Let’s All Be the Sort of Beauty Lovers that Count

I’m reading a book of short stories by Noël Coward and I’m stunned. I can’t understand how I’ve gotten this far in life without fully getting the brilliance of this man. His stories are witty and engaging, and they display an astounding insight into human nature that rings as solidly true today as it did seventy years ago.

This morning I finished a short story called “Nature Study.” One particular gem of a passage must be shared here. Jennifer, trapped in a socially prestigious but miserable and sexless marriage, is pouring her heart out to our narrator. Jennifer’s husband is no drunken wife beater, don’t get her wrong, but rather a cultured and refined “beauty lover.” But then Jennifer adds with fervour:

“There are several sorts of beauty lovers. There are those who like kindness and good manners and wide seas and dignity, and others who like Bellini Madonnas and Giottos and mysticism and incense and being able to recognize, as publicly as possible, a genuine old this or that…

“I don’t believe it’s enough, all that preoccupation with the dead and done with, when there’s living life all round you and sudden, lovely unexpected moments to be aware of. Sudden loving gestures from other people, without motives, nothing to do with being rich or poor or talented or cultured, just our old friend human nature at its best! That’s the sort of beauty worth searching for; it may sound pompous, but I know what I mean. That’s the sort of beauty lover that counts. I am right, aren’t I?”

Jennifer, if you were real, you’d be well into your nineties now. I’m truly sorry for the hardship you endured as a young woman (though I cheered inwardly to learn you eventually found true passion with your husband’s Canadian chauffeur). I imagine you’ve seen and heard a lot by now. From the sounds of it, though, you picked up some of the most important lessons pretty early in life. You go, girl. I want to be the sort of beauty lover that counts, too.

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