Thursday, October 27, 2005

And of course everyone knows what a middle-aged moralist of my type warns his juniors against. He warns them against the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. But one of this trio will be enough to deal with today. The Devil, I shall leave strictly alone. The association between him and me in the public mind has already gone quite as deep as I wish: in some quarters it has already reached the level of confusion, if not of identification. I begin to realize the truth of the old proverb that he who sups with that formidable host needs a long spoon. As for the Flesh, you must be very abnormal young people if you do not know quite as much about it as I do. But on the World I think I have something to say.

Which is:

Snobbery is not the same thing as pride of class. Pride of class may not please us but we must at least grant that it reflects a social function. A man who exhibited class pride – in the day when it was possible to do so – may have been puffed up about what he was, but this ultimately depended on what he did. Thus, aristocratic pride was based ultimately on the ability to fight and administer. No pride is without fault, but pride of class may be thought of as today we think of pride of profession, toward which we are likely to be lenient.

Snobbery is pride in status without pride in function. And it is an uneasy pride of status. It always asks, “Do I belong – do I really belong? And does he belong? And if I am observed talking to him, will it make me seem to belong or not to belong?” It is the peculiar vice not of aristocratic societies which have their own appropriate vices, but of bourgeois democratic societies. . . .

The characteristic work of the novel is to record the illusion that snobbery generates and to try to penetrate to the truth which, as the novel assumes, lies hidden beneath all the false appearances. Money, snobbery, the ideal of status, these become in themselves the objects of fantasy, the support of the fantasies of love, freedom, charm, power, as in Madame Bovary, whose heroine is the sister, at a three-centuries remove, of Don Quixote. The greatness of Great Expectations begins in its title: modern society bases itself on great expectations which, if ever they are realized, are found to exist by reason of a sordid, hidden reality.

From Lionel Trilling’s 1947 essay “Manners, Morals, and the Novel.”

My thanks to

and to Tolstoy, for his writing which inspired C. S. Lewis to warn:

The lust for the esoteric, the longing to be inside, take many forms which are not easily recognizable as Ambition. We hope, no doubt, for tangible profits from every Inner Ring we penetrate: power, money, liberty to break rules, avoidance of routine duties, evasion of discipline. But all these would not satisfy us if we did not get in addition the delicious sense of secret intimacy. It is no doubt a great convenience to know that we need fear no official reprimands from our official senior because he is old Percy, a fellow-member of our ring. But we don't value the intimacy only for the sake of convenience; quite equally we value the convenience as a proof of the intimacy.

My main purpose in this address is simply to convince you that this desire is one of the great permanent mainsprings of human action. It is one of the factors which go to make up the world as we know it-this whole pell-mell of struggle, competition, confusion, graft, disappointment, and advertisement, and if it is one of the permanent mainsprings then you may be quite sure of this. Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day when you are too old to care.

The entire essay is at


Stephen said...

To quote C. S. Lewis some more:

"The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it.

This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public: nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces.

But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain. And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the center of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring.

[T]he difference is that its secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ring can ever have it."

An important lesson, always.

Peggy Snow Cahill said...

OH, wow! Thanks so much, Stephen, for this post! The additional C.S. Lewis quote is even better. I didn't remember this one, but it is very timely in my life right now. Thank you!!!

Allison said...

Stephen, I want to apologize again for the mess that the AKA plugin made. I was out of the house when it happened, but was really appalled when I came back and saw what happened. FWIW, I don't think anyone at the Banner believed you were anyone but yourself. But I'm very, very sorry that that happened.

If you have any other concerns, please email me at dontletsblog at gmail dot com.

Stephen said...

I'm ok now. It just caught me up short at a very bad moment. I was staying home late from work to be home with a sick child and I'm often just not emotionally myself when that happens.

I hope all of you are ok.

BTW, have you read:

It provides some real perspective.