Romulus My Father: Values & Belonging Romulus values education and learning, but sadly, only completed primary school. He is a tragic figure from the very beginning: 3: … an inefficient postal service, however, prevented his application [for high school scholarship examinations] from arriving on time. He cried bitterly, not because of lost employment prospects, but because his love of learning would never be fulfilled.
Romulus values European landscape – he does not find serenity, and does not belong to the landscape: 14: Though the landscape is one of rare beauty, to a European or English eye it seems desolate, and even after more than forty years my father could not become reconciled to it. He longed for the generous and soft European foliage, but the eucalypts of Baringhup, scraggy except for the noble red gums on the river bank, seemed symbols of deprivation and barrenness. In this he was typical of many of the immigrants whose eyes looked directly to the foliage and always turned away offended. 3: The peppercorns, to be found at almost every settlement in the area, were planted as though to mediate between local and European landscapes. 21: The Frogmore farmhouse is deplorable – it is not homely, or conducive to belonging and comfort: There was no electricity and no running water… Rats lived under the house and occasionally bit us in bed… Hora woke one night to find a large rat tugging at his elbow trying to make off with a piece of flesh. Large brown snakes came to eat the rats…
Romulus values purposeful work but is belittled by menial labour as a new immigrant: another example of Romulus not belonging to the mediocrity of Australian culture: 16: ‘New Australians’… were almost always given menial manual tasks… In the case of my father, this unusually gifted man was set to work with a pick and shovel. He noted how incompetent some of the Australian tradesmen were, especially the welders, but not with resentment or anger, more with incredulous irony. He had long come to accept what fate ad dealt him and felt not resentment or indignation, or any other response which depended on the assumption that he was owed something better. 29: My father worked shifts at P&N, unable to avoid it because the foreman threatened to sack him if he did not do so. As a consequence, I spent many nights alone at Frogmore. Romulus values fatherhood. He has a nobility about him: 17: He and Hora worked alternate shifts so that one of them could always care for me. At his request, my father was transferred to a job cleaning the lavatories in the camp so that he could be near me. 4: Primitive though the house was, it made it possible for my father to keep me rather than to send me to a home, and it offered hope that our family might be reunited. 31: My father’s devoted care of me contrasted obviously with her neglect, and fuelled hostility toward her. Romulus values intimacy and his marriage and is crushed at Christine’s infidelity: 19: My father must have been heartbroken by his unfathomable, troubled, vivacious and unfaithful wife. Romulus values character: 101: Character – or karacter… was the central moral concept for my father and Hora.
It stood for a settled disposition for which it was possible rightly to admire someone… Honesty, loyalty, courage, charity (taken as a preparedness to help others in need) and a capacity for hard work were the virtues most prized by the men and women I knew then. Romulus believes that life is short and full of suffering: 121: His sense of life is beautifully expressed in the ‘Prayer for the Dead’: ‘Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live and is full of misery. He cometh up and is cut like a flower. He fleeth as it were a shadow and never continueth in one stay’.
Those accents of sorrow and pity determined his sense of all other human beings as his fellow mortals, victims of fate and destined for suffering. They determined the quality of his deeply felt compassion in which all moral judgements were embedded. 172: Suffering ennobles… Some kinds of wisdom, however, the kinds that show themselves not only in thoughts, but in the integrity of an authoritatively lived life – are given only to those who have suffered deep and long. His affliction gave authority to much of what my father said etc
Romulus’ moral code – his sense of what is real and important was shattered after Lydia’s letter of rejection: 122: Only someone with an extraordinary sense of the reality of the ethical could be so shaken by a sense of evil, and my father was such a person. Vacek’s institutionalisation shows the danger of conformity: 143: … police took him to the Ballarat psychiatric hospital… over time he became dependent on institutional living so that, even when he was free to leave, he preferred to stay, and remained there for the rest of his life.
Here is an argument against belonging – belonging becomes a prison. Hora & Romulus enjoyed an enduring friendship… Romulus remained a noble, heroic man despite his illness: 146: Hora knew that, despite his illness, there was still no one who remained as steadfast as my father in his disdain of superficialities, in his honesty and in his concern for others. Romulus believes in keeping one’s word at all costs – he pays for Lydia’s family to migrate: 149: Their fares were paid not by Lydia and her husband, but by my father.
