Sunday, June 26, 2016

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness in “Love & Friendship” by Christopher Morrissey

love and friendship
Whit Stillman, in the novel version of his film, Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated, has Lady Susan’s daughter Frederica visit a church at a key moment in the plot. This happens in the film too, but the novel supplies us with some extra information that the film does not.
As Frederica speaks there to the young curate, Thomas Edward Braddock, he makes some interesting remarks to her, both in the film and in the book, that she finds comforting. But only in the book do we learn that the following remarks cause Frederica briefly to entertain in her imagination the notion of a marriage with Braddock, because they reveal him to be “a young man who might have been a truly sympathetic companion over a long life”:
We are not born into a savage wilderness but into a beautiful mansion of the Lord that the Lord and those who have gone before us have built. We must avoid neglecting this mansion but rather glorify and preserve it—as we should all of the Lord’s Creation. The superb Baumgarten has outlined the aesthetic trinity as ‘Truth,’ ‘Beauty,’ and ‘Good.’ ‘Truth’ is the perfect perceived by reason; ‘Beauty’ by the senses; and the ‘Good’ by moral will (p.99).
What significance are we to find in this? First and foremost, I think we must take this speech as a hilarious little bit of pedantry being offered by the curate. The pretentious observation about “the superb Baumgarten” and his “aesthetic trinity” is a total non sequitur coming after the sentence that precedes it. On its own, that is enough to perfectly satirize the common habit of some bookish members of the clergy to speak in this disconnected way.
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