One benefit of spending a lot of time lying down waiting patiently for your back to feel better is that you get a lot of reading done. I just polished off the novel Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, published in 1920. (Short review: Enjoyable, but not as good as Elmer Gantry.) Anyway, the main story follows Carol Kennicott, a city-girl who finds herself living in the small town of Gopher Prairie, MN, after marrying the town’s doctor. She finds it hard to adjust to the insularity of her new home.
The following paragraph jumped out at me as being pretty timeless. Carol is at a family gathering, and has been a bit too outspoken about her liberal opinions. Remember, this was written in 1920:
In the manner of one who has just beheld a two-headed calf they repeated that they had “never heard such funny ideas!” They were staggered to learn that a real tangible person, living in Minnesota, and married to their own flesh-and-blood relation, could apparently believe that divorce may not always be immoral; that illegitimate children do not bear any special and guaranteed form of curse; that there are ethical authorities outside of the Hebrew Bible; that men have drunk wine yet not died in the gutter; that the capitalistic system of distribution and the Baptist wedding-ceremony were not known in the Garden of Eden; that mushrooms are as edible as corn-beef hash; that the word “dude” is no longer frequently used; that there are Ministers of the Gospel who accept evolution; that some persons of apparent intelligence and business ability do not always vote the Republican ticket straight; that it is not a universal custom to wear scratchy flannels next the skin in winter; that a violin is not inherently more immoral than a chapel organ; that some poets do not have long hair; and that Jews are not always pedlers or pantsmakers.
“Where does she get all them the’ries?” marveled Uncle Whittier Smail; while Aunt Bessie inquired, “Do you suppose there’s many folks got notions like hers? My! If there are,” and her tone settled the fact that there were not, “I just don’t know what the world’s coming to!”
Anything in that sound familiar?
However, for a succinct summary of the less savory side of small-town life, I doubt if Victor Hugo’s blunt statement, from the opening pages of Les Miserables (published in 1862) has ever been topped:
M. Myriel had to submit to the fate of every new-comer in a small town, where there are many tongues to talk, and but few heads to think.