One of the books I bought during Project 24 was Strange Glory (1936) by L.H. Myers. For some reason I had jotted down this name during my doctoral research, and so I bought it when I spotted it in my favourite shop in Oxford, Arcadia. Having read it (quite a while ago, actually) I have no idea why I decided to write it down. It wasn’t remotely helpful for my research… but it was interesting enough.
It starts with Paulina stopping her chauffeur next to a mysterious wood in Louisiana. She is off to meet her fiancee, but is captivated by the wood instead – and the equally mysterious man she spots amongst the trees. Strange Glory returns to Paulina’s life once every year, as she returns to the wood and to that man – whom she thinks a hermit – as gradually she detaches herself from her life of privilege and gravitates towards a new life.
To be honest, Myers lost me a bit sometimes. I read most of the novel on a long train journey, and when I returned to it I had great trouble working out what was going on. (That’s the sort of confession you won’t find in a newspaper review.) The second half of the novel becomes a sort of love triangle, with left-wing politics thrown into the mix, and for me it lost a bit of its mystique. Reminded me a little of David Garnett’s Aspects of Love, which I didn’t particularly love.
But why did I still enjoy Strange Glory? The aura of mystery does pervade it, and Myers’ description of the woods helped deepen a narrative which could have remained quite dull. Here’s an example – if you like this, then you might well enjoy the novel as a whole:
She woke from her musings to find herself passing through country that she had never seen before. The sun, now high overhead, was shining fiercely through a white haze. Fields of short, greyish grass bordered the road, and behind there rose clumps of huge, moss-hooded trees, the outposts of a line of forest. In the chalky, violet sunlight these mountainous forms loomed up hollow and spectral; they looked like lumps of foam left by a withdrawing tide. And the forest behind seemed to be more unsubstantial still – hoary and unsubstantial with an ancientness independent of time. A frontier of mystery, it stretched on for mile after mile; always the same distance away, it tantalised Paulina until suddenly the road made a turn, and the car rushed into it and was engulfed. At once a cool, swampy smell filled the air; pools of water glittered in the half-dark, the car plunged through clouds of noise that came from the throats of countless frogs.Even though Strange Glory proved fairly useless for my research, it was yet an entertaining diversion and a glimpse into unusual territory for my reading. The blurb describes it as ‘transcendental’. Perhaps it is no coincidence that L.H. Myers is the son of F.W.H. Myers, who wrote a rather bizarre (and very long) two volume work on the unconscious mind, called Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death which enjoyed a vogue in the early 20th century. Not the sort of work I’d particularly enjoy in purported ‘non-fiction’ (although it does currently sit on my desk, for research purposes) but when this sort of thing influences fiction, it can lend a haunting quality.
One of my more unusual and eccentric choices for Project 24, perhaps, but I’m glad I’ve read it – and there a few cheap secondhand copies over the internet, should you wish to sample it yourself.
Books to get Stuck into:
The Haunted Woman – David Lindsay: Lindsay was a friend of Myers, and weaves odd metaphysical elements into this unusual novel.
The Man Who Planted Trees – Jean Giono: not the most obvious of connections, but equally captivating in its depiction of woodland as the central force of a narrative.