Agatha Christie on the Paradox of Choice
August 4, 2010 3 Comments
While we’re on the subject of free will and its attendant burdens: not having slept for the last two nights, I’ve been reading Agatha Christie’s autobiography. Here’s what she has to say about choice and potential, and how things changed since she was that terribly Victorian thing, a girl who couldn’t be a lady.
It was my first brush with the inevitable. There are things that cannot be achieved. it is important to realize this early in life, and very good for you. There are some things that you just cannot have—a natural curl in your hair, black eyes (if yours happen to be blue) or the title of Lady Agatha.
She goes on:
On the whole I think the snobbery of my childhood, the snobbery of birth, that is, is more palatable than the other snobberies: the snobbery of wealth, and today’s intellectual snobbery.
Intellectual snobbery seems today to breed a particular form of envy and venom. Parents are determined that their offspring shall shine. “We’ve made great sacrifices for you to have a good education,” they say. The child is burdened with guilt if he does not fulfill their hopes. Everyone is so sure that it is all a matter of opportunity—not of natural aptitude.
I think late Victorian parents were more realistic and had really more consideration for their children and for what would make a happy and successful life for them. There was much less keeping up with the Joneses. Nowadays I often feel that it is for one’s own prestige that one wants one’s children to succeed. The Victorians looked dispassionately at their offspring and made up their minds about their capacities. A. was obviously going to be “the pretty one.” B. was “the clever one.” C. was going to be plain and was definitely not intellectual. Good works would be C.’s best chance. And so on. Sometimes, of course, they were wrong, but on the whole it worked. There is an enormous relief in not being expected to produce something that you haven’t got.
(By the way, Agatha, in her family, was “the slow one.”)