What am I reading?
I have enjoyed another good reading week – continuing to manage an hour almost every day, and slightly longer at the weekend. It feels good to have got on with T. E. Lawrence’s Letters and The Miseducation of Cameron Post but that feeling has been alloyed by the fact that there have been other books I need to get on with but which have fallen by the wayside. This is partly my fault for starting too many but also a consequence of having varied interests and wanting to keep up with all of them at the same time. What is the answer?
T. E. Lawrence’s Letters
(Ed. David Garnett)
When I wrote my last WAIR update, it was 1917 and Lawrence was in the middle of the Arab Revolt. It is now 1923. The Arab Revolt has ended. The First World War has ended. The Peace Conference that followed the war has ended. And I think a little piece of Lawrence has ended as well. How else to explain his decision to join the RAF as a private? This is the man who could have joined the government or taken a top job in Britain’s colonial administration if he had wanted. I’m sure he could have helped Gertrude Bell found Iraq. But all that wasn’t for him. He wanted to be famous but also left alone. Sadly, leaving people alone is not the way of British newspapers and he has just been slung out of the RAF after the Daily Express wrote an expose of him serving there.
A couple of things that stick out from my reading of this book over the last week is a quotation belonging to John Maynard Keynes who in 1919, at the Paris peace conference observed that at the start of ’19 Lawrence ‘was a man fully in control of his nerves’. In other words, he didn’t think TEL had been done in by the war as people – including myself – have often thought. In Keynes’ opinion, it was what happened at Paris that turned Lawrence. The editor of the book states that he was also damaged by a plane crash that he was involved in.
The second thing that stands out is Lawrence’s correspondence with Air Vice Marshall Sir Oliver Swann who, under orders from the government, got Lawrence his job in the RAF. Lawrence writes various rather familiar letters to him but Swann is quoted as saying that he never met TEL until the order to get him in the RAF came through and didn’t like the whole business of helping him so secretly. This makes reading Lawrence’s letters rather awkward as he is being quite chummy to someone who doesn’t seem to have had that much time for him.
On another note, Lawrence’s letters to Charles Doughty really are (as E. M. Forster is quoted as saying) full of ‘consideration and gentleness’ and so are the perfect antidote to the Swann ones.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
(Emily M. Danforth)
This might be my last update of Cameron Post as I am up to Chapter 15 and the book has 21 in total. I am now in Part III of the book. Cameron has been outed – by Coley her girlfriend of all people – and been carted off to God’s Promise, a ‘Christian school and center for healing’.
What went wrong? Cameron and Coley were in bed together when the latter’s brother, Ty, and his friends arrived at the flat. They didn’t see the girls in flagrante delicto but afterwards – after, that is, Cameron had left the scene – they managed to get the truth out of Coley. How that happened we can’t be quite sure but it sets up a potentially explosive encounter between Cameron and Coley later in the book. Especially since Coley seems to have cast her as the villain of their piece.
Cameron is sent to God’s Promise at the behest of her Aunt Ruth who regards homosexuality as a spiritual disease to be cured. The book jumps forward from the day on which Cameron is busted and her arrival at the school. By the time the latter takes place she is, not surprisingly, openly hostile to her mother. Because we don’t see the days in which that hostility would have developed and boiled over Cameron’s sudden anger felt a bit discordant, almost like she had had suddenly become a different person to the rather laid back figure of before.
What of God’s Promise? I was dreading reading this portion of the book as I thought it was going to be some kind of mad Christian boot camp with goodness knows what kind of abusiveness going on in the name of God. But actually, it is presented as a pretty normal place. There are no pantomime or more sinister villains, though the assistant director, Lydia March, has the potential to be either. The students (called disciples) are not automatons, brainwashed by the Bible, though there is talk about how they forget themselves in the midst of their counselling. They don’t forget that much, though, as we see Cameron go off with other students to smoke pot.
This doesn’t mean that God’s Promise is ‘fine, after all’. Philosophically speaking, it is still a very problematical place. It is, after all, dedicated to pursuing the annihilation of character. Or, to be more nuanced about it, the annihilation of an element of people’s character. From the Christian perspective its work makes sense – homosexual inclination being a disorder of the spirit after all. But I don’t accept that and the knowledge that this view is still the prevalent one within the wider faith (and, more specifically, my Catholic Church) is a great trial. There are other reasons why it is a trial but I will not go into them here.