a life of public mischief

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Tea Addict, Mar 13, 2018.

  1. Tea Addict

    Tea Addict Senior Member

    Republic of Korea Korean
    Hello everyone! I would like to know what "a life of public mischief" means in the following sentences.

    "There was a change in both of us. We had lost the sense of discovery which had infused the anarchy of our first year. I began to settle down.
    Unexpectedly, I missed my cousin Jasper, who had got his first in Greats and was now cumbrously setting about a life of public mischief in London; I needed him to shock; without that massive presence the college seemed to lack solidity; it no longer provoked and gave point to outrage as it had done in the summer."

    This is an excerpt from Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. At the beginning of the summer semester at Oxford, Charles' cousin Jasper, an important person in the university, came to his rooms to give some advice on various aspects of college life, which Charles found nosy; nevertheless, when the fall semester began, he unexpectedly started to miss his presence.

    Here, I could not understand what is a life of public mischef. I heard that there is actually a crime named "public mischief," but I couldn't be sure whether the underlined part really indicated that.
    I would very much appreciate your help.
     
  2. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Cheshire
    English / England
    I’d read that as a joke. Chances are high that this serious relative has gone into public service in London, some branch of government. The author is the “naughty” one of the two - he misses his cousin because he is not there to be shocked.
     
  3. Tea Addict

    Tea Addict Senior Member

    Republic of Korea Korean
    Dear suzi br,

    Thank you very much for the explanation.
    Then should I understand the expression that Charles' cousin Jasper started his career in a government branch, where he acted as an obstruction or impediment to others?
     
  4. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Cheshire
    English / England
    Well maybe.
    I don’t know if that is literally what the cousin did, or just the author making a joke about civil servants. I have not read the book so there might be more information in there.
     
  5. Tea Addict

    Tea Addict Senior Member

    Republic of Korea Korean
    Dear suzi br,

    I've read the whole book and it said Jasper's being a member of the Junior Common Room and a secretary of other important club, so I guess maybe he could have advanced to a government branch based on his club experiences (I heard that many government officials are from the clubs of prestigious universities), but I could not be sure.
    For me it seems to be more plausible to think, as you have said, that the author was making a joke about civil servants.
    If that is the case, would it be that the author is addressing the job of civil servants as a practical joke towards the public?
     
  6. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Cheshire
    English / England
    It is not so much about the public as about his relative. It conveys his attitude to his relative, but maybe one that other people might share about civil servants, in the sense that any of us might have stereptyped ideas about the role or usefulness of civil servants, or other people in "public life".

    The important thing is not exactly what this unusual phrase means, it is more about the author's attitude to his cousin. And the FACT that the cousin usually criticises the author for his mischief suggests that he is not really likely to be literally doing mishchief himself.
    Whatever it means you and I are highly unlikely to need to say it ourselves!
     
  7. Tea Addict

    Tea Addict Senior Member

    Republic of Korea Korean
    Dear suzi br,

    Thank you very much for the additional explanation.
    I was curious whether the word "public" meant "general," which could, in my opinion, let the expression "public mischief" imply the naughty funny things people generally do (i. e., drinking, smoking, staying all night, or other various things ;)).
    But if the word public meant his career in the government, this guess would be wrong.
    Then it would mean his not-so-successful career in the government. (Did I understand your explanation right?)
    I really appreciate your help.
     
  8. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I'd say that the "truth" was that the cousin was setting about a life of public service. Charles substitutes 'mischief' for 'service' just to make a joke. You don't need to read anything more than that into it.:)
     
  9. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Cheshire
    English / England
    My explanation is that I do not really know for sure, and it's not really important. Maybe experts in Waugh would deduce it it from just this sentence, but I cannot.
    It could mean trouble making, but that seems unlikely since Jasper has been critical of Charles' behaviour. I think a career is more likely bearing in mind he's just finished uni and gone to London.
     
  10. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Cheshire
    English / England
    Yes. Loob, as I first said: a joke! Nothing harder to explain ;)
     
  11. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    :):thumbsup:
     
  12. Tea Addict

    Tea Addict Senior Member

    Republic of Korea Korean
    Dear suzi br and Loob,

    Thank you so much for your explanations.
    So it was just a slightly changed version of "public service," just for a joke.
    Probably I was overthinking this, eager to find out some meaning from those words.
    I truly appreciate your help. :)
     
  13. Barque Senior Member

    India
    Tamil
    My first impression was this too - that Jasper was spending his time in London painting the town red.
    I understood this as "I needed the shocks he used to give me".

    But I see from others' posts that it was Charles who was more likely to get up to to mischief and into trouble, so I suppose the "public service" interpretation is more likely. I haven't read the book and know nothing about it other than what I've learnt from threads on this forum about it.
     
  14. Tea Addict

    Tea Addict Senior Member

    Republic of Korea Korean
    Dear Barque,

    Thank you very much for the comment.
    So there are "public wrongdoings" and "public service" opinions, of which the latter is more likely considering the usual behaviours of the two characters.
    I truly appreciate your help. :)
     

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