Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Common Room

It is (Quite a beginning, for one seated in the common sitting room, road side and wood panelled, quick to put pen down for the common woman's work of domestic meetings and greetings, of tea to be served and talk to be made; a phrase full of poise, a stake driven deep in a world that was scarcely hers to claim.) a truth (But claim it she does, with both hands, eyes fixed on that age old concern that beauty and truth might ally, that art might not simply please, but, in pleasing, reveal what is real; this old hope is worn here, not quite on the sleeve but in the first line that was written and read.) universally acknowledged (Trumpets of Enlightenment: truth is proclaimed as that which implies the agreement of all humankind. Out with the changing, the local, the brief, and in with the lasting and true. Out of the common room, too close, too ad hoc, and into the light of all reason. But already a cloud: this phrase goes to qualify truth and in doing so shows there are truths (not in heaven, but on earth) undreamt of by all those philosophies. And already a blind spot: for what force can the act of acknowledgement have for the absolute nature of truth? If the true is the true, or is taken as true, only once it's acknowledged as true, then the universality claimed by the true is reliant once more on mere common consent...) that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. (Pure Austen, this cool undercutting of grandeur with the small ins and outs of real life. But so much more subtly done than the simple reversal it seems; for critique of pretensions to grand, lasting truth is implied, not exclusively on her own terms of homely concerns and polite social scenes but also within the short opening clause that comes, word for word, from that ivory tower for which novels, and women, and the common rooms in which they were written and sat, are exemplars of all that's untrue.)

Jane takes a small piece of that ivory - two inches wide, that is all - and brings it indoors, to her common sitting room, where its truth must make talk and make tea, and respond to the meetings and greetings that give substance to commonplace life, whose business it is to get five daughters wed and whose solace is visits and news.

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