Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Other Side of You, part three

Part one is here and part two is here.

This was all thrown into sharp relief the next morning, as, in reading Anthony Trollope's Can You Forgive Her? (1865), I came across the following passionate discussion, which runs along similar lines to some of Thomas and Elizabeth's conversations. George Vavasor talks here with his cousin, Alice, to whom he had once been engaged and whom he had treated badly, about her impending marriage to a quiet country farmer:
"Between you and me there can be no necessity for falsehood. We have grown beyond our sugar-toothed ages, and are now men and women. I perfectly understood your breaking away from me. I understood you, and in spite of my sorrow knew that you were right. I am not going to accuse or to defend myself; but I knew that you were right."

"Then let there be no more about it."

"Yes; there must be more about it. I did not understand you when you accepted Mr Grey. Against him I have not a whisper to make. He may be perfect for aught I know. But, knowing you as I thought I did, I could not understand your loving such a man as him. It was as though one who had lived on brandy should take himself suddenly to a milk diet,--and enjoy the change! A milk diet is no doubt the best. But men who have lived on brandy can't make those changes very suddenly. They perish in the attempt."

"Not always, George."

"It may be done with months of agony;--but there was no such agony with you."

"Who can tell?"

"But you will tell me the cure was made. I thought so, and therefore thought that I should find you changed. I thought that you, who had been all fire, would now have turned yourself into soft-flowing milk and honey, and have become fit for the life in store for you. With such a one I might have travelled from Moscow to Malta without danger. The woman fit to be John Grey's wife would certainly do me no harm,--could not touch my happiness. I might have loved her once,--might still love the memory of what she had been; but her, in her new form, after her new birth,--such a one as that, Alice, could be nothing to me. Don't mistake me. I have enough of wisdom in me to know how much better, ay, and happier a woman she might be. It was not that I thought you had descended in the scale; but I gave you credit for virtues which you have not acquired. Alice, that wholesome diet of which I spoke is not your diet. You would starve on it, and perish."
Though I'm only about a third of the way through Can You Forgive Her?, and I suspect that George may not ultimately be entirely trustworthy, I do think that here his speech is sincere. Whereas Thomas's pleadings to Elizabeth all seem rooted in his desire to further his own aims, George's to Alice, though they may have that effect, seem just as strongly rooted in a real desire for truth and an understanding of his cousin. Am I mistaken? Michael Dirda's not the only person, after all, who praised The Other Side of You--could this just be a very personal reaction to a couple of particular characteristics that Vickers has assigned to her character? From what I've provided here, do you see any difference in tone between the men as presented by Vickers and Trollope?

I'll close this too-long post with one last point against those who celebrate their own rudeness as having some inherent, iconoclastic value. I think Stephen Miller was dead-on in his Conversation: A History of a Declining Art (2006) when he wrote:
In popular culture rude people are celebrated as authentic, and those skilled at the art of conversation are often depicted a superficial or effeminate or dishonest (or all three).

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