Waugh! What Is He Good For?

Message Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed
A lot, I think.

LondonLee (LondonLee), Friday, 9 January 2004 22:43 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

Few novels have blown me away as much as "A Handful of Dust" did and I ended up reading nearly everything else he's written as a result.

LondonLee (LondonLee), Friday, 9 January 2004 22:50 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

yep i liked Scoop and Vile Bodies too.

But i've never been moved to read any of his later stuff, which i imagine i would have a lot of ideological problems with.

pete s, Friday, 9 January 2004 23:52 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

Well he was a reactionary old snob but I don't feel the need to completely agree with his world view to enjoy his writing. There are parts of 'Sword of Honor' that are a bit iffy and make you shake your head but you'd have to be a pretty hard nut not to be seduced by "Brideshead" no matter what you think about the British aristocracy.

You should try "A Handful of Dust" as it's like a perfect bridge between his early and later work. It has all the stinging social satire with a sad elegy for the fate of "decent" men in the cruel 20th century.

LondonLee (LondonLee), Saturday, 10 January 2004 15:19 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

I will, thanks. I also bought 'The Loved One' on someone's recommendation, and that's on my shelf. I'll write something more when i've read those, and possibly taken a look at the Sword trilogy.
Incidentally, i was also referring to his catholocism by 'problems'.
Whether it would or wouldn't be in practise i have no idea, but it's one of those subliminal nagging things which prevents you from picking things up you might otherwise try.

(by the by can i just say kudos on the thread title! makes me smile every time i see it!)

pete s, Saturday, 10 January 2004 16:47 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

I don't mind his Catholicism all that much, Graham Greene is one of my favourite writers too, but his particular brand (pre-Vatican II conservative reactionary) does hover around "Sword of Honor" a bit too much and make the main character Guy Crouchback espouse some strange views. Christopher Hitchens wrote a pretty good piece on him in The Atlantic a few months ago which argued that it was his "vices" that made him and had a good quote from Orwell: "Waugh is about as good a novelist as one can be while holding untenable opinions"

http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2003/05/hitchens.htm

LondonLee (LondonLee), Saturday, 10 January 2004 18:26 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

TS: Well-expressed ideological positions you disagree with vs. Badly expressed ideological positions you support?

I think the first one, generally.

sym (shmuel), Sunday, 11 January 2004 02:54 (fourteen years ago) Permalink


The Loved One is my favorite Waugh. Recommended if you enjoy dry biting wit.

Michael Jacobs, Sunday, 11 January 2004 14:14 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

I thought The Loved One depressing. A Handful of Dust is the best (imo). In the Everyman collection there is an alternative ending based in England (rather than Bolivia or wherever it was). Equally sad in its own way.

The Penguin paperback editions of the 70's / 80's are design classics.

MikeyG (MikeyG), Monday, 12 January 2004 13:11 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

I read Put Out More Flags recently and quite enjoyed it. Funny, funny stuff. I did not detect any reactionary opinions in it. I guess that's something that developed more in his later work?

o. nate (onate), Monday, 12 January 2004 16:40 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

I love that one, the ending is quite conventionally sentimental for him with all the former Bright Young Things steeling themselves for the coming war. It has one of my favourite lines: "But you see one can't expect anything to be perfect now. In the old days if there was one thing wrong it spoiled everything; from now on for all our lives, if there's one thing right the day is made."

"Sword of Honor" is the dodgy one, despite some brilliant bits you have to wonder when Guy Crouchback thinks WWII is no longer a just cause when the "godless" Russians join the Allies side.

LondonLee (LondonLee), Monday, 12 January 2004 17:14 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

scoop, vile bodies, a handful of dust, the loved one, put out more flags, brideshead revisited, decline and fall - absolutely wonderful. i'd have to put waugh near the top of a list of my favorite novelists, but i'm not sure that "reactionary old snob" covers his personality. he was a vicious, right-wing, bigoted, anti-semitic blowhard from what i've read.

lauren (laurenp), Monday, 12 January 2004 20:26 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

I think complaining about Waugh's Catholicism is a little silly. In the 50s, that was the trend, the style, the way it was, like Indians and Asians were hip in 2002 and smart-ass under-30 writers like Frey and...uh...that 'Illuminated' guy were the trend last year (and please god not this year too). When Waugh expresses views that we may find a bit iffy these days, he was expressing the culture of that period. Being offended by - in fact, even devoting the intellectual power necessary to *question* - religious views in books almost half a century old is akin to being offended by "Fanny" and "Dick" or wondering what Melville really meant by "white whale" - which is to say, weepingly ridiculous, and who gives a shit? In any event, 'Scoop' and the 'Sword of Honour' "trilogy" (he actually wanted it to be a single volume, like Tolkien's effort) are masterpieces and I recommend them highly.

writingstatic, Monday, 12 January 2004 22:48 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

can i just make this point as boldly as possible without going in to anything else: that his books (the earlier the better) can be really, really, really funny. didn't want that to get lost along the way.

scott seward (scott seward), Monday, 12 January 2004 22:59 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

When Waugh expresses views that we may find a bit iffy these days, he was expressing the culture of that period.

