Saturday, 9 June 2012

Anodynes and bargains



What a great deal of grief, care, and other harmful excitement does a healthy dullness and cheerful insensibility avoid! Nor do I mean to say that Virtue is not Virtue because it is never tempted to go astray; only that dullness is a much finer gift than we give it credit for being; and that some people are very lucky whom Nature has endowed with a good store of that great anodyne.
William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) – Pendennis

There is some truth in this – unfortunately.

I suspect Thackeray isn't read much these days and is only really known for Vanity Fair. Pendennis is just as good, although rather long. Via the life of its flawed upper class hero Arthur Pendennis, it is a satirical look at the aristocracy, their snobbish behaviour and the essential silliness of their lives.

Throughout the novel, Thackeray drops in a range of social comments on everything from the role of women to scepticism, which he equates with atheism.

"O Pen [Pendennis], you scoundrel! I know what you mean," here Warrington broke out. "This is the meaning of your scepticism,of your quietism, of your atheism, my poor fellow. You're going to sell yourself, and Heaven help you! You are going to make a bargain which will degrade you and make you miserable for life, and there's no use talking of it. If you are once bent on it, the devil won't prevent you."

Warrington, the speaker here, is a great friend of Pendenis - his conscience in some ways. Pendennis is generous and well-meaning, but also a cynic and very much inclined to go with the flow, to take things as they are. This is the bargain Warrington refers to. He thinks Pendennis is wasting his burgeoning talent as a writer for the sake of an easy life - the life of a dilettante.

I like this quote a lot, uncomfortable though it may be, because we do make these rather one-sided bargains with society don't we? I also like the word quietism. That chimes with me too. 

5 comments:

duffandnonsense said...

Oh dear, you touch a sensitive spot! I am not, by and large, a lover (and therefore a reader) of 19th century novels. However, I did, with no great expectations ("Oh, very witty, Wilde!") I once tried Vanity Fair. To my amazement I began chuckling on page 3 and by page 5 I was howling with laughter. Ever since I have been meaning to read some more Thackeray but, alas and alack . . .

A K Haart said...

David - I haven't read much Thackeray, but he's a good writer. As usual though, the problem is time - so much to read and so little time.

duffandnonsense said...

Yeah, and I swear it's speeding up!

James Higham said...

I'm too dull to appreciate that.

A K Haart said...

James - so am I and I wrote it (: