“This is my birthday & I cannot let it pass without writing to you”
Vernon Lee to Matilda Paget, October 14, 1891. Vernon Lee Archive, Miller Library, Colby College
October 14 marks the date of Violet Paget’s birth in Boulogne sur Mer, and like every year, The Sibyl “cannot let it pass without writing to you”, dear readers.
But this year the current deluge of violence and hatred against innocent civilians took my breath away, and quite muted me.
The civilian population in Israel targeted by ruthless terrorists, and the civilian population of Gaza caught under the fire of Israel’s retaliation… and the reconciliation efforts and peaceful solutions painstakingly carried out, elaborated and agreed upon by the more moderate elements of society on both sides have now been shattered by extremists.
Then, in the wake of the bloodbath, here in France, our colleague, Dominique Bernard assassinated by an islamic fanatic right in his High School in Arras– for what? for being a History and Literature teacher?! This, exactly 3 years after another colleague, Samuel Paty, was savagely decapitated near his School in Conflans Sainte Honorine for teaching secularism and freedom of speech… What a terrible commemoration!
The attack level alert has been raised in France; and of course, so have endless controversies and divisions, fed by more or less well-informed or well-meaning (read my lips) social media reporting the opinions of more or less well-meaning politicians and self-appointed “experts”. As for us, we wish to express our heart-felt sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims.
Are we yet again going to live in Terror, for the sake of religious fanatics? What can men and women of good-will do? What would Vernon Lee say? In 1921, she wrote to her friend, the pianist Mathilde Hecht (née Oulman) who had suffered so much during the war:
If only people could see in their fellow man the other self of Buddhism, or at the very least, a vulnerable creature as capable of suffering and error as themselves!
(Vernon Lee, Letter to Mathilde Hecht, Decembre 30, 1921)
In this situation, Lee’s Satan the Waster and Ballet of the Nations sound more sinister, and more visionary than ever… but then she died 4 years before WWII, and her views might have been different, had she actually lived through Nazi barbarism…