26 June 2023

"Feminine to the point of Imbecility": ATTRIBUTION part (1)

Yes ... a distinguished writer did once commit such dreadful words to print. Needless to say, he was, at that time, a bachelorly pipe-smoking ... et cetera. And it was written in 1945 ... water ... bridges ... under ...

He was describing a body of females who were "small and slight and fluffy and full of giggles". All the same, I rather suspect that in many households, such wording might, even in 1945, have elicited the crudele supplicium of a raised eyebrow. Nowadays, a fortiori ...

But C S Lewis was something of an alchemist. He knew, and used, the magical process I will call 'attribution'; that is, he would put an unacceptable phrase into the mouth of a fictional (and disapproved) character in his narrative: "(as Feverstone once said)". The Authorial Voice is not involved ... keeps it hands clean!

Feverstone is, in That Hideous Strength, a Baddie.

But one can, I suggest, sometimes squeeze out of attribution tiny, flickering hints of the reading habits or reading history of an author.

For example: not much later in That Hideous Strength, when the Inner Ring are joking about the riot they have criminally engineered, Lord Feverstone ... he again ... alludes to the ideas expressed by Publius Ovidius Naso about the importance of mutual and simultaneous orgasm. 

Frankly, I profoundly doubt whether, at the time Lewis read Mods, book II of the Ars Amatoria was part of the Mods syllabus (it certainly wasn't in 1960). The OUP didn't get this volume of Ovid out until 1961 (indeed, despite the centrality of the Metamorphoses to European culture at least from the Carolingian Renaissance onwards, it is remarkable that even that volume of the OCT failed to appear until 2004). Naso was not a respectable author! I wonder if Lewis perused the Ars in the dear old Variorum edition of ... 1825!! In Bodley?

No; Lewis had chosen to read it ... and had read it. (I bet Feverstone was a Wykehamist, by the way.)

Mind you, the notion that Major Hardcastle might (while chewing her gungy cheroot) have read Naso's bedside advice ("She hasn't read her Ovid. Ad metam properate simul") is, er, not a little amusing. Not that Filostrato laughs ...

I wonder what the WAIPs were getting up to!

In the second half of this, I plan to chase after Attribution in D L Sayers.


1 comment:

Paul Jaminet said...

Rebecca West said that the difference between men and women is that "Women are idiots, men are lunatics."

Perhaps CS Lewis not only read his Ovid, but his Rebecca West.