Lost Children and Losing Margarine

The Guardian has published an article by Alex Clark about the theme of lost children in literature. The prime example is Ian McEwen’s Thatcher-era novel The Child in Time whch has been adapted for television by BBC/PBS in a 90-minute film that premieres on BBC One at 2100p, Sunday, 24 September. Clark explains the theme of this genre before he comes to specific cases:

In cultural artefacts as in life, the missing child is rarely given the liberty of a stable identity: after the initial, brutal drama of disappearance, a wave of emotional and psychological complications rush in to fill the space left by the agony and terror of loss. Quickly, the child becomes a cipher for more deeply rooted and amorphous anxieties about our ability to protect and to keep frequently unforeseeable dangers at bay; about the family’s relation to society as a whole; and about the fear of the unknowable, predatory other.

After considering the theme in several films and TV series, Clark mentions Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet when a lost child theme is use to tie the novels’ story back to the beginning where the two mothers searching for the child in volume 4 recall their search for lost dolls that opens the first volume. This where Waugh comes in:

It’s a stark difference with another kind of mother entirely: the heinous Brenda Last in Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust. She commits perhaps the greatest parental transgression of all when her son, John Andrew, is killed in a riding accident. When the news is conveyed to her, she momentarily believes that her lover, also called John, is dead when the truth is revealed, she utters the memorable – and unforgivable – words, “Thank God!” It is hard not to see Brenda, awful though she is, as a woman punished for licensing her sexual desire, firmly placed by Waugh beyond the pale.

Waugh also comes into an article on the academic website The Conversation in which Ellen Turner of Lund University discusses the downfall of margarine. This comes in the wake of Unilever’s announcement that it is discontinuing two of its popular brands of that product:

In a column penned by Evelyn Waugh for The Spectator in 1929, margarine represents a general post-war lack of good taste. During the war, writes Waugh, “[e]verything was a ‘substitute’ for something else”, the upshot being “a generation of whom nine hundred and fifty in every thousand are totally lacking in any sense of qualitative value” as a consequence of “being nurtured on margarine and ‘honey sugar’.” Such a diet, according to Waugh, makes them “turn instinctively to the second rate in art and life”.

Waugh’s article was the first in a series about the “Younger Generation”. It is collected in A Little Order and Essays, Articles and Reviews.

Share
This entry was posted in A Handful of Dust, Academia, Adaptations, Newspapers, Television and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Lost Children and Losing Margarine

  1. Elizabeth Babcock says:

    The most admirable incident in “A Handful of Dust,” in my opinion an overrated Waugh novel (not counting “The Man who Loved Dickens” tacked on to the end, is this scene where Brenda learns of her son’s death. What Waugh did then with the story takes in to another level, into sheer genius. He has the family friend who gives Brenda the news and witnesses her response….marry her!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *