The ordinary hearty human being, whom the humanitarian originally set out to like, became a sort of tyrant and persecutor to whome the artistic temperament need not even be just, let alone sympathetic. The Victorian hero became the villain of the modern novel, the man who was so sane and sensible that his very existence was an insult to the beautiful and precious lunatic for whom alone the world was made.
Out of a hundred such passages in a hundred such novels, I take one which I have just come upon by chance. A novelist describes with bitter irony and indignation the sad fate of a poet who had married a good housekeeper—
“Beauty was spoilt for Lesbia if there was untidiness about.
“Lesbia! Lesbia! Come and look at the sunset!” Often he would call to her, never thinking that she might be busy. But she was never impatient.
“One minute, Dickie, till I have finished tying down the jam; then I shall enjoy the sunset.’ “
This is supposed to be a tragedy. It is written with withering sarcasm at the expense of Lesbia. It seems to me a good deal more of a comedy than the student of sunsets deserved. If she had said, “One minute, Dickie, till I have finished tying down the jam; and then I will clout you over the head with an old jam-pot”, it may be that this would have been more soothing to the artistic temperament, and it would certainly have been more soothing to the feminine temper. But I strongly suspect that Dickie would have made a tragedy out of that too. But, really, one may well ask, what is humanity and the human fellowship coming to, if it is supposed to be unendurable torture to a man that his wife should tie down the jam, and a perfectly fiendish and heart-rending addition to the torture that she should do it without losing her temper? What is humanitarianism if it cannot reconcile two human beings because one of them is patient? If it were suggested that there were something trying, not in the wife’s patience but in the husband’s impatience, it would at least be a conceivable through hardly a considerable cause of offence. But why are we only to be humane to the unreasonable person, and never humane to the reasonable person? Yet any number of novels about rising geniuses and misunderstood women are founded entirely on that antithesis. It seems to me very good-natured of Lesbia to promise to enjoy the sunset; especially as I have very little doubt that Dickie was prepared to enjoy the jam.
Our Intellectual Novelists, Illustrated London News, 1926