The English Patient: Chapter 2
Summary – Chapter Two, ‘In Near Ruins’
Chapter Two begins with the information that ‘the man with bandaged hands’ had been in a hospital in Rome for four months when he heard about the burned patient and the nurse (whom he knows by name). He had been evasive until this point, not speaking with any one, until he heard of her. The doctors only knew from his serial number that he was with the Allies. He had been identified by his scars, and was known as a war hero and a celebrity wanting silence.
He breaks his silence and finds out that the villa where the nurse is staying is in the hills north of Florence and that she possibly has partial shell shock. He travels to the villa to find her. His appearance makes the nurse tremble as she remembers him and his name as being David Caravaggio.
Caravaggio and the nurse talk the next day, and she is referred to as Hana. She tells him that she is glad to see him, but does not want him to persuade her to leave. She says they will need more food if he is staying and asks him to teach her to steal. He tells her he has lost his nerve and she asks why. He says it is because he was caught by the German and ‘they nearly chopped off my fucking hands’.
They also talk on other nights, and she asks Caravaggio if he was a spy. He says ‘not quite’, but explains that he did some work for the Allies and‘they’ could not believe their luck that he was an Italian and a thief. ‘They’ sent him to steal some papers at a gathering with German officers present and he was photographed when pictures were taken at the party. He knew he would have to get the film back (as he should not have been there) and the woman who took the picture, called Anna, was a mistress of a German officer. That night he was able to get past the German guards and snuck into her bedroom. Even though she was there and saw him, she agreed not to tell her German friend and he succeeded in stealing the camera without being caught.
Hana and Caravaggio reminisce and recall the times he spent with her and her father in Toronto before the war, and how he was her father’s friend. She tells him about her father’s death and how she came across the English patient.
She refers to the patient as a ‘despairing saint’ and says she loves him.
The narrative shifts to Hana and how she survived the war and nursing ‘by keeping a coldness hidden in her role as nurse’
Analysis – Chapter Two
The disrupted narrative that shifts backwards and forwards in time throughout the novel is particularly notable in the instance where Caravaggio begins to explain how he was caught stealing. As though to mimic the difficulty he has in recalling such a painful incident, his memory moves back and then further back to explain how he had to retrieve the camera.
This use of a fragmented time scheme also enhances how now, at the end of the war the survivors are left to re-form their lives. Caravaggio describes Hana as tying herself to a corpse, or to a ghost, and it is also explained how nurses also suffered from shell shock. Hana’s retreat from the world, which was overtly triggered by the news of her father’s death, is evident in her decision to stay on at the ruined villa.