This is the next installment from Beatrice Allen Page’s unpublished manuscript, Landscape With Figures:
“For some unknown reason, when I was sitting on the beach this morning the world looked rounder than usual. A sky translucent as bone china arched over an ocean that looked extraordinarily full, as if it might brim over. The balance of the world seemed very precarious. The planet might so easily tilt an inch or two, and then the ocean spilling over the horizon would tilt it further until within moments the whole sea, all the seas, would be pouring over the edge, carrying people, animals, trees, mountains, houses, everything with them pell-mell, helter-skelter. Whoever and whatever wasn’t drowned or crushed by the weight of water would be catapulted out into the void.
Newton would have been amused at my naivete but for a second I had an inkling of why some people have a phobia about open spaces. I was glad when my ‘vision’ awas interrupted by the arrival of some other people.
One of the men began telling us about a dinner that had been given in his honor. It was quite a long story and his pleasure and complacency were evident throughout the whole recital. When he left us to take a swim, Alice G. said to me sotto voce, ‘Men are so conceited.’
My own opinion is that men in general have less spurious humility than women. They tend toward an obvious, childlike, innocent vanity that is almost appealing. Most of them openly delight in having their pictures taken. They receive honors, publicity, awards of one kind or another with a sort of Little Jack Horner attitude of ‘see-what-a-big-boy-am-I!’
Women are often less candid and try to disguise their vanity with the result it doesn’t have the childlike quality that makes it forgivable. We tend to put on an air of false modesty and then fish for compliments. A=I found a remark of Alice’s a few minutes later much more irritating than Mr. J’s ingenuous boasting.
Apropos some book that had been mentioned, she remarked, ‘I never read novels. I just don’t have the time.’ The implication was that she didn’t have time to waste on reading anything to trivial. In other words, it was an indirect way of boasting about her superior intelligence.
I’ve heard many people make that statement and it always irks me. Reading a good novel is such an enlargement of life. You experience things vicariously that you never could in your own limited life, you visit places you’ll never see in actuality, you entertain new ideas, and most of all you get to know all kinds of people, which deepens your understanding.
Understanding leads to compassion and compassion leads to caring and concern, so I might as well label the end result caritas. It’s a less ambiguous word than love.
Aren’t we being told over and over, both by the psychiatrists and the clergy, that love is the only thing that can unite human beings and so overcome the hate and indifference that is destroying the world? Ergo, if reading fiction is one small step leading to that goal, who dares say it is a waste of time?
Having said that, I am amazed at my own stupidity in ever having questioned not only the justification for art but the desperate need for it in an age of confusion and violence and despair, since art extends our boundaries, opens up greater heights and depths of existence, is ‘life-enhancing.’ If ever we needed dedicated poets and painters and musicians and artists of all kinds, it is now.”