Authors: Rex Warner
Tags: #Political fiction, #General, #Romance, #Classics, #Fascists, #Dystopias, #Fiction
|The Aerodrome: A Love Story|
|Random House UK (1941)|
|Tags:||General, Fiction, Dystopias, Romance, Classics, Political fiction, Fascists|
Generalttt Fictionttt Dystopiasttt Romancettt Classicsttt Political fictionttt Fasciststtt
From Library Journal
"Eight years older than 1984 , its claim to be regarded as a modern classic is as sound as that of Orwell's novel," writes Anthony Burgess in his introduction to this edition of The Aerodrome . Written as an allegory on fascism, the 1941 novel tells of the ruination of a rural village by the building of an aerodrome in its vicinity. Large fiction collections should consider it.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
A moral dialogue thrown into narrative form...humanity versus power, sprawling life versus death-dealing regimentation. --
New York Times.
The beauty of his prose...has nothing to do with ‘fine writing’ but springs from a sound moral core.... --
C. Day Lewis.
The value of The Aerodrome as literature becomes increasingly apparent at each rereading...an intensely original work. --
Rex Warner The Aerodrome
A Love Story
First published in 1941
With an introduction [now postscript] by Angus Wilson
To John and Pam
Philosophers have measured mountains, Fathomed the depths of seas, of states, and kings, Walked with a staffe to heav'n, and traced fountains: But there are two vast, spacious things, The which to measure it doth more behove: Yet few there are that found them; Sinne and Love.
AUTHORS often place at the beginning of their books a disclaimer to the effect that "all characters and scenes hereafter described are entirely fictitious". In my case anyone who has read my other books will know that such a disclaimer is unnecessary. I do not even aim at realism. And in this book my two worlds, "village" and "aerodrome", are of course not intended to describe any village or air force in existence. For the purpose of my story I have made both these worlds somewhat repulsive. Let the story, if it can, justify itself. But, in case it should be misunderstood, let me here assert that both for the Air Force and for the villages of my own country I have the utmost affection and respect.
The Dinner Party
IT WOULD BE difficult to overestimate the importance to me of the events which had taken place previous to the hour (it was shortly after ten o'clock in the evening) when I was lying in the marsh near the small pond at the bottom of Gurney's meadow, my face in the mud and the black mud beginning to ooze through the spaces between the fingers of my outstretched hands, drunk, but not blindly so, for I seemed only to have lost the use of my limbs. The tough damp marsh grass tickled below the ear and around the eyes. The mud smelt good, and I pressed my right cheek down flat upon it, seeing with my left eye the dim shapes of trees, like giants guarding beneficently the field of a dream, at the upper end of the meadow, and beyond the trees a few small stars, jolly in the immense darkness. Oh, I could have cried for joy and peace! I dug my toes into the soft ground, then raised myself a little on my elbows because the point of a long reed had penetrated one of the interstices of my hard dress shirt. Then I bit off a portion of another reed and sucked the white pith. I rolled over on my side, and some water squirted cool over the collar at the back of my neck. The other two were on their feet by now and, either because they imagined the marsh to be dusty, or for some reason which I did not understand, were smacking each other's shoulders and buttocks with their hands. We had all three tripped over the wire at the same moment, and: "God set fire to the Duke of Ireland! Who'd have thought it?" Fred was saying. "Roll along! Roll Along!" Mac sang, and then they turned to me, wishing me to proceed with them, but I refused to move or to say a word, so that in the end they stumbled away together though, as they went, I could hear them debating whether or not they had done well to leave me. "Good old Fred! Good old Mac!" I said to the grass, and then pressed my forehead for a few moments into the mud, lying perfectly still and listening to the gurgling and sucking noises all round me swelling from the plashy ground. When I heard the fierce broken snarl of an owl from the upper end of the meadow it was as though my very bowels were pierced with a sudden excitement, like a lancet, of joy. That almost painful delight passed and left me drowsy. I began to think, but not yet of what had happened to me that day. Slowly, and almost yard by yard, with a sense of the most delicious ease, I began to set before my mind's eye, since it was too dark to see, the familiar meadows, tracks, slopes, hills and trees that surrounded me. I imagined our village as it had been and as it still was, the land on which I lay; and then the people, and the rapidly accelerating change or threat. Below me the fine meadows gently swept downwards to the river. They were intersected by narrow ditches where water-rails are often to be seen, stepping more delicately than racehorses. At this time of the year the redshank come inland from the coasts and estuaries to nest here, and all day in a fresh wind I have listened to their confident whistle mingling with the outlandish scream of lapwing twisting madly in the air above the wide valley and the running shadows of April clouds, so that the birds' wings and voices seemed a part of the restless sky and the moving world. The river itself is narrow and runs fast in twists and loops, for it has much room to cut its own way in this valley. There is sedge which rustles dreadfully both in the stream and