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Beautiful Sanctuaries in Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century European Literature

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Hugo Walter

This book is a collection of wonderful and thoughtful essays that explore the theme of beautiful sanctuaries in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century European literature. The book focuses especially on selected works by Percy Shelley, E. T. A. Hoffmann, Henrik Ibsen, and James Hilton. These sanctuaries of light, natural beauty, and tranquility comfort, nurture, and soothe the heart, mind, and soul of the individual, and inspire creative expression.

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Chapter 4 James Hilton 157

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James Hilton In this chapter I will examine the quest of Hugh Conway, the protagonist of James Hilton’s Lost Horizon (1933), to achieve an expansive sense of space and time in a “magic mountain” environment, in an ambience of luminescent harmony and radiant tranquility. Conway seems destined to develop and fulfill this quest in the extraordinary sanctuary of Shangri-La, a unique world beyond the constraints and tribulations of mortality, representing a relatively timeless space pervaded by a quietly dynamic sense of aesthetic and intellectual serenity and vitality. I will show that Hilton’s protagonist, Conway, affirms a Bergsonian life- philosophy in his quest for a sanctuary and for a sense of continuity with the world of Shangri-La. One essential aspect of Bergson’s thought, which is important for Conway, is the emphasis on duration as a free creation. This characteristic is stressed by G. Poulet, for example, in the following statement: There is no longer any opposition between moment and duration; no longer any trace of deterministic fatalism; but in place of the hiatus between the actual feeling of existence and the profundity of existence, there is the possibility of a mutual communication, of a relationship between the moment and time; and in place of a determinism of cause and effect, the feeling that any moment can be realized as a new moment, and that time can always be freely created from the present moment forward. (35) Conway epitomizes in his character and life-strategy the diffusion of the opposition between moment and...

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