A Conversation With Cornelia
BY STUART P. SHERMAN
WHEN I am in doubt, I talk with Cornelia; and while I am with her, my uncertainties disappear. But this subject she herself broached, at her home in one of those paradises of wood and water where Americans of her class have learned to hide their lives — for the summer.
She is a young woman of forty-five with what Hazlitt somewhere calls a ‘coronet face,’ finely cut and proudly borne, and it gives one a feeling of distinction merely to be in her presence. My memory holds like a piece of radiant sculpture the image that she left there at her wedding, twenty years ago, when she turned at the altar after the Episcopal benediction and paced down the aisle, clear-eyed and fearless, to the thunder of organ music: it seemed to me then that the young chevalier of the diplomatic service on whose arm her hand had alighted was leading the Samothracian Victory into the holy state of matrimony. It was an excellent alliance, with high sanctions and distinguished witnesses — auspiciously begun and with a constantly felicitous continuation. She has walked ever since, so her friends declare, between purple ribbons: her ways have gone smoothly and well in delectable regions far above the level of the rank-scented multitude.
When one talks with her, her hands lie still in her lap. She does not think with her hands, nor does any other emphasis of her body intrude its comment upon the serene and assured movements of her intelligence. So remote she seems from the ignominious and infamous aspects of existence that one wonders how she becomes aware of them. Yet such unpleasant things, verminous or reptilian, as creep within range of her vision she inspects sharply and with intrepidity; for she knows precisely how to deal with them.
As I sat there, blissfully receiving a sense of the security and perfection which emanate from her, it just flickered into my consciousness that, if a mouse could have entered that impeccably ordered room, she would not for a moment have been at a loss. She would quietly have summoned a maid. Then she would have said, ‘There is a mouse in the room. Take it out.’ She likes everything to be right; and she knows so absolutely what is right, that any shade of uncertainty in conversation with her seems a kind of baseness and disloyalty. Yet, as much as a superior being can be troubled, she was troubled about the state of current fiction. She was troubled in that high and spirited sense of responsibility which certain fine women feel for the tone of the Republic.
‘You have shown,’ she said, ‘some understanding of the immense influence exerted by literature upon the minds of our young people. But your discussion of “unprintable” books is up in the air. You must meet peril definitely, perilously, or your readers won’t even believe that it exists. In a prairie fire, you must fight fire with fire: water, the flames snuff up like a perfume, and sweep on. You don’t come to grips with the facts. You asperse them with rose water.’
‘You mean,’ I replied, fencing feebly, ‘that I did not furnish a guide to those new books which no young person should read? I had thought that would rather please you. The suppressive societies will supply the information which I omitted. I am not specially interested in the circulation of any questionable books — except my own.’
‘Your innuendo is nasty and your tone is flippant,’ she said. I bowed in acknowledgment of my entire agreement. ‘But the subject,’ she continued, ‘is grave. It is very grave to those of us who have boys and girls of eighteen and twenty. We wish them in these formative years to be subject only to the finest influences. How can they be, when they read such books? How can anyone who is interested in moulding the characters of the younger generation not desire to keep such books as you know they are reading out of their hands? When I think of my son and my daughter, with their clean sweet young minds, wading into the filth of our popular fiction, I repeat to myself those lines of Heine — you remember: —
Aufs Haupt dir legen sollt’,
Betend, dass Gott dich erhalte
So rein und schön und hold.’
‘Try it,’ I suggested with studious brutality. ‘Call in the children. Lay your hands on their heads, and pray that God may keep them in their purity and beauty and sweetness. How will they take it ? Demurely, I fancy — while they are in your presence. But when they meet in the garden afterward they will exclaim, “Is n’t mother an old dear!” And then they will laugh softly, and think of—all sorts of things. Heine’s prayer, you know, does n’t hit off the aspirations of contemporary youth. Beauty is still “all right.” But the quality of sweetness, though it is not yet wholly unmarketable, is held in greatly diminished esteem. And as for purity — “What is purity?” asks the jesting younger generation, and will not stay for an answer.’
‘Young people ask many foolish questions,’ said Cornelia dismissively. ‘What troubles me is rather the changing attitude of so many parents and teachers. Have they lost that beautiful desire to shield the years of innocence? Have they quite lost their sense of responsibility? ‘
‘No,’ I conjectured, ‘they have n’t altogether lost their responsibility. But they have n’t known quite what to do with it; and just now it seems temporarily to have slipped from their hands. They did n’t know how to use it when they had it; or they were afraid to use it, and cast the responsibility for the innocence of their children upon God; and now the children, sick of that evasion, are acting for themselves. I am afraid that we have rather lost contact with the younger generation. It has experienced so much, it has read so much, it is so accustomed to the free discussion of all sorts of topics which we thought ominous even to mention — that I often suspect we have more to learn from it than it has to learn from us.'
‘That is a false and vicious humility,’
‘No, I assure you, very genuine, however vicious. It came over me in the spring several years ago in a vision. I happened one day to observe in my garden a large white cat stalking with soft experienced tread under the lilacs on the lookout for young robins making their trial flight. Being of a somewhat analogical turn of mind, and having then a high conceit of the wisdom of our generation, I said to myself: “The garden is a symbol of the world. The wise cat is the old professor. The fledgling robin is the young student.” As I murmured the last word, the white cat made a flying leap for the nestling. It proved to be, however, an adult wren, pert and elusive, which hopped just one spray higher and twittered derision. The cat walked off crest fallen, muttering: “Such wise birds! I have never known a season when birds were wise so young.” ‘
‘Well, I really trust these “wise birds” nowadays much further than you do. ‘
‘Won’t you explain why?’ said Cornelia.
‘Let me tell you another story. At a neighborhood party recently, where there was dancing, and the very youngest generation was present, I was greatly flattered by receiving from Adelaide, a young lady of five years, marked attentions which on previous occasions had been directed to Bertram, a far more plausible person than I in all respects, and, moreover, only thrice the age of Adelaide. I said, “I thought you were devoted to Bertram.” Instantly she replied: “I was. But I am not interested in Bertram any longer. I know all about him.” At the age of five, don’t you see, she has already begun to “sip the foam of many lives.” I happened to be, shall I say, the Coca-Cola of the evening. But I know that I shall be sipped and discarded. Already Adelaide has become critical, fastidious, wary; she will not for long be taken in.’
‘Well, again?’ from Cornelia, with a hint of irritation.
‘I mean to insist,’ I explained cautiously, ‘that such sentimentalists as you and I seldom do justice to the hard, clear-eyed maturity, of a sort, which our young people have attained by pooh-poohing our sentimentality and subjectivity and adopting what Santayana calls a simple “animal faith” in the material surfaces of things.’
