Lynette Abel  / Aesthetic Realism & Life

Part 2 of
In Trying to Be Important, What Mistakes Do People Make?

       In another class, I asked Mr. Siegel what it would mean to have good will for a person, and he explained:

"[Good will is] the wanting, through your effort, to have the person you're talking to...a better and stronger person.... You have no notion how tremendous your desire to be just is.  Sex is pale next to that desire.  The desire to be just is deep, but it's made boring in terms of ordinary life....When a person is born the question is, How can I be fair to persons around me?" 
     I thank Mr. Siegel for encouraging the desire for justice in me.  Today, because of what I have learned and continue to, it matters to me in a big way that people--all people--get what they deserve in this world.

      Through my Aesthetic Realism education I learned to criticize the purposes I had with men that made me dislike myself and I learned what true importance is.  When Michael Palmer, the man I love and am married to, asked me out for the first time, I had a new purpose: I wanted him "through [my] effort" to be "a better, stronger person."  As Michael and I talked, I was deeply affected by his keen, lively mind, and his desire to know me, and I had a new feeling of wonder about the world.  I felt important learning from Michael as he spoke about music he cared for, books, and baseball, and of his great respect for Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism, and I fell in love with him. 

True and False Importance As Chronicled in a 19th Century Novel

 In his lecture, Mr. Siegel said:

"If through the respect or importance you give yourself, you...give more meaning to what is not yourself--then your importance is good.  On the other hand, if because you feel some way, everything else looks minor--that is very bad." 
    Framley Parsonage, by the English writer Anthony Trollope, is one in a series of novels about life in the fictional cathedral town of Barchester.  Recently, my colleague Miriam Weiss, discussed portions of it in a seminar here.  With keen perception, humor, and style, Trollope portrays both the clerical rivalries for importance and power that take place in the parishes of that town, and the ethical struggles and social ambitions of families and friends.  The characters in this novel, one of whom I particularly speak of tonight, Lady Lufton, can teach us usefully about our subject.

     Lady Lufton, owner of Framley Estate, is extremely interested in having her son, Lord Lufton, marry a girl who will bring him the prestige and importance to which she Lady Lufton has become accustomed--"some girl of the right sort," namely, Griselda Grantly, daughter of archdeacon and Mrs. Grantly.  Mrs. Grantly and Lady Lufton have decided between them that her son and Griselda should marry.  In contrast to Griselda, there is Lucy Robarts, who has recently come to live with her brother, Parson Mark Robarts, and his wife at Framley parsonage.  Lucy is described as not "a regular beauty," but her eyes have "a brilliancy that dazzled you," and she has a keen intelligence.  As Trollope describes Lady Lufton's thoughts about her son, who is coming home for the winter, we see the ordinary mistakes a woman can make trying to be important through someone she feels she owns:
 

"She could look at [her son], and that alone was happiness to her. And then he was pleasant-mannered with her;... smiling on her, reminding her of those smiles which she had loved so dearly when as yet he was all her own, lying there in his little bed beside her chair." 
     Because Lady Lufton has a false notion of importance, she makes a big mistake about Griselda--overvaluing something in her she shouldn't, and undervaluing Lucy Robarts.  For instance, Lady Lufton is impressed by a certain imperial snobbishness that Griselda Grantly displays with apparently little effort.  Griselda "was decidedly a beauty," Trollope informs us, yet was so still and quiet that she seemed more "like a statue than...[a] human being."  This reminds me of me with my poker face, which I cultivated and stupidly felt made me important.  I asked Mr. Siegel once in a class what stopped me from being more affected by the people and things around me, and I love what he explained:
"To get as much as possible and be as little affected as possible, that is the magic people want and it is hard to have it.  Aesthetic Realism says when you are less affected than you could be, you're a...fool, because to be affected is success."
     Trollope contrasts the false importance Lady Lufton admires in Griselda, who sees everything but herself as minor, to the true importance Lucy Robarts represents, who wants to know and have a good effect on the people she meets.  When Lady Lufton's son comes to care for Lucy, she is adamantly against it.  At a gathering, Lord Lufton is observed by his mother passing "the greater part of the evening" in animated conversation with Lucy, and she is appalled and angry.  Trollope writes of how Lady Lufton views Lucy:
 "She could never look like a Lady Lufton, or carry herself in the country as Lady Lufton should do.  She had not that quiet personal demeanour--that dignity of repose--which Lady Lufton loved to look upon in a young married woman of rank.  Lucy, she would have said, could be nobody in a room except by dint of her tongue, whereas Griselda Grantly would have held her peace for a whole evening, and yet would have impressed everybody by the majesty of her presence."
     So she tries to break up the budding romance by suggesting that Lucy's sister-in-law hint to Lucy that these conversations are not proper in her station; she thus arranges "by a little diplomacy [to] have this evil remedied."  And the conversations end.

Continued on page 3 

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