I was reading David Copperfield, and I was happy—oh, so happy! I was thinking about how very good Agnes was, with her devotion to her father, and her quiet kindness etc. And of the loyal submission of the doctor's wife: she kneels at his feet, because he has so very much to teach her (having been, of course, previously her teacher).
And I got to thinking, Hmm. I know I am a feminist somewhere in here.
I know that we are to judge Dickens (and Copperfield) by the standards of his times, and not ours. That's not the problem, really. The problem is how very easy that is to do! I have to make a conscious effort to remember that this isn't, in fact, a guide for living. I am far, far too ready to grasp onto just about any moral standard that comes my way.
Which makes me uneasy. I mean, I know culture is something we've constructed, and that if I were raised/born/lived in a different culture I would adopt wherever/whatever as my own. Case in point? Language. You know how you're always told "To really learn a language, you have to do total immersion?" Well guess what terrifyng thing happens when you work in a corporate environment: Total immersion. You start out thinking, "Good heavens, they're butchering the English language!" and you end up saying "Going forward, we're tasked with making the messaging more impactful." Or thinking in emoticons (yes, it can happen).
I wish I weren't so muddy, you know? I like to think that if I traveled in time I would be, say in Civil War times, an abolitionist. But I fear my permeability to the norm. I mean, I'm right there thinking, "Oh no! Little Emily has lost her virtue! SHE IS LOST!" Which, I guess, she was. But still.
I wonder if this willingness to take on the beliefs of another time make one more susceptible to fiction.
But…one hopes and hopes for a moral core, no? For some moral absolutes? They are probably there. Maybe in Betsy Trotwood's admonition, “Never,” said my aunt, “be mean in anything; never be false; never be cruel. Avoid those three vices, Trot, and I can always be hopeful of you.”
Working on it.
5 thoughts on “Moral Relativism ‘n’ Me”
I love everything about this post. And if I were alive in 19th century Russia, I’d be having an affair and then perhaps throwing myself in front of the next train.
Normally, I too succumb to the moral universe of whatever I am reading – but I am finding that I am midway through “Can You Forgive Her?” and I’m wrestling a bit with Trollope and Alice Vavasor. I want to sit Anthony Trollope down and explain that he doesn’t understand Alice at all – her issue has nothing to do with men. She would be fine marrying John if she could also have a real job to do. She needs to use her brain and feel useful.
I suppose that what is fascinating in this instance is that Trollope was such a man of his time that he could create a woman so real that he can’t understand her.
Oh, that book! It’s true that she feels so real and modern that it’s hard to watch her have to wrestle with the choices she is faced with. Also, the end is…tricky. I will be interested in how you feel about it then. And Trollope is excellent, I think, so much interested in his people. I think of the jilted girl in the Palliser novels I think? I forget her name, but she stays in my mind. A blighted brance…
This is my first Trollope – if you don’t count “The Small House at Allingham” during my 19th century British fiction class in college which for some reason I have absolutely no memory of reading (read Copperfield for the first time during that class and that’s still vivid – go figure). So we will see – I’ll let you know once I get to the tricky bit…
This is quite possibly the best title for a post ever.