‘Just what do you mean,’ Cornelia inquired, sharply and scornfully, ‘by hard, clear-eyed maturity? I have no such feeling about my own children. My own son and daughter are being brought up as I was brought up. Wellbred young people to-day differ in no essential respect from well-bred people twenty years ago. What some idiots try to make us believe is a change of standards is not a change of standards. It is merely a horrid confusion, due to the fact that a great many ill-bred people are expressing themselves.’
‘That in itself,’ I said, ‘implies a change in conditions, if not in standards. There is, as you say, a horrid confusion. The confusion is due to the fact that the well-bred young people are now applauding the ill-bred old people. That is really significant. When the well-bred young people begin to desert, it is all up with the Old Guard. That indicates either a revolt or a revolution. You must remember, Cornelia, that one half of history is an account of the struggle made by your class to keep the rest out; and the other half of history is an account of how the rest are getting in. If you are now in the presence of a revolt by a weak body of outsiders, you may still effectively oppose it. But if it is a revolution including your own household, you had better prepare to support the best elements in the de facto government — in the literary no less than in the political republic.’
‘There are no best elements,’ Cornelia retorted, ‘in what you call the de facto government. There are no good elements. There are no decent elements. It is an insurrection of hoodlum and bedlam. It is all vile. The situation,’ she continued with the clear precision of a cookie-cutter, ‘demands drastic action. You, instead of strengthening the hands of those who attempt to act, amuse yourself with philosophical futilities, and virtually throw the weight of your levity against all action.’
‘Suppose I desire an antecedent action of the mind?’
‘But you are so ambiguous that you have no force. One can’t really tell on which side you are.’
‘I should like,’ I hurriedly replied, ‘to be on the side of the angels. You know that I should like to be on your side. If I am ever driven from your side, it will be by the fine high-bred incuriosity of angels. It will be by the applause of angels, accompanied by some fresh demonstration of their immitigable hostility to thought.’
‘You are rude.’
‘And you—just faintly provoking. I am not sure, Cornelia, that you quite understand the limits of a writer’s power. I have a friend, long experienced in a public library, who assures me that critical articles have no real effect. Readers either agree with them from the outset and are pleased, or disagree with them from the outset and are displeased. This, she tells me, is especially true of lawyers, clergymen, professors, and all nice people. Perhaps that is so. Let us suppose that it is. Suppose also that I were returning to the discussion of “unprintable” books. What treatment of the subject would please you? You are a “conservative” of definite convictions, and you demand drastic action. Exactly what is the situation and what the appropriate action? Are you prepared to say ? ‘
‘Certainly,’ she replied. ‘And I will tell you also the stand which I believe should be taken by a critic who professes to have the public welfare at heart.'
‘Before you do that,’ I interposed, ‘you must pardon me one more flippancy. Is n’t it true that people often “take a stan” to watch something that is going on and that will continue to go on whether they remain in their “stand” or not ?’
‘If you mean to ask whether I am a moral futilitarian, I am not. People of character take a stand in order to prevent obnoxious things from going on. If the obnoxious things continue to go on in spite of them, people of character are glad to be left behind, or even to be trampled under foot, when that is the only way to make their protest effective.'
‘You speak like yourself, Cornelia,’ I said, ‘and no higher compliment is possible. Your image interests me. I seem to see an invading army with leveled spears, and you dauntlessly flinging yourself upon them. Opposition interests me as long as it is effective—as long as the opposing breast checks the leveled spears. Sniping from the housetop at the postman, after the revolution has actually taken place—in that, there is a kind of unpalatable futility. But how do you apply your figure to the duty of the critic in the face of current fiction?’
‘I apply it in this way. You yourself have admitted that it would be very easy to make a list of popular writers who, however varied their art and method, have running through their work an insistent preoccupation with sex of quite a different character from its occasional romantic treatment in the novels that you and I were brought up on. The heart of the matter is this: the minds of young people are being gravely affected by a group of writers who, in their several ways, definitely challenge the idea of chastity. Now, what a really serious critic should do is to call a halt in the production and reading of that sort of literature.’
‘My dear Cornelia,’ I exclaimed,—
I always exclaim ‘My dear’ when I am about to express impatience; it introduces the note of suavity,— ‘My dear Cornelia, do you read the magazines? Do you attend church? Do you see the newspapers? Did you not observe that the form, “It is time to call a halt,” was first employed on the tenth of August, 1914, by an editor in Oshkosh with reference to the German advance on Paris? In the following week it was applied by a clergyman of Tulsa, Oklahoma, with reference to the consumption of chewing-gum in the United States. Since that time, it has been in continuous employment by all serious critics, lay and clerical, with reference to the output of the leading English and American novelists.’
‘Well,’ she replied, ‘what if it has? So much the worse for the leading English and American novelists. If they are all running amuck, is that any reason why the rest of us should lose our heads? If the novelists are going definitely wrong at the point which I have indicated, a critic could not be better employed than in standing at that point and calling a halt.’
‘You assign to criticism,’ I said, ‘a task which appeals but faintly to the critic — a task like that of a traffic policeman without authority or power. If I had all the authority in the world, I would not cry “stop” to the novelists, even to those that I have criticized most harshly.’
‘And why not?’
‘Because I learn too much from what they are doing to desire to dam the stream of information. The realistic novelists to-day are extraordinarily copious, candid, and illuminating confessors of private morals. I have, to be sure, been troubled by the fact that the lives of respectable people are so seldom revealed in these confessions. I have even allowed myself to wonder faintly at times whether unwillingness to confess may not be, as our direful midwestern school contends, the chief distinction between respectable people and the other sort. It is a horrid doubt, concerning which no one but the novelist betrays much curiosity, or provides much light. And so, for novelists, I wish freedom to confess, and, for myself, freedom to comment on their confessions — though, since they have become so desperately confessive, it seems frequently indelicate to do so. If they are, as you assert, definitely challenging the idea of chastity, the matter is indeed of more than merely literary interest. I should like to know whether our standards are undergoing revolutionary change. Won’t you please go out and “call a halt,” while I go home and inquire in my own fashion whether anything is going on; whether the idea of chastity has actually been challenged; if so, what idea of chastity, why, where, when, in what manner, and with what results? ‘
‘You are hopeless,’ said Cornelia, rising. ‘I shall ask the Bishop to make this the subject of one of his Lenten discourses.’
‘That will be just the thing,’I rejoined, ‘to induce profound reflection in our novelists.’
