Notebook October 1986
Courtship in Congreve
On Congreve, the king of Victorians masquerading.
Congreve through the generations has found himself constantly spanked for his morals, or lack thereof, from contemporary parsons who denounced him from the pulpit, to Thackeray, that king of Victorians masquerading as an eighteenth-century wit, who could not help wondering if the great dramatist, whose art seemed to justify a seat on the very peak of Parnassus, would not bring disapproving sniffs to the noses of the properer gods already there.
We can laugh at this in our own liberated day, but have you read him recently? He does go rather far. Making full allowance for the latitude of comedy, or even of farce, his heroes and villains still strut with astounding arrogance around a sleazy barnyard. Consider two of the former; Bellimour in The Old Bachelor and Mirabell in The Way of the World. Both are viewed as sympathetically by their creator as he seems capable of viewing men. They...
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