The Great Gatsby

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I first read Gatsby by accident, when I was twenty-four, late one night at the end of my second year in graduate school, the night before I left to spend the summer in New York.  I had finished packing my tattered second-hand suitcase and the small string tied cardboard box of books I was taking with me.  With nothing left to do, I picked up a slim paperback edition, a copy of Gatsby, and started to read. It was, if I remember, a little after midnight when I started and a little after four in the morning when I finally finished it and knew immediately that I would one day read it again.  And I have, at least half a dozen times, the last time just a few days ago.  The astonishing thing is that each time is like reading something you have never read before.  You remember that you have read it, you remember the story, you remember whole lines, but it still, somehow, comes as a surprise, the way Fitzgerald makes you feel that you know these people as well, or better, than anyone you have ever actually met.

             It is like listening to a story told by one of your uncles about relatives you never knew, the story he tells you each time you see him and always manages to change, until finally you decide that he is only telling you things that someone had once told him, but because it is mostly a story made up of the fragments of other people’s now forgotten lives, because it does not concern itself with a too careful attention to the literal biographical facts, tells you something more important about who these people really were, what they thought and what they felt, and what, sometimes without quite realizing what they were doing or the effect it would have, what they did.  It is that way with Gatsby, the novel that will tell you more about what America was like in the bright, dizzy days between the Great War and the Great Depression when money became the only thing anyone wanted and the only thing needed to make you what you had always wanted to be, when everyone danced through the Jazz Age, the phrase Fitzgerald invented, when life for those rich enough to afford it was a party that lasted all summer and summer, banishing the seasons, lasted all year.

             Driven by the dream of the girl with whom he fell in love, Gatsby, Jay Gatsby, did everything he could to become what he thinks he has to be to have any chance with her.  He buys a huge estate across the Long Island Sound from where Daisy, the girl with whom he had been engaged before he went away to the war, lives with her husband, Tom Buchanan who, like his wife, has always been used to a life of wealth and privilege.  Every night, Gatsby looks across the water at the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock, the green light that represents everything he hopes for, the justification for everything he has done.  Hundreds of guests, invited and uninvited, come to the colossal parties given by Gatsby every weekend, and one of the rumors that circulate about their host, a rumor that tends to make him even more mysterious in the eyes of all those anonymous intruders, is that he once killed someone.  It is a rumor that seems to discredit itself when they suddenly find themselves in the presence of his inimitable smile.  “It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it that you may come across four or five times in life.  It faced – or seemed to face – the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.  It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”

             Gatsby, who had nothing when he met Daisy, when he was a young soldier about to go to war, lied about where he had come from; he lied about everything, including his name.  After the war, he became rich selling liquor when selling liquor was a crime, and became richer still by his involvement with the man who had fixed the l9l9 World Series, the thing that more than anything else taught Americans that nothing was sacred, that everything could be had – even the loyalty of baseball players, even the integrity of the game that America loved – for a price.  Whether or not he had ever killed anyone, Gatsby was a liar and a thief, and yet, more than any of those who had been born into the wealthy, established families whose palatial estates lined the waters of the sound, Gatsby had a purpose in his life and a sense of honor.  All the others, Tom and Daisy and their spoiled friends, lived their careless lives and let others try to put back together all the things they had broken.  Daisy, driving Gatsby’s car, kills a woman who dashed into the street, the same woman who had been having an affair with Tom Buchanan.  Gatsby, a passenger, lets everyone think he was driving.  Daisy does not mind.  The woman’s husband, deranged by grief, murders Gatsby in his pool.  Tom Buchanan thinks he deserved it.

             At the end, Daisy’s second cousin, Nick Carraway, who is telling the story, goes back to Gatsby’s enormous and abandoned house and wanders down to the shore.

          “I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.  He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it.  He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

          “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.  It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther….And one fine morning –

          “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

             But Gatsby stays with us forever.      

The Stories of Alexander Pushkin

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             She had “a voice like money.”  And with those four short words, F. Scott Fitzgerald described the girl that Jay Gatsby, the Great Gatsby,  did everything to win, the girl who would eventually cost him his life.  Daisy had “a voice like money.”  Reading that, those four short words, you know that what Gatsby thought he had to have to have her, the vast sums of money he was willing to break all the rules to get, meant nothing to her because it was something she had always had.  That line, those four commonplace words, stays with you forever, after you have read The Great Gatsby.  There are other lines as good as that in the things Fitzgerald wrote.  There are more of them in the stories Alexander Pushkin, Russia’s first great writer wrote.

             In The Queen of Spades, Pushkin’s best known, and most popular, story, Hermann, desperate to learn the secret of how to win at cards, sends a letter to a woman he is trying to seduce.  “It contained a confession of love; it was tender, respectful, and translated word for word from a German novel.  But Lizaveta Ivanovna did not know German and found it very satisfactory.”    When he sends her more letters, no longer translations, they are written “in a style that was characteristic of him, expressing both the uncompromising nature of his desire and the confusion of his unbridled imagination.”

             In The Blizzard, Pushkin captures in a single sentence the dominant influence among Russian women in the early 19th century: “Maria Gavralovna had  been brought up on French novels and was consequently in love.”  In The Shot, he summarizes he significance of a visit by a rich landowner to one of his estates as “a historical occasion for people living in the country.”  They “speak of nothing else for two months before the visit and for three years after.”  In The Guests Were Arriving at the Dacha, the mind of those ambitious for place and power,  not just in Russia, but everywhere, is understood immediately when Pushkin writes “Vronski, a wealthy young man who usually let his feelings be  governed by the opinion of others, fell head over heels in love with her because the Sovereign had once met her on the English Embankment and talked with her for a full hour.”

             Some of Pushkin’s stories are based on real events.  The Captain’s Daughter, written in 1836, is the story about a remarkable fraud, Pugachev, who claimed to be the real Tsar of Russia, wrongly declared dead by the imposter who had assumed power.  Three years earlier Pushkin had written a history of Pugachev and his rebellion, a history that can only be described as impossible to understand, and impossible to put down.  One battle follows another in an endless chronicle of momentary victory and temporary defeat, a catalogue of constant advances and regular retreats, butchery on an unbelievable scale, making more remarkable the few, the very few, acts of decent treatment of prisoners and restraint in the treatment of women. 

             In The Captain’s Daughter, Pushkin uses a single, seemingly minor, incident, a stranger who saves Pugachev, during a blizzard, to make history come alive.  The stranger, Petre Andreich Grinev,  does not know who Pugachev is or that he is the leader of a rebellion against the Tsar.  Sometime later, Grinev, an officer in the Tsar’s army, is taken prisoner by the rebels.  Just when he is about to be executed, Pugachev recognizes him and saves his life in turn.  The History of Purgachev, so difficult to follow in all its endless detail, is now a drama that holds you, mesmerized, from the very first page.          

             Pushkin’s place in Russian literature cannot be overstated.  The movement from poetry to prose, which took nearly three centuries in the English speaking world, happened in Russia with Pushkin, who, in addition to his remarkably concise prose wrote Russia’s greatest poetic work, Eugene Onegin.  Everything Pushkin did as a writer can be found in Onegin, the romantic disillusionment after the fall of Napoleon, the heightened sense of honor that compelled men to fight duels to the death and made women sacrifice the love they felt to the marriages they were sometimes condemned to enter.  It has sometimes been said that unless you read Eugene Onegin in the original Russian, you can not appreciate its power, its hold on the Russian soul, but whatever its failings, the translation by Babette Deutsche in the Penguin edition of l965 is powerful enough.

             Tatyana is a young girl who lives in the country.  Eugene Onegin, older, though still in his twenties, is a landowner visiting his estate.

                “The country to the past is tender,

                  Nor bends to fashion’s tyrannies:

                 The modern Russian’s worst disease.”

Tatyana falls in love with Onegin and writes to him of her love.  His reply is polite,

dismissive, and devastating to her young heart:

                       “If for a moment I found pleasure

                         In cosy scenes of fireside life,

                         You, you alone would be my wife.’

             But,   “My love, first warm, would soon diminish,

                        Killed by familiar;

                       Our marriage would mean misery.

             Onegin understands himself, understands that he will never bring happiness to a woman’s

life.  In his own eyes, he is a tragic figure, living in a tragic age.  Without intending it, he

provokes Tatyana’s brother, Lensky, into a duel.

             Tatyana will not see Onegin, “the betrayer.”  She must “hate her brother’s slayer.”

             But she goes to Onegin’s vacant house where she find herself reading through his books,

which included    “Lord Byron’s tales, which well consorted

                                With two or three bright-backed imported

                                Romances, upon every page

                                 Exhibiting the present age,

                                 And modern man’s true soul divulging,

                                One whose embittered mind finds zest

                                In nothing, but can never rest”  (p.169)

             Much later, Onegin sees her in St. Petersburg.  She is no longer the “poor girl whose adoration

                         Of him had filled her simple youth

                         But the proud princess, cold and serious,

                         The Queen, aloof, remote, imperious

                         Of the magnificent Neva

             Onegin, regretting everything, falls in love and writes her an impassioned letter, to which

she forces herself to reply:

                         “I love you (why should I dissemble?)

                           But I became another man’s wife;

                           I shall be true to him through life.”

