Aesthetic Realism Seminar

The Mixup in a Wife about Coldness & Warmth

By Anne Fielding

Here is a wife speaking to her husband in an Irish play of 1926:Sean O'Casey

I’m longin’ to show you me new hat, to see what you think of  it. Would you like to see it?  [A knock is heard at the door.]
Take no notice of it, Jack. Don’t break our happiness. Pretend we’re not in. Let us forget everything tonight but our own two selves. Please, Jack, don’t open it. Please, for your own little Nora’s sake!

This is Nora Clitheroe in Sean O’Casey’s The Plough & the Stars, a wife very much in a mixup about warmth and coldness.

In a lecture Eli Siegel, the founder of Aesthetic Realism, gave on the subject of imagination, he noted that Nora is a woman who wants the close presence of  the man who said he loved her. In this scene, she’s intense, heated, but what is she warm about—having her husband praise her new hat, and keeping other people out.

Warmth, to Nora, means having this man exclusively hers, devoted, protecting her from a world and people she sees as cold and mean.  She’s against his passionate desire to fight for Irish freedom, insisting he stay home and pay homage to her.

Nora’s situation is dramatic, but she’s very representative, because many a wife—not in a play, but in real life—has felt marriage was a time to “forget everything but our own two selves,” been angry at her husband’s interests outside the home, and not understood why there came to be such painful coldness and anger between them.

In an issue of the journal The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, Ellen Reiss, the Chairman of Education, has sentences that show what’s at the heart of this mixup:

Coolness and warmth are ethical opposites. What we are warm to and what we are cool to determine how just a person we are. Aesthetic Realism shows that our purpose in being close to a person should be to like the world  itself. And if two people are “warm” to each other for the purpose of getting away from the world and of making themselves superior to the world, they will feel profoundly betrayed by each other.  And there will come to be a deep anger and coldness between them.

This is what Mrs. Darcy Banks had experienced, as she told us in an Aesthetic Realism consultation. Her husband Thomas, she said, was often irritated with her, and, she said, “My marriage is a hotbed of disappointment and resentment—I need to understand why.”

I Learned the Mixup Begins Long Before Marriage

Like many young girls, I was very much concerned with how “warm” people were to me, and judged them accordingly. Did they smile when I came into the room, praise my piano playing, tell my mother how talented I was? I disliked it very  much when anyone had the nerve, as I saw it, to offer some criticism of me—and was particularly enraged and tearful at any suggestion that I was “spoiled.”  In The Right Of, Ellen Reiss asks this question which I needed so much to hear:

Do you tend to see criticism of you as cold and praise of you as warm? This is one of the stupidest mistakes people make.

I made this mistake early—particularly in how I saw my father. I resembled him in looks and he made a lot of me, doted on and coddled me; relatives referred to me as “Daddy’s girl.” I discovered early how to wheedle my way, and remember my sister telling me angrily, “You’ll get anything you want from him,” which made me wince because it was so.  Inside I was uncomfortable and ashamed because I knew I didn’t deserve such devotion, and I thought my father was foolish in giving it, but continued to angle for it, eat it up, thinking this was warmth, while most other people were severe and cold, making my life miserable.

That is what Nora Clitheroe, in The Plough and the Stars feels as she says: “What do I care for the others?  They have dhriven away th’ little happiness life had to spare for me.”

How big is this in a person—the feeling that the world and people are cruelly cold to one?  It’s huge and it’s terrifically attractive. And it’s Aesthetic Realism that explains for the first time that as this wife says so seemingly pathetically, “They have dhriven away th’ little happiness life had to spare for me,” not only is she wrong—the O’Casey play shows that, but she’s having a tremendous victory of contempt, warm to herself while coldly superior to the rest of the world—and she doesn’t know she’s ruining any chance for real happiness and love.

By the time I was in my teens I had come to associate love with a man being fervent and intense about me, calling me frequently, etc. On a date, I prided myself in being able to speak eloquently, but inwardly felt stony and strategic, like I was putting on a show. Meantime, I had a big desire to act and to have large feeling in a role, but I couldn’t; and in scenes I did in acting classes, I was often very stiff and cold inside. I needed so much to know what Ellen Reiss write in her commentary, that:

If there is something unjust and hurtful in us, criticizing us so we be better is tenderness, is tremendous, kind warmth.

