Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Quote of the Day (Evelyn Waugh, on a Modest Applicant for a British Teaching Vacancy)

“‘But I don’t know a word of German, I’ve had no experience, I’ve got no testimonials, and I can’t play cricket.’

“‘It doesn’t do to be too modest,’ said Mr. Levy. ‘It’s wonderful what one can teach when one tries. Why, only last term we sent a man who had never been in a laboratory in his life as senior Science Master to one of our leading public schools. He came wanting to do private coaching in music. He’s doing very well, I believe. Besides, Dr. Fagan can’t expect all that for the salary he’s offering. Between ourselves, Llanabba hasn’t a good name in the profession. We class schools, you see, into four grades: Leading School, First-rate School, Good School and School. Frankly,’ said Mr. Levy, ‘School is pretty bad. I think you’ll find it a very suitable post. So far as I know, there are only two other candidates, and one of them is totally deaf, poor fellow.’” —English novelist Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), Decline and Fall (1928)

Though Waugh’s satiric novel takes place roughly a century ago, in post-WWI Wales, Mr. Levy could have made quite a bit of money as a contemporary brand consultant, employment counselor, or politician with that statement, “It doesn’t do to be too modest.”

The image accompanying this post shows Jack Whitehall as Paul Pennyfeather (the prospective teacher in the above quote), in the 2017 BBC-1 adaptation of Decline and Fall, which, as a picaresque comedy of a naif hurtling from one disaster to another, has reminded many of Voltaire’s Candide.

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