Hans Fallada was a German writer who somehow survived WWII in Germany, only a small part of his life experience much of which is far more novelistic than most novels. “Every Man Dies Alone”, his last novel was based on a true story and was written just after the war and is set in war time Berlin where paranoia and human brutality is the norm. Nothing can be relied on, least of all humanity, and I find myself flashing back to Kafka and realizing just how prescient he was.
The cabinetmaking trade in late 18th century London was roiled by the burgeoning middle class which needed furniture. New markets created a struggle among the guilds, the trade unions and cabinet shop owners, part of which upset the traditional apprentice system. Entrepreneurs sensed this opportunity and small shops set up to take advantage of the market. These shops were called the “dishonorable trade” by the established West End makers. Some of these shops used shoddy materials and short cuts in production. If any antique furniture should be considered fraudulent, it is the product of these shops, much of which is not worth restoring even to this day.
Pernicious is the best word for the society Fallada writes about. When I use the word society, however, I think of an interdependent group. Fallada’s cast, apart from a few idealists, is hardly interdependent. It is not a society, it is a fraud, a place where lies, greed and bullies win the day, a system that the Nazi party only encourages. You could almost say that these traits reflect capitalism run amok–think BP or Chinese cat food. Or, perhaps, some members of the London cabinetmaking trade at the end of the 18th century?