I spent this afternoon reading the first part of Jean-Christophe and his feelings about death resonated with me particularly.
It must be peculiar to relate to a young boy’s discovery of the full horror of death. He was only 11. And yet, it is the first time I see my own state of mind reflected. Now that the memory is no longer as fresh, it was comforting somehow. Like drawing strength from a shared sorrow and understanding. Sadly, one rarely gets to talk of death with their friends and family. Too morbid, I guess. But it is nice that books still talk of it.
Who sees it (the agony of dying) for the first time, realises that he knows nothing yet, neither of death nor of life.
(my back-translation of Rolland’s line)
I very much liked this line because that was how the experience of death at first-hand changed me. Fundamentally. I had been aware of death before, even experienced death of a close family member, but nothing had turned my world upside-down quite the same way the close encounter did. I have never even been able to talk of all that I felt, it would not be understood, so reading this book was like the first interaction on the subject, even if with a fictional character. Sensitivity connects.
I do wonder, however, whether I’m an anomaly for having realised the full horror of mortality only in my 20s. Or is it characteristic of our privileged European society where children are generally not exposed to death. Or is it also that a lot of people don’t realise it at all or at least not before their old age? One thing is certain: I took it like a child.
I look forward to reading how Jean-Christophe’s perception of death develops. Yet, and although I love epic novels, there is something sad in the finality of a biographical novel. You know how the story began and how it ends (if a proper biography) and it makes human life seem so small and insignificant. And sometimes, it is nice not to know the past or the future of a character. It is nicer to imagine that Holmes had a happy childhood than to know he did not. Or to assume Elizabeth and Darcy were happy in their future life.