When I returned to my study, I dropped into a chair which frequently invites meditation, before a case containing current fiction. My eyes glanced swiftly along the rows of Wells, Galsworthy, Bennett, Beresford, and Walpole, lingering an extra moment on Ann Veronica, The Dark Flower, and The Pretty Lady; visited with slow interrogative scrutiny the ‘colorful’ assemblage of Hergesheimer, D. H. Lawrence, Rebecca West, May Sinclair, W. L. George, James Joyce, J. B. Cabell, Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, Charles G. Norris, Ben Hecht, and Waldo Franck; then fluttered to rest upon a dozen miscellaneous recent arrivals — Meredith Nicholson’s Broken Barriers, Mrs. Gerould’s Conquistador, Maxwell’s Spinster of This Parish, Willa Cather’s The Lost Lady, G. F. Hummel’s After All, West of the Water Tower, Herrick’s Homely Lilla, Brand Whitlock’s J. Hardin & Son, Lewisohn’s Don Juan, Edith Summers Kelley’s Weeds, and Margaret Prescott Montague’s Deep Channel.
Here, I said to myself, is material enough to prove Cornelia’s case, if she has a case. Among this company, I shall find the challengers, if there is a challenge. What are they calling in question? The idea of chastity. — Whose idea of chastity? Cornelia’s idea, the idea of all nice people. — What is the idea of all nice people regarding chastity? Look in the dictionary, the record of good usage.— Here it is: ‘Innocence of unlawful sexual intercourse.’ — As a history of usage the dictionary should add in parenthesis: ‘This is a virtue assumed to be present in all members of the female sex in good and regular standing.’
Here we have a simple and definite idea to work upon; Chastity is freedom from unlawful sexual intercourse — a virtue assumed to be present in all members of the female sex in good and regular standing. — Who first gave currency to that idea? Our friends the Victorians? Oh, no! It is astonishing how many so-called Victorian ideas, delicate and fragile, can be found thriving in manlier ages, in old robust books like Don Juan, Tom Jones, and in the drama of that ‘den of lions’ — the Renaissance. How they valued this virtue — those ‘lions’ of the Renaissance! How they valued this virtue in their wives! What praise they had for its possessors — ‘chaste as the icicle that’s curded by the frost from purest snow and hangs on Dian’s temple.’ Shakespeare valiantly assumed the presence of that virtue in all members of the female sex in good and regular standing — except Cleopatra.
But we must not be too historical. The idea of chastity exists full blown in Goldsmith, in those two famous stanzas which inquire what happens when lovely woman stoops to ‘folly,’ and learns too late that men ‘betray,’ that is, fail to legalize the ‘folly.’ We remember what follows, for the lines were in every anthology employed in our formative period to give to our young minds a relish for virtue and a lively apprehension of the consequences of departing from it. Cornelia still thinks we should prescribe Goldsmith rather than Mr. Galsworthy for the ‘collateral reading’ of her daughter. Goldsmith declares very firmly that when lovely woman stoops to folly, no art can wash her guilt away: —
To hide her shame from every eye,
To give repentance to her lover,
And wring his bosom — is to die.
Several distinct elements appear in our fully developed idea: first, chastity is the virtue of a legal status; second, women are naturally law-abiding; third, if they lose their status it is by the natural perfidy of predatory men; fourth, the disaster is irretrievable. There is no salvation for the woman but death, the cloister, exile or, occasionally, a shamefaced return to ‘chastity’ at the point of the pistol.
This idea flourished in the ‘good old’ novels of Sir Walter Scott; it is fairly well illustrated in the case of Effie Deans in The Heart of Midlothian. Scott was a romancer. His contemporary, Jane Austen, was a realist. She was far less chivalrously certain than he that lovely women who are neglectful of legal status are by nature virtuous. She looked at them hard; she inclined strongly to believe that such women are by nature vain, sentimental, and ignorant — like Lydia Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. But Jane Austen is at one with Scott in treating unlawful passion austerely. In the fiction of both these worthies, the erring woman is unmistakably a ‘victim’; the man, however plausible his manners, is a profligate and unprincipled, if not a designing, villain; the consequences of departure from legal status are depicted in strongly deterrent colors. Our idea of chastity is fortified by them.
Now let us advance a generation or so and question our friends the Victorians: do they accept our idea and loyally enforce it? Yes — now and then. Familiar cases? There is the case of little Em’ly in David Copperfield. She is the typical victim of the typical seducer; and Dickens punishes them both in approved traditional fashion. He drowns the wicked lover, which is, of course, a logical consequence of departure from legal status. He sends the victim with her ‘soft sorrowful blue eyes’ to Australia, where she attempts to expiate her guilt by a life of self-sacrifice. She has many a good offer of marriage: “‘But, uncle,” she says to me, “that’s gone forever.”’ Here we have the doctrine of the irretrievable. That doctrine is sternly proclaimed by George Eliot in the graver case of Hetty Sorrel in Adam Bede. The repentant lover tries to do something for Hetty. His last words are that it is no use: ‘You told me the truth when you said to me once, “There’s a sort of wrong that can never be made up for.”’ Neither Scott nor Jane Austen could have handled these elementary cases in a more strictly orthodox fashion. Our idea is again fortified.
But the great Victorian novelists pushed their speculations beyond the elementary problems raised by the victim-villain situation. They had, several of them, personal reasons for reflecting thoughtfully upon the social utility of the stout bulwarks with which the English law attempted to fortify the idea of chastity and the related doctrine of the irretrievable. Dickens is said to have fallen in love with all the Hogarth daughters and to have married the wrong one. Thackeray married at twenty-five a woman who half a dozen years later became insane and outlived him. BulwerLytton was legally separated at twenty-three from a woman who outlived him. Meredith’s Modern Love discusses an incompatibility of temper from which a death divorced him. And George Eliot, high priestess of Victorian morality, was actually living in a kind of solemn and almost officious virtue with another woman’s husband. These were circumstances arranged to liberate speculation and to set it playing a little skeptically about the one way out — the sole dark exit which Goldsmith had so glibly offered to lovely women who are unfortunate in love.
In a novel of the mid-nineteenth century, which used to be thought very dangerous reading, — Jane Eyre,— Charlotte Brontë considered one of these more difficult cases, and almost presented it. Jane, an eager, self-reliant, self-supporting, and fairly hardheaded young woman, first of our modern heroines, is loved with a grand passion by Rochester, who is enchained by marriage to a hopeless lunatic. Now the novelist permits Jane to fall deeply in love with Rochester, thus perilously illustrating the possibility that a truly great and two-sided passion may come into existence outside legal status. Charlotte Brontë, however, intervened twice to save the situation. She was n’t fastidious about the chastity of Rochester: chastity is a female virtue. But she was fastidious about the chastity of Jane. And so, of course, she makes Jane ignorant at first of the fact that Rochester is married; and she makes Jane tell him that it is all up when she learns that he is married. That was the perfectly correct thing for Jane to do.
