The world needs more than just itself. Amid the dreariness, people do not need a distraction that will in the end become dreary itself; they are asking for mystery, even if they do not realize this themselves. They need the sign of the wholly Other, the living Word of God, entering into this our age in unadulterated trustworthiness and dynamism.
Pope Benedict XVI
The great fact in life, the always possible escape from dullness, was the lake. The sun rose out of it, the day began there; it was like an open door that nobody could shut. The land and all its dreariness could never close in on you. You had only to look at the lake, and you knew you would soon be free.
But Philip was impatient with himself; he called to mind his idea of the pattern of life: the unhappiness he had suffered was no more than part of a decoration which was elaborate and beautiful; he told himself strenuously that he must accept with gaiety everything, dreariness and excitement, pleasure and pain, because it added to the richness of the design.
W. Somerset Maugham
My God, the suburbs! They encircled the city's boundaries like enemy territory and we thought of them as a loss of privacy, a cesspool of conformity and a life of indescribable dreariness in some split-level village where the place name appeared in the New York Times only when some bored housewife blew off her head with a shotgun.
You had to form for yourself a lucid language for the world, to overcome the battering of experience, to replace everyday life's pain and harshness and wretched dreariness with - no not with certainty but with an ignorance you could live with. Deep ignorance, but still a kind that knew its limits. The limits were crucial.
One of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one's own ever-shifting desires. A finely tempered nature longs to escape from the personal life into the world of objective perception and thought.
The Relativity theory, the copernican upheaval, or any great scientific convulsion, leaves a new landscape. There is a period of stunned dreariness; then people begin, antlike, the building of a new human world. They soon forget the last disturbance. But from these shocks they derive a slightly augmented vocabulary, a new blind spot in their vision, a few new blepharospasms or tics, and perhaps a revised method of computing time.
I have studiously tried to avoid ever using the word 'madness' to describe my condition. Now and again, the word slips out, but I hate it. 'Madness' is too glamorous a term to convey what happens to most people who are losing their minds. That word is too exciting, too literary, too interesting in its connotations, to convey the boredom, the slowness, the dreariness, the dampness of depression.
One of the strongest motives that leads men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness. Such men make this cosmos and its construction the pivot of their emotional life, in order to find the peace and security which they cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.
In the turbulence of this anxious and active world many people are leading uneventful, lonely lives. To them dreariness, not disaster, is the enemy. They seldom realize that on their steadfastness, on their ability to withstand the fatigue of dull repetitive work, and on their courage in meeting constant small adversities depend in great measure the happiness and prosperity of the community as a whole. ... The upward course of a nation's history is due in the long run to the soundness of heart of its average men and women.
Queen Elizabeth II
Miss Appleby, her library books, and her story-telling sessions were very popular with all the children in Heavenly Valley. To Nancy and Plum they were a magic carpet that whisked them out of the dreariness and drudgery of their lives at Mrs. Monday's and transported them to palaces in India, canals in Holland, pioneer stockades during the Indian wars, cattle ranches in the West, mountains in Switzerland, pagodas in China, igloos in Alaska, jungles in Africa, castles in England, slums in London, gardens in Japan, or most important of all, into happy homes where there were mothers and fathers and no Mrs. Mondays or Marybelles.
Shortly afterwards it started raining, very innocently at first, but the sky was packed tight with cloud and gradually the drops grew bigger and heavier, until it was autumn's dismal rain that was falling-rain that seemed to fill the entire world with its leaden beat, rain suggestive in its dreariness of everlasting waterfalls between the planets, rain that thatched the heavens with drabness and brooded oppressively over the whole countryside, like a disease, strong in the power of its flat, unvarying monotony, its smothering heaviness, its cold, unrelenting cruelty. Smoothly, smoothly it fell, over the whole shire, over the fallen marsh grass, over the troubled lake, the iron-grey gravel flats, the sombre mountain above the croft, smudging out every prospect. And the heavy, hopeless, interminable beat wormed its way into every crevice in the house, lay like a pad of cotton wool over the ears, and embraced everything, both near and far, in its compass, like an unromantic story from life itself that has no rhythm and no crescendo, no climax, but which is nevertheless overwhelming in its scope, terrifying in its significance. And at the bottom of this unfathomed ocean of teeming rain sat the little house and its one neurotic woman.
