“The green eyed monster” in history

Envy has been an unfortunate part of human societies for at least as long as recorded history, possibly before. The basis of envy being something that almost transcends culture and time. The ancient Greeks recorded this trait in human behaviour and the Romans even have a goddess “Invidia”, which translates as envy. Today, it can be seen by people in modern workplaces who are jealous of people in higher positions and act to undermine them. Conversely, envy from others seems to be desired by some in higher positions; often the main motivation for people buying branded goods or an expensive car is to try and provoke jealousy in others. So, with the great number of examples it may appear that I am spoiled for choice when discussing envy throughout history. However, there is one significant event that seems to shine above the rest when looking at this sin. This being the infamous assassination of Julius Caesar – the emperor of the Roman Empire.

Mosaic of Invidia, the Roman goddess of Envy

Julius Caesar’s Assassination

The most powerful man in the Roman Empire, would find he would attract much envy, especially by those in his political circle. This would lead to his downfall…

What is interesting about this particular act of envy is its wide reaching impact. William Shakespeare even wrote his play Julius Caesar based around the events of his death. In fact, he is probably one of the most widely known Roman Emperors to this day, because of this! The assassination of Julius Caesar, would come at a significant time during his leadership. Caesar was a highly successful military leader, during his lifetime he had taken many parts of Europe and North Africa under the Roman Empire. He had ousted his rivals and consolidated his power. He was declared as lifetime dictator in February 44 BC. His unprecedented success and growing power would create many jealous politicians, conspirators even, in the senate (roman government). Within a month, Julius Caesar’s time would be up, in no small part due to envy…

Marcus Junius Brutus, one of the conspirators would, on the 15 March 44BC -“The Ides of March”, assassinate Julius Caesar in the Theatre of Pompey.

Oil Painting of Julius Caesar based off of bust

There is some debate as to whether assassination of Julius Caesar was purely motivated by envy, as some have argued that his assassination was for the good of the Roman Republic, and that Caesar’s power had become too great. Nonetheless, the murder of Julius Caesar is still presented in popular perception as an action motivated by envy. Indeed, Shakespeare presents many of the senate as people jealous of Caesar, who manipulated Brutus into carrying out the assassination.

So, there we have it. Envy is something that has been with us for many years and is something that persists to this day. What are your thoughts? Do you have any other interesting accounts of envy throughout history?


‘Envy’ in Gardening

This month is a real treat for the gardening world with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show starting on the 18th and continuing till the 23rd of May. This is often considered the pinnacle of horticultural shows not just here in the UK but internationally too. Fortunately, there are an unlimited number of show gardens which can win a coveted Chelsea gold medal, so long as they meet the high standards required in certain criteria, although only one can win overall ‘best in show’.

More local gardening events sometimes award first, second and third prizes and commendations, and competition can be fierce. My father recalls going to a local gardening show in the sixties where a gardener who had lovingly tended his gladioli for months was awarded second prize and promptly flew into a rage, throwing his award at the judges in disgust! The delight and pleasure of nurturing plant life can be overshadowed if the gardener places prime importance on being judged ‘the best’. So what better time to talk of ‘envy’ in the gardening world?

In Victorian Britain, much was made of ‘the language of flowers.’ Even today, most people are aware that a red rose represents true love. Far fewer will know that envy is described by the cranesbill Geranium. The name ‘cranesbill’ originates from the form of the fruit capsule present in some of the species. Why such a lovely flower came to represent envy, one can only ponder.

Cranesbill_UnknownSpeciesIn May it finally feels as if spring has ‘sprung’. Generally, it is getting warmer. The oak trees are now covered with new bright green leaves. The evenings are longer; the dawn is earlier and the abundance of blossom and spring flowers really gets the senses racing with all the anticipation of winter’s wait finally rewarded.

2015-05-16 18.42.29As gardeners and garden lovers we all enjoy visiting large parks and gardens with a view to one day ‘living the dream’ and having a large garden of our own, whilst everyone whether they have a large (or even pocket-sized) garden often look for ideas and inspiration from events such as the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. All the better if we can enjoy our own experience of gardening, and admire all those who produce magnificence in the gardening world so our enjoyment is maximised, and our experience richer.