But it created a dilemma. Charlotte Brontë knew that it created a dilemma — a dilemma with unchastity for one horn and the frustration of a grand passion for the other. (It should perhaps be explained that a grand passion, in those illiberal days, was thought of as an experience that befell a girl but once in a lifetime.) Charlotte Brontë did not quite dare to treat this dilemma. She faced it for a moment. She let her readers face it for a moment. Then she intervened again: she destroyed the dilemma. She made it all come right. She restored both hero and heroine to chastity by pitching the lunatic wife headlong into the flames of the house of Rochester.
A happy thought! — so it must have seemed to the author. Yet, as one reflects upon it, this solution appears a little dangerous. To pitch a superfluous wife into the flames — well, it would not quite serve as a Kantian basis for the solution of all such problems. Under the English law, the dilemma reasserted its actuality. Jane Eyre stands there early in the Victorian Age as a challenge, rather evasively presented, to the idea of chastity. (In W. B. Maxwell’s Spinster of This Parish, 1923, a modern heroine is placed in almost precisely Jane’s situation, except that her lover does not think it necessary to lie to her about his lunatic wife. Without a moment’s hesitation, she accepts the grand passion. Since she accepts it with all the fortitude and fidelity of an oldfashioned wife, she seems to-day a quite safe old-fashioned character; and it is hard to conceive of anyone’s thinking of her as ‘unchaste.’)
Other Victorians, usually with much circumspection, returned to the dilemma; and they returned to it in such numbers that to challenge the idea of chastity as a legal creation may be regarded as a rather distinctively Victorian ‘contribution.’ From the question, what to do when you are united to an undivorceable insane wife the Victorians proceeded cautiously to consider the demands of virtue in analogous sets of circumstances. What is the point at which the maintenance of legal chastity involves the loss of ethical integrity? What is right conduct for a young girl whose parents or relatives have united her in a ‘suitable marriage’ to a repellent brute of means and good family? That is a question which interested Thackeray in The Newcomes; and it will be remembered that the wife of Barnes Newcome answers the question in her own case by giving her husband occasion for divorce under the English law. It is not always observed that to Hester Prynne, in The Scarlet Letter, right conduct, to the last page of the book, consists in fidelity to her lover, not to her fanatical husband; and Hawthorne, perhaps indecently, places the lovers in adjacent graves of a Boston burying-ground. Isabel Archer in Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady is begged by her lover to desert her husband and come to him, and to disregard the ‘bottomless idiocy’ of what other people will think or say about them; though, on the last page, Isabel is still clinging to legality, one is left in some doubt whether she will cling indefinitely, Meredith’s Diana is a standing challenge to the doctrine of irretrievable marriage. Hardy’s Tess is a defiance to the idea of chastity entertained by the Angel Clares; and the obscene relation in Jude the Obscure is obviously that between him and his wife, not that between him and Sue, except as it is smirched by his return to his wife and by her return to her husband.
But why multiply instances? Here are enough to show that the good Victorians repeatedly solicited our sympathy and our support for heroines whose ethical integrity was afflicted by their legal chastity. The idea of illicit love as an affair of victim and villain has been largely jettisoned or given over to melodrama, as of an interest too primitive or too banal for extended consideration. To their successors, the Victorian realists bequeath as matter of far higher artistic and general human concern their rather cautious essays upon the evaded dilemma of Jane Eyre.
Let us now enter fearfully upon the burning ground of contemporary fiction. The territory is immense, and unexplorable here in detail. All that one can do is to stand upon the smoky borderland, and comment briefly upon some conspicuous spots in the conflagrant area and upon the general direction of the wind.
One cannot, on every occasion for mentioning him, reread the entire works of Mr. Wells. I retain a strong impression that most of his novels of contemporary life challenge the idea of indissoluble marriage. In this respect Mr. Wells is no innovator. I retain also the impression that one tends to derive from those novels a conviction that everyone’s first marriage is a mistake. This indicates the direction of the wind. Now Mr. Wells is a long way from accepting Goldsmith’s idea that death is the only way out of a bad situation. He has no patience with the doctrine of irretrievability. But as long as unlawful relations furnish the only available alternative way out, his works naturally disquiet Cornelia, and challenge her idea of chastity.
His works disquiet me, because I think the defect which his heroes and heroines find in their first marriage they will find also in their second and their third and their fourth: they will find that neither the second nor the third nor the fourth marriage is capable of sustaining indefinitely the sense of ecstasy which the tired business man experiences the first time he notices how pretty his stenographer is. Tedium is three fourths of life. Sensible men settle down quietly to endure it, sustained by their fortitude and their twenty-five per cent of creature comforts and incidentals. The others imagine that by Babbittian adventures they can change the proportions and get something better than tedium. There is nothing that is even ‘just as good.’ Thackeray knew this and admitted it. Mr. Wells has n’t admitted it. That constitutes one distinction between the author of The Newcomes and the author of The New Machiavelli.
Mr. Galsworthy told us in The Dark Flower about the quest of ecstasy, and in Saint’s Progress he confessed something of the extraordinary disregard of legality in sexual relations on the part of well-bred young people, occasioned in part by the stresses of the war. Mr. Galsworthy, like Mr. Wells, inclines to make ecstasy rather than legality the test of right relations between men and women, though I think most of his heroes and heroines are somewhat less incorrigibly expectant than those of Mr. Wells. In The Forsyte Saga, his prime achievement and a rich and various and notable work, he makes his most significant study of that Victorian dilemma upon which Jane Eyre was so nearly impaled. In the case of Soames Forsyte and Irene and Jolyon, he brings, with great circumstantiality and seriousness, a fine woman face to face with the choice of illegal status or the substantial frustration of life; and Irene unequivocally accepts the illegal status. The entire treatment of the theme indicates, I think, Mr. Galsworthy’s belief that she was ethically justified, as she was also justified by the general consequences, in her union with Jolyon. The one high crime in the book, as Mr. Galsworthy conceives it, is Soames Forsyte’s exaction of marital rights from a wife who is in love with another man. — I wonder whether Cornelia has read The Forsyle Saga. I wonder whether, if she entered imaginatively into all the circumstances, she would not consider the act of Soames a crime. If she did, she would challenge the idea of chastity. Perhaps she would call the act ‘a heinous unchastity’; but that would be to abandon our definition.
