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Ah—ah—ah—ow—ow—ow—oo!

Nah then, Freddy: look wh' y' gowin, deah. […] Theres menners f' yer! Te-oo banches o voylets trod into the mad. […] Ow, eez ye-ooa san, is e? Wal, fewd dan y' de-ooty bawmz a mather should, eed now bettern to spawl a pore gel's flahrzn than ran awy athaht pyin. Will ye-oo py me f'them? 
(Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion, Act I, George Bernard Shaw, 1912)
Forget boxsets -- after-dinner read-throughs are the height of domestic entertainment. The latest production chez Whitnall was George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion (named after the sculptor from Greek mythology whose most beautiful statue awakens to life). In the play, a Professor of phonetics, Henry Higgins, accepts a bet to inculcate 'common', comically Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle with such refined speech and deportment that she is able to pass for a duchess in upper-class society. [1] As forewarned by his mother and his housekeeper, the success of this undertaking lands Eliza in something of a fix ...
LIZA [pulling herself together in desperation] What am I fit for? What have you left me fit for? Where am I to go? What am I to do? What's to become of me?
[…]
HIGGINS [a genial afterthought occurring to him] I daresay my mother could find some chap or other who would do very well.
LIZA. We were above that at the corner of Tottenham Court Road.
HIGGINS [waking up] What do you mean?
LIZA. I sold flowers. I didn't sell myself. Now you've made a lady of me I'm not fit to sell anything else. I wish you'd left me where you found me.
HIGGINS. [slinging the core of the apple decisively into the grate] Tosh, Eliza. Don't you insult human relations by dragging all this cant about buying and selling into it. You needn't marry the fellow if you don't like him.
LIZA. What else am I to do? 
(Pygmalion, Act III, George Bernard Shaw, 1912) 
Her elegance and accent estrange her from the world that she grew up in; her lack of aristocratic credentials and, more importantly, a sense of dignity which balks at the idea of marriage as a means of livelihood, greatly constrict her options in the world to which she now superficially belongs. Henry -- self-satisfied, and relieved that the project (too easy not to have become tiresome) is finally over -- maintains a sort of vaguely affectionate nonchalance towards Eliza; he neither sees nor particularly cares what all the fuss is about, to her escalating indignation. [2]

"Why have you made me like this?" -- It is a bewailment that I can relate to. So much would be ... easier, if only I was ... otherwise. I didn't ask to be this way; I didn't ask to be at all! (At least, not as far as I remember or understand, but then ... who knows? it's certainly a thing to ponder.)

As prayers go, it's not a very wise one...
But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” (Romans 9:20)
“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’? (Isaiah 45:9)
"But..." I want to argue... "a pot doesn't have a mouth. (Well, it sort of has a mouth, but definitely not a larynx). Nor reason. It can't wonder, and it can't question. I have the facility and the temptation to do both. Why? On top of everything else about my creation and existence that I want to but am not allowed to question, why the ability to do that very questioning I'm not allowed to do? Wouldn't it all be so much easier if I just, well, if I couldn't..." Hmmm.

I don't know the answer. The question is a bigger one than it seemed when I first sulkily tendered it. Why are humans like we are? Why is anything like it is? Why suffering? Why free will? Whether free will? How? and what? and really?!
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone [...]" (Job 38:1-6)
Learning to live with not knowing, not understanding ... as well as being appropriately humble, it's kinda ... well ... necessary, pragmatically speaking. Sometimes there's answers. Sometimes there's a wise and clever thing to say that makes it all seem neat and tidy and OK. Sometimes something circumstantial changes and the questions no longer seem so urgent. But sometimes, in the words of Eliza, everything's "Ah—ah—ah—ow—ow—ow—oo!" and there's nothing much more to be said.

It is those moments which most acutely reveal our need for an entirely different type of understanding ... "that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:17b-19)



[1] It was great fun to read, with the downside that just as I began to triumph in a Cockney accent worthy of my East London roots I was forced to abandon it again for an exaggerated version of what Mr. W disparagingly calls my 'telephone voice'...

[2] The arrangement that is eventually made for her future -- with the involvement of Higgins' straight-talking mother, and his gentlemanly friend Pickering, and an enraptured, incapable suitor named Freddie -- is, well, it's delightfully and appropriately 'messy'...although, to Shaw's disgust, directors have had a tendency to tie it up, neat rom-com style, in production and adaptation.

[Thumbnail cc from LadyDragonflyCC on Flickr]

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