Envious looks at books…

There are so many books that I could have chosen this month for our theme of ‘Envy,’ as envy is an emotion that writers have long utilised to create some great works of fiction. However, I have chosen three examples which are quite an eclectic mix for this month. Although the books chosen are different and each set in a different country, they each share the common thread of the setting of a Secondary school as a pivotal part in their narrative. I wonder why this is so? Perhaps the writers have used the setting of school as a microcosm of wider society to explore themes including that of envy.

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller

Notes on a Scandal is  a masterclass in the technique of the ‘unreliable narrator.’ The viewpoint that we view this story through is that of Barbara Covett, a plain, older history teacher at St Georges Secondary School in London. The story concerns the relationship of Sheba Hart an attractive, married and affluent art teacher who has an illicit affair with a younger pupil. Barbara pretends to befriend Sheba but really she is deeply envious of her for several reasons, including her youth, her beauty, her wealth, her family. Sheba is unaware of Barbara’s real intent so she is an enemy in disguise a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing.’ There is also a clear homoerotic vein that runs through Barbara’s account, you can’t help think that through Barbara’s spite and envy, she really wants Sheba for herself. This story is a good example of how to not live your life vicariously through others and to not be eaten up by envy or you’ll end up unhappy like Barbara.

Malice by Keigo Higashino

I love this book. Malice is a clever twisting of the form of the narrative of the ‘whodunit’ in crime fiction. Higashino unpicks the expected formula of the whodunit and effectively presents it almost back to front. Successful novelist Kunihiko Hidaka is found murdered in his study in a classic locked room mystery set up. Detective Kaga is a empathic and excellent detective who has a previously link to the main suspect (Osamu Nonoguchi) as they were both teachers at the same secondary school. Nonoguchi is targeted as the main suspect right from the start of the novel, the question is more on the ‘how and why’ of the crime rather than the ‘who’ did it. They story becomes quite complex and multi-layered by envy and malice were certainly themes that run throughout the novel and perhaps serve as a warning of just how deep these emotions run they can even lead as a motive to murder. I have to say this is probably one of my favourite reads of 2015 so far.

Weightless by Sarah Bannan

Weightless is set in Adams High School, Adamsville, Alabama and is about the events that led to the suicide of new teenage student Carolyn Lessing. This story is based on the devastatingly true story of Phoebe Prince who died in South Hadley, Massachusetts aged fifteen. Weightless is very clever in using the feelings of envy, settings, cheerleaders, cliques and belonging/not belonging issues of surviving at high school. It explores how the flame of social media has become a catalyst to intensify these issues and can make it easier for bullies to target individuals constantly as home can no longer be the refuge it once was. What I think the book highlights most though is that envy is seen as a motive to justify cruel and extreme behaviour due in part to adolescent insecurity that creates a pack mentality and anyone outside of this is seen as fair game. Weightless serves as a cautionary tale and though not easy reading at times (you do just want to run in at times and shout STOP!) it is a good book for older teenagers and others to read as a warning against this toxic culture. Incidentally, if anyone reading this is experiencing bullying at school or elsewhere please visit a website for a national charity such as http://www.bullying.co.uk/ and tell someone older who can help.

The theme of envy throes up some awful behaviours I have just realised! It can lead people to murder, bullying leading to suicide, and destruction of someone’s status and career. The main thing we can takes from these examples in literature is envy is bad and try to reject feelings of it by living a life true to yourself, not through someone else, work on your own interests and create supportive social networks of true friends and people who care for your wellbeing. If you have other examples of envy in literature then get in touch at the usual places.

Film Envy

I have been anticipating this month’s themes of ‘envy’ for a while as there are so many examples of films and books that concern the theme of envy.

I think envy must be one of the most prevalent feelings in Western society, this could be seen with the escalation of consumerism and those that have means and those that do not.

