Evelyn Waugh: The Sword of Honour Trilogy

S two or three For sure Hemingway had a several such ball snippers Virginia has her interesting points as a human being to be fair to Waugh but he can t help but use her as an example of depravity and so inflicts on her all sorts of disasters After she rebuffs Guy s attempt to seduce her we see her next in Scotland at a restaurant rendered by Waugh with exuisite cruelty as a woman past her prime she s barely 30 at this point her last coin as a woman spent This is when she falls in with a cad see below A couple ears after this Virginia comes back to Guy since she is desperate and hears he now has some money But Guy who has drifted considerably heavenward by this time in the book won t take her back That is not until she tells him how truly desperate she is that she is pregnant by some cad see below Then of course St Guy marries her right away Afterwards she then provides a week of recuperative sex for Guy as a kind of high class comfort girl since she is ou know really good at sex and then O outrageous spoiler Waugh kills her off with a late war German buzz bomb Nazi ex machina ou could practically see Virginia s damaged but not damned thanks to Guy little soul go fluttering off for a few millennia in purgatory before being welcomed to the Bosom of Abraham As Oscar Wilde said about Little Nell s death a reader would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh out loud Despite the ridiculous down at the heels belle dame sans merci crapola Virginia had ballsVirginia s lover the one who knocks her up is absurd but he is so brutally manhandled by Waugh that he becomes one of my favorite characters out of sheer pity He has six or seven names since he is a cad but he is mostly referred to by his nickname Trimmer He is one of Guy s fellow officers a real rascal who unlike every other officer in the British Army actually had a real job in peacetime A ridiculous one to boot he was a hairdresser on a luxury liner Zounds How contemptible If this useful skilled background had been known Trimmer would never have been allowed to be an officer To make it worse Trimmer is a lady s man And since Waugh can t help piling on his characters he doesn t like Trimmer is an utter poltroon as well his active unapologetic cowardice during a commando raid executed for the newspapers was rather funny in an early Waugh way The army s propaganda bureau turns this eeny weeney man into a hero to send around the USA to show how the British fighting man can really fight oh the irony Trimmer falls in love with Virginia who only slept with him initially because one does become so frightfully bored during ocean cruises or World War II doesn t one But once Trimmer loves her she spurns him since he is now no good to her as a boy toy this is how those kind of women roll in novels American Poetry you know This love which unlike any other emotion in the book seems genuinely sloppy and human renders Trimmer into a babbling idiot making him unsuitable to send to the USA to promote the British war effort Therefore pressure is exerted on Virginia by the military and she is forced to accompany Trimmer to the States so that he doesn t fall apart during his lecture toures this all sounds very plausible doesn t it It is while doing her patriotic duty in the sack that the odious Trimmer impregnates her see above God I hate novels sometimes Ludovic Note the Slavic non meat n potatoes non Yorkshire name Bad guy alert Ludovic saves Guy s life but he is relentlessly unpleasant Large greasy somewhat fat mysterious Every Good Girl you know just like the Soviet Union He is a writer not educated but given grudgingly talent by Waugh He falls in with the English wartime boho crowd For a few fleet moments in the book I had hope Ludovic was going to turn out to be a real human being since this book desperately needed a few He is the uiet guy in the regiment always writing in a notebook off to the side We are occasionally allowed to see what he is writing and these excerpts are among the most penetrating things in the book despite Waugh s contemptuous plan to make him seem literary I even fantasized that Crouchback would become friends with somebody intelligent but this did not come to pass Instead Waugh turns Ludovic into a villain in fact we are lead to believe he fragged his commanding officer on Crete an unbelievably craven coward hysteric named Fido Ludovic goes insane and starts babbling and carrying around a tiny pet dog he has namedFido after the officer he killed Waugh attempts here I think to administer just deserts on the Godless but as with all the other characters from Guy on down the action is disjointed the characters too sketchy or cartoonish Everard Spruce is a caricature of Cyril Connolly the English editor and man of letters As a caricature he is pretty well done actually He is almost worthy of early Vile Bodies Waugh Waugh is grossly unfair to him I suppose I m an admirer of Connolly but the nitwit aspects of literary life everywhere the posing the jockeying for position the vanity the lack of actual good work are done uite deftly My main complaint is that Spruce and his circle those barefoot boho women who run his office are fairly one note Waugh s portrait blighted as always by his customary outrage and disgust Jumbo is a retired Blimpish officer who at first glimpse appears to be senile hanging around the rec room shooting pool or billiards or snooker or whatever English officers did in rec rooms his enormous ass hanging over the edge of the table Waugh endows a couple of his characters with huge arses apparently as a signal that we are not to take them seriously like a clown s big red nose Jumbo however suddenly turns out to be a shrewd energetic manipulator of the military establishment and once so established he is actually one of Waugh s amusing plausible characters Jumbo s plot line is busier and therefore somewhat interesting than most of the rest of the book and he also is important for getting Guy where he needs to be in the military establishment while also providing an insider s glimpse of the establishment