Not erotic life, but the pleasure of the mind filling like the lower chamber of an hourglass with the slow-moving grains of a perfect day — sky, carnations, walking, reading, writing, Toasted Cheese, the presence of another who wishes to be so still, so silent too.
— Patricia Hampl, The Art of the Wasted Day
This beautiful image is describing the relationship of Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, the Ladies of Llangollen. Hampl describes this type of relationship as a “romantic friendship,” a species of relationship which has gone extinct, as we, still living under Freud’s climate of opinion, have been trained to see sexual subtext anywhere and everywhere. She rightly has little patience with what she calls “the arrogance of assuming that integrity is a matter of being more and more open.” (One might say “exhibitionist.”) Modern biographers who insist on projecting our “enlightened” modern values backwards with a smirk and a wink raise her ire — two women who ran off to live together for the rest of their lives, who referred to each other in journals and letters as “my Beloved”? Clearly, they must have been lesbians. They explicitly denied it? Well, that only indicates the extent to which patriarchy limited their imaginative horizon. The romantic friendship between Montaigne (another of Hampl’s subjects) and Étienne de La Boétie comes in for the same sort of condescending reinterpretation from cynical moderns who know better. “Why can they not be believed? Why must our age out them? They wanted to live the life of the mind, the life of perfection. Don’t they get to say what they were up to?”
October 7, 2019 @ 2:06 pm
I saw this on your Currently Reading list and wondered what you might think of it. I have a copy, as yet unread, that’s been languishing in a stack on the floor for a few months. I’ll read it eventually.
October 7, 2019 @ 5:20 pm
It was so-so. The chapter on the Ladies, with whom I’d been previously unacquainted, was probably the most interesting. Her personal reflections are meandering and less interesting, though that is kind of the loose, impressionistic essay form she’s going for. I don’t begrudge her the experiment.