Tuesday, September 19, 2023


Unhealthy Interest in the Affairs of Other People

Norman Douglas (1868-1952), Experiments (New York: Robert M. McBride & Company, 1925), pp. 254-255:
Now this personality-mongering is a nuisance which has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished. It is not only bad literature but bad breeding. You can hardly pick up any volume by a member of this school without finding therein caricatures of some acquaintance—all unfavourably drawn and derided not with frank wit or invective or mockery or Rabelaisian laughter, but with that squeaky suburban chuckle which is characteristic of an age of eunuchs. And if they are momentarily at a loss for friends to distort, they indulge in airing their own private sensations—a mild form of exhibitionism—with a shamelessness that reminds one of nothing so much as a female dog. Questionable taste! It seems to me that even such a writing man should have some manners, some reserve, though his mentality be of the non-human order and his ethos immeasurably inferior to that of the butcher or grocer; that if he cannot respect his neighbours, he ought at least to respect himself. But he has forgotten what self-respect means; everything is grist to his mill—including himself; and it is no use appealing to his better nature, since he has no nature at all; he is a cloaca maxima for the discharge of objectionable personalities.

The ridiculous compilation known as "Who's Who" has done a good deal towards fostering this unhealthy interest in the affairs of other people. That Sir Edmund Gosse happens to write good books is no reason why the public should be informed how much he pays his scullery-maid; and what on earth does it matter to any one, save himself and his friends, what his favourite indoor amusements are—whether he prefers bridge to baccarat, or ping-pong to dominoes? Vastly offensive, this prying and rapacious meddlesomeness. But I fear we shall never have a revulsion of feeling against such snobbishly genteel hankerings. They are part of that universal levelling-down process for which the education-of-people-who-ought-never-to-be-educated is responsible.
Id., pp. 256-257:
Certainly it is an anomalous state of affairs that respectable folk should be at the mercy of a band of dirt-throwers who are coining money at their expense; it suggests that in such matters of literary ethics we might do worse than return to the more gentlemanlike standard of the Victorians, though we shall obviously never have real manners, either in literature or in society, until duelling becomes popular again. Duelling would soon put an end to these caddish arts and to several other inconveniences as well; there would be no more low-class allusions to living people in novels or newspapers or memoirs if their authors realised that by next morning they might have half a yard of cold steel in their gizzards.

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?