A BURNT-OUT CASE






February, 2019. Penguin is re-issuing sixteen of Waugh's books in an exciting new retro design. Well, I'm excited about it, anyway. And I'll say under each cover what I think is going on in the designer's mind. (Dear reader, feel free to bale out when it all gets too much.)

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The above puts me in mind of Paul Pennyfeather and Captain Grimes having a drink in Mrs Roberts's pub in Llannabba. Or is it Pennyfeather finally listening to Philbrick's story as Llannabba School Sports goes on in the background? Or is it Pennyfeather - while listening to hymns during a prison chapel service - learning that Mr Prenderghast has had his head sawn off as part of the Lucas-Docherty Experiments in penal reform?

In any case, Pennyfeather as insect. Innocent or otherwise.

Great how a single image, cleverly conceived by the artist, can conjure up so much in a viewer's mind.

abc- vile bodies

Adam rang up Nina.
"Darling, I've been so happy about your telegram. Is it really true?"
"No, I'm afraid not."
"The Major is bogus?"
"Yes."
"You haven't got any money?"
"No."
"We aren't going to be married today?"
"No."
"I see."
"Well?"
"I said, I see."
"Is that all?"
"Yes, that's all, Adam."
"I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry, too. Good-bye."
"Good-bye, Nina."

Black Mischief

There is a scene in
Black Mischief where Basil Seal is eating his girlfriend. Not that he knows that Prudence is the meat in the stew that he and a number of Azanian chiefs have been feasting on. He doesn't learn that significant information until the pot is empty.

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Tony Last, cuckold of Hetton Abbey, flees with his broken English heart to the Amazon forest where a madman makes him read the novels of Charles Dickens over and over again. 'Til death them do part.

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Let out of the asylum, Mr Loveday knocks a young woman off her bicycle and strangles her.

It should be said that Mr Loveday is really Mr. Cruttwell, Evelyn Waugh's history tutor at Oxford, whom he remembered, long after his death, in the following way: '
He smoked a pipe which was usually attached to his blubber-lips by a thread of slime. As he removed the stem, waving it to emphasise his indistinct speech, this glittering connection extended until finally it broke leaving a dribble on his chin.'

abc-scoop

The cover shows a 'badger' (or great crested grebe?) inspecting the skull of 'Boot of the Beast'. But is it the distinguished John Verney Boot, simple countryman William Boot, or wicked old Uncle Theodore Boot?

'Feather-footed through the plashy fens passes the questing vole.'

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It's 1939, war is expected imminently and a set of characters are scrabbling for position. Alistair Trumpington finds himself engaged in incomprehensible manoeuvres instead of real combat. Ambrose Silk flees to Ireland while getting worked up about what will happen to him if the Germans catch up with him, what with his Communist past. Basil Seal makes the most of his position: in charge of billeting displaced families from inner cities into Home County houses - the owners of which can well afford to line his pockets.

ABC-Brideshead

Charles Ryder is back at Brideshead. But which member of the Flyte family is he seeking to get his paws on this time?

I feel the skull should be encrusted with diamonds if Rex Mottram's present to Julia of a pet tortoise is to be referenced .

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Off to Neutralia (Spain) on a freebie. But even Scott-King, dimmest of classical scholars, knows that the official tributes to a long dead Latin poet, Bellorius, are a cover for something else.

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Love is in the air as two morticians, Mr Joyboy and Dennis Barlow, pound into dust the skull and other cremated bones of poor Aimée Thanatogenos.

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Helena, the daughter of a British King in the time of the Roman Empire, goes to the Holy Land in search of the true cross on which Jesus was crucified. But does she come back with the very skull of Jesus? Seems I have forgotten what happens in this novel.

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Guy Crouchback joins the Halberdiers, intent on fighting for his country and for personal honour. In action for the first time, his brigadier comes back from a bloody skirmish on the West African coast with a 'coconut'. Next, fellow-junior officer Apthorpe dies, but not before Crouchback promises to deliver his gear - minus the blown-up Thunderbox - to 'Chatty' Corner.

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Miles Plastic has been brought up by the state. He burns down buildings and is fascinated by the beard on the face of the otherwise conventionally beautiful Clara. When she has her facial hair surgically removed, Plastic has recourse to the flinty flame in his pocket.

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Guy Crouchback transfers to the Commandos and trains with fellow officers on an island off the West Coast of Scotland. However, it's in the Mediterranean that 8th Commando is to see action, in the evacuation of Crete. In the resulting shambles, the self-serving Ivor Claire no more brings honour to the regiment than the cowardly Major Hound.

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The new cover suggests lines from novel spoken b the nagging insect voices of Goneril and Regan:

"He's got a most peculiar sense of humour. He's a most peculiar man. Queer, aren't you Gilbert? Come out of your wooden hut, you old queer."

"If you ask me, Gilbert drinks. If you ask me he's been
sent on this ship as a cure."

It's down to Mr. Pinfold to rise above the accusing voices.

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Guy Crouchback fights his way to the end of the war. He has left his 'Sword of Honour' principles behind, but maybe he can still save some Roman Catholics in Yugoslavia. Also, his ex-wife has been killed in the London blitz, but her child by fellow junior officer 'Trimmer', has survived and needs Crouchback's help. Honour survives after all?

And that's the lot.

If this exercise works, it's because death and absurdity are central to all Waugh's books. Mortality provides the darkness at the centre of them, but Waugh's sense of humour lights up that darkness and creates something three-dimensional out of it.




Notes

1) Thanks to @retroculturati for tweeting the cover of
A Burnt-Out Case by Graham Greene the other day. Said cover was designed in 1963 by artist Paul Hogarth, whose passionate engagement with Greene's work and travels can be read about on several pages of retroculturati's website, including here.

2) I have been asked whether this page is a joke. I wouldn't say it was a joke, as there are serious concerns behind it. But it's not literally true: Penguin do not intend to reissue a set of Evelyn Waugh books all with the same cover. Though, of course, that's what they did from 1938 to some time in the 1950s. They issued Evelyn Waugh novels with the same cover, though the penguin depicted went through minor variations as Penguin anguished over its corporate image, its branding.