A mate of mine asked me if the four main characters of These Matters are destined for a reunion in book IV. I remember being struck at the time by it, because there was an element of him telling me (although he was of course subtle enough not to do so outright) that those were his favourite parts of the books, and that in his opinion the 'solo' sections were somehow less engaging or worthy. Perhaps. I've spent a decent amount of thought and effort tuning the parts of book IV where Strelley is apart from all the other characters, trying to elucidate what it is like to be him as he tries, desperately, to separate himself from Elizabeth (or, as he might put it, to separate Elizabeth from him). I have written on this blog about how at times even I have been worn down by his rampagingly swinging mood and his utter preoccupation with her, but his story pushes its way out nevertheless. There is more tactile pleasure in the writing of the scenes that concern several of my characters at once, even if some of the Strelley scenes might be considered the most affecting, which they certainly have been to me writing them. The best way I can think to explain it is that these scenes tend to be the ones where there is a soundtrack in my head, influencing the shape of the scene itself, channeling what I hope is the best of the spirit of Dumas. These are the scenes where the swashbuckling swordplay and derring-do that are actually conspicuously absent from the vast majority of Dumas' writing creep into mine. Some of them copy, occasionally even consciously, Dumas' dialogue-driven style, which again is at odds with most people's perception of his work as mostly about sword fights. So, anyway, here are a couple of extracts from the adventures of Longshawe and de Winter in book IV. For context, just as Strelley and later Guy Fletcher find themselves in Exeter as one rebellion unfolds, Longshawe and de Winter by the time of these extracts are heading off eastwards towards a very different parallel rebellion in Norwich.
“James,” he says. “This sounds like it will be dangerous.”
“We survived Ancrum Moor.”
“Only just, if I remember correctly.”
“Your father is here.” Longshawe speaks the words in a flat tone. “I have spoken with him.”
De Winter’s face visibly falls. “Ah. I shall do my best to keep him happy.”
“Fathers,” Longshawe commiserates. “One cannot choose.”
“Imagine,” de Winter is saying, “that every time you’re in church, you feel God judging you. He sees right into you. All the lies, the mask you hide behind, He sees through it.”
“God forgives you. That’s the point, isn’t it?” Longshawe says.
“He does. But he forgives sins for which we repent. Confess.” De Winter thumbs a cross that he wears around his neck. “You do not confess.”
Longshawe narrows his eyes. “I do not. That is true. But this new way, the king’s way, Cranmer’s way… It does not require confession. It asks only that you commune with God, and listen for him.”
“Yes,” de Winter says, “I understand it. You will reach salvation by faith alone. A comforting doctrine for those who do not want the trouble of attending Mass. Of praying. Of confessing.”
Andrew Shepherd cuts in. “I do not see that God would put real power in the hands of the priests. They’re just men.”
De Winter smiles. “That is true. But they act in the person of Christ himself.”
“George,” Longshawe says, “do you not think that God, if He is so loving as we are told, would accept both your way of worship and the new way?”
“You had best hope so!” De Winter laughs. “I fear God. I fear that He knows the truth, the things I hide at every moment from the world. Sins I have imagined but not committed. Sins I fear even to speak aloud in Confession. Sins that I am not sure even He could forgive.”
Longshawe and Shepherd both look at him, questioning. De Winter moves his focus from one to the other and back again.
“Sins,” de Winter picks up , “that I shall not be revealing to you two.”
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought