Henry Lawson and Harvey Weinstein
The lugubrious profile of Henry Lawson, with his gigantic handlebar moustache, graced Australian $10 notes for decades. Lawson was a 19th Century writer who wrote about “the bush”, the rough life of the farming and mining settlements of early Australia. He’s not known much abroad, but a handful of his short stories are truly world class. He’s a kind of Down Under version of Mark Twain.
Alas, his romantic relationships foundered and after flaring into fame, his candle guttered into alcoholism, debt, homelessness and mental illness. Whatever his faults, he was a deeply humane writer with a great respect for marriage. In one of his stories, “Joe Wilson's Courtship”, he writes with surprising insight about (close your eyes and take a deep breath) chastity.
But I think that the happiest time in a man’s life is when he’s courting a girl and finds out for sure that she loves him and hasn’t a thought for any one else. Make the most of your courting days, you young chaps, and keep them clean, for they’re about the only days when there’s a chance of poetry and beauty coming into this life. Make the best of them and you’ll never regret it the longest day you live. They’re the days that the wife will look back to, anyway, in the brightest of times as well as in the blackest, and there shouldn’t be anything in those days that might hurt her when she looks back. Make the most of your courting days, you young chaps, for they will never come again…
Make the most of your courting days, you young chaps, for they’ve got a lot of influence on your married life afterwards—a lot more than you’d think. Make the best of them, for they’ll never come any more, unless we do our courting over again in another world. If we do, I’ll make the most of mine.
What’s your reaction to that? Cloying sentimentality? Victorian moralism? Christian claptrap?
Wherever we stand, we'll have to admit that Joe Wilson’s sentiments are almost incomprehensible today. In fact, a number of words about relationships have almost vanished from our lexicon in the last 50 years. When was the last time you heard words like modesty, continence, purity, courtship, shame, temptations, passion, or fidelity in the context of what we blandly catalogue as “relationships” – let alone his exhortation to “keep them clean”?
More than a moral vocabulary, we’ve lost a precious possibility for channelling our sexuality. And it seems no more possible to recover it than it is to raise the Titanic. We can only gaze at the fragments of forgotten splendour scattered over the ocean floor.
But maybe not. Maybe there’s someone who can raise the Titanic. Maybe his name is Harvey Weinstein.
There is no need to repeat the allegations against Weinstein. And while it’s good to bear in mind that they are only allegations at this stage, together they form another chapter in the dismal chronicle of sexual abuse by respected public figures like Roger Ailes, Bill Cosby, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Bill Clinton, etc, etc.
And those are just the respected public figures. What happens on college campuses? Every university has an office dedicated to receiving complaints about sexual humiliation and assault and to drafting guidelines for distinguishing assault from consent.
In the wake of the revelations about Weinstein’s conduct, a number of women in Hollywood are saying that this is an opportunity to drain the swamp. “An important conversation has begun about the need to create a culture in our industry which values respect and decency and rejects the abuse of power and dehumanising treatment of others,” says Isa Hackett, a woman whose complaint about Roy Price, a top executive at Amazon Studios, led to his departure this week.
It’s possible that Ms Hackett dimly sees the challenge. To purge this filth from Hollywood (and elsewhere), we need the virtues of respect and decency, not more rule books. So Harvey Weinstein’s downfall offers a remarkable marketing opportunity for Henry Lawson’s chastity. And, by the way, Lawson was not a Christian. If he professed any creed at all, it would have been socialism.
Here are some of the selling points of chastity:
(1) Instead of a fat handbook of rules and regulations, with constant updates, amendments and revisions, there is only one rule: no sex before marriage. It’s clear and transparent.
(2) A chaste life has a purpose. Instead of a string of uncommitted relationships, encounters, hook-ups, and negotiations about “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature”, you aim at one type of relationship: lifelong, faithful marriage.
(3) The chaste life of a single man or woman is an apprenticeship for commitment. You learn the self-mastery and spirit of service which are the indispensable preparation for marriage.
(4) A chaste life prepares you to fall in love, truly, madly, deeply, forever. It’s not about exploiting another’s body for pleasure and discarding them like a dirty tissue.
(5) Chastity leads, as Lawson promises, to poetry and beauty, to the mystery of experiencing love for you as a person, not just for your beauty, your body, your wealth or your power. Just for you.
(6) And while chastity is not the most important virtue and is not a shield from life's suffering, it confers a sense of integrity which is beyond price. Mr Weinstein is an extreme case of the consequences of contempt for chastity: shame and disgrace.
If you’ve got lemons, Hollywood, make lemonade. The Harvey Weinstein scandal is disgusting. But there’s a way back. Revisit old-fashioned chastity.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.