02 July 2017

I wished to get her home at once

— Fortune favored us

When I bent over her I could see that she was still asleep. Her lips were parted, and she was breathing, not softly as usual with her, but in long, heavy gasps, as though striving to get her lungs full at every breath. As I came close, she put up her hand in her sleep and pulled the collar of her nightdress close around her, as though she felt the cold. I flung the warm shawl over her, and drew the edges tight around her neck, for I dreaded lest she should get some deadly chill from the night air, unclad as she was.

I feared to wake her all at once, so, in order to have my hands free to help her, I fastened the shawl at her throat with a big safety pin. But I must have been clumsy in my anxiety and pinched or pricked her with it, for by-and-by, when her breathing became quieter, she put her hand to her throat again and moaned. When I had her carefully wrapped up I put my shoes on her feet, and then began very gently to wake her.

At first she did not respond, but gradually she became more and more uneasy in her sleep, moaning and sighing occasionally. At last, as time was passing fast, and for many other reasons, I wished to get her home at once. I shook her forcibly, till finally she opened her eyes and awoke. She did not seem surprised to see me, as, of course, she did not realize all at once where she was.

Lucy always wakes prettily, and even at such a time, when her body must have been chilled with cold, and her mind somewhat appalled at waking unclad in a churchyard at night, she did not lose her grace. She trembled a little, and clung to me. When I told her to come at once with me home, she rose without a word, with the obedience of a child. As we passed along, the gravel hurt my feet, and Lucy noticed me wince. She stopped and wanted to insist upon my taking my shoes, but I would not. However, when we got to the pathway outside the churchyard, where there was a puddle of water, remaining from the storm, I daubed my feet with mud, using each foot in turn on the other, so that as we went home, no one, in case we should meet any one, should notice my bare feet.

Fortune favored us, and we got home without meeting a soul.

—Bram Stoker, Dracula

Painting: Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Jeanne H├ębuterne

Editor's Note:  Jeanne H├ębuterne was a French artist. She was the frequent subject and common-law wife of Amedeo Modigliani.

21 August 2016

It was a cheerful, hopeful letter

— Very few letters were written in those hard times that were not touching. In this one little was said of the hardships endured . . . 

. . . a reminder that hard days need not be wasted.

They all drew to the fire, Mother in the big chair with Beth at her feet, Meg and Amy perched on either arm of the chair, and Jo leaning on the back, where no one would see any sign of emotion if the letter should happen to be touching. Very few letters were written in those hard times that were not touching, especially those which fathers sent home. In this one little was said of the hardships endured, the dangers faced, or the homesickness conquered. It was a cheerful, hopeful letter, full of lively descriptions of camp life, marches, and military news, and only at the end did the writer's heart over-flow with fatherly love and longing for the little girls at home.

"Give them all of my dear love and a kiss. Tell them I think of them by day, pray for them by night, and find my best comfort in their affection at all times. A year seems very long to wait before I see them, but remind them that while we wait we may all work, so that these hard days need not be wasted. I know they will remember all I said to them, that they will be loving children to you, will do their duty faithfully, fight their bosom enemies bravely, and conquer themselves so beautifully that when I come back to them I may be fonder and prouder than ever of my little women."

—Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Painting: Irving Ramsay Wiles (1861-1948) Woman Reading

20 June 2016

Psychological Insights

—The burden of guilt

I would have to describe a great many unamorous experiences to explain why I left Hungary again, this time for good—and so soon after offering to die for her. It seems I loved my country as ardently as if she were a woman, and just as inconstantly.

As love is an emotional glimpse of eternity, one can't help half-believing that genuine love will last forever. When it would not, as in my case it never did, I couldn't escape a sense of guilt about my inability to feel true and lasting emotions. This shame was surpassed in intensity only by my doubts as to whether my lover had ever really loved me, when she was the one who ended the affair. In this I'm like most of my skeptical contemporaries: since we no longer reproach ourselves for failing to conform to absolute ethical precepts, we beat ourselves with the stick of psychological insight. When it comes to love, we reject the distinction between moral and immoral for the distinction between "genuine" and "superficial."

We're too understanding to condemn our actions; we condemn our motives instead. Having freed ourselves from a code of behavior, we submit to a code of motivation to achieve the sense of shame and anxiety that our elders acquired by less sophisticated means. We rejected their religious morality because it set man against his instincts, weighed him down with a burden of guilt for sins which were in fact the workings of natural laws. Yet we still atone for the creation: we think of ourselves as failures, rather than renounce our belief in the possibility of perfection. We hang onto the hope of eternal love by denying even its temporary validity. It's less painful to think "I'm shallow," "She's self-centered," "We couldn't communicate," "It was all just physical," than to accept the simple fact that love is a passing sensation, for reasons beyond our control and even beyond our personalities. But who can reassure himself with his own rationalizations? No argument can fill the void of a dead feeling—that reminder of the ultimate void, our final inconstancy. We're untrue even to life.

—Stephen Vizinczey, In Praise of Older Women

Painting: Amedeo Modigliani, Portrait of a Woman in a Black Tie 


Inconstant: adj.; not faithful and dependable;  someone who is inconstant is not loyal and cannot be trusted; unreliable, untrustworthy, fickle