the wind, and several islands with willows growing upon them, places where both swans and otters nest. Beyond the river are meadows, at first rather flatter than they are on our side; but they are soon drawn up like a blanket into folds and creases to cover the shoulders of the further hills, and here and there one can see the big tufts of woods, the smaller hair of copses. There are no villages in sight, and the bridge is several miles upstream, out of sight too. But on our side of the river, away on my right hand, I hear the church clock striking eleven. The village street runs down the hill sharply to the church, and there stops. Along the street, at both sides, are the grey stone cottages to which Fred and Mac will by this time have returned. Polyanthus and honesty are in full bloom in their gardens, and the huge lilac bush at the corner cottage where the Squire's chauffeur lives will soon be in flower. In the churchyard there is one tall tree, a libocedrus, which runs up into the air like a black flame, and which, when I was a boy, I used to worship, visiting it regularly after morning service, thrusting my head and hands through its dark foliage, fancying it to be some goddess or divine creature, not uninterested in myself. Though embedded in earth it seemed a visitor from another world, like the people at the aerodrome, for it was the only conifer in the churchyard and stood most purely among the gigantic horse-chestnuts whose sticky huge buds were now peeling into leaf. The church I envisaged now from the outside, a compact and solid mass, with its short square tower, gravel paths circling the building, daffodils on the graves. And on the left of the church, if one were facing downhill, one would see the tall Manor with its cedar tree and large well-kept lawn. On the right was the Rectory, where my guardians lived and whither by this time I should have returned. In the Rectory garden the grass is somewhat unkempt; heavy bushes of laurel and laurustinus droop over the paths; there is one tall tree by the disused stable, a lime tree, in the topmost branches of which I once fixed a small platform to be used in my solitary games as a lookout post. I know every inch of this garden; the feel and taste of branches and twigs; the smell of leaves and grass in rain and sunshine; the consistency and colour of the soil in different parts. There are no other large gardens and only one other large house in our village. This house is the pub where I had been drinking that evening, and it is at the top of the village street, so that between it and the church all the small village extends. They would be polishing the glasses there now, sweeping the floors, setting away the darts in their separate stands of cork; and soon the landlord, his wife and daughter, after turning out the one light still shining in the big bar, would go in procession up the narrow stairs to their beds. I was friendly with the landlord's daughter and now thought with a feeling of resentment of some attentions which had recently been paid her by the Flight-Lieutenant. At the same time I became conscious of drops of water running down inside my shirt collar to the warm hollow between my neck and collar-bone. I shifted my position, no longer so much enjoying the mud and damp, and began to think of the aerodrome on the summit of the hill, almost a mile beyond the public-house. This was an institution which, so we were informed, was of great, even vital importance to the defences of our country; but it was so well concealed that many visitors to our village have gone away from the neighbourhood without ever having suspected its existence, although the sight and sound of perhaps fifty planes in the air at one time must have convinced them that some such a concentration of force could not be far distant. The long hangars were set not in rows nor in any regular order, but were so disposed and camouflaged that even from quite close at hand they appeared merely as rather curious modifications of the natural contours of our hills. The living quarters for officers and men were equally well hidden, some in natural indentations of the ground, others in thick groves of evergreen trees which had been specially planted for the purpose. Many of these buildings also, where visible, resembled older landmarks. One of the main depots for the storage of arms had been constructed so as to appear indistinguishable from a country church; the canteen where, I had been told, champagne was drunk as freely as beer is drunk in our public-house resembled, in spite of the luxury within, an old barn. So with the officers' quarters, or those of them which were not buried underground or hidden completely by coniferous trees. The wealth of the inmates was, we knew, immense. Sometimes their wives and mothers would be seen clearly as some huge car slowed down for a moment at one of the entrances to the aerodrome from the main road. These women were richly and tastefully dressed. They seldom turned their pale hard faces to look through the windows of their cars towards the edges of the road where the villagers, if any happened to be there, would be standing and touching their caps as a token of respect and admiration. Such feelings must always be provoked by a display of power and beauty that appear innocuous; but they were not, as I shall show, the ordinary feelings of the villagers towards the aerodrome as a whole. Jealousy, I think now, was always mingled with our respect, and fear and a kind of meanness with our admiration. Moreover certain events had taken place which could leave no one indifferent. Old Tom, who had worked close to the aerodrome ever since it was built, had been driven mad by the roar of the engines as all day the