“Habit is everything, even in love,” says Vauvenargues, and you remember La Rochefoucauld’s maxim? “How many men would never have known love if they had never heard of love?” Are we not justified in asking: How many would never be jealous, if they did not hear jealousy spoken about, and had not persuaded themselves that it was imperative to be jealous?
Yes, convention is the great breeder of falsehood. How many are forced to play their life long a part strangely foreign to themselves? And how difficult it is to discern in ourselves a feeling not previously described, labelled, and present before us as a model! Man finds it easier to imitate everything than to invent anything. How many are content to live their lives warped by untruth, and find, none the less, in the very falsity of convention more comfort and less need for effort than in straightforward affirmation of their personal feelings! Such affirmation would require of them an effort of invention utterly beyond them.
Reading André Gide’s Dostoevsky I am reminded again to read Gide’s journals that I bought after reading of Sontag’s admiration. Like his subject, Gide possesses acute psychological insight.
Gide’s novel, Strait Is the Gate, which I read twice, is full of subtle truth. I still recall the mood the novel evoked in me. Incidentally, my edition of Strait Is the Gate was translated by Dorothy Bussy, sister of Lytton Strachey, whose letters to Gide are also rather amusing.