             Onegin survives a duel and loses forever the women who, though she loved him, marries another man.  Dueling and marriage, the violence of misguided men and the loyalty of unfortunate women, are frequently the central thread, the guiding force, if you will, in Pushkin’s stories.  It would not be going to far to suggest that they are an obsession  In ’Dubrovskii,’ for example,  the hero is going to rescue the woman he loves from marriage to an older man she despises but has to marry so her father can recover some of the fortune he has squandered.  Dubrovskii, who has become a famous brigand, arrives just after the marriage ceremony has been performed, but he and his men still have time to stop the carriage that is taking the bride and bridegroom away.   Durbrovskii tells her that she is now free; she tells him that it is too late.  “I am already married.”  Too late because she had consented.  “I made my vow.”  She had waited for Dubrovskii until  the last minute.  “But now, I am telling you, it’s too late.  Let us go free.”  And Dubrovskii does what she asks.

             The Shot is a story about a duel that, in a way, lasts for years, a duel in which death by itself is not enough to satisfy a diabolical thirst for revenge.  Following their instructions, the two duelists, drew lots to decide who would fire first.  Silvio, who had been humiliated, slapped in the face by a Polish count, waits until the count has fired and missed.  Then he announces that  he reserves until a later time his right to fire.  He waits for years, until the count has just married and knows for the first time what perfect happiness is.  They draw lots again, this time in the count’s study, and again the count gets the first shot, and again he misses, though this time on purpose.  The count and his new bride wait for the fatal shot.  Silvio starts to leave without firing, but then stops, looks back, and fires twice, leaving two bullet holes in a portrait hanging on the wall, one just above the other, “a remarkable shot,” that proved for those who know the story, what a marksman Silvio had always been. 

             Marriage and duels of honor over women were the stuff of Pushkin’s great fiction, and Pushkin’s great fiction was the perfect mirror of his own all too brief life.  When he was almost thirty-two, he married the exquisitely beautiful Natasha Goncharova, a seventeen year old girl from an impoverished family who, because of Pushkin’s connection with the Tsar,  saw in the marriage the possibility of a connection with the imperial court.    She quickly became not only the favorite of the Tsar, but the most desirable woman in St. Petersburg.  She thrived on the attention, and if she fell in love early and often, she remained faithful, if not very close, to her husband.  But because the world, especially the world made up of court romances and court intrigues, reaches its own conclusions, Pushkin was treated with contempt as a husband who could not keep his wife.  Driven half mad by gossip, Pushkin challenged one of Natasha’s would be lovers to a duel, and died in the attempt to save his honor.  He was only thirty seven. 

             The end of Pushkin’s story cannot be told without telling the story of the story he never finished, The Blackamoor of Peter the Great.  The blackamoor is a young African, Ibrahim, whom Peter sends to Europe to be educated.  When Ibrahim returns to Russia, Peter forces a young woman, Natalia, to marry him.  Natalia, however, who is in love with someone else, takes to her bed, hoping to die.  A household servant tells her when she recovers enough to listen that, “While you’ve been sick the blackamoor has succeeded in charming them all.  The master is devoted to him, the Prince raves about him, and Tatiana Afanasevna says, ‘What a pity he’s black; otherwise we couldn’t wish for a better bridegroom.’”

             In the same way that The Captain’s Daughter was based on the history of the Pugachev Rebellion, The Blackamoor of Peter the Great is based on the history of the great Russian Tsar.  Every court in Europe had in those days young African boys in attendance.  Peter the Great wanted one.  Abraham Hannibal, the son of a minor Abyssinian prince had been sent as a small child a hostage to Constantinople where he became a member of the Sultan’s household.  Peter’s ambassador bribed one of the Sultan’s viziers and Abraham, only eight years old, was sent to St. Petersburg where he was baptized with Peter as his godfather and the Queen of Poland as his godmother.  Abraham became the Tsar’s valet, then his groom, and then his private secretary.  Gifted and eager to learn, he traveled with Peter to Paris in 1717, where he was left to study for a career as a military engineer.  He rose to the rank of captain in the French army, and in l725 returned to Russia where, just as in the story, Peter forces a woman who loves someone else to marry his blackamoor. 

             Pushkin never finished the story, but the history had an end.  The woman hated Abraham so much she was unfaithful to him both before and after the marriage.  Abraham divorced her and married another woman with whom he had eleven children, and in 1752,  a major-general, he became the head of the Russian Engineers Corps.  Abraham Hannibal, the son of an African prince, however, was not only the inspiration for The Blackamoor of Peter the Great, he was also  Alexander Pushkin’s great-grandfather.  Alexander Pushkin, the great Russian writer was, and remains, the greatest writer of African descent the world has ever seen. 

Parade’s End

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              Winston Churchill described the Victorian Age, which ended, not with the death of Queen Victoria, but in l914 with the First World War, as a time when “the world belonged to the few, and the very few.”  Thirty years later, in l944, the fact that the pilots who fought the Battle of Britain had not been the sons of the British aristocracy who attended Cambridge or Oxford, but the sons of the British middle class, showed Churchill that the few, the very few,  had lost the moral authority to govern the nation.  It had been a very long time since they had been able to rule themselves.