that mopey outsider Guy could never manage Which is to say Jumbo is pretty well rendered The problem is that in that first introduction he is so utterly different than what he turns out to be that it makes Jumbo really hard to believe he goes from senile bumbler to energetic adroit manipulator in a 400 words Waugh really really needed an editor There are a host of other characters of course it s a trilogy There s a mutilated one eyed WW I general who represents the thwarted but finally triumphant English fighting spirit he s the one who cuts off the French Colonial sentry s head for reasons I cannot explain I always pictured him standing only 18 tall and always shouting as if from a great distance There s an American called Loot who serves as a kind of plot mover throughout the book it is disappointing the Loot does not come in for some scathing Waughesue criticism of Americans but all he comes in for is the usual wartime anti American English whining he has a nicer uniform money probably better teeth but otherwise he is little than a blandly genial scene advancer There is an outrageously racist depiction of a black witch doctor used by the British secret services to put a hex on Hitler so desperate are the British to win the war or rather not lose it they try the occult This witch doctor is the go to abortionist as well Of course Big or smallou can be sure that pretty much every character except Guy gets their comeuppance one way or another Who cares There were far too many types in this book and not nearly enough human beings On top of that class distinctions are almost 19th century throughout this book other ranks are rendered as background smear from which an occasional name emerges usually to tug a deferential forelock or otherwise advance a scene For instance there s a tiresome ancient and often boiled butler at Guy s club is a source of patrician amusements amongst the clouds of cigar smoke and snifters of bad wartime sherry The few soldiers who emerge from the background khaki blur are doughty Tommies of the Dunkirk mold dogged and loyal and etc As for structure my guess is this trilogy reads like a one holer that got a couple of additions much later on All three books have a decidedly different feel to them and an only tenuous cohesiveness There are fine moments Waugh is at his best an unuestionably powerful writer although I have come to believe he was better as a travel writer than a novelist The best part of the book has to do with the defense and evacuation of Crete by British Commonwealth and Greek forces Waugh was actually there and the hot dusty exhausting work of running away as opposed to actually fighting reads with real authority The end of the book when Guy is sent to Yugoslavia to work with the anti Nazi partisans is also fairly well done the partisans are not made to look utterly ridiculous which surprised me they being so foreign I mean of course there is a sort of Zorba the Greek heavy handed earthiness to them that ou d expect from Waugh but nothing too outrageous SOH ends tidily with a post war coda with Guy all warm and cozy and his saved and neatly tucked in and tooth brushed soul made fully ready for bedtime I can t remember the particulars For all its theological and spiritual pretensions this was a heartless book full of far too many authorial cheap shots and get out of hell free cards too much easy cheesy spiritual redemption for a character Guy Crouchback who is cut far too much slack by his far too sympathetic creator This is the kind of novel that makes me not really want to read novels for another six months or so It doesn t want to make me attend Mass either The dystopian and satirical world of and unprepared England World War IIIf this were just a review of the ineffective jaundiced sarcastic snobbish effete England portrayed by Evelyn Waugh throughout the Sword of Honor Trilogy this would be a 4 star review It is depressing when it is not negative when it seems to fail to see any part of England before during or after World War II as a home to honest good hearted or even competent people However Waugh writes well He builds his story on crafted paragraphs and a highly directed story arc I have no complaints about his craftsmanship as an artist nor can I entirely discount his version of England in World War II I also do not think he has any sense of fairness and seems to be pining for a long ago world before we all started going to the dogs Those good old days never existed Guy Crouchback is given to us as a stranger in his own land He is from a family well on its way from a knightly and powerful house to one that may end with him He is never portrayed as especially bright well trained athletic or creative He is an average kind of well off Englishman Everyman We join him as he returns from a failed venture as a planter in Africa and a mostly do nothing kind of guy living on the last of family money at a family manor house in a less well known part of Italy His return to an England he hardly knows is so that he can become a soldier in the cause of England s honor in World War II Although at 37 he is a bit old to become an Army Officer connections get him into an officer training unit of an ancient and elite formation of halberds Book I Men at Arms and Book II Officers and Gentlemen are timed to cover the so called Phony War and the early disasters that the British Army suffered from the then victorious Axis Armies As such Guy is the reader s guide into an England not mentally or organizationally prepared for or serious about fighting war He and his fellow halberd suffer all of the confusion and inefficiencies any people inside of a large organization under extreme tests may encounter There is only the slightest indication that anyone in the army or in the civilian world is bringing into the war the last of prior better days No one except his wise father is much than minimally right for the duties attendant to the successful prosecution of a warThere is much bumbling about and some high and low humor The battle of the Private Privy is a well construct mix of both at one time Elsewhere