In the end of January, the snow blows in from the North, howling up the hill where we live, coming like the white sands of winter upon those same lusty winds that bear the brittle grains of summer’s dust. It comes so thickly that it obscures the firmament, filling over the grey tent stretching from east to west with a uniform of white.
The world has lost its horizon, undifferentiated foreground and back. There is no hand in front of your face, and small, well-considered steps become fearful plunges into the unknown. Angry swarms surround the left-over Christmas greens, mixed species, baccate red and undessicate, forming balustrades upon the balcony and atop the antique terra cotta pots in whose smiles are sequestered the long-lived pansies that had flourished through the wet holiday and well into the new year.
It is then we view Brideshead Revisited and The Jewel in the Crown. We turn to a better world whose fancy will not decrease. Each episode opens with its musical theme, the same pictures of the past march by, and we go into that labyrinth of color and sound, and we dance with the ancient mysteries of love and hate, war and peace, food and drink, and man’s humanity and inhumanity within a world spinning out of its orb; all being in the 20th century, all being at the end of empire.
Perhaps we are sitting in on the beginnings of empire. Many of our countrymen believe our country is just beginning its imperial march. I tell my wife I think it is more like Athens, an Athens no longer spiritually creative, and NATO the Delian League. The greatness of the West in North America started just before 1500 and reached a high point around the writing of the Declaration of Independence, a span just short of 300 years.
This zenith lasted until the Second World War, which saw the great evil and the great good come together in a war like none before as happened in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Like Tolkien’s world, the world began to run down and unwind after the great war. The greatest moral achievement left was the ending of the Cold War: the refusal by the USA and the USSR to destroy each other and the world. Then the Peace Spring...which in retrospect appears to have been Peace Autumn.
At this point, no one cheered. We looked around like moles thrust into the sunlight, and we sought for greater wars in which to spend as much as we could, and pass the bill to future generations. Now, as we watch Brideshead, the world is looking again to engage in thermo-nuclear stand-off, and we all seem to stutter about the important issues like Anthony Blanche in a louche bar.
As we watch Jewel, General Dyer fires on the defenseless at Jallian Walla Bagh, Gandhi dies (to be re-born next year at this time), there is rioting in the cantonments, and Rose Cottage passes into a mythic past – yet we will dance again to swing records on Lily Chatterjee’s victrola. Each episode closes with its music. This time the music bears the undertone of the passing of enchantment; the death of the Muse. And it never fails to sadden us.