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DANDYISM AND ABSTRACTION IN A UNIVERSE DEFINED BY NEWTON

“THE DANDY,” WROTE THE English belle-lettrist Cyril Connolly, “is but the larval form of a bore.”1 He registered this opinion in 1960, after England had weathered two world wars and, four years earlier, had watched its last grand imperial gesture end in fiasco at Suez. Connolly believed that an England bereft of empire must now make itself felt in the world chiefly as a civilizing example; a new sort of authority would have to be claimed, a gracious prestige that excessive affectation would undermine. In the political circumstances of Britain in 1960, to charge the dandy with incipient tediousness was to lodge a moral judgment.

Morality’s objections to dandyism took a different shape in Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, published in 1836, when England was still assembling its empire. Quivering with Calvinist fervor, Carlyle pointed to a world of work in need of being done, then at the dandy,

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