October 25, 2010

Charm: Offensive?

It was charm again, my dear, simple, creamy English charm, playing tigers…. I was right years ago… when I warned you. I took you out to dinner to warn you of charm…. Charm is the great English blight. It does not exist outside of these damp islands. It spots and kills anything it touches. It kills love; it kills art; I greatly fear, my dear Charles, it has killed you.  
(Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited).

As one who has recently embarked on a charm offensive in a culture susceptible to its seductiveness, I take umbrage at the notion that charm is somehow – offensive. Of course, Anthony Blanche was himself the caricatured embodiment of empty charm, made malignant by a strong current of impoliteness. English charm rather seems to civilise our passions, to order our emotions, and to bolster our reputations. It ought never disconcert, but rather refers those we meet to the respectable heritage from which we spring. It surely goes without saying that the maxim I employed in my last entry works just as well the other way around: how one looks ought to be positively reinforced by what comes out of one’s mouth.

Of course, true charm indicates a certain sincerity. It is not possible, in the longue durée, to be charming without substance, intelligence and good will. No one can be charming through gritted teeth for any great length of time. Such a villain will come unstuck. But its cultivation ultimately has a bearing on one’s character, and it is in its very creamy Englishness that it positively reinforces love. And art? Perhaps. Artfulness? Certainly.

5 comments:

  1. Everyone in Brideshead Revisited is wrong about everything, all the time. They are all awful.

    Charm helps shy people avoid offending company. Charm is marvelous.

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  2. Doctor,

    I am pleased you do not think one could fool all of the people all of the time. But I should like to know what part of charm is flattery, what part deception, what part politic acts, what part generosity and what part pleasure. Waugh is no guide to this, I'm afraid. But for Britain's honor, you must make the attempt. Anxious to read your great deserts fully justified by your gentle defense of the gentleman's public gentlenes-

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  3. True, sincere charm never goes amiss. Bonus points for the Brideshead Revisited reference - and indeed Anthony Blanche is too caricatured to take very seriously.

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  4. Faithful Claire, doesn't that make Brideshead Revisited rather authentic? At least, so far as the people one meets are concerned, I can only conclude that most people are utterly deluded about reality, present company excepted, of course. Charm is indeed marvellous, for those of us who know what we mean by it.

    My dear Kravien, I shall endeavour, as always, to do as you suggest. I am sure I need not exhort you to stay tuned.

    And to my favourite idler: where might one redeem these points that I have been generously rewarded? I am in the market for a new suit, and would like to know which tailors are participating in the scheme.

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  5. Oh, certainly; that's probably why I hated it (them) all so much.

    It was a very nice love letter to grand old English country houses though, which I believe the preface said it was meant to be.

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