What Power Do We Want?--by Carol McCluer
What Power Do We Want?by Carol McCluer
including a discussion of Summer, by Edith Wharton
I am grateful to Aesthetic Realism for explaining that there are two kinds of power: a hurtful power based on contempt for the world and people; and the true power we really want, based on our deepest desire, to like the world. Wrote Eli Siegel:
The way that good power can be distinguished is through asking the question: "If this desire of mine were successful, and I were to have power over this person, would the world look better and would the person himself or herself be stronger?" Any power that a human being has over another that doesn't make the person it is exerted on stronger, and the world in which the power takes place look more beautiful is bad power.
Learning the difference between these two powers has been the kindest thing that ever happened to me. I was able to change a cheap, debilitating purpose I had, particularly with men, and was given something I was thirsting for: a criterion on which to criticize myself.
I. Two Kinds of Power in a Girl of New England
The novel Summer, by Edith Wharton is about a girl, Charity Royall, who, as a young child, was taken in by a man known as Lawyer Royall and his wife. She had been born into poverty in an outlaw colony people refer to as "the Mountain." Mr. and Mrs. Royall become her guardians, and they live in the small New England town of North Dormer. When Charity is about 13, Mrs. Royall dies, and the story takes place when she is 18. It is centrally about her desire for power over two men: Lawyer Royall, whom she thinks she despises; and a young architect, Lucius Harney, whom she thinks she loves, but who turns out to be cruel and deceptive.
Charity is in a fight between two kinds of power. On the one hand, she has large emotion through seeing the power of nature and liking it. Edith Wharton writes:
...to all that was light and air, perfume and colour, every drop of blood in her responded. She loved the roughness of the dry mountain grass under her palms, the smell of the thyme into which she crushed her face, the fingering of the wind in her hair and through her cotton blouse, and the creak of the larches as they swayed to it.
But Charity also wants to have power through being superior, having an effect on people without being affected by them. Though Lawyer Royall is seen as an important man in town, she has scorn for him because of one incident in particular. About a year before, in a reckless moment, Mr. Royall, who had been drinking, had knocked on her bedroom door, showing that he saw her as desirable. Disgusted and furious, she had told him to go away. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Royall had asked her to marry him, but she ridiculed and refused him, and coldly used the fact that he was ashamed, to have power--to make him do things for her. She demands that he hire a woman to do the housework, and get her a job as village librarian so she can earn enough money to get out of North Dormer.
Mr. Royall consents, and Charity is victorious; yet Edith Wharton describes what she thinks of herself for this: "[S]he knew her power, knew what it was made of, and hated it."
Read more in my next post!