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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Atheism Explained (by Myshkin and Waugh)

With great delight and moderate equanimity I've made it through Sandy without too much inconvenience. I'm still waiting for the power to turn back on, but, I have to say, I felt great kinship with a certain idol of mine when I got ready for work this morning by lantern light. I imagine Keats himself often dressed by lantern light. That is, when he was being a productive medical student. Perhaps he slept in once he gave himself over to impracticality. I know I would. I suppose most of you have your attention consumed either by hurricane recovery or Halloween preparations, but in the midst of your individual whirlwinds, remember to eat a scone, drink some tea, and read a bit of Keats in honor of today, the 217th anniversary of his birth. My plan had been to make a big deal of it at work, maybe get a poster and hand out memorabilia to everyone (blast! I forgot to wear my Keats lapel pin!), but mother nature had interfering plans. Now, as a lead in to the subject of this post, I feel I must tell you that although Keats had a sort of vaguely defined belief in a creative figure, he did, in fact, reject the God of Christianity. As I'm sure he didn't go to hell, this is one of a host of questions I'll have to argue out with him (as much as it can be argued) as a part of purgatory.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Keats!

While you might think that with all this quiet time I've had ample opportunity to read hundreds and hundreds of pages, I instead spent a long time going through and organizing old letters, as well as writing a few that have been weighing on my conscience for an embarrassing amount of time. I did make some progress on The Idiot, however, enough that I found myself in that Russian novel induced "the world is desperate and tragic and painfully astoundingly beautiful" mood. How DOES he DO that?!

Prince Lev Nikolaevich Myshkin, our hero, is currently engaged in a confusing discussion with a tortured soul, Parfyon Semyonovich Rogozhin. Although their central concern is to decide which of them has the right to pursue Nastasya Filippovna (the stunning and noble but damaged heartbreaker of the story), their discussion takes a number of weighty turns in seemingly unrelated directions. Perturbed by the crucial and existential questions of life, as the characters of Russian novels usually are, Rogozhin suddenly and without proper context asks Myshkin if he believes in God. Myshkin takes a bit of time to come to the point, talking in the open and lovable if sometimes long-winded manner that is his wont. He leads into his response with two stories, one of a drunken soldier who sold to him the cross he was wearing to fund his drinking. Myshkin's conclusion of this incident is, so far, one of my favorite lines of the book: "I'll wait before condemning this Christ-seller. God knows what's locked away in these drunken and weak hearts" (220).

I'll let you read the second story, as well as his response to Rogozhin's question:
An hour later, going back to my hotel, I ran into a peasant woman with a nursing baby. She was a young woman, and the baby was about six weeks old. And the baby smiled at her, as far as she'd noticed, for the first time since it was born. I saw her suddenly cross herself very, very piously. "What is it, young woman?" I say. (I was asking questions all the time then.) "It's just that a mother rejoices," she says, "when she notices her baby's first smile, the same as God rejoices each time he looks down from heaven and sees a sinner standing before him and praying with all his heart." The woman said that to me, in almost those words, and it was such a deep, such a subtle and truly religious thought, a thought that all at once expressed the whole essence of Christianity, that is, the whole idea of God as our own father, and that God rejoices over man as father over his own child -- the main thought of Christ! A simple peasant woman! True, she's a mother . . . and, who knows, maybe this woman was that soldier's wife. Listen, Parfyon, you asked me earlier, here is my answer: the essence of religious feeling doesn't fit in with any reasoning, with any crimes and trespasses, or with any atheisims; there's something else here that's not that, and will eternally be not that; there's something in it that atheisms will eternally glance off, and they will eternally be talking not about that. (220-221)
Whatever "that" is that atheists are not looking at is something that people who are looking at it can't really explain either. Which is, perhaps, why atheists don't want to look at it. Being confronted by something that cannot be explained, that we cannot understand, makes us feel limited, small, incompetent, and generally lacking control of our own destinies. We all like to be in control, to a certain degree. While there are some of us who prefer to let others take the lead, and some who like to be the leaders, not one of us, I think I can safely venture to say, likes to be without any power. If you doubt it, think of slavery, or of the two year old who mischievously runs away when you tell him to come. It takes courage to accept something that cannot be reasoned. And a certain amount of recklessness, of course. In fact, while it's true that the amount of understanding that can be obtained through reasoning is limited only inasmuch as our reasonings are limited (meaning that the more we exercise our reason the more we will be capable of growing in our understanding of mysteries), we will also realize, with each new step taken in rational understanding, that there are countless more seemingly and sometimes actually rationally unapproachable twists and turns in the path to and understanding of the whole subject at hand.

