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HOME > Short Stories > The Plain Man and His Wife > II - THE TASTE FOR PLEASURE I
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 One evening—it is bound to happen in the evening when it does happen—the plain man whose case I endeavoured to analyse in the previous chapter will suddenly explode. The smouldering volcano within that placid1 and wise exterior2 will burst forth3, and the surrounding country will be covered with the hot lava4 of his immense hidden grievance5. The business day has perhaps been marked by an unusual succession of annoyances6, exasperations, disappointments—but he has met them with fine philosophic7 calm; fatigue8 has overtaken him—but it has not overcome him; throughout the long ordeal9 at the office he has remained master of himself, a wondrous10 example to the young and the foolish. And then some entirely11 unimportant occurrence—say, an invitation to a golf foursome which his duties forbid him to accept—a trifle, a nothing, comes along and brings about the explosion, in a fashion excessively disconcerting to the onlooker12, and he exclaims, acidly, savagely13, with a profound pessimism14:  
“What pleasure do I get out of life?” And in that single abrupt15 question (to which there is only one answer) he lays bare the central flaw of his existence.
The onlooker will probably be his wife, and the tone employed will probably imply that she is somehow mysteriously to blame for the fact that his earthly days are not one unbroken series of joyous16 diversions. He has no pose to keep up with his wife. And, moreover, if he really loves her he will find a certain curious satisfaction in hurting her now and then, in being wilfully17 unjust to her, as he would never hurt or be unjust to a mere18 friend. (Herein is one of the mysterious differences between love and affection!) She is alarmed and secretly aghast, as well she may be. He also is secretly aghast. For he has confessed a fact which is an inconvenient19 fact; and Anglo-Saxons have such a horror of inconvenient facts that they prefer to ignore them even to themselves. To pretend that things are not what they are is regarded by Anglo-Saxons as a proof of strength of mind and wholesomeness20 of disposition21; while to admit that things are indeed what they are is deemed to be either weakness or cynicism. The plain man is incapable22 of being a cynic; he feels, therefore, that he has been guilty of weakness, and this, of course, makes him very cross.
“Can’t something be done?” says his wife, meaning, “Can’t something be done to ameliorate your hard lot?”
(Misguided creature! It was the wrong phrase to use. And any phrase would have been the wrong phrase. She ought to have caressed23 him, for to a caress24 there is no answer.)
“You know perfectly25 well that nothing can be done!” he snaps her up, like a tiger snapping at the fawn26. And his eyes, challenging hers, seem to say: “Can I neglect my business? Can I shirk my responsibilities? Where would you be if I shirked them? Where would the children be? What about old age, sickness, death, quarter-day, rates, taxes, and your new hat? I have to provide for the rainy day and for the future. I am succeeding, moderately; but let there be no mistake—success means that I must sacrifice present pleasure. Pleasure is all very well for you others, but I—” And then he will finish aloud, with the air of an offended and sarcastic27 martyr28: “Something be done, indeed!”
She sighs. The domestic scene is over.
Now, he may be honestly convinced that nothing can be done. Let us grant as much. But obviously it suits his pride to assume that nothing can be done. To admit the contrary would be to admit that he was leaving something undone29, that he had organized his existence clumsily, even that he had made a fundamental miscalculation in the arrangement of his career. He has confessed to grave dissatisfaction. It behoves him, for the sake of his own dignity and reputation, to be quite sure that the grave dissatisfaction is unavoidable, inevitable30, and that the blame for it rests with the scheme of the universe, and not with his particular private scheme. His rôle is that of the brave, strong, patient victim of an alleged31 natural law, by reason of which the present must ever be sacrificed to the future, and he discovers a peculiar32 miserable33 delight in the rôle. “Miserable” is the right adjective.

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