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Arthur & George (Julian Barnes)

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Arthur & George is the story of two boys who came of age in late Victorian England. One became a celebrity author; the other, a humble solicitor whose claim to fame should have been a treatise on railway law. We follow their lives from early childhood to the end, experiencing life with them in a time and place far removed from the western world in the twenty-first century.

Julian Barnes weaves for us a story, one scene at a time that helps us to realize who Arthur and George are. One man was famous; the other became infamous. One man was widely considered what is best in Englishmen; the other was “not the right sort.” One was a man of faith in the unseen; the other a man of faith in himself. One helped to clear the name of a fellow countryman; the other could not clear his own name unaided.

In Arthur & George, we are granted a glimpse into the psyche of men, the struggle to balance our desires with what we want to be and the hope that personal integrity will ultimately prove stronger than whatever adversity we face. Barnes explores a thought quite dear to my heart: justice can be denied but character will endure. Men of good character—of strong character, who have not surrendered to the prejudices of others—will not be defined by their circumstances; men of substance will always (if belatedly) be known for who they are. Or, as Horace Greeley said,

Fame is a vapor, popularity is an accident, money takes wings, those who cheer you today may curse you tomorrow. The only thing that endures is character.

Barnes is a wonderful storyteller and reading his prose is a pleasure. To read Arthur & George is to visit another place and time and to discover that for however things change in the world around us, things remain very much unchanged in matters of defining who we are.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2006-04-17 06:13 AM
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