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In graduate school I read several of Anthony Trollope's novels, including one installment of the Chronicles of Barsetshirethe six-part series that begins with The Warden (1855). But I was unprepared for the delights of this short book. Part of my praise must go to the narrator of this award-winning audio edition, Simon Vance, who has a keen sensitivity to language, and a variety of voices and tones. Here's the same edition, with a nicer cover.

As an aside, I've taken to audiobooks (and podcasts) quite a bit in the last year, since I have a long daily commute. It is a slower form of reading, which is probably good. But I've noted two significant problems, at least with the books I tend to read. My audiobooks are all digital downloads, and without a disc jacket, publication information can be hard to find. Which version of the book is being performed? With a Victorian novel, for instance, is it the original serial, or the triple-decker? The differences between the two can be significant. What about the author's subsequent revisions? Are they incorporated or not? If a modern critical edition is available, has it been consulted, or have the producers simply chosen an out-of-copyright edition? If the latter, did they amend the text in any way? Why or why not? In a print book, such questions are usually addressed in a preface, or a "Note on the Text," or, at the very least, on the copyright page.

If such things matter to you, and if you don't complement your listening by simultaneously reading a print or e-book edition (not advisable while commuting), problematic moments in the text may slip by unnoticed. So when possible, I read with the audiobook. I was doing so when Mr Vance interrupted a paragraph in Chapter 16 of The Warden to register and read a footnote that was missing from my (free) Kindle edition. I was able to pause, jump back, put down my e-edition and just listen. In this case the note was unimportant, but that's not typically the case with fictional footnotes and the like.

There is a second, more important problem with audiobooks. However sensitive the performer, every so often I find myself bewildered by a sentence, phrase, or word. Now this isn't unusual when you're reading an old book with your eyes. If I don't know the word, I can easily enough look it up and get back to reading. But when your reading with your ears, vocabulary isn't always the issue. Inevitably the reader will omit a word, or, perhaps ever so slightly, mislay the emphasis. Here's an example from The Warden:

"But if this income be not justly mine, what if she and I have both to beg?" said the warden at last, sharply, and in a voice so different from that he had hitherto used, that Sir Abraham was startled. "If so, it would be better to beg."*

The second clause in the first sentence must be read, "What if she and I...?" In modern idiom, the warden means "So what if she and I...?" As a conscientious man who suspects he has been unjustly paid, he would rather turn honest beggar than continue receiving morally dubious remuneration. But Simon Vance (who again is the best audiobook reader I've heard, with Tim Curry coming in a close second) doesn't read it this way. He reads it as if the warden were seriously asking the question: "What if she and I...?" His eyes widened as, with growing horror, he realized beggary was in their future -- if he insisted on his principles. This doesn't make sense at all; just look at the last sentence in the paragraph.

But enough about the medium. The Warden is an excellent short novel of twenty-one chapters. Here are some of the high points:

