The Pleasures of Perfidy

We clearly live in an age of blunt speech and informal interaction, at least as compared to the several centuries preceeding, say, 1950. I suspect a great many Dalrymple readers share a respect for more traditional, formal modes of public behavior. He expresses this appreciation in an essay in New English Review:

Recently, I happened on a slim volume in a charity thrift shop (in England, even the organisation of these shops is morally and intellectually corrupt, but that is another story) titled How Shall I Word It? – a Letter Writer for Men and Women on Domestic and Business Subjects. This edition was published in August, 1943, at the height of the war, when extermination was under full swing. It is curious to think that, while people were being gassed at one end of Europe, other people were fretting about how to address a letter correctly to a Dowager Duchess. Since then, of course (and not unconnectedly), vulgarity, being democratically achievable by all, has become a virtue, and daintiness a kind of treason to the self.

9 thoughts on “The Pleasures of Perfidy

  1. Rachel

    That was brilliant and facinating.

    I adore TDs essays on antique books.
    There was another similar essay where he wrote about an old book called “The Relunctant Poisoner”. about a murderer which was just as enjoyable. I found it on this site IIRC.

    I used to love buying 2nd hand books in charity shops as a child in Britain. I could not afford new books then and I liked Enid Blyton so I managed to own over 50 tatty Enid Blyton books over the course of my childhood at only a few pennies each. They all had old politically incorrect language with a similar feel to what he described but written simpler and for children. Nowadays Enid Blyton books are still available but the thought police just bowlderise them and all the old un PC language as well as words like “dainty” and “mackinstosh” have been cut out.
    I’ed also buy non fictions books like the one he describes. Then inbetween the age of 15 and 19 I developed a book dust allergy that got so bad that I had to get rid of the books and to this day I can not read old books without getting severe sinus headaches and a runny nose. All treatment didn’t help so I had to give up my old book hobby but reading this essay brought it all back. It was nice to relive it.
    His commentary on the culture change is correct as it usually is.

  2. Jackson K. Eskew

    Not to say that there isn’t a place for blunt speech. I haven’t read the whole essay yet. He probably makes this point.

    Anyway, see this page I recently made in which I recommend several Dalrymple essays and books:

    I think that, today especially, subrational tactics (let’s call them), or shock speech (alternatively), must be part of the arsenal of cutting through the static.

    Anyway, keep up the good work here. I love this site.

    P.S. I know, Dalrymple himself is (for the time being) an atheist. For today’s legions of heathens, I think this makes his arguments even more powerful.


  3. Shishir

    In this era of raunch culture and me me me dysfunctional personalities, such quaint correspondances might as well seem to be from the Abassid Caliphate and not a mere 60 years ago in a Western country!

    As the good doctor says -habit forms character.Therefore I can imagine(as a thought experiment) some counter cultural types say hipsters could possibly restart this trend of writing old fashioned letters(perhaps with parchments,ink and quills rather than emails) in an of course mocking ironic fashion.But Im sure they will quickly realize(especially women) that something precious was lost and these sneers behind what they intend to satirize may disappear and actually attempt to emulate some aspect of the bygone era!

  4. Jackson

    “I feel sure that in your case it simply arose from a love of enjoyment, and the exuberance of our spirits, but if it gives you pleasure to amuse yourself by coquetting with other men at the expense of my feelings, I am deeply disappointed in you.

    The book also advises as to how to reply to such a reproach (which it assumes is justified):

    Your words have stung me deeply, for, as you say, no self-respecting woman likes to be called a flirt, and I am not one.”

    Not a flirt!! What meaning her life must lack… how does she expect to get the right man if she’s not provoking a fight to display fitness or blah blah blah…

    Pretty girl in a sexy dress
    faking the merit of her success
    manly ambition, sells his soul to impress
    white feathers, blood diamonds, these are the tales of lekcess

    I’ve run out of words that rhyme with…

    habit forms character indeed… perhaps my character has ebbed a little on this one, oh but how it exercises me so.


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