The times that I have experienced being certainly aware of God are not very rational, to say the least. Neither was the young mother's "deep, subtle and truly religious expression of the whole essence of Christianity" any kind of rational argument for God's existence. And every once in a while, when I stop and look at what I believe from a purely human point of view, I'm rather astounded by how odd it all is. I feel Charles Ryder's confusion and skepticism in Brideshead Revisited (yes, we're back to Brideshead!): 
"Cordelia has promised to pray for me," I said. "She made a novena for her pig," said Sebastian. "You know all this is very puzzling to me," I said. "I think we're causing scandal," said Brideshead. 
And again, in his discussion with Sebastian of the Christmas story:
"But, my dear Sebastian, you can't seriously believe it all." "Can't I?" "I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass." "Oh yes, I believe that. It's a lovely idea." "But you can't believe things because they're a lovely idea." "But I do. That's how I believe." 
The idea of loveliness being an impetus for belief is perhaps the strongest argument I can think of. For one thing, loveliness has so many mediums by which to approach us; physical visual beauty, of course, is the obvious path, but it can also come through any of our other senses, or through communication with other people, or through reading. Loveliness is comforting, entrancing, attractive, enchanting, convincing, and, most importantly, it is real. And there is beauty, there is loveliness, in the decision to embrace the courage and simultaneous surrender necessary to accept something we cannot understand. Avoidance is the easier, and, in this case, the far more human route.
But, the thing is, we're not just human.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Truman Story

I imagine it seems I'm getting all political on you, despite my earlier claim that I'm really not interested. What can I say? For one thing, it is election season; also, I'm trying to fill in my gaps in modern history so that I can feel (and actually be) a little more competent at work. I confess, I am decidedly unhappy about the lack of literary creativity or stimulation in my life over the last month. I'm still trying to figure out a routine, and while I've worked polyphony back into it, poetry, literature and writing are getting lost in my efforts to find chairs, trashcans and grocery stores. In a fit of desperation I starting researching grad school again yesterday -- it's even more expensive now than when I decided it cost too much two years ago. Go figure. So the only course of action is to continue with my slow but steady reading of The Idiot; I don't think I'm far enough along yet to say anything particularly worth saying, but I'll let you know if any momentous revelations occur.

History, of course, is a little bit like literature, especially when you've got a good historian to read. I spent some time last week becoming better acquainted with Truman's character and administration. As it turns out, he wrote quite a bit himself: "It was his habit, throughout his life, to keep private notes or diaries in which he let off steam and wrote away his frustrations" (Johnson, 796). He also wrote a number of letters to his wife in which, like in his journals, he was quite frank in expressing his opinions of the politicians working around him.

Truman with his daughter, Margaret, and his wife, Bess.

I think he and I would have gotten on pretty well. Besides the noteworthy accomplishments of his administration, such as rescuing post-WWII Europe from starvation and economic collapse, he was a virtuous man who really did fight for the little guy, stayed poor rather than profiting from corrupt political schemes (797: "The most meticulous research has not uncovered any examples of Truman himself profiting from all the easy opportunities open to him"), and helped cement in American foreign policy the notion that powerful nations should contribute to and defend the welfare of weaker nations. I am aware that that last principle has led to some rather controversial events, and that many Americans believe in a more isolationist approach than that which results from such an idea, but I think of it in terms of bad things happening when good men stand idly by. Also, if you see a bad thing happening and it is in your power to stop it or at least attempt to prevent it, and yet you do nothing, you become complicit in the action and share in the guilt of the offender. So yes, I support the Truman Doctrine: "I believe it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressure" (811).