  • The narrator is utterly charming throughout. With the large exception of Archdeacon Grantly, Trollope is generous and gently ironical toward every character in the cathedral town and countryside. (Even the critique of the archdeacon is moderated before the end.) His commentary on the discrepancies between conscious and actual motives is wise, but not satirical. "There is something remarkably tender and friendly in his feeling about all human perplexities," wrote Henry James, shortly after Trollope's death in 1882. Trollope does not intend to tear down his characters or their local institutions, though he can be vicious toward other authors, London journalists, and MPs. In fact...
  • ...in Chapter 15, Trollope condemns the fiction of Dickens ("Mr Popular Sentiment," author of The Almshouse**) for being politically effective, but bad (unrealistic) art. Dickens's villains are too villainous, his heroes and heroines too heroic; only their "attendant satellites" act naturally: "They walk and talk like men and women, and live among our friends a rattling, lively life; yes, live, and will live till the names of their calling shall be forgotten in their own, and Buckett and Mrs Gamp will be the only words left to us to signify a detective police officer or a monthly nurse." Inspector Buckett realistic? Whatever you make of that remark, this whole section is fascinating to the student of Victorian fiction, as are the remarks on the Pre-Raphaelites in Chapter 14. Trollope also attacks Thomas Carlyle: "Dr Pessimist Anticant was a Scotchman, who had passed a great portion of his early days in Germany; he had studied there with much effect, and had learnt to look with German subtilty into the root of things."
  • The women are not seen often enough, but they are lively. Eleanor, the younger of the warden's two daughters, remains single, and Susan, the elder, is the archdeacon's wife. Eleanor is dutiful but not cloying (contrast the golden-haired heroine of A Tale of Two Cities), and Susan knows how to control her otherwise omnipotent husband. There is a curious ambiguity about Eleanor's Iphigenian sacrifice: is it found in her willingness not to marry her suitor, or in her humiliating act of begging him to change his course? Eleanor's friend Mary also becomes interesting, once we get past her introduction.
  • The Archdeacon Dr Grantly is a wonderfully contradictory bundle of motives: this knight of the Church Militant's temporal affairs is also a sneak (he reads Rabelais in his study while pretending to write sermons), and in a moment of pride he turns devilish (Chapter 12). I suspect Simon Vance's performance elevated this creation, but Trollope's description of his household (Chapters 8 and 12) is a thing of beauty. I can see Dr Grantly's study right now, as well as his three untrustworthy boys. Henry James is exactly right: "No charge of exaggeration is possible, for we are made to feel that [Grantly] is conscientious as well as arrogant, and comfortable as well as hard."
  • The Warden Mr Harding is also a wonder. His keen conscience has already been mentioned; among his friends and family, only Eleanor sees and understands his dilemma. His meekness is plausible, as is his one moment of independence, because it is directed toward the only conceivable action for a man of his character: self-denial.
  • Chapter 6 ("The Warden's Tea Party") is a hilarious, extended metaphor on courtship as war. Vance is triumphant.

And several remarks for the student of the English Catholic novel:

  • Chapters 7 and 14 contain choice remarks on the London press. One office (The Jupiter) is called "the Vatican of England," since its judgments are followed implicitly.
  • An anti-Catholic piece of legislation is introduced in a subplot, not to excite any action for or against religious liberty, but to reveal the character of the hired lawyer, Sir Abraham Haphazard, and the Government in power. It becomes quite amusing when the religious fervor supposedly behind the bill is revealed as a farce; the whole point is to divide and cripple the Irish bloc along the lines of its Catholic and Protestant members.
  • If we would understand Graham Greene's remark about the hint of nihilism in Trollope's fiction, we must look first to Plumstead Episcopi, the residence of the archdeacon, where he and his family appear to live by bread alone. But we might also consider the genial Bishop's neglect of duty, and (at least until the very end) the Warden's. Trollope may not be bothered by these men; he is most gentle to them; not so Greene, who had a different conception of the nature and role of the Church. Finally, we might recall that both the prosecution and the defense in the lawsuit against the warden are animated by vanity, greed, ambition, and the love of temporal peace. Justice and charity are not really in question; not that is, until the Warden's final decision.

One more slightly pedantic observation. Apropos of the second volume of this series, Barchester Towers, Henry James complained in the article cited above that Trollope had an especially "wanton" narratorial habit: "He took a suicidal satisfaction in reminding the reader that the story he was telling was only, after all, a make-believe." Yet James also judged that "Trollope never did anything happier than" the first volume of the series, viz., The Warden, this "picture" of a "sweet and serious little old gentleman." He reiterates that "there is nothing finer in all Trollope" than the vivid contrast between Harding and Grantly. But oddly enough, Trollope does the exact same thing in The Warden that James laments to find in Barchester Towers. And in fact, both moments in the two novels concern the same character (Eleanor) and the same situation (the drama of her nubility). Here's the relevant line: "As to the full success of her generous scheme, and the ultimate result of such a project, no one conversant with human nature and novels can have a doubt" (The Warden, Chapter 11).

* Trollope, Anthony (2012-05-17). The Warden (p. 112). Kindle Edition.

** Conceived as a combination of Oliver Twist and Bleak House.

Bonus: Here are a few great podcasts:

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Henry Lamb's Oxford-era portrait of Waugh

Henry Lamb's Oxford-era portrait of Waugh

This has been a fun series to write, and I'm sorry it's over. Here's a brief evaluative summary.

Some of Evelyn Waugh's thirty-eight stories are excellent comedy ("Bella Fleace Gave a Party," "Cruise," "An Englishman's Home," Basil Seal Rides Again). Some are memorably grotesque ("The Man Who Liked Dickens," Love Among the Ruins). Most are good rather than great. Some (fourteen) don't quite count at all, since they were published in his youth, or in a student newspaper, or posthumously. Two of the published stories are duds ("Too Much Tolerance" and "Winner Takes All").