It was my great good fortune, a few years later, to receive this tremendous kindness from Eli Siegel in Aesthetic Realism lessons and classes—and I thank him. He criticized a way of seeing that was holding up my life in two big fields—love and acting, and taught me, to my great benefit, that the purpose of both is exactly the same: to know and like reality itself, through knowing deeply a particular person—a man, or a character in a play.

In one Aesthetic Realism lesson, when I said I’d gotten angry with a man I was dating because he didn’t appreciate my good qualities and was much too severe, Mr. Siegel asked me: “Is your desire for approval inordinate?” When I said I thought so, he asked, “What’s wrong with it?” and then explained:

The trouble with the instinct for approval is that it’s in conflict with another instinct—the instinct for criticism. Having a man’s approval can’t be disassociated from having him dance on the end of a string. Your problem is the problem of Woman. Don’t give it a false uniqueness. Like other women you want approval and pampering, but you have contempt for the person who gives it to you, and you are angry with yourself for taking it.

Mr. Siegel was right. And I’ve seen that when a woman tries to have a man dance on the end of a string—like a puppeteer—she’s coldly manipulating him in behalf of her ego, and it’s not love at all: it’s ill will and contempt, the very thing that ruins love.

I began to see that I wanted something much better, and as my study continued, I met, fell in love with, and married Sheldon Kranz, Aesthetic Realism consultant and poet. Here was this learned, attractive man who didn’t lavish me with praise; but who showed deep care for me in encouraging my study of drama and literature, whose heartiness and humor usefully countered my tendency to melodramatic gloom, and who even gave me astute criticism on how my acting could be better.

And through what we both learned in classes taught by Mr. Siegel, some years later I had the honor to become an Aesthetic Realism consultant and to teach this knowledge to other women.

One  of these women is Darcy Banks, living in upstate New York, whose husband, Thomas, teaches agriculture in a community college.  “How can I understand my husband?” she asked There Are Wives.  “He’s been cold and petulant, telling me I was selfish and felt I owned him.”

Our Hopes Need Criticism

In The Right Of, Ellen Reiss explains:

In our desire for contempt, we hope the world is cold, because a cold world is a world to which we, in our sensitivity, can feel superior. If things are truly warm to us, we will have to feel grateful to them!

When Mrs. Banks began having consultations with There Are Wives, we saw a very pretty woman who cared for science, animals, and nature, and worried about the increasing coldness and anger in her marriage. As she spoke, there was a certain laid-back coolness in her manner, with a tendency towards sarcasm.

Is sarcasm cold or hot or some bad combination of both? A woman can be in a rage and make an icily cutting remark for the purpose of swift contempt.

Meanwhile, we respected very much Mrs. Banks’ large desire to criticize herself, and to be sincerely warmer.

When we asked what she would most like to change in herself, Mrs. Banks replied: “Ways I find myself fighting with the world.” This took in, she said, fighting with co-workers, with friends whom she felt had hurt her, and very much her husband.

She told us he often needed to stay late at school, and that she’d come home from her job as office manager very tired, and feel, “I just want to be taken care of.” On weekends, her husband spent many hours working in a cooperative orchard nearby, and though he’d ask her to assist him there, she’d often refuse. Many wives have been cold to their husbands' interest in things other then themselves.

In the O’Casey play, when Jack Clitheroe says to his wife: “it’s sure to be a great meetin’ tonight. We ought to go, Nora,” she replies with a kind of sulky coolness, “I won’t go, Jack: you can go if you wish.” A woman often punishes her husband showing she’s hurt when he dares to care for something not her.

Mrs. Banks had done this. She told us, “I’ve wanted Tom to be happy in the country, meeting new people in the town. At other times I catch myself with a feeling of resentment that he’s so carefree. He doesn’t have a care in the world. The result of this feeling is that I’m alone, cold, angry and disappointed.”