I was a bit shocked last spring when someone remarked that May Sinclair had joined the ranks of those who are writing primarily to engage the attention of Mr. Sumner; and that Ann Severn and the Fieldings is an ‘immoral book.’ I recalled her Divine Fire as one of the keen delights of twenty years ago, and I remembered her recently published Mr. Waddington of Wyck as the most exhilarating and remorseless flaying-alive of the philanderer that I had ever witnessed.
I read Ann Severn and the Fieldings, and I found it, especially in its last two or three chapters, a love story of poignant and thrilling beauty. Compared with many of the physiologically and pathologically introspective novels of the day it is, despite its exhibition of a neurosis resulting in false angina pectoris, almost an old-fashioned love story. It is almost old-fashioned when presenting, in the case of Ann, a passion as straight, as single, as unswerving, as unflinching as that of Shakespeare’s Juliet. Ann, brought up with the three Fielding brothers, loves one of them, Jerrold, from childhood till the end—with the ‘divine fire.’ Jerrold, on leave from the front, intends to ask Ann to be his wife; but by the connivance of circumstances with the lying of interested persons, he is persuaded that Ann is living with his shell-shocked brother. Jerrold, thereupon, in the recklessness of the hour, expecting to be killed in the next attack, abruptly marries Maisie. When the conspiracy of lying and ambiguous circumstances is dispelled, Ann claims Jerrold as her own, and he gives himself to her ‘without a scruple.’
Now the ethical points, as exhibited by the author, are these: first, Jerrold has shown male recklessness regarding his virtue — by marrying one woman when he loved another; second, he displays an awakened ethical sensitiveness when he rejoices at the termination of his intimate relations with his wife; third, Ann has never for an instant swerved from her virtue; Maisie proves her virtue in the beautiful, if impossible, scene in which she surrenders her husband to Ann, saying, ‘I can’t think of anything more disgusting than to keep a man tied to you when he cares for somebody else. I should feel as if I were living in sin.’ Of course the major contention is, that Ann, though without legal status, was ‘chaste’; but that is a paradox and a challenge to our idea.
Let us take one more case in this group: Mr. J. D. Beresford with the Jacob Stahl trilogy. In this rather drab yet impressive work, one finds the ‘emancipative’ ideas of Mr. Wells assimilated by a much less buoyant nature. Jacob muddles into a bad marriage — with an unquestionably unsuitable person from whom he separates, though he is not divorced. He falls in love with one of the keepers of his lodging-house and asks her to live with him without legal sanction till his wife shall die. After months of consideration she freely and resolutely joins him. From that point, Mr. Beresford exerts himself to prove that their relation is just as grave and permanent and as full of labor and anxiety and humdrum and gray days as marriage itself. I suspect there is a kind of grim truthfulness in the relation of this adventure. It reminds one, in the third volume, of George Eliot and of accounts given by sundry visitors of the slightly dreary decorum of her ménage. There is no expectation of ecstasy on the part of either of the adventurers. They merely look, outside marriage, for the alleviations of the ultimate human solitude afforded by a satisfactory marriage. They are tolerably successful. But when the death of Stahl’s wife clears the way, they return, for various reasons of expediency, to a legal status.
Mr. Wells, Mr. Galsworthy, May Sinclair, and Mr. Beresford, are all, I think, seriously interested in morality. On the whole, their work does not contemptuously and explicitly challenge the idea of monogamous marriage. At least, it does not flout the possibility of arriving, by freedom of readjustment , at some reasonably satisfactory and permanent relationship between one man and one woman. And so, in a sense, their point of view begins to appear relatively conservative. If they could be questioned regarding their moral purpose, or tendency, they would all profess sincere respect for virtue. But they would add that they are concerned as novelists with reflecting the revision which the idea of virtue is undergoing in our time. They are generally willing to admit that society and the State are related in necessary and vital ways to the customary form of sexual alliance. But they repudiate the notion that mere legality can set the seal of virtue upon any such alliance. Less firmly, yet pretty clearly, they repudiate the notion that mere illegality can remove the seal of virtue which individual adventurers may set upon their alliance. Because chastity has been traditionally identified with legality, they hold the word in some contempt; they incline to discard it as the name of any recognizable virtue. The important ideas which it has obscured are these: to maintain permanent relations with one who is thoroughly agreeable to you is virtue; to maintain permanent relations with one who is thoroughly disagreeable to you is vice. (There is quite a bit of ground between.)
Among the novelists who have arrived within the last ten years it is more difficult to discover any community in constructive ethical intention or tendency. One can no longer feel sure that marriage is regarded as the normal condition for which fidelity in illegal relations is a substitute. One recalls numerous heroines who collect erotic adventures like female Don Juans, and others who stoutly and ‘conscientiously’ refuse marriage to lovers to whom they refuse nothing else. And here is George F. Hummel’s After All, advertised as follows: ‘Its analysis of the inherent self-destructiveness of marriage is carried to a conclusion which, however opposed to accept standards of morality, has in it the logic and compelling force of a thinking man’s profoundest conviction.’ Here are D. H. Lawrence’s Lost Girl, and Arnold Bennett’s Pretty Lady, and W. L. George’s Ursula Trent, and Willa Cather’s Lost Lady, and Joseph Hergesheimer’s Cytherea and the heroine of Mr. Masters’s Domesday Book — a whole troop of damsels who meander where they will in quest of rosebuds. Here is Robert Herrick’s Lilla deliberately and successfully discarding marriage for an unsanctioned union. Here is Margaret Prescott Montague’s Julie (in Deep Channel) finding in an illicit relationship the effective key to a larger and more spiritual life. Here is even Mrs. Gerould permitting a grave and thoughtful illegal relationship to the hero of Conquistador, whom she would apparently have us regard as the very pink of essential purity. No single explanation will account for the community in ‘destructive’ tendency discernible in the latest phase of the ‘movement,’ or for the fact that there is hardly one out of a dozen recent novels which Cornelia would care to see in the hands of her daughter; or for the still more alarming fact that, if there is one such novel in a dozen, Cornelia’s daughter probably would not care to read it.
Since, in the United States, marriage has been by no means a legally irretrievable disaster, it would be absurd to point to the rigor of our law as a very important occasion of the widespread indifference or disrespect for chastity exhibited or reflected by many American writers. The occasions of our revolt lie deeper than that, and many causes have conspired to give to our current fiction its unwonted aspect of levity and license.
First, as a literary inheritance, the Wells-Galsworthy group of the elder novelists bequeathed to their successors a profound skepticism of the legal touchstone of chastity, together with a pleasant rule of virtue which tends, as a social regulation, to be unworkable, since it is incapable of objective and public application. Their ‘rule,’ developed a little, lands one in an anarchical moral individualism; and their successors developed it by omitting the word ‘permanent’ from the definition of virtue.
