Well, I got one thing wrong in my last post. Chapter Six does not see Liljana leave the Villa Burnett, after all. The chapter is a very short one, and covers only George Burnett’s discovery of what happened between Liljana and his wife and his rescue of Liljana from prison.
When George returns home, his wife goes into full it wasn’t my fault mode. It would be comic if it wasn’t so serious. Mrs. Burnett protests at her husband’s remonstrances ‘in her most hurt tones’ and there is sniffing and eye dabbing, but all is to no avail. George Burnett knows that his wife is ‘a spoilt, pampered woman’ and storms out of the room.
This is an interesting moment. In this chapter, we are firmly on George’s side. Okay, that’s not hard when his spiteful wife is the opposition but he really earns our loyalty when he goes to the local police station and prises Liljana from the reluctant officer’s hands.
Before we start lionising him, however, we might ask ourselves how and why George Burnett allowed his wife to become so mean. Granted, we cannot change people if they do not wish to be changed but I have a suspicion that in the course of their marriage George has been too easy on Susan; that he has chosen silence rather than confronting her bad behaviour. And indeed, we are told in this chapter that,
At moments like this, [George] knew why he spent so much time enjoying the hospitality of friends.
Against that, the point is made that Mrs. Burnett’s behaviour is not usually so bad, quite trivial in fact, but did it never cross George Burnett’s mind that her petty spite might one day be the foundation of a much nastier and more vicious outburst?
Well, George can’t change the past. He can, forever, change the future. And so he does. Rather than go to a friend’s house, he heads straight to the prison. There, he argues for Liljana’s release in an increasingly fraught and dangerous atmosphere. Had George got himself beaten up and/or thrown in the slammer I would not have been surprised.
To his very great credit, however, he sees the matter through. And in the midst of his struggle, we are given another quotation,
Shades of the prison-house begin to close.
This is from Ode on the Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth. The Romantic poet is talking about growing up – the ‘prison-house’ to which he refers is the world, or life. De Maria gives the line a very literal meaning and her use of it builds up the air of danger and claustrophobia as George fights for Liljana’s release.
There is no doubt that what George Burnett is doing is heroic. All the more so because he is very scared. He sweats and struggles to keep his cool and feels unnerved. We are told that for weeks after the event he is kept awake by the horrible memory of what he saw when Liljana’s cell door was finally opened.
What about Liljana? She has not recovered from the last chapter. Burnett finds her curled up in a foul smelling cell in a state of mental turmoil. She is only able to say, or rather, shout, two things – I didn’t do it and don’t touch me.
The latter statement, with its implication of sexual as much as physical abuse confirms Chapter Six as the darkest yet in the novel. There is no indication now or later (so far as I recall) that the police abused Liljana but there doesn’t need to be; the implication is enough.
The chapter ends with George taking Liljana home. We sigh with relief, but if we stop to think about it, Liljana is merely jumping out of the frying pan and back into the fire. Susan Burnett awaits her back in Arcadia. Death, of a kind, awaits her. Liljana does leave the Villa Burnett, that I know; but I can’t remember what suffering she might have to go through before it happens.
Front Cover of We’ll Never Tell Them: Ignatius Press