Monday, February 04, 2013

Guinevere and Julia: The Platypus Reads Part CCX

Connections are forged at the oddest moments.

We were discussing Tennyson's Guinevere, part of his larger work Idylls of the King, in class today and focusing in on Arthur's final speech to Guinevere.  After painfully listing every consequence of her sin, Arthur pardons and forgives the Queen, affirming that he loves her still and hopes to see her in paradise.  In the meantime, however, even if he should win his war with Modred, he tells her that they can never be together again lest the kingdom thinks that the king's justice can be set aside for family loyalty.  It's a harsh sort of self-limiting that strikes one as quintessentially Victorian: duty before love and all that.  Stuffy.  If we read Tennyson correctly, it's not, but an odd way of seeing that struck my mind today as we were discussing: I thought of Charles and Julia's pact in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited to never see each other after they become convinced of God's existence.  Call Waugh what you will, I don't think he can be accused of being a stuffy old Victorian.  Still, he requires the same earthly renunciation of his leading couple in the middle of a thoroughly Modern novel.  In Waugh's case, it's not the corruption of a kingdom that's at stake but the corruption of personal integrity and belief: I we believe that the world happens to be a certain way then, like it or not, we must live in accordance with that way or be crushed.  That is a change, but rather one of emphasis, I think, then substance.  Both authors challenge us with the idea that some things might be more important than our temporal "happiness," that living in the real world might cost us something tangible.  G.K. Chesterton, though no fan of Tennyson (perhaps because he was too close to him in time and space), states this case positively when he talks of "the right of a man to be held to his oaths" in Orthodoxy, that it's a necessary part of all romance and adventure that we not be allowed to weasel out every time our beliefs land us in hard places.  Art is limitation, whether we're aesthetes, adventurers, or the builders of Camelot, and all three authors seem to be saying that it is our willingness to be bound by morality, even when it hurts, that makes the art in life possible. 

2 comments:

Jessica Snell said...

". . . it's a necessary part of all romance and adventure that we not be allowed to weasel out every time our beliefs land us in hard places."

Ooh. I must remember this when I write.

James said...

Hurray! Glad that was helpful. Thanks for the link too. I Hope the writing continues to go well. The race for first Torrey Fiction writer is still on, is it not?