Books Fiction Mr Weston's Good Wine (Vintage Classics)

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Pages: 256

Language: English

Publisher: Vintage Classics (7 Aug. 2014)

By: T.F. Powys(Author)

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Among the residents of a small Dorset town called Folly Down, an unlikely struggle between the forces of good and evil is taking place. For a single winter's evening, Time stands still and the bitter-sweet gift of awareness descends upon the people. Because Mr Weston the wine merchant has come to town and the advert atop his Ford van lights up the sky above the village. Whether the villagers choose to buy Mr Weston's light or dark wine is up to them.

"Mr Weston's Good Wine is a book without parallel. It is an allegory, it is a bucolic farce, it is a religious (or anti-religious?) masterpiece" (A N Wilson Daily Telegraph)"The greatest value of his work, though, is in showing that it is still possible to write about the primordial human experiences to which religion is a response...Very few 20th-century authors have the knack of writing convincingly of first and last things. A religious writer without any vestige of belief, Theodore Powys is one of them" (John Gray New Statesman)"Grimly brilliant" (John Carey Sunday Times)"[It is] generally considered his masterpiece" (Washington Post)"A writer who far outshone his contemporaries" (Spectator)

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  • By Sue Bridgwater on 3 April 2016

    The Mouth of Hell; Folly Down revisited. Sue BridgwaterIt was well over thirty years ago that I first read Mr. Weston’s good wine and in those days I was a fairly conventional Christian believer, of the Methodist persuasion. The book seemed to me then to be shot through with truth and hope and beauty, to sing a hymn of praise rather than telling a story. Returning to it in a Post-Christian frame of mind, I still find it compelling, and want to bring it to the attention of those who may not yet have discovered it, for its many strengths and insights. However, it is far less simple to me now, and in places terrifying, with hope and despair woven eloquently through its pages. It resembles nothing so much as a Mediaeval Morality Play, in which Hellmouth gapes open to receive the blasphemers, and Heaven shines above, a promised reward for the faithful. The location of these in, respectively, the back of a Ford van and the lights of an advertising slogan, does nothing to lessen that terror.“…. one of the most penetrating statements on the role of the Christian God in the post-Constantinian era.”This closing sentence of Ronald Blythe’s introduction to the 1984 Hogarth reprint of Mr. Weston’s good wine may perhaps be something of a discouragement to a keen fiction reader, seeking to discover the nature of Powys’ book. Yet, replete with theological subtleties though it be, Mr. Weston remains just that - a work of fantasy, or mythopoeic, fiction. What are its pleasures, then, and what are its distinctive qualities? Why should the modern reader find anything of interest in this “least modern of writers” ?From the first, it is clear that we are not in a novelistic world, despite Powys’ choice of a title from that most novelistic of writers, Jane Austen. Although the book opens with a description of a “Ford car, of a type that is commonly used,” parked in the high street of a country town in 1923, the story soon carries the reader beyond the commonplaces of historical time and geographical location. “Writing as an allegorist or fabulist rather than any sort of conventional realist” , Powys lays before us the unfolding of a cosmic event; the visit of the Creator to His creation, the passing of a night in an English country village that extends into Eternity.What readerly pleasures can be found in this? Firstly, that delight in discovering the threads of the well-woven Allegory – always a clever device for an author to employ, as it draws the reader in by boosting his or her own sense of cleverness. The plot and its symbolisms are all worked out so satisfactorily. Mr. Weston, the silver-haired wine-merchant purveying Dark and Light wine, is God, the purveyor of death and of love. His travelling companion and assistant, Michael, who “had risen to high distinction in the firm, having once, by his strength and courage, quelled a mutiny that arose amongst the workers in Mr. Weston’s bottling department” , is of course Michael the Archangel, overthrower of Lucifer. Mr Weston “had once written a prose poem that he had divided into many books” and so on.Secondly, there is the pleasure that may be found in less esoteric forms of Fantasy writing; the triumph after perilous struggles, of Good over Evil. And thirdly, the humour. For surely no work of pure Theology was ever so packed with humour as is Mr. Weston’s good wine.Turning first to the eternal struggle between Good and Evil; it soon strikes the reader that the boundaries between these are not set where a mainstream Christian believer might be expected to set them. Nor are they closely correspondent to what a 21st century reader might believe 1920s sensibilities and public morality to be. Powys has his own unique take on this battle.At the time of Mr. Weston’s visit, the village of Folly Down lies in a sort of moral mist like the valley’s meteorological mists that sometimes hide it from sight. Within it the characters blunder and