Long, long ago (almost a month now) I promised to supply a couple excerpts from All I Survey. Right, here you go.
From On Fictional Conventions:
Again and again, the modern reader may read a sentence like this: “Peter had already noticed a smiling, blue-eyed girl, with a bright, shingled head, slip in among the new-comers, suspected of being gate-crashers, who thronged the door.” Or the sentence may run: “Slim, lithe, and brown-eyed, with a delicate and fiery tan, Joan stood poised on the distant rock, about to dive.” There are a hundred other examples; but all habitually assume that the first thing that anybody notices about a woman is the colour of her eyes. Now, it is perfectly possible to be on tolerably intimate terms with a person for a long time and yet be unable to recall suddenly the colour of his or her eyes. And certainly nobody ever saw the colour of a stranger’s eyes all the way across a ball-room in Mayfair, a big studio in Chelsea, or the wide sands at Lido. One would suppose that a girl’s blue eyes were enormously big blue lanterns, and shone afar off like the green and red lanterns of a railway signal.
I knew a lady, with a very hearty sense of humour, whose business it happened to be to write frankly conventional romances for the old frankly conventional Press, the Press that provided healthy but somewhat sentimental serials and novelettes. She got great fun out of her functions and she told me once that she had written a long serial romance, with a stately and tragic heroine, only to be told at the end that the public, or at least the publishers, insisted on a petite and sparkling heroine. With a noble calm, disdaining to alter a single incident in the whole narrative, she merely went through the manuscript, altering black eyes to blue eyes… Amanda’s large and shady hat grew less large and shady, and was turned up with a rose or something; her raiment grew less sweeping and severe; but nothing else needed any alteration. And it sometimes seems to me that many who write in the most revolutionary fashion write quite as much according to a revolutionary formula. They merely go through their own story and put in the terms which are supposed to make the heroine chic or distinguished, according to the momentary modern conventions of unconventionality. The heroine has no more real individuality, amid all the fuss of individualism, than the adaptable Amanda whose eyes turned so easily from black to blue.
If Homer had written a realistic description [of Helen of Troy], it would have seemed to us a rather vulgar description… But ages shall pass and civilizations shall perish, and time shall never turn the keen edge of that great indirect compliment, that older and wiser fashion of describing the effect and not the external instruments.