jump to navigation

Review: Goodwin Wharton October 31, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

In the spring of 1683, a disgraced scion of an English aristocratic family, Goodwin Wharton met Mary Parish a woman in regular communication with fairies (‘lowlanders’), angels, the dead and, of course, the Almighty. Mary was down on her luck having alienated her spirit guide, having argued bitterly with the royal family of faery and having pawned her book full of arcane wisdom. And so Goodwin Wharton determined to  restore her and his fortunes. The resulting comedy lasted for most of the next twenty years as Mary bent Goodwin to her will, faked fey meetings, angelic voices and hissing treasure demons and then fleeced him for every penny, bedding him repeatedly into the bargain AND gave birth to scores of phantom children.

J. Kent Clark writes, in his introduction to Goodwin Wharton (1984 and in paperback 1989) that Mary Parish was ‘[a]mong the most resourceful women of her time, or any other time’. This is to go too far. Mary Parish was a shyster: if not the garden green variety, then a shyster of a vaguely tropical bent – think an over-ripe pineapple. The remarkable individual was truly Goodwin Wharton who repeatedly put up with the failure of Mary’s plans: in Clark’s biography there are over twenty occasions when a visit into fairyland – under Hounslow Common – has to be cancelled at the last minute because of the most unlikely excuses. Yet Goodwin with his yearning after the mystical life rolled over.

But, and here is the real lesson of this book and this life, trained up by Mary in the mystical arts, Goodwin’s own ‘still, quiet voice’ begins to whisper, speak and finally to shout. It all starts with GW embellishing visions borrowed from Mary: he feels the queen of fairywhen she comes to love him in the night. Then away from Mary, a voice within, identified with God, gets louder and louder. Mary just wanted money, a house and  sexual relief: her ploys were greedy but sensible. The Voice though quickly shows that it is not interested in Goodwin’s wellbeing. True, in his first solo vision the advice is merely eccentric: ‘swear not at all’, ‘fuck [sic] every week’, ‘throw water on yourself’… But the Voice quickly leads him into more dangerous territory, including a telepathic love affair with the king’s wife, an attempt to seduce his stepmother (that ends at the first kiss) and the categorical instruction to sleep with his sisters.

Mary does not appreciate the arrival of the Voice and manages to wrest Goodwin back under her control: after some  ‘angelic’ conversations are heard through the walls in the early morning, naturally when Mary is not in the room. Soon Goodwin is following Mary’s instructions once more and his instinct for self preservation returns without a single sister being inopportuned. However, the question remains was Goodwin mad? He certainly seems – the classic symptom of psychosis – to have been unable to step outside his world and see the absurdity of his actions: despite frequent reversals and emphatic proofs that his philosophy did not bring results. But at the same time he was able to operate perfectly in the parliament of William the Orange, becoming a minor Whig personality.

Mad or not, the book is a treat. We see the Glorious Revolution take place as a backdrop to treasure hunts, fairy feasts and Mary’s fifty-third phantom pregnancy: Beach has never understood those months with such clarity. Perhaps all of history would benefit from being seen through the lens of someone who is productively insane. World War Two according to an extreme paranoiac: ‘I tell you he’s going to invade the USSR next!’ The Neolithic Revolution according to an agraphobe: ‘finally I can stay in doors’. etc etc

Beach is always looking for great books: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com