Reading Mrs Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Bronte« after Jane Eyre is a curious experience. The subject of the biography is recognisably the same person who wrote the novel, but the effect of the two books is utterly different. The biography is indeed depressing and painful reading. It captures better, I believe, than any any subsequent biography the introverted and puritan pessimist side of Charlotte Bronte«, and conveys the real dreariness of the world of privation, critical discouragement and limited opportunity that so often made her complain in her letters that she felt marked out for suffering. Jane Eyre, on the other hand, is exhilarating reading, partly because the reader, far from simply pitying the heroine, is struck by her resilience, and partly because the novel achieves such an imaginative transmutation of the drab. Unlike that of Jane Austen's Fanny Price or Dickens's Arthur Clennam or John Harmon, Jane Eyre's response to suffering is never less than energetic. The reader is torn between exasperation at the way she mistakes her resentments and prejudices for fair moral judgements, and admiration at the way she fights back. Matthew Arnold, seeking 'sweetness and light' was repelled by the 'hunger, rebellion and rage' that he identified as the keynotes of the novel. One can see why, and yet feel that these have a more positive effect than his phrase allows. The heroine is trying to hold on to her sense of self in a world that gives it little encouragement, and the novel does put up a persuasive case for her arrogance and pugnacity as the healthier alternatives to patience and resignation. That the book has created a world in which the golden mean seems such a feeble solution is both its eccentricity and its strength.
The peculiar predicament of the present-day self surely came to pass as a consequence of the disappointment of the high expectations of the self as it entered the age of science and technology. Dazzled by the overwhelming credentials of science, the beauty and elegance of the scientific method, the triumph of modern medicine over physical ailments, and the technological transformation of the very world itself, the self finds itself in the end disappointed by the failure of science and technique in those very sectors of life which had been its main source of ordinary satisfaction in past ages. As John Cheever said, the main emotion of the adult Northeastern American who has had all the advantages of wealth, education, and culture is disappointment. Work is disappointing. In spite of all the talk about making work more creative and self-fulfilling, most people hate their jobs, and with good reason. Most work in modern technological societies is intolerably dull and repetitive. Marriage and family life are disappointing. Even among defenders of traditional family values, e.g., Christians and Jews, a certain dreariness must be inferred, if only from the average time of TV viewing. Dreary as TV is, it is evidently not as dreary as Mom talking to Dad or the kids talking to either. School is disappointing. If science is exciting and art is exhilarating, the schools and universities have achieved the not inconsiderable feat of rendering both dull. As every scientist and poet knows, one discovers both vocations in spite of, not because of, school. It takes years to recover from the stupor of being taught Shakespeare in English Lit and Wheatstone's bridge in Physics. Politics is disappointing. Most young people turn their backs on politics, not because of the lack of excitement of politics as it is practiced, but because of the shallowness, venality, and image-making as these are perceived through the media-one of the technology's greatest achievements. The churches are disappointing, even for most believers. If Christ brings us new life, it is all the more remarkable that the church, the bearer of this good news, should be among the most dispirited institutions of the age. The alternatives to the institutional churches are even more grossly disappointing, from TV evangelists with their blown-dry hairdos to California cults led by prosperous gurus ignored in India but embraced in La Jolla. Social life is disappointing. The very franticness of attempts to reestablish community and festival, by partying, by groups, by club, by touristy Mardi Gras, is the best evidence of the loss of true community and festival and of the loneliness of self, stranded as it is as an unspeakable consciousness in a world from which it perceives itself as somehow estranged, stranded even within its own body, with which it sees no clear connection. But there remains the one unquestioned benefit of science: the longer and healthier life made possible by modern medicine, the shorter work-hours made possible by technology, hence what is perceived as the one certain reward of dreary life of home and the marketplace: recreation. Recreation and good physical health appear to be the only ambivalent benefits of the technological revolution.