All this is very vieux jeu

From Rose Macaulay’s Told By An Idiot:

Such are time’s revenges that the so daring social, literary and intellectual cleavages made by our forefathers in those years are now regarded as quaintly old-fashioned compromises with freedom, even as our own audacities will doubtless be regarded thirty years hence. But the people of the [eighteen] nineties, even as the people of the eighties, seventies, sixties, and so back, and even as the people of the twentieth century, thought they were emancipating themselves from tradition, saw themselves as bold buccaneers sailing uncharted seas, and found it great fun. The illusion of advance is sustaining, to all right-minded persons, and should by all means be cultivated. It gives self-confidence and poise. It even seems to please elderly persons to mark or fancy changes of habit, which they have no wish to emulate, among their juniors, and it certainly pleases their juniors to be thus remarked upon, for they, too, believe that they are something new—the new young, as they have always delighted to call themselves—so all are pleased and no harm is done.

And shortly before:

“Well, your grandfather thinks even Una is too modern. It’s the golf and bicycling and [dropping her] g’s, I suppose. I expect the fact is that it’s difficult, in these days, to avoid being new. You children and your friends all are. In fact, the whole world seems to be.”

“The world is always new, mamma darling, and always old. It’s no newer than it was in 1880, or 1870—in fact, not so new, by some years. The only year in which it was really new was, according to grandpapa and the annotators of the Book of Genesis, 4004 B.C.”

“Yes, I dare say it was sadly new then, and no doubt grandpapa would have found it so. But somehow one hears the word a good deal just now, used by young people as well as old. What with new women, and new art, and new literature, and new humour, and the new hedonism that Denman and Stanley talk about, and that seems to mean making your drawing-room like an old curiosity shop and burning incense in it and lighting it with darkened crimson lamps and lying on divans with black and gold cushions and smoking scented cigarettes and reading improper plays aloud . . . Only Rome says that isn’t new in the least, but thousands of years old.”

“Oh, Rome. Rome thinks nothing new. She was born blasée. She hasn’t got grandpapa’s or Stanley’s fresh mind. She always expects the unexpected. Oscar Wilde says that to do that shows a thoroughly modern mind. If Rome had been Eve, she’d have looked at the new world through a monocle (she’d have worn that, even if nothing else) and seen that it was stale, and said with a yawn, ‘All this is very vieux jeu.’”

“And very possibly,” said mamma, “it was.”

I do wonder if Macaulay’s judgment on the illusion of advance – ‘all are pleased and no harm is done’ – would remain the same today.

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