Crossing to Safety

Stegner, Wallace

Penguin, 1987

pp. 267 - 268

Stegner ruminates about how evil is more interesting and is portrayed more interestingly than good. Masaccio’s Expulsion from Paradise: “his Eve clumsy with woe, stricken with desolate realization, and Adam stumbling beside her with his hand over his eyes.” Could a painter capture the reverse situation? “Could a painter capture in expression and posture the delight-touched-with-humility, the almost tearful gratitude . . . . Dante couldn’t. . .”The Inferno boiled with hot life, but the Paradiso was theological meringue. The wicked and the unhappy always stole the show because sin and suffering were the most universal human experiences . . . . Fallen grandeur was always more instructive than pallid perfection. . . . . all those [painted] Christs whose bland faces belied their bloody wounds, all those characterless angels. Saintliness had no possible expression but a simper . . . if you were walking down the Tornabuoni and saw, at the same instant, Beatrice with her beneficent smile and Ugalino gnawing on Ruggieri’s skull, which would catch your eye?”