"I have a theory," writes Lauren Cerand this week over at The Rumpus, "that elegant people have an aura of impenetrable private sadness, and that good taste and impeccable manners are life’s consolation." What follows is a wonderful essay that interweaves pithy, epigrammatic definitions of elegance and its kin--
Glamour is constructed, elegance is acquired, and charm is innate.--with elements of her life story and her approach to matters of fashion, furnishing, and self-presentation. It's well-handled, with Cerand coming across as neither unduly proud of nor the slightest bit uncertain about her tastes; her appreciations and definitions are infectious, bolstering the often too timid thought that yes, the sensual details of life are worth your attention, though their value may largely be self-contained, non-transferable. The moment, the day, the existence, is worth it.
It brought to mind a passage from Cyril Connolly's appreciation of the archly over-ripe pleasures of Ronald Firbank, from The Condemned Playground. "For my part," writes Connolly,
I am secretly a lyricist; the works to which I lose my heart are those that attempt, with a purity and a kind of dewy elegance, to portray the beauty of the moment, the gaiety and sadness, the fugitive distress of hedonism.Elegance gives us something to celebrate on days when little else is on offer--on, as Fitzgerald put it, those "metropolitan days and nights . . . as tense as singing wires." Even then one's tie can be tied, one's creases pressed, one's clauses delicately balanced.
Cerand mentions in passing that in a friendless childhood in the midst of a complicated, riven family, she turned to, of all people, Machiavelli, pulling "the leather-bound edition of The Prince down from the shelf in hopes of gaining insight on how to navigate it all." And, while in the popular portrait of Machiavelli everything takes a backseat to his recommendations for ruthlessness, he, too, understood the essential respect for the world around us that elegance conveys. In the best of his letters, written on December 10, 1513 to his benefactor, Francesco Vettori, he tells of how he enters his library at the end of a day of farming:
On the coming of evening, I return to my house and enter my study; and at the door I take off the day's clothing, covered with mud and dust, and put on garments regal and courtly; and reclothed appropriately, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them with affection, I feed on that food which is only mine and which I was born for, where I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions; and they in their kindness answer me; and for four hours of time I do not feel boredom, I forget every trouble, I do not dread poverty, I am not frightened by death; entirely I give myself over to them.And now to straighten my tie, pour a martini, settle in at the piano, and open my lounge player's songbook. And what do I happen to be working on tonight? Nothing else but Billy Strayhorn's unparalleled account of the louche ashes of faded glamour, "Lush Life."