Serious Baby.
Earnest Boy.
Dreaming-of-Visions Man.

 I suppose the most controversial event of his presidency is the bombing of Japan. Like many people, I'm still not sure what I think of that, but Paul Johnson makes a good case that seems to come down in defense of the decision, mostly based on a common argument that dropping the A-bombs actually killed fewer people than would have died if the war had continued as it was going. If you're interested in reading what he has to say in more detail, he has a number of impressive statistics, among other things, that might illuminate your understanding of the situation. Look at pages 800-804.

I must confess, I was especially enamored of him (Yeah, enamored. I said it.) by this passage from his journals, written in the early 1930s: "Some day we'll awake, have a reformation of the heart, teach our kids honor and kill a few sex psychologists, put boys in high schools with men teachers (not cissies), close all the girls' finishing schools, shoot all the efficiency experts and become a nation of God's people once more" (794). Politically correct? Well, not really. Totally kick-ass? Absotively.

If you were left unhappy with the extremism of that last paragraph, comfort yourself with the remembrance that we also credit Truman with finally reversing America's "friendly" stance with Stalin. I know FDR was probably pretty worn out and maybe not thinking clearly by the time the 1940s rolled around, but this is a "slip-up" of his I have a hard time forgiving. "Truman, unlike FDR, had no illusion about Communism or the nature of the Soviet regime. From the start, he had seen both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia as two hideous totalitarian systems. . . . Writing to his wife Bess immediately after American entered the war, he told her that Stalin was 'as untrustworthy as Hitler or Al Capone'" (804).

I hope I've convinced you by now that you should read Paul Johnson. Time for lunch (side-note: I am hungry ALL THE TIME these days. I've also developed a recent and intense appreciation for whole milk and butter.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Why Teddy Roosevelt Rocks My Socks

I know this topic is of a slightly different bent than what you usually read here, but I was doing a little research on the Spanish-American War for work today and Paul Johnson, as he usually does, gave me a few moments of great delight. Although Johnson's A History of the American People was introduced to me in college, many of his character sketches of great leaders and figures from America's past are so brilliant, lively and comical that my little seventh graders were often inspired to numerous fits of hilarity and artistic recreations by the personages described. Enter Teddy Roosevelt.

It was his object to overcome his physical debility by pushing himself to the limit of his resources: he wrote a letter home boasting, 'I have just come in from spending thirteen hours in the saddle.' There were still a few buffalo and Sioux Indians around and the frontier was not yet 'closed' in the Jackson Turner sense. There was, now and always, a touch of Hemingway literary-machismo about TR and a longing to play John Wayne roles. . . . He wrote home: 'I wear a sombrero, silk neckerchief, fringed buckskin shirt, sealskin chaparajos or riding trousers, alligator hide boots, and with my pearl-hilted revolvers and beautifully finished Winchester rifle, I shall be able to face anything.' His silver-mounted Bowie knife came from Tiffany's, as did his silver belt-buckle with a bear's head and his initialed silver spurs. He duly shot his grizzly -- 'The bullet hole in his skull was as exactly between his eyes as if I had measured the distance with a carpenter's rule.' He said to a local bully called Paddock, who threatened to hound him off his range: 'I understand you have threatened to kill me on sight. I have come over to see when you want to begin the killing and to let you know that if you have anything to say against me, now is the time to say it.' . . . He summed up his philosophy in a Fourth of July oration:
Like all Americans, I like big things: big prairies, big forests and mountains, big wheat fields, railroads -- and herds of cattle too -- big factories and steamboats and everything else. But we must keep steadily in mind that no people were ever yet benefited by riches if their prosperity corrupted their virtue. It is more important that we should show ourselves honest, brave, truthful, and intelligent than that we should own all the railways and grain elevators in the world. We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received and each of us must do his part if we wish to show that this nation is worthy of its good fortune.
There can be no doubt that TR believed every word of these sentiments and did his best to live up to them. He was exactly the same kind of romantic-intellectual-man-of-action-writer-professional-politician as his younger contemporary, Winston Churchill. The two did not like each other, having so much in common, and being so competitive; and TR criticized Churchill severely because 'he does not stand up when ladies come into the room' (such things mattered in those days). A History of the American People, 616-617, emphasis added.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Idiot and his Penmanship

