Against this background of changing mores McCarthy posits her themes — the eternal standards of right and reason, straightforwardness, goodheartedness, and natural responses in a world increasingly uncertain and affected.
These are not to be confused with mere undisciplined indulgence, as those who try too assiduously to be natural and "open," such as Norine Blake, whose affair with Harald parallels the breakup of his marriage, and whose left politics and then Margaret Mead-type naturalism is untempered with regard for the dignity and feelings of others.
Helena Davison, McCarthy's spokesperson, delivering a little lecture when Norine comes for advice about her affair with Harald, stands up for traditional virtues of courtesy and gentleness. Correct form should be preserved to save face and feelings, even when impulse is arrayed against it.
At the other extreme are those who, too repressed, prudish, or polite, are overly willing to be intimidated and...