The Vile Bodies Essay

2342 words - 10 pages

The postwar England of the twenties and thirties was the setting of Evelyn Waugh’s first satirical novels, among which was the Vile Bodies. Waugh, an author mostly known for his highly satirical fiction, published his novel Vile Bodies in 1930 right in the middle of the time-period between the Great Wars. Because of the historical evens that occupied England at that time, much of British Literature of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s was concerned with the Modernist movement, which was occupied with the idea of individualism of the young generation. Through the use of prominent and yet highly satirical characters, Waugh strives to criticize his Modernist generation for its unsuccessful ...view middle of the document...

Because of the social and political modernization in England during the late 1920’s and the early 1930’s, it becomes unsurprising that many fiction writers of this period between World War I and World War II (or what Lisa Colletta calls the ‘interwar’ period) turned inward, choosing to explore individual consciousness in order to better represent alienation and fragmentation of the personal identity. However, others represented the disturbing sense of powerlessness of this historical period in a fashion that was more comedic. Thus, authors like Waugh “engaged Modernist concern from a rigidly objective comic perspective, creating characters who consistently find themselves in traumatic circumstances, yet who for the most part, are revealed to the reader through their action and words rather than their internal stream of consciousness” (Colletta, 9-10). Furthermore, in Waugh’s works, modernism became characterized by romantic existentialism “that sought fulfillment by means of an ecstatic union of subject and object, self and world, a short of secular mysticism that posted itself against what it considered to be the artificial structures of Western culture” (Wasson, 282).
The satiric nature of Vile Bodies complies with the idea of Waugh and his modernism as characterized by Colletta and Wasson. Vile Bodies, a novel about the “Bright Yong People” is a” funny attack on irresponsible authority of cultural decay” (Heath, 80), for it is an incredible portrayal of the pleasure-seeking and total rejection of social mores of an age group that prides itself to be far better than their preceding generations. However, overlooking the brilliant and comic plot, at its center, the novel contains a depressing worldview where both the individual self (through hypocrisy and self-centeredness) and the political/institutional world are both to blame. Such dark humor suggests that there is really only established disorder (Colleta, 10). Furthermore, the use of type characters is common in satire, for the satirist is never interested in deep explorations of human nature. Therefore, Waugh’s characters are “merely personifications of the particular form of dullness he wishes to give visible shape (Bloom, 341). Thus on an overall scale through the use of satirical and prominent characters, Waugh satirically criticizes the materialistic concept of individualism both in personal and political/institutional lives of people during the interwar period.
Waugh’s characters in the Vile Bodies exemplify the themes of the movement towards individualism, which are definable by the movement toward Modernism. Such characters are criticized for their choices, actions and internal struggles and tend to display many modernist themes in their ways of life. Furthermore, all of these characters exhibit some form of two prominent characteristics, one of which is hypocrisy—which not only serves to insert humor but also explains an underlying belief that this modernistic search for...

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