Hello! In March we are continuing with our ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ theme and examining the theme of ‘Pride.’ For this first post I will be looking at three novels that explore this theme in different ways. Throughout our posts we have had to focus on the negative aspect of pride in its form as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Of course, the immediate book that comes to mind is Pride and Prejudice and looking at pride through the character of Mr Darcy but I thought that would be a little too easy for this topic, so decided to examine others instead. Interestingly enough, all of the novels that I have chosen this month have either already been made into films or in the case of the last book are being made into films.
White Mischief by James Fox
If you are looking for a shocking book that truly shows all of the negative aspects of pride then White Mischief by James Fox is a good bet.
I am quite interested in the true stories of the colonial lives of the ‘Happy Valley’ residents in Kenya. Mostly because their extremely hedonistic behaviour is truly shocking and leads to an early death for the majority involved. The most famous incident in the happy valley was the famous wartime murder of Earl Josslyn Victor Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll in 1941 at the age of forty. Erroll (formerly a member of Oswald Mosely’s British Union of Facists the BUF) was famed for his licentious behaviour in the valley and had seduced many of the married women in the area; thus creating a long list of suspects. The man arrested and brought to trial for his murder was one of his current cuckolds, Sir Jock Delves Broughton. He was officially freed from suspicion due to lack of evidence and the murder has never satisfactorily been solved with many different people since, putting forward their solutions and naming suspects.
It is clear that the Happy Valley Set’s behaviour was full of the notion of pride in a negative sense and that just because they were wealthy Upper Class, White and Anglo-European they felt automatically superior to others and this gave them free rein over their behaviour. They often treated their servants with contempt and were drunk, on drugs, and vandalised furniture and rooms at parties. Although, there were other aspects at play. Some of these people had left their original countries in a cloud of shame in that they were socially ostracised from their peers due to their scandalous behaviour. However,there was something about the ‘happy valley’ that made them especially licentious in their behaviour. Some say it was the high altitude, perhaps it was, but because they were also surrounded by people behaving in this way then maybe they also felt more comfortable doing so. Continually changing affairs and wife swapping parties were the norm in some houses and Kiki Preston (Alice Gwynne) was known as “the girl with the silver syringe” because she felt free enough to publicly carry around a syringe which she would use to inject herself with morphine and heroin.The continuation of the Second World War and the Mau Mau Uprising eventually caused the Happy Valley set to disperse.
This book is a good introduction to the lives of these people and whilst I would not say that they are likeable (they are mostly the opposite in fact!) you do get an idea of the major players in the murder of Earl Erroll. Other books on this topic I have read are The Bolter: Idina Sackville – The woman who scandalised 1920s Society and became White Mischief’s infamous seductress by Frances Osbourne and The Temptress: The Scandalous Life of Alice, Countess De Janze
by Paul Spicer.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
To explore the consequences of pride in highly impressionable circumstances then The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Penguin Modern Classics) should be a tale that you turn to.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie tells the story of Jean Brodie a teacher at a Girls School in 1930s Edinburgh. The novel focuses on the ‘Brodie Set’ of her select girls that she chooses to influence, with her particular views on love, classical education, history of art and fascism.
“Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life.” Miss Jean Brodie, pg 9
An immensely proud character, who states she is in her “prime,” Miss Brodie represents a troubling figure. This novel explores issues such as Brodie’s fascination with Mussolini and fascism which she imparts to her set. Miss Brodie has a blinkered view of the world, she encourages bullying within the group, particularly towards the tragic scapegoat Mary MacGregor. She rigidly type-casts all of the girls into specific roles which are not always accurate assessments of their characters.
Throughout the novel, Miss Brodie is blinded by pride as she believes her views to be superior to others. This can be seen in her expectation that Rose (who she believes to be famed for her sex appeal) will seduce the married art teacher Mr Lowther, whom Miss Brodie herself is attracted to. Because she herself is attracted to Mr Lowther she feels that the prettiest of her ‘set’ has permission to sleep with a much older, married man. This is all because of her pride in being physically attracted to him. In actual fact, another of the set does seduce him. Dangerously, she also advises a girl Joyce Emily to fight for the nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War, terrible advice which has a tragic ending.
The story analyses the strange nature of school life and highlights that pride and insularity can be dangerous in such settings as schools. People in influential positions with little life experience and controversial ideas such as Jean Brodie find themselves with more power than they perhaps should really have. This power can lead to ‘hero worship’ behaviour as the girls are so influenced by Miss Brodie they would do anything for her. The downfall of the group ends when Miss Brodie is dismissed due to her behaviour in that she is betrayed by one of her ‘set’ into telling the headteacher Miss Mackay that she is encouraging them to sympathise with fascism and thus she gets fired.
I think that I find the most interesting parts of the novel to be when the girls are older and are more able to analyse the situation that they were in. They learn with hindsight to realise that Miss Brodie was just a slightly lonely and tragic character who should not have had as much influence as she did. “She was just a spinster…,pg 27” says Eunice from the set as an adult.
I find this a fascinating book because the character of Jean Brodie is a mass of contradictions. She at first comes across as full of arrogance and pride, snobby behaviour and is highly judgemental. Things that Brodie does not approve of are given short shrift. We learn that her opinions and behaviour can have darker consequences as the story progresses.The book has a clever narrative structure in that we view the events as flashbacks and also in the present day when the characters are older and wiser and able to see through the fog of Brodie’s influential pride.
The Lost City of Z by David Grann
To examine ‘Pride,’ and arrogance and how this can lead to ignorance, then The Lost City of Z: A Legendary British Explorer’s Deadly Quest to Uncover the Secrets of the Amazon is a good book to explore.
This book tells the true story of Amazon explorer Percy Fawcett and his quest to find the Lost City of Z. Fawcett was Arthur Conan Doyle’s inspiration for his famous novel The Lost World (Penguin Classics)
Percy Fawcett took his son and his son’s best friend (both of whom were inexperienced) on a quest to find this city in 1925. They faced incredibly hostile terrain and climate in a place crawling with dangerous animals of every kind and also fierce tribes that were unused to different people. They disappeared in the jungle and no one has found them since despite several expeditions created to find them, whereby another hundred or so people may have also perished.
Percy Fawcett was a seasoned explorer and strongly believed that he could find this city. The fact that he brought along two relatively inexperienced people with him shows a lack of judgement that must have been blinded by pride. In fact, the main reason for his thinking in bringing along inexperienced explorers must have been due to pride; he must have believed that they were infallible because they were associated with himself ‘the great explorer.’ So, not only did he put his own life in danger but also those of two young men, (fairly soon after the First World War) one of whom was his own son. all of this due to pride. His actions can be seen as a continuation of the behaviour displayed by those in the story of White Mischief; in the sense that because they were rich, Anglo-Saxon and White, they felt that they were invincible.
These three books (two non-fiction and one fiction) are the ones that, to me, strongly demonstrate the negative aspects of Pride. What books would you include under this category?