Sunday, February 05, 2023

BOOK: Lionel Johnson, "Incurable"

Incurable: The Haunted Writings of Lionel Johnson, the Decadent Era's Dark Angel. Edited by Nina Antonia. London: Strange Attractor Press, 2018. 9781907222627. vi + 208 pp.

I'm not sure where and when I first heard of Lionel Johnson; he was a minor poet active in the 1880s and 1890s, so I must have encountered him in some book or another connected to my interest in fin-de-siècle literature. I vaguely thought of him as a decadent, though I now see that he wasn't really decadent in terms of the contents of his poems, only by association with other noted writers of the decadent school. At any rate, I think he deserves to be better known than he is, and the present volume is a very nice introduction to him; it contains a selection of about a hundred pages of Johnson's poems, as well as a few prose pieces.

The book starts with a 50-page biography of Johnson by the editor, Nina Antonia, with a great deal of interesting information about his work, the cultural background of the time, the literary circles in which he moved, other authors he was associated with, and so on, drawing upon an impressive number of memoirs, biographies and the like, as well as on Johnson's own poems. If there's any complaint I have about this part of the book, it's that it struck me as being written in a slightly too self-consciously literary style; but then you might say that that is precisely the style in which the biography of such a poet *should* be written. Another downside is that when the biography cites some book, it only gives the title and not the page number.

In any case, since I had known almost nothing about Johnson before reading this book, nearly everything here was new to me. Johnson comes across as almost a stereotypical 1890s poet; short and slender, reclusive and in some ways ascetic, but also fond of absinthe (p. 20) and of drink in general, and not too long for this sordid world, for which he was in any case too sensitive and ethereal. For a part of his career, he supported himself by contributing to magazines and newspapers (p. 23; a collection of his essays and critical writings, Post Liminium, appeared in 1912; I wonder if it might give us a glimpse at a very different side of Johnson than his collections of poetry). He was friends with Francis Russell (p. 3; Bertrand Russell's brother), W. B. Yeats, Ernest Dowson (p. 13), and with Alfred Douglas (p. 8), whom he introduced to Oscar Wilde (p. 26) — it's like a who's-who of the British fin de siècle. His career was cut short by alcoholism, and he died at the age of only 35.

A curious episode: at one point, late in life, Johnson claimed that the apartment he then lived in was haunted, and eventually moved out of it on that account. Subsequently two journalists spent a night there and reported that doors were mysteriously opening and closing by themselves, and bird footprints appeared on the floor (pp. 47–8; “one of the last great supernatural mysteries of the Victorian age”).


Although most of the book consists of poems, there are also three short prose pieces. The first of these, Incurable, also gives the book its title; it is a short story of a poet who despairs of ever writing any really good poetry, and decides to commit suicide by drowning. A fine sonnet comes to his mind in his final moments — very romantic. However, just as he is about to do the deed, he trips and falls into the river by accident, and finds himself desperately swimming to the opposite bank; a friend who has heard his cries comes to pick him up by boat. I wonder if Johnson meant us to see a little of himself in the protagonist; wasn't his alcoholism in a way also a protracted form of suicide? Anyway, I really liked the story, especially the relatively happy ending, with the unfortunate poet seemingly finding a new zest for life. It is much easier to want to commit suicide, than to actually commit it.

The Cultured Faun is a short but quite funny satirical essay in mockery of the sort of affected, decadent dandies and poseurs that we stereotypically associate with the 1890s. The essay was written in 1891, when it seems this stereotype was already fully developed.

Lastly there's On the Appreciation of Trifles, which struck me as being at least half serious. Johnson argues that “the real pleasure of life consists in the little details, the scarce-considered trifles of every day” (p. 69), and defends them against those who oppose them either for reasons of economy or of philistinism.


But the main part of the book, of course, is a selection of Johnson's poetry. Here are a few poems I liked:

Light! For the Stars are Pale (p. 83): a nice if somewhat gloomy sonnet. The poet describes our lives as “passing from night to night”: “Darkling we dwindle deathward, and our dying sight/ Strains back to pierce the living gloom; ere night be done/ We pass from night to night”; but he has optimism for the future, though I'm not sure why: “our sons shall see the light,/ Children of us shall laugh to welcome the free sun”.

Incense (pp. 88–90): the fragrance of certain flowers awakens the poet's memories: “Since now these fragrant memories/ Live, lives not also she, their soul of fire?” I don't *really* like poems about flowers, and the sentiments here might be slightly conventional, but the language of the poem is really beautiful and decorative.

Magic (pp. 92–5): the poem is told from the perspective of a magician (“my feet hasten through a faery field”, “my name is grown a popular scorn”), who contrasts his work with that of “logicians” and scientists; he defends his choice to toil in solitude in search of “everlasting verity”. But the final part of the poem seems to be written from the perspective of the fairies, who find that the world of magic is over: “the King of night is dead:/ [. . .] Our world is done:/ For all the witchery of the world is fled,/ And lost all wanton wisdom long since won.” It is not hard to imagine that in defending the magician, Johnson is really defending himself as a poet, and concluding with regret that the more modern the world becomes, the less space it has for the kind of poetry he liked.

Celtic Speech (p. 99): a nice short poem about the beauty of the Celtic languages, in Ireland and Scotland, with a nod to the recently deceased Cornish. He compares them to music; “The speech, that wakes the soul in withered faces,/ And wakes remembrance of great things gone by.” Johnson himself doesn't seem to have had much Celtic ancestry, except perhaps for a distant family connection to Wales (p. 9); but he was influenced by W. B. Yeats, and felt more Celtic than he actually was (for a time he even “feigned a purring Irish brogue”, p. 20).

Nihilism (p. 101): a beautiful but sad poem in which the poet is looking forward to the calm of death. “Soft and long gloom! The pausing from all thought!/ My life, I cannot taste: the eternal tomb/ Brings me the peace, which life has never brought./”

Mystic and Cavalier (pp. 102–3): narrated by the mystic, the poem contrasts his life with that of his friend the cavalier: “Yours are the victories of light: your feet/ Rest from good toil, where rest is brave and sweet./ But after warfare in a mourning gloom,/ I rest in clouds of doom.” Frankly, his mysticism doesn't seem to have borne much fruit; the poem is full of mists and clouds, and the mystic seems to be hoping that his death (“The end is set:/ Though the end be not yet”) will clear things up a little. I guess we can hardly doubt that the mystic is a stand-in for Johnson's own experiences as a poet.

Winchester (pp. 104–9): a longish poem in praise of his secondary school, Winchester College. He admires the beauty of its setting, its long history (and makes allusion to a number of former students who went on to greatness, but most of their names weren't really familiar to me and I wished the editor had added notes about them), and clearly has fond memories of his own time there: “Hast thou not in all to me/ Mother, more than mother, been?/ [. . .] Music is the thought of thee;/ Fragrance, all thy memory./ [. . .] Prouder name I have not wist!/ With the name of Wykehamist./” (That last name is derived from William of Wykeham, who founded the school in 1382.) Naturally, when reading a poem like this, I couldn't help comparing the poet's experiences to my own. I have reasonably fond memories of my secondary school days, but it would never occur to me to praise the school in such extravagant terms, and overall I am not fond of schools, or of education in general, or of any sort of institutions that try to tell people what to do and what not to do. So it's a bit hard for me to relate to Johnson's sentiments here, but I am at any rate happy for him that he had such a good time there.

Gwynedd (pp. 112–17): another longish poem full of Celtic enthusiasm, this time of the Welsh variety. Johnson writes ‘we’ when referring to the Welsh, and says rather optimistically: “Our sister lands are they, one people we,/ Cornwall desolate, Brittany desolate,/ And Wales: to us is granted to be great:/ Because as winds and seas and flames are free,/ We too have freedom full, as wild and rare./ [. . .] Born of wild land, children of mountains, we/ Fear neither running earth, nor stormy sea:/” etc.

A Cornish Night (pp. 118–22): a poem from the perspective of a widowed woman, addressing a group of aerial spirits. She wishes they could take her along, or give her some news of the otherworld; but they make no reply, of course, and the poem sounds such a steady note of high-pitched grief that I couldn't help feeling rather weary of it by the time I reached the end.

Beyond (p. 126): a nice short poem addressed to a dead friend; “Oh, is it you are dead, or I?/ Both! both dead, since we are asunder”.

Lines to a Lady Upon Her Third Birthday (pp. 133–6): the poet praises the ability of children to access an imaginary world: “Wilt thou not teach us, how to make/ Worlds of delight from things of nought,/ Or fetched from faery land, and wrought/ With flowers and lovely imageries?/ Pity us! for such wisdom dies:/ Pity thyself! youth flies, youth flies./” A nice poem, though perhaps three years is a bit early to start lamenting one's fading youth :)

The Age of a Dream and The Church of a Dream (pp. 139–40): two melancholy sonnets that appear to have been inspired by visions of ruined medieval churches.

In honorem Doriani creatorisque eius (“In Honour of Dorian and His Creator”; pp. 141–2): a Latin poem in praise of Wilde in what seem to be lively, short lines; fortunately an English translation is included, though in prose.

Vinum Daemonum (pp. 146–7): this poem is in English, despite its title. It is narrated by the drink itself, which is presented as a powerful, alluring, demoniac force. Johnson knew that his alcoholism was ruining his life, but was unable to resist it.

Ireland (pp. 151–61): a long, solemn, patriotic poem with many allusions to Ireland's history, mythology, her long struggle for freedom, with fervent prayers for a favourable outcome of the latter. I am at any rate glad that things ended up working out relatively well for the Irish, even if I can't say that I found this poem exactly an exciting read; no doubt these things moved Johnson and his contemporaries in a way that they can't move me; but above all, I envy them for living in an age when this kind of simple, honest patriotism was still possible, when it was still possible for one to be fond of one's people and one's country (or, to be fair, in Johnson's case, another people and another country, for he was not really Irish). Alas, globalisation and multiculturalism have taken all that away from us now.

