August 5, 2020

A soft, cowardly and degenerate English | Babelia


It is not easy to face something called “Meat One” every day, but Henry Wilt, professor of the subject of that name at the Fenland School of Arts and Crafts, later Polytechnic and later university, has been doing it for years. Wilt is not “a determined man”; Were it not for his absent-minded but satisfying response to the nightly assaults of Eva, his wife, and his quadruplets, one might even doubt that he is “a man.” However, from a purely anatomical point of view, it is evident that it is, since, throughout the five novels that Tom sharpe he dedicated to her, her private parts are subjected to an attempt at something called “mouth work” by an extremely liberal American, they get caught in an over-inflated inflatable doll, they are destroyed by a rosebush one night when Wilt has drunk a lot of beer in the pub and she ventures in a dark garden, they are skinned when his wife removes a sticking plaster, they are excessively manipulated by a German terrorist who is also a nymphomaniac, etc.

The dick jokes they have an extensive and not especially honorable tradition justified only by their undeniable effectiveness. But Sharpe (London, 1928-Llafranc, 2013) did not limit himself to telling penis jokes in his novels: the first two, Seditious assembly (1971) and Shameless exhibition (1973), are satires of the political situation in South Africa, where the author lived between 1951 and 1961; after being expelled from that country for his anti-apartheid activities, he taught in Cambridge for another 10 years, and the clumsiness and fatuity on the part of the cloister of that very prestigious university also ended up being literary material, in this case of novels Porterhouse Blue (1974; Sapper in Cambridge, according to its editors in Spanish) and Skinny scholarships (nineteen ninety five).

A significant number of British critics point to three of those four novels as the best written by their author, who then began to suffer the wear and tear of a commitment to their publishers that forced him to write six other novels in a relatively short period of time. . If satire is relevant, it always is insofar as it clearly identifies a suitable “enemy”; however, Sharpe, who had already written about his South African experience and university life, found that “enemy” first in the British upper class (The fearsome Blott, The recalcitrant bastard, Ancestral vices) and later, from Wilt (1976), in the generally unsatisfied aspirations of the middle class of his country, in the latter case with extraordinary success.

The dick jokes they have an extensive and not especially honorable tradition. But Sharpe was not limited to penis jokes

Wilt has spent years at the Fenland School, his promotion is unfeasible and for the worse he has to expose “the culture” to young plasterers, bricklayers, gas installers and butchers whom he tries unsuccessfully to convince to read George Orwell’s essays, the novels by DH Lawrence or The Lord of the Flies. The result is rather that of “his” exposure to brutality or directly the beating. But the humiliations do not end with the working day due to the aspirations of respectability of his pantagruélica and very fatuous wife, who successively surrenders to yoga, flower arranging, motherhood, environmentalism, schools for gifted children, nuclear disarmament, aphrodisiacs and Americans, with always catastrophic results for her husband. When Eva leaves Wilt after a party with a bouncy doll included, in the first installment of the series, Wilt gets drunk and performs a murder rehearsal that inevitably doesn’t go well: What happens next is high-level verbal comedy, with Wilt tricking the police by the excellent resource of telling him “his” truth, all those ideas about “the paradox of material progress and spiritual decay” and the “black and mysterious” thoughts he has, especially when drinking beer on an empty stomach.

Everything will finally be fixed, and Wilt will be able to improve his position in the School and reconcile himself with the idea of ​​being the husband of an excessive woman, but first he must navigate, as in the other four novels (The tribulations of Wilt, Courage, Wilt !, Wilt is not clear and Wilt’s heritage), an incomprehensible and chaotic world inhabited by overly imaginative police inspectors, rogue and treacherous worker apprentices, alcoholic priests who oppose contraception, pedestrian and pompous school inspectors, a radical teacher who films a student sodomizing a crocodile from I play as a critique of capitalism, paranoid American soldiers, women interested in their (again) intimate parts and supporters of producing methane gas at home by manipulating family excrement, among many other disruptive factors.

Although some of all this becomes routine and ineffective in the last two novels in the series, Sharpe is always smart, inventive, and very funny. The malice with which he treats his characters sometimes puts the reader in trouble, for example in his treatment of Eva; but the obvious misogyny in the pages devoted to Wilt’s wife and daughters is fortunately redeemed by the realization, novel after novel, that clumsy Eva is the noblest, most resolute, and, yes, the least inept of the people around Wilt. Wilt is only “a soft, cowardly and degenerate Englishman dominated by his stupid wife”, but he is also capable of being generous, as well as understanding that for someone like him there is no more sublime experience than walking a sunny winter morning in the direction to the School: its greatness lies in the smallness of its desires, which is moving, especially coming from novels that are only intended to make people laugh, although not only about penises. Tom Sharpe’s books are just entertainment, but they are the best entertainment that can be found in the very unique post-pandemic rentrée of these weeks, and they seem especially necessary on days like these.

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