the satire become so heavy handed as to be sarcasm Guy has nothing good to say about America and little good to say about England or her common wealth soldiery He has taken on England s false belief that World War II is to be won in the Mediterranean theaterAs much as I like Waugh the story teller my patience came to an end reading his Synopsis that precedes the third book Unconditional Surrender As Guy in the late autumn of 1941 rejoins his regiment he believes that the just cause of going to war has been forfeit in the Russian alliance I can grasp that Uncle Joe was as vile as Hitler For Guy to reject all things Communist and especially Russian Communist is legitimate What I find so terrible is that there is no similar moral outrage at Hitler or Nazism I do not think Hitler s name is used 3 times in the entire trilogy and there is never a thought about the Nazi enslavement of captured peoples or of his death camps or much than the notion that the Germany just happened to be the enemy Almost nothing about the nature of that enemy nor of the threat it cast on western civilizationIt is well documented that in the ears leading up to the German invasion of Russia many on the political left had unending excuses in favor of Communism Those that were not merely wrong headed excuses would prove to be wrong headed and hypocritical What is rarely discussed is the number of usually upper crust British and not a few powerful Americans who would have continued to appease Hitler even at the expense of ending all of the liberties of the English speaking peoples Either Waugh or at least his narrator seem to be incapable of submitting Nazism to the same degree of critical analysis as is used to against the failure of Russian Communism Over all Guy s travels and travails with his country s progress through World War II seem to follow a tradition of the bewildered mostly passive observer of his illogical dangerous world Guy is in the tradition of The Man of La Mancha and The Good Soldier Schweik I can see many papers written comparing him to Lucius in The Metamorphoses of Apuleius AKA The Golden Mule in the original the word Mule is not used and as another satiric war novel much like Catch 22 Where that all to The Sword of Honor Trilogy I would recommend it as a 4 star read The moral failure of the writernarrator makes it hard for me to defend never mind recommend In my opinion the masterwork of 20th century English fiction Brideshead lent itself to million dollar TV adaptation but the books Men At Arms Officers And Gentlemen and Unconditional Surrender are almost too good for TV or screen There was a fine and now lost TV version in the 60s with Edward Woodward as Crouchback and host of character actors including Ronald Fraser as Apthorpe playing the supporting parts and an all too brief 2001 version for TV with Daniel craig as Crouchback The nuances the subtleties the acute observations of English social niceties and the bitterness that unites and divides us are almost impossible to portray on screen In terms of characterisation Crouchback is almost but not uite a non entity He bestrides the novel almost as a catalyst for all the other characters to react to The novel is genuinely funny but the humour is usually the humour of cruelty If ou have tears to shed shed them now the death of Apthorpe is heartbreaking There is real warmth the great recurring shape of Colonel Jumbo Trotter lumbers through the novel popping up now and again like a lost but welcome friend There is political intrigue religious bigotry heroism deception cynicism on an almost industrial scale but it remains right at the top of my never be seaparated from list. Igures so familiar from Waugh's early satires The deepest pleasures these novels afford come from observing a great satiric writer employ his gifts with extraordinary subtlety delicacy and human feeling for purposes that are ultimately anything but satir.

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An aborted raid on Dakar in 1940 the allied withdrawal from Crete in 1941 and the last months of the war in Yugoslavia The second and third of these are magnificent pieces of writing but they only point out the comparative lack of continuity in the first part of each book which is especially problematic in the second of themThen there is the uestion of tone Frank Kermode in his magnificent introduction to the Everyman Classics edition writes Here in his final work there run together the two styles of mischief and gravity that can be noted in his writing from the beginning Totally true but mischief becomes dated a lot uickly than gravity I have the feeling that for readers who had been through the War and seen its absurdities injustices and unexpected rewards the Trilogy would have read as a hilarious and immediately recognizable satire Seventy ears on however many of the targets reuire footnoting and some of Waugh s running gags such as the ubiuitous appearance of an apparently never promoted American Lieutenant of unspecified attachment known as the Loot just seem silly Where the connecting thread is one of personal self discovery as it is in the first volume or a gathering moral dilemma as in the third these comic sections do have some momentum But it is a balancing act that may be harder to maintain today than when the books were first written An immensely entertaining and thought provoking account of one man s experience in WWII Despite Guy Crouchback s thinly veiled fictional version of Evelyn Waugh best efforts to do his part to he is destined to always be on the periphery of the war Contributing but not very heroically Even when he finds himself in the thick of things Battle of Crete May 1941 his experience is as a glorified message boy He is constantly walking from one post to another during the battle An officer without troops No chance to make his mark In the end though Guy s unspectacular wartime career ends up working out for the best He is spared being horrifically wounded and maimed he isn t shattered by his experiences and of course he lives I ve never read Evelyn Waugh before Like millions of