excerpt from 'Over the bridge : an essay in autobiography' pp. 176–77 (359 words)

excerpt from 'Over the bridge : an essay in autobiography' pp. 176–77 (359 words)

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Over the bridge : an essay in autobiography

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My last evening at home was a break in the strict regimen; for I did not go to bed at six o’clock, I set off with Father and Jack … for the Shakespeare Theatre on Lavender Hill, Clapham, to assist at a performance of Gounod’s Faust.

Jack had proved himself again unerring in psychological insight.  My private fears and my physical discomfort were swallowed up in a vaster cataclysm of emotion.  The music (I had never before heard an orchestra) rolled over me like a Pacific surge, lifting me up and sucking me down, a raw-nerved piece of flotsam; while the scenery, the characters, the plot, and the pervading sense of moral conflict, with Faust’s horrible sin, poisoning the air in the over-heated gallery of the theatre, all combined to drive me into a frenzy of feeling that froze solid, turning me to stone.  I remember still the cold fury of compassion with which I witnessed the end of Marguerite in prison; and the guilty terror that made me apply to myself Faust’s last moments, when he descended through the trap-door into Hell, supported by Mephistopheles and a nimbus of coloured fire.

Nor had Jack remained unaffected.  His Spanish complexion was touched with an unusual flush, and his great brown eyes shone with that upward-looking fire which El Greco carried into the features of his saints and martyrs.

We walked home from the theatre, down Pig Hill into the Battersea marshes, Father discoursing to us and neither of us listening, each being still under the spell.  I shivered in the night air, after the fever and the ecstasy, and my teeth chattered in rivalry to Father’s happy monologue.

Sleep vanished that night.  Jack and I lay whispering in the darkness, a darkness still lurid with hellfire, and sonorous with the first orchestral music we had ever heard.  What had given Jack the premonition of this wonderful thing, that he had suggested the visit to the opera?  How had he heard of the touring company, and on what sources did he draw for his prescience of what we should hear?


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excerpt from 'Over the bridge : an essay in autobiography' pp. 176–77 (359 words)


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