I'm going to indulge myself and write my own review now as an addition to the others. And this is the part of the book that never made it into the movie or most of the reviews.
I'm also going to add lengthy quotes because I want to record them for myself - and remember them. It is important to my own story.
Hannah is the main character in the book. Apparently back in 1880 Hannah’s father moved from an English countryside to the large estate on the North Shore in New England to become the head gardener. That is where Hannah grew up – on the estate removed from the workings of the house till about the age of 13 when she met the son of estate owners, Phillip Ramsey, he was 15.
This is how it is described in the book. It's cute.
Hannah met him occasionally on summer days, and sometimes he would stop and talk to her briefly, kindly, always amused over the little curtsies she made when shyly replying to his friendly questions.
"You don't have to bob like that when you talk to me," Philip had teased. "All men are created equal in this country."
"Yes, sir," Hannah had replied, dipping a curtsy. "Thank you, sir."
"But it makes me nervous!" protested Philip. "Stop it!"
"Yes, sir," agreed Hannah, bobbing. And then Philip had laughed until the embarrassed little girl's tears came.
"I'm sorry, Hannah," he said contritely. "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings." They had both smiled and Hannah had murmured, "No, sir. Thank you, sir," with a final jerk of her round little knees.
As they grew up, Philip's attitude, on the infrequent occasions of their meeting-in-the-garden or elsewhere on the grounds, always conveyed the impression that there wasn't very much difference in their social stations, but Hannah had never humoured him in this. It had been rubbed into her very bones that she belonged to the servant class and would be at her best while keeping that fact steadily in mind.
Later as a young university student, Phillip develops a cold that leads to pleurisy which steadily robs him of his health. He became an invalid confined to a wheelchair. Hannah is assigned to be his companion and reads to him.
He asks her to read books on history.
But she would no more than get started on the tale of another war before Philip would stop her and say.
"Now there it is again, Hannah. Every time they fought they came out of it with more problems on their hands than they'd had before, plus the loss of the best and bravest people. More problems, and fewer brains left to deal with them."
Hannah is describing this to a dear friend later as a flashback.
And then he would discuss this odd idea that seemed to be influencing his thoughts about everything, his queer belief that any sort of conflict was unprofitable.
"I thought at first that his illness was making him religious," Hannah had reflected. "But I don't believe that had much to do with it. He didn't talk about the evil of fighting; just the uselessness of it. Perhaps it was because I loved him so dearly that everything he said sounded reasonable," she would admit.
"One day he remarked, 'If I have to back up my opinions with a club, it's not much of a compliment to my opinions. It really means that my opinions aren't good enough to stand on their own merits. I don't even trust them myself when I lay in a supply of gunpowder to anticipate somebody else's disbelief in them. When people fight, they give their whole case away. I think they fight because they have no case.'"
"Did you remind him," Lydia had ventured, "that slavery would still be a legalized institution in this country if we hadn't fought it out?"
"Philip said we could more profitably have bought it out."
"Well, naturally," Lydia had laughed. "I think that too, being a Virginian. But isn't it generally believed that there were some principles involved beyond the mere commercial part of it?"
Hannah had shaken her head vigorously. "Philip thought all wars were avoidable, including that one. The worst of all the bad things about war, he believed, was the humiliation of defeat. He used to talk much, that summer, about saving face. You know—the Chinese idea. He felt that the bravest thing you could do, in any conflict, was to help your enemy save his self-respect. So long as he hadn't lost face, he was likely to act with dignity and remember that he was a gentleman. But if you demolished that, you made a brute of him; and you really couldn't blame him much if, after having lost his self-respect, he turned on you and forced you, too, into using your teeth and claws. Philip said, 'If you ever want to know how much distance we've put between ourselves and the animals, force your enemy to admit that he is no longer a free creature.'"
This was a much different approach to non-resistance and pacifism than I had heard before. The other explanations had been more about shaming your enemy, or just resisting them to save your own soul…
"Philip said it was never the fighting that produced progress," insisted Hannah, feeling her way cautiously. "He said that all our progress had come about through adaptation."
"Yes—to circumstances, conditions, environment."
Years later I would find the research to refute that old myth that war is a good economical move for a country. It isn’t. Phillip was right.
But what about defense. We have a right to defend ourselves.
"Of course I see that," Lydia had agreed. "… Suppose some greedy tribe makes war on you. Are you supposed to sit there and let them hack you into cat's meat, or are you to drop everything you own and run away—so's to avoid a fight?"