Chronologically, Waugh's modes and subjects in the stories are roughly parallel with his modes and subjects in the novels. He begins his career in both genres by satirizing, with varying degrees of affection, the eccentricities, immoralities, and miseries of artists and the upper middle classes (both the fashionable and the fauxhemian) in the Britain of his day. Passages from "The Balance" and "A House of Gentlefolks" are actually reworked into the text of Vile Bodies. "Love in the Slump" examines the same social sphere as A Handful of Dust. "Incident in Azania" literally revisits Black Mischief. Waugh has a soft spot for independent old ladies ("Bella Fleace," "Period Piece," "Winner Takes All," "Mr Loveday's Little Outing"). On occasion, the early stories and novels suddenly turn serious ("Out of Depth," Decline and FallVile Bodies).

In the later stories and novels, the balance shifts. Waugh abandons pure comedy -- which was never devoid of values, but they remained implicit or offstage -- in favor of explicitly moral and Catholic stories -- which however remain chock-full of biting humor: Brideshead and "Charles Ryder's Schooldays," Sword of Honour and "Compassion," Helena and "Scott-King's Modern Europe." There are exceptions: The Loved One and Love Among the Ruins return to anarchy.

I highly recommend the volume of stories to those who enjoy the novels. The digital and print versions are both nice, though the e-book lacks the juvenilia and the "Oxford Stories." The audio version read by Simon Prebble is great, but not quite excellent.

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AuthorSeth Holler
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Each of Waugh's "Oxford stories" was published in 1923 in an undergraduate paper: the Isis, the Cherwell, or the short-lived Oxford Broom, founded by Harold Acton shortly before Waugh entered Hertford College.

As with the juvenilia, these stories don't seem proper candidates for rating. They are very brief: most are under five pages. The longest is nine, and the shortest is not even two.

Portrait of Young Man with Career: Waugh narrates in his own person, as an undergraduate, and names real names. Don't let the allusion to Joyce fool you: he isn't the career-man. Waugh's scout is "Hunt"; cf. Charles Ryder's "Lunt." There is a pleasant shock before the end.

Antony, Who Sought Things That Were Lost: With disappointment I must relate that this is not Anthony Blanche. In fact this story has nothing to do with Oxford. Anthony Lane, who regrets that he can't enjoy a story bearing his name, calls it a "cod-historical romance." That's right. This story and Helena are Waugh's only fictional ventures into the past.

Edward of Unique Achievement: Another Oxford setting; the narrator is anonymous. Three stories in, and we've got three murders. And now squalid adultery (cf. "Antony"), though for once Waugh inhabits the mind of the cuckolder, not the cuckold.

Fragments: They Dine with the Past: Hardly a story at all. An anonymous narrator riffs on memory, an Augustinian theme. Or is it Proustian? I don't know Proust well enough to say -- neither did Waugh at the time, but he sometimes pretended that he did.* Imogen is the name of several unattainable beauties in Waugh's early fiction.

Conspiracy to Murder: No murder this time, actually. Just madness. Another Oxford undergraduate narrator, Dick.

Unacademic Exercise: A Nature Story: The best of the lot, and Waugh's only horror story. I shivered. Although it is spiritual horror, after consideration I don't see this story as evidence for interest in religion (cf. subtitle). Another Oxford narrator (anon.).

The National Game: I'd like to posit a connection between this story and one of the better passages in Brideshead Revisited, where Mr Ryder mocks Charles and a friend at dinner, but I can't. I think instead we should see this as Waugh's first and last word on sport.

* Early in 1948, Waugh wrote to John Betjeman:

I am reading Proust for the first time. Very poor stuff. I think he was mentally defective. I remember how small I used to feel when people talked about him & didn't dare admit I couldnt get through him. Well I can get through him now -- in English of course -- because I can read anything that isn't about politics. Well the chap was plain barmy. He never tells you the age of the hero and on one page he is being taken to the WC in the Champs Elysées by his nurse & the next page he is going to a brothel. Such a lot of nonsense. (Letters 270)

Bonus: Humphrey Carpenter's The Brideshead Generation contains a fascinating account of these Oxford undergraduates.

