Just like there are places that we stumble upon and are struck by the sudden reality that we have found a home for our hearts, and it is elsewhere, so to times. Some people pine for the old American West, actors in Tombstone re-enacting the OK Corral for tourists and kids with popsicles or big fluffy balls of cotton candy. Others for Imperial Russia, imagining the Tsar and the Tsarina strolling around the gardens of the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg during the brief summer as they themselves rummage through the valuables of the past in the palace-become-museum (the Hermitage) long after the last Tsar is dead. I’ve always thought that I really belong in Edwardian England. Those days when the British empire was at its apex, and beginning its decline but in a comfortable, dignified fashion. Everybody knew their place, there were no Twitter bots and Facebook pages where you could hurl wicked insults at your betters with impunity.
I would have been part of the comfortable, new(ish) middle class; certainly not a peasant or a laborer in the mines or the terrible factories. A bookkeeper, a shopkeeper, maybe a tradesman of some kind. My ancestor, the first Hirst who came to America from York in the 1850s was a wheel-maker for carriages. Maybe I would have been his son, and carried on the family tradition, within the comfortable certainty of a middle class content having so recently escaped the perils of poverty.
Would I too have made a jaunt to Paris, like all the characters in W. Somerset Maugham’s books do? Would I have drunk a glass of beer on the Seine looking out over Notre Dame? Would I have had a forbidden tryst with a woman of the night in one of Paris’s famous cabarets? Would I have reveled in the seedy underbelly of Parisian life, so different from that of London but so accessible? Would I have decided in a flash to become a writer myself or (God forbid) a painter?
Or would I have returned to my comfortable island stability and packaged and filed carefully my wild days in Paris into my imagination to be called upon on demand during my long days of stuffy English respectability?
Probably the latter. That is what Christmas Holiday is about. Maugham is my favorite Edwardian writer (“Of Human Bondage“, his signature work, is one of the best novels of all time. He should have won the Nobel Prize for it.) Christmas Holiday was fine, not his best work but still – in every way – Maugham.
Good post today.
I know you have written about the changes that occur as we age but I can’t recall if you considered some of the hurdles you’ve encountered to be a “mid-life crisis.” If you haven’t had one yet, it’s coming. Reading between the lines of the excerpt below, I’d say you are well on your way to that rendezvous. Have you now accepted the “bondage that liberates?” or do you still rage against the machine?
Yes, the simple defeats – the defeat of happiness’s pursuit against contentment and peace; the defeat of ambition against the understanding of our place in the world, though we wish it were not so; the defeat of lust gazing solemnly at the silent duty of matrimony. This is all what “Of Human Bondage” by W. Somerset Maugham is about. It is about a bondage that liberates, but only when we accept it; a bondage that will set us free as we come to terms with the utopian idealism of youth, and quietly set it aside for the glorious reality of defeat.
As for me, I set something aside (can’t remember what any longer) for something I have now….I think it’s called resignation. The key is to continue the battle even though we know we will not prevail; the alternative is meaningless.
Rod that is lovely. And yes, that is EXACTLY what Human Bondage is about. The most amazing book, I don’t know why it is not up there in the top tier of recommendations. Maugham always called himself “The best B writer in England”. I think he cheated himself.
And ya, midlife crisis. I think I’m there – but not in the “i’m gonna buy a sports car” way. I’m not “raging”, not sure I ever did. Or alternatively maybe I always well. But the passions of youth are certainly gone, but they haven’t settled into resignation but instead sort of like a red-hot steel that has cooled into something hard. Finding that balance, between meaning and purpose and also acceptance that we are all one of eight billion. But that we can till do epic things!