Somehow, Les and I got to talking about The Thorn Birds a few months ago. I don’t even remember exactly what brought it up, but we both remembered loving it when we read it years ago. So, we decided to reread it together this fall. And through the course of our emails we’ve discovered that we don’t feel exactly about it today as we did then, when we loved it. I’m going to write my thoughts here, before I go read her thoughts, so interested to know her full reaction.
First of all, I remember being enraptured by Ralph de Bricassart. By his love for Meggie. By his lifelong undying affection and care. By the romantic interlude they enjoyed together, albeit briefly, while she was finding emotional restoration on a secluded island. That was then.
This is now: I’m mad, mad, mad. Why the heck is he loyal to neither the priesthood nor Meggie? For goodness sake, Ralph, choose! Do you want to be true to your romantic love or your saintly love? This time around, his ambivalence infuriated me; I saw him not as the tower of strength with which I first viewed him. I saw him in all his human frailty, and it occurs to me that this, perhaps, is what Colleen McCullough intended to portray: a man who is deeply conflicted. Deeply, despite his best intentions, flawed.
As, I come to think about it, we all are.
Well, I can’t speak for you. But I can say that every night I confess my sins, and every day I sin again. I don’t mean to. I don’t want to. But I can’t escape the flaws within my heart, just as Ralph can’t escape his. So I’m torn, between sympathy and scorn for him. For me.
Maybe I do love this book after all. Maybe I’m just looking at it with older eyes. Eyes which see more realistically, less romantically.
The author says it best herself, in this passage with which I’ll close: “Each of us has something within us which won’t be denied, even if it makes us scream aloud to die. We are what we are, that’s all. Like the old Celtic legend of the bird with the thorn in its breast, singing its heart out and dying. Because it has to, it’s driven to. We can know what we do wrong even before we do it, but self-knowledge can’t affect or change the outcome, can it? Everyone singing his own little song, convinced it’s the most wonderful song the world has ever heard. Don’t you see? We create our own thorns, and never stop to count the cost. All we can do is suffer the pain, and tell ourselves it was well worth it.”
“That’s what I don’t understand. The pain.” He glanced down at her hand, so gently on his arm, hurting him so unbearably. “Why the pain, Meggie?”
“Ask God, Ralph,” said Meggie. “He’s the authority on pain, isn’t He? He made us what we are, He made the whole world. Therefore He made the pain, too.” (p. 390-391)