Friday, 12 October 2012

Mrs Fidget

One of the most amusing miniature portraits by C.S. Lewis was in his book "The Four Loves". Lewis is here dealing with affection, and in this case, affection as a "gift love", and how it can go wrong. The "Four Loves" is a wonderful book, dealing with affection, friendship, eros and charity - the last being agape-love rather than that limited meaning the word has so often come to have.

As Lewis says of affection going wrong, "It is not only mothers who can do this. All those other Affections which,
whether by derivation from parental instinct or by similarity of function, need to be needed may fall into the same pit."

"The Four Loves" is full of small pen-sketches like this, homely illustrations to bring out the nature of different kind of love. It's not a dry academic tome, but rather an extremely readable, and enjoyable book; it is deep, but not in a ponderous way, more in the same way that his fiction - such as Narnia - has depth while being at the same time so accessible. Like Orwell, Lewis had a gift of communicating as if he was speaking to you, not as a lecture, but as a conversation, a chat between friends.

I also like what he says of friendship:

"I have no duty to be anyone's Friend and no man in the world has a duty to be mine. No claims, no shadow of necessity. Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival."

But here is Mrs Fidget:

Mrs Fidget by C.S. Lewis (from "The Four Loves")

I am thinking of Mrs. Fidget, who died a few month ago. It is really astonishing how her family have brightened up. The drawn look has gone from her husband' face; he begins to be able to laugh. The younger boy whom I had always thought an embittered, peevish little creature, turns out to be quite human. The older, which was hardly ever at home except when he was in bed, is nearly always there now and has begun to reorganise the garden. The girl, who was always supposed to be "delicate " (though I never found out what exactly the trouble was), now has the riding lessons which were once out of the question, dances all night, and plays any amount of tennis. Even the dog who was never allowed out except on a lead is now a well-known member of the Lamp-post Club in their road.

Mrs. Fidget very often said that she lived for her family. And it was not untrue. Everyone in the neighbourhood knew it. "She lives for her family," they said; "what a wife and mother!" She did all the washing; true, she did it badly, and they could have afforded to send it out to laundry, and they frequently begged her not to do it. But she did. There was always a hot lunch for anyone who was at home and always a hot meal at night (even in mid-summer). They implored her not to provide this. They protested almost with tears in their eyes (and with truth) that they liked cold meals. It made no difference. She was living for her family. She always sat up to "welcome" you if you were out late at night; two or three in the morning, it made no odds; you would always find the frail, pale, weary face awaiting you, like a silent accusation. Which means of course that you couldn't with any decency go out very often.

She was always making things too; being in her own estimation (I'm no judge myself) an excellent amateur dressmaker and a great knitter. And of course, unless you were a heartless brute, you had to wear the things. (The Vicar tells me that, since her death, the contributions of that family alone to "sales of work" outweigh those of all his other parishioners put together).

And then her care for their health! She bore the whole burden of that daughter's "delicacy" alone. The Doctor - an old friend, and it was not being done on National Health - was never allowed to discuss matters with his patient. After the briefest examination of her, he was taken into another room by the mother. The girl was to have no worries, no responsibility for her own health. Only loving care; caresses, special foods, horrible tonic wines and breakfast in bed.

For Mrs. Fidget, as she so often said, would "work her fingers to the bone" for her family. They couldn't stop her. Nor could they - being decent people - quite sit still and watch her do it. They had to help. Indeed they were always having to help. That is, they did things for her to help her to do things for them which they didn't want done.

As for the dear dog, it was to her, she said, "just like one of the children". It was in fact as like one of them as she could make it. But since it had no scruples it got on rather better than they, and though vetted, dieted and guarded within an inch of its life, contrived sometimes to reach the dustbin or the dog next door.

The Vicar says Mrs. Fidget is now at rest. Let us hope she is. What's quite certain is that her family are.

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