             The last one who knew, not just how to rule himself, but what it meant, may have been Christopher Tietjens, the central character in the four novels that together are known as Parade’s End, the extraordinary attempt by Ford Madox Ford to describe England as it really was when the world decided to destroy itself.  The first novel, ‘Some Do Not…’,  was published in l924; the second, ‘No More Parades’, a year later, in l925; the third, ‘A Man Could Stand Up—‘, the year after that.  The fourth and concluding volume in the quartet, ‘The Last Post’, came out in 1928.  They were published together as ‘Parade’s End’ in l950 by Alfred Knopf in a volume that runs a little more than eight hundred pages.   The novels, either individually or combined into one long consecutive story, would never be published today.

             Parade’s End is too far outside the normal experience.  It is a novel about war and sex in which there is not any violence, and there is not any sex.  There is not, in the way we have, at least most of us, learned to understand things, any action at all.  Or so we think at first.  But then, suddenly, somewhere in the back of our mind, we remember that while everything, every word, has to advance the story, conversation, what people say to other people, what they say to themselves, is the most compelling form of action there is.  And then we begin to realize that ‘Parade’s End’ captures, like nothing else we have ever read, a vanished civilization, what life was like before the First World War, the Great War, destroyed the last vestiges of what the world once thought decency and honor. 

             ‘Parade’s End’ is a love story in which sex becomes more a human failing, love’s poor substitute, for those who never learn love’s meaning.  It is a novel in which nearly everyone hates the novel’s main character, precisely because the main character is so much better than themselves.  He makes no sense to them, and half the time he makes no sense to himself.  In all of English literature, Christopher Tietjens is unique.  Considered by some to be the most brilliant man in England, his wife, Silvia, one of the most beautiful women anywhere.  They were married because she was pregnant; Tietjens is almost certain she was pregnant by another man.

             Silvia, according to her own mother, “hates her husband,” and, though she may have slept with a number of them, regards all men as “repulsive.”  At the very beginning of the novel, Silvia has left Tietjens to go abroad with another man.  She has been gone for four months when, one day at breakfast, Tietjens receives a letter from her asking, “without any contrition at all, to be taken back.”  Asked by a friend, if he will do so, he replies simply, “I imagine so.”  When his father asks him if they might divorce, he replies, with what today would be thought utter madness: “No!  No one but a blackguard would ever submit a woman to the ordeal of divorce.”

             Tietjen’s father may be the head of Groby, a baronial estate that for centuries has been part of the established order, but, though the youngest but one of his children, Christopher is the one who has that order, that  sense of duty and obligation, in his bones.  He does not read novels, because nothing worth reading has been written in England since the l8th century, “except by a woman.”  An old woman who happens to be the mother of Valentine Wannop, a suffragette, a pacifist, and, in her twenties, a woman who still believes that somewhere, far away from the dismal necessities of men who “over-ate and neighed like stallions, there were bright colonies of beings, chaste, beautiful in thought, altruist and circumspect.” 

             Instead of the world she dreams of, the world she lives in has entered upon the Great War, a war Tietjens has predicted and which he believes will do nothing but bring “unnumbered deaths.”  If he stays in England, he will be one of those planning and directing the war, and rather than do that, he will go to France as a soldier.  His conscience will not let him use his “brain in the service,” but he has “a great hulking body,” which he is willing that his country should use.  As he explains to Valentine, he has “nothing to live for: what I stand for isn’t any more in the world.”  He is an idealist, and idealists “must be stoned to death.  He makes the others so uncomfortable.”

             Tietjens tells her this, and more; he tells her that he will “put to you things I have put to no other human soul.”  They are drawn to each other.  Ford describes this in a way that makes you believe something like this was then really possible, and makes you wish that it still was:  Valentine, he writes, had “beautiful inclinations toward Tietjens, for she could not regard it as anything more…”  And Tietjens, she knows, has “beautiful inclinations toward her.”   And still, underlying it all, is a passionate longing made all the more intense by the fact of its suppression.  All Tietjens had to do was “approach her to make her feel as if her whole body was drawn toward him….The moon so draws the tides.”  The word love was never mentioned; every word they spoke confessed it.

             Tietjens has one night left before he goes to France.  He asks Valentine to be his mistress, and she says yes.  “But we didn’t.  We agreed that we were the sort of persons who didn’t.  I don’t know how we agreed.  We never finished a sentence.  Yet it was a passionate scene.” For Valentine, “abstention not only strengthened her in her predilection for chastity; it restored to her her image of the world as a place of virtues and endeavours.”

             Tietjen’s wife, Silvia, is waiting for him when he comes home at two in the morning.  He had “never been spoken to with such hatred.”  Not because he had been unfaithful, but because he had not.  She wanted him to sleep with Valentine, because that “might satisfy my affection for the girl…and feel physical desire for her….But she knew, without my speaking, that I had not….”  Silvia threatened to ruin him, to drag his name “through the mud….I never spoke.  I am damn good at not speaking.  She struck me on the face and went away.”

