Cheerful notes from literary history

Boat.Upturned

(The Ship of State)

The United Kingdom (as it’s currently known) goes to the polls tomorrow and I wish I felt a little more confidence in the British electorate. An astonishing number of people seem willing to ignore the threats to the survival of the National Health Service, working families forced to go to food banks, teachers having to use their own money to buy stationery and food for their pupils, homeless people dying on the streets. The obvious question is: do they not know or do they not care?

Thinking back to the much-quoted comment on the 2016 referendum—that people don’t mind being lied to if they like the lie they’re being told—we’re seeing now, unsurprisingly, the corollary: people do mind being told a truth if they don’t like the truth that’s being told.

In Nick Park’s Wallace & Gromit film, The Wrong Trousers, there’s a police ‘Reward’ poster headed: ‘Have you seen this chicken?’ It’s the criminal penguin in an absurdly obvious red rubber glove doubling as chicken comb. Wallace, never the sharpest tool in the box, exclaims at one point when the penguin has donned the glove: ‘It’s you!’

WrongTrousers

In Steve Bell’s cartoons of late, Boris Johnson has adopted ‘the scarlet rubber gauntlet of integrity’ https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/picture/2019/dec/09/steve-bells-if-boris-johnson-gets-ready-to-fight-the-election and Johnson in person has been no more convincing than the penguin. Yet many have, it seems, chosen to be convinced. There has, of course, been a relentless and sustained media onslaught against Jeremy Corbyn, for several years now, mainly in the trashier Tory papers—Sun, Express, Mail—but with some substantial if less hysterical help from the Times and the Johnson outlet, the Telegraph, collectively representing the Labour leader as a threat to western civilization. But I don’t know – he doesn’t despise ordinary people, doesn’t hide from interviewers or nick their phones and doesn’t lie through his teeth. Is he just too old-fashioned?

Frankly, the Labour manifesto seems to me the only chance our failing country has to reverse its precipitous decline—and if you think their manifesto’s too radical, then it’s just as well I don’t get to enact mine.

11 December. Surely there are some cheerful notes from literary history?

‘On Monday 11 December [1916]’, D. H. Lawrence sensed ‘a terrible wave of depression in Cornwall with people in Penzance market saying England was beaten, as the news came of the fall of Asquith and his replacement by Lloyd George. For Lawrence this was the death-blow to the liberal and decent England he had cared about . . . Now finally the old England was gone, replaced by the “patriotism” of Horatio Bottomley and the demago­guery of Lloyd George.’[1]

(Two years later, Lloyd George was returned to power at the head of a coalition government with 478 ‘Coalition’ MPs, the vast majority of them Conservatives. John Maynard Keynes famously asked ‘a Conservative friend [Stanley Baldwin], who had known previous houses, what he thought of them. “They are a lot of hard-faced men,” he said, “who look as if they had done very well out of the war.”’)[2]

Okay, try another one. In his essay ‘Welsh Poetry’, poet and painter David Jones wrote that, ‘In the Brenhinedd y Saeson, “The Kings of the English”, which is a Welsh version of a Latin chronicle, the scribe, in an entry for 11th December 1282, after noting that the Lord Llywelyn had been killed on that day, adds these significant words” Ac yna i bwriwyd holl Gymry y’r llawr, And then was cast down all Wales, to the ground.’[3]

Scream

Perhaps not that one either. Wait, though, tomorrow—Election Day—is the birthday of Edvard Munch, painter best-known for, ah, The Scream (several versions). So that’s encouraging.

 

 

Notes

[1] Mark Kinkead-Weekes, D. H, Lawrence: Triumph to Exile, 1912-1922 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 345.

[2] John Maynard Keynes. The Economic Consequences of the Peace (London: Macmillan, 1919), 133.

[3] David Jones, Epoch and Artist: Selected Writings (London: Faber, 1973), 61.

 

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