Evelyn Waugh's short fiction reveals in miniaturized perfection the elements that made him the greatest satirist of the twentieth century. The stories collected here range from delightfully barbed portraits of the British upper classes to an alternative ending to Waugh's novel A Handful of Dust; from a missing chapter in the life of Charles Ryder, the nostalgic hero of Brideshead Revisited, to a plot-packed morality tale that Waugh composed at a very tender age; from an epistolary lark in the voice of a young lady of leisure to a darkly comic tale of scandal in a remote (and imaginary) African outpost.The Complete Stories is a dazzling distillation of Waugh's genius-abundant evidence that one of the twentieth century's most admired and enjoyed English novelists was also a master of the short form.
"It seems to me that Nature, like a lazy author, will round off abruptly into a short story what she obviously intended to be the opening of a novel," observes the Oxford-dropout narrator of "A House of Gentlefolk," and the same might be said of a handful of the 40-odd short pieces in this lavishly entertaining collection that resemble sketches and false starts toward longer works. Among them are two intriguing chapters of Work Suspended, a novel that Waugh abandoned in the mid-1940s, and his Oxford writings and juvenilia. But at his best, Waugh is a blazing practitioner of the short story, for it proves an ideal framework for a style that eschews the psychoanalytical investigations of modernist writers like Joyce or Woolf for taut social commentary, stylized characters and hilarious, dramatic conceits. Few aspects of life in England between the wars escape Waugh's blistering attention, be they the colonial blunderings of innocents abroad, the manners of genteel country families or the antics of his own peers, such as the supercilious Bright Young Thing in "Out of Depth" who antagonizes a magician he meets at a London dinner party and is transported to the 25th century. Waugh loves visiting cruelties upon his characters, like the cuckolded London dilettante in "The Man Who Liked Dickens" who funds an ill-fated expedition to the Amazon, is imprisoned by a Kurtz-like chief and forced to read Dickens to his captor. His misanthropy notwithstanding, Waugh is so adept at punchy openings, deadpan zingers and wickedly ironic situations, and so graceful is his use of language, that this volume should serve, at a time of renewed interest in the short story, as primer on the infinite possibilities of the form. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Little, Brown and Company
September 12, 1999
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