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The "Learning Together" London Bridge Irony Was Forecasted by Evelyn Waugh in 1928
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Commenter jimmyriddle points out the similarities between the London Bridge massacre of the poor deincarceration activists by their own pet whom they’d helped spring from prison and the third act of Evelyn Waugh’s 1928 first novel Decline and Fall in which mild-mannered Paul Pennyfeather, former penniless school master turned High Society bridegroom, is sent to prison, where the new governor has advanced notions:

Sir Wilfred Lucas-Dockery had not been intended by nature or education for the Governor of a prison; his appointment was the idea of a Labour Home Secretary who had been impressed by an appendix on the theory of penology which he had contributed to a report on the treatment of ‘Conscientious Objectors’. Up to that time Sir Wilfred had held the Chair of Sociology at a Midland university; only his intimate friends and a few specially favoured pupils knew that behind his mild and professional exterior he concealed an ardent ambition to serve in the public life of his generation. …

Colonel MacAdder, his predecessor in office, a veteran of numberless unrecorded campaigns on the Afghan frontier, had said to him on his retirement: ‘Good luck, Sir Wilfred! If I may give you a piece of advice, it’s this. Don’t bother about the lower warders or the prisoners. Give hell to the man immediately below you, and you can rely on him to pass it on with interest. If you make prison bad enough, people’ll take jolly good care to keep out of it. That’s been my policy all through, and I’m proud of it’ (a policy which soon became quite famous in the society of Cheltenham Spa).

Sir Wilfred, however, had his own ideas. ‘You must understand,’ he said to Paul, ‘that it is my aim to establish personal contact with each of the men under my care. I want you to take a pride in your prison and in your work here. So far as possible, I like the prisoners to carry on with their avocations in civilized life. What was this man’s profession, officer?’

‘White Slave traffic, sir.’

‘Ah, yes. Well, I’m afraid you won’t have much opportunity for that here. … Are you an extravert or an introvert?’

‘I’m afraid I’m not sure, sir.’

‘So few people are. I’m trying to induce the Home Office to install an official psycho-analyst. Do you read the New Nation, I wonder? There is rather a flattering article this week about our prison called The Lucas-Dockery Experiments. I like the prisoners to know these things. It gives them corporate pride.”

Sir Wilfred’s Lucas-Dockery Experiments result in much the same outcome as the Cambridge Learning Together experiments, although reality proved more on-the-nose than Waugh’s fiction.

By the way, Decline and Fall is a great read, a painless introduction to Waugh.

 
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  1. Say what you want, good/great fiction is frequently good at prediction, from Jules Verne & Moon landing to various socio-cultural changes.

  2. Someone online analogized young Mr. Merritt to a lion tamer mauled to death by his lions – he did not accurately perceive the danger posed by the prematurely freed jihadi because he, like a lion tamer accustomed to lions, had grown accustomed to the object of his work. The danger had become mundane.

    Except the analogy would be apt only if lion tamers were in the habit of releasing lions – many with a history of attacking humans – all over Britain while insisting that any resistance to this behavior including pointing out all of the eaten British children is anti-lion bigotry.

  3. ES says:

    The BBC Decline and Fall miniseries a few years ago is deeply faithful to Waugh’s text and completely delightful. It makes good use of the visual gags employed in the novel, including the humane prison and the Bauhaus architect destroying a British country house.

  4. Colonel MacAdder, his predecessor in office, a veteran of numberless unrecorded campaigns on the Afghan frontier

    Plus ça change…

    • Replies: @Jenner Ickham Errican
  5. Cortes says:
    @Alec Leamas (hard at work)

    Mr Merrit &c were working on the presumption that the lions had been defanged and declawed, I believe. The legal actions will be interesting.

    The scene in the original Blade Runner film with Leon being interviewed about his family springs to mind.

    William Saroyan wrote a wonderful story about the death of ?an uncle? big cat tamer during a circus act, I seem to recall. Perhaps in the collection “The Daring Young Man…”

    • Replies: @Lurker
  6. Dtbb says:

    The book is in the public domain, if anyone is interested.

  7. El Dato says:
    @Alec Leamas (hard at work)

    like a lion tamer accustomed to lions, had grown accustomed to the object of his work

    NASA has the same problem:

    “Yeah, the lion will sleep tonight.”

    “…Oops!”

    (Someone in the back: “This is my fetish!!”)

