Tag Archive: misanthropy


A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh (First published, 1934)

dustIn his chosen career as a novelist Evelyn Waugh has to write about human beings but you get the strong feeling from this cynical and morally vacuous novel that he didn’t like people much. He became a committed Catholic soon afterwards and presumably he took comfort from an organized religion that takes it for granted that we are all born sinners.

Its title comes from a line in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land – “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” – an allusion to death given that someday all of us return to dust.

Like a vindictive deity or grim reaper, Waugh moves his sad characters around like someone idly engaged in a game of chess with himself. None of them are presented in a flattering light and their actions are mainly driven by apathy, ennui or spitefulness. They are well off, comfortably placed and bored out of their skins.

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LIST OF THE LOST by Morrissey (Penguin Books, 2015)

“If you must write prose and poems, the words you use must be your own. Don’t plagiarise or take on loan” – lyrics from Cemetry Gates by The Smiths.

The kindest thing you can say about Stephen Patrick Morrissey’s first, and surely last, published work of fiction is that he follows his own advice and writes in his own words.

Some lines would even make admirable song lyrics :
“Accept the enslavement of my undying love,
Or bear my unpleasant cruelty,
For dearly I love you,
More than any other could”

Unfortunately, this is not a record but a novella and the results are positively dire. Continue reading

I used to work for a man who was a stickler for correctness. From handling requests for time off  to responding to an official complaint from a member of parliament everything had to be done exactly by the book.

On the one hand this was logical and safe, but his inability to do anything without consulting the prescribed guidelines drove most people in the office to distraction.

He was unwilling or unable to trust his instincts in even the most minor and banal of requests.

Buying washing up liquid for the staff kitchen would demand the same amount of red tape as dealing with an accusation of sexual harassment. Actually, I can’t remember either of the last two scenarios happening but you get the picture.

The central point about his behaviour was that it was fundamentally inhuman. He was not a monster so I don’t use the word ‘inhuman’ in the sense of lacking humanity or acting cruelly. What I mean is that his actions were impersonal and dispassionate to the point that he was no better than a machine. Any feelings he had were hidden behind a cloak of bureaucracy. Continue reading

IS HELL OTHER PEOPLE?

I am inclined to being a party pooper with an over active anti social streak, so I have often sought solace in John Paul Sartre’s line from his play ‘No Exit’ where he has his characters express the view that   ‘hell is other people’.

After all, if a literary icon has the same misanthropic thoughts as me I can’t be so wrong. Or can I?

Turns out I’ll either have to change my ways from this new year on or find another smart quote to fall back on.

Sartre, it seems did not intend to be so universally negative after all. Here’s what he wrote in the playbill notes for the Imago Theatre where his play was being performed:

“hell is other people” has always been misunderstood. It has been thought that what I meant by that was that our relations with other people are always poisoned, that they are invariably hellish relations. But what I really mean is something totally different. I mean that if relations with someone else are twisted, vitiated, then that other person can only be hell. Why? Because…when we think about ourselves, when we try to know ourselves, … we use the knowledge of us which other people already have. We judge ourselves with the means other people have and have given us for judging ourselves. Into whatever I say about myself someone else’s judgment always enters. Into whatever I feel within myself someone else’s judgment enters. … But that does not at all mean that one cannot have relations with other people. It simply brings out the capital importance of all other people for each one of us”.

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