Cricket and the Blooming Imagination – In Praise of the Unproductive Vine


Yesterday’s offering from Third Man, which saw out the Old Year, exploits a theme explored by E.M. Forster in his novel Howards End published in 1910, which is quoted in italics.

The work by Forster contrasts the personal with the mechanical through the lives of two families in particular.

First, the Wilcoxes, who have made money in the ‘colonies’ but who have returned to live in the charming ‘nine windowed’ rural domain of the title’s name which has descended down through the family of not particularly wealthy yeoman farmers and has at the time of the opening of the novel come into the orbit of the Wilcoxes, wealthy, assertive capitalists, through Mrs Wilcox.

Second, the Schlegel sisters, who are Bloomsbury types. In particular through Margaret Schlegel,  Forster articulates the philosophy of George Moore who advocated the contemplation of beauty and the cultivation of personal relations as a spiritual antidote to the rootless, mechanistic ethos of his age.

TM proposes that it is valuable to see the administration of contemporary cricket in England, in terms of Howards End.

Both cricket and Howards End, the property, are manifestations of rural England. They are embodiments of the rich tapestry of its manifold traditions, and the deeply-rooted cultural heritage associated with these traditions.

The novel’s present custodians, the Wilcoxes, believe that their tenure of the ‘house’ is secure for this and future generations of their family. The Wilcox males are modernisers and business people, for example building a garage in the old paddock, much against the wishes of Mrs Wilcox, who gives way to most of their reforms, except one; she protects an unproductive vine covering the south wall.  But the strident male Wilcoxes do not own Howards End.

The freehold is at the disposal of Mrs Wilcox. The men assume her compliance will continue as a legacy, but her sudden death briefly shakes their sense of security.

They find that she has bequeathed the house to Margaret Schlegel, a slight holiday acquaintance, but one in whom the frail Mrs Wilcox recognizes a kindred spirit, and following considered a more suitable custodian of the old yeoman’s farm house should she die.  In fact they get their way, convincing themselves that the Mrs Wilcox did not really mean what she was doing.

How Hollywood Saw It

Unaware of the legacy, when attending the burial of Mrs Wilcox, Miss Schlegel, true to her commitment to personal relations and the contemplation of beauty, ignores the social convention of the time of  leaving white flowers at a graveside, and brings bright chrysanthemums.
The reader is free to extend or to refute parallels between the story of Howards End and the story of cricket in England in the last twenty years.

The Coach/Director’s present contract comes to an end after the final Test that starting today.  This is, therefore, a moment when custody issues will be settled in favour of the status quo (a Wilcox/Flower future) or … or something closer to a less managerial, controlling tenure that theirs; one that can appreciate the value of an unproductive vine, true to the spirit of cricket as it has been played by the British for centuries.

“Hey, why not just report the facts?”

Novels (and poetry), especially those which do not rely on the well worn path of Lyrical Realism, demonstrate the potential of the imagination to communicate what life is like beyond personal experience.

In a powerful piece, “The Evil Doctrine That Results Alone Matter Has Spread” : Past, Present Or Future?,  Backwatersman at Go Litel Blog, Go has recently quoted Dudley Carew,

Of course he was right in pointing out that the spectator sitting with his scorecard and glass of beer may be within a few physical yards of the man on the boundary, but he is psychologically a thousand miles from the fielder who, is in nerves, mind and body, keyed up to something that is less a game than an ordeal, an ordeal by the fires of temperament and competition.”

For Backwatersman, the quote perhaps serves another important purpose, (still surely codified as Wilcox v Schlegel or  Flower v Lehmann) but for Third Man it is an expression of the challenge he has been trying to meet, whenever his subconscious stirs and he reaches for the keyboard: that same impulse that saw him leap towards a catch in the gulley before he was fully conscious of the reaction, or that saw him drive or hook a ball before he had commanded his body to play the shot.

Why should the spectator with his score card, (or page from Cricket Archive) sitting within a few yards of the man on the boundary, (or at home in front of the telly) be psychologically a thousand miles from the fielder?

If Joyce could bring his readers to feel, through their nerves, the ordeal of a day in the life of Leopold Bloom, shouldn’t those writing about a cricketing ordeal set free the imagination?  Can the attempted illusion of realism ever hope to communicate those tests and trials  fired by temperament and competition that make up a contest on a cricket field?


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