Evelyn Waugh: A Little Order A Selection From His Journalism
This first anthology of Evelyn Waugh’s reviews, articles, prefaces should have been more comprehensive, if only to display more of his variety. The editor’s comments betray reservations concerning present-day interest in some of the unselected material. He need have none. Thanks to such developments as Idi Amin and the Arab occupation of Britain, Waugh’s views seem much less rabidly reactionary now, and in fact are being embraced by the liberals whom he once attacked. Moreover, his journalism is never dull—unlike his diaries, which he did not choose to publish—and the writing is a continual delight. For marksmanship, and elegance as well as economy of language, no one currently reviewing books even approaches the standard of the best in this too slender volume.
The earliest pieces in A Little Order are the most surprising, especially some remarkably accomplished paragraphs on cubism, written at age fourteen. Reaching twenty-one (1924), Waugh recommends a new war, suggesting, among possible provocations, the invasion of America “in the cause of alcohol.” A few years later, calling attention to the existence of a “younger generation,” he observes, “I do not know why that should be so, because, of course, people are born and grow up daily, and not in decades.” By the late 1920s he is increasingly epigrammatic: “The arts offer the only career in which commercial failure is not necessarily discreditable.” And by this date, too, he is fabricating dialogue that might have been used in Vile Bodies, as, for example, in this exchange at the time of a fad in romans-à-clef: ” ‘Have you read so-and-so’s new novel?’ ‘No. Who’s in it?’ ”
The choice of articles and reviews by the somewhat older Waugh, the Roman Catholic convert and the political Tory, must be faulted. The book contains no specimen of his war reporting, of which “Commando Raid on Bardia” (Life, 1943) must be among the finest of its kind, or any of the travel pieces, neither the Spitzbergen expedition nor the trip to Goa, nor even “Honeymoon Travel” (an article that refutes the statement in Christopher Sykes’s biography that Waugh does not allude in any of his work to the 1946 visit to Spain). Missing, too, are such specialities as the reviews of Who’s Who
Why is Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes listed under F and Adm. the Hon. Sir R.A.R. Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax under P?
and of handbooks on etiquette (“The Amenities in America”), though the writer at his most querulous is more than amply represented in a reply to J.B. Priestley’s critique of The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, and in a pathologically vindictive description of an encounter with two would-be interviewers. The latter article might at least have been offset by the inclusion of Waugh’s impersonal and entertaining skit, “Today’s Interviewing Techniques” (Vogue, 1948).
The novelist is admittedly less brilliant when bestowing an accolade, of which the dictionary’s second meaning is “a light blow with…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.