Travels with My Aunt
Travels with My Aunt (1969) is a novel written by English author Graham Greene.
|Publisher||The Bodley Head|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|Pages||319 pp (First Edition)|
|Preceded by||The Comedians|
|Followed by||The Honorary Consul|
The novel follows the travels of Henry Pulling, a retired bank manager, and his eccentric Aunt Augusta as they find their way across Europe, and eventually even further afield. Aunt Augusta pulls Henry away from his quiet suburban existence into a world of adventure, crime and the highly unconventional details of her past.
The novel begins when Henry Pulling, a conventional and uncharming bank manager who has taken early retirement, meets his septuagenarian Aunt Augusta for the first time in over 50 years at his mother's funeral. Despite having little in common, they form a bond. On their first meeting, Augusta tells Henry that his mother was not truly his mother, and we learn that Henry's father has been dead for more than 40 years.
As they leave the funeral, Henry goes to Augusta's house and meets her lover Wordsworth – a man from Sierra Leone. Henry finds himself drawn into Aunt Augusta's world of travel, adventure, romance and absence of bigotry.
He travels first with her to Brighton, where he meets one of his aunt's old acquaintances, and gains an insight into one of her many past lives. Here a psychic foreshadows that he will have many travels in the near future. This prediction inevitably becomes true as Henry is pulled further and further into his aunt's lifestyle, and delves deeper into her past.
Their voyages take them from Paris to Istanbul on the Simplon Orient Express, and as the journey unfolds, so do the stories of Aunt Augusta, painting the picture of a woman for whom love has been the defining feature of her life.
Henry returns to his quiet retirement, but tending his garden no longer holds the same allure. When he receives a letter from his aunt, he finally gives up his old life to join her and the love of her life in South America, and to marry a girl decades younger than himself.
As his travels progress it becomes clear to Henry that the woman he had been raised to believe was his mother was in fact his aunt. His real mother is Augusta, and her re-connection with him at her sister's funeral marked the beginning of her reclamation of her child.
The plot revolves around two main characters: Henry and Aunt Augusta.
- Henry Pulling: A man in his mid-50s who worked his entire life as a banker. When the bank was bought, he took early retirement and took up gardening and tending his Dahlias. Over the course of his travels with Aunt Augusta, Henry is transformed from a character who longs for the safety and predictability of a quiet life to one who seeks adventure.
- Aunt Augusta is the opposite of Henry. She is an amoral character who revels in sexual adventure and small-time swindles. She has worked as a prostitute and had several intense love affairs that she describes to Henry on their travels. The most important of these love affairs was one with Henry's father when she became pregnant with Henry and another with a man named Mr. Visconti. If Henry is on a journey from safety to adventure, Aunt Augusta is on a two-fold journey to reconnect with Henry, the son she now can know since his mother has died, and with Mr. Visconti, the lover whom she most wants to see again.
In addition to Henry and Aunt Augusta, there are two strong supporting characters.
- Wordsworth: Aunt Augusta's current lover when she meets Henry. If Aunt Augusta is the amoral center of the novel, Wordsworth is its moral center. He is devoted to Augusta and will do anything that she asks. His love and devotion stand in stark opposition to Augusta's cavalier approach to her lovers. He even follows her to Paraguay and helps her reunite with Visconti. His morality and almost unmourned death serves as a counterpoint for Aunt Augusta's pleasure-focused life.
- Mr. Visconti: The previous lover who Aunt Augusta is seeking throughout the book. Visconti was a swindler before World War II who then helped the Nazis loot art from wealthy Italians. In the aftermath of the war, he fled as a war criminal. He never expresses regret for his actions with the Nazis, and although Henry finds himself finally feeling ultimately alive as he takes up a career as a smuggler with Visconti, his unrepentant Nazi past is designed to draw into question the ultimate wisdom of Henry's move from his boring, safe life to Aunt Augusta's life of adventure.
The novel was adapted, with large departures from the original story, for a film in 1972, written by Jay Presson Allen and Hugh Wheeler, and directed by George Cukor, starring Maggie Smith and Alec McCowen.
British playwright and actor Giles Havergal wrote a version for stage, first presented at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow on 10 November 1989. This stage version was reduced to a 50-minute, one-act version (with permission from Havergal) and first presented by the Backwell Playhouse Theatre Company as an entry into the Avon Association of Art One Act Festival on 21 February 2015.
- Richard Boston (25 January 1970). "Travels with My Aunt". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 February 2009.