There is no more faithful mirror of a nation's manners and customs than its changing methods of conducting love affairs; and when we have a great novelist, and see these through the medium of his personality, we take a specially keen interest in them. Thackeray was anything but a sentimental novelist, but he could write an exquisitely delicate love scene, blending the light with the serious, and almost imperceptibly throwing a veil of magic over the whole. In "The Newcomes" there is more than one scene between Ethel and Clive which is unforgetable.
For instance, we have Clive, the young artist, making his own way, and Ethel, his cousin, the brilliant beauty, whose duty it is to make a great marriage, in the garden of Madame de Florae in Paris, in an avenue of lime, trees, by an old fountain. After some talk about nuns Ethel says, "There were convents in England." She often thinks she would retire to one. And she sighs as if her heart were in that scheme. Clive, with a laugh, says, "Yes, if you could retire after the season, when you were very weary of the balls, a convent would be very nice." At Rome he had seen San Pietro in Montorio and Sant Onofrio, that delightful old place where Tasso died; people go and make a retreat there. In the ladies' convents the ladies do the same thing - and he doubts whether they are much more or less wicked, after their retreat, than gentlemen and ladies in England or France.
The Bounds of the Social Paradise
Clive: I do not know what the world is, except from afar off. I am like the Peri who looks into Paradise and sees angels within it. I live in Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, which is not within the gates of Paradise. 1 take the gate to be somewhere in Davies Street, leading out of Oxford Street into Grosvenor Square. There's another gate in Hay Hill; and another in Bruton Street, Bond Ethel: Don't be a goose.
Ethel: Unkind and unjust - ungenerous to make taunts which common people make; and to repeat to me those silly sarcasms which your low Radical literary friends are always putting in their books! . . . Are we not of the same blood, Clive? And of all the grandees I see about, can there be a grander gentleman than your dear old father! You need not squeeze my hand so. . . . Do you remember when we were children, and you used to make drawings for us? I have some now that you did - in my geography book, which I used to read and read with Miss Quigley.
Clive: I remember all about our youth, Ethel.
Ethel: Tell me what you remember.
Clive: I remember one of the days, when I first saw you. I had been reading the "Arabian Nights" at school, and you came in in a bright dress of shot silk, amber and blue, and I thought you were like that fairy princess who came out of the crystal box, because Ethel: Because why?
Clive: Because I always thought that a fairy somehow must be the most beautiful creature in all the world - that is "why and because." Do not make me Mayfair curtseys. You know whether you are good-looking or not; and how long I have thought you so. I remember when I thought I would like to be Ethel's knight, and that if there was anything she would have me do, 1 would try and achieve it in order to please her. 1 remember when I was so ignorant I did not know there was any difference in rank between us.
Ethel: Ah, Clive!
Clive: Now it is altered. Now I know the difference between a poor painter and a young lady of the world. Why haven't I a title and a great fortune? Why did I ever see you, Ethel; or, knowing the distance which it seems fate has placed between us, why have I seen you again?
Ethel (innocently): Have I ever made any difference between us? Whenever I may see you, am I not too glad? Don't I see you sometimes when I should not - no, I do not say when I should not; but when others, whom I am bound to obey, forbid me? What harm is there in my remembering old days? Why should I be ashamed of our relationship? No, not ashamed - why should I forget it? Don't do that, sir, we have shaken hands twice already."
They were then interrupted, but a few