The Dark Angel (pp. 162–4): a poem addressing the titular Dark Angel, who assails the poet's mind with unclean thoughts, passions and desires: “Because of thee, no thought, no thing,/ Abides for me undesecrate:/ [. . .] Nor will thine envious heart allow/ Delight untortured by desire./ [. . .] Thou art the whisper in the gloom,/ The hinting tone, the haunting laugh:” etc. etc. But the poet is defiant, and determined not to allow himself to be led into damnation. It is a lovely poem, but I could't help feeling (1) from the perspective of a non-religious reader like me, the poet seems to be simply blaming the devil for what are really perfectly natural thoughts arising within his own mind, and (2) the devil comes across as rather more badass and alluring than the poet perhaps intended (but then the same has often been said of Paradise Lost).

Satanas (pp. 166–7): another Latin poem, also with an English prose translation. “He who rules over souls,/ Of whom Heaven is plundered;/ He who speaks good with ill intention,/ Corrupting the heart with sweetness./ [. . .] Death is the purpose of his life. [. . .] As vice glisters the more,/ So the soul is tarnished more;/ And the heart withers at last,/ Through delicious sins.” Again one is not quite sure if this is really all that effective as propaganda *against* the devil :]

Dedication to Samuel Smith (p. 169), inscribed in a copy of Yeats' The Celtic Twilight, which couldn't wish for a better recommendation: “Better than book of mine could be/ Is this, where all enchantments blend,/ This book of Celtic phantasy,/ Made by the faeries and my friend.”

Ash Wednesday (p. 177): a nice short poem in memory of his friend and fellow poet, Ernest Dowson. “The visible vehement earth remains to me;/ The visionary quiet land holds thee:/ But what shall separate such friends as we?/” (Incidentally, there's another, unrelated, poem with the same title, on p. 149.)

Sancta silvarum (pp. 179–80): a charming little poem in which the poet admires a group of deer passing through the forest; “Under the forest airs,/ A life of grace is theirs:/ Courtly their look; they seem/ Things of a dream./” Actually Sancta silvarum is a cycle of four poems, of which only the third one is included here. I took a look at the others in the 1917 Poetical Works (pp. 70–4), and particularly liked the first one, in which the poet admires the “ancient forest” in nearly religious terms: “A consecrated stillness, old and holy;/ Commanding us to hail with homage/ Powers, that we see not, hid in beauty;/ A majesty immeasurable; a glorious/ Conclave of angels:” etc.


At the end of the book there's a section of “Ephemera” containing miscellaneous interesting things. There's a poem by Ernest Dowson, Extreme Unction, dedicated to Johnson. The wikipedia tells us that “one of the effects of the sacrament is to absolve the recipient of any sins not previously absolved through the sacrament of penance” — very convenient! I guess the topic was important to both Dowson and Johson, since both were converts to catholicism; but from the perspective of a non-believer like me, the concept of extreme unction makes catholicism look even sillier than it is, as if a larp where people play at being magicians had somehow gone extremely out of hand.

There's an interesting letter by Johnson to his American friend and fellow catholic, Louise Imogen Guiney, who was planning to have a mass sung for the recently deceased Aubrey Beardsley and asked Johnson, who had been his friend, for an account of him (pp. 42–3). I particularly liked the fact that Johnson in no way criticized the supposed immorality of Beardsley's art, which the more conventional part of the public had so much to complain about; “despite all wantonness of youthful genius, and all the morbidity of disease, his truest self was on the spiritual side of things, and his conversion was true to that self.” (P. 187.)

Lastly there's an essay on Johnson by Louise Imogen Guiney, evidently written soon after his death. It's partly about his life and personality, but mostly about his work. I liked this observation from p. 202: “He was a tower of wholesomeness in the decadence which his short life spanned.” She makes a good point there. To my mind, if someone was a poet in the 1890s, if he associated with Wilde and Beardsley and Dowson and Alfred Douglas and so on and so on — why, of course he was a decadent; how could anyone be any more of a decadent than that? But then, having now read some of Johnson's poetry, I can't help admitting that this sort of decadence-by-association seems like a very shallow way of defining it. His obvious fondness for his friends and his school, his ardent and enthusiastic Celtic patriotism, the deep and sincere catholic faith that pervades so many of his poems — all this is the very opposite of decadence; if you wanted to summarize it in a word, ‘wholesome’ would do better than ‘decadent’.


There are deplorably many errors in the text of Johnson's poems in this book; this is all the more regrettable since these errors generally don't occur in the early editions from the late 19th or early 20th century (scans of which are available on In other words, these errors are simply due to carelessness in preparing the text of the present edition. Here are the ones I've noticed:

• In the text of Gwynedd on p. 115, about three lines' worth of text, “as nature's own [. . .] stormy sea:/ Even” is repeated twice, though in the second copy “ruining earth” is replaced by “running earth”. If we look at e.g. Johnson's Poems (London: Elkin Mathews, 1895), p. 25, we see that this passage appears only once there (with “ruining earth”).

• An error in the text of Ireland (p. 151): “And vexed with agony's bright joy's retreat” should have “agony” instead of “agony's” (see the 1897 ed., p. 1), and there should be a stanza break after that line. Another stanza break is missing before “Sweet Mother!” on p. 155 (1897, p. 4).

• In the same poem, we find “for the yet burn” (p. 154), which should of course be “thee” (1897, p. 3).

• On the same page, “The Prince of Peace love” should be “loves” (1897, p. 3).

• On p. 160, “they little Child” should be “thy” (1897, p. 8).

• On p. 171, there's “leftist” which should be “leftest” (1897, p. 25).

• On p. 170 there's “C.S.S.R.” where the 1897 ed. (p. 24) has “C.SS.R.”, which seems better; it is a reference to the Redemptorists (Congregatio Sanctissimi Redemptoris; the wikipedia, with the typical modern horror of full-stops, abbreviates it CSsR).

• On p. 177 we have “In Memorium” and a redundant comma after “quia”, neither of which errors is present e.g. in the 1912 ed. (Some Poems of Lionel Johnson, p. 64).

• “Sancta Silverum” (p. 179) should be “Sancta Silvarum” (Poems (1895), p. 60).


A number of interesting books are mentioned in the introduction:

  • Katharine Tynan: Memories (1924). A quote from it appears here on p. 3. She was an Irish writer and poet.
  • Rupert Croft-Cooke: Bosie (1963) and The Unrecorded Life of Oscar Wilde (1972). Mentioned here on p. 16; Croft-Cooke “was a later-in-life friend of Lord Alfred Douglas”.
  • Iain Fletcher (ed.): The Complete Poems of Lionel Johnson (London: The Unicorn Press, 1953; xlv + 395 pp.). Mentioned here on p. 17; seems to be the closest we have to a collected edition of Johnson's poems. There is also a revised second edition (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1982, lxxvi + 381 pp.).
  • Lord Alfred Douglas: The Autobiography (Martin Secker, 1913). Mentioned here on p. 17; one of several autobiographical works he wrote.
  • Lord Alfred Douglas: The City of the Soul (1899). A collection of poems, initially published anonymously; it “did well until an emboldened Douglas put his name to a subsequent edition, thus ensuring a down-turn in sales, such was his infamy” (p. 45).
  • Norman Alford: The Rhymers' Club (1994). Mentioned here on p. 21. The Rhymers' Club was a group of poets founded by Yeats; Johnson also attended some of their meetings, and his work appeared in the anthologies that they produced in the early 1890s.
  • Richard Le Gallienne: The Romantic '90s (1925). Mentioned here on p. 22, with an anecdote where Johnson introduced Le Gallienne to absinthe. Le Gallienne outlived the 1890s by some half a century, and kept on writing; his wikipedia page contains a long list of his works, several of which sound interesting.
  • Murray Pittock (ed.): The Selected Letters of Lionel Johnson (Tregara Press, 1988). Mentioned here on p. 26. Not that I'm really interested in reading Johnson's letters, but I can't help wondering why ‘selected’ and not ‘collected’ — that just means that someone else will have to produce another edition at some point in the future :)
  • Francis Douglas and Percy Colson: Oscar Wilde and the Black Douglas (1949). Mentioned here on p. 27; Francis was the grandson of the 9th Marquess of Queensberry, the man whose persecution of Wilde led to the latter's ruin.
  • Caspar Wintermans: Lord Alfred Douglas: A Poet's Life and His Finest Work (Peter Owen, 2007). A biography, mentioned here on p. 30. Wintermans' wikipedia page lists several other publications of his about Wilde and Douglas.
  • Brian Reade: Sexual Heretics: Male Homosexuality in English Literature from 1850 to 1900 (1970). Mentioned here on pp. 33–4.
  • John Francis Bloxam: The Priest and the Acolyte. A short story which “brought The Chameleon [a college magazine edited by Alfred Douglas, of which only one issue appeared] into disrepute” (p. 35). It is described here as a “heinous tale of a priest who ravishes a fourteen-year-old and then encourages the boy to die with him”. Sounds like edgy students being edgy is hardly a new phenomenon :P
  • Edgar Jepson: Memories of a Victorian (1933). Mentioned here on p. 40. Apparently he also wrote a sequel, Memories of an Edwardian and Neo-Georgian (1937).
  • William Archer: Poets of the Younger Generaton (1902). The book contains a selection of poems from about 30-odd poets, interlaced with biographical and critical remarks by Archer. Among the poets included are Laurence Binyon, Bliss Carman, A. E. Housman, Rudyard Kipling, Richard Le Gallienne, George Santayana, Arthur Symons and W. B. Yeats. Archer's book is mentioned here on p. 41 for not including Johnson: “[h]is indefinite status was made official by his omission from a major study, Living Poets of the Younger Generation, by William Archer”. But perhaps we shouldn't make too much of this omission; Archer explains in his preface (p. 3) that he “regretfully omitted” some poets “for no better reason than that their work does not happen to chime with my idiosyncrasy.” He included only poets whose work he enjoyed: “I am quite willing to believe that in some of these cases the fault, the limitation, is on my side; but this belief has not induced me to affect a warmth I do not feel.”
  • Iain Fletcher: Decadence and the 1890s (Edward Arnold, 1979). Mentioned here on p. 51, though everyone else on the internet seems to call him Ian rather than Iain.

Incidentally, it turns out that a number of Johnson's books are available on

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Saturday, January 28, 2023

BOOK: Evelyn Waugh, "Vile Bodies"

The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh. Volume 2: Vile Bodies. Ed. by Martin Stannard. Oxford University Press, 2017. 9780199683451. cv + 313 pp. [A scan of the 1960 printing is available on]

Vile Bodies is probably the only book by Waugh that I knew anything definite about before I started reading the present OUP series of Waugh's collected works; I saw a movie based on it, Bright Young Things, some years ago, and liked it a lot. So I looked forward to reading the novel, and fortunately I wasn't disappointed. Not only did I enjoy the novel, but the present edition has a generous amount of explanatory notes and a long introduction by the editor with a wealth of interesting background information. How much more pleasant literature would be if every novel in the world were available in such a form!

It turns out that this was Waugh's second novel; the first, Decline and Fall, was published two years earlier. Waugh denies that Vile Bodies is a sequel to his previous book (p. cv), but the fact is that some of the characters from it appear again here in Vile Bodies, and I felt on more than one occasion that it would have been better if I had read Decline and Fall first. (Fortunately, the editor's notes at the end of the volume include relevant information from Decline and Fall where suitable.) But in my defense, and to my surprise, Decline and Fall hasn't been published in the OUP collected works of Waugh yet. I'm not saying that they should be publishing them in strict chronological order, but on the other hand I also don't see why they had to go for what appears to be a completely random order either.

I suppose it's inevitable that every society, except the most desperately poor or the most rigidly communistic, should have an upper class of idle rich people; and moreover that some of these idle rich people will be young; and if you have a sufficient number of them living in sufficiently close proximity, they will form a ‘set’ and live carefree lives of non-stop drinking and partying. (And there's nothing wrong with that; if there's one thing I despise more than a rich person who indulges in debauchery, it's a rich person who keeps on living a sober and boring life.) ‘Bright Young People’ (or ‘Bright Young Things’, but Waugh always uses ‘People’; see also p. lxxi on the difference between the two terms) is what this segment of society was called in the context of 1920s England. I was not surprised to find that the wikipedia has a list of them, but I was surprised at the length of that list; you can't help getting the impression that anyone who was more or less young in England at that time, and who eventually ended up being important enough to merit a wikipedia page, was at least distantly associated with this group.

[Incidentally, while I don't think that rich young people need any particular excuse or reason to devote their lives to aimless non-stop partying, it would appear that the ones in 1920s Britain did have a particular extra excuse. The younger generation at the time consisted of people who had spent their time in the shadow of the WW1 and its propaganda, but had been just a little too young to be actually called up before the war was over. As a result, they felt bereft of a sense of purpose or of a way to prove themselves; hence to them, everything was “bogus”, from the war and the high ideals in whose name it had supposedly been fought, to the post-war world that it had helped bring about; and they had nowhere to turn except into blind hedonism (p. lxii–lxiii).]

Waugh's first wife was one of the BYPs (incidentally, her name was also Evelyn, so that their friends took to referring to them jokingly as Hevelyn and Shevelyn :), p. xxix), and therefore Waugh himself was at least a peripheral part of this world when he started working on this novel (p. xlvii). The first half or so of the novel is a satirical but basically affectionate portrait of the BYPs and their world; it is not the view of an outsider mocking something he hates, but an insider smiling wryly but indulgently at something he is fond of. But when he had written about half of the novel, Waugh's wife abandoned him for another man, and his whole outlook changed and became more sober and more conservative (p. xxxix); it was also then that he got religion — having hitherto been “as near an atheist as it was possible to be” (p. lii), he now became a devout catholic and stuck to it for the rest of his life. (I was really surprised to read about this conversion of his; I can sort of imagine that one may be raised a catholic, or switch from protestantism to catholicism; but why on earth would an atheist convert to catholicism?! I can only shake my head in disappointment and disbelief.)

Thus in the second half of the novel, the tone becomes more sombre, and conveys the impression that the BYPs' lifestyle of carefree fun is a blind alley, that it can have no future; and indeed by the end of the novel the world of the BYPs is well and truly over, and most of the protagonists that we couldn't help but grow fond of earlier in the book are gone. Now, of course Waugh may have had a point, and their lifestyle may indeed have been doomed; and yet I liked the first half of the novel better, and wished that he could have found a way to end it on a more cheerful note. I suppose he must have felt gloomy after his wife left him, and some of that gloom rubbed off on me towards the end of the book. You can't blame a writer for doing that to you, and yet I wished he hadn't done it. [Incindentally, one reviewer quoted in the introduction went so far as to say the book “seems to be based on complete despair. [. . .] I find his discouragement infectious. Nor can I find anything particularly tragic in the fates of such futile people. Which only goes to show how completely one generation is a mystery to another.” (P. lxxiv.) I think he is right that they are futile and their fates not particularly tragic; but framing it in terms of generations is surely an exaggeration. The BYPs were only a tiny part of their generation, after all, and if they had an oversized presence in the popular awareness it is only because of their wealth, social connections, proximity to writers and artists and the like.]

Moreover, it seems to me that Waugh is being perhaps a little *too* pessimistic here. Sure, the BYP culture of 1920s England had no future — if nothing else, for the simple reason that those particular people obviously weren't going to stay young for very long; and moreover, even the idle rich were surely not going to be completely unaffected by such things as economic depression, war, rationing, and austerity, not to mention the overall long-term decline of the British aristocracy, the class to which it seems most BYPs belonged. And yet, of course, as we know now, and as Waugh must surely have surmised even in 1930 — surely it was obvious that new generations of idle rich would arise in due time, duly spend their decade or two partying and doing drugs, and then yield their place to their successors. Only the outer forms would change — the clothes, the music, the slang, the drugs. (Actually, we know that Waugh was aware of this, because in this very novel he has two aging ladies, the gloriously obscenely named Kitty and Fanny, who are basically relics of the previous generation's equivalent of the BYPs. They had been party girls in the ‘gay nineties’, now they are looking on slightly confused and trying to understand what the young people are up to.) So, in short, there's no reason to be particularly glum on the Bright Young People. They will continue to exist, in one form or another, until we either all get roasted by global warming or we attain communism (alas, I suspect the former is likely to happen sooner). Meanwhile, Waugh has given us a charming and incisive portrait of one particular iteration of this phenomenon.

Interesting things from the introduction

The editor's introduction to this volume is long and full of interesting things previously unknown to me. For example, I didn't know that Waugh was also a promising painter early in his career, and was even planning to have an exhibition at one point (p. xxix).

Waugh's father was a director at Chapman and Hall, the company that published Waugh's novels (p. xxix). Incidentally, Alec Waugh's (Evelyn Waugh's brother) travel book The Coloured Countries was published on the same day as Vile Bodies (p. liv). One reviewer even mistakenly described the two Waughs as “brother and sister” :))) (p. lxxvii).

Waugh's previous novel had been moderately successful, but Vile Bodies was a best-seller; his income rose to “ten times the national average wage, and more than double his father's salary” (p.lvii); but Alec's book sold even better (p. lxxii). In 1932 Vile Bodies was also adapted for the stage, by a playwright named H. Dennis Bradley (pp. lxxxix, lxxxviii).

In a letter to a friend, Waugh wrote self-deprecatingly of Vile Bodies: “I am sure you will disapprove of it. It is a welter of sex and snobbery written simply in the hope of selling some copies.” (P. xxxii.)

It seems that the typist hired to turn Waugh's manuscript into a typescript made a large number of minor changes to the text, perhaps because of struggling with Waugh's difficult handwriting, but partly also because his spelling was quirky and he expected the typist to standardise it; and many of these changes made it into the printed version of the novel (pp. xliii–xlv).

The character of Lord Monomark in the novel is based on a real person, the Canadian-born newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook. Waugh originally meant to call the character ‘Lord Ottercove” but was persuaded to change the name for fear it would be considered too close to the real one and hence libellous (p. xlv). Several other characters in the book were also based on real people (p. lx); Waugh even felt the need to insert a disclaimer that all the characters are imaginary (p. cv). [In the manuscript version, the disclaimer ends with a joke: “Bright Young People and others kindly note that all characters are wholly imaginary (you get far too much publicity already whoever you are)”; pp. xlv, 189.]

The title of the novel is a biblical reference (p. lii): “we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21).

Interesting: the first recorded use of ‘queer’ as a derogatory word for gay men was in a letter from the Marquess of Queensbery to Lord Alfred Douglas in 1894 (p. liii, n. 93).

Waugh's political views could be summarized as “instinctively a conservative anarchist” (p. lxiv) to whom “all politicians were equally ridiculous” (p. lxv). This is in a way a charming and seductive view, until you remember that it favours only the rich people, as they don't need to rely so much on the state to help them and protect them.

A funny bit of BYP hijinks in which Waugh was involved: they staged a fake exhibition of avant-garde scuplture by a fictional artist named Bruno Hatte, “with Tom Mitford (Nancy's brother), heavily disguised and mumbling from a wheelchair in incoherent German, imitating Herr Hatte. Waugh wrote the catalogue notes” (p. lxvii, n. 125).