Let's start with Dostoevsky -- a very good place to start.
"Oho!" cried the general, looking at the calligraphy sample the prince presented. "That's a model hand! And a rare one, too! Look here, Ganya, what talent!"
On the thick sheet of vellum the prince had written a phrase in medieval Russian script:
"The humble hegumen Pafnuty here sets his hand to it."
Manuscript of a Russian hegumen source
"This," the prince explained with great pleasure and animation, "this is the actual signature of the hegumen Pafnuty, copied from a fourteenth-century manuscript. They had superb signatures, all those old Russian hegumens and metropolitans, and sometimes so tasteful, so careful! Can it be you don't have Pogodin's book, General? Then here I've written in a different script: it's the big, round French script of the last century; some letters are even written differently; it's a marketplace script, a public scrivener's script, borrowed from their samples (I had one) -- you must agree, it's not without virtue. Look at these round d's  and a's. I've transposed the French characters into Russian letters, which is very difficult, but it came out well. Here's another beautiful and original script, this phrase here: 'Zeal overcometh all.' This is a Russian script -- a scrivener's or military scrivener's, if you wish. It's an example of an official address to an important person, also a rounded script, nice and black, the writing is black, but remarkably tasteful. A calligrapher wouldn't have permitted these flourishes, or, better to say, these attempts at flourishes, these unfinished half-tails here -- you notice -- but on the whole, you see, it adds up to character, and, really, the whole military scrivener's soul is peeking out of it: he'd like to break loose, his talent yearns for it, but his military collar is tightly hooked, and discipline shows in the writing -- lovely! I was recently struck by a sample of it I found -- and where? in Switzerland! Now, here is a simple, ordinary English script of the purest sort: elegance can go no further, everything here is lovely, a jewel, a pearl: this is perfection: but here is a variation, again a French one, I borrowed it from a French traveling salesman: this is the same English script, but the black line is slightly blacker and thicker than in the English, and see -- the proportion of light is violated; and notice also that the ovals are altered, they're slightly rounder, and what's more, flourishes are permitted, and a flourish is a most dangerous thing! A flourish calls for extraordinary taste; but if it succeeds, if the right proportion is found, a script like this is incomparable, you can even fall in love with it."
"Oho! What subtleties you go into! the general laughed. "You're not simply a calligrapher, my dear fellow, you're an artist -- eh Ganya?" (The Idiot, trans. Pevear and Volokhnosky, (New York: Vintage Classics, 2002), 33-34.)
Sometimes I think that what I really want to do is become an expert in ancient books and be the head curator of a rare and precious manuscripts collection. That particular dream took definite shape the summer before last when I spent several days admiring such texts in silent wonder in Santiago in northern Spain. The day after I arrived there, the oldest written guide to the Camino pilgrimage, the Codex Calixtinus, was stolen from the museum's collection. Luckily it has since been recovered, but you can imagine, if you did not hear of it at the time, that people were very upset. Here's a page from that 12th century manuscript:

S. Iacobi Apostoli (St. James the Apostle) is written on the left page. His tomb is the end of the Camino pilgrimage.

The beauty in medieval manuscripts is incomparable. The general's exclamation in The Idiot, "You're not simply a calligrapher, my dear fellow, you're an artist," certainly applies to the painters of those old books. Of course, for them, it wasn't just about the words themselves; they meticulously worked in artistic details surrounding the letters and filling the margins of many of the pages with intricate pictures that helped further illuminate the text of each page. The Book of Kells is one of the most impressive examples of their art. Here are two pages of it for you, but really, you should google image it yourself to get a wider idea of the artistry, and see some images that you can zoom in on:

Of course, typing is now a much more common medium of words than physical writing, but I've always found the simple motion of writing, even if it's just copying something, very calming and soothing. I used to practice using my left hand when I found myself stuck in classes that were particularly boring, pointless and, as such, infuriating. It's meditative and relaxing in a way that few things are. And I like to think of all those monks who, for centuries, worked in their scriptoriums so painstakingly and beautifully preserving the Western Cannon for future generations. If you want to read more about that particular part of this story, find a copy of How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill.

