The Crisis of Our Times

"Not by force of arms are civilizations held together, but by subtle threads of moral and intellectual principle." -Russell Kirk

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Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Handful Of Dust

Just finished reading a wonderful book by Evelyn Waugh, titled A Handful of Dust. The title is borrowed from a line in T.S. Elliot’s famous poem, The Wasteland. I’ve only breezed through the first few parts of that poem but I hope get a better read of it in the near future. Mr. Waugh’s book is disturbing, hilarious, and reflective of our times--mostly all at once. The central character, Mr. Tony Last, lives a fair life, with an intelligent son (John Andrews) and an attractive wife, Brenda-who those of high society believe to be much above her husbands worth. They reside in a family estate, left to Tony by his father, called Hetton Gardens. Hetton requires a grand amount of Tony’s wealth to keep and is never a very comfortable place-to the irritation of Brenda. Its large, gothic, and uninviting. Mr.Last rarely has guests and when one should appear it is to his annoyance. One day a fellow, John Beaver, who he met a club-Brat’s-comes stopping by for the weekend. John is unanioumously disliked by all who matter, and at the moment of his arrival becomes more than Mr. Last wishes to endure. He avoids him thourghly, leaving Brenda to tend to him. They hit it off, though it seems remarkable considering Mr. Beaver’s "awfulness." From this moment on Mr. Last’s life slowly swirls into the abyss. His wife’s boredom leads her into an affair with John Beaver. She gets a flat in London and finds any excuse to stay away from Hetton, her Husband, and son. Months into the affair an awful tragety occurs. John Andrews, out on his first hunting trip, is a victim of a freak accident, a startled horse knocks him off of his and in flight stikes him on his head with a violent kick. Tony is informed of his son’s death and sends a friend Mr. Jock Grant-Menzies to inform his wife in London. Upon hearing the unfortunate news, Brenda blurts out unconsciously, "thank God." Though she makes her apologies, her actions soon shed light on the remark. Within a few weeks she proclaims her desire for a divorce and wish to marry Mr. Beaver. Mr. Last, though not in favor of it, is naturally forced to go along with it. They make the appropriate arrangements, including how much Brenda will receive in alimony. Under the law the only grounds for divorce is adultery and Tony agrees, inorder to hide Brenda’s affair, to spend the night with a woman so that the hired detectives can get enough evidence for the court. Later on, Tony is informed, through Brenda’s brother, that she wants more-which would force Tony to sell his beloved estate. Tony had enough and refuses any settlement and starts to plan for a trip to hideaway for awhile. Upon making his plans he meets a Dr. Messinger. Dr. Messinger is planning a tripto Brazil to search for an old forgotten city. Tony decides to go along for the adventure. While in Brazil Tony catches a harsh fever. Dr. Messinger attempts to go ahead of the river in search for helpbut drowns on his way leaving a very ill Mr. Last to fend for himself. Tony recovers but finds himself stuck forever in Brazil-and to throw salt on the wound to read Dickens for the rest of his life.

Well that’s a very vague breakdown of the plot and leaves more than enough for any future readers to find interest in--and I hope that you do. I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s just over two-hundred and twenty pages so its not exactly an overwhelming task to read---though it is certainly a rewarding book.

Quite a few things sprung to my mind while I read. It’s in a way an apotalyipic revelation, that in large degree we see in our present time. Marriage, decency, parenthood, any responsibility or duty at all in fact, are considered anchors to personal passions and thus unbearable chains of slavery. Morality itself is an unbearable bore. The characters are stuck in an eternal adolescence, thinking it proper form to follow their base passions without the sting of natural consequence. Certainly we all know the type and and many of you are perhaps just that sort. Central to the problem, and I believe implicit in the book, is that society had Christianity formerly as its rock, its very foundation.

This foundation decayed through neglect has become a skeleton, where old institutions-such asmarriage, church, parenthood-still exist but mean nothing at all. Any shape is bound to lose its form when it loses its center, and so society has decayed to a state of eternal adolecence.
It does sound familiar doesn’t it.

As with Mr. Last, when tragity strikes and disillusion takes its toll, they, or maybe "we" is a better word, search for an unknown place of happiness that’s stamped on their hearts, not in the higher spiritual order of things but in the only place that weak minds can comprehend, the material world. Tony searchs for a mythical paradise in Brazil, but instead finds his search take him into an unescapable hell. Sounds like so many of us who’ve turned away from God and Truth inorder to adopt a man made political religion of mathematical precision, that guarantees Nirvana but instead leads us to totalitarianism, Nazism, Communism, and all the otherhells that men’s minds have cruelly conjectured.
God is the only eternal and by latching on to him we cleave onto eternal truth and wisdom. Everything material was created from dust and back to dust it will go. Grabbing onto it can not bring you truth, purpose, or even a tolerable existence. All such grasps will only clinch a handful of dust. Evelyn Waugh makes that point rather clearly.

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