An interesting example of ‘make love’ used in its older sense, in Waugh's diary: “Elizabeth Ponsonby made vigorous love to me which I am sorry now I did not accept. She has furry arms.” (P. lxix.)

A reviewer jokingly described Vile Bodies as “another regionalist novel about [. . .] youthful members of a small village called Mayfair [. . .] [It] is local in place; it is also local in time” (p. lxxiv; Mayfair being a rich part of London where much of the novel takes place).

An interesting quote from a review by Waugh, of a novel by another writer, but which seems applicable to Waugh's Vile Bodies as well: “There are practically no descriptive passages except purely technical ones. The character, narrative and atmosphere are all built up and implicit in the dialogue, which is written in a vivid slang, with numerous recurring phrases running through as a refrain.” (P. lxxxii.)

The story

<spoiler warning>

The book starts with a neat way of introducing several of the principal characters: we meet them as passengers on a ship crossing the English Channel. There's Mrs. Ape, an American evangelist, with her “angels” (a girls' choir); there's Miles and Agatha, two Bright Young People (Agatha is the most airheaded character in the book and the most resolute exponent of BYP slang); there's Adam, probably the closest thing this book has to a protagonist. He's a young writer just finishing his first book; but alas, upon landing in Britain, stupid customs officials destroy his manuscript. (“Particularly against books the Home Secretary is. If we can't stamp out literature in the country, we can at least stop its being brought in from outside.” :)) Pp. 11–12.) Unable to honor the terms of his contract with his publisher, he now has to agree to a ludicrously unfavourable new deal; his career prospects look none too bright. He lives in a “hotel” which is really more like a boarding house and which is populated by a rather bizarre assortment of relics, including a deposed king of Ruritania and a retired (and now slightly senile) American judge.

Adam has a girlfriend, Nina, whom he is hoping to marry but the fact that he is, frankly, quite penniless currently prevents this. At one point he wins a thousand pounds from a bet (a huge sum), but then he promptly gives the money to some drunken Major whom he has never seen before, but who promised to put the whole sum on a horse (an insanely risky bet) on Adam's behalf. What are we supposed to make of this ridiculous move? Either Adam is the most irresponsible character ever to grace the pages of a novel (in which case I find it difficult to have any sympathy for him, and I don't think that's what the author intended), or — more likely in my opinion — we aren't meant to take anything here seriously; the characters and the social world they inhabit are surreal, and the author is just having a bit of fun and is inviting us to have a bit of fun along with him.

There's a funny chapter in which a number of BYP characters hold a savage-themed fancy-dress party. At the end a few of them are looking for somewhere to go to continue partying, and a Miss Brown, who is desperately keen to become part of the in crowd, invites them over to her house. After some time there, most of them eventually leave, except for Agatha, who spends the night there. In the morning it turns out that Miss Brown is the Prime Minister's daughter, the house is at 10 Downing Street, and the morning editions of the tabloids have already printed rumours of Agatha's affair with the Prime Minister :)))

At Nina's suggestion, Adam goes to visit her father to ask him for money until his literary career takes off again. Colonel Blount turns out to be a rather dotty old man living in a large but dilapidated country house with a tiny staff of servants — frankly, I wonder if he is really all that rich himself. To Adam's delight, the Colonel gives him a cheque for a thousand pounds; Adam and Nina spend a wonderful evening together, planning to get married the next day — but next day she points out that the cheque is a joke and is signed “Charlie Chaplin”. She had seen this at once but didn't have the heart to tell Adam as he was so happy.

Incidentally, this phenomenon of people with an upper-class background but not much money seems to be pretty common in this book, as indeed it was in real life. Apart from Col. Blount, Adam himself is an example of it, being the son of a professor (p. 56; or, in a manuscript, an admiral: p. 246). We also see two impecunious peers making a living as gossip columnists (p. 30); one of these is a friend of Adam's, Lord Balcairn, but his position is slowly becoming untenable: people no longer invite him to parties because they don't like the gossip he prints about them. He tries to sneak into a party in disguise, but is discovered and kicked out. As a final fuck-you gesture to the world that has so cruelly exiled him, he sends a completely fake gossip column filled with the most grotesquely outrageous lies to his newspaper, then commits suicide (pp. 68–9).

I for one felt sorry for him, and thought his end tragic and his final gesture of defiance a commendable one. There should be limits to downward mobility; a system of pensions for peers that had fallen on hard times or something like that — then he wouldn't have had to rely on writing a gossip column to make a living. (Come to think of it, couldn't he have got a decent amount of money just by showing up in the House of Lords every day?) But Waugh doesn't seem to want us to feel sorry for Balcairn; he presents his death light-heartedly and moves on with a positively unseemly haste.

Adam takes over Balcairn's former job as a gossip columnist, but cannot write about most of the people Balcairn used to write about, because those are all suing the newspaper for libel. Thus Adam resorts to writing about increasingly insignificant third-rate celebrities, and eventually about completely fictional people; and nobody seems to be any the wiser for it.

Thanks to the income from his new job, Adam is now again in a position to marry Nina. He goes to visit her father to discuss this, but finds him too senile for the discussion to get anywhere. Moreover, the situation at Col. Blount's estate is rather chaotic: he has rented it out for the shooting of a historical film, in which he himself will appear as an extra. In Adam's absence, Miles and Nina write his gossip column for him; but they unwittingly mention all the things that Adam's boss had declared off-limits, as a result of which Adam gets fired, Miles gets his job, and Adam's marriage to Nina is called off yet again.

You can't help noticing that every time Adam's marriage prospects pick up, the author very deliberately ruins them immediately afterwards. I'm sure it is a very clever literary technique, the author is showing us the futility of his characters' lives etc. etc. or some nonsense like that, but in actual fact I just found it annoying. Nobody has bad luck *all the time* like that.

Miles, by the way, is rather flamboyantly homosexual and his current boyfriend is a race-car driver. So, in the next chapter, Miles, Adam, Agatha and another friend attend a race where this driver is about to compete. After a series of mishaps, a rather drunk Agatha ends up behind the wheel as a backup driver and suffers a bad crash. Her injuries turn out to be more serious than they seemed at first; she is put into a nursing home, and there's a bizarre scene when her friends visit her and promptly throw a party right in her hospital room.

Meanwhile Adam has a few more encounters with the drunken Major, who tells him that the horse on which he had bet Adam's £1000 had in fact won, and that he now has £35000 waiting for Adam — but he is not sure if he recognizes Adam as the man who gave him those initial £1000. (How frustrating! Is this another example of the futility of Adam's life? Is the author being a very clever modernist by subjecting Adam, and by extension us, to this? And is it wrong for me to be extremely annoyed with him for it?)

Nina by now has given up hope that Adam will ever make any money, so she decides to marry another man, Ginger, who is perhaps a little square but at least he has money and some sort of career in the army. Adam has yet another close miss with the drunken Major, who perhaps isn't “bogus” after all — but by then it is too late: Nina and Ginger are already married (p. 135).

Events turn quickly, and rather dramatically, towards the end of the book. Within a few weeks, Agatha dies of her injuries, Miles had to flee the country (over his homosexuality), some sort of war is looming, and Ginger is called up to his regiment; hence Adam arranges to accompany Nina on a visit to her father over Christmas, with Adam pretending to be Ginger, whom nearly nobody knows anyway. Col. Blount has invested most of his money into the historical film they had been shooting at his place, and now shows the film with great pride and joy. The festivities, however, are interrupted by news that war has been declared.

The book ends with a “Happy Ending” section which, to nobody's surprise, is not actually very happy. Adam wanders across a desolate battlefield, and whom does he encounter but the drunken Major, except that the latter has been promoted to General by now. He has Adam's £35000, but the sum is now worthless due to implausibly rampant inflation. And in the General's car there's Chastity, formerly one of Mrs. Ape's “angels” but now a well-worn prostitute.

</spoiler warning>


A funny line from p. 32, which perfectly summarizes both Agatha's character and the craze for themed costume parties (cf. also p. lxviii) at the time: “She had heard some one say something about an Indepenent Labour Party, and was furious that she had not been asked.” :))

Nina apparently did not enjoy her night with Adam: “All this fuss about sleeping together. For physical pleasure I'd sooner go to my dentist any day.” (P. 58.)

Agatha refers to Miss Mouse's relatives as “the Mice” (p. 128) :)

I was intrigued by the sudden outbreak of war towards the end of the novel; I wonder what to make of it. When I saw it in the film, I naturally assumed it to be the WW2; only while reading the novel did I realize that of course it was written in 1930, so it was only a hypothetical future war as imagined by Waugh. Indeed the descriptions of the battlefield here reflect this: the author must have taken what he remembered from WW1 and turned it up to 11, with absurdly inhumane weapons such as “a liquid fire projector” and a “Huxdane-Halley bomb (for the dissemination of leprosy germs)” (p. 152). Frankly, the way he has war erupt within weeks with no real prior warning is implausible, especially since otherwise he gives you the impression that the story is set at the time it was written rather than in the future. Obviously, people had been saying ever since the end of WW1 that some new world war would erupt sooner or later, but still, such things don't really happen so suddenly out of the blue like that. The international situation wasn't yet so tense in 1930, and even though the looming economic crisis made things look less than promising (“[t]he Wall Street Crash had occurred as EW was completing the book”, p. 181), it would still take years for things to deteriorate enough.

Interesting things from the manuscript

On the subject of interesting things from the critical apparatus, probably the best one is the elephant joke told by a character in the manuscript of chapter 1, but not included in the final version of the text: “ ‘There was an elephant escaped from a circus, see, and went into the garden of a very short sighted old lady. The old lady looked out of the window and saw it eating her carrots. She went to the telephone. “Oh inspector,” she says, “come at once. There's an enormous animal in my garden rooting up all my carrots with its tail.” — “Good gracious,” says the inspector, “what's he doing with them?” — “I hardly know how to tell you,” says the old girl! That's good eh?’ ” (P. 196.) The editor calls it “a long and awful joke” (p. xlv), but it made me laugh :)))

By the way, occasionally the appendix not only includes textual variants from later editions, but even from later printings of the first edition — see the mentions of the 5th impression on p. 208, and of the 9th on p. 202. I was very impressed that they took the trouble to compare different printings too, not just different editions.

