A recent incident at Christ Church, an Oxford college, has been widely reported in the British press. This involved a student, Lavinia Woodward, who was studying to be a surgeon. In a reportedly drug-induced rage, she stabbed her boyfriend (whom she met over the internet) and was arrested and charged. The judge has deferred sentencing until September but is considering leniency in view of the fact that a criminal record involving the use of a knife could, as one can well imagine, adversely affect Woodward’s future career as a surgeon. The Daily Mail on 17 May reported the story in an article by Josh White and Annabel Bagdi that drew an allusion to the Christ Church site of the incident as having been the same college where Anthony Blanche was dunked in the fountain by drunken students in Brideshead Revisited. But Anthony hardly suffered any grievous bodily harm; on the contrary, he rather enjoyed it.
An opinion column by Simon Jenkins in The Guardian defends the judge’s decision in this case but argues that other offenders at early stages in their careers (who may lack the advantages of students at Christ Church) should be teated with similar leniency. He writes that the “whole saga sounds like a chapter from Evelyn Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall.” Well perhaps, but Scone College was a more humble venue than Christ Church, and no one has suggested that letting off the likes of Digby Vane Trumpington, who perpetrated the attack on Paul Pennyfeather, contributed to the general welfare. And Waugh contrived that even the wrongly convicted Pennyfeather escaped with only a few months of hard and returned to Oxford to pursue his career.
Finally a blogger (Tom Winnifrith) picked up the theme in a blogpost:
Lavinia Woodward attends Christ Church the Oxford College known as “the House”. 17 Prime Ministers went there, it is the college of of the privileged elite. It goes without saying that like Evelyn Waugh I was rejected by the House and, like Waugh, ended up at downmarket Hertford. The House is for the blue bloods not great writers. Lavinia picked up her boyfriend on the casual sex app Tinder, then while off her head on drugs assaulted him, throwing a laptop and other objects in his direction before stabbing him in the leg with a bread knife. Jail beckons surely? Er…no.
After retelling the story, Winnifrith concludes:
No, judge Pringle, you are wrong. Getting into Oxford does not make you extraordinary. Most folks there are clever but not Einsteins. The medical profession will stagger on without the admission of posh Lavinia to its ranks and crime must go punished. Judge Pringle would send [a] chav from Blackbird Leys down without hesitation and would probably lecture the tearful wretch as she stood quivering in the dock about how she is an idiot and must pay for her sins to send a message to society. This is the 21st Century. It cannot be one law for the privileged elite and one for the great unwashed. Lavinia must go to jail and judge Pringle should be fired for being an elitist, out of touch old coot.
UPDATE (21 May 2017):Add Peter Hitchins to the writers who drag Waugh into Lavinia’s story. In his Daily Mail column Hitchins opposes special treatment for wrongdoers based on their privileged status:
But because their crimes happen in tower blocks, or in streets where there are dead fridges and mattresses in the front gardens, and don’t involve grand colleges made famous by Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited, these [nonprivileged] cases don’t get picked up by national media.