             Later, after suffering shell shock and losing, for a time, half his memory, he again goes to France, now certain that he will be killed.  Before he goes, he has another scene with his wife, who blames him for everything that has happened. 

             “If you had once in our lives said to me: ‘You whore!  You bitch!….May you rot in hell!….’  If you had only once said something like it…you might have done something to bring us together.”  Worse than his failure to call her the names she deserved, which would at least have shown some real feeling for her, is his near perfect rectitude.  He has never done a dishonorable thing in his life.  In “the name of the Almighty, how could any woman live beside you…and be forever forgiven?  Or no: not forgiven; ignored!”

              In France, waiting for death, Tietjens tries to write down, to get straight in his no longer  reliable mind, a clear account of what had happened.  He has no doubt that he has developed “a sympathetic, but not violent attachment for Miss Wannop,” a feeling she returns.  However, and this is a measure of how much the world has changed, “Neither Miss Wannop nor myself being persons to talk about the state of our feelings, we exchanged no confidences.”  He saw Miss Wannop sometimes at his mother’s house or on social occasions.  “No expressions of affection on the part of either of us ever passed.  Not one.  Ever.”

             Shortly before he left for France this second time, Tietjens was walking along a railing above some tennis courts.  For a few brief moments, he watched white clad players who look like “marionettes practising crucifixions.”  And with those three words, Ford Madox Ford captures perfectly the scenes of slaughter in which millions, an entire generation, the best of England, did what those who held the strings of power told them to do, and in the fields of Flanders played their final deathlike game.  Quite willing to be one of them, Christopher Tietjens  somehow survives the war.  What he and Valentine feel for each other survives as well, but nothing else is the way it was.  Whether for the better or the worse is a question that, whatever you and I might think a hundred years later, Christopher Tietjens would not have had the slightest doubt how to answer.           

Op Ed: The Pardon Power and Original Intent

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by D.W.Buffa

The Framers of the American Constitution, who seem to have thought of everything, even thought of Donald Trump.  Under Article II, sec.2, the President was given the “power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”  Nearly everyone agreed that the President should have this power, but there were those who thought that no one should be pardoned in the case of treason without the concurrence of at least one of the two houses of the legislature, because, in the marvelous phrase of Alexander Hamilton, “the supposition of the connivance of the Chief Magistrate ought not to be entirely excluded.”

The danger that the President might use the power to pardon to protect those with whom he had conspired to do harm to the United States by “adhering to,” or  giving “aid and comfort” to, its enemies, led to one of the most important, and least remembered, exchanges in American history, an exchange that demonstrated that not only are there serious limitations on the President’s power to pardon, but that a President’s threat to use that power may itself be grounds for impeachment.

The Constitution, drafted in the summer of 1787, had to be ratified by at least nine of the  thirteen states before it could take effect.  On the afternoon of Wednesday, June 18, 1788, George Mason rose from his chair on the floor of the Virginia Ratifying Convention deeply troubled.  No one seemed to understand that the President of the United States might not always be someone of sound character and high intelligence.  Mason tried to remind the delegates that there would rarely, if ever, be a commander in chief with the courage and rectitude displayed by George Washington during the War of Independence.  There might even be a President, he suggested, who would try to change our form of government.  The President, for that reason, “ought not to have the power of pardoning, because he may frequently pardon crimes which were advised by himself.  It may happen, at some future day, that he will establish a monarchy, and destroy the republic.  If he has the power of granting pardons before indictment, or conviction, may he not stop inquiry and prevent detection?  The case of treason ought, at least, to be excepted.  This is a weighty objection with me.”

Some of the most famous men in American history were sitting there, delegates to the Virginia convention. Patrick Henry, certain that a national government would destroy the states, was desperate to get the convention to reject the Constitution. John Marshall, who as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court would do more than anyone to make the Constitution the foundation for the kind of strong national government Henry feared, was determined that the convention would ratify it.  Whatever the abilities of Patrick Henry and John Marshall, however, there was no one, no one in Virginia, no in the country, no one anywhere, with a deeper understanding of the Constitution and what it meant than James Madison.

Listening to George Mason, Madison had understood immediately the force of Mason’s objection, but he had a response, a response in which he described limitations on presidential power that, to our great misfortune, we have all but forgotten.  Was there a danger in giving the President the power to pardon, as Mason had insisted?  Yes, replied Madison, but there was a remedy for the danger:

“There is one security in this case to which gentlemen may not have adverted: if the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds to believe he will shelter him, the House of Representatives can impeach him; they can remove him if found guilty.”

Impeachment, in other words, can begin, not when the President has been formally charged with a crime, but anytime there are “grounds to believe” that the President might “shelter,” that is to say, protect with a pardon, someone with whom he is connected “in any suspicious manner.”