other Americans I ve seen the television mini series of Brideshead Revisited but this is the first time I ve read any of his work Though I know that others have expressed a distaste for Waugh s satire and prose I found myself likely it almost instantly I don t know if the upper class and middle class of England were really like this but I had a great time nevertheless I felt as if I was in an Agatha Christie story and went left when Hercule Poirot went right and found myself in the study with Waugh and his creations There is humor and gravity in this novel Waugh combines the two elements and it works very well I m impressed This is not a glorification of the war or the generation that had to participate in it People are just people Some are heroic while others are cowardly Often at the same time Competence and incompetence go hand in hand Though there is the exaggeration that is to be expected of a work of fiction especially a satirical work of fiction the descriptions of the sheer boredom and ennui and the chaos of Action Now are dead on Armies exist to fight wars and wars are both ludicrous and deadly serious Often at the same time Waugh realized this and he does an excellent job bringing this dichotomy to lifeIf My Darling, My Hamburger you go into this book expecting a novel about British WWII daring do along the lines of Alistair Maclean or Hammond Innesou will be tremendously disappointed You probably won t get beyond the first fifty pages However if Love Virtually you re wanting to read a novel about how one of the greatest catastrophes in Human history effected the small island of England people societyCatholic church and so on I thinkou ll enjoy Sword of Honor This is Evelyn Waugh s final edited version of the Sword of Honour trilogy If Our Island Guide you re interested in reading the trilogyou really should read this version as the book is really one long continuous story with the same characters throughout and some apparently tedious passages have been edited out Highly recommended by me as well Many literary careers are doomed to go on slightly longer than they should and to outlive the author s original engrossing talentSo concludes Christopher Hitchens in a 2003 Atlantic article Evelyn Waugh The Permanent Adolescent reprinted in his collection of essays Arguably Actually the sentence is the first of his concluding paragraph which goes onWaugh himself lived to lament the Second Vatican Council and to deplore the abolition of the Latin Mass which meant that he became not Catholic than the Pope but curmudgeonly than his own confessors and conservative than the Church itself This has the accidentally beautiful result of making Sword of Honour into a literary memorial not just for a lost world but for a lost faith In Catholic doctrine one is supposed to hate the sin and love the sinner This can be a distinction without a difference if the sin is to be something a Jew a homosexual even a divorcee rather than to do something Non Christian charity reuires however that one forgive Waugh precisely because it was his innate as well as his adopted vices that made him a king of comedy and of trage Evelyn Waugh did not have a good war as a soldier however he was able to transmute his uncomfortable personal experience into something wonderful Through Guy Crouchback the detached observer and would be knight who mistakenly believes his private honour will be satisfied by war Evelyn Waugh perfectly captures the bureaucracy pettiness absurdity humour and confusion of war It all rings true with numerous little details that make this book so satisfying It s everything that great literature should be beautifully written evocative poignant funny tragic and profound I wonder how many of the great characters are also based on real people I really want Jumbo Trotter Apthorpe Ludovic Box Bender Trimmer Virginia Peregrine and of course Brigadier Ritchie Hook to be real characters as I do the denizens of Bellamy s clubIn April 2013 I finally read Brideshead Revisited and was captivated from start to finish You probably don t need me to tell ou it s a masterpiece Before embarking on Sword of Honour I would never have believed that Evelyn Waugh could have written two masterpieces He has Brideshead Revisited and Sword of Honour That s in addition to all the other wonderful fiction and non fiction Epic and extraordinary You really should read Sword of Honour A wonderful book55NOTE ABOUT DIFFERENT EDITIONSSword of Honour was originally published as three separate volumes Men At Arms 1952 Officers and Gentlemen 1955 and Unconditional Surrender 1961 however Waugh extensively revised these books to create a one volume version Sword of Honour in 1965 and it is this version that Waugh wanted people to read The Penguin Classics version of Sword of Honour contains numerous informative and interesting footnotes and an introduction by Angus Calder each time Waugh changed the text there is also a note Most of sections that Waugh changed or removed was with a view to ensuring that his hero Guy Crouchback is perceived as worldly and experienced than was the case in the original version of the books I can see why Waugh would choose to change the emphasis in this way and I think it makes the overall narrative convincing and effective There is something fundamentally wrong with these books referred to here as SOH so I don t have to keep misspelling honour over and over and I am not sure I can say exactly what that is but I felt somewhat soiled after reading them But this book I will also refer to it in the singular despite it being a trilogy for simplicity s sake is not early funny Waugh but deep dark Catholic Waugh so the laughs are gone now replaced by a tedious and desperate kind of spiritualityThe black heart of it all might come from its bent Catholicism I say this since the book is I think supposed to be primarily about religion redemption etc etc The protagonist Guy Crouchback comes from an ancient line of English Catholics who never knuckled under to the Protestants an heroic ancestry that we are ponderously made aware of from time to time Sure there