    • Replies: @MBlanc46
  8. This whole incident reminds me of that movie documentary about the guy who spent time living among the (Alaskan) coastal brown bears. He considered them to be like pets, only to find out that his pets considered him to be lunch.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
    , @Lurker
  9. @Alec Leamas (hard at work)

    Someone online analogized young Mr. Merritt to a lion tamer mauled to death by his lions

    Maybe he’s not so much a lion-tamer, as like the guy who kept a pet tiger in his apartment in the projects.

  10. If I read the story correctly, it were other convicts from the group who tackled andheld down the murderer.

    • Replies: @jon
  11. Michael S says:

    I suspect that Evelyn wasn’t writing fiction, he was writing history. The history of the East India Company, specifically, who did perfectly fine as robber barons but suddenly, mysteriously went into steep decline right around the same time they became very concerned about the welfare of their subjects and started experimenting with progressive ideas.

  12. TWS says:

    We’ve managed to find the weirdest place in our various future histories with none of the benefits.

  13. Peterike says:

    The rot in the UK goes back a long way. What started it? WWI is the usual answer. But how did that lead to crack pot Liberal ideas that would be ludicrous to a healthy ten year old? And said ideas being promulgated by the elites of society?

    It’s all very strange.

  14. Peterike says:

    On the Waugh front I find “Helena” to be especially delightful. But nobody reads it.

    • Replies: @Old Palo Altan
  15. @Alec Leamas (hard at work)

    Mr. Merritt was the Timothy Treadwell of the humans.

    (Yeah, this is grizzly in more ways than one. He was eaten by a brown bear though.)

  16. Camp of the Saints, from the early 1970s, doesn’t tell the same story logistics-wise, but its description of society and the enablers of the immigration death of the West is right on the money compared to what has happened 40 years later.

    • Replies: @Dan Hayes
  17. MBlanc46 says:
    @El Dato

    Very good book on the first Shuttle catastrophe. I had a minor role in its production.

  18. jon says:
    @Alec Leamas (hard at work)

    Except the analogy would be apt only if lion tamers were in the habit of releasing lions – many with a history of attacking humans – all over Britain while insisting that any resistance to this behavior including pointing out all of the eaten British children is anti-lion bigotry.

    So the better analogy would be pit bull owners, then?

  19. jon says:
    @but an humble craftsman

    If I read the story correctly, it were other convicts from the group who tackled andheld down the murderer.

    According to the article below, one of the men (James Ford) was a convicted murder. The rest were just random people at the scene and one undercover cop. Skimming the names/photos, none appear to be Muslim or minority.

    https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/london-bridge-heroes-who-risked-20994292

  20. Anonymous[257] • Disclaimer says:
    @Prester John

    Timothy Treadwell and his unfortunate girl friend. They weren’t ordinary brown bears. They were grizzlies. And larger than most because of a prolific supply of salmon. Bears are officially omnivores. But these grizzlies disdained plants and were carnivores.

    Treadwell claimed that he, not the rangers protected the grizzlies from poachers

  21. Dan Hayes says:
    @Achmed E. Newman

    As I remember it, the author had particular scorn for the pope and Dominican “enablers”. Until that time I had thought that only the Jesuits were religious culprits.

    • LOL: YetAnotherAnon
  22. Lurker says:
    @Alec Leamas (hard at work)

    While Merritt snr is running around wielding Ockahm’s whip and chair – denouncing any reactionaries who dare to notice the connection between faulty lion-taming theories and being mauled by lions.

  23. Lurker says:
    @Prester John

    Algy met a bear, the bear was bulgy, the bulge was Algy.

    Which I realise is somewhat OT but it makes me smile.

  24. Lurker says:
    @Cortes

    The legal actions will be interesting.

    I’m guessing that Jack Merritt ‘s father will be suing the police for shooting the terrorist. I’m not sure what other legal actions will arise.

  25. @Peterike

    Waugh himself liked to say that it was his finest work.

    I think he was tweaking the critic’s tail, as it were, but there are delightful moments in a work which presents Helena as a cross between Queen Victoria and a Roaring Twenties Bright Young Thing.

    My favourite scene, mentioned here once or twice, pitilessly eviscerates modern art and the laughable excuses of those who commit it.

  26. The Loved One is my favorite Waugh. He goes after Auden and Isherwood for fleeing England for sunny Southern Cal during WWII. Hilarious.

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