Actually, he wasn't. That was his problem, he came to hate the culture of his period. Orwell called his views "untenable" and Waugh's stance on the Vatican II reforms in the Catholic church was out of step with the times.

even devoting the intellectual power necessary to *question* - religious views in books almost half a century old is akin to being offended by "Fanny" and "Dick" or wondering what Melville really meant by "white whale"

Half a century isn't that long ago you know. That's a really bizarre statement anyway.

And I don't think anyone here is offended, I certainly ain't, I fucking love Waugh and I'm an atheist lefty.

LondonLee (LondonLee), Monday, 12 January 2004 23:50 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

Now I'm trying to think who all those hip Catholic writers of the 50s were.

LondonLee (LondonLee), Monday, 12 January 2004 23:53 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

My point is that it's a non-issue.

writingstatic (writingstatic), Monday, 12 January 2004 23:58 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

So you think it's pointless to discuss the major topics in a writers work and what makes him tick?

LondonLee (LondonLee), Tuesday, 13 January 2004 03:56 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

Yes. It's a novel. What matters is that it is well-written, entertaining, and tells a good story, which it does. Anything outside of that defeats the purpose of the artform - if an author has inefficiently expressed himself, then he has failed.

This is my opinion. I'm not interested in what makes a writer tick. I'm only interested in whether or not he's any good. If a book cannot stand up without the author attached to it, then it is fundamentally worthless. You obviously feel differently and kudos to you for it.

writingstatic (writingstatic), Tuesday, 13 January 2004 04:15 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

You obviously haven't read this thread. No kudos to you for that.

LondonLee (LondonLee), Tuesday, 13 January 2004 04:19 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

Okay, I have officially filed you under "irritant", right next to the Amazonian Foreskin Tick. As this is a book forum, when a writer's name is mentioned, what should immediately spring to mind is the book/s, not the biography of the writer. That would be the author's forum you're looking for.

writingstatic (writingstatic), Tuesday, 13 January 2004 05:04 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

So you think it's pointless to discuss the major topics in a writers work and what makes him tick?
-- LondonLee
Yes. It's a novel. What matters is that it is well-written, entertaining, and tells a good story, which it does.
-- writingstatistic

Well, okay, but at a certain point 'well-written' might come into conflict with 'untenable opinions'. I really like Waugh up to 'Brideshead,' and his stuff sure is well-written, but there's a lot that's hard to take even in Brideshead. Where before he saw the old Tory county culture as as dead (in 'A Handful of Dust') as the London culture of 'Vile Bodies' he later created a bogus high Tory mirage that I find makes his stuff hard-going.

Enrique (Enrique), Tuesday, 13 January 2004 10:20 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

I think Waugh quite enjoyed being seen as a reactionary in his latter years. Personally, I think he created this caricature of himself as amusement. See Gilbert Pinfold for details.

A mention for Labels too. A cracking travel book round the Mediterranean. Constantly referenced by later writers treading the same path. A slight volume full of beauty.

MikeyG (MikeyG), Tuesday, 13 January 2004 11:05 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

Funny thing is, except for a few passages in "Sword of Honor", I actually enjoy Waugh's high-Toryism. Maybe I'm turning into a reactionary in my old age but maybe, maybe, maybe it's because he's such and entertaining writer and great prose stylist - which is actually what everyone here has been saying all along.

Strange to be called an "irritant" in a thread you started yourself as a gushing fan of the man. But moving along...

LondonLee (LondonLee), Tuesday, 13 January 2004 13:29 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

Yeah, but Lee, when was the last time you were mentioned in the same sentence as an Amazonian foreskin tick?

MikeyG (MikeyG), Tuesday, 13 January 2004 14:10 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

Take two, then.

So, after meaning to read some Waugh for a long time, I picked up nearly his whole works at a Canadian book fair -- all those lovely 80s Penguin pbks, about $20 the lot.

Not to begin on an insufferably PC note, but what's with the "Chokey" character in DaF? What's he trying to say here?