were the occasional cowards and insanity cases but mostly the Crouchbacks were a stalwart English bastion of Rome ponderously handled in terms of fiction but not immediately objectionable What bothered me is what a Catholic monster Guy is really His bland depressed spirituality drifts through the book like a wan ghost almost always revealing itself to be pitiless when real live human stuff happens Two events are particularly telling One Guy takes a bottle of whiskey to a friend who is in hospital Said friend Apthorpe see below is an alcoholic and guzzles the whole bottle as soon as Guy leaves This kills him and et Guy tells us he has nary a twinge of guilt over this Even his benighted stupid superiors say this was not cricket but Guy s soul is snow white The second incident has a set up too ridiculous to go into but during an idiotic reconnaissance raid on Dakar which is held by hostile Vichy French Guy s commanding officer tosses to Guy the head of an African French sentry he has decapitated I realize body parts as souvenirs has a long history even into WWII although usually in the Pacific but for all of Guy s fine grained sensibilities he seems just as amused or at least unconcerned with this bit of barbarity as the rest of the soldiers are He doses off with the head in his lap and carries it back to his uarters on the ship Next morning he brings it to his commander and has a cup o tea The head shows up later on a hospital ship where Guy s commanding officer had commanded it to be pickled by His Majesty s doctors Beyond the racism I thought it entirely possible that as a French soldier this African may well have been a fellow CatholicBut then Guy isn t much interested in other Catholics or anybody else either Guy attends Mass regularly he is a good Catholic that way But it annoys him when other people attend Mass as well especially other ranks He is happiest in a chapel alone with a sepulchre carved with a medieval crusader in repose dappled with daubs of stained glass window light This relentless solitary pursuit of salvation seems to be the book s soul purpose forgive the pun Such a spiritual journey might be of interest if it ever involved charity kindness or compassion It does not There is a flinty selfishness at the heart of this book that if not pure evil is at least simply wrong If spiritual uests don t interest ou ou re out of luck because the fact is that Guy Crouchback for all his moody maundering some of which is vaguely aesthetic and takes place in Italy doesn t seem to have a thought in his head Or bullocks in his pouch It is tiresomely apparent that Waugh is trying to render in him a portrait of Empty Modern Man in Search of a Soul or some such thing but it wouldn t have been any harm in having him read a book from time to time This is the closest thing to a main character built around his own soul that I ve ever read and souls lets face it aren t very interesting without an actual human being wrapped around them Early on Guy does attempt to seduce his own wife which was meant to make him human but really all it does is set her up for all the catastrophes that will later beset her see below because she insists on being Guyless Seduction scenes with one s own ex wife should be I suppose clumsy but this was like Jan s blundered first kiss episode of The Brady Bunch It was hard to believe Guy had ever been an adult The SOH s characters are sometimes unforgettable if only because they are so implausible Here are a few of them Apthorpe the friend Guy poisons in hospital is the best part of the first book although he is so defective stupid and probably insane that I am not sure why Waugh bothered with him He came in from the African colonies from a mysterious background spent in the bush later debunked Apthorpe becomes Guy s friend Guy likes being around people he can feel superficially charitable towards which is the only explanation for the connection since Apthorpe is at all times a bloviating idiot But an important idiot apparently since the whole first book of the trilogy Men at Arms is divided up into ponderous sections Apthorpe Gloriosus and so on so Waugh must ve considered him important I suspect this was not planned as a trilogy and this volume was meant to stand alone Apthorpe gets a promotion of course and proves himself predictably insufferable and incompetent At this point Guy s loyalty seems to have something to do with self mortification at least I can t figure anything else out Guy s whiskey as noted above kills off Apthorpe and this death is so uickly and sketchily brought about that it s hard to tell why Apthorpe passed through the book in the first place There is an elaborate joke involving a portable commode goes on far too long and is not funny at all although Clive James and others seem to think this is the height of 20th century British comedic writing the commode is called a Thunder Box so beware the knowing wink wink nudge nudge references among Waugh s many fans This being said Apthorpe is rendered three dimensional than about anybody else in the book and I found myself developing a weird sympathy for him Guy s Dad Sir Whatever Crouchback is a phenomenally good Catholic that makes Mr Chips look like Goebbels Really the kindly goodliness of this saintly man is artery clogging This being said the scenes with him despite being so relentlessly wholesome are usually well written which made his appearance kind of a relief When he dies finally it turns out that despite being made out to being so unworldly it is surprising he didn t starve to death because he forgot how to hold a spoon the old man was actually pretty darned shrewd about managing money and therefore left his son Guy enough money to make him a viable human being in society again And so Guy s one true chance to save his own soul by getting a real job for once gets thwarted by the ancient and intact family harf crown There s a boring funeral scene for the old man at which far people than were expected show up including I think a murmuring mud spattered collection of background peasants being grateful and dropping haitches Maybe