Lilies That Fester
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The World's Last Night and Other Essays

"Lilies That Fester"

The title comes from the last line of Shakespeare's Sonnet XCIV: "Lilies that fester, smell far worse than weeds."  Lewis's rebuttal to John Allen's piece in Twentieth Century appeared in the April 1955 issue of the same periodical.   

In the first nine pages, Lewis attempts to answer Mr. Allen's question: Why people "go to such lengths to prove to us that really they are not intellectuals at all and certainly not cultured."  In the balance of the essay, Lewis tells us why the discussion matters.

1.  What observation does Lewis make about use of the terms "refinement," "religion," and "culture"?

2.  Lewis contrasts culture for the sake of enjoyment with culture for the sake of self-improvement and/or advancement.  Are these mutually exclusive?  Do you think his distinction has merit?

3.  What is wrong with a "faith in culture"? 

4.  What point is Lewis making when he compares the young snobs feigning enjoyment of port to the elderly ladies sipping tea or the schoolboy engrossed in a science fiction book?

5.  Why does Lewis consider a theocracy "the worst of all possible governments"?  Do you agree/disagree?

6.  Lewis doesn't consider theocracy an imminent threat for Britain.  Instead, he is concerned about a Charientocracy.  What does he mean by this term?

7.  What role does education play in the development of a Managerial Class?

8.  Lewis foresaw a society where the cultural elite, via the educational system, served as gatekeepers to the ruling or Managerial Class.  To gain admittance, you must appreciate the same literature/art and echo the same evaluation of it.  Those who expressed a differing opinion did not advance.  Has this society materialized? 

9.  Why is "culture" a poor qualification for leadership? 

10.  On what does the student raised in a Charientocracy miss out?  Why is he/she "less curable than the hypocrite proper"?

11.  What happens when "sanctity or culture" becomes a means to achieve?  What response does Lewis advocate?


Frui: enjoy, profit by, delight in

Delectari:  delight, please, amuse

Don Giovanni:  Mozart's opera based on the story of Don Juan that premiered in 1787.  In Act II, a statue in a cemetery warns Giovanni of his impending doom.  The statue later comes to dinner and drags the unrepentant Giovanni to the grave.

Oresteia:  trilogy of tragedies by ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus (525-456 BCE)

Clytaemnestra:  wife of Agamemnon and one of the main characters in the Oresteia

Goethe to Eckermann:  Johann Eckermann (1792-1854) served as Goethe's secretary during the last nine years of Goethe's life.  He wrote a book in 1836 recording his conversations with the German writer, which is frequently compared to Boswell's Life of Johnson.

Horace (65-8 BCE):  Roman lyric poet

Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784):  Most quoted English writer after Shakespeare.  Wrote a dictionary and numerous essays.  His friend, James Boswell, wrote a famous biography of Johnson.

Ovid (43 BCE - 17 CE):  Roman poet known for writing about love.  Also wrote Metamorphoses, an epic poem on Greek mythology.

Pudor:  decency, shame; sense of honor; modesty

Hoover:  British term for a vacuum cleaner

Divine Right [of kings]:  a monarch's right to rule is given to him by God and does not come from his subjects, his peers, or any earthly authority

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778):  French philosopher.  "General will" refers to the desire of the people in mass.  The focus is on society as a whole, which may conflict with interests of individual citizens.

Χαριεντες:  witty ones; elegant and accomplished people

Venustiores:  attractive, charming, graceful

Hotel de Rambouillet:  Paris residence of Madame de Rambouillet.  She held a literary salon in her home from 1607 to 1665.  The women in the group were known for wearing blue stockings.

Plasticine:  a brand of modeling clay patented in 1899 and used in school art classes.  The term has come to be used generically in Britain.  Plasticine is also used in animation.

Richard Mulcaster (1531-1611):  headmaster of Merchant Taylors' school in London, at that time the largest school in England.  He wrote two treatises on education and designed a curriculum that set the standard in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.

Tartuffe:  a comedy written in 1664 by French playwright Molière about a religious fraud.  The word has come to mean a hypocrite who feigns religious virtue.

Moyen de parvenir:  means to achieve

© 2008 by Allyson Wieland