Also the prevalence of Social Media whilst this has many positives, a negative of this has been that some people compare themselves to what they believe is the perfect couple, family, home life (an illusion) that is painted on-line and find themselves thinking that their life is not as glamorous or as perfect as this. This can lead to what has been called to feelings of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

In my previous position as Chair of a charity for people with a long term health condition, I know first-hand just how negative this aspect of social media can be. The question is how do we counteract this feeling? Well in my experience there are a few things that can help, cultivating real-life relationships offline can be helpful, try not to endlessly look at profile pics of something that makes you feel bad and also of course to learn from examples in culture such as in films and books.

All About Eve by Joseph Mankiewicz (1950)

All About Eve [DVD] [1950]is the first film that I thought to be most appropriate when examining the concept of envy. This is a film that seethes with envy from its every pore. Apparently made as a satire of the Hollywood movie industry, All About Eve is the story of theatre actress Eve Harrington’s rise to fame and fortune. The first scene of the film is Eve (Alison Baxter) accepting an award and then pans out to the tables clapping where we see theatre critic Addison DeWitt who begins narrating the tale of Eve. We learn that Eve at first is poor but has huge ambition and befriends then uses her connections with older actress Margo Channing (played by Bette Davis) to become famous whilst at the same time devaluing and denigrating Margo whilst pretending to be innocent. Eve is in fact a great actress, very good at playing pure and innocent victim when she is really cut throat ambitious and vindictive. Eve is envious of Margo’s fame and connections and then Margo becomes envious of Eve’s youth and purity, an apparent cachet in the theatre business compared to Margo’s demanding, older character. This is a really great film and has aged well, the acting by Anne Baxter and Bette Davis is superb, the directing is wonderful too and watch out for the very chilling ending… If there was ever a film that points out to the negativity of a live lived by envy that eats people up this is it!

American Beauty by Sam Mendes (1999)

The original American Dream movie, American Beauty [DVD] [2000] does contain a lot of themes but I would like to use this example in the theme of envy. Again we can see envy perpetuating throughout this film in several layers, Lester Burnham has decided to breakaway from this emotion and we can see this in the change in his behaviour. His wife, Carolyn however is completely drawn in by this emotion, for her the material things in life have become pivotal, very important, something she values over her own relationships. This can best be seen in the famous scene where Lester nearly seduces her but she panics because she thinks his beer is going to spill all over the “£12,000 sofa upholstered in Italian Silk.” A very apt reply to his: “It’s just a sofa!” comment. For Carolyn these things have become her life literally and she is desperately unhappy because this is so. Carolyn has been drawn in to the consumerist desire and want cycle of envy and dissatisfaction. We can also see envy in the character of Frank who through a hilariously mistaken idea believes that his neighbour and son are involved in a homosexual relationship something that he has wanted for himself but denied all his life and hidden through constant homophobia.

A Streetcar Named Desire by Elia Kazan (1951)

A Streetcar Named Desire [1951] [DVD] closely adapted from the Tennessee Williams play concerns the story of Blanche Du Bois a lonely delusional, Southern Belle who goes to stay with her younger sister (Stella) and her brother in law (Stanley) after their family estate ‘Belle Reve’ has been lost due to debts. Though there are many themes such as lust throughout this piece, it is also brims over with of feelings of envy. Stanley is envious of Blanche’s former fortunes, upbringing and to an extent her delusions that create an air of gentility, Though he pretends to despise Blanche, one cannot help but think that there is envy seething behind this. Blanche too is envious of her sister’s status as a wife and mother to be, though she calls Stanley “a brute” an air of repressed feeling between the two characters haunts the piece till it reaches a dramatic and violent conclusion. Blanche’s mental state seems to deteriorate when she learns of Stella’s pregnancy, as being an older woman herself without husband or child (in the more restrictive society of the time) she probably felt her status diminish. As her new fledgling relationship with Mitch declines (due to Stanley’s interference) this seems to tip her further into insanity as to her as she feels that this would give her a new hope out of society by marrying this man. It is a sad and dramatic film and is very powerful, Marlon Brando as Stanley and Vivian Leigh as Blanche are particularly excellent and it is a warning guide that envy is no way to live, it can lead to a denial and delusion of living another life and not get you to focus on your own circumstances in a positive way.

These are the films that I have chosen to illustrate envy but there are many others. If you have any you would like to suggest then leave a comment or contact us on FaceBook or Twitter.