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.