stumble about, influenced now by “good” and now by “evil”. The Rector, Nicholas Grobe, has lost his faith following the death of his wife, and although he continues to treat his parishioners in a “gentle and loving” manner, there is some sense that it is this vacuum in his soul which has in part led to the moral vacuum in the community.Of the commonplace temptations of country village life, the two predominant ones – drink and carnality – are omnipresent, but both imbibing and sexuality are presented in a deeply ambivalent way. The unnaturally long evening passed in the Pub is almost sacramental in its effect on the people who experience it, while the symbolism of drinking wine is replete with goodness and salvation. Sexual appetite and physical congress are not seen as depraved in themselves but may in the right circumstances be holy and pure. Indeed, when we are shown in Mr. Grobe’s memory the nature of his lost beloved wife, she is far from the traditional “Vicar’s wife” stereotype and exudes an earthy and innocent sexuality that is transformed in her daughter to a spiritual intensity.She had with her all the wild, naughty ways of a spoilt child that knew nothing, only love, and he loved her the more, of course, because that was all that she cared for. She was never tired of laughing at him, and he, good man, liked to be laughed at. However, the exploitative and cruel aspects of sexual demands and of the abuse of power are clearly present, employed as traps and snares by the maleficent and treated too casually by the thoughtless and selfish.The three characters most clearly on the side of “good”, in that Mr. Weston’s approval of them is obvious, are the Rector; his daughter Tamar; and Luke Bird. These run a gamut of types of religion. Mr. Grobe is the professional, with his painful secret at his heart. Luke Bird is the holy fool, striving to model himself on St. Francis and preaching to the rather surprised beasts of the local fields. Tamar is the mystic, seeking always the apotheosis of ecstasy; she “knows” that one day her Angel will come to her.On the side of evil, the most pernicious and cruel, exultant in the depths of her own evil-doing, is Mrs. Vosper. Her own disappointment with life has curdled within her and grown into hatred of all young and innocent girls; she gives over her parlour to the young Squires so that they may debauch the village maidens, and dispatches her neglected husband to the pub in order to do so. One of the young women, Ada Kiddle, has killed herself in despair after her betrayal. Tamar’s maid, Jenny Bunce, loved by Luke Bird, is in grave danger of falling into Mrs. Vosper’s clutches. Yet Mrs. Vosper is not held in contempt in the village. Instead she has managed to deflect the blame for the seduction of the young women onto the Parish Clerk, Mr. Grunter. Since this unjust notion of himself as an inveterate seducer of young girls gives him a certain cachet among the other villagers, he does not seek to deny it.Into this tangle of conflict come Mr. Weston and Michael. Through their actions, good comes to many who suffer and yearn; though in two cases, the good is brought by Death. After a visit from Mr. Weston, Mr. Grobe sits in his study during the artificially lengthened evening brought about by the intrusion of eternity into time. He passes that evening “Drinking the light wine”; this is explicitly shown to be an allegorical reference to reading the Bible. “The wine filled him with a gentle melancholy - a mood in which one could live graciously, in which one could die contentedly.” After re-acquainting himself with the text that was formerly central to his faith, he regains his vanished belief that after death he will see his lost wife Alice again, and on Mr. Weston’s return visit Mr. Grobe asks for a draught of the Dark Wine – he dies.Meanwhile, under the oak tree in the centre of the village where so many young girls have been dishonoured, Tamar too has entered into her longed-for ecstasy, embracing Michael and drinking some of Mr Weston’s wine – we are not told whether the Light or the Dark. The pair are then married in the parish church by Mr. Weston himself, and return to the oak tree. Later it is struck by lightening and split in two. Tamar is caught in the lightening and dies in her new-wed ecstasy – two angels come and carry her directly to heaven. It remains unclear whether the bonding between Tamar and Michael is in fact physical or sexual in any way, or rather a spiritual equivalent of passionate physical love.By contrast, Mr. Weston saves Luke from loneliness, and Jenny from corruption, by a liberal application of his Light wine. Mr Bunce swears that Luke shall not have his daughter in marriage until the well outside Luke’s cottage door is filled with wine instead of water. Fortunately this declaration is made at an apposite time, since Mr. Weston is at hand and has only to repeat an already well-known miracle. He extracts from Luke a promise to drink more of his good wine, the wine of love, for he has perceived that the simple Luke has need of Jenny’s common sense to partner him through life. They are married by Mr. Weston in the parlour, and sent off to the most conventional of the three “Happy endings” in the book.Mr. Weston’s judgements upon the deserved fates of the wicked and venial are largely tempered with mercy; except for that of Mrs. Vosper, who is dragged down to Hell by the Lion kept in the back