Personal Pleasures – an Introduction

This series of reflections is inspired by a work by the novelist Rose Macaulay, who published a book under this name in the 1930’s. As is the case with many good interwar novelists, much of her work is now almost forgotten, apart from her last and greatest novel “The Towers of Trebizond”. This is a shame, as she wrote well and her novels give perceptive insights into the human condition. During both her religious phases and her period as an “anglo-agnostic” she never ceased her exploration of how we should live.

Her “Personal Pleasures” muses on a wide variety of experiences in life, and I will try to do something similar. Some of her pleasures – churchgoing, solitude – I share, and will include in my list; others, like hot baths, clothes and bathing, leave me unmoved. Although most of her topics gave her genuine joy, some of them (talking about a new car, following the fashion) she was somewhat ambivalent about. I will start with pleasures I can endorse wholeheartedly, because my real interest in this project, as in The Diary of an Involuntary Anchorite, is the question which fascinated Aristotle – what makes a life worth living?

Aristotle derided a life devoted to the pursuit of pleasure as bovine, and our society is still influenced by a strand of post-Reformation Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant) which saw life as a vale of tears, and thought that if it wasn’t that already we ought to make it into one. There is a tendency therefore to be suspicious of pleasure of any sort and consciously or unconsciously to feel guilty for enjoying things.

It is true that there are pleasures which appear initially enticing but ultimately fail to satisfy – they are indeed worldy pomp and show. We have created a whole industry of advertising devoted to making us mistake these shadows for the truth, and perhaps we need to think about how we can shut our minds and turn our backs on these chimeras. But solid joys and lasting pleasures are part of the good life, and glorying in these is a lot more necessary to salvation than “thus thinking about the Trinity” can ever be. Hopefully by writing about those which strike me as worthwhile I will be able to find out how I can do this, and perhaps share this insight with others.