Magazine article The Spectator

Lost and Found Department

Magazine article The Spectator

Lost and Found Department

Article excerpt

A certain brouhaha has surrounded the publication of this book since the editor's September article in Guardian Weekend. `For some 60 years', the by-line read, 'a short story by Evelyn Waugh has been lost.' Lost? Well, not really. Ann Pasternak Slater had discovered the origins of 'Incident in Azania' (three Britons kidnapped and held to ransom in Manchuria during 1932). Her piece was sharply written and amusing, as is her introduction here. It is disappointing, though, to discover that what she means by 'lost' is not `found among his papers' but 'unreprinted'.

Waugh had published his tale in the Windsor Magazine (1933) and in Mr Loveday's Little Outing and Other Sad Stories (1936), then omitted it from his later collection, Work Suspended and Other Stories Written Before the Second World War (1949). In the Eighties this was revised to include a genuinely 'lost' piece, `Charles Ryder's Schooldays', and Robert Murray Davis produced The Early Writings 19101927. Apart from these, everything that was out of print in 1949 has remained out of print. It should, perhaps, be entitled `The Complete Short Fiction', given that it includes two novellas published as separate books (Work Suspended and Love Among the Ruins). But, taken as a whole, it is a joy: comprehensive, beautifully produced, illustrated with some 40 of Waugh's drawings and woodcuts, and cheap: a great testament to the high standards of production and scholarship of the relaunched Everyman series.

The Guardian splash must have delighted Everyman's publicists. Strangely, however, it does the book something of a disservice. For, although this volume contains no `genuinely lost' mature pieces, it does reprint ten stories which Waugh's fans will only have read about in biography and criticism. Of these, three, the editor admits, are potboilers: `The Manager of the Kremlin', `Too Much Tolerance', and `The Sympathetic Passenger'. The others `Love in the Slump', `Excursion in Reality' `Incident in Azania', `The Man Who Liked Dickens', `Out of Depth', `By Special Request' and 'Compassion' - are all powerful. Waugh wrote nothing badly. Everything here, including the juvenilia and the Oxford fiction, is engaging and often hilarious. `The Balance' (1962) is a masterly avant-garde experiment. But there is a distinction to be made between, on the one hand, apprentice and potboiling work and, on the other, Waugh writing with that exquisitely cold eye on the watch for selfdelusion: saeva indignatio in evening dress.

At the root of all these stories lies the horror of absorption into an anonymous, secular culture whose benign face disguises its viciousness. From 1930, after his conversion to Roman Catholicism, Waugh, like Newman, saw the world gripped by an `aboriginal calamity', Original Sin. Waugh's early cinematic style, cross-cutting brief scenes, often dominated by unattributed dialogue, juxtaposes the savage and the supposedly civilised with nothing to choose between them. In his finest pre-war writing, he is nowhere to be found:

. . the Sakuyu women chanted their primeval litany of initiation; here on the hillside the no less terrible ceremony [of Prudence's instruction in colonial etiquette] was held over Mrs Lepperidge's tea table. …

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