ngel will come to her.?n the side of evil, the most pernicious and cruel, e7ultant in the depths of her own evildoing, is Mrs. @osper. !er own disappointment with life has curdled within her and grown into hatred of all young and innocent girls5 she gives over her parlour to the young <"uires so that they may debauch the village maidens, and dispatches her neglected husband to the pub in order to do so. ?ne of the young women, 2da Aiddle, has killed herself in despair after her betrayal. Tamar&s maid,  1enny %unce, loved by :uke %ird, is in grave danger of falling into Mrs. @osper&s clutches. +et Mrs. @osper is not held in contempt in the village. Instead she has managed to deflect the blame for the seduction of the young women onto the Parish Clerk, Mr. ;runter. <ince this unust notion of himself as an inveterate seducer of young girls gives him a certain cachet among the other villagers, he does not seek to deny it.Into this tangle of conflict come Mr. -eston and Michael.  Through their actions, good comes to many who suffer and yearn5 though in two cases, the good is brought by 9eath. 2fter a visit from Mr. -eston, Mr. ;robe sits in his study during the artificially lengthened evening brought about by the intrusion of eternity into Sue Bridgwater on  Mr. Weston’s good wine  (This printing 15-12-13)4  time. !e passes that evening /9rinking the light wine05 this is e7plicitly shown to be an allegorical reference to reading the %ible. vii  /The wine filled him with a gentle melancholy  a mood in which one could live graciously, in which one could die contentedly.0 2fter reac"uainting himself with the te7t that was formerly central to his faith, he regains his vanished belief that after death he will see his lost wife 2lice again, and on Mr. -eston&s return visit Mr. ;robe asks for a draught of the 9ark -ine 8 he dies.Meanwhile, under the oak tree in the centre of the village where so many young girls have been dishonoured, Tamar too has entered into her longedfor ecstasy, embracing Michael and drinking some of Mr -eston&s wine 8 we are not told whether the :ight or the 9ark. The pair are then married in the parish church by Mr. -eston himself, and return to the oak tree. :ater it is struck by lightening and split in two.  Tamar is caught in the lightening and dies in her newwed ecstasy 8 two angels come and carry her directly to heaven. It remains unclear whether the bonding between Tamar and Michael is in fact physical or se7ual in any way, or rather a spiritual e"uivalent of passionate physical love.%y contrast, Mr. -eston saves :uke from loneliness, and 1enny from corruption, by a liberal application of his :ight wine. Mr %unce swears that :uke shall not have his daughter in marriage until the well outside :uke&s cottage door is filled with wine instead of water. #ortunately this declaration is made at an apposite time, since Mr. -eston is at hand and has only to repeat an already wellknown miracle. !e e7tracts from :uke a promise to drink more of his good wine, the wine of love, for he has perceived that the simple :uke has need of 1enny&s commonsense to partner him through life. They are married by Mr. -eston in the parlour, and sent off to the most conventional of the three /!appy endings0 in the book. viii Mr. -eston&s udgments upon the deserved fates of the wicked Sue Bridgwater on  Mr. Weston’s good wine  (This printing 15-12-13)5
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