not I don t remember for sure Boo Guy s Uncle Peregrine was far interesting than Guy s dad He s an English eccentric of the grouchy old bachelor type and I suspect he is supposed to represent the partially damned in Waugh s manipulative et simplistic theology Rather surprisingly he makes a pass at Guy s ex wife Virginia see below that was actually somehow interesting it was one of Waugh s best moments although I fail to see why it happened novelistically or that such a thing given Peregrine s antiuity and bachelorhood was remotely plausible Of course his nephew Guy was such a self absorbed eunuch the old man thought he had a chance Ultimately Uncle Peregrine was unbelievable but he had a certain vintage Waugh or a mean spirited version of Wodehouse panache Guy s ex wife Virginia is one of those fabulous bitch goddesses that male novelists loved conjuring up c 1920 1950 You know utterly beautiful sexually incontinent manipulative heartless wears too much lipstick irresistible sleeps in the nude gossips gets bored every living moment they aren t at a party and then they are bored even at parties Fitzgerald s Daisy Buchanan is the only one of these women who actually come across because Fitzgerald could be a genius sometimes but the rest of them are spots all over the adolescent face of Anglo American fiction of the time I think there s one in Brideshead Revisited isn t there I ve never read the book but I ve seen a couple film adaptations I m sure the Dance to the Music of Time ha. Discovers new purpose in the challenge to defend Christian values against Nazi barbarism but then gradually finds the complexities and cruelties of war overwhelming Though often somber Sword of Honor is also a brilliant comedy peopled by the fantastic

1 Men At Arms 3This first part of what was originally a trilogy was uite uneven for me Guy Crouchback is a well intentioned though ineffective man who in his late 30s joins the army to do his bit The opening section in training is the funniest with the farcical episode of Apthorpe and his thunder box being especially hilarious But there are long sections where Guy is shunted around aimlessly or himself goes off on a uest to locate the owner of a legacy for which he has taken responsibility which are dullThe bureaucracy and confusion of a national military force being mobilised is conveyed but there s also an old fashioned sense of the army being led by old buffers who inhabit privileged clubs in Piccadilly which perhaps gives a skewed view of the British war effort the officers who see Dunkirk as running away for example There s a typically Waughesian episode on the Isle of Mugg which lifts things towards the end but I m finding this looser and less sharp than I expected 3 stars for this first volume2 Officers and Gentlemen 3In this second part Guy manages to both take an active part in the war and to gain some warmth from me His concern for a dead man on Crete finally made him come to life as a person and not just a PoV character there to offer up a detached observation on the war and a filter for Waugh s own views His joy at being greeted with welcome by his old Halberdier company and his ability to remember the name of at least one man serving under him helped And the description of the chaotic retreat from Crete is well done though it s uite opaue as to what happens while Guy is delirious With Virginia back on the scene I thought this book had turned around for me until the German invasion of Russia happens in the background and Guy s reaction turned me against him all over again two ears before when he read of the Russo German alliance when a decade of shame seemed to be ending in light and reason when the Enemy was plain in view huge and hateful all disguise cast off now that hallucination was dissolved and he was back in the old ambiguous world and his country was led blundering into dishonour To write off the deaths of 20m Russians in the struggle against Hitler as a British alliance of dishonour seems extraordinary to me For all the fine writing the humour the tragedy and pathos fundamentally I just can t get on with Waugh s reactionary political views which are on full display here He despises the Russians the Americans who are arriving in London anyone working or middle class anything that speaks to a sweeping away of old and entrenched social hierarchies and aristocratic values and uite a few women I can t share Waugh s politics or misanthropy but I m interested enough to finish the trilogy3 Unconditional Surrender 2This third and final part went downhill for me as it becomes increasingly episodic and picaresue Yet again Guy is hanging around London looking for a job Damian (The Caine Brothers yet again he bumbles through his training and injures his kneeep again Things pick up when he gets sent to Yugoslavia to liaise with communist partisans fighting fascism and we have another of those brief moments like the one in Crete where Guy actually comes to life and shows some compassion for the Jewish refugees with whom he s confronted But that s soon over For someone who s supposedly concerned with his Catholic spiritual welfare I find Guy remarkably emotionally cold and uncaring view spoiler Virginia has been killed Peregrine too The news did not affect Guy greatly hide spoiler Men at Arms Part 1 of Sword of HonourWhat fun a bit like a cross between MASH PG Wodehouse and BridesheadAn upper class British Catholic divorc leaves his home in Italy at the start of WW2 to try to join the army and eventually succeedsThe story is populated by uirky characters and strange coincidences with glimpses of poignancy Most of the characters are in a perpetual state of genial incomprehension and incompetenceWaugh served in WW2 and if his experience was anything like what was described it s amazing that we won However there are clearly some parallels as the book is peppered with mentions of specific dates and events helpfully explained in footnotes in my editionApthorpe s too literal thunderbox the old colonel that should have retired but no one uite wants to tell him he s not needed any bizarre and nonsensical