But whenever impeachment begins, the President holds office until and unless he is convicted by a vote of two-thirds of the members of the Senate.  What can stop the President pardoning anyone who was involved in the crimes for which he is being impeached, or whose testimony might put him in jeopardy?  Madison’s answer will astonish those who continue to insist that the President can pardon whomever he wishes.  The President, according to Madison, still holds office, but he no longer has the power to pardon.  The House can “suspend him when suspected, and the power will devolve on the Vice-President.”  And if the Vice-President should also be “he may likewise be suspended till he be impeached and removed, and the legislature may make a temporary appointment.  This is a great security.”

It would be today an even greater security if we could all be certain that, with a clearer understanding of the limitations on the pardon power, the lawyers and judges who pride themselves on following the original intent of the framers of the United States Constitution will start to understand that Donald Trump’s insistence on his absolute right to pardon even himself is an unprecedented claim of unprecedented power that would, as George Mason feared, destroy the republic.

The Dark Backward Q & A

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Q: After reading The Dark Backward, I’m tempted to say it is like Harry Potter meets Perry Mason, a mystical fantasy combined with a courtroom thriller, but let’s begin at the beginning. The title.

A: The Dark Backward. It is from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The line reads: “What seest thou else in the dark backward and abysm of time?” The play takes place on an island full of mystery and full of magic.

Q: Like the island in The Dark Backward, an island that no one knew existed?

A: Yes, but an island on which a vanished civilization still exists. It is discovered in a place where no island is supposed to be and no one can figure out why no one had found it before.

Q: And it is on this island that a crime is committed, or what appears to be a crime, the murder of a child, an infant, and the accused is a young man who is living with a woman, his wife, who is apparently his sister?

A: That is part of the mystery. Is she really his sister, and how is it that he would not know? For that you need to read Plato.

Q: Plato? You have written a novel, a courtroom drama, and somehow Plato is involved? Would you like to explain?”

A: Plato wrote a dialogue in which someone recounts what he had heard from his grandfather who had in turn heard it from some ancestor of his who had heard it from an Egyptian priest, how the Athenians had once defeated the great empire of Atlantis and how Atlantis, a short time later, had been struck by an earthquake and sunk into the sea. The curious thing is that in that same dialogue, Plato remarks that even at his time the sea beyond the Pillars of Hercules, i.e. the Atlantic, was still not navigable because of all the earth stirred up by that great cataclysm. This would suggest that Atlantis was something more than an ancient myth. If Atlantis existed, and if it was destroyed by an earthquake, then there must have been some survivors. Those survivors are the ones who live on the island. What does that have to do with the question you asked about whether the young woman is or is not the sister of the accused? The most famous dialogue Plato wrote is The Republic in which nothing is private, everything, including property and women, are held in common. This silently raises the question about the moral status of incest. It also raises the question of what draws men and women together. The Dark Backward is a novel that takes up one of the two most basic human taboos.

Q: Is this the reason why William Darnell, the defense lawyer in your novel Evangeline, is again the lawyer? Because Evangeline dealt with the other taboo, cannibalism?

A: That is one of the reasons. The Dark Backward is, in a sense, a sequel, but the main reason is that Darnell is old enough to remember certain things that cast a needed light on what has happened, old enough to have read Kon-Tiki, when it first came out.

Q: The book by Thor Heyerdahl describing how he sailed on a balsa raft from the coast of South America to the south sea islands, proving that the people who settled the islands came from there. Your argument is that he did never asked where these people who sailed from South America came from themselves, correct?

A: That’s part of it. He talks about finding in the islands blue-eyed red-haired people, and he reports how there are still people in South America who talk about the people, god-like people, who taught them how to build cities and then went away, but he does not ask where they came from. He does not ask if they could have been the descendants of the survivors of Atlantis.

Q: If I remember correctly, there was another book written about an island, a lost civilization that was hidden from what we call the civilized world. I think you know the one to which I am referring.

A: The New Atlantis, the work by Francis Bacon in which a scientifically advanced civilization has discovered the technology by which to keep changing the location of the island on which it has maintained its existence, and that way remain isolated and alone. The New Atlantis was written to show what the new science could do. The Dark Backward was written to suggest that the results of that new science, modern science, may not be entirely to our advantage and that the ancient world had something we have lost, something it would be well to remember and try in some measure to reclaim.

Q: Now that you have finished The Dark Backward, what are you working on now?

A: A novel about ancient Athens, where, twenty five hundred years ago, some of the greatest names in history, Socrates and Pericles, Plato and Alcibiades, lived and fought and tried to understand the world and, in so doing, gave us the beginnings of civilization as we know it.

Interview with D. W. Buffa about Evangeline

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In an interview with his publisher at Blue Zephyr, D.W. Buffa speaks about his inspiration for Evangeline, a novel released in Germany and Australia but not in the U.S.- until now. Already released on Amazon Kindle and other e-book readers, Evangeline will be available in print on September 1, 2010 for American readers.

