This passage is from The Children's Bach by Helen Garner

Spring came. In the mornings, when the first person opened the back door, the whole bulk of air in the house shifted and warmed. Women sighed in expensive dress shops, as if even to contemplate fine stuffs were too much to bear. Dexter took Arthur to the National Gallery. On the way he spoke to the boy in magisterial tones about the lives of artists: Dexter loved tales of exalted suffering, of war and failure and unsympathetic wives and alcoholism. Arthur loitered in front of an etching called Se Repulen: two devils, one wielding a huge pair of scissors with which he was about to cut the other’s toenails. ‘Looks like me and Mum,’ said Arture.

Does "exalted suffering" mean

  1. "sufferings with good results" I mean "when someone try a lot to achieve something, and in the end she or he becomes successful"?

  2. pleasure that we feel after overcoming difficulties in our life?


Does "the whole bulk of air in the house shifted and warmed" mean "the whole dull and breathless air of house replace with fresh and warm air of outside"?

1 Answer 1


Exalted suffering means suffering that is held in high regard, because it is considered noble in some way. If we hear about how an artist led a life of brutal poverty, spending what little money she had on paints and canvases, and finally dying sick and alone, but who was heralded as a genius after her death, then we are telling a story of exalted suffering: the person who sacrificed everything for the sake of her art and produced masterpieces. The stories Dexter tells Arthur are of this sort.

You are correct, the whole bulk of air in the house shifted and warmed means that the warm air from the outside freshened the colder air inside the house. In the spring, when the air at night can be quite cool, a house with all its windows and doors shut will retain cooler air in the early morning while the sun warms the outdoors. Opening a door will let light and warmth in.

  • Lots of thanks, and Does "war" in the phrase "war and failure" mean "a struggle over a long period of time to control something harmful "? or simply mean "fighting between two or more country"? I think it means "a struggle over a long period of time to control something harmful." May 4, 2021 at 9:18
  • 1
    I took it as face value, meaning simply fighting between countries. For example, Egon Schiele fought in WWI, and Giovanni Bellini's Madonna with Child was lost during WWII.
    – verbose
    May 4, 2021 at 9:35

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