Anna Kaladish, Contributing Writer
In his charmingly unorthodox essay, “Was Oxford Worth While?”, eccentric English author Evelyn Waugh makes claims so absurd they can only be true.
Written in 1930 when Waugh was 26 years of age, the essay offers an incisive and lighthearted analysis of the university system. In modern America, we tend to think of college as the acme of all human education, the distinguishing accomplishment of all truly sophisticated individuals. Waugh’s essay turns this hyperbolic nonsense on its head. An exemplary line of Waugh’s reads: “The truth is that Oxford is simply a very beautiful city in which it is convenient to segregate a certain number of the young of the nation while they are growing up.”
While the University of Dallas is by virtually all accounts hideous, the latter part of Waugh’s truism seems to hold for us too. The students of UD, much like those of Waugh’s own Oxford experience, smoke pipes and innumerable cheap cigarettes, drink vino, and romp around at all hours of the night, behavior which is hardly conducive to orderly society.
Some shudder at the wasted youth and unproductive hours spent goofing off, but Waugh sees it as a great good. He claims it is precisely “because Oxford keeps [students] back from their careers that it is of most value.” Budding adolescence is the time to be unproductive, make alarming new friends and spend all night laughing uproariously while neglecting your studies.
It is worth noting that Waugh never in fact graduated from college, but upon losing his scholarship due to poor academic performance left Oxford in 1924 without a degree. This was no impediment to his success; within four years Waugh published his novel Decline and Fall and became a rock-star literary personality. He went on to publish many other well-received novels and write regular articles for journals such as Harper’s Bazaar, as well as work as a foreign correspondent for several newspapers, a job which took him to Abyssinia and other exotic locales.
Before you blow off your next Lit Trad essay because you plan to drop out of school and become a wildly popular writer-celebrity and traveler extraordinaire, pause and ask yourself if you actually have the tremendous skill necessary for such a feat. What works for Evelyn Waugh may not work for you. Frankly, you aren’t going to make it, especially when you consider the plummeting sales of printed writing. Plan on picking up something marketable in your college career, so that you might actually find a job someday. And if that doesn’t work out, you can always teach!
As Waugh says, college coeds “can find out, before they are too busy, what really amuses and excites them.” Given this astonishingly fortunate opportunity, college graduates can enter into pedestrian society with knowledge of what to do with their free time — not that they will have any, what with our workaday world. Waugh states it best when he describes how university students will enter “the dreary and futile jobs that wait for most of them, with a great deal more chance of keeping their sense of humour and self-respect.”