bureaucracy all beautifully writtenAnd best of all there are two seuels let s hope they re as goodOfficers and Gentlemen Part 2 of Sword of HonourIn many ways this is very similar to the previous book about Guy Crouchback of the Halberdiers soldiers being resigned to the comic ineptitude of their commanders and all sorts of intriguing characters However this volume has about the tactics and experience of war so that I did slightly lose track in places despite all the historical footnotes and less outright comedy less of life back home less Catholic angst less Catholicism altogether etc The loucheness in Alexandria was good and accidental heroics of view spoilerblowing up a railway in occupied France because they failed to find the Channel Island they were looking for hide spoiler Waugh s Final WordsEssentially this is Waugh s swansong three novels about the adventures of his uasi autobiographical hero Guy Crouchback in the Second World War gathered together by him and edited into a single volume at the end of his life This is a compendium of my separate reviews of the individual volumes as I read them followed by a brief consideration of the Trilogy as a whole Men at Arms 1952 suggested Evelyn Waugh s Sword of Honour trilogy the novel seuence that crowned the author s career as something of similar interest to Anthony Powell s Dance to the Music of Time which I am engaged on currently Whereas Powell covers three decades in twelve volumes Waugh treats half a decade in three a fiction distilled from his own checkered experiences as a somewhat older officer in the Second World War I have not reached the euivalent period in the Powell et but I find it hard to believe that he could be anything like as immediate touching or downright funny as Waugh For Waugh is a satirist but a satirist with serious concerns and an unusually realistic touch For although this clearly falls into the general category of army comedies a frustrating saga of administrative snafus and occasional action it also comes over as a convincing account of how things must have felt as Britain was muddling through that deceptive period of the phony war before complacency got shattered at DunkirkWaugh s protagonist Guy Crouchback is 36 when this first novel opens A scion of an aristocratic Catholic family that has fallen on bad times he has spent most of his adult life as an expatriate first in Kenya and later in Italy Returning home to do his bit he finds most doors closed to a man of his age But a friend of his father s gets him a probationary commission in the Halberdiers an unusual outfit combining ancient regimental pride with an unconventional approach to training and leadership Glad though I am never to have been mixed up in anything like this myself I found the descriptions of mess life and daily routine to be uite fascinating Guy s position as an older volunteer allows the reader to look on as a voyeur even as Guy is giving himself heart and soul to his new familyFor this is what I think the book is really about belonging Guy has suffered numerous losses one brother to the previous war another to suicide the family home to debt his ears in Kenya and Italy lost to circumstance and his wife to divorce He is a Catholic in a predominantly Anglican world He is looking for something or someone to give him a family an identity a place to belong He finds this at least at first in the Halberdiers Anyone who remembers their first days in a new school will feel for him but also smile For by a masterstroke Waugh contrasts Guy with another older volunteer an old Africa hand named Apthorpe who speaks all the lingo knows all the ropes possesses all the right euipment It takes a while for us to see Apthorpe as a comic figure the boastful miles gloriosus that he is the saga of his thunderbox or private portable toilet is a masterpiece of farce but meanwhile Guy s failure to move up so uickly has got to hurt Yet it is Guy who is involved in real action at the end in a seuence off the coast of Dakar that is both the culmination of his real military abilities and the end of his love affair with the regiment It is a very funny book but with the sad tinge of truthOfficers and Gentlemen 1955Let me state the negatives first This the middle novel of Waugh s Sword of Honour trilogy is not a book I would recommend reading out of context Although the references to the first novel Men at Arms are mostly incidental they are freuent and often unexplained The first volume was held together by the story of its protagonist 36 ear old Guy Crouchback finding his way into a temporary commission with a rather unusual regiment the Halberdiers in the first ears of WW2 Here however Guy disappears for long stretches Readers of the first volume will recognize secondary characters as old colleagues from the Halberdiers mess or subseuent husbands or lovers of Guy s divorced wife but without those connections the first half of the novel may seem rather diffuse Fortunately the ending makes up for itA major theme of the novel is contained in the title Officers and Gentlemen in popular speech are supposed to be synonymous But in wartime not necessarily so Guy as minor aristocracy and a uietly resourceful soldier is decidedly both But much of the focus of the first part of the book is given to an operator called Trimmer A former hairstylist he is certainly no gentleman and pretty useless as an officer too Yet he happens to fill the bill for a nation starved for heroes and after a farcical episode has been inflated into a selfless act of derring do he finds himself promoted far beyond his deserts But gentlemen can fail as officers also there is at least one character of impeccably blue blood who lets the side down rather badly Although he never seems to win the laurels Guy is the rare touchstone by which most of the others are measured and found wantingThe novel begins in the world of P G Wodehouse upper class twits exchanging vapid repartee in London clubs Soon this changes to satire of a different sort making fun of the self perpetuating bureaucracy of warfare where everyone and everything is referred