 Of course, as these manuscripts were written by actual people, they do have little mistakes here and there, which of course adds to the delight you can find in them. I mean, really, let's be honest; it's really fun to point out someone else's mistakes! Especially when they've been dead for centuries and are past all point of being offended by you. Handwriting has personality to it, gives you a sense of closeness to and understanding of the identity of the person writing (which is why letters are so important -- a subject currently stewing).

Prince Myshkin's excitement over the different types of writing (all of which are written by him!) is delightful. He understands the artistry of it, realizes the importance of variety for different occasions, and demonstrates how the personality of a certain style can affect the reader and inform his understanding of the writer's character and the information communicated. Of course, this didn't die away after Gutenberg; type settings and fonts, even computerized ones, still have a certain feel and mood to them. Comic Sans is, perhaps, the most widely used and thus misused of all. More on that here. And in the picture on the right. Of course, Helvetica is the font that one might say has taken the world by storm. It's the remarkably characterless font that simply informs without a color of emotion or personality. Road signs are in Helvetica. When I was in college I did an editorial internship with a publishing house, and I remember one afternoon we all stopped working to go watch a documentary movie about Helvetica. There was one rather unsavory individual whom they interviewed who said something along the lines of, "Some men get excited by looking at a girl's bottom, but me, I get excited about fonts." English wasn't his native language, so perhaps he might have expressed himself with more eloquence if he had known how. I think, though, without insulting Myshkin, that there is great deal of similarity between the two men. Myshkin loves the beauty in the shape and individuality of different styles of writing in the same way that this strange typeface designer loves fonts.

Now, much as I loved my students, and still do, I was horrified by their handwriting. I don't know what has happened in the last fifteen years (actually, yes I do -- thank you, computers), but back in my day, ages and ages ago, we had penmanship contests in school. We practiced cursive and print, and the best samples were put up on the classroom wall to inspire the rest of us to greatness. And I remember my mother giving me handwriting books, and having me practice tracing the letters over and over again. If I had had a little more liberty in curriculum design as a teacher (and by and large I was happy with what I had), one day a week in my English classes would have been set aside for penmanship practice. I don't know how often I had no idea what a student had written, and had to try to decipher it with the other teachers, all of our heads together and our eyes squinting to try to see it better upside down or sideways. If you don't think handwriting matters, have you seen a child's writing develop from when they are 10 to about the age of 14? Usually a girl's will get round and squat, and perhaps she'll start using hearts to dot her i's, while a boy's will start to get a little spikier and more dramatic. And these are conscious changes. Although hopefully everything mellows out as they make it through adolescence, these changes in their handwriting are very specific ways that they communicate their own characters and try to form a record of the identity of their personality. I'm not quoting any study or anything; this is merely what I've observed, both as a teacher and someone who once watched (in a not creepy way) her own handwriting and the handwriting of her classmates evolve. Junior High doodles on paper book covers do actually mean something. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that they're the beginning of young minds coming to terms with their immortality and trying to establish a written record of it, either in text or picture. And if you accept that hypothesis and follow it through, than you better bet you're going to care what your handwriting looks like.