In the manuscript, Mrs. Ape says: “There are two great evils in the world today—Communism and Constipation and there's only one way to fight them” (p. 198); in the final version, this became: “There's only one great evil in the world to-day. Despair.” (P. 8.)

A lost detail from the manuscript: the man from whom Adam initially won his £1000 was killed in a traffic accident shortly afterwards (p. 217).

The manuscript contains two mentions of “Lady Oxford”, i.e. Margot Asquith, the widow of the former prime minister, once in a list of guests in a fashionable restaurant (p. 244), and once as a possible target of Balcairn's gossip column (p. 245).

In the scene where Balcairn is attending a party in disguise and some of the guests start suspecting him to be foreign spy of some sort (p. 63), one of them actually gets a revolver ready in the manuscript (p. 251). Perhaps Waugh thought this would make the whole thing a little too serious for what was still supposed to be a lighthearted part of the book?

On the subject of the likely upcoming war, Father Rothschild makes a high-blown geopolitical speech in the manuscript (p. 270), which was dropped from the final version: “There are still two nations who can speak without shame of ‘Conquest’. One is an ancient race whose roads transgress the earth and lead the footsteps of centuries to a heap of broken marble; the other is a new & wicked race. And there is a savage Northern race whose existence is itself a Conquest. And the whole inarticulate east as a single flame.”

The slang of the Bright Young People

The BYPs in this book have a peculiar slang, which I was happy to find annoying, as is normal with any slang of which one is not oneself a speaker. At least some of this slang is apparently real slang that was used at the time and is also recorded in the work of other writers (p. lxxxiii). Agatha is the most hardcore user of this sort of slang in this book, but other BYP characters use it more or less often as well. Here are instances I've noticed (with page and line numbers in parentheses):

• Anything they like is “divine” (33.124, 33.126, 33.131, 34.178, 35.190, 35.193, 36.247, 51.514, 52.566, 53.620, 101.386, 112.393, 130.174, 145.281, 149.450). The instance from 35.193 is particularly good; Miss Brown is asked about the party she had attended the night before: “ ‘It was just too divine,’ said the youngest Miss Brown. / ‘It was what, Jane?’ / ‘I mean it was lovely, Mama.’ ” :)))

• Anything they dislike is “bogus” (15.156, 37.267, 82.35, 83.84, 112.389, 118.632, 124.4, 128.91, 159:15.156). The editor's introduction mentions “bogus” as “a key period word” (p. lxiii).

• If not bogus, things they dislike are “(too) shaming” (12.57, 15.151, 19.330, 31.34, 113.417, 114.460).

• “enterprising” (31.53, 68.559–60) means ‘daring, risqué’ (pictures, dress etc.).

• They are very fond of combining an adjective with -making: “shy-making” (36.235, 56.114), “sick-making” (4.145, 15.152), “drunk-making” (83.83), “ill-making” (101.389), “better-making” (107.158), “rich-making” (118.625), “blind-making” (127.40), “sad-making” (127.63).

• They like to double the tag question: the first time it is used as normally, to ask for confirmation of the previous statement, but the second time it is used as a sincere expression of uncertainty. “ ‘Anyway, we aren't engaged any more, are we—or are we?’ ” (33.112) “ ‘All this is really much more embarrassing for me, isn't it, don't you think . . . or don't you?’ ” (36.225–6) “ ‘It really would serve him right if we complained and he lost his job, don't you think so, Sir James . . . or . . . don't you?’ ” (37.264–5) “ ‘Anyway, you've had some fun out of it, haven't you . . . or haven't you?’ ” (53.610) “ ‘Let's go to the tent and have another drink—don't you think, or don't you?” ” (114.463–4)

• The following is not on the subject of BYP slang but still a language-related curiosity: in the speech of a few characters, we find would contracted into 'ld instead of the usual 'd, resulting in “we'ld” and “you'ld” (there's Col. Blount on p. 141, his neighbour the Rector on p. 146, and Isaacs the movie director on p. 97). Judging by some googling, the 'ld forms, though they may be quite gone now, did actually see some use in the first half of the 20th century and earlier (more in Britain than in America, though). But in that case I wonder why here in Vile Bodies these three characters use 'ld while everyone else uses 'd. If it was just the Colonel and the Rector, who are neighbours, you might think it's a regionalism; but Isaacs the movie director is an outsider to that area.


  • D. J. Taylor: The Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation, 1918–1940 (2007). Mentioned here on p. lix, n. 103 and elsewhere.
  • Ronald Firbank: Sorrow in Sunlight (1924). Apparently it was published in the U.S. as Prancing Nigger :::)))) It is mentioned here on p. lxxviii as the inspiration for the customs scene in the first chapter of Vile Bodies. Firbank was “[t]he first major influence on his [= Waugh's] fiction” (p. lxxxi).
  • Or, better yet, there is a collected edition of Firbank's works, The Complete Ronald Firbank (Duckworth, 1961).
  • Norman Douglas: South Wind (1917). Mentioned here on p. lxxxv; Waugh described it as “the only great satirical novel of his generation”. I heard of Douglas before, but only as a travel writer: in the late 1990s, a publisher called Picador, which mostly published paperbacks, also brought out a handsome series of hardcover reprints of old travel books called the Picador Travel Classics; I have about three of them, including Douglas's Old Calabria.
  • Michael Arlen: The Green Hat (1924). “In the mid-1920s Arlen was the prince of ‘Mayfair’ novelists, and Waugh was colonizing his literary territory.” (P. lxxxv.) We have already encountered Arlen's book on the pages of this blog before, because its protagonist was inspired by Idina Sackville.
  • Michael Arlen: These Charming People (1923). A collection of short stories, mentioned here on p. 162.
  • Beverley Nichols: Crazy Pavements (1927). Mentioned here on p. lxxxv as a novel which “bears striking similarities to Vile Bodies”.
  • Aldous Huxley: Crome Yellow (1921) and Antic Hay (1923). His first two novels; they impressed Waugh (p. lxxxv). Like, I suppose, most people, I only know of Huxley as the author of Brave New World, so I was interested to see that he actually wrote about a dozen novels.
  • Noting that Vile Bodies “emerged after a decade of ‘flapper’ texts about the lives of newly liberated young women” (p. lxxxviii), the editor's introduction proceeds to list a number of them:
  • Anthony Hope: The Prisoner of Zenda (1894), The Heart of Princess Osra (1896), Rupert of Hentzau (1898). Novels set in the fictional country of Ruritania, mentioned here on p. 160 (Waugh introduced an ex-king of Ruritania as a minor side character here in Vile Bodies; according to the note here, P. G. Wodehouse had done the same in some of his work).
  • William Gerhardi: Pretty Creatures (1927). A book of short stories mentioned here on p. 165; Gerhardie's “writing influenced EW's”.
  • Patrick Balfour: Society Racket: A Critical Survey of Modern Social Life (1933). Mentioned here in the notes on p. 169.

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English no easy 4

Spet ena cvetka iz Dela (28. januarja 2023, str. 30). V rubriki „Na današnji dan“ so se spomnili nesreče space shuttla Challenger leta 1986:

[. . .] v nesreči je umrlo vseh sedem ljudi na krovu, vključno z učiteljem, ki je bil izbran za prvega ameriškega civilista, ki je potoval v vesolje.

Očitno tistemu polpismenemu in nerazgledanemu novinarju, ki se je moral na internetu v naglici poučiti o nesreči Challengerja, da je lahko napisal tisti odstavek, ni prišlo na misel, da angleška beseda teacher prav tako lahko pomeni učiteljico kot učitelja, in tako je Christa McAuliffe sedemintrideset let po smrti spremenila spol :)))


Saturday, December 17, 2022

BOOK: Evelyn Waugh, "A Tourist in Africa"

The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh. Volume 25: A Tourist in Africa. Ed. by Patrick R. Query. Oxford University Press, 2021. 9780198735311. lxxiv + 234 pp.

Some books get written because the author was moved by the mysterious impulses of creative genius, because his heart was bursting with feelings that he had to put on paper, because he felt an urge to communicate some deep insight into the human condition...

Some books, however, get written because the author desperately wanted to get away from English weather for one or two winter months (not that there's anything wrong with that!). The present work, Waugh's A Tourist in Africa, falls into the latter camp. As explained in the editor's introduction (which is a bit shorter here than in the other Waugh volumes I've read recently, but it's extremely interesting), he often tried to cover the expenses of his travels not only by writing books about them but also by getting himself assigned as a reporter or something of that sort (p. xxvii); but for A Tourist in Africa, his agent made an arrangement with a shipping company that was willing to give Waugh a free first-class ticket in exchange for writing a book about his journey that would “stimulate interest in Africa on the part of the travelling public” (p. xxviii).

On the one hand, this looks awfully meretricious to someone like me, who am still somewhat inclined to think of writers, and artists in general, as romantic geniuses inspired by something transcendent; on the other hand, it is downright touching that a company was willing to spend so lavishly on a writer when they couldn't expect his book to stimulate their business in any but the most indirect fashion. There's no way a business would be that generous today. Besides, the book is far from being a crass advertisement for the Union-Castle shipping line. They gave Waugh a free hand in writing the book, requested some really minor changes in the most hesitant and deferential manner (pp. xxxi–xxxv), and in the end he didn't even make all of those changes, only some of them.

