Waugh: When the Going was Good

January 15, 2022

When the Going Was Good
Evelyn Waugh
(Reprint Society, 1948)
314 p.

We think of Waugh first as a novelist, of course, and I think it may be little known that throughout the 1930s, when he was writing Vile Bodies and A Handful of Dust and other novels, he was also publishing travel books about his journeys to far-flung corners of the world. This selection from those writings, made by Waugh himself, appeared in the mid-1940s, shortly after the publication of Brideshead Revisited.

We read of his visits to Malta and Crete, of his attendance at a coronation in Ethiopia, of an epic journey that began in Yemen, proceeded through Kenya to the Congo, and ended in South Africa, and of a hilarious misadventure through the jungles of Brazil.

Throughout, Waugh is his caustic self, often, I think, with a healthy dash of self-deprecating wit. Unlike some travel writers, he has no particular reverence for the places, or the people, he visits, and the eye he casts on them can be jaded, with humorous results that don’t always leave him unscathed. The writing is, of course, a dream, and the music of the prose is alone enough to recommend the book.

I am delighted to find that David Bentley Hart has written a marvellous review of all of Waugh’s travel writings, and he wonderfully captures the particular merits, and demerits, of this aspect of Waugh’s literary output, even if he doesn’t think When the Going Was Good is a particularly apt selection. If you’re at all interested, I highly recommend reading it.

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