Master Georgie : a novel

by Beryl Bainbridge

Hardcover, 1998




New York : Carroll & Graf, 1998.


When Master Georgie - George Hardy, surgeon and photographer - sets off from the cold squalor of Victorian Liverpool for the heat and glitter of the Bosphorus to offer his services in the Crimea, there straggles behind him a small caravan of devoted followers; Myrtle, his adoring adoptive sister; lapsed geologist Dr Potter; and photographer's assistant and sometime fire-eater Pompey Jones, all of them driven onwards through a rising tide of death and disease by a shared and mysterious guilt. Combining a breathtaking eye for beauty with a visceral understanding of mortality, Beryl Bainbridge exposes her enigmatic hero as tenderly and unsparingly as she reveals the filth and misery of war, and creates a novel of luminous depth and extraordinary intensity.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member John
this is the story of the intertwining lives of four principal characters: Myrtle, a foundling girl taken into service in the Hardy family and later elevated to the status of "sister"; Master Georgie, George Hardy, for whom Myrtle has a life-long passion; Dr.Potter who marries another of George's
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sisters; and Pompey Jones, a poor, but resourceful and bright young fellow who works at one point as a fire-swallower and then becomes a photographer's assistant. To complicate matters, George is bisexual and more attracted to Pompey than he is to Myrtle, although it is Myrtle who bears him two children with the agreement of his wife who is barren and who then raises the children as her own. This most unlikely grouping of people all end up together in the staging areas of the hell-hole of the Dardenelles in preparation for the even greater horrors of the Crimean war.

The leitmotif is summed up when the author speculates that, "Perhaps chance and destiny are interdependent, in that the later cannot be fulfilled without the casual intervention of the former". This is very much a story of the interconnection of chance and destiny and of how examples of perfectly ordinary lives–ordinary in the sense that similar scenarios are lived out in millions of replications–cross and influence each other; with the influences of unrequited love, betrayal, lust, obsession, truth, role-playing, identity and how, if one is not careful, the very definition of one's self becomes hostage to constructed images that provide poor support.

Bainbridge is a very fine writer. The story unfolds through the first-person narrative of each of the protagonists, except for George himself. It is an interesting and very well-written book where truths and knowledge are not just presented, but rather emerge, even obliquely, through contact, memory, and reconstruction, much as they do in life.
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LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
First off, I would definitely recommend this book, but not to the casual reader. It's not an entertaining beach read nor is it something that you can get through easily. It requires much concentration and focus. I have never yet met with a book by Beryl Bainbridge that I did not like and this one
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is no exception.

first, a bit about the Crimean War (the backdrop for this book):

The Crimean War 1854 - 1856
In 1853, Russia sent troops to defend Christians within the Ottoman Empire. Within months, Russian troops had occupied parts of the Ottoman Empire and the Turks declared war. On 28 March 1854, looking to prevent Russian expansion, Britain and France (with Austrian backing) also declared war on Russia. In September 1854, Allied troops invaded the Crimea and within a month were besieging the Russian held city of Sebastopol. On 25 October 1854, the Russians were driven back at the Battle of Balaclava (including the foolhardy Charge of the Light Brigade). Eleven days later, the Battle of Inkerman was also fought (with high casualties on both sides). Poorly supplied and with little medical assistance ... the British troops suffered immense casualties - 4,600 died in battle; 13,000 were wounded; and 17,500 died of disease."

With this as the setting for Master Georgie, the book is divided into six "plates," or photographs, each capturing a specific moment in time as related by three separate narrators. Each is a focus on love and death, although through the story, you get the sense that the author is looking at the realities of war as set against the notion of the heroic history of war during the period of British empire. The main character is George Hardy, who tries to enlist in the war as a surgeon, but who is rejected due to his marital status. He signs up independently instead, and takes his family including wife, kids, brother-in-law Dr. Potter and his wife (George's sister Beatrice) and Myrtle, a woman in the employ of the Hardys who has some mysterious connection to George. Eventually the family is sent home after George is ordered to serve as doctor for the British in the Crimean theater, and the rest of the book is a look at the effects of war and the realities of life as viewed by those who are a part of it, even though their experiences and place in the scheme of things are largely different to one another.

