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William Carlos Williams on How It Used to Be

March 13, 2014

Saul of Tarsus said that it is better to marry than to burn. Perhaps that is the approach of the modern anti-sex movements. But in his collection of stories and essays, In the American Grain (1925), William Carlos Williams tells of the dangers at the end of this course:

It’s inevitable that men shall go down the scale until they strike what they want – or can get. There was the young medical fellow, a New Englander, in the State Asylum at Worcester, a periodic maniac; his history fascinated me. He is a clever physician, and a man of excellent antecedents. Shortly after college (and a medical education takes so long that a man is in his late twenties before he can afford to marry) he married a woman far below his class, – he had to to get her. Shortly realizing his fatal error, he promptly, being a sensitive man, went insane, – and was as promptly divorced and committed to the asylum by his wife, proving the soundness of his mind – fundamentally. He has married three times since and has always gone mad: a little like Strindberg. But the reasoning here is truly American. Trained a Puritan, he was bursting for lack of sexual satisfaction. Unwilling to commit the sin of fornication and being unable to get a wife of his own class, due to poverty, or what not – he married someone below his scale of aesthetic or emotional relief. Thus the greater was sacrificed to the lesser. Now he was overcome with anguish. His life was ruined. He bitterly assailed himself for his folly and lost all control. In the hospital, he worked well in the laboratory – but he was truly insane. There is no class to absorb this stress.

 (This is from the essay ‘Jacataqua’.)

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