Secondly, the appearance of a good many rather frothily wanton pictures of frothily wanton younger sets may still be attributed to reaction from the austerities of war; the writers of the futilitarian school take chastity lightly because they take everything lightly; for examples, Mr. Carl Van Vechten and Mr. F. Scott Fitzgerald — though it must be admitted that the latter, in The Beautiful and Damned, has written the most impressive temperance tract of our time. (I wonder if Cornelia noticed that it is a temperance tract.)
Thirdly, women are discovering various means of avoiding the inevitable penalties which the earlier novelists inflicted upon sorrowful blue-eyed girls who stooped to folly: they don’t, in fiction at least, so often have to abandon a baby (Adam Bede), or to lose their job (Esther Waters), or to be barred from marriage (Tess of the D’Urbervilles), or to suffer ostracism or exile (David Copperfield).
Fourthly, as in the use of cocktails and tobacco, the double standard is manifestly giving ground before a single standard, and that a masculine standard: see any novel of the literary and artistic ‘villages’ of New York or Chicago —for example, those of Mr. Floyd Dell. In Meredith Nicholson’s Broken Barriers—an extraordinary disclosure from the Indiana school — unchastity is almost blandly presented as, for a considerable group of young business women, something like the accepted avenue to social advancement and as a preliminary to a good marriage.
Fifthly, chastity, legal and spiritual, has for a dozen years been under fire in this country as a distinctive aspect of that ‘Puritanism’ which, as we know, must be destroyed, root and branch, before we shall have any art, letters, or society worth mention.
Sixthly, the idea of ‘sex’ as a sacred mystery under protection of Church and State has given ground before an interesting series of competing ideas: the idea of sex as a chapter in physiology; the idea of sex as a social asset and a contribution which every good mixer makes to the occasion; and the idea of sex as a horrible nuisance.
Seventhly, there is appearing here and there in current literature evidence of the growth among us of an æsthetic philosophy which rejects the moral valuations of life. Its doctrine is briefly this: You can’t be sure that any act will yield you happiness. You can’t be sure that any act will be virtuous. You can be sure that every act will yield you experience. Let us go in for experience, and value our acts according to the quantity and intensity of the experience which they yield.
Mr. Hergesheimer at present, I think, best represents the æsthetic point of view. I am afraid that Mr. Hergesheimer is just a little bit of a poseur. He pretends to feel surprised that many people regard his books as of immoral tendency. I myself am not one of those who are much worried by the moral aspects of his work. If he were content to let the novels speak for themselves, few people would guess how unorthodox the author is. But as a matter of fact Mr. Hergesheimer is a renegade Presbyterian. He is a Presbyterian turned artist. He is proud of his apostasy and he likes to talk about it. He has shaken off his patrimonial ‘Puritanism’; he finds life more delectable since; and he delights to find a cool spot in a Havana hotel, and to stretch out his legs and discourse somewhat expansively, for the benefit of his fellow citizens north of the Gulf, upon his ‘emancipation’ — with frequent pointed references to his informal dinner jacket of Chinese silk, the orange blossom in his buttonhole, the flourished Larrañaga cigar in his fingers, and the frigid mixture of Ron Bacardi, sugar, and vivid green lime at his elbow.
As an artist, he is interested in two things: first, in the luxurious, the ‘colorful,’ the exotic; and, second, in the poetry of passionate idealisms, martyr-hot. He himself exhibits a middle-aged prudence and coolness; he possesses a certain amount of taste of a certain kind, which preserves him from a certain kind of now popular grossness; he paints himself as a connoisseur of sensations: these qualities, together with his old-fashioned romantic attachment to ‘grand passions,’ give him a salient distinction, indeed a real isolation, among the ‘Jacksonian rabble’ who imagine that Mr. Hergesheimer is one of them, and who still constitute the main body of the antiPuritan movement. Yet, as an artist, he finds himself constrained to be essentially an anti-moralist. He welcomes all experience in proportion to its intensity and richness of color. He cannot help admitting his ‘preference for those girls who have the courage of their emotions.’ He cannot help confessing his artistic pleasure in observing a crucifix as the background of a prostitute. He cannot deny himself the revenge upon his Presbyterian ancestors which consists in referring to the prostitutes of a house in Havana as ‘informal girls’—as if, forsooth, when one emerges from the ancestral hypocrisies of Presbyterianism, ‘formality’ remains for the only real distinction between these girls and any other sort of girls.
O Cornelia, I begin to understand what troubles you!
Mr. D. H. Lawrence seems to have set out with the notion that sex is ‘the greatest thing in the world,’ and with the correlative notion that we can’t very well have too much of it or have it on too easy terms. He is still, if I understand him, a great believer in experience for experience’s sake, and he passes in many quarters for a dangerous immoralist. To the conventional sense, indeed, he may easily appear to write his novels as if the world of conventional morals had no existence. Even in Sons and Lovers his heroes and heroines explore their sexual good where they find it with barbaric or übermenschlich indifference to legality — or, should one say, with the indifference to legality prevalent among a coal-mining population? In his more recently published Women in Love his seekers of experience and selfrealization are men and women who have exhausted the possibilities of gratification through any ordinary intimacy of relationship. The book has offended pudency by a few intelligible paragraphs of plain speech where we were formerly accustomed to silence. But its really shocking aspect is its studious remorseless revelation of what a horrible, devouring mania sexual passion may be: how involved with mortal fear; and with cold, probing curiosity; and with murderous hatred. One of the characteristic ‘high spots’ in the story is that in which Hermione expresses the kind of intimacy that she desires with Birkin, and consummates her ‘voluptuous ecstasy’ by seizing a beautiful ball of lapis lazuli and bringing it crashing down upon his head. Except for a lively incident of this sort here and there, Women in Love must impress the ordinary novel-reader as intolerably dull, dreary, difficult, and mad: and anyone who declares that it makes ‘sex’ attractive should be punished by being required to read it through.