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AuthorSeth Holler

These stories from Waugh's youth and adolescence are not the sort of thing that can be rated. They aren't even included in my e-book edition of the Complete Stories. But Simon Prebble valiantly reads them in the audiobook, and I own a print copy, so I can read along with him, noting the young author's misspellings and ungrammatical constructions. Waugh remained a poor speller all his life.

The Curse of the Horse Race: Waugh's father worked for Chapman & Hall, one of Dickens's two publishers, and according to biographical accounts, Arthur Waugh read Dickens aloud to his boys, and sometimes performed passages for house guests. I suspect that Oliver Twist was one of these readings, for in this story the narrator describes the hero (Tom) as "artfully dogeing" the sword of the villain (Rupert).

Fidon's Confetion: Another melodrama (gambling, midnight murder, train chase, cliffside fight, etc.). Again the hero is Tom, who by his courage and stamina saves the life of his falsely accused older brother, Ralfe.

Multa Pecunia: Yet another boy-hero named Tom. Villainous butler. Buried treasure. Fights in an underground cave. "'Jumping Golliwogs,' cried Tom at last, 'I must tell the Pater.'"

Fragment of a Novel: I'm glad I read this one, if for no other reason than the cheeky Dedicatory Letter, written by Waugh and addressed to himself. In the letter he discusses his already well-established "literary aspirations," and makes the doubtful assertion that the literary child in a literary house faces special difficulties as an author. The story itself is set at a private school in 1918. Waugh is now a teenager, probably in the sixth form, like his hero. This fellow is not Tom, but Peter Audley (cf. the vowels in "Evelyn Waugh"); he idolizes his older brother, still "Ralf" (cf. the short vowel in Alec), who has been fighting in the war for three years. The story is engaging; already the dialogue is distinct and comical; there's a line about the "languor of youth" that will return in Brideshead Revisited. The school sounds awful, and it is with relief that we read a telegram from Ralf inviting Peter to take a short holiday. The girl friend who joins the brothers, Moira, shows promise. Breaks off mid-sentence.

Essay: A painter tells his life story, regretting the "insincerity" of his art. I need a word -- surely someone has invented one -- for first-person narratives drop away immediately after introducing us to another speaker.

The House: An Anti-Climax: Lifeless, as the subtitle suggests. We learn a bit more about wartime public school.

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AuthorSeth Holler

My initial plan of covering five stories in each post proved inadequate. For one thing, the later stories are longer. Most of the early stories run between 10 and 20 pages in my print edition, but Work Suspended (1939, pub. 1942) is nearly 100 pages; Scott-King's Modern Europe (1947) is 60; Love Among the Ruins (1953) and Basil Seal Rides Again (1963) are 35 each. Except for Scott-King, each of these longer stories was first published in a standalone volume. And it's not just their length that distinguishes them. Like "Compassion" (1949), each of the longer stories is directly concerned with some moral question. Even the outrageous Love Among the Ruins is charged with political and moral judgments. But in the earlier stories, while the comedy has teeth and the moral concerns are real, they are much less overt.

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Basil Seal Rides Again, or The Rake's Regress is the last short story that Waugh published. It is flagrantly amoral and wonderfully funny. The loopy image above is the front cover of an out of print collection, Work Suspended and Other Stories. I'm nearly certain the figure represents Charles Albright, the antagonist (and youthful mirror image) of the hero, Basil Seal, a wicked layabout familiar from Black Mischief, Put Out More Flags, and (briefly) Work Suspended.

Several more old-timers make brief, pitiful appearances. After his twenty-year absence from Waugh's fiction Basil is quite scandalously conventional; the subtitle indicates the direction he takes herein. I'll say no more about the plot. As good as it is, it's really just an excuse to read Waugh's dialogue, especially the conversation between the aged Basil and Peter Pastmaster in §1. There's an excellent setpiece at a spa (§2).

It's no Valentine's Day story, but I nevertheless highly recommend it. ★★★★★

Bonus: At the appropriate moment, you'll need to read Edward Lear's "The Pobble Who Has No Toes".

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AuthorSeth Holler

Not uniformly excellent, this story nevertheless deserves its own post.

Imagine Soylent Green as a comedy, or better yet as an opera or Broadway show, and you will have approached the incongruity of Love Among the Ruins (1953). The "ruins" are national, social, cultural. Britain is an impoverished, one-party nanny state. The story is outrageous and frequently hilarious. By comparison, "Scott-King's Modern Europe" and The Loved One, Waugh's other late satirical treatments of modernity, are tame.

