Monthly Archives: August 2010

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Vile Bodies: Chapters 1-3

This time around I decided to start with my favorite of the author’s books, and that would be Vile Bodies. It’s easily Waugh’s funniest book, and probably his most scathing. But it’s scathing in such a very British way, so it really mostly just comes off as being delightful. The first three chapters alone remind me of how much is really going on in this book, to the point where I’ve started to wonder if I should maybe re-think the way I’m handling the way I do this whole thing, because with the way the themes come together in the end, it’s difficult to cover it in the way I did in Faulkner February. Anyhoo, I’ll think it over. But for now, I’ll just continue on.

The first three chapters of Vile Bodies are a really wonderful introduction to the book, to the characters, and to Waugh’s style. We meet a lot of characters in the first few scenes, all of which take place on a boat from France to London. Some of these ridiculously named characters will show up again later on in the story, particularly Mrs. Melrose Ape and her Angels. The character was Waugh’s downright pissy response to the now much reviled Amy Semple MacPherson, money grubbing evangelist of the 1920s. But, most importantly, we meet the Bright Young People who populate the bizarre world of Waugh’s book, and their not quite Bright Young Person BFF Adam Fenwick Symes, who was in Paris finished his book, an autobiography.

As soon as he steps foot in London is when the story really starts. Adam’s book is confiscated by customs (along with several other books) for being too vulgar, and burned. This is a problem, since he’s already spent his advance, and now that he won’t be getting the rest of that money he won’t be able to marry his fiancee, the wealthy Nina Blount, one of the Bright Young People that are splashed all over the pages of London’s tabloids.

The way people interact with each other in this book is initially startling for many reasons. First of all, it’s very British. Like, if you were trying to think of the most stereotypical way to portray English people, you’d really just want to look at this book. But I guess that’s kind of the point. They’re all so cold and empty with one another, even with people who are supposed to be their best friend, even the people they’re supposed to be in love with. And even from the onset, Adam seems a little bit lost in this world of British aristocracy. All of his friends are children of Lords or Parliament members, and he doesn’t seem to quite fit in.

His first exchange with Nina is strange, and will fuel all kinds of “are they really in love” debate in coming chapters. He calls to tell her that he has no money and can’t marry her, but even before he gets to that point the conversation is not remotely what you’d expect to hear from a couple, especially when one has been away. She doesn’t even recognize his voice as she puts on a show of having a servant to answer her phone (even when it’s really just herself pretending to be a servant). He then tells her he can’t afford to marry her, and she just says, “Oh, Adam, you are a bore.” And then they agree to talk about it a party later that night.

And by this point it’s important to realize that Waugh’s book takes place just a little outside of reality, as if he’s trying to say that the world of the young, wealthy, and bored isn’t quite reality either. So many characters are ridiculously named. Miles Malpractice. Mary Mouse. Lord Throbbing. The book was published in 1930, and was a sort of look into the future (an eerie one, even, as we’ll see in later chapters) as though Waugh was trying to say that things were just going to get more and more ridiculous. I don’t know if they’re more ridiculous, but they certainly aren’t any less ridiculous. The Nina Blounts and the Agatha Runcibles of Waugh’s world are the Lindsay Lohans and Paris Hiltons of today. When regarded that way, it’s easy to see that Waugh’s work is just as important and relevant today as it was then.

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