Part 2 of
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:
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
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.
and False Importance As Chronicled in a 19th Century Novel
In his lecture,
Mr. Siegel said:
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
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
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:
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:
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.
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