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The Taverner Novels: Armed with Madness and…

The Taverner Novels: Armed with Madness and Death of Felicity Taverner… (edition 1992)

by Mary Butts

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Title:The Taverner Novels: Armed with Madness and Death of Felicity Taverner (Recovered Classic Series)
Authors:Mary Butts
Info:McPherson (1992), Paperback, 374 pages
Collections:Read but unowned

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The Taverner novels: Armed with Madness; Death of Felicity Taverner by Mary Butts



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I just read Armed with Madness but I will post a review anyway. Someday I may well read Death of Felicity Taverner and then I suppose I will update this review. It's a tricky business, trying to figure out what is a work versus part of a work versus multiple works. Ha!

This was written in 1928 - really? It is crisp, fresh. OK, sufficiently redolent of say John Cowper Powys and Aldous Huxley that its time is not so surprising. But to move as crisply as Huxley while touching the depths of Powys - that is no small feat!

I am sure that most of this went over my head. It's funny, Jung gets dismissed while the focus is more on Freud. Yet here we have the Holy Grail. The whole thing seems to walk out of a seance.

These novels got mentioned in a book of interviews with the poet Robert Duncan, A Poet's Mind. Very appropriately, I would say. Not that I know Duncan't poetry, but from the interviews I have read so far. How much history and myth would a person have to know to pick up what is going on here? Are the characters here all actually modeled on the Grail Myth? Picus was ill but then revived instantly the Grail was found. But that is just a small detail at the beginning. Maybe what is here is more like all the bits and pieces of myth then rearranged in a new pattern. That would be nice! I am a physicist. It's like: all machinery is based on the same basic natural laws, but still those basic laws can play through infinitely various patterns. But I am not smart enough to see here what is a law and what is a pattern.

I will say, the story is totally engrossing despite my ignorance. I don't feel spoken down to. Yeah, I do feel entrance. Hmmm, I read a Lawrence Durrell novel once, maybe Tunc or maybe Nunquam, I forget. Maybe that is similar flavor to this.

It's a small set of characters here and there is a wild tension afoot. It is like a mathematical puzzle. Maybe like a spread of the Tarot cards. Powerful, raw, but not like an indulgence in sensual impulse or any of that. There is a sort of urgent quest for meaning here.


Now, a few years later, I have read the second novel here, The Death of Felicity Taverner.

There are several layers at work here. At a plot level, there is a conflict between a family that has lived in the beautiful old English countryside, and a newcomer who wants to commercialize the area for London-based weekenders. So this embodies a clash of cultures, of old traditional life versus modern life. Then there is a layer that wanders around anthropology and psychology and mythology, with references to the Electra complex etc. At the base is the language of the novel, with its rich descriptions of places and people. The point of view shifts among the characters.

The book reminds me a bit of Glasonbury Romance by John Cowper Powys. It's like the characters are driven by cosmic forces that also run through the natural environment.

The first half of the novel is slow as the characters get built up. Then the second half moves a lot faster as events unfold. ( )
3 vote kukulaj | Jan 8, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0929701186, Paperback)

These two novels, Armed with Madness and Death of Felicity Taverner, out of print since originally published in 1928 and 1932, form what is almost certainly her masterpiece, a mythic yet contemporary tale of struggle against spiritual alienation.

On the remote southwestern coast along the English Channel, a group of young bohemians have gathered, in retreat from the psychological cataclysm of World War and in search of a moral value on which to base their lives. Armed with Madness begins by invoking an ancient enchantment, a numinous vision of coincident reality, where love can also lead to insanity. Scylla Taverner, her brother Felix, her soon-to-be lover Picus, and their closely knit circle of English, Russian and American friends, retrieve an ancient chalice, which may be the Sanc-Grail. Together they enter upon a psychological and sexual exploration fraught with exhilarating possibility and violent consequence.

Five years later, in Death of Felicity Taverner the quest is renewed, this time to discover a buried truth. Was Felicity's death accidental? A suicide? Or a murder? As the mystery unravels, Felicity's opportunistic widower unveils a plan with a vacation-home development, inciting a drama played out between conscience and evil.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:28 -0400)

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