Looking back, it is clear that what really destroyed their business model was the growth of air travel, and there was nothing that Waugh's book could do to stop that (although he does grumble here and there about how unpleasant it is to travel on a plane (pp. 11, 103) — no doubt a genuine sentiment on his part, one that did not need to be stimulated by money from a shipping company :]).


Since I read another travel book by Waugh recently, Ninety-Two Days (about his travels in British Guyana and Brazil in 1933), it is naturally tempting to compare the two. The most obvious difference is that in Ninety-Two Days, Waugh was a young man and his travels were arduous and somewhat adventurous, while in A Tourist in Africa (based on a journey made in early 1959), he is very much an old one and his travels prioritize comfort and luxury rather than adventure. There is no bushwhacking here, no complicated arrangements for expeditions on horseback or on foot; he is a passenger aboard ship, plane, train or sometimes car, he stays in hotels or sometimes with friends, everything has been pre-arranged for him.

In fact I was suprised that he should feel and act that old at 55, which is not considered such a very advanced age nowadays; but I guess it was different in his day. He complains of being “hard of hearing and stiff in the joints” (p. 4). And to some extent the grumpy old man may have been a persona that he was deliberately putting on (apparently he “had felt himself to be old for some years” by then, and “ ‘made a pantomime of being an old man’, including brandishing his famous ear-trumpet”; p. 138).

When you consider that even his march through the Guyanan wilderness was not really rich in excitement, it is hardly surprising that his tourist trip across East Africa was still less so. But his strength, both in Ninety-Two Days and here in A Tourist in Africa, lies in the fact that he often manages to make even mundane observations seem interesting, and better yet, to take a break from describing the direct experiences from his comparatively uneventful journeys, and allows himself to wander off on a tangent, often something having to do with the history or sometimes politics of the places he was travelling through. These I invariably found interesting and informative, and often also insightful; they constituted my favourite parts of both books, and fortunately they are scattered thickly throughout both.


The first chapter is not about Africa at all, but about Genoa, where Waugh did some sightseeing in the company of an old friend before embarking on his ship (most passengers embarked in London, however; p. 12). My only complaint here is that at times his tone begins to sound a little too much like a tourist guidebook, but fortunately that problem largely disappears in later chapters. Apparently Genoa was noted for its cemetery (p. 6). Waugh reached Genoa by train across France, which gives him the opportunity for some nice vignettes of railway officials and fellow passengers (pp. 4–5).

He was happy to see that the city had recovered well from wartime destruction: the Italians “do not, as do those in authority in England, regard the destruction of a good building as a welcome opportunity to erect something really ugly in its place. They set to work patiently exercising the arts of their ancestors.” (P. 7.) There are little asides like this scattered throughout the book; you can see that Waugh is not keen on modernity. And since neither am I, I invariably found it enjoyable to tag along on his journey. (E.g. he regrets the “influence of Corbusier which pervades the modern east” on p. 23, and the clearing of Zanzibar's old town on pp. 34–5. In Tanganyika, “[t]he Public Works Department is engaged on replacing the spacious and cool houses which the Germans built for their officials with the cramped, concrete structures which are mysteriously preferred by the authorities in Dar”; p. 53.)

His ship took him through the Suez Canal and into the Red Sea. They made a stop in Aden (in present-day Yemen), where Waugh remarks on how much the place had changed since his previous visit more than twenty years before (p. 15). He would make similar remarks several more times later in the journey. Exotic locations that used to have an individual character of their own were beginning to modernize and lose their individuality in the process. I can only imagine how miserable he would be today, when that process had gone several steps further in the same direction.

True to his crusty old man persona, he grumbles about the sartorial habits of his fellow tourists: “I in my humble way have suffered for decency. I have worn starched shirts at Christmas dinners in both Zanzibar and Georgetown, British Guiana; but these young people must be almost naked in order to lie in deck-chairs in the shade.” (P. 17.) :)) Paradoxically, although I never liked to dress up myself, I somehow miss the times when people used to wear three-piece suits everywhere. (Later, in Zanzibar, he grumbles about the “shameless” French tourists who “parade the bazaar in ‘Bikini’ bathing dresses” :)); p. 34. — “I wonder how much the loss of European prestige in hot countries is connected with the craven preference for comfort over dignity”, p. 40.)

Apparently the ship had a well-stocked library, and Waugh found plenty of time to read (p. 12). He treats us to an assortment of interesting tidbits* from a book titled Stars and Stripes in Africa (by Eric Rosenthal, 1938; pp. 17–18), about achievements of Americans on that continent (some of dubious veracity). This was quite interesting; but, at the same time, you can't help wondering if he's merely trying to pad out the book, which is short enough anyway (about 100 pages in the present edition).

[*For example, apparently around 1900 several U.S. states offered land “to solve the problem of the Boers by wholesale evacuation” (p. 18).]

They had a five-day stop at Mombasa, Kenya, giving him the time to do some sightseeing in that country; he visited the ruins of Gedi (a medieval Arab city; p. 29) and drove to the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro (pp. 30–31).


His voyage ended in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanganyika (present-day Tanzania). He spent the next month or so travelling, partly by train, partly by car and partly by plane, across Tanganyika and the two Rhodesias (present-day Zambia and Zimbabwe), before finally taking a plane to Cape Town where he boarded the ship that took him home to England. Some of the places he visited were the typical things that you would expect a tourist to visit — e.g. the ruins of Great Zimbabwe (p. 77) — but really the best parts of the book are about the less obvious things he saw and visited, and luckily there are plenty of those.

There's an interesting section on a failed project, set up by the British government some ten years earlier, to grow peanuts in Tanganyika. The government in question was a Labour one, and Waugh never misses an opportunity to complain about Labour governments; but at least he admits that “[t]he aim was benevolent” (p. 51). And although he is hardly the sort of person that would be keen on decolonization, he admits that “if the Groundnuts Scheme had been conceived and executed by natives, everyone would point to it as incontrovertible evidence that they were unfit to manage their own affairs.” (P. 66. So it's not so much that he has such a high opinion of the natives, as that he has such a low opinion of modern-day big governments. This is not the only remark along those lines in the book.)

Apparently the Masai were employed to help suppress the Kikuyu rebels during the Mau Mau uprising: “The story is told that a patrol was sent out with orders to bring in any Kikuyu ‘arms’ they could find; next morning the commanding officer's tent was surrounded with a heap of severed limbs.” (P. 54.) :)))

Waugh's efforts to attend a Masai initiation ceremony failed spectacularly. He ended up with a driver that spoke only Swahili and had no idea where to go, and when they finally got to the correct location, it turned out that they had got the date wrong and the ceremony would not be taking place for another week (pp. 55–7).

“[K]eep away from hotels run by the British. We have no calling to this profession.” (P. 59. This is one of the passages that Waugh's sponsors, the Union-Castle shipping line, asked him to change, though they admitted that it “is probably very sound general advice” (p. xxxiii). :)) In the end, he kept it.)

Tanganyika used to be a German colony before the WW1, and Waugh visited one of the few Germans still remaining there (p. 63).

Upon entering North Rhodesia, he had to fill out forms which demanded a ludicrous amount of personal information: “the names, ages, sexes, dates and places of birth of children not accompanying me [. . .] What European languages could I write? The oddest demand was to state ‘sex of wife’.” (P. 69.) He has good fun imagining how the government's statisticians might deal with his form, nor does he miss the opportunity to make another barb against modern government: “Here fully displayed are the arts of modern government for which, it is popularly believed, the native races are not yet far enough advanced.” (P. 70.)

He visited the tobacco market at Salisbury (now Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe), which boasted an auctioneer “imported at great expense from New Orleans” (p. 74).

He is disappointed in trying to buy examples of native sculpture: “The savage African art of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries which delighted the European and American connoisseurs of the 1920s, seems as dead as the civilized art of Europe.” (P. 80.) But he is impressed by the artwork done at a mission led by a Swiss architect/missionary: “entirely novel and entirely African” (p. 81); “Fr Groeber's achievement has been to make Africans do what none but Africans could have done and what no Africans in this huge region ever did before; to leave a church where they and their descendants can worship, which their descendants will cherish with the pride and awe with which we in Europe survey the edifices of our Middle Ages.” (P. 83.)

He has a fine mini-rant about the changes in terminology for various ethnic and racial groups. In Rhodesia, “a white American is classified as a European and a black American as an ‘alien native’. [. . .] I am told that in the U.S.A. one may say ‘negro’ but not ‘negress’. They like to be called ‘coloured’. But ‘coloured’ in most of Africa means mulatto.” (P. 85.) Etc., etc. In the manuscript he adds: “The rising tide of euphemism is everywhere eroding the sharp meaning of the language.” (P. 210.) And of course, things have only got worse since his time. Much of our society nowadays is in the grip of the woke cult, which is packed with people who spend much of their time trying to think of new ways to be offended and demanding that the rest of society change its vocabulary at their every whim. [By the way, a funny tidbit from the critical apparatus. After discussing a number of terms for blacks which were by then becoming offensive, Waugh sort of shrugs his shoulders and uses all of those terms in an epic, explosive conclusion: “Well, I don't suppose any blackamoors, niggers, Kaffirs, natives, Bantu or Africans will read this diary.” (P. 85.) According to the appendix (p. 211), this sentence was dropped from the American edition of the book :)))]

In another case of supporting the right thing for the wrong reason, he criticizes the ‘colour bar’, not because the latter is wrong and immoral per se, but because in order to make the colour bar work, they had to weaken the class barriers amongst the white people: “There are black porters in the larger shops [in Salisbury] and the white shop-girls are abominably rude to them. They are also rather rude to their white customer, for they are at pains to demonstrate that under God all white men were created equal. The well-paid plumber [in a manuscript he even wrote “over-paid”; p. 213] who comes out to work in a private house expects to sit down in the dining room with the family. He has a black, ill-paid assistant who squats outside. Here, as in England, the champions of the colour bar are the classes whose modest skills many negroes can master.” (P. 87. See also p.  213 for additional material from the manuscript version of this passage.)

