The Mists of Political Economy

“Of course it’s complicated,” continued Arthur, “but when you come to look into it it comes out clear enough. It is one of the instances of the omnipotence of capital. Parliament can do such a thing, not because it has any creative power of its own, but because it has the command of unlimited capital.” Mr. Wharton looked at him, sighing inwardly as he reflected that unrequited love should have brought a clear-headed young barrister into mists so thick and labyrinths so mazy as these. (Trollope, The Prime Minister)

George Eliot is to Trollope as Anthony van Dyck is to Rubens

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I read Middlemarch recently, and was struck by the evident influence of Trollope on Eliot. In some respects Eliot clearly surpassed Trollope, but I think there are other respects in which he remained superior. Their relation reminds me a bit of the relation between Rubens and van Dyck. Van Dyck certainly improves on Rubens— he is much more polished from a technical point of view. But not only from a technical point of view. There is an elegance and nobility in van Dyck that is not in Rubens. But it seems to be a general rule in human affairs that there is no progress without some concomitant regress. Van Dyck lacks the vivacity and good natured humanity of Rubens.

Footnote 329 and the Argentine Letter

As many readers will remember, footnote 329 of Amoris Laetitia makes the following point about divorced and civilly “remarried” persons who have serious reasons for not separating:

many people, knowing and accepting the possibility of living ‘as brothers and sisters’ which the Church offers them, point out that if certain expressions of intimacy are lacking, ‘it often happens that faithfulness is endangered and the good of the children suffers’.

In my letter to Cardinal Schönborn on Amoris Laetitia I made the following comment on that note: Continue reading

Mrs. Grantly and Natura Pura

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Certain theology students, who only know of Cardinal Cajetan through reading a little Henri de Lubac, like to accuse that eminent commentator of giving a “two storey” account of the relation of nature and grace. I suppose they think that on the Cajetanian account nature and grace relate somewhat the way they do in the heart of Mrs. Grantly in Trollope’s Barsetshire novels:

In her heart of hearts Mrs. Grantly hated Mrs. Proudie—that is, with that sort of hatred one Christian lady allows herself to feel towards another. Of course Mrs. Grantly forgave Mrs. Proudie all her offences, and wished her well, and was at peace with her, in the Christian sense of the word, as with all other women. But under this forbearance and meekness, and perhaps, we may say, wholly unconnected with it, there was certainly a current of antagonistic feeling which, in the ordinary unconsidered language of every day, men and women do call hatred. (Framley Parsonagech. XVII)

On Weddings in Novels

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An essay of mine has just been published in a volume on the philosophy and theology of the soul, edited by Eric Austin Lee and Samuel Kimbriel. It’s the first time that I have contributed an essay in an actual, printed book, and so I am perhaps slightly inordinately proud of it.

My essay is on the portrayal of the soul in the novel. I argue that the novel  developed as a literary form particularly suited to the modern view of the subject as an isolated res cogitans separate from the res extensa and also from other res cogitantes, except to the extent that it enters into voluntary relationships with other subjects

Following Ian Watt, I argue that this explains not only the form of the novel, but also to a large extent the main theme of English novels since Samuel Richardson: love between a man and a woman usually terminating in marriage. As I put it in my essay,

Capitalism having destroyed the interpersonal ties of more organic societies and replaced them with cold contractualism, freely chosen relationships took on a great importance: especially the relationship of husband and wife, which, disengaged from other areas of life, becomes a matter of personal choice. (p. 204)

Now it occured to me recently that since marriage here is important mostly for its subjective purpose of overcoming the isolation of the individual, rather than for its role in a larger society, it makes sense that while proposals of marriage play a prominent role in novels, actual weddings are surprisingly rare. Moreover, on the rare occasions when a wedding is actually described, it is often described as being a small, private affair, rather than a great feast for a whole community.

Take for example David Copperfield’s wedding to Agnes. If anyone might be expected to ignore the novelistic convention of small weddings, one would think it would be Dickens, who has so much concern with “social” problems and so on, and is by no means so devoted to the classical novelistic purpose of giving a window into the depths of the res cogitans as more formally perfect novelists. Moreover, David Copperfield is by the time of his wedding to Agnes a national celebrity, who might be expected to have a very wide social circle. (Even in our lamentable time celebrities like to have big weddings; witness Francesco Totti’s wedding at Santa Maria in Aracoeli, which was televised so that the whole of Italy could be, as it were, present). And yet this is how Dickens describes David and Agnes’s wedding:

Traddles and Sophy, and Doctor and Mrs. Strong, were the only guests at our quiet wedding.

A notable exception to the rule, however, is (spoiler alert:Mary and Frank’s wedding in Trollope’s Dr ThorneIt is a truly magnificent affair in which not only all the friends and relations of the Thornes and Greshams are present, but also all the dignitaries of Barsetshire, and (significantly) all the common people dependent on the Greshams.

The reason for this, it seems to me, is that Dr Thorne is really about the conjunction of two different worlds, and of two different views of marriage. The Greshams are an old aristocratic family whose position in the community is threatened by new economic realities of 19th century England. The only practicable way for Frank to save his position, and thus the whole way of life of his family, and to a certain extent of the whole community, is to marry someone rich. But of course he falls in love with Mary Thorne, who is very poor. The interesting thing about the novel is the way in which both Frank and Mary are torn about their prospective marriage— both acknowledge the importance of personal choice and love (so central to the bourgeois ideal of marriage that is the main theme of novels), and yet both also see the importance of saving Frank’s position, and the suffering that their marriage would consequently bring on the whole community. There are two apparently incommensurable moral ideals in conflict here. This conflict is only resolved by the fortuitous circumstance of Mary’s inheriting the fortune of a railway magnate. Thus bringing a strange synthesis in which the wealth of the new world of railways and industry is used to prop up the old world way of life of the landed gentry. This works quite well in the novel, but it was not a solution that admitted to a general application to the problems of English society.