The Outward Appearance

George Romney--Lady Hamilton as Miranda (from wikipedia)

George Romney--Lady Hamilton as Miranda (from wikipedia)

Who has not observed the phenomenon of this transfiguration on saintly faces where the habits of the soul have finally triumphed over the most graceless features by imprinting upon them that divine illumination which comes from the nobility and purity of elevated thoughts?

Balzac, Eugénie Grandet

There’s nothing ill can dwell in such a temple.
If the ill spirit have so fair a house,
Good things will strive to dwell with’t.

Shakespeare, The Tempest

It must be said, however, that Schiller’s wife, for all her comeliness, was very stupid. Though stupidity constitutes a special charm in a pretty wife. I, at least, have known many husbands who are delighted with their wives’ stupidity and see in it all the tokens of childlike innocence. Beauty works perfect miracles. All inner shortcomings in a beauty, instead of causing repugnance, become somehow extraordinarily attractive; vice itself breathes comeliness in them; but if it were to disappear, then a woman would have to be twenty times more intelligent than a man in order to inspire, if not love, at least respect.

Gogol, Nevsky Prospect

The idea that the inside can influence the appearance of the outside is a foreign one to me; despite being extremely easy to read, I had always hoped that my skin concealed my inside thoughts from the rest of the world. In these literary worlds I’ve dug up (in the time it takes a heart to beat!) intensity of thought or feeling leads to intensity of appearance, but in the real world I think the thoughts and feelings of most people are so mundane that their faces can’t resist the onslaught of the bland, and likewise grow vague, dull, and featureless—their thoughts make them chameleons, clothe them in camouflage, so no one notices them, while the world is likewise hidden from them, and they live as sleepwalkers, seeing nothing. The invisible are blind.

On the other hand, I may be the dull one, unable to see the beauty and hideousness inherent to every human face and thought.


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