September 25: Utilitarian In Love

John Stuart Mill's romance -- he was in love with a married woman for 20 years, then got to marry her when her husband kicked; then she died -- might make a good costume-drama movie starring, I don't know, Colin Firth? I feel like I ought to make a more original suggestion than Colin Firth; but he is good at communicating how his over-articulateness can't get at what his heart is feeling:
In general spiritual characteristics, as well as in temperament and organisation, I have often compared her, as she was at this time, to Shelley: but in thought and intellect, Shelley, so far as his powers were developed in his short life, was but a child compared with what she ultimately became.
Are you crying, Mill? Are those tears? Get a hold of yourself, man!
It is not to be supposed that she was, or that any one, at the age at which I first saw her, could be, all that she afterwards became.
There we go. That's better. And more objective.

The tricky part about the Mill-in-love movie is that it's hard not to make fun of Mill, he is so serious, and yet he's your hero, and also on the side of the angels. The solution is the make the movie from her point of view, which doesn't survive -- though that's probably a feature, not a bug, as it allows more freedom for invention and a better part for Keira Knightley. (Ask for Keira Knightley, settle for someone who's been on British TV.) You wish Mill would be more helpful in describing her, but he can't help being Mill (you may recall he was raised extremely weirdly), so this sentence looks promising:
What I owe, even intellectually, to her, is in its detail, almost infinite; of its general character a few words will give some, though a very imperfect, idea.
But it's followed up with a Generalization:
With those who, like all the best and wisest of mankind, are dissatisfied with human life as it is, and whose feelings are wholly identified with its radical amendment, there are two main regions of thought.
Grrr. Open your heart, man! Say something ardently. Oh, wait:
Ardently as I should have aspired to this complete union of our lives at any time in the course of my existence at which it had been practicable, I, as much as my wife, would far rather have foregone that privilege for ever, than have owed it to the premature death of one for whom I had the sincerest respect, and she the strongest affection. That event, however, having taken place in July, 1849, it was granted to me to derive from that evil my own greatest good, by adding to the partnership of thought, feeling, and writing which had long existed, a partnership of our entire existence. For seven and a half years that blessing was mine; for seven and a half only!
Using "ardently" and "practicable" in the same sentence seems like pure Mill. But, in that context, that exclamation point really hits.

Finally: I don't mean to keep poking fun at Mill, but I can't resist noting that his chapter headings ("Commencement of the Most Valuable Friendship of My Life. My Father’s Death. Writings and Other Proceedings up to 1840") remind me of the chapter headings in one of my favorite favorite books ("Effect upon my father of his disclosure. My Xtian confidence in journeying to Enfield. Paternoster Towers and its mistress. Unfortunate detachment of my posterior trouser-buttons. Melancholy death of Silas Whey.")

Still, I can totally see this movie, and perhaps you will -- Christmas 2011.

No comments: