July 14, 1934
Yesterday, Friday the thirteenth, was marked by no jinx. Jack awaited my return from work with the expected demand for a trip to the circus; the heat was "in tents", but Tom Mix, a remarkable trained seal and some unexpected pleasures amply rewarded my martyrdom. The evening was crammed full of delightful bits of selected poetry and personalities at Mother Heller's.
Today I filled a lazy morning with the usual semi-weekly puzzle of what not to say in the eastern correspondence; yet I must say fully what should be said. Spent the afternoon with Frederick Lewis Allen's "Only Yesterday". This evening the kids and I read some Pellett in the big back yard chair, before nightfall sent us in to perform the solemn ritual of the cold tub.
Sigmund Freud had published his first book on psychoanalysis at the end of the nineteenth century, and he and Jung had lectured to American psychologists as early as 1909, but it was not until after the war that the Freudian gospel began to circulate to a marked extent among the American lay public. The one great intellectual force which had not suffered disrepute as a result of the war was science; the more-or-less educated public was now absorbing a quantity of popularized imformation about biology and anthropology which gave a general impression that men and women are merely animals of a rather intricate variety, and that moral codes had no universal validity and were often based on curious superstitions. A fertile ground was ready for the seeds of Freudianism and presently one began to hear even from the lips of flappers that "science taught' new and disturbing things about sex. Sex, it appeared, was the central and pervasive force which moved mankind. Almost every human motive was attributed to it: if you were patriotic or liked the violin, you were in the grip of sex - in a sublimated form. The first requirement of mental health was to have an uninhibited sex life. If you would be well and happy, you must obey your libido. Such was the Freudian gospel as it imbedded itself in the American mind after being filtered through the successive minds of interpreters and popularizers and guileless readers and then the people who had heard guileless readers talk about it. New words and phrases began to be bandied about the cocktail tray and the Mah Jong table - inferiority complex, sadism, masochism, Oedipus complex. Intellectual ladies went to Europe to be analyzed; analysts plied their new trade in American cities, conscientiously transferring the affections of their fair patients to themselves; and clergymen who preached about the virtue of self-control were reminded by outspoken critics that self-control was out-of-date and really dangerous. (This is apro pos of the revolution of manners and morals in the twenties)
"If love has come to be less often a sin, it has also come to be less often a supreme privelege" explained J.W. Krutch; and Salter Lippman adds "If you start with the belief that love is the pleasure of a moment, is it really surprising that it yields only a momentary pleasure?" The end of the pursuit of sex alone was emptiness and futility - The emptiness and futility to which Lady Brett Ashley and her friends in The Sun Also Rises were so tragically doomed. There were not, to be sure, many Brett Ashleys in the United States during the Post-war decade. Yet there were millions to whom in some degree came for a time the same disillusionment and with it the same unhappiness. They could not endure a life without values, and the only values they had been trained to understand were being undermined. Everything seemed meaningless and unimportant. Well, as least one could toss of a few drinks and get a kick out of physical passion and forget that the world was crumbling. ---- It takes time to build up a new code. Not until the decade was approaching its end did there appear signs that the revolutionists were once more learning to be at home in their world, to rid themselves of their obsession with sex, to adjust themselves emotionally to the change in conventions and standards, to live the freer and franker life of this new era gracefully, and to discover among the ruins of the old dispensation a new set of enduring satisfactions. (Page Wayne!)
Go To Next entry Return to entry dates