To say her husband didn’t have a care in the world was untrue and also cold. He had many cares—including about his intense teaching schedule, worries about money and the future, and about health. And he also was very much concerned about what was happening in America and the world, including what people were enduring economically. When he was courting her, Darcy Banks was interested in his thoughts about things, but now, she often got to what she described as “an icy anger with him.”

They argued, as couples do, about everyday things—about lists for food shopping, about preparing meals, about taking care of their animals, and she had, she said, “much less feeling for him.”  When we told her that Eli Siegel once explained: everybody has an awful fight between being cold and having feeling, she saw that she was not in unique, sad isolation.  And she learned about this question:

Do I Use My Husband to Be Warm or Cold to Others?

A big aspect of a wife’s mixup about these opposites is in whether she uses her husband as a means of seeing other people as for her, or uses him  as a protection agency, defending her from what she sees as the coldness and meanness of others.  In a class, Mr. Siegel once asked me and Sheldon, did we want to use each other as collaborators, or as creative encouragement? And in The Right Of,  Ellen Reiss asks this question, which Mrs. Banks saw was crucial for her:

Have you divided reality into that part of it to which you will be “warm” (your family, some friends, certain fields of interest), and a huge rest-of-the-world to which you are deeply cold?

In the O’Casey play, when a neighbor, Bessie Burgess, suggests that Nora Clitheroe is cold to people, “Always’ thryin to speak proud things, and lookin’ like a mighty one,” Nora’s husband make a fatal mistake, collaborates with the worst thing in his wife, saying to Mrs. Burgess:

Get up to your own place, Mrs. Burgess, and don’t you be interferin’ with my wife, or it’ll be worse for you. There, don’t mind that old bitch, Nora, darling;  I’ll soon put a stop to her interferin’.

Scene from "The Plough and the Stars" by Sean O'CaseyAnd Nora smugly laps it up. Later in the play, she’ll say to him, “I want you to be thrue to me, Jack. I’m your dearest comrade; I’m your dearest comrade,” which is a lie, and he knows it, becoming increasingly enraged and humiliated by her intense drive to keep him to herself at the cost of the work he’s given his life to—fighting for the freedom of Ireland. 

Mr. Siegel once asked me: “What is more important to you—to have Sheldon honor you or be true to himself.” The first is ill will, the second is good will. With all her fervency and warmth for him, Nora doesn’t have good will for her husband, and she will suffer greatly as the play proceeds.

In The Right Of,  Ellen Reiss describes magnificently the thing that solves the mixup in a wife between coldness and warmth:

Good will is the oneness of heat and cold; for when you have good will, you passionately want a person to be all he or she can be, and you are passionately against what is not beautiful in the person.  Good will is the great, eternal coolness of accuracy and the warmth of deep feeling.

That is what, as dramatist, the playwright Sean O’Casey shows as he gives form—with imaginative justice, “coolness of accuracy and warmth of deep feeling,” to the intimate lives of women and men of Ireland in their cheapness and nobility, their coldness and warmth, during one of the most important times in that country’s history. And that is why his play stirs us powerfully and can educate us usefully.

As Darcy Banks consultations continued, she also attended the monthly Understanding Marriage class where she saw herself in relation to other women, and she became increasingly kinder and happier. Thomas Banks respected  the changes in his wife and got more hope for his life and their marriage. He began to study Aesthetic Realism for himself.

An assignment we gave Mrs. Banks was: Write ways you’re proud to need your husband.  Here are three:

1.  I need Thomas Banks to be in a better relation to other people, and to make friends.  He draws people out,and he’s not shy about asking people questions. I need this aspect of him because I see people have more friendliness than I had thought previously.

2.  I need my husband’s unique way of seeing the world to be a well-rounded person, which I want to be. He knows a lot of history and geography and I feel a sense of pleasure when he tells me what he’s reading. He’s had me see men more deeply, and shown me if you care for something it is because of what that thing is, not because it approves of you.

3.  Sometimes I get into a funk, and I need Tom because he derails the contempt train which makes me feel so miserable. He has many approaches to my bad moods—often with warm, surprising humor. He represents the world, frequently shining a light into my depths. His questions and presence have a good effect on me, which I’m seeing I need every day, and I’m grateful.

Mrs. Banks stands for what wives everywhere are hoping to know.

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