Sunday, December 13, 2009

Evelyn Waugh's Depiction of the Recusant Spirit

"There was nothing of the old dandy about him, nothing crusted, nothing crotchety. He was not at all what is called 'a character'. He was an innocent, affable old man who had somehow preserved his good humour - much more than that, a mysterious and tranquil joy - throughout a life which to all outward observation had been overloaded with misfortune. He had like many another been born in full sunlight and lived to see night fall. England was full of such Jobs who had been disappointed in their prospects. Mr Crouchback had lost his home. Partly in his father's hands, partly in his own, without extravagance or speculation, his inheritance had melted away. He had rather early lost his beloved wife and been left to a long widowhood. He had an ancient name which was now little regarded and threatened with extinction. Only God and Guy knew the massive and singular quality of Mr Crouchback's family pride. He kept it to himself. That passion, which is often so thorny a growth, bore nothing save roses for Mr Crouchback. He was quite without class consciousness because he saw the whole intricate social structure of his country divided neatly into two unequal and unmistakable parts. On one side stood the Crouchbacks and certain inconspicuous, anciently allied families; on the other side stood the rest of mankind, Box-Bender, the butcher, the Duke of Omnium (whose onetime wealth derived from monastic spoils), Lloyd George, Neville Chamberlain - all of a piece together. Mr Crouchback acknowledged no monarch since James II. It was not an entirely san conspectus but it engendered in his gentle breast two rare qualities, tolerance and humility. For nothing much, he assumed, could reasonably be expected from the commonality; it was remarkable how well some of them did behave on occassions; while, for himself, any virtue he had come from afar without deserving, and every small fault was grossly culpable in a man of his high tradition.

He had a further natural advantage over Guy; he was fortified by a memory which kept only the good things and rejected the ill. Despite his sorrows, he had a fair share of joys, and these never mourned the loss of Brome [his ancestral home]." - Evelyn Waugh "Men At Arms", The Sword of Honour Trilogy p. 31-32

It's funny because when I read this (it's actually just one part of an even bigger and better part of the story) I immediately was shocked as this is how I viewed English History as well. Whenever the history professor would talk about the Greatness of Churchill I would always think "the greatness of a family that betrayed their King, James II, to serve a Dutch heretic (William of Orange)".

I'm sure I got this view through the osmosis of the Catholic literary revival.

1 comment:

  1. And a correct view it is. A very Catholic one, of course!