Chuck Tatum (Chuck Tatum), Friday, 23 January 2004 19:44 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

five years pass...

does anyone in the current ILB cohort rate waugh's later (brideshead and after) output?

thomp, Wednesday, 16 September 2009 20:19 (nine years ago) Permalink

actually, i wish i'd revived the thread without the dodgy pun title

thomp, Wednesday, 16 September 2009 20:20 (nine years ago) Permalink

I especially like the Sword of Honour trilogy and The Loved One from the kater stuff--and Gilbert Pinfold is mad, but very entertaiuningly and deliberately so.

When two tribes go to war, he always gets picked last (James Morrison), Thursday, 17 September 2009 00:48 (nine years ago) Permalink

I rate brideshead but haven't read anything later

cozwn, Thursday, 17 September 2009 00:52 (nine years ago) Permalink

I sort of rate it. In general, it's got lots of virtues: he builds carefully, and the flexibility of his style keeps thing moving: lightly ironic omniscience going into serious melancholy, elegant descriptive detail, and the fragmentary mode is still around in places. Oh, and still brilliant at tricks with dialogue.

So I find the later stuff in general very pleasant to read when I'm in the mood, but it never quite feels like it's got the fun, compression, blank cruelty or young-man sadness of the first four in particular, so I don't really get enthusiastic.

More specifically: The Loved One was fun, but didn't make a huge impression on me. Sword of Honour I remember as his best serious book, but I'm a bit dubious about, or uninterested in, the kind of proper old-school Brit literariness it manages. Brideshead: first time out I raced through it, but it left a bad taste: soapy, toff infatuation. I started again recently but put it down. Same grounds, sort of: so good at pushing buttons - 'melancholy', 'decline', 'gilded youth' - and all in the service of (Enrique OTM upthread) batshit High Toryism and recusant-fetish Catholicism.

Speaking of: I enjoyed Helena when I read it recently. Maybe it's because the historical setting cordons off the craziness, but it didn't wind me up in the way Brideshead does. It's a funny mix of things: legend, historical novel, an extension of his aristo-girl portraiture, an essay on religion and politics, etc. Throws in a few funnies. Strange little book.

And I love Pinfold. It's such a strange self-portrait, honest about and critical of this buffer self he ended up building. And I don't read huge amounts of fiction, but the straight-face narration of deepening madness seems like a really nice piece of work: both funny and terrifying. The voice-transmitting box and conspiracy are made to make sense (personal interest: had a relative with drink issues who after withdrawal/sleep problems also (briefly, thank the lord) went off into lucidly explaining about a conspiracy to drive them mad via a box for transmitting voices into the head, so was fascinated by this.)

woofwoofwoof, Thursday, 17 September 2009 10:14 (nine years ago) Permalink

Absolutely. Pinfold is great - written at an age when to all intents and purposes he seemed an ossified parody of reactionary bullshit, without any self-awareness, Pinfold is vulnerable and tolerant, and also very funny. Well, funny and terrifying.

Kinglsey Amis has got a couple of amusing anecdotes about Waugh, which I'll dig out when the person I've lent the book to gets up.

GamalielRatsey, Thursday, 17 September 2009 10:41 (nine years ago) Permalink

nine months pass...

did he really call a second son 'septimus'?

thomp, Friday, 9 July 2010 22:02 (eight years ago) Permalink

i had forgotten reviving this / not seen the replies / huh

i'd just moved to oxford and was thinking about reading brideshead. also jude. also etc.

i ended up rereading x4 other waugh books and x2 i hadn't before before i got around to brideshead. which has more to it than i'd expected. the stuff about buggery seemed a lot better than the stuff about god.

most of the criticisms of it by purpose seem a little off? because the moments where the objectionable viewpoints come through are the most artistically cack-handed? which goes some way to redeeming it for me? i guess?

thomp, Friday, 9 July 2010 22:06 (eight years ago) Permalink

Absolutely. Pinfold is great - written at an age when to all intents and purposes he seemed an ossified parody of reactionary bullshit, without any self-awareness, Pinfold is vulnerable and tolerant, and also very funny.

this also - i feel like i always want to ascribe waugh self-awareness, possibly because i like him, and in my head it is like that redeems him somehow

i read 'noblesse oblige' recently also and he seems to have much more ironic distance from the whole thing than mitford does, although i guess that's not saying a great deal

thomp, Friday, 9 July 2010 22:07 (eight years ago) Permalink

eight years pass...

You must be logged in to post. Please either login here, or if you are not registered, you may register here.