After Many a Summer

After Many a Summer Dies the Swan

I'm just on the second reading of the short, but excellent, 'After Many a Summer'. The novel revolves around a few characters brought together by Hollywood millionaire, Joe Stoyte. Each character in the novel represents a different attitude towards life. Jo Stoyte, in his sixties and conscious of his mortality, finds himself in deep contemplation of life. Enlightenment eludes him, however, as he is ruled by his fears and cravings. Jo Stoyte hires Dr. Obispo and his assistant Peter to research the secrets to long life in carp, crocodiles, and parrots. Jeremy Pordage, an English archivist and literature expert, is brought in to archive a rare collection of books (Hauberk Papers). Jeremy's presence highlights Jo Stoyte's shallow attitude toward the precious works of art that he affords himself. Other characters are Virginia Maunciple, Jo Stoyte's young mistress, and Mr Propter, a professor who lives in the neighboring estate. Mr Propter believes:

'Every individual is called upon to display not only unsleeping good-will but also unsleeping intelligence. And this is not all. For, if, individuality is not absolute, if personalities are illusory figments of self-will disastrously blind to the reality of a more-than-personal-consciousness, of which it is the limitation and denial, then all of every human being's efforts must be directed, in the last resort, to the actualization of that more-than-personal-consciousness. So that even intelligence is not sufficient as an adjunct to good will; there must also be the recollection which seeks to transform and transcend intelligence.'

Dr. Obispo places great faith in science and medicine as saviours of humankind. Dr. Obispo sees everyone as a stepping stone to science, the greater good, and thus only derives happiness at others' expense. According to Mr Propter's philosophy he is trapped in ego based human behavior that prevents him from reaching enlightenment. Dr. Obispo seduces the young Virginia Maunciple in a characteristically egotistical way. She is unable to resist him despite her loyalty to Jo Stoyte. When she is found out by Jo Stoyte, he wants to kill Dr. Obispo but accidentally kills Peter (whose thoughts and morals had slowly started to expand under Mr Propter's tutelage) instead. Dr. Obispo covers up the act for money and continued research support. This takes him, along with Virginia Maunciple and Jo Stoyte, to Europe, where they find an immortal human, the Fifth Earl of Gonister, still alive at 200 years of age, who now resembles an ape. Jo Stoyte cannot grasp that transcendence or goodness should be one's ultimate goal, rather than prevention of death, and expresses his wish to undergo the treatment so that he too will live forever.