Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, September 6, 2019


Love Among the Ruins:  A Romance of the Near Future by Evelyn Waugh (1953)

This bitingly satirical novelette (illustrated by Mervyn Peake!) first appeared in the British magazine Lilliput in its May/June 1953 issue and was issued as a thin book later that year by Chapman Hall (London).  Its prolific author, Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), was a persnickity, thin-skinned, fundamently conservative whose life was periodically undone by his own folly.  Nonetheless he was a sharp, often dispassionate observer who could wickedly skewer modern times (which he despised) with his old-fashioned pen and inkwell (no typewriters for Evelyn, no, no, no; also no telephones and no driving, so poo to modernity).  Waugh's reputation as a horrible person may have arisen from a well-crafted persona, but he was certainly elitist, strongly believing in the rightness of a rigid class and economic structure, as well as being an anti-Semite and a racist and being presumed to be pro-Fascist.  But, ah could he write!  And write with such a devastatingly humorous edge that his works are still read and revered today...Brideshead Revisited, The Loved One, Vile Bodies, Decline and Fall, and so many more.

Lost within that shuffle is Love Among the Ruins, a dystopian novel about a future welfare-state England.  SPOILER ALERT!  What follows is a complete and total spoiler.  What the heck?

Our protagonist, Miles Plastic, grew up as an orphan and, as such, had no opportunities given him.  When of age, the government took him from the orphanage and placed him in the Air Force, where set fire to the barracks, killing many.  By this time England was a benevolent state and its official policy was that criminals were the victims of inadequate social services, so Miles was tried by the Court of Welfare as "Court Martial had been abolished some years before this."

     "It was plain from the start, when Arson, Wilful Damage, Manslaughter, Prejudicial Conduct and Treason were struck out of the Indictment and the whole reduced to a simple charge of Antisocial Activity, that the sympathies of the Court were with the prisoner."

A state psychologist testified that if Miles' pyromania were checked it might lead to psychosis and that Miles, in burning down the barracks, had performed "a perfectly normal act" and "had shown more than normal intelligence in its execution."  And so Mile is sent to Mountjoy, a large estate converted into a "hospital," for rehabilitation.  Mountjoy is run like a country club, with wide manacured gardens, concerts and activities, fine food, and freedom, along with mandatory singalongs -- rehabilitation sessions were few and far between because those in charge of the sessions were away giving speeches about rehabilitation.  (At Mountjoy, murderers lived on the first floor, sexual deviants on the second, and so on.)  Residents at Mountjoy game the system so they can never be rehbilitated.  Sadly for Miles, he was fated to be inadvertently rehabilitated.  In fact, he is the first and only person who was actually rehabilitated by the system -- proving to government officials that the system worked!

Freed from Mountjoy, Miles is given a job comeasurrate with his status as the only rehabilitated person in an important government department -- Euphanasia.  The welfare state had led to massive depression and the demand for euphanasia is high (because suicide is just so passe?).  The lines outside the Euphanasia are long and part of  Miles' job is to let in six people at a time.  One day, a priority case comes to the department on the recommendation of the Drama Department.  (The various Departments weild a lot of influence.)  The priority case is a beautiful young girl named Clara with a long silken beard.  (This takes a bit of explaining.  Clara was a ballet dancer and the Ballet Instructor insisted that his dancers not have children, so they must be medically sterilized.  The result of Clara's operation was a very rare side effect that gave her the beard.  Since she could perform in public with a beard, she was forbidden to continue her career.  The Drama Director, feeling that her life without ballet was not worth living, suggested that she go to Euphanasia.  Clara agrees to to visit the department to please the Director, while steadfastly refusing euphanasia.  Now back to the thrust of the story's action.)  When  he realized that Clara was not willing to die, Miles' boss ousts her uncerimoniously.

Miles has become smitten with Clara and they soon become an item.  Miles receives promotions and Clara gains weight.  Hmm.  Turns out the weight gain is a pregnancy; Clara's sterilization had been bungled.  The child is Miles' -- Clara had been a virgin before she met Miles.  Miles is excited but, coming home one day, he finds a note from Clara:  she has gone off to be by herself for a while.  Clara never returns to their home.

Later, Miles discovers that Clara is a hospital patient.  Anxious he goes to see her and finds her beardless.  (Also childless.  The feotus has been aborted.)  Clara had found a doctor that could remove her facial hair, along with her skin, replacing the skin with a type of plastic that can hold make-up wonderfully well.  With the make-up, Clara can again resume her ballet career without offending the audience.  Miles realizes that Clara has always been self-absorbed.  He wanders off and finding himself in front of Mountjoy.  Reverting to his pyromaniacal ways, he burns down the rehabilitation center, incinerating most of the residents.  Non-chalantly, he wanders off.

Mountjoy is gone, but Miles remains as its one proven success.  The government now enlists Miles to go on a speaking tour touting the benefits of the rehabilitation system.  Because the populace responds better to married people the government has Miles marry a hideously-looking woman who will accompany Miles on his tour.  Rushed to the Registrar for the marriage ceremony, Miles stands with his bride-to-be with his hand in his pocket where he fingers his cigarette lighter...

Love Among the Ruins is a quick, enjoyable, and magnificent farce, one worthy of Waugh's reputation.  Highly recommended.

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