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