Evelyn Waugh, Men at Arms
Well, it certainly makes one want to turn the pages quickly. Brig. Guy-Richie and Apthorpe, both of whom I know from the The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose(probably one of my 4 most delightful possessions, the others being English as She is Spoke, Pegasus Descending, and The Handy-Book of Literary Delights), merit their fame. But I’m not too sure about Crouchback. I’m disinclined to like, first, most author standins, especially when the guy’s a conservative and Roman Catholic, and second, the central characters in satire if they’re playing straight to the rest of the characters. The straight man feels like a sop thrown to me, the square, and thus an implicit sneer at me for not being able to follow along with the repulsive fun of, for example, Augustus Carp or the delightful tedium of the Diary of a Nobody (or its modern day heir, the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole).
I’ll keep reading, though, although I suspect my motives. After all, what’s a hater of war like me doing in this novel, about an intellectual and aesthete who discovers himself at his best in defending his great country and civilization? And, btw, did the great critiques of Enlightenment Rationality develop only in the countries that suffered the greatest defeats of the 20th century? Is it cheap to say that France and Germany themselves failed the Enlightenment project?
Yeah, it’s cheap. And stupid. But one can’t help but wonder.
Extra special bizarre moment: Crouchback, the Waugh standin, is in West Africa in WWII, and his mind brushes up against that great English Catholic novel of West Africa during WWII, The Heart of the Matter: “Later when he came to read The Heart of the Matter Guy reflected, fascinated, that at this very time ‘Scobie’ was close at hand, demolishing partitions in native houses, still conscientiously interfering with neutral shipping. If they had not the services of the new Catholic chaplain, Guy might have gone to ‘Father Rank’ to confess increasing sloth, one dismal occasion of drunkenness, and the lingering resentment he felt at the injustice he had suffered in the exploit to which he had given the private name of ‘Operation Truslove'”* (322).
* His attempt, after 8 years of near sexlessness, to sleep with his ex-wife (herself married and divorced 3 times since her marriage to Guy ended) once he realizes that: a) since Catholicism doesn’t recognize divorce; b) he wouldn’t be committing adultery; c) and therefore it was sinless sex! Hilarious.
Or Truslove might be the silly reconnaissance mission into occupied Dakar (that is, occupied by the wrong set of Europeans so far as Guy Crouchback was concerned). Whatevers.