Quote Bleg

by John Holbo on February 21, 2010

I’m writing an essay and I want to reference, in passing, Wilde’s quip that some women, so that they may be perfectly spiritual, strive to be very thin. They’re sort of like Descartes’ pineal gland that way, if it’s true, if you think about it. Only Oscar didn’t think to add that extra joke about Descartes. Getting to the point: I’m not even sure he added the thing about the women. Is it in one of the plays? Someone did. Surely a Edwardian/Victorian sort of someone. It would be altogether convenient to know who.

Sunday afternoon mashup: Fleetwood mac vs. Daft Punk. Good stuff!

Thinner, Better, Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger, plus the constructivist implication of ‘you make’, being the spiritual red thread running through this post, as it were. Daft Bodies an all.



Jer K. 02.21.10 at 4:18 am

I know that there’s something in Cyril Connolly’s “The Unquiet Grave” about wishing to be thinner because it would be a sign that he was focusing on his work.


kid bitzer 02.21.10 at 3:06 pm

to be a joke, that joke relies on being told in an era when thinness is considered sexually attractive (as now, or as when wilde wrote.)

i mean–tell that one around a medieval anchoress, and she may just give you a blank stare: yes, of course one of the reasons why i am this thin is because i don’t eat much, as part of a general course of turning away from bodily things, as part of a general course of becoming more spiritually inward. i mortify all of my appetites; it’s part of my spiritual discipline.

not to deny that there were fat friars as well. but desert fathers tended toward the lean side, and did so exactly in pursuit of spiritual ends.

zoom forward a millennium, and lillie langtry is working to keep her hourglass figure for other reasons, reasons more of the flesh than of the spirit.
now, at long last, oscar has material for a joke.


Minivet 02.21.10 at 4:18 pm

I’ve never heard that line, and have fruitlessly pumped a number of keyword combinations into Google and Google Books – you don’t have a more precise quotation, do you?


NomadUK 02.21.10 at 4:21 pm

Hm. Definitely different strokes for different folks today.

Fleetwood Mac vs. Daft Punk. Good stuff!

I’d question that.

thinness is considered sexually attractive


Sure, corpulence doesn’t do it for me, but there’s nothing skinny about, say, Victoria Coren. Rowr.

Anyway, yes, protruding skeletal structures seem to be all the rage in certain quarters; let ’em have ’em.


John Holbo 02.21.10 at 4:22 pm

Unfortunately, I’m at a loss, minivet. The problem is that there are too many damn webpages that think some combination of spiritual and women and thin is interesting.


Neil 02.21.10 at 5:51 pm

Didn’t Weber say something about women who eat prior to dinner in public, so as to seem abstemious? Woody Allen has a story in which someone gains weight to be closer to god (who is in all things).


JH 02.21.10 at 5:59 pm

In Huxley’s Chrome Yellow, there’s a little vignette about three sisters who do this sort of thing, or pretend to at least, if memory serves me correctly.


phosphorious 02.21.10 at 6:13 pm

I googled the following string: wilde quip perfectly spiritual strive thin

No quotes.

And according to this link::


Wilde apparently did say something to that effect. Although the exact wording is not clear.


theAmericanist 02.21.10 at 8:44 pm

I expect, considerably transmogrophied, this is the original quote: “”Many American women, on leaving their native land, adopt the appearance of chronic ill health, under the misapprehension that illness is a form of European refinement.””


Dave Maier 02.21.10 at 9:19 pm

Didn’t Weber say something about women who eat prior to dinner in public, so as to seem abstemious?

This is the exact rationale given by Scarlett O’Hara’s mother, at the beginning of Gone With the Wind, for making her eat dinner before going to the pig roast or whatever that Scarlett has been looking forward to for like forever. (She does not cite Weber, however.)


mollymooly 02.21.10 at 9:21 pm

The quote originates with Saint Wallis of Windsor.


kid bitzer 02.21.10 at 9:22 pm

i think neil confused weber with veblen–you know, veblen’s theory of inconspicuous consumption.


alex 02.22.10 at 8:40 am

Or indeed, for the other quote, conspicuous consumption, for another meaning of the noun.


Ron Edge 02.26.10 at 6:20 pm

To: Holbo (and, kid bitzer of course, mainly, since he seems to take this whole thing seriously)…
I REALLY don’t think Oscar Wilde is/was any source of the “sexuality” of women. You are ALL, obviously, too young to remember… altho’, “theAmericanist” comes to it… the New Yorker rag…er… mag took on the European “Look” for years, my dears, simply YEARS!!

And, yes indeed, ‘anorexic-ism’ was IN…… Dear Gawd: How old AM I, really…….

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