If you prefer literary to cinematic kin, you might recall Dickens's Little Dorrit, with its Circumlocution Office, the government department that specializes in "how not to do it." The same basic principle regulates a state facility in Waugh's story, though with characteristic perversity he has invented a "Euthanasia Center" (cf., distantly, the "Home of Rest" in Msgr Benson's 1907 apocalypse, Lord of the World). Dr Beamish, head of the Center serving "Satellite City," keeps his "patients...waiting so long that often they died natural deaths before he found it convenient to poison them." And his patients are many, suffering or bored. The doctor considers charging a fee. "It's the only way to keep down the demand."

Huxley's Brave New World comes to mind, too. As in that dystopia, Waugh's New Britons receive practical sexual education, at the state's expense, in primary school. Waugh describes the experience of his deranged hero Miles Plastic, the consummate "Modern Man," who works in Euthanasia:

For Miles, child of the State, Sex had been part of the curriculum at every stage of his education; first in diagrams, then in demonstrations, then in application, he had mastered all the antics of procreation. Love was a word seldom used except by politicians and by them only in moments of pure fatuity.

Miles also happens to be a pyromaniac; long before his employment at the Center he sent dozens of Britons to their deaths. But in this ghastly Britain "there are no criminals. There are only the victims of inadequate social services." His prison-time is brief, and his warden runs his facility according to the "New Penology" (a theme familiar to Waugh's readers since Decline and Fall). After the happiest and most luxurious twenty months of his life, Miles is released, crushed that he must leave.

All this is well and good. Those who enjoy Waugh's wit will enjoy this story, and those who think him a nostalgic reactionary bigot will not change their minds. But Love Among the Ruins has one more thing to offer: Clara, Miles's love interest.

From her youth Clara has been assigned to the Drama Department. She is now an excellent dancer, the best in her class. Before launching her career, she undergoes a surgery that should render her permanently infertile, lest a future pregnancy interfere with her figure. But something goes horribly wrong after the surgery. If you carefully examine the cover illustration, you may be able to tell. If not, don't read any other reviews or summaries. Just pick up the book, and enjoy. ★★★★☆

Bonus: The title alludes to Robert Browning's "Love Among the Ruins" (1855); the verbal and thematic links are clear. But unlike Dickens's Circumlocution Office, this time Waugh is having fun at the Victorian's expense.

Another bonus: This novella is not to be confused with Walker Percy's Love in the Ruins (1971), yet another dystopian Catholic novel. In an interview, Percy said he was alluding to neither Browning nor Waugh; he didn't even know about Love Among the Ruins until later, "although I've read most of Waugh."

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AuthorSeth Holler
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Two stories today, because the next (and next to last) story, Love Among the Ruins, is another novella.

Tactical Exercise: A minor, sardonic tale, first published in 1947. To speak much of the plot would be to ruin its delicate achievement. I'll only say that, about halfway through, I mistakenly thought I had it all figured out. The prose is extraordinary. Consider the following passage, which introduces us to the main character's habit of hatred. The long periodic sentence concludes with a startling metaphor:

During the war he passed among those he served with as a phlegmatic fellow. He did not have his good or his bad days; they were all uniformly good and bad; good, in that he did what had to be done, expeditiously without ever "getting in a flap" or "going off the deep end"; bad, from the intermittent, invisible sheet-lightning of hate which flashed and flickered deep inside him at every obstruction or reverse. In his orderly room when, as a company commander, he faced the morning procession of defaulters and malingerers; in the mess when the subalterns disturbed his reading by playing the wireless; at the Staff College when the "syndicate" disagreed with his solution; at Brigade H.Q. when the staff-sergeant mislaid a file or the telephone orderly muddled a call; when the driver of his car missed a turning; later, in hospital, when the doctor seemed to look too cursorily at his wound and the nurses stood gossiping jauntily at the beds of more likable patients instead of doing their duty to him — in all the annoyances of army life which others dismissed with an oath and a shrug, John Verney's eyelids drooped wearily, a tiny grenade of hate exploded and the fragments rang and ricocheted round the steel walls of his mind.

