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.