Later he objects to apartheid for similarly classist reasons: “Apartheid is the creation of the Boers. It is the spirit of equalitarianism literally cracked. Stable and fruitful societies have always been elaborately graded. The idea of a classless society is so unnatural to man that his reason, in practice, cannot bear the strain. Those Afrikaaner youths [in a manuscript he adds: “with their bulging behinds” :)), p. 225] would claim equality with you, gentle reader. They regard themselves as being a cut above the bushmen. So they accept one huge cleavage in the social order and fantastically choose pigmentation as the determining factor. Cardinal Gracias and the Hottentot are equal on one side; you, gentle reader, and the white oaf on the other; and there is no passage across that preposterous frontier.” (Pp. 105–6.)

“Their monument is a massive erection of granite over thirty feet in height” (p. 95) :]


All in all, I enjoyed this book a good deal; more than I had expected. Waugh comes across as a person who liked almost none of the many ways in which the world was changing around him (something I can very much sympathize with), but who reacted to that not with rage or bitterness but with a sort of bemused shaking of the head; he affects a near-permanent attitude of mildly sarcastic detachment, which makes for many funny and incisive remarks that were fun to read even if I disagree with his politics in many fundamental ways.

He clearly does not for a moment believe that governments, whether Labour ones back in England or Nationalist ones in the soon-to-be-decolonized African countries, can accomplish anything good by interfering in people's lives, and he consequently doesn't see any particularly urgent need for decolonization; but then those are the obvious and unsurprising opinions of someone for whom the status quo worked well enough. Commendably, he disapproves strongly of apartheid and racial segregation; but far from commendably, he does so because in his view it is class barriers rather than race barriers that need to be protected and maintained. And he downplays the problems of colonial police violence and racial discrimination by pointing out that plenty of police violence exists in independent India and plenty of racial discrimination in America (where apparently even the pet cemeteries were segregated; p. 106).

At any rate, I liked the fact that he managed to write a book about his travels through Africa on the cusp of decolonization without making politics the central subject of the book; in fact he deliberately pushes politics away from the centre when he concludes the book by saying: “I have had a happy two months and I won't let the weekly papers spoil them for me” (p. 106). This seems like an attitude worth imitating nowdays, when we have not only the papers but also the whole internet constantly preaching doom and gloom at us from every direction.


In my previous two posts about Waugh books I complained that there was not much of interest in the appendices with variant readings from the manuscripts; this is not the case here, where I occasionally found interesting scraps of text there, and I mentioned some of them earlier in this post where suitable. Here's another one I liked (p. 151): “I have no wish to spend any time in the Union of South Africa. No country deserves the politicians it gets.” I always hated the old chestnut about every country getting the politicians it deserves, and I'm glad to see that he turned it around here. Of course I don't imagine that Waugh's opinion here actually agrees with mine; I simply think that every country deserves to have good politicians, while he probably means to say that he is a small-government conservative, because all politicians are inevitably bad and it's better to reduce the damage by making the politicians weak and few in number.

The editor's introduction and notes in the present volume are also quite interesting and not too long, and there are commendably few errors and misprints (but I loved “arachaeological” on p. 77). This was a fine book, and I'm looking forward to reading more volumes from this series.


  • Maurice Baring: C (1924). Mentioned here on p. 113: “It focuses on upper-class European family life before the First World War, luxuriating in the opulence of an era nearing its violent conclusion.” Waugh praises Baring as “one of the most lovable of men” but complains about the “slap-dash” writing and numerous discrepancies in C (p. 13).
  • Alec Waugh: The Loom of Youth. A “scandalous novel” (p. 115) by Evelyn Waugh's brother.
  • E. M. Forster: Pharos and Pharillon. Mentioned here on p. 74; a “collection of essays on Alexandria, one of EW's favourite books” (p. 136).

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BOOK: Evelyn Waugh, "Ninety-Two Days"

The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh. Volume 22: Ninety-Two Days. Ed. by Douglas Lane Patey. Oxford University Press, 2021. 9780198724186. lxxii + 331 pp. (A scan of the first ed. (1934) is also available on

It turns out that Waugh, besides writing fiction, also wrote several travel books; Ninety-Two Days is about his three-month trip to British Guiana and Brazil in 1933. The editor's introduction to the present edition was very interesting and I enjoyed it much more than the one in Helena. It appears that for Waugh, travel writing was not really something he would be interested in doing for its own sake; he did it partly to keep his name in the public's eye so that people wouldn't forget about him by the time his next novel was ready (p. xxviii), and partly as a source of a bit of extra money and of things that could serve as inspiration for his fiction. His trip to Guiana was the basis of a few articles for newspapers and magazines (which apparently weren't very good and he had a hard time getting them published; p. xxxvii), then for Ninety-Two Days, and then for a novel titled A Handful of Dust (1934).

Even his choice of destination was influenced by practical concerns. (Or was it? At one point Waugh joked that he chose British Guiana because “I had got it confused in my mind with New Guinea”; p. xxxi, n. 14.) It was the only British colony in South America, so Waugh naturally preferred to go there since he couldn't speak Spanish or Portuguese (but apparently this plan was partly frustrated by the fact that even there, Portuguese was the lingua franca amongst the locals in the interior of the country; p. xxxiii, n. 25). It was also one of the least well explored areas of South America; the 1930s were no longer really the age of 19th-century-style gentlemen explorers, but Waugh could, just barely, still claim to be doing something resembling anthropology. (Apparently he even toyed with the idea of enrolling in a university and getting a degree in that field; p. xlvi.) Nor would it be bad for publicity that a part of his trip was going to extend into Brazil, where Percy Fawcett had disappeared a few years before, generating an enormous amount of media attention.

Moreover, it turns out that Guiana had been exciting people's imaginations for a long time. Sir Walter Ralegh claimed it was the seat of the mythical El Dorado, an Indian chief so rich that he covered himself in gold dust (hence the name, ‘the golden one’ p. xl). Its unclimbable table-mountains (such as Roraima) tantalized naturalists with the prospect that otherwise extinct species may have survived there; and in the hands of fiction writers, these turned easily into monstrous ape-men and dinosaurs. I knew that Arthur Conan Doyle's famous Lost World is set in that area, but here I learnt of another interesting-sounding novel, though not widely known today: The Devil-Tree of El Dorado (1896), by Frank Aubrey (p. xliii).

The introduction also mentions a number of non-fiction books by earlier explorers and travellers to the area; I was particularly intrigued by Among the Indians of Guiana (1883) by Everard im Thurn (p. xliii) — German (and Austrian) noblemen with von were a dime a dozen in the 19th century, from time to time you encounter a zu, but an im is rare indeed. (According to the Wikipedia he was actually British, but his father had immigrated from Austria.)

I was pleasantly surprised to read that Ninety-Two Days is apparently very well-regarded in Guyana nowadays (pp. lii–liii, n. 100).


As for Waugh's travelogue itself, I really enjoyed reading it and I couldn't help being impressed by how he managed to take a journey in which, to be perfectly honest, nothing interesting ever happened, and turn it into a book that is practically never boring. Somehow he keeps managing to come up with something interesting to say on every page, finding some little event to describe or some observation to make, etc.

If there is any downside to this, it might be that all these little things don't really add up to anything bigger than that; you accompany Waugh on his journey, you have a good enough time (better than he did in the sweltering jungles of Guiana, one imagines), but when you reach the end you wonder what the point of the whole thing was. But this is not hardly really a downside; after all, there's no need why a journey like this should have some greater purpose, or why a book about it should impart some greater message to the reader. As Waugh says at the conclusion of the book, it “makes no claim to being a spiritual odyssey” (p. 158), but it was a bit of strenuous adventure for him and “I had seen several different sorts of life being led—rancher, missionary, Indian, diamond hunter—which I could never have imagined. I had added another small piece to the pages of the atlas that were real to me.” (P. 159.)

Interestingly, in the introductory chapter Waugh insists that “self-respecting writers do not ‘collect material’ for their books, or rather that they do it all the time in living their lives”; he travelled to Guiana simply because he had “a fascination in distant and barbarous places” (p. 2). Methinks he doth protest a little too much (see also the note on p. 166), but he has a point as well.

I didn't know that he had a brother, Alec Waugh, who was also a travel writer (“with a papal gesture” the two brothers divided the world amongst themselves :), p. 7). In his The Coloured Countries (1930), he described among other things a stay at a grotesquely bad hotel on the Caribbean island of Trinidad (included as an appendix in the present volume, pp. 317–22); and now on the way to Guiana, Evelyn Waugh stayed in the same hotel, wondering if he would have any trouble due to this “family connexion” (p. 1), but the manager was surprisingly good-humoured about it (p. 8).

Upon reaching Georgetown, the capital of British Guiana, he was interviewed by journalists from a local paper that had a policy of interviewing every first-class passenger upon arrival (p. 10). But he soon realized that he had a somewhat hard time explaining to people what exactly the purpose of his journey was. On one occasion he mentioned wanting to photograph the Indians; “‘We know what you want,’ they said with winks, ‘you want to take the girls naked. Well, your best plan is to go up to Bartika and get a few of the tarts there to pose for you. You can get the proper feather ornaments from the Self Help shop. That's what most of the American scientific expeditions do.’ ” (P. 13.) :))

The supplies he bought for the journey into the interior included chlorodyne; according to the editor's note, this was “primarily a mixture of laudanum, tincture of cannabis, and chloroform” which “quickly became one of Britain's most popular patent medicines, widely advertised for conditions from diarrhoea to insomnia and headache.” (P. 184.) Good times :)))

The staple foodstuffs of the country were cassava flour and tasso, or dried beef (“it is even, so I was told, put under the saddle above the blanket to keep it tender and protect the horse from galling”, p. 36 :S). Waugh found them uneatable (p. 71, 94). There was also a fermented drink called cassiri (“made from sweet cassava roots, chewed up by the elder members of the community and spat into a bowl”, p. 107; from time to time, Indians would hold parties where the whole village got drunk, consuming a whole vat of the stuff in the process).