It is a fine piece of writing, and should not be missed. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Fluffyblue
Master Georgie is a really well-written book. I've only read a couple of Beryl Bainbridge books before, but as far as I am concerned she really gets her writing across. She is descriptive but not overly so, and you can really picture what she is saying in your mind, unlike some authors who can
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leave you in a muddle.

The characters were well set out and I liked the novella style where each character told part of a story. I liked all of the characters to some extent - although I was less keen on Potter, but I think that was how things were supposed to be. Master Georgie himself came across, to me, as very aloof. Although the title of the book, and probably the central character in so far as all the other characters evolved from him, we really didn't find out too much about him. He kept himself to himself. I think my favourite character was probably Jonesy.

All in all, it's spurred me on to read my other Beryl Bainbridge books.
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LibraryThing member mjharris
I never cared for historical fiction until I read this book. Perhaps I was finally ready to see what I was missing, and to discover how mankind makes the same errors again and again.
LibraryThing member Gail.C.Bull
This book was awarded the Booker Prize following Beryl Bainbridge's death this spring and after reading it, I can only wonder why it didn't win one the year it was published.

Set in 1850's England, it documents the lives of a gay man, a sexually-assertive woman, and the bisexual man who loves them
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both as they struggle to maintain their self-respect and identities in a society in which homosexuality and sodomy are illegal, and women who admit to enjoying sex are labelled whores and ostercized by their peers. Although this is a historical novel, Bainbridge's instictive understanding of the human psyche and sympathy for her characters makes this book feel very contemporary. I felt as though it could be happening anywhere in the world at any time. It's a powerful expose of the human cost of enforcing a social expectation of sexual identity, and I recommend it whole-heartedly.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
Well, I finally finished Master Georgie, a much admired book that has been sitting on my shelf for years, on my second try. I'm left feeling somewhat disappointed and a bit unsure of what all the fuss was about. The book has received numerous awards and has been acclaimed as a masterpiece and the
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progenitor of something entirely new in the genre of historical fiction. It was published back in 1998, so perhaps it seemed more original then than now. I take it the structure is the novel's hallmark, but by now, telling a story from the first person perspectives of several characters has become rather commonplace. George Hardy is an aristocratic young doctor who seems to be adored by all. His story is told in six chapters by three characters: Myrtle, a foundling taken in by the family as a maid, who loves Georgie excessively and follows him everywhere, even to the battlegrounds of the Crimean War; his friend Dr. Potter, a pedant who can't stop spouting lines from Greek and Roman classics; and Pompey Jones, a street urchin with sticky fingers and a knack for photography. Each chapter focuses, in part, on a photograph and, in part, on a death (or many of them)--another part of Bainbridge's structure. The first chapter sets the tone: Myrtle is posing for a portrait with Georgie's dead father. The senior Mr. Hardy collapsed in a brothel, and the novel's four main characters all conspire to move his body back home and to cover up the salacious circumstances. When Georgie, a surgeon, decides that he might be of use in the Crimean conflict, the others join him. Their narratives create a small commentary on class, love, and war. But however clever the structure might be, and however devastating the verbal portraits of death from warfare and disease, I never felt very engaged with any of the characters. One review I read after finishing the book said that it needs to be read at least three times to appreciate its brilliance. Maybe that was the problem--but I'm afraid I'm not inclined to give it two more readings.
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LibraryThing member bhowell
I agree with the other reviewers. This is a wonderful book but not for the ordinary reader. I found myself wishing for more historical detail but that is just me. This is the way Ms Bainbridge writes and I am a big fan. My favourite of her books remains "The Birthday Boys".
LibraryThing member RobinDawson
An interesting book that crackles with intelligence and wit. The writing is vivid and vigorous,the plot and structure are good – however, the ‘absence’ of Georgie (he is not one of the narrators) meant I didn’t really understand what was driving him to drag his family and then his team of
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three loyal fans into the very jaws of hell. He was intent on seeking the worst there was, with never a thought for Myrtle or Potter.

