By Charles Matthews

Monday, March 14, 2011

4. Mr. Sammler's Planet, by Saul Bellow, pp. 123-147

Mr. Sammler's Planet (Penguin Classics)IV
Sammler finds Gruner asleep, so he goes to the waiting room where Angela is sitting. She has been crying. She tells him that her father is worried about Wallace, who "has been such a headache.... Daddy sent him to MIT. But next thing we knew he was a bartender in Cambridge, and he beat some drunk almost to death." She blames her self: "I think I decided in adolescence that my brother was going to be a queer. I thought it was my fault, that I was so slutty that he became frightened of girls." She knows of Wallace's belief that his father has hidden money in the house, and she admits that Gruner had Mafia friends, including Lucky Luciano, who "came out to New Rochelle now and then. And if Daddy did those things and they paid him in cash, it must have been embarrassing. He probably didn't know what to do with that money."

Sammler is surprised to hear from her that his son-in-law, Eisen, has been to see Gruner, and made sketches of him. "But then he tried to sell them to him. Daddy would hardly glance at them." And she confesses that her father is angry with her because she has broken up with Wharton Horricker: On a trip to Acapulco with Horricker they encountered another couple and exchanged partners. Sammler observes, "It seems to me that things poor professionals once had to do for a living, performing for bachelor parties, or tourist sex-circuses on the Place Pigalle, ordinary people, housewives, filing-clerks, students, now do just to be sociable." But Horricker, though he went along with the scheme, was angry that she had brought him into it. And Gruner has found out about it, probably through his lawyer, Widick, who is somehow related to Horricker.

Sammler finds the whole business yet another symptom of the disorder of the times, and reflects that "even Shula, though a scavenger or magpie, had never actually stolen before. Then suddenly she too was like the Negro pickpocket.... Millions of civilized people wanted oceanic, boundless, primitive neckfree nobility, experienced a strange release of galloping impulses.... Humankind had lost its old patience." Shula "was experiencing the Age."

Just as Wallace had asked Sammler to talk to Gruner about the hidden cash, now Angela asks him to talk to her father about the breakup with Horricker. He tells her he doesn't know how to bring the subject up, and that "he's not stupid, and giving a young woman like you a capital of half a million dollars to live in New York City, he would have to be very dumb to think you were not amusing yourself." But privately he thinks, "Great cities are whores.... Penicillin keeps New York looking cleaner. No faces gnawed by syphilis, with gaping noseholes as in ancient times." (A reminder that the novel was written before the advent of AIDS.)

While they were talking, Sammler had noticed that Angela was wearing "a playful cap" with a "large button of kid leather set in the radial creases." When she goes to check to see if her father is awake, "he remembered where he had last seen a cap like hers. It was in Israel -- the Six-Day War he had seen." For he had been a spectator on battle in the valley below Mount Hermon, watching tanks being bombed by planes. He and the others in his group of journalists had been safe. Then they were joined by some Italian photographers who "had brought with them three girls in mod dress. The girls might have come from Carnaby Street or from King's Road in their buskins, miniskirts, false eyelashes. They were indeed British, for Mr. Sammler heard them talking, and one of them had on just the sort of little cap that Angela wore, of houndstooth check." An argument followed when a Swiss journalist objected "that it was improper for these girls to be at the front.... He was an unbearable little man. His war was being ruined by these stupid girls in costume." Also in the group was a Jesuit priest, a Father Newell, who was reporting for "a newspaper in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was it, or Lincoln, Nebraska?" The priest was dressed in jungle camouflage from Vietnam.

His reverie is interrupted by the arrival of Wallace and Eisen. The latter greets him as "my father-in-law." Sammler notes that "Wallace must have taken him to one of those execrable mod male shops, like Barney's. Perhaps to one of the unisex establishments. The madman wore a magenta shirt with a persimmon-colored necktie as thick as an ox tongue." Eisen addresses Sammler in Russian, and Sammler replies in Polish. He learns, too, that Eisen is involved with Wallace's business scheme, designing labels for the trees that Wallace proposes to identify for customers. "Sammler did his best to say something appropriate and harmless though he was repelled by everything that Eisen set on paper." In addition, Eisen has designed some heavy medallions, which Sammler first identifies as "paperweights," representing "Stars of David, branched candelabra, scrolls and ram's horns" with inscriptions in Hebrew. He proposes to show them to Gruner, but Sammler objects that "Elya's sick. He can't handle this rough heavy metal." But Eisen persists and Sammler backs off: "he had been trained in the ancient mode of politeness. Almost as, once, women had been brought up to chastity."

A nurse comes to tell Sammler that Margotte has been trying to reach him and wants him to call. He finds a pay phone, and Margotte tells him that Dr. Lal's manuscript has disappeared from the desk where Sammler left it. He immediately deduces that Shula has been there and taken it, and the elevator man confirms it. Moreover, Dr. Lal is there with Margotte and knows that the manuscript has disappeared again. He has had a report from the detective who visited Shula and apparently frightened her. Sammler guesses that the only place Shula would go to would be the Gruner home in New Rochelle, so he tells Margotte that he'll get Wallace to take him there. Dr. Lal gets on the line, and Sammler tries to reassure him that he'll get the manuscript back.

Wallace tells Sammler that the chauffeur, Emil, is there with the Rolls-Royce and can take them to New Rochelle. He also says that Shula called him and asked if she could put something in Gruner's wall safe. Before they leave, Sammler goes in to talk with Gruner, who says, "It's a pity about Shula, poor woman. But she is only wacky. My daughter is a dirty cunt.... And my son, a high-IQ moron." Sammler tries to reassure him that they may change, but gets nowhere. He promises to come back to visit tomorrow.

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