of Mr. Weston’s van. The two young squires, John and Martin Mumby, are chased by the Lion but spared to make amends to the young women they have wronged. Powys devotes only a brief paragraph to Mrs. Vosper’s end. While the Lion prowls the lanes outside her cottage, she - - began to moan, she threw herself about in her chair, she struggled, she fought the air with her hands, as if she were trying to prevent a hideous beast from tearing out her heart. . . . “He’s dragging me down,: she cried, “ he’s dragging me lower than the grave, he’s dragging me down to hell.”Unlike Tamar, whom we see in a physical embrace with her supernatural lover, Mrs. Vosper struggles alone with her evil fate – we are not presented with the spectacle of the Lion’s direct presence at any point in the book, and the symptoms described here could easily be those of a heart attack, although she herself equates what is happening with her own damnation. Powys seems reluctant to foreground the fantastical manifestation of the Lion; when he draws the attention of the young squires to the truths of mortality and of their own guilt, he does it by taking them to the village churchyard and forcing them to confront their responsibility for the death of Ada Kiddle. The Lion remains an unseen, although effective, threat.However, Powys devotes far more lavish and loving description to the various redemptive events of the evening.Of these, the strangest, and the source of much of the humour in the book, is the supernaturally lengthened evening in the Angel Inn. In his own surrealistic way, Powys plays with the mundane, with what is rooted in the chatter of ordinary people. The overt commonplaces of this part of the tale are the sort of remarks that have been made in pubs for as long as pubs have existed: “Just a quick one”; “Best get back, the wife’ll be waiting.” It is even possible to imagine lurking in the background the figure of Flo Capp waiting with the rolling–pin. With an attention to circumstantial detail and to peculiarities of character that is remarkably tender in its tone, Powys conveys the importance of the companionable hour in the pub to the working men of his day, both the bold talkers and the quiet listeners. He no doubt heard, in his own visits to the village pubs of Dorset, the wish frequently expressed that this time of rest and company might last forever. And so he brings it about in Folly Down, by the entrance of God into the parlour, in the unexceptionable form of Mr. Weston. As soon as he enters, each one present begins to feel stirred, to recall old memories and hopes, to feel comforted by his presence. Even the fire burns more brightly. Then time stops.“There is no need for you to hurry this evening,” replied Mr. Weston, looking at the grandfather clock.“No, no, there bain’t no need to hurry,” said Dealer Kiddle and Mr. Vosper in one voice, “for time be stopped.”“And eternity be come,” muttered Mr. Grunther. The rest of the events of the book are played out in this unnatural bubble of present eternity, and curiously enough the characters, particularly those in the pub, seem well aware that this is happening. The respite from time, and the presence of Mr. Weston, work together to bring about an unusually introspective and revelatory conversation in the Angel. None of the men is untouched by the experience of the night, and many old wrongs and enmities are laid to rest forever. Before Mr. Weston and Michael vanish from the earth, literally in a puff of smoke, much in Folly Down has been changed forever. So, beneath the allegorical and mystical, one aspect of this tale is its illustration of how extraordinary events can change a community forever. In modern television drama, the equivalent might be the dropping of an aeroplane upon a village or the sudden eruption of fire in a hospital, to enable the producers conveniently to revolutionise the characters of their series. This comparison does not run very deep, but serves to emphasise that for all its oddness and mysticism and theological emphasis, Mr. Weston’s good wine offers insights into the human heart that are at least as true as, and maybe truer than, the more familiar presentations of “realistic” fiction.

  • By novella on 9 August 2013

    From the very first paragraph i found this book enthralling, as it is all about a mystery, going under the guise the story of a wine merchant visiting a remote Dorset village to sell his wares. The portrayal of the simple villagers in 1924 is a fascinating insight into the uneducated rural mindset of the time, and the concept of a visitation from another sphere causing time to stand still strikes a cord of recognition in me. From first to last the book opened my heart to 'the other', the things that we know deep inside but cannot verbalise. Wonderful.

  • By B. Chambers on 24 September 2012

    A story concerning a wine merchant, Mr Weston, who turns out to be God, visiting a little country village. Thought provoking in places but at times the plot is rather unconvincing. Watch out for the dark wine!

  • By Ms. C. R. Marshall on 25 April 2011

    It is many years now since I read this book - yet it's fundamental message has stayed with me: drink deeply of the red wine. Drinking deeply of the pain in life makes us richer and more aware of life, pain is a gift. A book well worth reading, as are all his little known books

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