Mr. Lawrence’s interest in it is predominantly the interest of an exploring moralist who has specialized in sexual relations and is coming to conclusions which are important, if true. He is coming to the conclusion that — for men, at any rate — passional surrender is not ‘the greatest thing in the world.’ He is coming to the conclusion that the romantic poets and the romantic novelists — including perhaps Mr. Wells and Mr. Galsworthy — have all been on the wrong tack in representing as the height of human experience that ecstasy in which one individuality is merged and absorbed in another. This he regards as in its essential nature an ideal of decadence. This is an aspiration toward death and disintegration, from which the inevitable reaction is disgust. The virtue of a man is to preserve his own integrity and resist the dissolution of union. ‘ When he makes the sexual consummation the supreme consummation, even in his secret soul, he falls into the beginnings of despair.’ I quote this sentence from Mr. Lawrence’s fantastic and curious Fantasia of the Unconscious. And from his Studies in Classic American Literature I quote these words, calculated to trouble both his enemies and his friends: ‘ The essential function of art is moral. Not æsthetic, nor decorative, not pastime and recreation, but moral. The essential function of art is moral.’ This will perhaps trouble Mr. Hergesheimer more than it troubles me.
Among the later novelists of the Middle West one might choose either Sherwood Anderson or Ben Hecht as a striking representative of the antiPuritan movement. But there is so much cloudy symbolism in the author of Many Marriages that one may more expeditiously indicate the position of the author of Gargoyles — and of less widely circulated works. Mr. Hecht, generally speaking, appears to be the inheritor of Mr. Dreiser’s moral outfit, during the latter’s lifetime. He interests me more than Mr. Dreiser ever did because his intellectual processes are much more rapid. Mr. Dreiser reaches his conclusion by a slow, vermiculous, emotional approach, like the promenade of the lumbricus terrestris; Mr. Hecht darts at his like a wasp. He is a stylist and he feels a kind of ecstasy in the stabbing use of words. He is a satirist exulting in the stripping of shams. In Gargoyles he is a cynic with the point of view of mad King Lear crying, —
Why dost thou lash that whore? Strip thy own back;
Thou hotly lusts to use her in that kind
For which thou whip’st her.’
He is an angry and disenchanted moralist. But he is also — and this is the particularly interesting aspect of his case — an angry and disenchanted ‘immoralist.’ The emancipated heroes of Gargoyles and Erik Dorn hurl themselves over precipices of experience to wallow in abysses of spiritual inanity and despair. Yet before they are emancipated, as Mr. Hecht sees them, they are in an equal agony of moral chains. Basine, in Gargoyles, loathes all women for his wife’s sake. ‘His distaste for his wife had kept him faithful to her because his imagination baulked at the idea of embracing another Henrietta.’ Again we are told, almost in the Dreiserian phraseology, that ‘cowardice’ had made him an excited champion of domestic felicity, marital fidelity, and kindred ideas. In his symbolical romance, Mr. Hecht represents man as an agonized animal, self-crucified on the cross of his moral ideals, martyrizing himself in behalf of laws and conventions to which his desires and appetites are in unvanquishable opposition. Hitherto, his satire of conventional sexual morality has not revealed to me any constructive element: its caustic and sulphurous bolts leap from an anarchical darkness of all-embracing disillusion and fathomless disgust.
The note of sexual disgust is, to the student of contemporary morals, a point of high interest in the recent realistic fiction. This note of disgust is clamorous in Blackguard, by Mr. Hecht’s spiritual satellite, Mr. Maxwell Bodenheim. It is a steady undertone through the novels and short stories of Sherwood Anderson; in The Narrow House and Narcissus of Evelyn Scott; and in the Rahab of Waldo Franck. It is a cry of diabolic torture in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist As Young Man; and in Ulysses it is a rolling ordurous pandemonium.
In reading the novels of Ben Hecht, Maxwell Bodenheim, Sherwood Anderson, Evelyn Scott, Waldo Franck, and James Joyce, one’s first impression is frequently of wonder as to what motive can prompt an author to perpetuate a record of experience so humiliatingly painful, and a vision of souls so atrociously ugly. Is the motive revenge upon life for having taken them in? Is the motive to cleanse the stuffed bosom of the perilous stuff that preys upon the reason. The mad King Lear perhaps felt relieved when he had completed his psychoanalysis of the ‘simp’ring dame’; but when he had reached his conclusion in ‘ burning, scalding, stench, consumption,’ he cried perforce: ‘Give me an ounce of civet; good apothecary, sweeten my imagination.’ In the emetic school of fiction appears the reductio ad nauseam of the idea of sex as a social asset. No lust-bitten monk wrestling with hallucinations in a mediæval cloister could have made the entire subject more bewilderingly detestable than this group of anti-Puritan and anti-Catholic emancipators, who apparently set out with a desire to make it pleasant.
At this point, as it seemed to me, I had accumulated sufficient material to enable me to resume my conversation with Cornelia, without being immediately extinguished by the immense superiority of her intuitions regarding what is right. Meditating on the evolution of the idea of chastity from Goldsmith and Scott to James Joyce and Ben Hecht, I went to see her again.
It was a pleasant midsummer morning, enlivened by a cool breeze from the lake. I came up through the wood path into the garden, and found her sitting in the pergola, cool and fresh as the breeze. Her hands lay still in her lap, clasped upon an open book. Unaware of my presence, her gaze seemed to have gone dreamingly down the green slope, to rest in a kind of hovering question above the bright young animation of the tennis court. As I appeared, she looked up quickly and said instantly,—
‘Sit here, and let me read you these lovely verses of Walter de la Mare’s.’
‘Do,’ I replied; and she read with, oh, just a suspicion of a tremor in her clear smooth voice, these lines: —
With bugle and spear, and counter-cry,
Fanfare and drummery, yet a child
Dreaming of that sweet chivalry,
The piercing terror cannot see.
Along the azure of the years,
Sees the sweet pomp sweep hurtling by;
But he sees not death’s blood and tears,
Sees not the plunging of the spears.
Himself take arms and suffer war;
With beams his targe shall gilded be, Though in the thickening gloom be far
The steadfast light of any star!
Quickened with guilty lightnings — there
It shall in vain for terror search,
Where a child’s eyes beneath bloody hair
Gaze purely through the dingy air.’
She closed the book, and we were silent for a moment, in which I felt within myself curious little surges of sympathy breaking over rocks of difference. Then she said, —
‘Cornelia,’ I answered, ‘you were right. The idea of chastity has been challenged, is being challenged, on all sides, in many ways, for many reasons.’ I made a discreet summary of my discoveries, and concluded: ‘Current fiction reflects a condition bordering on anarchy.’
‘Could n’t one know that without making an investigation, without ploughing through these dreadful books?'
‘Perhaps,’ I responded. ‘But, Cornelia, I think you were wrong in an important respect. I think there has been a real change in standards, and that even very nice people no longer think just as they used to think. At least they no longer say what they used to say, and they are more tolerant of what other people think.'
‘Do you imagine,’she persisted, ‘that this new tolerance indicates general moral progress? I think it indicates general moral laxity. Come, let us be definite. At what points precisely do you fancy there is any advantage to be gained by taking sexual relations away from the protection of Church and State and committing them to the whims of individuals?’