Last year, in a fit of quickly burnt out resolve, I started practicing calligraphy, determined to learn different scripts and start decorating my classroom walls with famous quotations written up ancient manuscript style. Perhaps at some point I'll get back to that... until then, I'll work on making my everyday handwriting legible. Now, forgive me, but I can't help but conclude by leaving you with a sample of Jane Austen's writing (Remember Myshkin's words: "Now, here is a simple, ordinary English script of the purest sort: elegance can go no further, everything here is lovely, a jewel, a pearl: this is perfection.") and an abbreviated excerpt from her famous characters' discussion of penmanship:

Mr. Darcy was writing, and Miss Bingley, seated near him, was watching the progress of his letter, and repeatedly calling off his attention by messages to his sister.
Elizabeth took up some needlework, and was sufficiently amused in attending to what passed between Darcy and his companion. The perpetual commendations of the lady either on his hand-writing, or on the evenness of his lines, or on the length of his letter, with the perfect unconcern with which her praises were received, formed a curious dialogue, and was exactly in unison with her opinion of each. "How delighted Miss Darcy will be to receive such a letter!" He made no answer. "You write uncommonly fast." "You are mistaken. I write rather slowly." "How many letters you must have occasion to write in the course of the year! Letters of business too! How odious I should think them!" "It is fortunate, then, that they fall to my lot instead of to yours." "I am afraid you do not like your pen. Let me mend it for you. I mend pens remarkably well." "Thank you—but I always mend my own." "How can you contrive to write so even?" He was silent. (text source image source)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Thank you, Sexual Revolution (more on "The Beautiful and Damned")

On March 5th, 1922, Louise Maunsell Field wrote, "It would not be easy to find a more thoroughly depressing book than this new novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned. Not because there is something of tragedy in it -- tragedy may be and often is fine and inspiring -- but because its slow-moving narrative is the record of lives utterly worthless, utterly futile. Not one of the book's many characters, important or unimportant, ever rises to the level of ordinary decent humanity. Not one of them shows a spark of loyalty, of honor, of devotion, of generosity, of real friendship or of real affection." source

I'm afraid I might have to agree with her. What's even worse than just the book itself is that I think I'm correct in imagining that, rather like This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald was writing autobiographically. As I read about the death march of a marriage that Anthony Patch fails in with his wife, Gloria, I keep thinking that this must actually be an account of the deteriorated final stages of Fitzgerald's relationship with his once much-loved wife, Zelda (look at the end of this post for more on that sad story). I'm still not finished with the book, but I have made some headway this week. Anthony Patch is the main character, and he's utterly useless, as far as I can tell. He's a man of great potential, great intellect, who marries the girl of his dreams and then proceeds to squander his abilities, his paltry sums of money, and the very love that he holds most dear. As the "heroine" of Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf  has it, "Baby you sure are a flop!" I'll leave it to you to take that where it's going when said between husband and wife. But, I think the male protagonist of Albee's sexually twisted and confused play has more manliness, courage, and good old fashioned guts and decency to him than this sorry excuse for a man that is Anthony Patch.

When Anthony seems to have lost the chance to inherit his rich grandfather's fortune, has quit his short-lived job, and has, after three years of restless marriage, seemingly fallen out of love with his wife (who, by the way, is the incarnation of beauty; I do not exaggerate -- this is her role in the story, as described earlier), the war comes along to save him from his meaningless, solipsistic and discontented existence. He finally does something every day, and is tired at the end of the day, ready and deserving of rest. But, because he's an awful person, even all this good work can't seem to redeem his moral sensibilities; he begins an affair with a young southern woman who lives in the town near where he is first stationed.

Now I come to it. The description of this southern woman, this girl, is heart-rending, pathetic, and so miserably sad. Several weeks ago I was standing in line to pick up a sandwich, and saw a girl a few feet from me. She was dressed as skimpily as could be, in tight little clothes. She was with a young man; both were probably in their late teens. She was literally hanging on him, petting him, stroking him, kissing him, hugging him, desperate for affection, attention, anything to reassure her that she was beautiful and worth something. He could not have appeared more bored, more tired of her, more DONE with her, ready to forget her, and impatient with her attentions.

