Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, ed., Books and Culture. / New at patreon.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A little mystery for Advent

A challenge still with us fifty years later from the woman who turned my head around when I was a mere child:
It is the business of fiction to embody mystery through manners, and mystery is a great embarrassment to the modern mind. About the turn of the century, Henry James wrote that the young woman of the future, though she would be taken out for airings in a flying-machine, would know nothing of mystery or manners. James had no business to limit the prediction to one sex; otherwise, no one can very well disagree with him. The mystery he was talking about is the mystery of our position on earth, and the manners are those conventions which, in the hands of the artist, reveal that central mystery (Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners, 1962,p. 124.)
What a grand book of essays! And who couldn't love a girl who began with a chicken taught to walk backward and went on to be a woman of words and peacocks?

2 comments:

  1. The central mystery of manners for me is the opening of doors for others - only to be glared at.
    "Would you mind very much if I open this door for you?" seems to help these days.


    Hm... and interesting use of the word 'manners' in this blog posting, Marly. I rather like it.

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  2. I suppose everyone thinks their own times to be strange, and that all times are so. But must of us will have at least a few days to be genuinely grateful that another human being is willing and eager to do a kind thing.

    Yes, it is interesting. And I suppose that the correlative in real life is still the mystery of our position of earth, and the manners are those ways in which we attempt to disguise or delve into that mystery.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.