Hard Cases: Drugs and Reality

The Spanish magazine Historia y Vida based in Barcelona has an article this month about Brenda Dean Paul. She was a member of the bright young people, and the story by Eva Melús connects her with Waugh’s novels of the period:

In theory, Dean Paul always wanted to be an actress, but this interest soon deflated. Already at twenty years old, she had succumbed to the nightlife of Berlin in Weimar Germany, where she spent a season. Back in London, she concentrated on her celebrity role and queen of the holidays. Her circle, baptized by journalists as Bright Young Things, mounted them in all colors. …The writer Evelyn Waugh, one of the Bright Young Things, portrayed Brenda Dean Paul’s parties in his novels like Decline and Fall (1928) and Vile Bodies (1930). Meanwhile, the Englishman in the street, (el inglés de a pie) affected by the Great Depression, absorbed with a mixture of envy and disapproval the activities of that gang of idle and banal millionaires.

After explaining her addiction to morphine and later heroin and her prison sentence for drug possession and fraud, the article describes the sad ending to her story in the 1950s:

….[A]t age 45 she got her first big role in the theater: being the protagonist of La Princesa Zoubaroff. Drugs had not made a dent in her beauty, but in her ability. Her addiction prevented her on many occasions from performing her role. Her repeated relapses and scandals did not cease. ..The artist Michael Wishart claimed to have seen her clean her syringe in the water of a vase during a party. And one of her roommates informed the police that she was hiring herself out as a submissive in sadomasochistic sessions. She died at age 52, probably because of an overdose.

I don’t think any of Waugh’s characters sank quite to her level of depravity. Still, one wonders how much she may have contributed to the naming of Brenda Last in Waugh’s novel A Handful of Dust? The translation is by Google with edits.

The Catholic World Report has a review of the Disney film adaptation of the novel A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. According to the reviewer, James Watson, the book involves characters who are forced to encounter reality at various levels. He thinks the adaptation misses the point of the book and offers examples of how other writers have dealt with it more succesfully:

This emphasis on the hardness of reality is not unique to L’Engle, of course, though it has become rare in recent decades. Dostoevsky’s priest tells the Karamazov patriarch that the most dangerous type of lie is that which one tells oneself. Charles Williams (a lesser known Inkling) has his character Lawrence Wentworth begin his descent into hell by fudging small historical details in his books, then allowing himself to indulge in an increasingly unrealistic fantasy about an unrequited love, and finally by isolating himself in pure solipsistic delusion as he lowers himself step by step into damnation. In Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisitied, Julia finally comes up against the immovable object of her indissoluble marriage, and leaves Charles Ryder permanently. Her absolutely steely decision has nothing to do with her feelings on the matter.

This probably makes more sense if you have read the book.


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