Hooper, Rex Mottram and Modern Education

 Author and journalist Joseph Pearce has published an essay about the shortcomings of modern education on The Imaginative Conservative weblog. This is a follow up to an earlier posting on G.K. Chesterton’s views relating to the same subject in which the importance of the moral dimension of education is stressed. In this latest post, Pearce considers, inter alia, Waugh’s comments on this topic as expressed in the persons of two of his characters:

Evelyn Waugh, in his magnum opus, Brideshead Revisited, a novel which was itself inspired by a line in one of Chesterton’s Father Brown stories, lampoons the “hollow men” produced by the modern academy in his portrayal of Hooper and Rex Mottram. Hooper had “no special illusions distinguishable from the general, enveloping fog from which he observed the universe:”

“Hooper had wept often, but never for Henry’s speech on St. Crispin’s day, nor for the epitaph at Thermopylae. The history they taught him had had few battles in it but, instead, a profusion of detail about humane legislation and recent industrial change. Gallipoli, Balaclava, Quebec, Lepanto, Bannockburn, Roncesvales, and Marathon—these, and the Battle in the West where Arthur fell, and a hundred such names whose trumpet-notes, even now in my sere and lawless state, called to me irresistibly across the intervening years with all the clarity and strength of boyhood, sounded in vain to Hooper…”

Like Hooper, the character of Rex Mottram serves to personify the “hollow man,” the crass product of the modern, disintegrated academy. In the words of Julia, his wife, he is not only ignorant but also, and even worse, he is utterly ignorant of his ignorance:

“You know Father Mowbray hit on the truth about Rex at once, that it took me a year of marriage to see. He simply wasn’t all there. He wasn’t a complete human being at all. He was a tiny bit of one, unnaturally developed… I thought he was a sort of primitive savage, but he was something absolutely modern and up-to-date that only this ghastly age could produce. A tiny bit of a man pretending he was whole…”

Pearce cites the quotes from Waugh’s novel to the Everyman’s Library edition (New York, 1993) pp. 8-9, 181-82. He might also have cited Scott-King’s views on this subject. See previous post. The line from Chesterton’s Father Brown story is used for the title of Book Three of the novel’s revised edition (“A Twitch Upon the Thread”).  Pearce concludes his article: “If the twenty-first century is to produce more great men and more great books, it will have to restore a true education; and a true education is an education as if truth mattered.”

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