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Chapter 3 of Book 2 takes us to the Elliott house, and another round of “Where's Poochy?” expository dialogue about Helen and Westmore...together only in the conversation, of course.

“I wish, dear,” she continued, still stroking her husband's brow and temples, “that you could give up the management of the paper as a whole, and do only editorial writing. I am sure that it would suit you much better, and the strain would be far less.”

“No, I like being at the helm,” he replied. “I like to steer the thing according to my own ideas. I am not good at following. It even keeps me wrought upon all the time to think that Westmore's money as at the back of me.”

“But Mr. Westmore allows you perfect freedom, does he not?” she asked.

“Yes—perfect,” he answered, “so far as my general policy is concerned; but, my dear—I must say it—I am developing a genuine dislike for Westmore. Somehow, the fellow leaves a bad taste in my mouth. He's entirely too sharp and eager.”

“You do not think he is dishonest, do you?” asked Mrs. Elliott anxiously. She had never had any personal liking for Westmore, but she knew that it was wiser, so long as her husband and he remained associated in business, to adopt an unquestioning attitude toward him.

“Well, no, not just that, my dear—I cannot say that of him,” replied Mr. Elliott. “But to me it is something even worse than bare dishonesty—something far more subtle. However, do not let us talk of him now. For the immediate present things must remain as they are.[”] (pp. 204-5)

The chat turns to Helen Galbraith, who Mr. Elliott notes has become “strangely tragical in appearance.” “[T]he work is too heavy for her; and yet she is always urging me to give it to her—to let her go here and there—and when I grant her request, she goes at the work as if it were the only thing in the world which she really enjoyed.” In response, the Missus proposes an excursion to see the Galbraiths in their natural habitat, which he thinks is a dandy idea.

The Elliotts walk in on one of the Galbraiths' homely little scenes of unspoken devotion...and misery. Unspoken misery, of course, because what kind of marriage would this be if either partner actually opened up?

Buckle in, read-along pals. I feel compelled to share the whole thing.

It was yet early afternoon, and Galbraith had not taken his seat at the window. He half reclined in a comfortable chair, while Helen, seated upon a stool at his feet, read to him. The windows of the room were open on all sides, and the fresh spring air and sweet odors from the out-door world came in to them refreshingly. Galbraith followed Helen's reading with interest, yet it was evident that he was weary, very weary. He had been passing through an exceptionally bad week; his appetite was indifferent, and the ability to sleep had nearly gone from him. He showed most painfully the effects of this strain under which he had been sustaining life. Moreover, his soul was heavily burdened. The great change in Helen impressed him more and more distressingly from day to day. That she never complained, but watched with untiringly anxiety for every desire of his, that she might minister to it at once, made things none the less easy for him to bear. At times the conditions of his life and hers seemed to wring the very heart out of him. He could no longer speak freely to Helen of the many perplexing thoughts which clouded his mind and wrapped his soul in darkness. He dared not trust himself to speak, to arouse to active expression the terrible grief concerning which he knew Helen was constantly fighting to keep silent. Living in such an atmosphere as this, it had come about that they read aloud together more frequently than in former days. This, without demanding much personal talk, gave them a means of close, personal intercourse; it helped and soothed them both—and often the thoughts which they expressed over their books contained some individual word, comforting and sweet to think upon, which otherwise might never had been spoken. (pp. 208-9)

I paid close attention to those last two sentences...are they really communicating, or are they just throwing other people's words at each other, turning up the volume to fill the ominous silences? God forbid that he does something to activate her grief, since she'll probably want to talk about it for hours (blah blah blah your needs...I'm dying of an unspecified disease over here!), which makes me think of this as the pre-electronic version of turning on the TV and insisting that nobody talk except during the commercials...only without the commercials. That, of course, is the exact opposite of the close, personal communication that would, y'know, resolve the plot, so it just goes on and on like that, but it's such a sentimental scene that when the Elliotts walk in on it, they're afraid to make a noise and break the spell. Either that or bring the curse of the Tomb of the Pharaohs down on their head, since, as we've been reminded repeatedly, this is a place of death.

