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CHARACTERS The Sword of Honour Trilogy

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. 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 tragedy for almost three decadesHitchens lays the ground for this conclusion by pointing out that Guy Crouchback the protagonist of the trilogy has to be taken as a stand in for Waugh himself since he s given the same day month and year of birth as was the author s And he expresses views about things that happened in the areas of Europe to which Waugh was posted during WW II that when I read the book I assumed to be ironic in the extreme but perhaps actually reflected the author s own thinking For example Hitchens uotes from Waugh s private journal The Russians now propose a partition of East Prussia It is a fact that now the Germans represent Europe against the world and continues The long and didactic closing stages of Sword of Honour are amazingly blatant in the utterance they give to this rather unutterable thought Guy Crouchback regards the Yugoslav partisans as mere ciphers for Stalin sympathizes with the local Fascists and admires the discipline of the German occupiers We know from many published memoirs that Waugh himself was eventually removed from this theater of operations for precisely that sort of insubordinationnevertheless to segue into my original thoughts on the trilogyI enjoyed the novels tremendously Many laugh out loud moments but there s a serious story here too and yes it is somewhat somber as it says on the dust jacket Very unusually for me once I started reading the trilogy I read nothing else until finishing the whole thing 700 pages later I have the Everyman s Library edition which is a really first class book I read the introduction by Frank Kermode after the novels found it very interesting It s largely about the Catholic aristocracy of which Waugh was a converted member There s a real nice one page bibliography of books about Waugh and a very cool Chronology 14 pages long of the events in Waugh s life which places them in two different contexts Literary and Historical EventsJust writing this short review less than three years after reading the book makes me want to read them again I guess that s a good recommendationit would be hard to reread without taking Hitchens thoughts into account however Previous review The ConuestNext review Cinderella Man the story of the boxer James BraddockNewer review Down on the Farm gentle humor from the Minnesota northwestPrevious library review The Hobbit There and Back Again TolkienNext library review The Once and Future King TH White

SUMMARY ☆ E-book, or Kindle E-pub ✓ Evelyn Waugh

The Sword of Honour Trilogy

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. 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 you 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

Evelyn Waugh ✓ 9 REVIEW

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 f. 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 yet 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 you you 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 yet 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 has 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 years 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 you know really good at sex and then O outrageous spoiler Waugh kills her off with a late war German buzz bomb Nazi ex machina you 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 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 tour yes 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 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 small you 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 you 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

10 thoughts on “The Sword of Honour Trilogy

  1. says:

    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 Adole

  2. says:

    1 Men At Arms 3This first part of what was originally a trilogy was uite uneven for me Guy Crouchback is a well intentione

  3. says:

    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 absur

  4. says:

    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 divorcé 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

  5. says:

    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

  6. says:

    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 v

  7. says:

    The dystopian and satirical world of and unprepared England World War IIIf this were just a review of the ineffective jaundiced sarcastic snobbi

  8. says:

    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 perip

  9. says:

    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

  10. says:

    This is Evelyn Waugh's final edited version of the Sword of Honour trilogy If you're interested in reading the trilogy you 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

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Tessa Young is an 18 year old college student with a simple life, excellent grades, and a sweet boyfriend She always has things planned out ahead of time, until she meets a rude boy named Harry, with too many tattoos and piercings who shatters her plans.