Encore un autre interludeIn September 1893, the fictional Henry James portrayed in David Lodge's hugely entertaining novel Author, Author! stopped for dinner with his friend George Du Maurier at the Cod and Lobster Inn in Staithes on the east coast of England.
Perhaps the ale was unusually strong, for Du Maurier was particularly loquacious over the meal. He reverted to the subject of his dealings with Harper. It seemed that [his second novel] Trilby contained a passage of authorial polemic in favor of nudity, which the publishers wanted to cut out.
"I have a theory, you see, Henry, that if only our climate allowed it, we should be much happier going around without clothes. There is nothing inherently shameful or indecent about the human body."
"The weather in North Yorkshire certainly precludes the experiment," said Henry, as he cracked open a lobster claw. "But even in Samoa—where I understand from Louis Stevenson the natives make do with very little raiment—even there I don't think I would care to meet my friends in a state of nature. Most of us are simply not beautiful enough."
"Ah, but that's because we neglect our bodies. And we neglect them because we cover them up with layers of cloth—and in the case of women, distort their natural shapes with whalebone and bustles and lacing and suchlike. Now if we saw each other habitually in a state of nature, as you call it, as a matter of course, we should take pains to exercise and diet to make our bodies strong and healthy and attractive."
"What about those who are irredeemably ugly or misshapen?" Henry objected.
"They wouldn't reproduce, because nobody would marry them," said Du Maurier triumphantly, evidently seeing this as a knockdown argument. "By Darwin's law of natural selection we would—in the course of a few generations—eliminate ugliness from the human race. We would also get rid of all the sniggering smut and furtive lust that surrounds the mere mention of the human body in polite society, and corrupts relations between men and women." [pp. 190-191]