Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Emotional restraint

Betty Smartt Carter has been reading the memoirs of a Victorian lady:
.... By the time Hughes completed her writings, her parents and two of her brothers were long dead. She had lost her first child and only girl to a sudden illness. Her husband Arthur had been killed in a tragic road accident. And at some point she had learned that her father’s mysterious death in 1879 was actually a suicide, perhaps brought on by despair over his financial situation.

Such tragedy—any one of these tragedies—would demand pages of reflection from a modern memoirist. But children of the Victorian age tended to value courage over emotional openness. Though early death was more common then, and the power of it more formally acknowledged in social customs, spontaneous emotional expression was usually a private act. This is understandable, I think, since one way to cope with heartbreak is to contain and manage it, as if it were an unruly child. We (contemporary Americans) encounter personal tragedy much less often than the Victorians did, and we talk about it all the time.

Personally, I admire those restrained Victorians.... (So do I.)