In order to prevent deportation (and respect visa regulations for Americans) I have to leave Indonesia every 30 days. This allotted me the absolute fortune to spend five days in Phuket, Thailand, from last Saturday (May 4th) until Wednesday (May 9th). I loaded myself up with reggae music, a notebook + strong pen and a book, ready to spend my days snuggling into the sandy beaches and surrounding myself in words.
I realized quite quickly that the book I had borrowed from the library for the voyage was a dud. It shall remain nameless because it is probably only a dud for me.
There are no bookstores in Phuket, so I lallygagged around the hostel scouring the lost and found and community areas for books that had been left behind by other travelers.
I found one. Only one.
The Dean’s Watch, by Elizabeth Goudge. “A warmly human story of nineteenth-century provincial life”.
Not really my cup of tea. But I was eager to complete my aesthetic back in the sand, so I decided to give it a whirl.
I love a good book, one rapt with tragedy and depth and soul, but I don’t…emotionally attach myself to them very often. If you take “emotional attachment” to be “crying” and “other sentiments”. I haven’t cried at an ending since I read Diana Nyad’s Find a Way last year. And that was because I was proud of her accomplishments. The last book of fiction that elicited tears from my face was Where the Red Fern Grows in fourth grade.
But. Snuggled into the sand of Phuket, Thailand with Elizabeth Goudge’s book in my hands, I found that “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” (or by it’s tagline, or by the synopsis on the back) came to be wildly good advice. Goudge, you were of the brilliant type. The characters are phenomenal in this story, just—I feel like I need to pause and brush away a tear, because I am so passionately in love with all of them. I want to be them. It’s bizarre, really, for me at least.
These emotions rising inside of me are 30% exceeding expectations and 70% the work of a genius who deeply understands humanity. In light of this raging emotion within me, I would like to compose a letter to Miss Montague, especially, because I love her and she deserves it.
Dear Miss Montague,
I know you don’t know me (you being fictional and living in the 1870’s and all) but I am one of your biggest fans. The way that you listen to people with your attention so completely undistracted, your focus so completely maximized. You make people fall in love with you because you hear who they are, and for the first time, they get to hear themselves, too. You never complain. You never voice your opinion unless directly asked. You never give advice. You simply listen and ask the right perfectly right questions. I want to be like you.
When you asked Mr. Peabody to tell you his news, did you realize that was what he needed? Someone to ask him about his mind and what is going on with his life, instead of simply demanding service from him? When you let the Dean cry on your shoulder over his disaffectionate cold wife, you didn’t move a muscle in case he remember how inappropriately intimate that was.
I love that you are disinterested in fashion. That you are devoutly religious but so open minded. I love your compassion towards kittens and bell towers and fine clocks. I love that you took a vow to love, because I agree with you: there is nothing else so profoundly interesting as treating each other with love. When your brother pushed you down the stairs in your youth and damaged your legs permanently, you never once made him feel more guilty than he already did. In fact, you took great pains to show him that you found value in this unexpected turn of events. That you find value in the immense suffering you face at night because of the injury. And what was the result? He became your closest companion. The love you gave him returned to you, and your happiness increased way more than if you had made him suffer like you.
Ahh, you’re truly brilliant. I look forward to reading more of your story, getting to know you more. I wish that I could sit in your parlor with you and have a glass of champagne and a tea biscuit. I know you would listen to me, too, and welcome me.
I want to be like you.
For additional mind-boggling quotes from The Dean’s Watch please click here to go to my reading list.
Better than that, though, just go find a copy of the book itself. Maybe tucked away in some forgotten bookstore. It was written in 1960 so it’s still out there. The level of self-examination within this book is intense, and I can only say that I haven’t read something that makes me really analyze my own behavior and instincts in quite some time.