I was reminded of this girl by the following passage. Before we see the affair actually happen between Anthony and Dorothy Raycroft (Dot), though at a point that we know it to be imminent, we receive a little background sketch of Dot's character. In this sketch, we see all of her wounds, her hurts and vulnerabilities, and why she is such open and eager prey to Anthony's selfish and despicable philandering. In case you think I'm overreacting: "The particular weakness he indulged on this occasion was his need of excitement and stimulus from without. He felt that for the first time in four years he could express and interpret himself anew. He had become a coward in earnest" (Barnes and Noble Classics, 262). In more colloquial terms, he's a complete and utter toolbag. Now, let's see what Fitzgerald has to say about Dot (as usual, I've cut out a few bits). I know this is a lengthy quotation, but it's worth the read:
Dorothy Raycroft was nineteen. At high school she had enjoyed a rather unsavory reputation. As a matter of fact her behavior at the class picnic, where the rumors started, had been merely indiscreet -- she had retained her technical purity until over a year later, The boy had been a clerk in a store on Jackson street, and on the day after the incident he departed unexpectedly to New York. He had been intending to leave for some time, but had tarried for the consummation of his amorous enterprise.
She had no definite intentions -- sometimes she regretted vaguely that her reputation precluded what chance she had ever had for security. There had been no open discovery, but some of the boys she had known in high school now looked the other way when they were walking with "nice girls," and these incidents hurt her feelings. When they occurred she went home and cried.
Besides the Jackson Street clerk there had been two other men, of whom the first was a naval officer, who passed through town during the early days of the war. He had stayed over night to make a connection, and was leaning idly against one of the pillars of the Stonewall Hotel when she passed by. He remained in town four days. She though she loved him -- lavished on him that first hysteria of passion that would have gone to the pusillanimous clerk. The naval officer's uniform -- there were few of them in those days -- had made the magic. He left with vague promises on his lips, and, once on the train, rejoiced that he had not told her his real name. 
Her resultant depression had thrown her into the arms of Cyrus Fielding, the son of a local clothier, who had hailed her from his roadster one day as she passed along the sidewalk. She had always known him by name. Had she been born to a higher stratum he would have known her before. She had descended a little lower -- so he met her after all. After a month he had gone away to training camp, a little afraid of the intimacy; a little relieved in perceiving that she had not cared deeply for him, and that she was not the sort who would ever make trouble. Dot romanticized this affair and conceded to her vanity that the war had taken these men away from her. She told herself that she could have married the naval officer. Nevertheless, it worried her that within eight months there had been three men in her life.
For a while she attempted to be more careful. She let men "pick her up"; she let them kiss her, and even allowed certain other liberties to be forced upon her, but she did not add to her trio. After several months the strength of her resolution -- or rather the poignant expediency of her fears -- was worn away. And then she met Anthony. (263-265)
How does that happen? It happens when women hold themselves cheaply, and when they allow men to hold them and treat them cheaply. It happens when experience takes advantage of innocence, when insecurity is compounded by misguided pleas for reassurance and affection. I think that it is generally true that a woman needs to be the strong one; she needs to be the moral compass. As some of you have heard me say in quoting a much esteemed and dearly loved professor of mine, it is the duty of the man to keep the serpent out of the garden and the duty of the woman to keep the serpent out of the man's heart. If a woman is ready to let down her moral boundaries, to let things slide for a bit, there will always be a "man" out there who is ready to accompany her on the downward journey and leave her to fend for herself when he's had what he wanted.
Of course, the sexual revolution as referenced in the title of this post happened decades after Fitzgerald was writing, but it seems that the '60s were to the '40s and '50s what the Jazz Age and the Roaring '20s were to the Victorian Age. One of the many causes of the Great Depression was the failure of textile mills; people started wearing such a comparatively small amount of clothing that a bulwark of the economy collapsed. (If you think of the Industrial Revolution, you think of textile mills, right? Maybe that's just me.) People react to extremes and unhappiness by looking as far as they can in the other direction; obviously, as we see in Dot's case, that doesn't work so well. Not only does such a reaction undermine the dignity of the women who are hurt and lonely enough to let themselves be used, but it compromises the manliness and strength of men by giving them an easy opportunity to practice being predators rather than a protectors, to be selfish rather than sacrificial. It tells women that vulnerability is undesirable, not precious, and tells men that they don't have to consider women's vulnerability because she should tough it out and be a man about it. And that, friends, is what came with sexual freedom. Do you feel liberated?