Each half of the central couple is memorable. Even the uncle, who has but two or three lines, is given distinction and coherence through his habit of literary quotation. ★★★★☆

Compassion: Waugh in his post-romantic but still serious mode. It has been several years since I read the Sword of Honour trilogy, but I'm pretty sure this story in incorporated into the final volume. It is a moral tale. One character remarks, "It is not always true that suffering makes people unselfish. But sometimes it is." The narrator similarly writes of the "strange entrances" through which "compassion sometimes slip[s], disguised, into the human heart." The remarkable thing is that such lines work, in this thoroughly realistic tale. Abstracted, they may seem false or forced, but not in context. Partly, I think, it succeeds because the prose is perfect; partly again because the hero is such a failure. Also worth noting is the Catholic chaplain who appears in the final scene. Unlike the religious in Brideshead, he is neither exemplary nor comic. Perhaps Waugh learned something from the priests who play such important roles at the ends of Greene's Catholic novels. ★★★★☆

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AuthorSeth Holler
First edition, courtesy of Abe Books

First edition, courtesy of Abe Books

Scott-King's Modern Europe: More than the syntax of the title links this long short story to "Charles Ryder's Schooldays." Both were written in the late 40s. In both, a character mockingly alludes to Hugh Latimer's famous last words, and the narrator refers to Daumier's lawyers. Both describe from within the life of a public school, Charles Ryder's Spierpoint from the perspective of a student, and Scott-King's Grantchester from the perspective of a teacher. Both drop in on classical language instruction, Scott-King being the language master. His discipline has been on the wane at Grantchester for years:

When Scott-King was a boy and when he first returned as a master, the school was almost equally divided into a Classical and a Modern side, with a group of negligible specialists called "the Army Class." Now the case was altered and out of 450 boys scarcely 50 read Greek.

The classical-modern distinction, already signaled by the title, is fundamental for Waugh, who once claimed in print that he refused to vote because he didn't think it his place to advise the Queen "in her choice of servants" (not "ministers"). The narrator's remark that Scott-King "found peculiar relish in contemplating the victories of barbarism" appears to be authorial self-commentary, as does most of the following extended description:

Scott-King was definitely blasé. ...[N]o voluptuary surfeited by conquest, no colossus of the drama bruised and rent by doting adolescents, not Alexander, nor Talleyrand, was more blasé than Scott-King. He was an adult, an intellectual, a classical scholar, almost a poet; he was travel-worn in the large periphery of his own mind, jaded with accumulated experience of his imagination. He was older, it might have been written, than the rocks on which he sat; older, anyway, than his stall in chapel; he had died many times, had Scott-King, had dived deep, had trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants. And all this had been but the sound of lyres and flutes to him.

There are several exquisite comic elements in Scott-King: in §1, the list of Neutralia's national disasters, and the scene in which the recalcitrant Latinists rag our hero; in §2, the drunken raptures of another scholar over Miss Sveningen, and most of the dialogue at the Neutralian fêtes (which themselves recall the Marx Brothers Ruritanian parody, Duck Soup); in §3, the gradual unraveling of the commemoration, including the mysterious disappearance (abduction? murder?) of most of Scott-King's fellow invitees; and in the final section, the poor man's anxiety over his plight. ★★★★★

As a bonus, here's George Orwell's incisive review (NYT, 20 Feb 1948): "extremely readable, but it lacks the touch of affection that political satire ought to have."

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Only one story today, for it requires extra attention. I'll probably do the same in the next post, for Scott King's Modern Europe is more novella than short story.

Charles Ryder's Schooldays was not published until 1982, a year or so after the excellent, 11-part TV production of Brideshead Revisited. The title character is of course the narrator of that novel, and the story takes us back into his public school past. The school is the imaginary Spierpoint. We are told that it originated in the Oxford Movement.

It is not a satisfying trip. Perhaps this explains why Waugh didn't publish it (he died in 1966). For this reason, the story cannot be called a welcome addition to the canonical novel, though the two integrate well. Except for Charles's father, who makes a very brief appearance, none of the novel's delightful characters is present. There is a promising sixteen-year old socialist whom we'd like to meet further. His position to the rest of the boys is roughly that of Anthony Blanche: social outsider, sexually mature (by a certain standard), etc.: "My interests are entirely literary and political. And of course hedonistic." ("Oh" is all of Charles's reply.) And let's face it, Charles, especially the post-Sebastian, pre-conversion Charles, is unpleasant.