On the way into the interior of the country, Waugh first travelled for a week together with one Mr. Bain, a garrulous government official; later he had to make his own arrangements. The travel was mostly on horseback, slow and laborious, first through jungles and later a savannah, areas with a very sparse population of ranchers, and I couldn't help feeling a bit sorry for Waugh and his Guianan servants, suffering the incessant heat, rain, insects and the like, though he does seem to bear all this with remarkable good humour. Motor vehicles were very rare in the interior, and gasoline expensive (p. 59); see p. 62 for a very short stretch where Waugh was the passenger in a motor van.

Waugh becomes the victim of a vowel shift: “ ‘Chief, do you want to see this boy's arse?’ / I misunderstood him and said no, somewhat sharply. / ‘Fine, young “arse”,’ said Sinclair. ‘Your “arse” plenty weary. You want new “arse” to go Bon Success.’ ” (P. 46.) :))

One of the ranchers he met along the way turned out to be an insane religious maniac. “You could always tell a Freemason, he said, because they had VOL branded on their buttocks.” (P. 55.)

He stayed for about a week at a mission, St. Ignatius, and remarks on the contrast between this small, modest establishment and the crowded ones he had seen in Africa (p. 63). Here there were just two priests, one of whom was away all the time, constantly on a “circuit” from one Indian village to another (p. 65).

There was a merchant operating on the Brazil-Guiana border, with stores on both sides of the Ireng river so that it was his customers and not himself that had to smuggle the goods across :) (pp. 67–8). “He has no competition within two hundred miles” (p. 68) — a good illustration of how remote this area was.

Waugh crossed the border into Brazil and went as far as the town of Boa Vista, which had been represented to him as prosperous and modern (p. 73); alas, it turned out to be a small, dilapidated dump of a town, with a sluggish, fever-ridden population more inclined to crime than work (“they are mostly descended from convicts [. . .] [t]hey are naturally homicidal by inclination”, p. 78; “a society in which murder was regarded as being as common and mildly regrettable as divorce in England”, p. 79 :))), and more to indolence than to either of those. What little brief, unnatural prosperity there may have been in the place a few years earlier had been the result of schemes by various investors to set up business ventures, all of which had foundered in very short order (pp. 79–82). But Waugh endured his disappointments with good humour, and wrote in a letter home that “the streets are paved with gold which gives a pretty effect especially towards sunset” (p. xli).

He stayed at Boa Vista for a good while, hoping to travel downriver to Manaos, but it proved impossible to get a boat and eventually he decided to head back to Guiana; and even that was hard to arrange — his efforts to procure a horse, saddle, attendants, and supplies were met with so many complications that the whole thing is downright ludicrous (pp. 85–9).

He got back to St. Ignatius, but then decided to return to the coast by a different route than the one he took on the way there; some of this was through very remote areas very rarely visited by Europeans (p. 105). He is not really pretending to be conducting anthropological research, but he does make some observations about the curious habits of the local Indians; e.g. when a woman gives birth, it is her husband that takes to the sick-bed and is treated by the whole community as if it were he, and not she, that had just been through an exhausting ordeal (p. 110). A woman giving birth to twins is regarded by them as an evidence of infidelity (p. 132). The Indians also believe in a malignant force called the Kenaima, but Waugh says that different people give such different accounts of it that it's impossible to decide what exactly this belief is really about (pp. 117–19). Elsewhere he remarks on the resemblance between the Indians and the English in that both have a retiring character (p. 25).

For a few days, Waugh even had to travel on foot, together with several porters and one of the missionaries from St. Ignatius (p. 117). Eventually he reached the camp of one Mr. Winter, a gold and diamond prospector whom he had previously met in Georgetown (p. 130). There's a funny story of an Indian girl who was raised in the town, then returned home only to find she now didn't really fit into either environment: “She found a strange, naked woman who was her mother, eagerly welcoming her to a one-roomed hut [. . .] More than this she found a naked young man who had been selected by her mother as a husband. [. . .] The original suitor, at last losing patience with her superiority and aloofness, married the mother and the two proceeded to make the hut still less habitable for her.” :)) (Pp. 139–40.) Fortunately the story has a relatively happy ending; the young woman was hired by Winter as a cook and proved to be excellent at her job.

The last stage of Waugh's journey was downstream by boat, though this wasn't exactly trivial either since the Potaro river, which he was travelling on, was interrupted at several points by waterfalls, including the famous Kaieteur (pp. 144–6). There he spent a night in a house that was being let to tourists (p. 150) — a sign that this area was not that remote any more, and he was rapidly returning towards civilisation. Still, his impression of the interior of Guiana was that of an area from which civilisation was retreating: some decades before people had been trying to farm or ranch, to gather rubber, prospect for gold or diamonds, but now all that was declining or gone (p. 151). I wonder what those parts of Guyana are like nowadays. It's nice to imagine that civilisation, which otherwise spreads everywhere like cancer, managed to leave some bit of wilderness largely alone; but even if that was true in Waugh's time, I doubt it is still true now.

About his fellow passengers on a boat: “I have occasionally heard it debated whether negroes have an unpleasant smell. These certainly had.” (P. 157.) :)))

In a few more days he was back in Georgetown, whence he returned to England. (“There was some slight discussion at the Customs as to whether stuffed alligators were dutiable as furniture, but in the end these were allowed in as scientific specimens.” :)) P. 159.)


The present edition also contains about 60 pages of explanatory notes, which I found quite interesting, and about 115 pages of critical apparatus, in which I found pretty much nothing interesting whatsoever. It records countless small variants between Waugh's manuscript and the printed version, and on a few occasion there are variants between the British and the American edition, but nothing really important for a casual reader like me. In some books the critical apparatus gives you some bits of material that the author removed from the manuscript while preparing the final printed version, but there's nothing of that sort here. (Speaking of manuscripts, I was interested to read that Waugh's handwriting was hard to read; see pp. lvii–lviii.)


Much like in Helena, there are plenty of errors to be found. Sad!

  • “my means of a balloon” (p. xlii, np. 59) should be “by”;
  • “Boa Visa” (p. liii) should be “Vista”;
  • “ ‘theatrical;” (p. lvi, n. 108) should be “ ‘theatrical’ ”;
  • “Manoas” (p. 59) should be “Manaos”;
  • “Canadian Healing Oil (according to a full-page advert in the Sydney Mail, 30 Jan 1987” (p. 204) — this is from a note about dubious patent medicines, and I was doubtful that something like that would have been advertised in 1987; and sure enough, the correct date is 1897, and moreover the ad is far from being full-page — it covers half of a column, and the page has four columns;
  • “fans of a tiger” (p. 188) should surely be “fangs”;
  • “‘Nother” (p. 239), in a quote from p. 21, where they correctly used the apostrophe, “’Nother”;
  • “68.455–69.772” (p. 265) should say 472, not 772;
  • “St. Petersberg” (p. 267), in a quote from p. 73, where it is spelt correctly “Petersburg”;
  • “medieval Peru” (p. 214) in a quote from p. 112, where it is spelt “mediæval”;
  • “in Appendix )” (p. 295) should be “in Appendix A)”;
  • Everard im Thurn is described as a “German-born explorer and colonial administrator” (p. 313), but his Wikipedia page says he was “born in Camberwell, London, the son of an Austrian immigrant banker”;
  • “Bback” (p. 317) should be “back”;
  • “Arnold Bennet” (p. 317, n. 2) should be “Bennett”;
  • “For the illustrative quotations” etc. (p. 322) — a whole paragraph of what was surely meant to be the editor's introduction to the notes in Appendix A appears mistakenly here in Appendix D, in an excerpt from Alec Waugh's The Coloured Countries.


  • Paul Fussell: Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars (1980). Mentioned here on p. xxvii, n. 1. After WW1 prevented travel for a few years, there was apparently a “renaissance of travel literature” in the interwar period, and Waugh can be seen as a part of that trend.
  • George Miller Dyott: Man Hunting in the Jungle: The Search for Colonel Fawcett (1930). Mentioned here on p. xxxiii, n. 22.
  • C. Barrington Brown: Canoe and Camp Life in British Guiana (1876). Mentioned here on p. xlii, n. 59.
  • Everard im Thurn: Among the Indians of Guiana, Being Sketches Chiefly Anthropologic from the Interior of British Guiana (1883). Mentioned here on p. xli, n. 57, and elsewhere.
  • Frank Aubrey: The Devil-Tree of El Dorado: A Romance of British Guiana (1896). An adventure novel set in Guiana (pp. xlii–xliii). He also wrote Queen of Atlantis: A Romance of the Caribbean (1898) and King of the Dead: A Weird Romance (1903) “about a lost race in the Amazonas” (p. 311).
  • Neil Whitehead: Dark Shamans: Kanaimà and the Poetics of Violent Death (2002), by an “anthropologist who claims to have had terrifying personal experience of the phenomenon” (p. 215).
  • Alec Waugh: The Coloured Countries (1930). A travel book by Evelyn Waugh's elder brother, about various tropical countries; mentioned here on pp. 8, 166, 173 and elsewhere. It appeared in America as Hot Countries. Alec Waugh also wrote a number of other interesting-sounding books, some of which are on, e.g.: The Sugar Islands: A Caribbean Travelogue (1949) and Island in the Sun (1955), a novel set in a fictional Caribbean country.
  • Arnold Bennett: The Grand Babylon Hotel (1902). A mystery novel, mentioned on p. 317, n. 2.

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