A scowling look is altogether unnatural; when it is often assumed, the result is that all comeliness dies away, and at last is so completely extinguished that it cannot be again lighted up at all. Try to conclude from this very fact that it is contrary to reason. For if even the perception of doing wrong shall depart, what reason is there for living any longer?
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Southern belles and other smooth ladies confuse me. Lint free and delightful, and they never make you feel bad when they’re chatting with you, but maybe the superficial and the existential approach each other a little too closely for comfort for me. All ‘i’s not only dotted but dotted with hearts; I can’t be bothered, but what does that mean? They confuse me and I don’t know whether I feel contemptuous or jealous. I don’t know whether they have really been nourished in and have never exited a warm bath of affection and can’t help being so lovely (and therefore are, sort of, babies; enviably coddled, cherished babies) or if this is a hard won good cheer, result of sheer force of will. Surly teenagers will tip to the babies of trivia explanation, but perhaps far too late in life I am increasingly sure of the other and am therefore now canonizing them stoic saints of friction free charm.
As an exemplar, let’s take Dora, David Copperfield‘s young wife.
In a lovely froth:
Miss Clarissa and my aunt roam all over London, to find out articles of furniture for Dora and me to look at. It would be better for them to buy the goods at once, without this ceremony of inspection; for, when we go to see a kitchen fender and meat-screen, Dora sees a Chinese house for Jip, with little bells on the top, and prefers that.
OK, granted, doghouse pagoda bells do not conform with my stoic saints set-up, but let’s move on and see how the accounts add up for Dora in the end. Here she is dying, indeed dying, with a devotion to the smooth and considerate:
They have left off telling me to ‘wait a few days more’. I have begun to fear, remotely, that the day may never shine, when I shall see my child-wife running in the sunlight with her old friend Jip…Dora lies smiling on us, and is beautiful, and utters no hasty or complaining word.
It is morning; and Dora, made so trim by my aunt’s hands, shows me how her pretty hair will curl upon the pillow yet, an how long and bright it is, and how she likes to have it loosely gathered in that net she wears.
‘Not that I am vain of it, now, you mocking boy,’ she says, when I smile; ‘but because you used to say you thought it so beautiful; and because, when I first began to think about you, I used to peep in the glass, and wonder whether you would like very much to have a lock of it. Oh what a foolish fellow you were, Doady, when I gave you one!’
‘That was on the day when you were painting the flowers I had given you, Dora, and when I told you how much in love I was.’
‘Ah! but I didn’t like to tell you,’ says Dora, ‘then, how I had cried over them, because I believed you really liked me! When I can run about again as I used to do, Doady, let us go and see those places where we were such a silly couple, shall we? And take some of the old walks? And not forget poor papa?’
‘Yes, we will, and have some happy days. So you must make haste to get well, my dear.’
‘Oh, I shall soon do that! I am so much better, you don’t know!’
It is evening; and I sit in the same chair, by the same bed, with the same face turned towards me. We have been silent, and there is a smile upon her face. I have ceased to carry my light burden up and down stairs now. She lies here all the day.
The briefest backing off; she corrects herself instantly:
‘Only give Agnes my dear love, and tell her that I want very, very, much to see her; and I have nothing left to wish for.’
‘Except to get well again, Dora.’
‘Ah, Doady! Sometimes I think—you know I always was a silly little thing!—that that will never be!’
‘Don’t say so, Dora! Dearest love, don’t think so!’
‘I won’t, if I can help it, Doady. But I am very happy; though my dear boy is so lonely by himself, before his child-wife’s empty chair!’
[Try how the life of the good man suits thee, the life of him who is satisfied with his portion out of the whole, and satisfied with his own just acts and benevolent disposition. –Marcus Aurelius, Meditations again]
Me, in the David Copperfield universe, I still find myself pretty committed to the sharp ups and downs of Heepesque ressentiment.
But I’m humble, I am, and count my rosaries to the saints of the friction free.