to by an alphabet soup of initials The comedy would probably mean in the postwar În excavator (Trilogia Nomilor years when people were still reeling from a surfeit of such absurdities at times it seems almost like a British version of Catch 22But then at the halfway point the tone changes Guy as a member of a commando outfit called Hookforce gets sent to Crete just too late to prevent the German invasion This part is almost autobiographical and it shows Waugh himself as part of a similarly named force was one of the last to escape Crete before the final surrender Suddenly the picture of the chaos of war becomes horribly true The tone of comedy remains but it is no longer distinguishable from the real thing for war itself can out satirize any satire The last third of the book is a magnificent achievement that almost compensates for the diffuseness of the opening and most certainly sets the stage for the final volumeThe End of the Battle 1961I have to express disappointment though that this final volume was not published in the USA under its original title Unconditional Surrender Perhaps that sounded too negative for a book set in the lastears of the Second World War but despite their superficially happy endings Waugh s novels do typically have a dying fall Besides the original title has many meanings beyond the military one It might refer to the protagonist Guy Crouchback s acceptance of his situation in the wartime army seeing many less able men promoted around and above him It might refer to his ex wife Virginia s surrender to the Catholic faith part of a gentle transformation that develops the character far beyond her former role as a femme fatale and plot complication It might describe the elegiac atmosphere surrounding the funeral of Guy s elderly father which makes a central set piece of some seriousness And it certainly refers to the book s final sections when Guy is sent to monitor mopping up operations in Yugoslavia as bands of partisans fight other bands with an eye less to the imminent elimination of the Germans than to positioning themselves in the postwar world with respect to communism and the underlying ethnic tensions that we have seen flare up in recent An Accidental Woman yearsThis is one section of the book that does not seem at all dated In the earlier parts of the novel as elsewhere in the trilogy I sometimes felt I was reading a roman clef without the key One senses that contemporary readers would recognize the peripatetic civilian Sir Ralph Brompton who manages to have a finger in every pie They would know the uestionable merits of the literary magazine Survival published with government funds And when Guy s Corporal Major Ludovic from Officers and Gentlemen devotes the lastears of his war to producing a mammoth best selling novel contemporary readers would have had one or two candidates in mindStill these are minor lacunae What makes the novel work for me are two moral threads running through its episodic structure One is political and muted the dilemma of taking as an ally a country Russia which in every respect other than its anti fascism seems the moral antithesis of traditional English values The other is personal and deep seated Struck at his father s funeral by a sense of his own uselessness Guy prays that God will give him the chance to do some small service which only he could perform for which he had been created In fact he gets two such chances one concerning his ex wife and the other working to help a group of Jewish refugees who have been sidelined in the Yugoslavian strife That neither opportunity has an entirely perfect ending and that the final pages of this comedy have a distinctly tragic tinge only adds to the moral weight which ultimately ballasts its often irritating flippancyThe Sword of Honour TrilogyAs I consider the trilogy as a whole I find myself torn between two conflicting views One is the attitude that I expected to have that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts It is as I said Waugh s swansong that he took the trouble to revise and publish as a single whole at the end of his life many of these revisions have been un revised in the present edition however but the details are relatively minor Reading the three books in swift succession is greatly preferable to reading either of the later volumes separately since characters and events are continued from one novel to another without much explanation Characters who appear trivial in any one novel gain stature when ou are aware of their continuing presence in the background Certainly the scope of the three novels from 1939 to 1945 with a brief postlude in 1951 makes this an incredibly valuable view of Britain at the time of the Second World War especially as it is seen less glamorously but typically from a point of view largely on the sidelines There are also larger social themes such as the decline of aristocratic privilege and the loss of moral clarity in warfare that resonate better in a symphony than a sonataBut I am also disturbed by the opposite sense that the parts may be satisfactory than their sum For one thing there is a certain repetition of pattern between the three volumes Approximately two thirds of each show the protagonist Guy Crouchback rattling around in Britain attached to various military outfits At the end of each volume he is engaged as the author himself was in some inconclusive military exercise. This trilogy spanning World War II based in part on Evelyn Waugh's own experiences as an army officer is the author's surpassing achievement as a novelist Its central character is Guy Crouchback head of an ancient but decayed Catholic family who at first.

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Evelyn Waugh's father Arthur was a noted editor and publisher His only sibling Alec also became a writer of note In fact his book “The Loom of Youth” 1917 a novel about his old boarding school Sherborne caused Evelyn to be expelled from there and placed at Lancing College He said of his time there “the whole of English education when I was brought up was to produce prose writers; it was al