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Zer Netmouse
October 16th, 2002
05:22 pm

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Further notes from The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis (from the chapter on Affection, re: formal and informal courtesy

p. 67
If you asked any of these insufferable people - they are not all parents of course - why they behaved that way at home, they would reply, "Oh, hang it all, one comes home to relax. A chap can't be always on his best behavior. If a man can't be himself in his own house, where can he? Of course we don't want Company Manners here at home. We're a happy family. We can say anything to one another here. No one minds. We all understand."

Once again it is so nearly true yet so fatally wrong. Affection is an affair of old clothes, and ease, of the ungaurded moment, of liberties which would be ill-bred if we took them with strangers. But old clothes are one thing; to wear the same shirt until it stank would be another. There are proper clothes for for a garden party; but the clothes for home must be proper too, in their own different way. Similarly there is a distinction between public and domestic courtesy.


The root principle is the same "that no one give any kind of preference to himself". But the more public the occasion, the more our obedience to this principle has been "taped" or formalised. There are "rules" of good manners. The more intimate the occasion, the less the formalization, but not therefore the less need of courtesy. On the contrary, Affection at its best practises a courtesy which is incomparably more subtle, sensitive, and deep than the public kind. In public a ritual would do. At home you must have the reality which that ritual represented, [p 68] or else the deafening triumphs of the greatest egoist present. You must really give no kind of preference to yourself; at a party it is enough to conceal the preference. Hence the old proverb, "come live with me and you'll know me." Hence a man's family manners first reveal the true value of his (significantly odious phrase!) "company" or "party" manners. Those who leave their manners behind them when they come home from the dance or the sherry party have no real courtesy even there. They were merely aping those who had.

"We can say anything to one another." The truth behind this is that Affection at its best can say whatever Affection at its best wishes to say, regardless of the rules that govern public courtesy, for Affection at its best wishes neither to wound nor to humiliate nor to domineer. You may address the wife of your bosom as "Pig!" when she has inadvertently drunk your cocktail as well as her own. You may roar down the story which your father is telling once too often. You may tease and hoax and banter. You can say "Shut up I want to read." You can do anything in the right tone and at the right moment -the tone and moment are not intended to, and will not, hurt. The better the Affection the more unerringly it knows which these are (every love has its art of love).
But the domestic Rudesby means something quite different when he claims liberty to say "anything." Having a very imperfect sort of Affection himself, or perhaps [p 69] at that moment none, he arrogates to himself the beautiful liberties to which only the fullest Affection has a right to or knows how to manage. He then uses them spitefully in obedience to his egoism; or at best stupidly, lacking the art. And all the time he may have a clear conscience. He knows that Affection takes liberties. Therefore (he concludes) he is being affectionate. Resent anything and he will say that the defect of love is on your side. He is hurt he has been misunderstood.

He then sometimes avenges himself by getting on his high horse and becoming elaborately "polite". The implication is of course, "Oh! So we are not to be intimate? We are to behave like mere acquaintances? I had hoped - but no matter. Have it your own way." This illustrates prettily the difference between intimate and formal courtesy. Precisely what suits the one may be a breach of the other. To be free and easy when you are presented to some eminent stranger is bad manners; to practice formal and ceremonial courtesies at home ("public faces in private places") is - and is always intended to be - bad manners.

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From:cannibal
Date:October 18th, 2002 08:36 pm (UTC)
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That's fascinating... hmm, I'm going to have to reread that book!
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