Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Gluttony of Delicacy II

In our essay published earlier,  The Gluttony of Delicacy, we gave a candid-camera account of an actual instance of this phenomenon (thus dubbed by C.S. Lewis), which took place not long ago;  in that case, it concerned a subaltern.  But the spectrum of these wilting blossoms  comes in various tints.
Herewith some literary forerunners.


‘Will it be long before it’s ready, Bailey?’ asked Mercy.
‘No,’ said Baily, ‘it is cooked.  When I come up, she was dodging among the tender pieces with a fork, and eating of ‘em.’
-- Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit (1844)
In his splendid novel Hard Times (which deserves a wider readership than it enjoys), Dickens portrays a variant of the type, a Mrs Sparsit:  one who, objectively, is now subaltern, but who is bristlingly aware of having come down in the world, and of living now beneath her station.   (Actually she was never so high as she and her patronizing patron Mr Bounderby pretend, nor he so low;  their pretenses are mirror images).   She expresses her immense resentment in all sorts of passive-aggressive ways, by simmering-simpering protestations of her own lack of any claim to even ordinary comforts in her present, splendiferously humble (read:  humiliated) state, disdaining even publically to take lunch (while gorging privately on dainties). 

 'For the present, Loo Bounderby,' said her husband, 'here's Mrs. Sparsit to look after. Mrs. Sparsit's nerves have been acted upon by this business, and she'll stay here a day or two. So make her comfortable.'
    'Thank you very much, sir,' that discreet lady observed, 'but pray do not let My comfort be a consideration. Anything will do for Me.'
    It soon appeared that if Mrs. Sparsit had a failing in her association with that domestic establishment, it was that she was so excessively regardless of herself and regardful of others, as to be a nuisance. On being shown her chamber, she was so dreadfully sensible of its comforts as to suggest the inference that she would have preferred to pass the night on the mangle in the laundry.
-- Charles Dickens, Hard Times (1854)

(This personnage is chillingly well-impersonated by master reader  Frederick Davidson, on Blackstone Audiobooks.)


Dorothy Parker, Here Lies (1939), p.  85:

She told people, in little bursts of confidence, that she loved flowers.  There was something almost apologetic in her way of uttering her tender avowal, as if she would beg her listeners not to consider her too bizarre in her taste.

Cf. Mme. Verdurin in Un Amour de Swann.

Dorothy Parker, Here Lies (1939), p.  314:
     The maid returned with an octagonal tray  supporting a decanter of brandy  and a wide, squat, heavy glass.  Her [mistress Lily’s] head twisted on her neck in a spasm of diffidence.
            “Just pour it for me, will you, my dear?” said Lily … “And leave the pretty, pretty decanter here, on this enchanting little table.”

That mute immutable detail of the squat glass  hints at what is really going on beneath the flutter and titter.  On the next page we read:

She grasped the decanter; and again the squat glass was brown to the brim.

(This is how Parker  habitually writes:  a poetess  in prose.)

Dorothy Parker, Here Lies (1939), p. 360:
Her heart, soft and sweet as a perfectly made crème renversée …

[Note:  the Murphy Brothers, two-fisted private eyes, once had to deal with such a client ... and did so in an unexpectedly tender way:  "Don't Mention It".  Available on Kindle, Nook, or in hard-copy as part of the story collection I Don't Do Divorce Cases.]


A former CP activist, working his passage as a “workaway”  on a passenger-ship headed to Russia (where peasants were starving):

I went up willingly to carry trays of cakes to the passengers … I held the tray under their noses, but they took so long to decide what kind of cake they wanted, that I got sicker and sicker.  Suddenly  I put down the tray on the serving table  and ran out to the railing.  Vomiting, and feeling a fresh wind in my face, relieved me sufficiently  to go back to the dining room  and resume serving tea …
-- Bertram Wolfe,  A Life in Two Centuries (1981), p. 309

That was first-class.  By contrast,

Waiting on the tourist class was easy. … They didn’t pick at their food, but had real appetites, and ate everything on their plates,  even mopping up the gravy  with a piece of bread.
-- Bertram Wolfe,  A Life in Two Centuries (1981), p. 311


(This one is more a matter of narcissism than the gluttony-of-delicacy, but there are similarities nonetheless.)
Headline in the American media, Dec 2011:

            The Pampered Chef
            Discover the chef in you !

[Update 7 January 2014]   Along with the gluttony of delicacy, there is the delicacy of gluttony -- chef-fetishism, eliciting gurgles of glurge.  The following might have been penned by The Onion;  but it is the featured article on this evening’s New York Times website:

Making the Restaurant Part of the Family
Some talented young French chefs, like Sylvain Sendra of Michelin-starred Itinéraires, above, are bucking tradition by insisting on a private life.

Buck away, by all means, buck away.

[Update 3 May 2014]  The latest excrescence:  the Princess sues the Pea:
Responsable d'un accident, elle porte plainte contre ses victimes
Malade depuis l'accident de voiture, une Canadienne demande 1,5 million de dollars aux parents de l'adolescent qu'elle a tué.
«C'est une tragédie pour les garçons mais c'est aussi un tragédie pour Sharlene Simon», a déclaré son avocat au Toronto Star . La plainte explique que les adolescents «n'ont pas utilisé correctement les freins» et «étaient des cyclistes incompétents».

Les parents de Brandon Majewski, le jeune de 17 ans tué dans l'accident, n'en reviennent pas. «Je suis sous le choc», a déclaré la mère de Brandon, Venetta, au Toronto Sun . «Elle a tué mon enfant et maintenant elle veut en profiter? Elle dit qu'elle souffre? Dites-lui de regarder dans ma tête et elle verra de la souffrance, elle verra des cauchemars.»
Sharlene Simon n'a pas été inquiétée. L'enquête a conclu que c'est un manque de visibilité qui a empêché la conductrice de voir les cyclistes. Mais elle aurait reconnu avoir dépassé la limitation de vitesse, roulant à 90km/h sur une route limitée à 80km/h. Aucun test d'alcoolémie n'a été pratiqué après l'accident par les policiers. Le rôle joué par son mari, un officier de police qui suivait sa femme dans un autre véhicule lors de l'accident, reste flou: dans le rapport de police le fait qu'il ait été témoin est tout juste mentionné.


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