planes took off with their undercarriages almost grazing the hedge of his field. Many of the villagers, also, had been fined for infringing minor military regulations, for setting snares on Government property, or for leaving their carts in inappropriate places. There had been, too, some cases of the rape or abduction of young girls carried out by aircraftsmen or junior officers; but as these occurrences were common enough amongst ourselves, no great importance was attached to them. So I imagined to myself, as I was lying in the meadow, the appearance from a distance of this powerful institution, for no unauthorized person was allowed on the premises, and, at this time, I had never been nearer to the aerodrome than the main road which runs along the top of the hill above our village. Moreover I had only met one of the officers, though I was not, I had fancied, their inferior either in birth or upbringing. But now, as these words reiterated themselves in my memory, I became conscious of dull pain spread over me which, becoming intense enough to seem localized, I began to feel as an emptiness in the stomach--pain, dismay, and a hardening of the eyes as I pressed my forehead into the grass and mud, remembering with peculiar vividness the lights and shadows in the Rectory dining-room that evening, the faces round the table, the tones of voices, and what had been said. Now I turned my eyes again to the shadowy elm trees, darker than the sky, and they seemed no longer kindly, but like dreadful moving pillars, forcing me from my place. For these hills and woods and meadows were not mine as I had thought them, nor was I myself what I had been brought up to believe myself to be. Also, that evening, an act of extraordinary indelicacy had taken place. I know well that to many readers of this story the grief and destitution which I felt at this time will seem extravagant. All my memories were of this place--the churchyard, the gardens, the paths and hedges--and of its people, the Rector and his wife, the Squire and his sister, our gardener, and later the landlord's daughter and the young men with whom I had played football against neighbouring villages or darts in our own public-house. I had believed myself a native of this country, had acted and grown up as such. Should an accident of parentage make all this difference then? Is not the fiction that has been firmly believed as good as true? I can only say that I did not find it so. When I lay drunk in the mud I had been able to forget my sorrow, but now it returned upon me, in pangs of uncertainty and desperation, like the wounds of love. I sat up and stared over the dark pool before me, remembering what may seem to others such a trifling point--that I did not know who I was. That evening, in order to celebrate my twenty-first birthday, a dinner party had been given at the Rectory. It had originally been intended to invite only the Squire and his sister, who were our closest personal friends; but at my urgent request there had also been invited the young Flight-Lieutenant with whom I had become acquainted only recently, and who, alone of the personnel of the aerodrome, was a not infrequent visitor to the village pub. This young man was remarkably handsome, and dexterous in all his ways. I soon began to look up to him with the kind of admiration which a young and inexperienced person will often give to one who excels him in beauty, knowledge, and ability, and who is yet kind enough to acknowledge the admiration and treat the admirer as a friend. Nor was my affection for him at all lessened by a consideration of the faults which certainly marred his character; for in spite of the extraordinary charm of manner which he could so easily display, he was often bitter, moody, and vindictive. I had sometimes met him out walking along the main road by the aerodrome, when he would refuse to speak a word, far less suggest that I should accompany him. Often, too, in the course of a general conversation he would shock me by some brutally expressed criticism of our way of life. His actions were sometimes entirely irresponsible. He would play the most absurd and often cruel practical jokes on perfect strangers. On one occasion in our public-house I saw him throw a dart deliberately so that it penetrated a man's hand. But all this, shocking as it was, seemed to me rather the symptoms of some disease in him than an expression of his true character, which I saw as distinguished by so many virtues and graces which were wholly absent from my own. And even after what had happened that evening I still could not but more than half approve of the man, though I pitied with all my heart those whose hospitality and whose feelings he had so mercilessly outraged. It was not until the end of the meal that there was made to me by those whom, up to now, I had assumed to be my parents a disclosure important enough to unsettle the whole basis of my thoughts and feelings; and it was the Flight-Lieutenant who, more than any other of those present, had seemed to understand how important to me this disclosure was, even although all his views on the subject were, I could see at once, wholly different from my own. The others expected me to receive the news as though it were some surprise packet almost bound to please and certainly not likely to alter in any way the general tenor of my life. And it was with the air of one who has something quite pleasantly momentous to say that the Rector, he whom I had always regarded as my father, but to whom I must now refer as my guardian, rose from his place at the head of the table after the port had been passed round once, and began to propose, on this auspicious occasion, my health. His wife, my female guardian, was sitting