Mrs. Elliott was a frequent visitor in the past few months, as the author failed to tell us until this point, but Mr. Elliott had never laid eyes on Alex Galbraith until that moment, and yet in short order the two men fall into “sympathetic conversation.” And by “sympathetic conversation,” of course, we mean “another one of those lengthy position statements which would make Ayn Rand blush.” Considering Alex has so little to do in this book, it's almost understandable, but that doesn't make it go down any easier, especially since it's pretty much the same conversation he had earlier with his malevolent friend Andrew about finding an American original. Of course, now we have a new sounding board, so we should give him his shovel for the sandbox.

“We Americans have a rooted belief in instinctive knowledge, or knowledge by absorption,” continued Galbraith. “A keen, sensitive, catholic feeling for works of art cannot spring into being full-grown, with a perfect control of all its powers, as many of our worthy citizens are inclined to believe; it must be developed. The best way to foster and develop such a feeling is to have our eyes opened by learning all we can from books and pictures, from science and art. Out of universal knowledge like this, special knowledge will the more readily emerge. A true knowledge of beauty comes to no people who have not laid for it a broad and deep foundation.”

“Everything artistic in America is looking up tremendously though, I am sure,” replied Mr. Elliott. “In painting and sculpture, in architecture and landscape gardening, everywhere there is a distinct advance. I am no artist, or art critic, but I am deeply interested in these matters, and I make a point of observing their progress and helping it on all I can. The process of development will be slow here as it has been in other countries—possibly slower in America than it has been anywhere else—because the American is too eager for results, and he tries to circumvent nature by a plan of forcing. Of course, he gets an artificial result, and has the trouble also of going again over all his work, having found that he must submit himself unflinchingly to the unvarying laws of nature.” (pp. 212-3)

In other words, the “American school” will drag its ass when it comes to finding itself because these snotty punks are so hung up on forcing their effects, but not willing to bust their asses in the long hours it takes to build their fundamentals. Or to make it short and glib, we could have a great American art movement if it wasn't so full of Americans.

You're feeding Galbraith a setup line like that? Oh, you mad, impetuous fool! Galbraith, his strength returning to him now that his passion is being stirred, recalls a Paris exhibition he attended in 1883 loaded to overflowing with “the choicest paintings of the greatest period of modern art.” He wasn't impressed so much by individual artists as he was by “what this collection meant as a whole,” the culmination of generations of hard, mind-wracking work. “Now, if America could take to heart such a great object lesson as this [...] and be content to bide her time—to work out, according to the laws of nature, a national art—using all her vast possibilities slowly and wisely—what a result we might have!” Again, no indication of what a “national art” might be, except to say “France did it, and why can't we have nice things like France?” Well, if France jumped into a world war, would you do it? Twice?

And then, we come to what may very well be a double-edged section of today's sermon—that is, if I thought this story was capable of having a single-edged scrap of dialogue.

“Are we as a nation,” continued Galbraith, keeping up his walk, “capable of the tremendous self-denial, the resignation to daily discouragements which are needed to carry a people through the sublimating period when its finer taste is being shaped and fixed to meet the highest standard? Sometimes I think that we have not this power of self-denial, and that we may never have it. A people can gain their spiritual light, their guidance up to the heights, only from the lives of their prophets. A great national art can be created and infused into the life of a people by masters alone, masters taken from among themselves, who, being a part of the people's life, can interpret to them essential truths, make plain to them obscure points and cause the barren places to blossom and glow with beauty for them, as no genius, but one born and bred amongst them, can possibly do.” (p. 215)

Then he ruminates on the “brotherhood of men” who, through their struggle, made the French arts the paragon against which all others are judged. It's worth repeating the list he comes up with at this point: Delacroix, Rousseau, Dupré, Corot, Diaz, Millet, Daubigny, “and the others” (there's a Gilligan's Island moment if I ever saw one). Fascinating that an impressionist, as I believe it was established rather early on Alex was, rattles off a list of those who pursued the battle against “sleek mediocrity” and doesn't come up with a single French impressionist, supposedly dismissing them as “the others,” like the hostile group on the other side of the Island. He's one of those self-loathing daubers, we can assume...

