“Imagination is a good servant, but a bad master.”–Unknown

Before starting on my topic for today, I’d like to ask anyone who knows where this quote comes from to respond with the author’s name.  I couldn’t find the source of the quote after a lot of looking, so I’d like to be able to attribute it to someone specific (it’s one of my favorite quotes).

Now then, down to business.  A few days ago, I wrote a post headed by a quote from Herman Melville which read, “Dream[ing] horrid dreams, and mutter[ing] unmentionable thoughts….”  Those of my friends who read the post commented to me in private (why, oh why, didn’t they post a comment, to open this issue to discussion?).  They said that in showing a sense of humor about women possibly being buried under the floorboards of a castle by men, a scenario which might well occur in a Gothic novel (I deliberately said “castle”–after all, how many of us ever do more than tour in one of those?), I was being too “glib” about some of the truly dreadful things that happen to women at the hands of men.  I was merely trying to make the point that in ordinary day-to-day life, too much imagination or imagination ill-used can lead us to view our loved ones askance unfairly (chances are if either men or women find themselves imagining too much too often, there’s something wrong in the relationship–at least one side of the equation isn’t happy).

The friend who was the main instigator in challenging me about this pointed out that with the recent shootings in Aurora, CO and all the other gun-related crimes that have occurred in recent history, as well as all the times in the late 20th-early 21st century when men have been known to abuse/do away with their wives and girlfriends, I should’ve shown more restraint in my sense of humor about Gothic notions.

First of all, these are two separate issues unless you’re firm and sure in your mind (as I can’t say I am yet) that things are totally worse now than they ever have been.  As to all the mass shootings which have occurred in the time span I’ve referred to, yes, I do think those are worse, and I can only recommend Diane Feinstein’s point, that we urgently need more and better gun control.

About the second issue, however, I would ask whether we really have more instances of abuse/killings of women by men than we’ve ever had, or whether it’s simply a matter of the men being oftener discovered and, one hopes, prosecuted for their crimes.  While this view of the crime passionnel, as it’s called, takes a dimmer view of men’s goodness in the first light (that is, men are doing nothing new), it takes a more hopeful view of the penalties men must pay for their criminal excesses these days.  Better investigation means more correct arrests (aided of course by the press when it is a responsible one), which means more adequate prosecution (again, one hopes.  My discussion lacks statistics, but where would we look, exactly, for reliable statistics on sexual savagery down through all of history?).

And it is in this light of the whole discussion of the issue that I raise the thought that both humor (taking things less seriously because one winces at them) and heightened Gothic horror (taking things at a fever pitch of seriousness because one shivers at them) are both defense mechanisms against what is too dreadful actually to be taken lightly in any real sense.  So, I like to think that in the space of a post I have dealt squarely with the issues my friend(s) raised.  I do, however, reserve both the right to joke about things that make me (and possibly you) uncomfortable–and by this means perhaps to relieve some of the tension–and the right and obligation to take things seriously when requested to do so.  Here’s to my friends and readers, for their forbearance and this topic for discussion.  Please leave a comment at any time:  your input is valuable.


Filed under Other than literary days...., What is literature for?

6 responses to ““Imagination is a good servant, but a bad master.”–Unknown

  1. Dave

    Imagination is a good servant, and a bad master. The simplest explanation is always the most likely. – Hercules Poirot from Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles


    • Thank you so very, very much for your input, Dave. The source you name is undoubtedly where I first encountered the quote, because I have read that book several times. The thing is, though, that I believe Agatha Christie got the quote from a more antique source. It’s like Isaac Asimov’s quote: “The imagination, once stretched, never goes back to its original dimensions.” It too comes from another source, but Asimov is where any number of people first encountered it, so he gets the credit. I’m sure you’re right, though, about where I read the quote. I think I must’ve been all of 15 when I started reading Agatha Christie.


  2. Yagnashrikorla

    Author agathie christe


  3. Thank you, and thank you for reading.


  4. Brenda Dyck

    This quote (by character Hercules Poirot ) is from Agatha Christie’s novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles.


    • All of my respondents seem to remember the origin of this quote but, it took me quite a while to place it. I guess Agatha Christie was such a part of my early reading that I internalized the quote to the point that it seemed native. Or, I just have a bad memory (the simplest explanation always being the most likely).


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