Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
This evening, teh devil’s website delivered to the door of Port Swiller Manor a copy of Evelyn Waugh’s “Love Among The Ruins“, a work new to me despite my increasing fondness for and familiarity with Mr. Woo’s canon. Although the book is included among the volumes listed in the Back Bay Books editions of Waugh’s works, which comprise most of my collection, it seems it has long been out of print: I only managed to find a fairly battered old hardback edition.
I read it over dinner. (It’s really only an extended essay of about 50 pages.) The story is Waugh’s take (from 1953) on the the Brave New World and Wiki’s summary is pretty durn good:
It is a satire set in a dystopian quasi-egalitarian Britain. The protagonist, Miles Plastic, is an orphan who at the beginning of the story is finishing a prison term for arson. Crime is treated very leniently by the state, and conditions in prison are actually quite superior to those among the population at large, leading to an understandably high recidivism rate. Upon release, Plastic goes to work at a state-run euthanasia center. The centers are not restricted to the terminally ill and are so popular that Plastic’s sole responsibility is to stem “the too eager rush” of perfectly healthy but “welfare weary” citizens.
Plastic soon falls in love with Clara, a bearded woman who is a “priority case” at the center. However, she does not wish to die (she was sent there by her department) and the two begin a romance. One day, however, she suddenly disappears, and when he finds her, she has a rubber jaw replacing her formerly bearded face. Distraught, Plastic sets his former prison on fire, and, unidentified as the perpetrator of the crime, becomes elevated in status as the prison’s only “successfully rehabilitated inmate.” Sent to become a lecturer on the worthiness of the prison system, Plastic is directed to marry an unattractive civil servant. A curtain is drawn on the final conclusion as Plastic reaches into his pocket for his cigarette lighter.
I should add that the reason Clara has a beard is that, as a professional ballet dancer, she was advised to get sterilized so as not to lose her figgah through child-bearing. (As it turns out, the sterilization was unsuccessful.) The beard was a side-effect of the particular method involved.
The tone and, if you will, vision is somewhere on a line between “A Clockwork Orange” and Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”. There are too many little jabs and details for me to catalogue them all, but the very first paragraph of the piece set me laughing uproariously because of its anticipation of the collective pipe-dream (and predictable failure) of Al “ManBearPig” Gore and his ilk:
Despite their promises at the last Election, the politicians had not yet changed the climate. The State Meteorological Institute had so far produced only an unseasonable fall of snow and two little thunderbolts no larger than apricots. The weather varied from day to day and from county to county as it had done of old, most anomalously.
Somehow this reminded me immediately of an old “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode (oh, shut up) in which Captain Picard and staff are trying to delve into the background of a young guest with mysterious psychic powers:
PICARD: What is it, Mister Data?
DATA: I have some information regarding Amanda Rogers’ parents.
Picard reaches the Aft Science Station.
DATA: Records indicate that they died in Topeka, Kansas. Their home was destroyed during a tornado.
PICARD: A tornado? Why wasn’t it dissipated by the Weather Modification Net?
DATA: Unknown, sir. The bodies were found in the rubble after the storm had passed.
PICARD: (a beat as he ponders) See if you can find out any details. I’d like to know more about that storm.
DATA: Yes, Captain.
What is it with Utopian Statists and their belief that they can command and control the very ebb and flow of Nature itself? Dare I suggest a “Non Serviam“ here? I think so. I think so.
Anyhoo, LATR represented a little detour from my current chronological reworking through Mr. Woo’s output. (I must say that I enjoy this journey more and more each time I undertake it.) Yesterday I spent a glorious day flopped in teh hammock, the scent of blooming wisteria wafting in from the fence, rereading Brideshead Revisited. It’s still not my favorite of Waugh’s novels, not so much because of the story itself or its message but because he chose to write it in the first person, thus exposing the reader to more of Charles Ryder’s (the protagonist) inner maunderings than I really care to see. Too Much Information, as teh kids say these days. Mr. Woo was far more effective in the dispassionate third person.
Next, I will be revisiting The Loved One, Mr. Woo’s satire on Hollywood and its environs. The very name of one of the main characters in this book – Mr. Joyboy – causes me endless amusement, for which crime I will no doubt be one of the first sent to the camps…..
** The original phrase was coined by one Lincoln Steffens (1866-1936), a typical limousine liberal of his time who shilled for that rat-bastard Stalin and his crew. I’d insert a link, only this post is long enough now that I don’t know how to on a Mac. Google will get you there if you care for authentication.