With 25 stories to tackle, I've decided to break this review into parts. Here's part 1.
In the first installment I summed up six stories. Today I'll do four, to reach an even ten, and aim at five each for the remaining posts.
Each of today's stories is excellent. "Excursion in Reality" (pubd. July 1832), with which I ended last time, was Waugh's first great short story. But the very next one he published, Incident in Azania (December 1932*) is dramatically better. "Incident" revisits a 'zany' imaginary country that Waugh used for his third novel, Black Mischief (October 1932). It was partly modeled on Waugh's travels across east Africa in the early 30s. It is an excellent story on its own, but your delight will be deepened if you read the novel first. To truly appreciate the slippery Mr Youkoumian (especially the studied ambiguity of his remark, "E got the thousand pounds for Joab"), you must get to know him in the novel, where he is paired with a 'civilized' counterpart, the dashing and thoroughly bad Basil Seal. As always, the varied voices are the choicest pleasures of the story: the British men in their club, the British matrons counseling Prunella (the nubile subject of the "incident"), Youkoumian's pidgin English, Prunella's letters to her father, the journalist's phony newspaper story. This last item, the intervention by the British press (whom Waugh will lacerate in a later novel, Scoop) takes the story to new heights of hilarity. Thoroughly recommended. ★★★★★
Bella Fleace Gave a Party: Another first-rate comic story, which evokes a real sense of place (Irish countryside) and delivers a memorable and (remarkably, given the brevity) complex central figure, the eighty-year old lady of the title. She is not, as I had falsely remembered from an earlier reading, an object of pity. Like "The Manager of 'The Kremlin'" and "A House of Gentlefolk," this story also celebrates what I called "cultured profligacy," though this time it is clearly a kind of magnanimity. (Only a kind of magnanimity, for Miss Fleace, like all of Waugh's protagonists, is not without her prejudices.) You will not expect the biggest laugh. ★★★★★
Cruise: Letters from a Young Lady of Leisure: fantastic epistolary humor; once again we meet a unique voice. Part of the joy of this story is in the contrast between the ditsy correspondent and the ancient Bella Fleace (to whom letters are also rather important). Unfortunately, in the audiobook version I'm using (Hatchette), the performer misreads the punctuation of the young lady's trademark phrase, "Goodness how Sad." ★★★★★
The Man Who Liked Dickens: I won't say much about this justifiably famous story (Sep-Nov 1933). Since Waugh later incorporated it into A Handful of Dust (pubd. Sep 1934), I recommend reading it in the novel. There are no significant differences. ★★★★☆
*The stories are given chronologically in my collection, so although the publication date for "Incident in Azania" is listed as Dec 1933, I'm almost certain the year is misprinted. "Bella Fleace" is dated Dec 1932 (UK) and Mar 1933 (US).