a good woman in a leafy enclave and living a moral life and where's God?

Karey L. Perkins karey at charter.net
Fri Sep 13 14:06:23 EDT 2002

Percy writes on the fourth page of _Love in the Ruins_ :

"I believe in God and the whole business but I love women best, music and
science next, whiskey next, God fourth, and my fellowman hardly at all."  He
continues:  "Generally I do as I please.  A man, wrote John, who says he
believes in God and does not keep his commandments is a liar.  If John is
right, I am a liar."

One supposes with this kind of prelude that our hero will eventually, by the
end of the novel, work his way towards loving God most, (or, alternatively,
God himself will do the work and eventually make his way up the list) --
whatever permutation to his real, daily life that might take (e.g.: retiring
to a leafy enclave or crying out in the wilderness) but our protagonist
really ends up having succeeded in accomplishing his goal of what he loves
most -- women -- i.e.: finding a good woman.

I agree with you that popular culture, Hollywood, etc., has that (i.e.: boy
and girl finding each other) as "an" if not "the" answer to our existential
loneliness, and certainly Percy does in his novels, as well as his
interviews.  Here's the question:  Is that a SUBSTITUTE for the real thing
(God) or a MANIFESTATION of the real thing?

I don't want to get all Gnostic here and claim we should all lead ascetic,
hermetic lives of denial, donning hair shirts and ashes each day, but
really, and this is a real question here, not rhetorical, but, is God any
higher on the list at the end of the novels?  What is the evidence?  After
Percy's hero eschews everything of "this world" so he can find God, he then
goes back and embraces the world.  Is this how it's meant to be done?

Along the same lines, to wax theological, Adam and Eve were turned out of
the Garden of Eden, once they had "knowledge."  They can't go back - there's
a mighty angel with a flaming sword guarding the entrance, pretty
intimidating picture, I think.  So they must turn to Christ, and make their
Kingdom of Heaven "on earth," but isn't it inside them, an inner heaven, and
seems to be transcendent of what's going on around them?   Aren't we "in the
world" but not "of the world?" I get the picture that we'll never be as
comfortable or "one" with the garden experience ever after -- it's not ours
to have again.  Isn't that what Percy wants to say?  Isn't that what the
fugue states are about?

In the end, it seems God should be our "all" -- though that means loving
others as well, but they are not our "salvation."  As Ben Jonson says, in
"On My First Son," speaking of his son who as just died..."My sin was too
much hope of thee, loved boy," and of himself, "For whose sake, all his vows
be such/As what he loves, may never like too much."

Certainly, I, like Percy, really really want his characters to end up
happily in love with each other and ensconced in a lush and fruitful garden
living the good life for themselves and others -- "happily ever after,"
(hey, I'd love that for MY life, too!), but then we have a nice little
romance novel or a fairy tale, not real life, and Percy seems to have gotten

(Who, me, a cynic?)


----- Original Message -----
From: Tpmonaghan at aol.com
To: Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion
Sent: Thursday, September 12, 2002 11:54 AM
Subject: [percy-l] RE: a good woman in a leafy enclave and living a moral
life and where's God?

Settling down with a good woman in a leafy enclave and living a moral life,
sounds a lot like Eden to me.  God is obviously there.  God did observe that
was His plan, and that even before the Fall, it was not good that man should
be alone and there is all that about from the rib, not the foot, not the
head... from the Church fathers then the madonna and child.....  As time
goes by, the fundamental things apply....whether 20's, 30's, 40's, 60's,
70's, 80's and on and on and even millenniums...

The Great Books, the hot bodsky bite of bourbon whiskey, chicken soup, and
grits all in a cave in Lost Cove, Tennessee with Ellen and a moral
life...isn't this as close to the eschaton as some of us should think of
getting on this side of the river?  Isn't that the good life for Tom and
Ellen, and Adam and Eve, and .... And if that option is not our vocation,
there is the prophet/hermit crying in the wilderness and enjoying the things
of creation and studying and writing and pondering.  Both approaches depend
upon each other.  Praying, moral living, and tending the garden are
requirements for all.

Percy wrote somewhere that boy and girl finding each other usually solved a
lot.  That would seem to be indicated as well in common experience.  It's
also reflected in the pop reading of Westerns...man spends 19 chapters
clearing out bad guys, building fences, etc. finds woman in last few
paragraphs, kisses her and book ends and life begins....or in the Romance,
man clears out the bad guys, builds fences, etc. in first few paragraphs and
spends 19 chapters geting around to finding girl, kissing her, etc. which it
turns out is a lot more complicated than he ever thought and book ends and
life begins.

Actually, I just found the quote that I remembered.  It is on the back cover
of "More Conversations with Walker Percy" edited by Lewis A. Lawson and
Victor A. Kramer..."You would like for your characters to get out of the fix
they are in and achieve some kind of happiness.  The best way to do it, the
easiest way to do it, is to fall in love.  A man falls in love with a woman
or vice versa.  If both happen at the same time, that's pretty good." --
An archive of all list discussion is available at
Visit the Walker Percy Project at <http://www.ibiblio.org/wpercy>.
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