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".

Posted
AuthorSeth Holler