ewstories

Here's part 1 of this review. And here's part 2.

Out of Depth is another of Waugh's serio-comic stories. At least, it has (or tries to have) a point beyond laughter. We can thus categorize it with the mildly interesting "Manager of 'The Kremlin'" and the unsuccessful "Too Much Tolerance." Our hero is an American named, ahem, Rip Van Winkle. That's not quite all you need to know about the story, though it reveals the central conceit. Rip meets, and is bamboozled by, a Crowleyan figure named (pardon the coarseness) Dr Kakaphilos, who sends the hero 500 years into the future. What Rip finds is a new (British?) Empire with race-relations reversed: white peasants, with technologically and intellectually sophisticated black bosses and lords. It is not yet a highly developed civilization; think late medieval Europe. (Interviewer: "Is there any particular historical period, other than this one, in which you would like to have lived?" Waugh: "The seventeenth century. I think it was the time of the greatest drama and romance. I think I might have been happy in the thirteenth century, too.") But for Rip, who is a lapsed Catholic, there is one constant in this new world, and this is where Waugh turns serious: the Latin Mass. Caveat lector: This is a short story, and you should not expect anything like the highly-articulated apocalyptic vision of Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz. ★★★☆☆

By Special Request: As far as I can tell, the title refers to the circumstance that Waugh's American publishers weren't keen on the intended ending of A Handful of Dust (see "The Man Who Liked Dickens" in my previous installment). So he wrote this one instead. It is memorable in its way, and integrates well -- perhaps better -- with the rest of the story ("hard cheese on Beaver"). Tony's encounter with Brenda is full of tension, and his unexpected step at the end is plausible and tragic. But ultimately it is less ambitious than the other ending, and its effect on the novel as a whole is deadening. ★★★☆☆

Period Piece: Ensconced in her drawing room with a younger lady whom she pays to read aloud salacious novels, an old dowager relates a story from her past. In contrast to Waugh's highly-wrought description of the room in which they sit, Lady Amelia's narrative is rushed: she introduces her characters in quick succession, with little detail. But each plays his part in the end. Reminiscent of Saki, whom Waugh admired. First published in Waugh's first collection, Mr Loveday's Little Outing, and Other Sad Stories (1936). That mild adjective is just right. ★★★☆☆

On Guard: The high point of today's installment, "On Guard" is a man versus dog story (and in the end, woman versus dog), along the lines of Disney's cartoon film 101 Dalmatians (1961) rather than the baseball movie The Sandlot (1993) or those dreadful Beethoven movies (1992 et seq.). In the Disney film and "On Guard," the canine species is in the know, manipulating, defeating, or defending the humans at will. (To speculate a bit, perhaps the problem with the typical man versus dog comedy, or man versus animal comedy, is that once the human party becomes aware of the battle, he must make one of two choices: continue to fight, which inevitably lends itself to either cheap laughs or cheap pity, depending on the victor; or surrender, which terminates the drama. But when the storyteller keeps the human ignorant and invests the beast with calculation, there is the possibility of dignity on both sides. The human can win or lose unconsciously, and the animal is raised above its sphere.) In any case, you should read the very funny tale of Millicent Blade and her dog Hector. I don't know how to talk about it without spoiling the surprise. ★★★★☆

Mr Loveday's Little Outing: Why did Waugh name his first collection after this story? It wasn't new at the time, and it isn't very good. Only the hilarious mother, Lady Moping, is memorable. ★★☆☆☆

Posted
AuthorSeth Holler