But it's worse than that. As Augustine remarks in the Confessions, in life we excuse faults in children that we do not excuse in adults. In Waugh's fiction, the reverse seems to be true. Adults behaving badly to other adults can be passed over as comedy, but children behaving badly to other children is cruel. (This may be true as a rule, since it involves greater injustice, and innocence despoiled and despoiling.) I'm not bothered by all of the ill-natured treatment: Jorkins's suffering is mild enough and seems common to almost everyone. But Waugh pours on the pathos with poor Desmond O'Malley.

The story seem plausible, however. Young Charles Ryder is not very different from old Charles Ryder. Already he is an introvert: cliquish, an artist, a diarist. Already he can be vicious when provoked, and already he has lost his faith. (Mr Ryder in the story is also consonant with the character in the novel, though his eccentricity is less developed in 1919.) But the beastliness in the boy is so much uglier than in the man. The meanness is interrupted with several more or less engaging passages: moments of genial humor and ribbing, accounts of life at Spierpoint, a chastely pathetic account of Charles learning of his mother's death (as a nurse in the last year of the Great War). There is also an unexpectedly deep moment in a moral-psychological conversation between Charles and Mr Graves, one of the masters, which may be the best thing in the story. In any case it seems analogous to the novel's concern with divine grace. The fact that Charles doesn't follow the master's advice is consonant with the novel, but it fails in terms of drama. In short, it is hard to appreciate this story without having read the novel, and even if you have -- and you enjoyed it -- you may very well be disappointed. ★★★☆☆

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I've broken this review into installments. [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3]

Winner Takes All: This one left me cold. The pattern is established early (Esau have I loved, Jacob have I hated) and carried out dutifully to the end. This pattern itself is not the problem; several of Waugh's best stories involve the relentless misfortune of a hapless, bland male (cf. the first novel, Decline and Fall -- especially the tetraptychs on the original front cover and spine, designed by the author). But this time, except for an incident involving the mis-delivery of two Christmas presents, there are no laughs. All three of the women are dull. ★☆☆☆☆

An Englishman's Home: Waugh is in fine feather here. The central figure is Beverly Metcalfe, a wonderful, harmless old humbug who after a successful career abroad, has recently retired with his wife to the country. He fancies himself a squire; everyone else knows better. In Waugh's hands, this would be enough material for a good short story, but he also sketches in three of Metcalfe's landowning neighbors -- an elitist, artsy-crafty bohemian couple, a relatively poor colonel, and a "rich and kind and rather greedy" widow. The five neighbors are brought together (and quite comically driven apart) by a threat to their property from an outsider. In addition to the individual and social satire, the story clearly takes aim at death duties and landowners' rising taxes. The final page doesn't disappoint, either. ★★★★★

The Sympathetic Passenger: A slight tale involving a lunatic, but the reader of my audiobook edition (Simon Prebble) gives it life. Am I wrong to see in the title a distant allusion to the melodramatic fiction of Greeneland? For more lunatics in Waugh's fiction, see "Mr Loveday," the Prologue of Brideshead Revisited (1945), and the novella Love Among the Ruins. ★★☆☆☆

Work Suspended (Parts One and Two): This is Waugh's unfinished novel (1939); the title refers to Waugh's own choice to quit writing after the declaration of war. (He joined the army.) It is longer than all of the other stories, and I cannot do it justice here. The narrator is one John Plant, a detective novelist (Murder at Mountrichard Castle, Vengeance at the Vatican, Death in the Dukeries). In Part One, the sudden death of his father, and an embarrassing scene at a brothel, draw Plant away from Morocco, where he had been writing his latest book.* He makes the acquaintance of the man who accidentally killed his father (by car). In Part Two, which is set entirely in London, his friend's wife is delivered of her first baby. Work Suspended is more interesting as a way-station to Brideshead than as an independent story. It is Waugh's first sustained first-person narrative; Plant is a study for Charles Ryder (both are artists, both have cranky widower fathers who purposefully throw bad parties, both love another man's wife). Don't miss the elder Plant (a painter, like Ryder), the friend Simmonds (a Marxist of convenience), cousin Julia, and the monkey at the end. Arthur Atwater, who killed the elder Plant, left me unmoved. ★★★★☆


*Waugh wrote A Handful of Dust in Fez.

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AuthorSeth Holler