10 January, 2006

The Dowager Duchess of Denver

By popular demand (two requests counts as popular demand, I'm easily pleased), here is the Dowager Duchess of Denver.

The setting is 1920s England. The Dowager is talking to her daughter, Mary. The subject of the conversation is one George Goyles, a firebrand political activist to whom Mary was previously engaged before breaking off the relationship under pressure from her brother Gerald. Mary is still infatuated with Goyles, to the extent that she has just falsely confessed to a murder that she believes (mistakenly) he committed. The Dowager is the first speaker.

"....He seemed to make a point of consulting nobody's convenience but his own. And you know, dear, you even said yourself you thought he was unnecessarily rude to poor old Lord Mountweazle."

"He said what he thought," said Mary. "Of course, Lord Mountweazle, poor dear, doesn't understand that the present generation is accustomed to discuss things with its elders, not just kow-tow to them. When George gave his opinion, he thought he was just contradicting."

"To be sure," said the Dowager, "when you flatly deny everything a person says it does sound like contradiction to the uninitiated. But all I remember saying to Peter was that Mr Goyles's manners seemed to me to lack polish and that he showed a lack of independence in his opinions."

"A lack of independence?" said Mary, wide-eyed.

"Well, dear, I thought so. What oft was thought and frequently much better expressed, as Pope says - or was it somebody else? But the worse you express yourself these days the more profound people think you - though that's nothing new. Like Browning and those quaint metaphysical people, when you never know whether they really mean their mistress or the Established Church, so bridegroomy and biblical - to say nothing of dear St. Augustine - the Hippo man, I mean, not the one who missionised over here, though I daresay he was delightful too, and in those days I suppose they didn't have annual sales of work and tea in the parish room, so it doesn't seem quite like what we mean nowadays by missionaries - he knew all about it - you remember about that mandrake - or is that the thing you had to get a big black dog for? Manichee, that's the word. What was his name? Was it Faustus? Or am I mixing him up with the old man in the opera?"

"Well, anyway," said Mary, without stopping to disentangle the Duchess' sequence of ideas, "George was the only person I really cared about - he still is. Only it did seem so hopeless. Perhaps you didn't say much about him, mother, but Gerald said lots - dreadful things!"

"Yes," said the Duchess, "he said what he thought. The present generation does, you know. To the uninitiated, I admit, dear, it does sound a little rude."

-Clouds of Witness, by Dorothy L. Sayers.


Gabriele C. said...

From Pope to St.Augustine to parish meetings to Boito's Mefistofele - what a meandering mind. :-)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Carla.
Condensed association, I call it, and so delightful.

Sarah Cuthbertson said...

She sounds a bit like me running off at the mouth except that she's more entertainingly erudite than I am.

Carla said...

I expect it helps to have Dorothy L. Sayers writing the lines for you :-)