Heinlein Month: Rodin and the merciless hours


“Old Courtesan”/”Celle qui fut la belle heaulmièr”/”She who was once the helmet-maker’s wife”/”Winter”. Auguste Rodin, 1885.

Anybody can look at a pretty girl and see a pretty girl. An artist can look at a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl that she used to be.

But a great artist — a master — and that is what Auguste Rodin was — can look at an old woman, portray her exactly as she is, and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be, and more than that, he can make anyone with the sensitivity of an armadillo, or even you, see that this lovely young girl is still alive, not old and ugly at all, but simply prisoned inside her ruined body.

He can make you feel the quiet, endless tragedy that there was never a girl born who ever grew older than eighteen in her heart, no matter what the merciless hours have done to her.

(Robert A. Heinlein. Stranger In A Strange Land. 1961.)

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2 Responses to “Heinlein Month: Rodin and the merciless hours”

  1. Bulletholes Says:

    I like what Jubal says about the other Rodin, the Caryatid. I keep it handy.
    By the way, I’m very much enjoying your Heinlein month. he is/was one of my favorites for a long long time.

    “Here is this poor little caryatid who has tried – and failed, fallen under the load. She’s a good girl – look at her face. Serious, unhappy at her failure, but not blaming anyone else, not even the gods… and still trying to shoulder her load, after she’s crumpled under it.

    “But she’s more than good art denouncing some very bad art; she’s a symbol for every woman who has ever tried to shoulder a load that was too heavy for her – over half the female population of this planet, living and dead, I would guess. But not alone women – this symbol is sexless. It means every man and every woman who ever lived who sweated out life in uncomplaining fortitude, whose courage wasn’t even noticed until they crumpled under their loads. It’s courage, Ben, and victory.”

    “‘Victory?’”

    “Victory in defeat, there is none higher. She didn’t give up, Ben; she’s still trying to lift that stone after it has crushed her. She’s a father going down to a dull office job while cancer is painfully eating away his insides, so as to bring home one more pay check for the kids. She’s a twelve-year old girl trying to mother her baby brothers and sisters because Mama had to go to Heaven. She’s a switchboard operator sticking to her job while smoke is choking her and the fire is cutting off her escape. She’s all the unsung heroes who couldn’t quite cut it but never quit. Come. Just salute as you pass her and come see my Little Mermaid.”

  2. IzaakMak Says:

    God I love Heinlein!

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