LATELY — 7 May 2011

Orwell and Emerson--Aesthetes Both

Ralph Waldo Emerson and George Orwell (both writers who you’d think might be tol­er­ant of a little bit of ec­cen­tric­ity in others), turn out to be very strongly against poor hygiene and sorry manners.

Emerson, from his essay “Manners”:

I could better eat with one who did not respect the truth or the laws than with a sloven and un­pre­sentable person. Moral qual­i­ties rule the world, but at short dis­tances the senses are despotic.

Orwell, from “The Road to Wigan Pier”:

You can have an af­fec­tion for a mur­derer or a sodomite, but you cannot have an af­fec­tion for a man whose breath stinks–habitually stinks, I mean. However well you may wish him, however much you may admire his mind and character, if his bream stinks he is hor­ri­ble and in your heart of hearts you will hate him.

Also, Orwell turns out to be a bit more, well, human that I took him to be: whilst he cer­tainly has a great deal of sym­pa­thy toward the working class (to say the least), he’s some­what snob­bish toward them. (He is aware of this propensity, but doesn’t appear to feel very guilty about it.)

All my notions–notions of good and evil, of pleas­ant and unpleasant, of funny and serious, of ugly and beautiful–are es­sen­tially middle-class notions; my taste in books and food and clothes, my sense of honour, my table manners, my turns of speech, my accent, even the char­ac­ter­is­tic move­ments of my body, are the prod­ucts of a special kind of up­bring­ing and a special niche about half-way up the social hierarchy.

And he’s also a little bit racist, in an “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” kind of way:

A shabby-genteel family is in much the same po­si­tion as a family of ‘poor whites’ living in a street where every­one else is a Negro. In such cir­cum­stances you have got to cling to your gen­til­ity because it is the only thing you have; and mean­while you are hated for your stuckup-ness and for the accent and manners which stamp you as one of the boss class.