How many miles to babylon : l'enfance

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  • Pages : 7 (1663 mots )
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  • Publié le : 13 août 2010
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PART2 from p3 « As a child I was alone » to p8 « ...rather short on team spirit. »


Jennifer Johnston, an Irish novelist, published in 1974 How many miles to Babylon, the story of a doomed friendship between Alec, the son of a protestant landlord and Jerry, a catholic boy from the nearby village, at the beginning of the 20th century.
Their friendship overcomes allsorts of hurdles but finally leads both of them to their untimely death in wartime Belgium Flanders.
This book is Alec's memoirs which he wrote in his cell in the trenches, waiting to be « shot at dawn » for disobedience.
The passage stresses how lonely Alec was as a child, being an only child and growing without the love of his mother. The narrator in his cell wonders whether this lonelinesswas one of the tragic flaws that led him to his present situation. The adult tends to deny it but the portrait he draws of his parents is a severe indictement. Alicia Moore is depicted as a « twisted »* character with no « redeeming feature »* whatsoever who will nevertheless shape the personality of her son who, on the other hand could not see his submissive and weak father as a role model.
(*These words are by the author in an interview she gave.)


The roots of his loneliness are in the education he received.

Until he reached the age of 10, Alec's private tutors followed one another without making any impression on him : they are indistinctly remembered as « a series of ladies who taught me a series of subjects ».

Althoughhe was taught at home by private tutors, his parents took no part or almost none, to his education. The only exception was when his mother fired the piano teacher whom she found repulsive and who did not meet her expectations. For a short time, she gave piano lessons to her son until she got bored with Alec's lack of progress and finally gave up. No other piano teacher was to replace Mr Cave.The only tutor Alec has a fond memory of is Mr Bingham , the »curate »: « He smelt delicately of peppermints ». He was the person he shared most of his time with « the numerous books we translated together » and who was the nearest thing to a friend : he liked to tease him « on days ...the visible desintegration of his pleasure ». With or without Mr Bingham, Alec spent most of his time faraway from his parents in his schoolroom « Luncheon was the only meal I ate with them. Breakfast and high tea I munched alone in the schoolroom. »

Alec never once attended school. School was one of the bones of contention between his parents. As Alec was growing up, his father assumed he would go to school as he probably did himself. Of course not to the village school but to a boardinginstitution for gentlemen « to meet a few chaps of (his) own age. Broaden. Polish (him) a bit. Games. » For Frederick Moore, school sounds like a compulsory rite of passage for people of their social class . But his assumption is immediately met with the hostility of his wife who does not want Alec to leave home. The first argument put forward is Alec's supposedly poor health « He is delicateFrederick. You must not put his health at risk.(...) the child had pneumonia. » But the true reason was that «  (she) had no intention of remaining alone in this house with (her husband) »


Alicia Moore did not want Alec to leave the family home and yet he was virtually invisible to his parents.

« I could become at will as still and invisible as a bowl offlowers » Alec in this passage was, if not physically away from his parents all alone in his schoolroom, in the shadow or at the end of the interminable length of the dinner table and his parents were hardly aware of his presence: « I must have moved or breathed too deeply or something. His eye fell on me. » or « Their words rolled past me up and down the polished length of the table. » As a...
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