Old Filth

Old FilthOld Filth by Jane Gardam

Eddie Feathers was an accomplished and admired judge and, before that, solicitor, working in Hong Kong before retiring to Dorset. The engaging title of the novel was his nickname within the legal world. In his private life, however, he was a monumental underachiever, living within a shell of icy dignity, married to a decent but (towards him) passionless wife. They have no children.

The Justice had been dealt a colossal injustice in his developmental days. The old filth of his past emerges as he reminisces in late life, and revisits old locales in both mind and person. Times sequences are chopped about in the novel, as they are inside Old Filth’s head.

His personal story is caught up in the emotional sterility of the Empire. He had been born in Malaya, his mother dying in childbirth, after which his father, emotionally smashed by WWI (like one of the fathers in Flight of the Maidens) ignores Eddie’s existence. The boy is allowed to wander as he will, flourishing amongst the local Malay children, mothered by a warm local woman – until the age of four, when Auntie Madeleine (a female type found so often in Gardam’s books) engineers the Right Thing and has him returned to England. Here his other aunties pocket the financial allowance for his upbringing and farm him out to bargain-rate care and joyless, heartless family life as one of many Raj Orphans.

It is not all bad. In his teens he is taken under the wing of the rich Ingoldby family, living with them and treated (well not quite) as one of them. His learning and his moral system are shaped by Sir, a stuffy closet-gay headmaster of a boarding school. He emerges somehow with a charisma that endears him to women throughout his life, but nothing within him resonates when they offer love.
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