The final, dreadful destiny of the four main characters was very much influenced by chance - and Georgie's pigheadedness.
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LibraryThing member mcgaffey
I just finished and am rereading it. I am entranced by her style: so much in few words.
LibraryThing member PilgrimJess
This is more of a novella rather than a novel but that aside still manages to pack a punch.

The book is based around a Master George Moody a doctor and medical photographer and is told in 6 photographic plates by three very different characters, Myrtle the adopted orphan sister, Pompey Jones a
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street urchin turned photographer's assistant and George's brother-in-law Doctor Potter. Myrtle is the most devoted to Georgie despite him seemingly having no interest in women period, Pompey is more pragmatic and sees Georgie as a means out of the gutter with suggestions of a homo-sexual relationship and to a better life whereas Potter is the least attached of the three but like Pompey has no real money of his own so lives off Georgie's patronage.

Death is a constant throughout from the death of George's father in a backstreet whore's bed in London to the mud and filth of the Crimean War and we are certainly not spared some of the gory realities of War which are chiefly provided by Pompey. However, there are also lighter moments provided in the main by Potter usually at his own expense as he escapes the brutality of War into books, geology and daydreaming.

The use of three different narators is an interesting concept as you see the same occurance seen from varying standpoints much like real life and it also allows us to see snippets of Georgie's character bit by bit. The juxtaposition of differing human characters and characteristics the randomness of War is quite cleverly done. As is the view of life for the characters before the War in London and their Victorian values, in particular how the British combatants even took their wives and lovers with them to the Crimea before the actual War like it was some sort of holiday camp.

Unfortunately I was never really convinced by the character of Georgie himself or quite why everyone seemed so devoted to him. The brevity of the book certainly did not help IMHO. Overall an interesting read and it would not put me off reading any of Bainbridge's other works but probably not one that will live long in the memory
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
I had no notion at all what the story was about before starting this novel, even though I'd had it in my possession since 2011 and had heard the title bandied about countless times. All I knew is it had been shortlisted for the Booker and had an excellent reputation, and didn't seek to find out
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more about it, which is uncharacteristic for me. At the beginning, I thought it would be about photography, which the Georgie in question takes an interest in when the novel begins in the mid-1840s. Then it became a novel about obsession, with one of the narrators, young Myrtle, a foundling who has found a home with George's family, so in love with the young man that she's literally willing to follow his every step. Then it became a novel about the Crimean War, more or less as lived close to the front, Georgie now being a doctor and taking care of the horribly maimed and wounded, while Myrtle and his step-brother Dr Potter—who is specialised in geology and well versed ancient literature, but is sickened at the sight of maimed bodies—making camp with our hero in the worst possible conditions. The novel is told by three narrators; the two mentioned above, as well as Pompey Jones, a young man who starts off as a street urchin, then becomes a fire-eater and finally a photographer assigned to Crimea to document the war. We learn about Georgie through those three individual narratives but never get a glimpse into his own thought patterns, which I found a very novel approach which turned George Hardy into a sort of mythical figure, which I suppose he was to the three people most closely involved in his life during the war, and what Beryl Bainbridge probably set out to turn him into, as the title partially implies.

Extremely well written with beautiful language and strong imagery, I can well see why this novel was shortlisted for the Booker prize when it came out in 1998 (it was the novel [Amsterdam] by Ian Mcewan who took it that year; equally deserving in my opinion). Bainbridge was nominated no less than five times for the Booker and passed away from cancer without actually ever winning it. A shame, but all the more reason for me to want to discover more of her work now I have a vivid example of what an excellent writer she was.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
Didn't like this one very much. It is a portrayal of a man, George Hardy, through the eyes of three people close to him; notably, his adopted sister, Myrtle. It just wasn't that interesting to me. I would have liked it a lot more, I think, had the other three characters given us a portrait of
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Myrtle...she had by far the most interesting story of them all, which was only hinted at.
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