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Issue 26 - Waugh on war

Whisky Magazine Issue 26
October 2002

 

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Waugh on war

Jefferson Chase examines the love of drinking and 'cultivated comic sarcasm' expressed in the work of an ex-teacher for drunkenness-Evelyn Waugh

Evelyn Waugh is required reading for fans of drinking and cultivated comic sarcasm. Born in 1903 to a literary family, Waugh by his own admission wasted an Oxford education and was pitched out of an early job as a private school teacher for drunkenness. He went on to become one of England's greatest 20th century satirists, starting with a novelistic treatment of his own misspent youth, Decline and Fall, and continuing over four decades with such deliciously malicious broadsides as A Handful of Dust and The Loved One. Alcohol features in all Waugh's works – remember Sebastian Flyte from Brideshead Revisited – but readers here will be particularly interested in 1955's Officers and Gentlemen, the second volume of Waugh's wartime trilogy.

War for Waugh was a mixture of drunken tedium, bureaucratic absurdity, class consciousness transmuted into distinctions of rank, and, ironically, insight into human nature. Officers and Gentlemen opens with Waugh's typically diffident, somewhat innocent hero Guy Crouchback arriving at an officers' club in London during the Blitz.

The windows of the card-room had been blown out and bridge players, clutching their score sheets, filled the hall. Brandy and whisky were flowing here, if not in the gutters outside. "Hullo, Guy. Haven't seen you about lately." "I only got back from Africa this afternoon." "Odd time to chose. I'd have stayed put." "I've come home under a cloud." "In the last war we used to send fellows to Africa when they were ...

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