Blog #205: Finding a Kennedy candidate for To the Lighthouse

 

 

War is only glorious when you buy it in the Daily Mail and enjoy it at the breakfast table. It goes splendidly with bacon and eggs. Real war is the final limit of damnable brutality, and that’s all there is in it.  It’s about the silliest, filthiest most inhumanly fatuous thing that ever happened.  It makes the whole universe seem like a mad muddle.  One feels that all talk of order and meaning in life is insane sentimentality.

The Hardest Part, 1918

 

One thing leads to another, and because of the way in which Virginia Woolf uses names to connect her fiction to life, and because of my speculations about the McNabb name, I also want to indulge in a brief speculation about old Kennedy, the Ramsay gardener.  Kennedy is a rather ubiquitous name, but  seeing the name in To the Lighthouse, particularly in the “Time Passes” segment, together with connecting Mrs. McNabb to Father Vincent McNabb and the conditions leading to the General Strike of 1926, led me to google “Kennedy, 1926 General Strike.”  In among the Google dross, I found Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, more familiarly known as “Woodbine Willie” because of the Woodbine cigarettes he handed out to his fellow soldiers. Even if his Kennedy name was the second barrel of a double barreled name, in its day it sounded loud enough to be an audible part of Virginia’s world.

Born in 1883, Studdert Kennedy was an Anglican minister who served as an Army chaplain during WWI, and who received the Military Cross for his courage in comforting the wounded at Messines Ridge.  After the war, he published several books of poems, and a brief yet very interesting essay collection titled The Hardest Part  (1918).  His poems and his essays, while affirming the courage and dignity of ordinary foot soldiers, strongly critiqued the absurdity and tragic waste of war.  After the war Kennedy, for a time minister of St. Edmund King and Martyr, Lombard Street, London, became a highly visible public figure as a social reformer and champion of the working poor.

As a Social Evangelist, he was deeply involved in Christian socialist and pacifist causes.  Through the medium of his deeply rooted  Anglican faith, he sought to promote a middle way between the excesses of laissez faire capitalism and Marxist socialism.  Hugely popular, he travelled across England giving sermons and speeches on behalf of the Industrial Christian Fellowship.  Like Father McNabb, he had a deep sympathy for the working poor and he campaigned tirelessly for an end to unemployment and poverty.  When he died of influenza in 1929, several memorial services were held across England, and over 2000 people turned up for his funeral in Worcester.  His fame was such that James Joyce referenced him in Finnegan’s Wake as ““Woodbine Willie, so popiular with the poppyrossies.”

I’m not entirely convinced Virginia had Studdert Kennedy in mind when she named the gardener, yet given that  every other name in To the Lighthouse, even that of George Bast, connects meaningfully and convincingly to a historical or literary figure, given that Virginia could not fail but to be aware of Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy’s literary and social justice activities, and given that knowledge of Kennedy deepens our understanding both of the impact of the war and of the labour movement I feel quite comfortable sharing the above speculations.  Discovering Kennedy and learning about his life has added new depths to my understanding of Virginia’s world.  I’m a happy little fly, all the more for being so entangled and enmeshed in the web of her fiction

 

“What’s the Good?”

 

Well, I ‘ve done my bit o’ scrappin’,
And I ‘ve done in quite a lot ;
Nicked ‘em neatly wiv my bayonet,
So I needn’t waste a shot.
‘Twas my duty, and I done it,
But I ‘opes the doctor ‘s quick.
For I wish I ‘adn’t done it,
Gawd ! it turns me shamed and sick.

There ‘s a young ‘un like our Richard,
And I bashed ‘is ‘ead in two.
And there ‘s that ole grey-’aired geezer
Which I stuck ‘is belly through.
Gawd, you women, wives and mothers,
It ‘s sich waste of all your pain.
If you knowed what I ‘d been doin’,
Could yer kiss me still, my Jane?

When I sets me dahn to tell yer
What it means to scrap and fight
Could I tell ye true and honest,
Make ye see this bleedin’ sight ?
No I couldn’t and I wouldn’t.
It would turn your ‘air all grey ;
Women suffers ‘ell to bear us,
And we suffers ‘ell to slay.

