Thursday, September 24, 2009

Something heartening...

No, this is not about WWWTW - things have gotten very difficult and I have to suspend that project, and have serious doubts that it will be resumed.

But it is Thursday, and so I was seeking something heartening, not really knowing what I might find.... and I found this following interesting excerpt. You may find it as surprising as I did. (If you were wondering what it was I was seeking, it was a pithy remark about people who write articles ABOUT fiction instead of actually writing fiction... but it may have been written by some other author than GKC. If it was poetry I would know where to look.)

--Dr. Thursday.

Now, I will take that one small point about Napoleon and love. Mr. Wells might actually have quoted, and would doubtless have taken quite seriously, a real remark of Napoleon. He did once say, among many other random and cynical remarks in a busy life, that he doubted whether he really loved anybody. If human beings in history were treated with half the sympathy and subtlety given to human beings in novels, we should all understand that this was probably the bitter and brief expression of some mood of hardening, common in middle age, but faced with all the realism of a Latin. Mr. Wells himself might easily have made one of his middle-aged heroes say it. If it had occurred in one of his own novels, he would have believed it; but he might not so easily believe it when it occurs in real life. For the modern rule is that fictitious characters are to be tinted with every shade of shady or shabby grey, but historical characters are to remain in sensational black and white. Mr. Wells's middle-aged hero might say he loved nobody, and yet go on to love quite an unnecessary number of people in the course of the novel. And Napoleon, in early life, had quite certainly loved not wisely, but too well. So much for the remark itself, which Mr. Wells would understand if only he were writing fiction. And now let me draw attention to something that went along with it, and something that Mr. Wells cannot for the life of him understand even when he is sincerely trying to write history. Immediately after Napoleon had said in his haste that he loved nobody, he corrected himself and added as an after-thought some such words as these: "Except perhaps Joseph, from a sort of habit, because he is the eldest of us." Now, those who regard Napoleon either as a Satan or a Superman would never have dreamed of his saying that. It is the very last thing they would expect him to say; it is the very last exception they would expect him to make. They are familiar enough in their romances with the idea of Satan not being so black as he is painted, of the iron Superman having a soft spot somewhere. But they would never dream of looking for the soft spot there. They would understand the sinister hero being faithful to one faithless woman; or worshipping some Princesse Lointaine of legendary beauty; or having his weary heart refreshed by a golden-haired child or beggar-maid; or taking the advice of some wild prophet or jester in whom anything was tolerated. But that he should still have a humdrum and almost humble attachment to the head of the family, bigger than he in the nursery and the playground, and for no other reason whatever, is an anti-climax to all anarchical romance. The Superman is still actually looking up to his elder brother, simply because he is his elder brother. We look for Napoleon and we find Buonaparte cadet, still respectfully attached to Buonaparte ainé. In Thackeray and nearly all English fiction, it is taken for granted, with a laugh, that a fellow can hardly be expected to be very fond of his elder brother. In the Code of the Corsican Ogre it is taken for granted, with entire innocence, that a fellow cannot help being fond of his elder brother, even if it is only a habit. That is what I mean when I say that men like Mr. Wells, if they wanted to find the virtues of men like Napoleon, would always look for them in the wrong place. That is what I mean when I say that they do not understand even what such a Latin would mean by trying to be good, if he did try to be good. His virtues would startle us by their staleness. The devil would hardly become anything so romantic as a monk; but rather a bourgeois. He would be domestic and almost dowdy.
[GKC ILN June 17 1922 CW32:392-4]

1 comment:

  1. In the end we are horrified, not because our idols have feet of clay, but because they have feet of flesh. That's my attempt at a Chestertonian aphorism. I think I need more practice. Heeee.

    Speaking of someone who DID adore his elder brother, though, haven't you ever wondered what GKC and his brother argued about, in their famous endless debates? I would love to go back in time and hear one...


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