I would like to know what "rather vaguely conceived sweetness and light" means in the following sentences:

The other girls in her dormitory marveled at the slightness of her body when they saw her in sheer negligee, or darting out wet from a shower-bath. She seemed then but half as large as they had supposed; a fragile child who must be cloaked with understanding kindness. “Psychic,” the girls whispered, and “spiritual.” Yet so radioactive were her nerves, so adventurous her trust in rather vaguely conceived sweetness and light, that she was more energetic than any of the hulking young women who, with calves bulging in heavy-ribbed woolen stockings beneath decorous blue serge bloomers, thuddingly galloped across the floor of the “gym” in practise for the Blodgett Ladies' Basket-Ball Team.

Carol, a student at Blodgett College, had a very slight and thin body. So her friends regarded her as a fragile child, but she was more adventurous than any active young women in her college.

In this part, I could not understand what "rather vaguely conceived" means in particular. Does it mean that "sweetness and light" was vaguely expressed? And what is "sweetness and light" that was vaguely conceived?

I would very much appreciate your help. :)

1 Answer 1


Carol trusts in the fundamental goodness of the world, without quite knowing what it is ("vaguely conceived"), and this emboldens her to be more adventurous than the other girls.

"Sweetness and light" is an expression referring to the good and positive things in a culture. It came from Jonathan Swift's parable of the spider and the bee (bees make sweet honey and wax for candles). Matthew Arnold popularised it as a metaphor for what is important in a culture.

  • Dear Josh Friedlander, Thank you very much for the explanation. But the meaning of "sweetness and light" always eludes me. So does it mean in this context "the fundamental goodness of the world," rather than people's superficial kindness and favors, as in: The two had been fighting for a month, but around others it was all sweetness and light? (I brought this example sentence from Wikipedia.) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweetness_and_light Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 0:27
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    Could you please expand your answer a bit? Is there anything in Main Street that supports this explanation? Could you give the title of that Swift parable? And where or how did Arnold popularise that metaphor?
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 10:00
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    @Pasta Addict The Swift parable is in The Battle of the Books, the Matthew Arnold essay is Culture and Anarchy. Both are referred to in the Wikipedia article. Commented Aug 26, 2018 at 11:41
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    @ChristopheStrobbe Unfortunately I haven't read the book, so can't comment further. I was just basing my answer on OP's excerpt. Commented Aug 26, 2018 at 11:42

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