December 29, 2010

The Joys of Reaction

From Evelyn Waugh's 1934 novel A Handful of Dust, the story of Tony Last, a mild English aristocrat devoted to keeping up the ancestral manse:
Tony invariably wore a dark suit on Sundays and a stiff white collar. He went to church, where he sat in a large pitch pine pew, put in by his great-grand-father at the time of rebuilding the house, furnished with very high crimson hassocks and a fireplace, complete with iron grate and a little poker which his father used to rattle when any point in the sermon attracted his disapproval.

5 comments:

Formerly.JP98 said...

Great book. I also love the passage where one of the characters examines what makes for a properly supplied guest bedroom.

Kylie said...

"Dickens...tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that..."

There is no fate in literature more terrifying to me than poor Tony's at the hands of Mr. Todd. I'd rather face Conrad's Kurtz any day.

However much Waugh may have despised the Tony Lasts of his pre-war world for wishing to keep and keep up their ancestral homes, I don't think such a wish is nearly as despicable as the glee with which such homes were demolished in post-war England. Even Sarah Waters, from a working class background, found when she tried to write a novel about the effects of post-war change on England's landed gentry that she had much sympathy for them. Thus, her novel, The Little Strange became not merely an examination of class conflict but a first-rate horror story.

hailtoyou said...

A pew with a fireplace?

Only in America! Or in this case, England.

Anonymous said...

"However much Waugh may have despised the Tony Lasts of his pre-war world for wishing to keep and keep up their ancestral homes..."

Did he despise such people? On the contrary, I was under the impression he admired them and despised the society that destroyed them as a class. That seems very clear in Bridehead Revisited. Anyway, didn't Waugh himself buy a country house and adopt the image and role of a country squire?

I watched part of a TV dramatization of A Handful of Dust, but found it too painful.

Cennbeorc

Kylie said...

"I was under the impression he admired them [the landed gentry] and despised the society that destroyed them as a class. That seems very clear in Bridehead Revisited. Anyway, didn't Waugh himself buy a country house and adopt the image and role of a country squire?"

I think Waugh admired the older members of that class and came to despise (and satirize) the younger ones for not having the proper reverence for the tradition that produced them. Waugh wasn't just interested in the trappings of wealth the land, the country house, etc. The tradition, the sense of history and the continuity those things represented were all important to him. Once he had the wherewithal, he used it to play the part of the country squire, yes, but not that of his feckless offspring.