He had promised to do it years before, and it was inconceivable that he would go back on his word whatever Lydia had done to him and irrespective of whether her mother and her brother had been accomplices in her deception. Romulus values the truth and absolute honesty Romulus values being polite: 138: My father said that we should wait until a more suitable time before knocking at their door. This courtesy struck me as incongruous with our purpose. Finish what you start – changing direction signifies an instability and weakness in character: 157: My father refused to let me go [to Melbourne High School].
He said that I had started at St Patrick’s and so should finish… For years… he insisted that I had made the wrong decision… because I had not finished what I started. Hora (like Romulus) detests moral shallowness. After an argument between Raimond and Hora about communism, Hora refused to speak to Raimond: 159: He knew that I knew how many millions had perished under communism, for he had often told me. Given that I knew, how could I not care? But how could I claim to care if I treated it all so lightly?
If I was now such a morally shallow person, what could he say to me? How could he speak to me of anything that mattered? These questions cut into his heart, for he loved me. For his the pleasure of talking even about trivial matters depended on his knowing that the person with whom he was speaking was one whose responses could be trusted to be serious and decent. Romulus does not believe in traditional gender roles, he believes in doing what must be done: 163: The division he knew from his childhood between women’s and men’s work, played little role in his life.
He sewed, cooked and baked, teaching Milka how to make strudel with their own pastry, doughnuts and other things. Romulus values compassion, generosity and care… his commitment is almost religious: 165: Compassion went unusually deep in my father. It showed itself all his life in the help he gave those in need and in the pain he visibly felt for their pain. He was literally incapable of not helping someone genuinely in need if he had the means to do so. 165: More often than not my father’s generosity was abused, and although it pained him it did not diminish his impulse to give. 68: He had no interest in doctrine. At the centre of his religious sensibility was the idea of a pure heart responsive to those in need. 169: His sense of our deep need for prayer was the expression of his belief that only a life of prayer could enable one to consent to great and protracted misfortune and for that consent to go sufficiently deep to save one from despair. Romulus values European culture: he is in the prison of Anglo society, craving European conviviality: 169: He longed for European society, saying that he felt like a ‘prisoner’ in Australia.
He meant that, although he had good neighbours, in Maryborough he had almost no one with whom he could enjoy the generous and open forms of conviviality that characterised European hospitality as he knew it. He complained that one could not just drop in on Australians and talk freely for hours: one had, as he put it, always ‘to make an appointment’. Whereas if you went to a European home, you would generally be offered food and talk, both in generous quantities. Romulus believes that conversation is humanising: 23: All conversation which meant all living, occurred in the kitchen 73: He believed that it was essential to decent conversation that one not pretend to virtues one did not possess – as essential as being truthful about one’s identity. Only then could conversation be true to its deeper potentialities and do its humanising work or opening up the possibilities of authentic human disclosure. Romulus values a life governed by necessity, and work is the ultimate necessity: 194: Although……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. e and Hora were inclined to believe that depth and real contentment were to be found only in a life governed by necessity. Wisdom they believed, lay in consent to that necessity. Superficiality and restlessness were in store for those who fled it. See also: incident with Mikkelsen Delivering groceries by carrying them on his back Miscellaneous: Relationships – or belonging and connectedness to another human being – is destructive. 137: Mitru’s suicide and my father’s madness had convinced me that sexual love was a passion whose force and nature was mysterious, and that anyone that came under its sway should be prepared to be destroyed by it.
Its capacity to wreck lives, to humiliate otherwise strong and proud people and to drive them to suicide was already familiar to me. That it should also drive them to murder was part of the same story. Christine: 25: A troubled city girl from Central Europe, she could not settle in a dilapidated farmhouse in a landscape that highlighted her isolation. She longed for company. 31: Desperately lonely, she was glad of any conversation that came her way. 31: Mikkelsen remembered her vividly… he had the arresting presence of someone who experienced the world with a thoughtful intensity. 103: But for someone like my mother, highly intelligent, deeply sensuous, anarchic and unstable, this emphasis on character, given an Australian accent, provided the wrong conceptual environment for her to find herself and for others to understand her. p. 28: Setting fire to kill snake -> humiliation and ridicule in local paper. p. 29: Redemption by valiant intelligence in saving Mikkelson