pseudopodium
. . . Rose Macaulay

. . .

Good Is Dead

From Rose Macaulay's 1956 novel, The Towers of Trebizond:

And, while I am on sin, I have often thought that it is a most strange thing that this important part of human life, the struggle that almost every one has about good and evil, cannot now be talked of without embarrassment, unless of course one is in church. It goes on just the same as it always has.... But now you cannot talk about it when it is your own struggle, you cannot say to your friends that you would like to be good, they would think you were going Buchmanite, or Grahamite, or something else that you would not like at all to be thought. Once people used to talk about being good and being bad, they wrote about it in letters to their friends, and conversed about it freely: the Greeks did this, and the Romans, and then, after life took a Christian turn, people did it more than ever, and all through the Middle Ages they did it, and through the Renaissance, and drama was full of it, and heaven and hell seemed for ever around the corner, with people struggling on the borderlines and never knowing which way it was going to turn out, and in which of these two states they would be spending their immortality, and this led to a lot of conversation about it all, and it was extremely interesting and exciting. And they went on talking about their conflicts all through the seventeenth and eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and James Boswell, who of course was even more interested in his own character and behaviour than most people are, wrote to his friends, "My great object is to attain a proper conduct in life. How sad will it be if I turn out no better than I am!" and the baronet he wrote this to did not probably think it peculiar.... But they went on like this through most of the nineteenth century, even when they were not evangelicals or tractarians or anything like that, and nineteenth century novels are full of such interesting conversations, and the Victorian agnostics wrote to one another about it continually, it was one of their favorite topics, for the weaker they got on religion the stronger they got on morals, which used to be the case more than now.

I am not sure when all this died out, but it has become very dead.

The opportunity to be explicit (even unto melodrama) about one's morality was one of the great enticements of the Haverford philosophy department, and seems to me one of the main benefits obtained by my born-again acquaintances. Although, as the citation of Boswell reminds us, talking about ethics has about as much to do with behaving ethically as talking about being a writer has to do with writing.

. . .

A nice cool glass eliminate

Lawrence L. White seems a bit harsh on D. A. Boxwell's gallant defense of Rose Macaulay:

Irrespective of the novels' comparative merits, "For Whom the Bell Tolls" is a much snappier title than "And No Man's Wit." I can't get from "and" to "no" without adding an "uh" & sounding like Chico Marx. & since when is the Air Force Academy an exemplar for higher education in the humanities?
Well, being as Boxwell is a Professor of English at the Air Force Academy, I think it would be impolitic of him to claim otherwise. And Boxwell's topic is comparative war fiction, after all. And Chico was Freedonia's Secretary of War, after all.... Still, there's really no excuse for the background image on that page.

 

Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.