An emotionally charged novel, Evangeline puts its readers on tenderhooks as the story unfolds, challenging the notion of right and wrong, and introducing shades of gray that blur the lines of morality.

An interview with the author

Blue Zephyr:  What was the reason you decided to write Evangeline?  It’s rather different from your other novels. It’s different, really, from any courtroom drama written by anyone.

D.W. Buffa: There was an English case, decided in the l9th century, which I read when I was in law school, about a shipwreck in which the survivors, who were forced to resort to cannibalism, were tried for murder.  I had often thought it would make an interesting novel, set not in the past but in the present.  I did not do anything with it at the time, and then, in a conversation with a German publisher I mentioned the idea.  He had just left his position at one of the largest publishers in Europe to start his own publishing house, one that would only publish books that had some connection with the sea.  When he heard what I was thinking about, he told me that if I told the story in the courtroom, had everything come out in the course of a trial, they would be very interested.  As soon as he suggested that I tell the story in the courtroom, everything seemed to fall into place.  The book seemed to write itself.

Blue Zephyr:  So Evangeline was published first in Germany, and to considerable critical acclaim, as I understand it.  But tell me… didn’t something happened that caused a stir with the sales staff, something that hadn’t happened before?

Buffa:  That is true! Two of the salesmen, both of whom had been in the business for more than thirty years, told the publisher, independently of one another, that it was the first time they had read a manuscript and actually cried.

Blue Zephyr:  I can certainly sympathize… I cried the first time I read it, too. On a different point, though, in your first seven novels the main character was Joseph Antonelli, but there is a different courtroom lawyer, William Darnell, in Evangeline. Why did you make the change?

Buffa:  I was under contract to write one Antonelli book a year, and I had just finished the sixth novel, Breach of Trust, so I wanted to try something a little different.  One of the first decisions you have to make when you start to write a novel is who is going to tell the story.  In the Antonelli novels, he tells the story.  This allows you to keep the same voice, but it also imposes a limit on what you can tell.  Antonelli can only describe things he witnesses himself or what others tell him; he cannot describe a conversation that takes place between two other people in private.  Evangeline is told by that impersonal narrator we are all familiar with, the voice that describes everything but has no existence of its own.
There was also another reason that instead of Antonelli I chose William Darnell.  It was important to me that the defense attorney was someone old, someone who faces his own mortality, not as some distant prospect, but every day. I think it makes a real difference to the story.

Blue Zephyr:  Because the proximity of death is what Evangelineis all about?

Buffa:  Yes, that as well as what death means, and how we face it.  ‘Evangeline’ is this astonishing sailing craft that can go anywhere, but despite all the technology it has, it goes down in a once in a lifetime storm off the coast of Africa.  There is no time for anything except to try to get on board one of the lifeboats and then no chance of rescue.  The run out of food and water.  The question becomes who should die so the others can live.  The captain, Vincent Marlowe, takes the responsibility for everything that happens.  Finally, after forty days, when those who are left and themselves all nearly dead, they are rescued.  Marlowe is charged with murder.

Blue Zephyr:  Marlowe?  That was the same name as the narrator in a number of the novels Joseph Conrad wrote.

Buffa:  The choice was no accident, but a silent tribute to a great writer.  Conrad’s Marlowe was a great storyteller.  Vincent Marlowe, the captain of Evangeline, does not want to tell his story at all.  And when he finally does, there seems to be no decision any jury can make.

Blue Zephyr:  When I started reading it, I thought at first it was going to be a tale of survival, but it isn’t that at all, is it?

Buffa:  No, it’s a story about the things worth dying for, and, because it’s really the same thing, the things worth living for.

Blue Zephyr:  Thank you for taking the time to share the inspiration of Evangeline with us. We’re all looking forward to the release of the printed version in the U.S. and, on a personal note, I hope to see William Darnell come back in many novels yet to come. I think Antonelli fans will be pleased by your new character.

Evangeline Now Available to US Readers

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The latest D.W. Buffa news is all about Evangeline and the new world of digital e-book readers. Evangeline is finally available in the U.S. to anyone with an e-book reader, and soon will be available in print through as well!

Originally published in Germany, New Zealand and Australia, Evangeline was originally considered ‘too edgy’ for an American audience, as it deals with human cannibalism and the shades of gray between what is “morally right” and what is “legal.” You can finally decide for yourself in this heart-wrenching tale of suspense and human dignity now that Evangeline has been digitally released in the US. Read more about Evangeline

D.W. Buffa is on Kindle

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The following books are available as e-books on the Kindle and other e-book readers: The Last Man, The Dark Backward, The Swindlers, Evangeline, Breach of Trust, Star Witness, The Legacy, The Judgment, and The Prosecution.

