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39 THE IRONIC AESTHETE AND THE SPONSORING OF CAUSES: A RHETORICAL QUANDARY IN NOVELISTIC TECHNIQUE By Al ice R. Bensen (Eastern Michigan University) Of clerical ancestry and academic parentage, educated at Oxford and resident in Cambridge, Rose Macaulay shared the pre-World War I sense of mission toward her fellow-beings. In 1909, following a brother's tragic death, she had even volunteered to become a missionary in Africa. Her cause was humanistic values—aesthetic and ethical. But the ironic cast of her mind (recognized as unsuitable by the Mission Board)! kept her constantly aware of the antinomy inherent in humanistic thinking and, consequently, in "uplift." This paper will study certain technical implications of this ironic consciousness in her fifth novel, VIEWS AND VAGABONDS (1912), and will indicate that these aspects of her technique were imposed by the quandary in which she found herself.2 Humanistic thought includes two conceptions of man that, if combined, lead to a contradiction in the structure of a novel. One is the concept of an essential human vi rtu (intelligent comprehension, moral sense, or taste, or some combination of these) which distinguishes man from lower beings, with individual human beings aligned in hierarchical order along the scale of increasing degrees of this vi rtù. The other concept is non-hierarchical: all existent persons are ends in themselves, to be respected as ultimates. A philosophy of progress combines these: all individuals are to be given equal "opportunity" to acquire more of the essential vi rtu, to become more truly human.3 Those who have progressed to a high point on the ladder have become, through having realized more of the human potentiality, more "real" than those still on the lower rungs or not climbing at all. Novelists whose personal climate is that of wit, knowledge, and taste may find characters who share their intellectual world more "real" than those who do not. If the novelist's humanism is compulsive, he will attempt to demonstrate certain values and will scrutinize current vogues and organized causes with regard to their promotion of these values. But if he has also a highly developed sense of irony, he will at the same time be struck by the indecency of the invasion practiced in trying to improve individuals. Finally, the irony turns itself back upon the novelist: unimproved individuals may seem to him too unreal for serious concern. In VIEWS AND VAGABONDS Rose Macaulay dealt for the first time with lower-class characters, and the plot of this novel involves a conflict between the humanistic desire for all human beings to be highly developed and the humanistic respect for individuals as they are. The lower-class characters are at a primitive stage of development--!η regard to intelligence, or ethics, or aesthetics, or all three. The various uplifters fail, however, and even do harm, because of their lack of respect for personality. Such failure would imply elements of tragedy for both parties. But since the lower-class characters are persons of inadequate vi rtu, they apparently remained to Rose Macaulay herself rather sub-human, unreal; only one of them is at any time presented as more than two-dimensional. Three-dimensional uplifters coping with persons notably less real than themselves would constitute unbalanced action--a sort of shadow-boxing. Much of the conflict, therefore, is conceived in comic terms, with the uplifters themselves, for the most part, merely two-dimensional. Under this comic treatment lurks the impassioned involvement of the author in her quandary: individuals as they are should be respected; and yet, undeveloped human beings are bitterly unsatisfactory. The three-dimensional tragedy keeps showing through. 40 The novel opens with Benjie Bunter, an upper-class young man of nearly tragic stature, being hustled by the author into marriage with a laboring-class woman who reamins very "unreal." Benjie is kept close to the comic by being in the enchantment of a fantastic hypothesis. A Cambridge graduate, the son of a titled mother and a Tory M. P. father, Benjie is endowed with intelligence and fineness of taste, but he has "a quite unusual habit of converting theory into action." Converting into action his theory that all people should work, preferably...


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pp. 39-43
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Will Be Archived 2021
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