" . . . knew every quirk within lust's labyrinth and were professed critic in lechery."
Cracks are appearing in the idol of high culture fabricated by the Victorians. Matthew Arnold eloquently expressed the vision of the educated person who joins moral commitment with breadth of vision and transcends the narrowness of religion and the shallowness of pure aestheticism. This ideal of harmony, overtime, hardened into a petty orthodoxy—antiphilistine gestures against the beliefs most people inherited. The educated liberal could feel assured that his enlightened positions and his seriousness about art as a surrogate religion (another, less happy, feature of Arnold's thought) both guaranteed his superiority over the benighted masses and would also find vindication in history.
,P>Signs of wavering belief, however, have been appearing for some time now. New ideas are not fitting into the prescribed modes, making the correct ritualistic gestures hard to enact with grace. Even within the temples of art, questions arise about the civilizing value of learning and literature, as intellectual skepticism begins to devour its parents. Two recent novels, without exactly meaning to, show the cracks in the once complacent view of the world, as the void left by the repudiation of the past exacts its price on the makers of culture.