“White moths hovered dimly over the garden-beds, and the footsteps of night tip-toed through the bushes.”

This in many ways is the apotheosis of a gushing, insufferable, but paradoxically sufferable, Wordsworth type, with a poetic prose as a glut within Nature’s version of Dorian Gray, the man called Frank who tells a convalescing friend, Darcy, who stays with him, that his null immortality and sense of boredom has been made positive, by dunking himself in the river, exposing himself to the sound of Pan’s Pipes, decrying Christianity and its suffering ethos, scorning “Puritanism, the dismal religion of sour faces,…”, and running away from those in pain, absorbing himself in a hedonism of immortality’s quest. The search for the gestalt of oneness, I might say.

“ ‘…for happiness is more infectious than small-pox. So, as I said, I sat down and waited; I looked at happy things, zealously avoided the sight of anything unhappy, and by degrees a little trickle of the happiness of this blissful world began to filter into me. The trickle grew more abundant, and now, my dear fellow, if I could for a moment divert from me into you one half of the torrent of joy that pours through me day and night,… […] Mad?’ he said. ‘Yes, certainly, if you wish. But I prefer to call it sane. […] There will be a final revelation,’ he said, ‘a complete and blinding stroke which will throw open to me, once and for all, the full knowledge, the full realisation and comprehension that I am one, just as you are, with life. In reality there is no “me,” no “you,” no “it.” Everything is part of the one and only thing which is life. […] Can’t you see?’ he asked. ‘Can’t you understand that that sort of thing, pain, anger, anything unlovely, throws me back, retards the coming of the great hour!’ “

Then there come those ‘elbow’ moments of Pan’s arrival within our own real-time of reading this work…

“Frank, bare-headed as was his wont, with his coat slung over his arm and his shirt sleeves rolled up above the elbow, stood there like some beautiful wild animal with eyes half-shut and mouth half-open, drinking in the scented warmth of the air. Then suddenly he flung himself face downwards on the grass at the edge of the stream, burying his face in the daisies and cowslips, and lay stretched there in wide-armed ecstasy, with his long fingers pressing and stroking the dewy herbs of the field. […] ‘The Pan-pipes, the Pan-pipes,’ he whispered. ‘Close, oh, so close.’ Very slowly, as if a sudden movement might interrupt the melody, he raised himself and leaned on the elbow of his bent arm.”

Leading ironically, later, to the climactic elbow moment (“rolled up the sleeves of his shirt to above the elbow”) — containing passages as some of the greatest horror moments in literature, if one can survive the glut of poetic hedonism that precedes them!  The shadow that squats upon the hammock where Frank always lolls in idyllic ‘boredom’ and later what is indelibly printed on Frank’s chest!  I feel E.F. Benson outdoes himself in horror, during these closing paragraphs and I shall not quote them here, but let you read them for yourself in context.

Ligotti’s hoax?


My other reviews of E.F. Benson:

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4 thoughts on “THE MAN WHO WENT TOO FAR by E.F. Benson

  1. Ligotti’s hoax in reverse, I feel, is put into Frank’s mouth by EFB, as follows…

    “Years ago, do you remember,” he said, “we used often to talk about the decay of joy in the world. Many impulses, we settled, had contributed to this decay, some of which were good in themselves, others that were quite completely bad. Among the good things, I put what we may call certain Christian virtues, renunciation, resignation, sympathy with suffering, and the desire to relieve sufferers, but out of those things spring very bad ones, useless renunciation, asceticism for its own sake, mortification of the flesh with nothing to follow, no corresponding gain that is, and that awful and terrible disease which devastated England some centuries ago, and from which by heredity of spirit we suffer now, Puritanism. That was a dreadful plague, the brutes held and taught that joy and laughter and merriment were evil: it was a doctrine the most profane and wicked. Why, what is the commonest crime one sees? A sullen face. That is the truth of the matter. Now all my life I have believed that we are intended to be happy, that joy is of all gifts the most divine. And when I left London, abandoned my career, such as it was, I did so because I intended to devote my life to the cultivation of joy, and, by continuous and unsparing effort to be happy. Among people, and in constant intercourse with others, I did not find it possible; there were too many distractions in towns and work-rooms, and also too much suffering. So I took one step backwards or forwards, as you may choose to put it, and went straight to Nature, to trees, birds, animals, to all those things which quite clearly pursue one aim only, which blindly follow the great native instinct to be happy without any care at all for morality, or human law or divine law. I wanted, you understand, to get all joy first-hand and unadulterated, and I think it scarcely exists among men; it is obsolete.”

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