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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

In the midst of history

Anne now felt herself close to and looking into the stream of recorded history, within whose banks the littlest things are great, and outside which she and the general bulk of the human race were content to live on as an unreckoned, unheeded superfluity. (Chapter 13)

The scene takes place in Budmouth and all the spectators are observing King George III on the Esplanade.  Among the crowd are the Garlands and the miller and his son John.  Only Mrs. Garland expresses appreciation at being able to see the monarch:  "Thank God, I have seen my King!"  Everyone else was somewhat disappointed, having "expected a more pompous procession than the bucolic tastes of the King cared to indulge in; one old man said grimly that that sight of dusty old leather coaches was not worth waiting for."

Hardly anyone is impressed by the appearance of the King.  In the midst of a historical moment, most of the characters igorne the immensity of the moment.  Unlike Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair who adopted a genteel persona and seemed to belong in the moment at Waterloo, these characters seem insignificant compared to the events going on around them, though they fail to appreciate the significance of the history going on around them.  Accordingly, they are content to live in unanimity, John likely more concerned about his failed overtures to Anne than the actions of the monarch.  After everyone heads home, the focus returns to the lives of the characters.  The historicity of the moment is only significant as far as it concerns one personally.

The above painting is Luncheon on the Grass (1862-3) by Edouard Manet.

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