The Last Man: Crime Fiction Novel by D.W. Buffa The Dark Backward by D.W. Buffa The Swindlers: Crime Fiction Novel by D.W. Buffa Evangeline: A Novel of Suspense and Human Conscience
Star Witness: A Murder Mystery Novel by D.W. Buffa Breach of Trust by D.W. Buffa The Prosecution The Judgment The Prosecution: Crime Fiction

You can also read reviews of D.W. Buffa’s books and order books online at and, among other retailers. Click on the Books link at the top of the page to read synopses, reviews and find information on where to buy D.W. Buffa’s Joseph Antonelli novels and other books.

Certain rare copies, out-of-print titles, or books never released in the United States can be purchased through second-hand merchants like and the Amazon Marketplace.

Interview with D. W. Buffa on Breach of Trust

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Q. Breach of Trust involves a power struggle between the President, William Walker, and the Vice-President, Thomas Browning. People who read this book may think you are talking about the Bush administration. Is William Walker based on George Bush?

A. No, not directly; and Thomas Browning is certainly not based on Dick Cheney. What I was trying to do was draw a contrast between the kind of narrow-minded, ruthless moralism that believes that whatever it does is by definition right, and whoever opposes it is by definition not only wrong, but evil, on the one hand, and the kind of subtle intelligence that can anticipate events precisely because it understands the complexities of the world, on the other. In Thomas Browning, I hoped to create a character that might remind us that there is something more to being President than a fervent belief in your own rectitude.

Q. Browning has what I think anyone would regard as a prodigious memory. He memorized Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, and he can apparently give long speeches without so much as a note. Why did you think it important that he have this ability?

A. Without giving away the plot, let us just say that Browning has to be able to keep track of a good many things at once. It is also what makes him such an attractive public figure to so many people, this sense that he is always talking about things he knows and has thought about, instead of simply stumbling through a few short forgettable phrases someone has written out for him in advance of a press conference.

Q: In your new novel, Breach of Trust, Thomas Browning, the vice-president of the United States, is accused of covering up a murder. Is it just a coincidence that this book is coming out in the middle of the American presidential campaign?

A: Breach of Trust is about a President, and an administration, willing to do anything to keep power, even if means accusing his own vice-president of involvement in a murder that may never have happened. And no, it is not a coincidence that it is coming out in the middle of the presidential campaign. I wanted to write a novel about politics and intrigue, and the best time to do that is in a presidential year.

Q: This is the sixth novel in which the defense attorney, Joseph Antonelli, is the central character. How does he become involved in a case in which much of what goes on takes place in Washington, D.C. and the trial takes place in New York? He started out in Portland, Oregon, but isn’t he practicing law in San Francisco.

A: Antonelli went to law school with Thomas Browning. They have not seen each other in years. Antonelli agrees to attend a law school reunion dinner at the Plaza Hotel in New York where, years before, something happened that changed the lives of a great many people, including both Antonelli and Thomas Browning. When he finds out that another member of his law school class is about to be charged with murder, Antonelli knows he has to take the case.

Q: This is a novel, a work of fiction, but quite a lot of it reads as if it is true. What you said about the Roosevelt Room in the White House, for example. Is that really true – what Clinton did?

A: Yes, it is. There had been a tradition that Democratic presidents had a picture of one Roosevelt, Republicans a picture of the other one. Clinton….Well, I think I should let people find out for themselves what he did and why he did it.

Q: And that business about the drawer in the Vice-President’s desk. How did you happen to know about that?

A: When Al Gore was Vice-President, he showed it to someone I know. What is inside that drawer constitutes what is probably the longest running, least known tradition in Washington, D.C.

Q: And what about Phil Hart, the U.S. Senator from Michigan for whom the Senate Office Building is named? You have Thomas Browning describe him at some length.

A: In the novel, Browning was a U.S. Senator from Michigan, and before that the head of an automobile company, before he became Vice-President. I worked for Phil Hart, years ago, during the last three years of his life. Everything Browning says about him in the novel is true.

Q: Including the fact that he turned down the chance to become Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court?”

A: Yes. But it was not just that I wanted to rescue Hart from the undeserved obscurity into which his name has fallen. He provides an example, as Browning remarks, of what politics can be, an honorable service, rather than the harsh brutality so much of public life has now become.

Q: Browning becomes Vice-President after he has lost the Republican nomination to William Walker. One of the characters, a European reporter, makes the remark that Americans were given a choice between a man who represented the best of what they were and a man who represented the worst of what they were and they chose the latter. Do you think that is a fair characterization of what is going on in the United States now, and, if it is, was it your intention to emphasize this difference in the novel?

A: In a way, yes. Everything has started to move to extremes; there is no shared middle-ground anymore. We were attacked on September 11th by fanatics, and we have, in part as a result of that, become at times fanatical ourselves. Breach of Trustcenters on the conflict between people on the one hand who not only want power, but who think they have a God-given right to have it.

Q: So, then, who do you plan to vote for in the election: Bush or Kerry?

A: Don’t you think Thomas Browning would be better than either one of them?