“Have I really been such a Don Juan? Compared to others, surely not.”
Sitting at my desk, staring at a once again painfully grey sky - thanks London - I am at a loss on how to begin this week’s report. On one hand, these past fifty pages have been much like those before them. Arrowby laments on one of the many people he has tortured throughout his life, eats fish, bothers the townsfolk, and goes skinny dipping. On the other hand, these pages have thrown a spanner into the works. Murdoch brings Arrowby’s past to his front door, with Gilbert, Lizzie, Rosina, and Hartley all making appearances at Shruff End. Whilst Arrowby’s interactions with Gilbert, Lizzie, and Rosina follow along with his character, his conversations with Hartely show a beating, broken heart beneath his perfectly creased linen blouse. A heart that may win me over yet.
This section of The Sea, The Sea begins with the arrival of Gilbert and Lizzie. They have come to Shruff End to beg Arrowby to grant them peace. Gilbert expresses that he and Lizzie have “really connected” and have found true love in each other. His speech finally confirms a question I had; Gilbert is as in love with Arrowby as Lizzie is. He begs Arrowby to “make us very happy and make yourself happy just by being gentle and kind and by loving us and letting us love you.” Gilbert and Lizzie’s platonic love cannot withstand the storm that is Arrowby. One letter declaring his love for either one and desire to wed them alone could ruin their entire arrangement.
Gilbert confirms this power that Arrowby has over himself and Lizzie by expressing “We’re frightened of you, yes, like we always were.”
In response to Gilbert’s outpouring of love and pleading, Arrowby provides the reader with a rant on how he “made” Gilbert. It seems that in instances where Arrowby feels he is no longer the one fully in control, he likes to remind the reader of his influence in society. He claims that he “made Gilbert” and he “owed me everything.” Arrowby is furious that “this puppet was talking back and positively threatening me with moral sanctions!” He swiftly regains control of the situation by dismissing Gilbert entirely. He waves him away, claiming that Gilbert’s relationship with Lizzie is of no importance and that it is she that was “summoned,” not him.
Arrowby’s treatment of Gilbert is entirely unsurprising. He views him as a pest, a star that he made shine. He is shocked and offended that this prodigy of his is daring to rear its head. This lack of control is what ticks Arrowby off, not the thought of Lizzie loving another or Gilbert loving him. This is shown when Arrowby claims, “As I spoke I was becoming conscious of that old familiar possessive feeling, the desire to grab and hold, which had been somehow blessedly absent from my recent thoughts about Lizzie.”
This point is further showcased when Lizzie appears. She chases Arrowby into the house and pleads the same case as Gilbert. To either love them both and bless their relationship or leave them to be happy. Despite Arrowby expressing to Gilbert just moments ago that he loves Lizzie and wants only her, Arrowby is cold and calculating towards her. He shuts down her attempts at conversation, saying “Go now, Lizzie child, I don’t want us to have a messy conversation or an argument. Goodbye.” This controlling manner of talking is continued in Arrowby’s ruminations on the events of the afternoon. He is pleased with the way things went, particularly that he kept Lizzie at arm’s length. He claims that if she does not come to him promptly, he will “simply go fetch her.”
Through Arrowby’s language in speaking to and about Lizzie, it is once again evident that he does not crave love or care, but merely power. He enjoys sewing chaos in others' lives as it makes him feel godly. He will never marry Lizzie and never love her or Gilbert. He will simply continue to string them along like sad marionettes until he gets bored.
This theme continues through Arrowby’s interaction with Rosina. She appears in his kitchen scaring him half to death. It turns out that the smashing vases and faces in windows have been Rosina this whole time. She has been haunting him for a week. Rosina has the power in their conversation, and this deeply unnerves Arrowby. He continuously begs her to leave, trying at every chance he gets to regain some kind of control. He reminds her that “Stars are always more famous than those who create them.”
Ultimately, Arrowby’s interactions with Gilbert, Lizzie, and Rosina show the man we have come to expect. A self-centred, power-hungry egomaniac. Thus, I was not particularly moved by these passages. However, at the end of Rosina’s conversation with Arrowby, Murdoch throws us a curveball. Hartley appears.
Mary Hartley is Arrowby’s childhood love. She is the only character thus far that he has spoken of purely and innocently. His love for her is not steeped in his control over her, or any power games. It seems he truly did and continues to love her.
Arrowby’s love for Hartley has softened me ever so slightly. He is left “trembling” by simply seeing her, and their brief conversation in the town church is painfully awkward. He becomes obsessed for the next few pages with ideas of Hartley. He wonders if she is happy in her marriage, what her son is like, what her house is like, and how she has aged so much and yet is still so beautiful. After an incredibly painful visit to her house to meet her husband, Arrowby decides to weasel his way back into Hartley's life. Yet, unlike his plans for Lizzie, he seems to have pure desires. He decides that he must leave her marriage alone and that even if he did try to break it, there is no reason to believe he would be successful.
This is staunchly different from the Arrowby we have come to know. The Arrowby of pages past would have stormed into Hartely’s house confident that she would simply fall at his feet. This simple fact, which he does not assume to have power over her, showcases his love.
All in all, pages one hundred to one-hundred and fifty have been my favourite thus far. Whilst I love Murdoch’s lofty writing, the continuous descriptions of the sea were wearing a bit thin. The plot has picked up astronomically, and the increase in dialogue has made the novel far easier to read. I am excited to see where Arrowby goes next in his relationship with Hartley. I am crossing every bone in my body so that he does not let me down and attempt to destroy her marriage. I do hope my faith is not misplaced.
I am also curious to see what other characters from Arrowby’s past will make appearances. At the moment, the novel has A Christmas Carol quality; with ghosts of the past haunting Arrowby with life lessons. Considering the many mentions of Shruff End being haunted, and Arrowby’s appearance mimicking that of a madman, perhaps Gilbert and the gang truly are ghosts.
Perhaps Arrowby has finally lost his mind.
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