Monday 4 March 2019

'really shocking habits of classification'

'Scarcely anything was attractive to her in its natural state – indeed, scarcely anything was decent until it was clothed by the opinion of some authority. Her ideas about habit, character, duty, love, marriage, were grouped under heads, like a book of popular quotations, and were totally unrelated to the emergencies of human living ... In her behaviour Anna was a harmless girl, mild except where her prejudices were concerned, neat and industrious, with no graver fault than priggishness; but her mind had really shocking habits of classification ... She had none of the delicacy that goes with a nature of warm impulses, but the kind of fishy curiosity which justifies itself by an expression of horror.'

That's Willa Cather, writing about the elder sister of her heroine Thea Kronborg in The Song of the Lark (which I'm reading, slowly and with relish, at present). What a brilliant, insightful description of a certain kind of priggish closed-mindedness that is still very much with us, though it now takes different forms and classifies under different headings.
The more I read of Cather, the more luminous and magical I find her writing. Those of her admirers who regard her as the greatest American novelist of the twentieth century may well have a point...

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