I suppose some Fritz went courtin’
In the gloamin’ same as me,
And the old world turned to ‘eaven
When they kissed beneath a tree.
And each evening seemed more golden,
Till the day as they was wed,
And ‘is bride stood shy and blushin’,
Like a June rose, soft and red.

I remembers ‘ow it were, lass,
On that silver night in May,
When ye ‘ung your ‘ead and whispered
That ye couldn’t say me nay.
Then, when June brought in the roses
And you changed your maiden name,
‘Ow ye stood there, shy and blushin’,
When the call of evening came.

I remembers ‘ow I loved ye.
When ye arsked me in your pride
‘Ow I ‘d liked my Sunday dinner
As ye nestled at my side.
For between a thousand races
Lands may stretch and seas may foam,
But it makes no bloomin’ difference,
Boche or Briton, ‘ome is ‘ome.

I remember what ‘e cost ye,
When I gave ye up for dead,
As I ‘eld your ‘and and watched ye
With the little lad in bed.
‘Struth I wish ‘e’d stop ‘is lookin’,
And shut up ‘is bloomiri’ eyes.
‘Cause I keeps on seein’ Richard
When I whacks ‘im and ‘e cries.

Damn the blasted war to ‘ell, lass,
It ‘s just bloody rotten waste.
Them as gas on war and glory
Oughter come and ‘ave a taste.
Yes, I larned what women suffers
When I seed you stand the test.
But you knowed as it were worth it
When ‘e felt to find your breast.

All your pain were clean forgotten
When you touched ‘is little ‘ead.
And ye sat up proud and smilin’.
With a living lad in bed.
But we suffers too — we suffers.
Like the damned as groans in ‘ell,
And we ‘aven’t got no Babies,
Only mud, and blood, and smell.

‘Tain’t the suff’rin as I grouse at,
I can stick my bit o’ pain ;
But I keeps on alius askin’
What ‘s the good, and who’s to gain ?
When ye ‘ve got ‘ a plain objective ‘
Ye can fight your fight and grin,
But there ain’t no damned objective,
And there ain’t no prize to win.

We ‘re just like a lot o’ bullocks
In a blarsted china shop,
Bustin’ all the world to blazes,
‘Cause we dunno ‘ow to stop.
Trampling years of work and wonder
Into dust beneath our feet.
And the one as does most damage
Swears that victory is sweet.

It ‘s a sweet as turns to bitter.
Like the bitterness of gall,
And the winner knows ‘e ‘s losin’
If ‘e stops to think at all.
I suppose this ain’t the spirit
Of the Patriotic man.
Didn’t ought to do no thinkin’ ;
Soldiers just kill all they can.

But we carn’t ‘elp thinkin’ sometimes.
Though our business is to kill,
War ‘as turned us into butchers,
But we ‘re only ‘uman still.
Gawd knows well I ain’t no thinker,
And I never knew before,
But I knows now why I ‘m fightin’,
It ‘s to put an end to war.

Not to make my country richer,
Or to keep her flag unfurled.
Over every other nation
Tyrant mistress of the world.
Not to boast of Britain’s glory,
Bought by bloodshed in her wars.
But that Peace may shine about her,
As the sea shines round her shores.

If ole Fritz believes in fightin’,
And obeys ‘is War Lord’s will,
Well until ‘e stops believin’,
It ‘s my job to fight and kill.
But the Briton ain’t no butcher,
‘E ‘s a peaceful cove at ‘eart.
And it ‘s only ’cause ‘e ‘as to
That ‘e plays the butcher’s part.

‘Cause I ‘as to — that ‘s the reason
Why I done the likes o’ this ;
You ‘re an understanding woman.
And you won’t refuse your kiss.
Women pity soldiers’ sorrow,
That can bring no son to birth,
Only death and devastation.
Darkness over all the earth.

We won’t ‘ave no babe to cuddle,
Like a blessing to the breast,
We ‘ll just ‘ave a bloody mem’ry
To disturb us when we rest.
But the kids will some day bless us,
When they grows up British men,
‘Cause we tamed the Prussian tyrant,
And brought Peace to earth again.

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