With Charity Toward None: A Fond Look at Misanthropy

Review of With Charity Toward None: A Fond Look At Misanthropy by Florence King

Although it contains some brilliant passages when King is delivering her own ideas/jokes, and useful distinctions such as the one between “the misanthrope of the naked intellect” and “the tender misanthrope”, I found the book too human-centered for a self-proclaimed misanthrope. I mean, of course you have to consider the object of your hate when you’re writing about it, but the text too often gets tangled up in historical and biographical details (of a real person or a fictional character) that don’t add much to the subject at hand; names of people and places and events and … – something you might call “the human narrative”. It gets so concentrated that it looks like she just loves to write about people.

A related problem is that the content (chosen examples of people, events, etc.) is too American. Combined with the first problem I mentioned, the book gets completely uninteresting or even incomprehensible on many pages, if you’re not someone who’s familiar with all those very specific names and events from American culture. King definitely hasn’t envisioned an international audience.

Overall, it feels like King is in fact ambivalent about people (like her “tender misanthropes”) because she is insanely curious about those things she proudly hates. At least, one can easily say that she’s not the kind of misanthrope who detests and calmly ignores the human world. Even if she successfully hides it in her style, hers is a more passionate hate, like someone who hates her ex-lover, and keeps stalking. This is my only explanation for her extensive use of literature in her text – she loves to read about people too – which is another feature of the book that makes it hard to read for me. As an ignoring type of misanthrope, I don’t read fiction because I am bored and often overwhelmed by the human narrative, that kind of fictional information about fictional human beings, that most humane of the arts…

To echo her snap definitions of a real misanthrope in the book, I daresay: A real misanthrope doesn’t like literature, and Florence King isn’t one.

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