‘My dear Cornelia,’ I protested, ‘the prevailing theory is not that Church and State have “protected” sexual relations. The popular theory is that Church and State have ignored them, or, at least, in attempting to regulate them, have ignored so many exceptional cases that the regulations are invalid. For all these cases, the novel has been a kind of court of last resort. On the whole, I believe that it has greatly enriched the idea of virtue by giving a hearing to the innumerable cases in which legality is the mask of nearly intolerable conditions.'
‘Intolerable conditions,’ interrupted Cornelia, ‘are usually the result of imprudent marriages, marriages for advantage, marriages without love. Those who make such marriages should expect to pay the price. It is sentimentality to discard a good rule to save a few exceptional individuals. Incompatibility of temper is no harder to bear than small-pox or anything else that marriage may let one in for.'
‘I am explaining how we differ,’I resumed. ‘I find myself in pretty full sympathy with the current tendency to revolt against the doctrine of the irretrievable as applied by Goldsmith and certain of the Victorians. The earlier Georgian principle that virtue, in this connection, means to maintain permanent relations with one who is thoroughly agreeable to you begins to sound to my ears like orthodoxy, as does also the companion principle, that to maintain permanent relations with one who is thoroughly disagreeable to you is vice. And though I am not ready to subscribe to all the possible corollaries of these two positions, I seem to see, gradually emerging from them, a new and better idea of chastity, — which will make “nice” people not less but more fastidious in their intimacies, not less but more austere in yielding the citadel of body and spirit.’
‘Nothing will emerge from these principles,’said Cornelia decisively, ‘without a rule — without a rule which Church and State can enforce upon people who are not nice. You have admitted that the Wells-Galsworthy test of successful marriage tends to be “unworkable.” You admit that the word “permanent” tends to drop out of the principle, and that then you have, instead of a substitute for law, a permission for anarchy. You even admit that the novelists already reflect a condition approaching anarchy. Don’t you think, after all, that it is about time to call a halt?’
‘No,’ I insisted stubbornly; ‘the movement of indefinite anarchical expansion halts itself. And I stand by the novelists, even by the emetic school, as showing where the movement halts: in blind alleys, against iron necessities, in miasmic swamps, in ennui, in despair, in disgust unfathomable. You cannot guess, Cornelia; without years of such reading as I am happily certain you will never undertake, you cannot understand what comfort and reassurance I find in the fathomless disgust exhibited in our most advanced novelists — disgust for the life that is dedicated to sex. The disgust of the novelists upholds the splendor of the Church and the majesty of the Law. Upborne by the disgust of the novelists, like a ship by the briny behemoth-haunted deep, marriage may yet spread again her proud full sail for fresh voyages. These novelists reveal obscene things in their deep-sea caves, but they administer whatever antidote is required to the obscenity of their speech. They drive home their moral with an appalling effectiveness beyond the rivalry of critical comment. They deliver the shattering challenge to unchastity. They have shown the emancipated moderns capable of dodging all but one of the consequences which their elders appointed for unchastity; but they have not shown the moderns capable of dodging the stench of a disintegrated personality, which fumes in their books like a last irreducible hell. To safeguard the innocency of your son and daughter, I incline to believe that one whiff from these caverns might be as potent as Heine’s prayer. Consciously or not, these novelists are preparing a counterrevolution.’
‘What direction, pray, will that take?’ inquired Cornelia, to whom God has beautifully denied ability to follow such an argument.
‘I shall not prophesy in detail,’ I said, looking toward the tennis court. ‘Is your contribution to the Younger Generation in that match?’
‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘and is n’t it delightful to see how keen they are?’
‘It is. It indicates to me one of the directions of the counter-revolution. Historians in the future, surveying the monuments of our children’s time, are going to refer to this as the beginning of the great age of stadium-building in America. They will see in this movement a religious significance, not yet visible to us; and they will expatiate in glowing terms on the period when, with extravagant and sacrificial adoration of an ideal, our youth exalted the cleanness and hardness of athletic games, and religiously subjected themselves to the rules and rigor of the game — to that arbitrary, elaborate, inflexible, yet self-imposed system of “ethics” which alone makes any good game possible. I am hoping that our children’s generation will contain more real sportsmen than ours did — fewer quitters, fewer squealers, fewer players crying out to have the rules changed after the game is on; and no one so silly as to suppose there can be a game without rules.’
‘Is n’t that hope rather remote?’
‘Rather. I have another, more immediate. I hope that in the early stages of the counter-revolution our sophisticated sons and daughters will scrutinize “the idea of sex”; coolly extract from it the part that belongs to physiology and pathology; and then disuse the word as synonym for every other element in the complex human relationship which sometimes makes human beings paradisiacally happy in their blossoming season and content enough with each other even into wintry old age. I have some hope that the emetic school may help our children to understand that sex and sexual self-realization are not, in the long view, the main substance of what youth hungers for.’
‘Go on!’ Cornelia encouraged.
‘I hope that they will make real progress in psychoanalysis. I hope that, when they feel the ache of the soul’s ultimate solitude and are restless and full of vague desires, they may be capable of lucid introspection; that they may be frank and plain with themselves, and call things by their right names, and say to themselves something like this: “I am filled with tedium and passionate craving. I shall be hard to satisfy, for I am thirsty for a deep draught of human felicity. What I crave is not described or named in the physiologies. I crave beauty, sympathy, sweetness, incentive, perfume, difference, vivacity, wit, cleanness, grace, devotion, caprice, pride, kindness, blitheness, fortitude. I will not look for these things where I know they cannot be found, nor under conditions in which I know they cannot be maintained. But if I find them, and where they thrive, I shall wish to express my joy by some great act of faith and the hazard of all I hope to be. And I shall not like the town clerk to be the sole recorder of my discovery and my faith. I shall wish witnesses, high witnesses, whatever is august and splendid in the order of the world, to enwheel me round and bid me welcome to that order.” — That is the sort of self-realization to which I hope our sons and daughters are coming.’
Cornelia smiled with a kind of malicious sweetness that she has. She was satisfied. She rather yearned, I perceived well enough, to remark that now at last I was taking the ‘stand’ that she had taken from the first. But Cornelia is one of the few women now living who do not say everything that they yearn to say. She merely released one arrowy smile. Then she rose, as I had done already (standing, she reminds one of Artemis), and, extending her hand, detained mine with another deep question. She asked me whether I knew any ‘living reason’ to believe that my emancipated young people would return to that ideal.
The opportunity was irresistible.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I have known you, Cornelia.’