Thursday, September 19, 2013

appropriate to the then state of affairs

The poet who wrote The Shadow is closer to the prose writer who wrote Ada Cambridge's books than she is to the poet who wrote the earlier, orthodox religious poems that praise churchgoing people (The Silence in the Church from The Manor House, for example, or everything in the two Hymns) -- since the prose writer says in her first autobiography (Thirty Years in Australia, 1903) that attending church went "much against the grain sometimes," and her comments about the church as an institution are almost completely critical, her fictional clergymen are insensitive and pleased with themselves (the Rev. Goldsworthy in Sisters (1904) is a sponger who would rather eat soup than help you, "Just now the doings of the Redford cook were of more concern to him than Mary's doings," the shipboard clergymen in Not All In Vain (1892) are a pair of small business owners eyeing the competition and measuring their customer base), and in an article she wrote for the North American Review she says: "Church-going in theory is the most direct incentive to goodness, but in practical result I have not found that it has the slightest effect upon conduct, while its effects on character seem often harmful" (The Haunted House, 1918).

She had held that point of view for more than two decades. From Not All In Vain:

Later, when the dreadful business was over, one and another attempted the impossible task of "comforting" the mourner. Aunt Ellen proffered her own particular Bible, full of folded corners and slips of paper; Mrs. Hammond came down with " The Gates Ajar"; Mr. Brand with his red-leaved "Priests' Prayer Book," out of which to "read the service" (as if it were an incantation) exactly appropriate to the then state of affairs; and others, stuffed full of texts and pious platitudes, did their little best in the way of what they conceived to be their duty at such a time.

Observance makes you too knowing, you "conceive" your "duty" too easily; you have surrendered your independence, your thinking is quiescent, you become glib.

Jim had too much delicacy to intrude upon her, as he had too much reverence for the mystery involving them to handle it in the vulgar manner. He was one of those comparatively rare at that time who do their thinking for themselves in regard to these matters, and his thinking, resulting in the inevitable recognition of more things than are dreamt of in the philosophy of those who don't think, had made him humble. He didn't know what life and death and sorrow meant (like Aunt Ellen and the rest); he only knew what they didn't mean. So he held his tongue.

"And the rest" after "Aunt Ellen" I think is a spurn.

A picture of Ada Cambridge renouncing knowingness then, renouncing it in subject matter and in the language, getting rid of the authority she'd borrowed with thee and thy, and the hymn form, and the Robert Browning cadences in A Dream of Venice from The Manor House, allowing herself to have the normal authority of an author (the authority to say that the Marquis went out at five o'clock, not challenging that) but writing with an everyday vocabulary; the poet who had written with Browning's cadences (1875) is dying, the author of A Mere Chance (1882) has barely read Browning; the author who writes Materfamilias (1898) hasn't read him ever and the people in that fictional church are grousing at each other: "Mary Welshman and her husband wanted to make out that it was -- this, however, was merely a bit of revenge for some strictures I had passed upon that disreputable brother of hers -- and they took upon themselves to such an extent that I resigned my sitting in the church and stopped all my subscriptions." Mary Welshman's husband is the Reverend.

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