Aunt Augusta, the heroine of “Travels with my Aunt”, is an amoral but passionate advocate of living life to the full – and a great role model.
As with my complete Jeeves and Wooster novels, I came to Travels with my Aunt via a Folio Society edition inherited from my father.
Graham Greene Classics
My father was an inveterate book collector. In addition to “Travels with my Aunt”, he also had a Folio Society edition of other Graham Greene classics (pic below). I plan to read them all. But while I have struggled a bit with the stodgy Stamboul Train and A Gun for Sale, Travels with my Aunt is in a different league.
The 75-year old – who may not be an aunt at all – is a magnificent creation. She has faults – she can be cruel and jealous, and indifferent to those she leaves in her wake. Yet those weaknesses make her all the more convincing and charismatic. Here are some quotes.
Aunt Augusta on past lovers
- ‘Think how complicated life would be if I had kept in touch with all the men I have known intimately. Some died, some I left, a few have left me. If they were all with me now we would have to take over a whole wing of the Royal Albion.’
Aunt Augusta on Wordsworth (her Ghanaian lover, decades her junior)
- ‘I was very fond of Wordsworth while he lasted, but my emotions are not as strong as there once were. I can support his absence, though I may regret him for a while tonight. His knackers were superb.’
On breaking the law
- ‘I have never planned anything illegal in my life,’ Aunt Augusta said. ‘How could I plan anything of the kind when I have never read any of the laws and have no idea what they are?’
Aunt Augusta on the young
- ‘The young… have little idea of real pleasure: even their love-making is apt to be hurried and incomplete. Luckily in middle age pleasure begins, pleasure in love, in wine, in food… love-making too provides as a rule a more prolonged and varied pleasure after forty-five.’
Aunt Augusta on poverty
- ‘Poverty is apt to strike suddenly like influenza, it is well to have a few memories of extravagance in store for bad times.’
Aunt Augusta on sex
- ‘I have always preferred an occasional orgy to a nightly routine.’
Aunt Augusta on men
- ‘I’ve never wanted a man who needed me, Henry. A need is a claim.’
Aunt Augusta on life
- ‘Sometimes I have an awful feeling that I am the only one left anywhere who finds any fun in life.’
Aunt Augusta on Switzerland
- ‘Switzerland is only bearable covered with snow.’
Aunt Augusta on economy
- ‘He [Mr Visconti] had left me with enough to live on in a modest way, but I have never been very keen on modesty.’
Aunt Augusta on hate
- ‘I despise no-one,’ she said, ‘no-one. Regret your own actions, if you like that kind of wallowing in self-pity, but never, never despise. Never presume yours is the better morality.’
Aunt Augusta on martyrs
- ‘The dead of an army,’ my aunt said, ‘become automatically heroes like the dead of the Church become martyrs.’
Aunt Augusta on faith
- ‘Are you really a Roman Catholic?’ I asked my aunt with interest. She replied promptly and seriously, ‘Yes, my dear, only I just don’t believe in all the things they believe in.’
Aunt Augusta on an old age of smuggling and crime
- ‘I wouldn’t want my days to peter out, Henry, with no interest in them at all.’
Aunt Augusta on death
- ‘My dear Henry, you won’t be edging day by day across to any last wall. The wall will find you of its own accord without your help, and every day you live will seem to you a kind of victory.’
Henry Pulling quotations
Her nephew, Henry Pulling, a retired bank manager who narrates the book and gradually realises he may be her son, by contrast, is splendidly dull:
- I like to change my clothes as little as possible. I suppose some people would say the same of my ideas…
Henry Pulling on tea
- I went restlessly out and crossed the little garden where an American couple… were having tea. One of them was raising a little bag, like a drowned animal, from his cup at the end of a cord. At that distressing sight I felt very far away from England…
Henry Pulling on sloth
- Laziness and good nature often go together.
Henry Pulling on Tennyson
- ‘I always liked his lines: Death is the end of life; ah, why should life all labour be?‘
Henry Pulling on bedrooms
- A bedroom without a photograph always seems to indicate a heartless occupant, for one needs the presence of others when one falls asleep…
Not perfect – but awesome
Travels with my Aunt is not perfect. Wordsworth’s West African argot, no doubt acceptable in 1969, comes across as dodgy in the 21st century, no matter how morally superior he is. Numerous other details, too, are dated. And I could not imagine many modern novelists creating a character both so admirable, and so flawed, as Aunt Augusta.
But in many respects she remains a magnificent, desperately needed role model for all of us.
Other things to read
If you would like to look at my own books, my latest are: