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Confessions of a Young Man   By: (1852-1933)

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Confessions of a Young Man

By George Moore

Introduction by Floyd Dell

INTRODUCTION

These "Confessions of a Young Man" constitute one of the most significant documents of the passionate revolt of English literature against the Victorian tradition. It is significant because it reveals so clearly the sources of that revolt. It is in a sense the history of an epoch an epoch that is just closing. It represents one of the great discoveries of English literature: a discovery that had been made from time to time before, and that is now being made anew in our own generation the discovery of human nature.

The reason why this discovery has had to be made so often is that it shocks people. They try to hush it up; and they do succeed in forgetting about it for long periods of time, and pretending that it doesn't exist. They are shocked because human nature is not at all like the pretty pictures we like to draw of ourselves. It is not so sweet, amiable and gentlemanly or ladylike as we wish to believe it. It is much more selfish, brutal and lascivious than we care to admit, and as such, both too terrible and too ridiculous to please us. The Elizabethans understood human nature, and made glorious comedies and tragedies out of its inordinate crimes and cruelties, and its pathetic follies and fatuities. But people didn't like it, and they turned Puritan and closed the theaters. It is true, they repented, and opened them again; but the theater had got a bad name from which it is only now beginning to recover.

In the fields of poetry and fiction a more long drawn out contest ensued between, those who wanted to tell the truth and those who wanted to listen to pleasant fibs, the latter generally having the best of it. The contest finally settled down into the Victorian compromise, which was tacitly accepted by even the best of the imaginative writers of the period. The understanding was that brutality, lust and selfishness were to be represented as being qualities only of "bad" people, plainly labelled as such. Under this compromise some magnificent works were produced. But inasmuch as the compromise involved a suppression of a great and all important fact about the human soul, it could not endure forever. The only question was, under what influences would the revolt occur?

It occurred, as George Moore's quite typical and naïvely illuminating confessions reveal, under French influences. Something of the same sort had been happening in France, and the English rebels found exemplars of revolt ready to their need. These French rebels were of all sorts, and it was naturally the most extreme that attracted the admiration of the English malcontents. Chief among these were Gautier and Baudelaire.

Gautier had written in "Mademoiselle de Maupin" a lyrical exaltation of the joys of the flesh: he had eloquently and unreservedly pronounced the fleshly pleasures good . Baudelaire had gone farther: he had said that Evil was beautiful, the most beautiful thing in the world and proved it, to those who were anxious to believe it, by writing beautiful poems about every form of evil that he could think of.

They were still far, it will be observed, from the sane and truly revolutionary conception of life which has begun to obtain acceptance in our day a conception of life which traverses the old conceptions if "good" and "evil." Baudelaire and Gautier hardly did more than brilliantly champion the unpopular side of a foolish argument. It may seem odd to us today that such a romantic, not to say hysterical, turning upside down of current British morality could so deeply impress the best minds of the younger generation in England. Its influence, when mixed with original genius of a high quality, produced the "Poems and Ballads" of Swinburne. It produced also The Yellow Book , a more characteristic and less happy result. It produced a whole host of freaks and follies. But it did contain a liberating idea the idea that human nature is a subject to be dealt with, not to be concealed and lied about... Continue reading book >>




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