My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Do you you think that the neediness of seeing and being seen is a particularly human trait? If so, Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies is an embodiment of that trait. The distinguishing feature of the elite of the 1920s society was their shallow frippery and life-is-a-long-party attitude. Waugh’s own comment, ‘I regard writing not as investigation of character but as an exercise in the use of language, and with this I am obsessed. I have no technical psychological interest. It is drama, speech and events that interest me.’ is an example of this shallowness.
Rest assured, Vile Bodies is an enlightening and exciting read. It continued to shock and amuse me right till the end. ‘…nobody told me there was going to be a war!’ Blissfully oblivious of the real world around them a group of Bright Young Things, led by the perpetually drunken Agatha Runcible, party around London. It is as if, they’ve wilfully decided to enclose themselves in a shroud of frivolity, gossip, costume parties and fun. Many people have died, families and homes lost in the previous war, there is also talk of another war waiting to happen. However, if you don’t talk about it, it does not concern you or affect you. Such is the spirit of the age that Evelyn Waugh comments upon. There is a plot, somewhere, how Nina marries Adam, but its buried under the social cameos, the character sketches that suddenly remind you of someone you know, someone born in the 90s. Yes, that’s a sobering thought indeed!
Vile Bodies was adapted into a film, Bright Young Things, by Stephen Fry. Fry’s wit and clever direction manages to make it an entertaining film but fails to copy the bitter and apprehensive taste that Vile Bodies leaves in your mouth. That feeling of self righteous condescension you get while reading a social satire.
Have we learnt any lessons from that age? In this age of Facebook and Twitter we continue to follow the ideology of seeing and being seen, as a result, forgetting to live our real lives. The gossip in Vile Bodies reminds me of conversations with friends that revolve around Facebook and people I’ve stalked. Hopefully we foray into the world of party and glitterati only occasionally. Halloween balls and costume parties with drunken binges are things we do to entertain ourselves away from the drudgery of real life, rising costs and daily drudgery.
All this because I’ve been invited to a 1920s Prohibition Party by Citysocializer and I’ve been trying to get into the 1920s mood. But I think the present day and age is very like its predecessor so, all I have to do is to dress the part. Flapper and frippery anybody?
For more about the party and my thoughts on the 1920s, visit my other blog at driftingtraveller.me