Hannah had admitted that this was indeed, the hard part of Philip's theory. He had sat for hours thinking about it. Sometimes he would speak fragments of his thoughts, as if Hannah had been following his thoughts and knew exactly where he was in his speculations.
"Almost anyone would say it wasn't common sense, I think," Philip would confess. "And it isn't. People with common sense, when their property is threatened, fight back just as furiously as they can. Maybe they are defeated and lose all. Maybe they are victorious, after having been maimed, impoverished, and loaded with debt. But the common-sense thing to do is to fight back, and protect your rights. Besides—it's the brave thing to do and you're probably hissed if you don't. Only a little minority could be expected to stand out against public sentiment and display the uncommon sense of handing everything over, after which they could be free to move out into a new country—new set of conditions. Speaking of courage, Hannah, this programme of living would test a man's valour more severely than any mere war. Only a few would be able to venture upon it. Fewer would be able to see it through. The rank and file wouldn't have the stuff in them to obey its hard demands, and probably shouldn't be asked to undertake it. But—I wonder if this isn't the way men become great.
"Imagine the case of a man who had used all his ingenuity to build up something for himself, and after he had succeeded to the point of being able to sit down and enjoy the rewards of his work some circumstance stripped him of everything he had, requiring him to take up the struggle again in a different field. Wouldn't he be much more valuable to himself—and society—for having had such an experience? Suppose a man consented to give up everything and make a new place for himself under conditions that forced him into new habits of mind, wouldn't it be a wonderful developer?"
Really, it was about all that Philip wanted to discuss as the summer days lazily passed. Hannah said the thing had taken such a grip on him that it was impossible not to be affected by it, even if the whole theory was so difficult that it seemed—on first hearing—to be mere nonsense. "It's funny," Hannah had reflected, "how an idea will grow on you if you give it enough room. The time came when I believed it myself."
"That was because you were in love with Philip," Lydia had remarked gently. "If he had said the moon is made of green cheese, you would have believed it."
"I suppose so," confessed Hannah. "And for all I know," she added, "maybe it is."
But the most poignant moment in the entire book comes when Phillip realizes he is dying. This is the part that I remembered – and still holds me captive.
And so they went to Arizona, where Philip sat all day in the sun with Hannah beside him, reading, talking, listening mostly. One afternoon he said to her, after an extended silence, "You know I'm not going to be here much longer, don't you?"
"Please, Philip," she begged.
"It's not that I care greatly," he went on, listlessly. "Life, the way I've been living it, isn't much of a treat. I would have liked to have had a real go at it, Hannah. Just between us, I wanted to see if that little idea of mine was sound."
"Want me to try it, Philip?... in case—you can't?"
His face was puzzled, and for some time he did not reply.
"No, dear. It might make life very hard for you. I wouldn't want you to do that. I'm too fond of you."
"But I really believe in it, Philip."
Then he had reached out a pathetically slim hand which she took in both of hers and held tightly against her high, youthful breasts.
"I love you, Hannah," he said softly.
I loved it! Hannah doesn’t adopt this new mindset because of a sermon, book or even an encounter with Jesus, she adopts it because she is in love with a man. She doesn’t enter into it with a determination to win or to prove something. She does it because she is a hopeless romantic like myself. She is an idealist. She wants to live life differently.
She enters into it as an experiment. She wants to see if this alternative lifestyle will work. She enters into it not as a dogma but as a quest.
I envied her. That is what I wanted for my life. I wanted to live a life testing a hypothesis.
Actually for me - the fundamental ideas weren't new. The book contained the basic teachings of my people, my church, my father and my faith, I was on familiar ground in that regard.
But the approach was new. The challenge was new.
All I remember is how I entered into the story that day. In some ways I became a character of my own in the White Banners book.
Which is why almost 43 years later -- I went looking for it and felt a coming home as I read it again. It was all there as I had remembered it. Yes - it had changed - as I had changed - but the fundamental words, concepts and that romantic notion of a young woman in love was still there - igniting me all over again.
But there was something new as well....in the book. During her life as Hannah tested out the those ancient concepts of forgiveness, pacifism non-resistant much like Socrates, Ghandi, Tolstoy and Menno Simons, she added something. At least it was new to me.
"Yes! I believe in it! I am not a mystic, Peter. I do not consider myself a religious person. I know nothing about theology. I haven't any convictions on the subject of Deity—as to how He, They, or It subsist. But it has been definitely proved to me—thanks to Hannah—that there is a peculiar power available to those who are willing to accept it—and make use of it," said Paul Ward. – Lloyd C. Douglas