on 5 December 2013
Evelyn Waugh is supremely unfashionable now; so politically incorrect that one cannot mention his name in polite company without incurring some kind of censure. Yet, like Kingsley Amis (someone else utterly persona non grata in liberal society), he was a wonderful writer, speaking with an intimate voice that makes you think he is not some distant correspondent but a personal friend, telling you about his latest exploits over a bumper of brandy in front of a crackling log fire.
"When.." was first published in 1946, and was a condensation of "all that I wish to preserve of the travel books I wrote between... 1929 and 1935". It is one of his least-known but best works, unaccountably neglected by a public that knows him, if it knows him at all, for "Brideshead Revisited" (a book almost impossible to understand unless you are a Roman Catholic and in my opinion the least worthy, yet best known, of all his works). It deals with the years (1928-37) when he travelled the world as a freelance correspondent, reporting from some of its least-known areas (he was present in Abyssinia when the Italians invaded in 1935) in a colourful, picturesque style that few others could manage. Each of the books distilled into "When..." dealt with a different portion of the globe - "Labels" (1930 - the Mediterranean), "Remote People" (1931 - Ethiopia and British East Africa), "Ninety-two Days" (1934 - British Guiana and Brazil) and "Waugh in Abyssinia" (1936). They deal with off-beat, hidden things, the sort of material that most journos wouldn't bother with, but which reveal the reality of life as it was experienced in those days and places. And, as always with Waugh's work, it points up the details of life for Europeans who, as he never failed to point out, carried their prejudices and preconceptions with them wherever they went -
"... there was a ball, but that.. was ill-attended, as it... coincided with a reception at the Residency, and no-one was anxious to advertise the fact that he had not been invited there".
Colourful characters and incidents abound -
"A Negro known... as 'the Blood of Corruption' was arrested... he was the leader of a (gang) called 'the Beasts of Berlin'... none of them had the remotest idea what Berlin was ; they just liked the name. But they were ...serious criminals for all that".
If you are fascinated by the world of the inter-war period and have a taste for colourful stories and egregious characters, then this is for you. If your first concern is political correctness, then forget it.
on 25 May 2011
I started to read Evelyn Waugh between 1953 and 1955 while doing my national service in the RA. Somehow or other I missed reading one non fiction. I have re read all his novels during the last two months and last week finished When the going was good thanks to you! This has been such a treat as travelling these days by air, sea or land is so crude when compared to his experiences; those days are far gone I'm afraid. I am so glad to have read this book and guessed before hand that it would be an entertaining and thoroughly good read. I now know where he got the ideas for Scoop and Black Mischief from.