And what the hell, here's one more Galbraith quote to make you wonder if the 20th century would be his own personal nightmare.

“The trouble is,” he continued, “art in America is looked upon as a business—is considered as a means to wealth and social distinction; and I might say exactly the same of literature. But this brings us back to that old principle from which we can never escape,—that it is impossible to serve God and Mammon. Art must be looked upon as an end in itself, worthy of all one's soul and heart and intellect. Unless our American painters can be brought to look upon it in this light, we can have no great art, giving to the common facts of daily life in a strange, new interest and a transfigured beauty. Everything depends on the spirit with which we approach a subject.”

“Undoubtedly,” replied Mr. Elliott, “the key to every situation we carry in ourselves; our work only gives us back what we seek.”

Evidently Galbraith's talk had done him good. He went back to his easy chair and took a seat near the window, his face wearing a look of contentment and satisfaction such as Helen had not seen there for a long while. (pp. 216-7)

Referring to a push towards abstraction, he says “The artist's preeminent duty is to paint true. His business is to see what there is in what he wishes to paint—then to reproduce the truth as he finds it.” At this point, when this limp Socratic dialogue has me screaming "Drink the hemlock!" at the page, the ladies steer things to less serious themes and (of course) tea and dainty cakes. Then the party makes a tentative move of breaking up. Mr. Elliott, staring into Galbraith's eyes with hearty man-admiration, asks if there's anything he can do for Alex. “Yes—one thing—see after Helen!” What, right now? Because she's right over there. After the room is clear, Alex muses out loud how great Mr. Elliott is. I'm not even being facetious this time; “great” was the word he actually used.

Then we get a stroll in Helen's garden—which, of course, is awesome—and the Elliotts finally make their way home. Now that she was left alone with her thoughts, Helen's mind drifted to what an evil person she was.

In the fast gathering darkness there came upon her, as it did nearly every hour in the day, an overpowering sense of her own mistakes—of her terrible sin. She buried her face in her hands and sank down upon the doorstep of the cottage. Tears did not come to her, for her soul was filled with something which no tears could express. It seemed to her, as she crouched there, that a darkness the like of which had never before closed over a human soul had closed over her. Out of her memory there came to her scenes from her early life, scenes in which she had always been the central figure, the spotless, virgin type of pure girlhood. She had been too pure even to think of purity. She had simply taken life and lived it freely and joyously, her faith resting upon God. How often had she as a girl lingered out of doors in the gathering twilight! It had been the time when she dreamed her dreams and thought of all “the wonder there was to be.” Amid all of these voices from the past there came now an unexpected one whispering to her of a faith which she had lost, and for which she had found no substitute. A voice within her seemed to repeat slowly the words:

“Mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; therefore my heart faileth me. Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me; O Lord, make haste to help me.” Was it a prayer? She had hardly repeated it as such, but as if there were some saving virtue in the mere memory of those words which she had learned long ago in childhood, there came to her, like an answer, those other words of that daring preacher who proclaimed—“Sin shall not have dominion over you!”

When she reentered the house she found Galbraith asleep, so quietly closing the window by his side she crept away to the kitchen and to her duties there. (pp. 222-3)

Next: Um, another gallery visit? Isn't it a bit alarming that book 2 is repeating every incident that was in book 1 so far, and in the same quantities? The book is actively mocking me now... And yeah, I know France didn't jump into those world wars, it was pushed. Get off my back, imaginary Francophiles in my head...


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