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« A Study of Reading Habits | Main | Not a funny gene in his body »


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Mike Schilling

I can't see that Waugh *devolved* into misanthropy -- even _Decline and Fall_ was misanthropic, and _A Handful of Dust_ far more so (unless you think its colossal misogyny leaves no room for misanthropy in general.) That's part of what gives them spice, like the cosmic pessimism at the heart of the Hitchhiker's Guide.

The books I can't go near are the Sword of Honour trilogy, which contends that Britain fought the Nazis only because the Reds duped them into it.


Amazing the lengths people go, trying to justify prejudice and what they imagine is *righteous* indignation. Several writers have presented such an ugly smug personality to the world that I can not see the beauty others find in their work.
Having only read "Brideshead Revisited" (Waugh) and a few books by Martin Amis, not his father, I can not respond to your argument with any authority. (Martin Amis has always seemed full of himself, but many writers tend toward that; his later books have not interested me as much as his very early ones.)And Hitchens has never caught my interest. Overall I heartily agree with you. But sometimes a piece writing far transcends the writer, which is mysterious.
When judging writers, though, I harbor much "sympathy for the devil." In my experience, writing is truly maddening and often dangerous.


Alas for Hitchens. a lifelong contrarian gone to pot--a man who loves a good fight above all else and who, having exhausted all possible fist-fights with the right, and then with the left, is now riding out the sad remains of his career beating the crap out of himself.

As someone at TAPPED pointed out, it's not that hard to imagine the dark and filthy reasons he keeps writing stuff like this, but it's more difficult to understand why a place like Vanity Fair would give him a stage.

Looking forward to part two.



Nice piece, I've taken the liberty of linking to it here.

Kevin Wolf

I used to enjoy Hitchens when he wrote for the Nation - before the sliding rightward, or downward perhaps, and his firing himself from the magazine because his colleagues didn't want to bomb the shit out of Iraq.

I quite admired his Mother Theresa book, which showed her for what she was - but it's too bad his skepticism about religious figures as political figures has turned into lazy comments such as the Pope pap above.

Hichens has simply lost it so I tend to avoid him now, while enjoying the occasional smackdown from the likes of Alexander Cockburn (of the Nation and CounterPunch).


Loved the post and am looking forward to part two.

James Wolcott

For diplomatic reasons, I must recuse myself from discussing that deposit of red kryptonite known as Christopher Hitchens, but I would urge the Lancer not to turn up his nose at Bridehead Revisited, which is beautifully written, funny, and boasting some of Waugh's best characters (Ryder's father, played to pickled perfection by Gielgud in the miniseries, and the aesthete-dandy Anthony Blanche, whose stuttering words of warning turn out to be prophetic). When I first read Brideshead, I brought to it a lot of antipathy left over from Edmund Wilson's famous pan of the novel (he considered it a tutti-frutti Catholic fairy tale), which I agreed with at the time. But BR is the only novel of Waugh's I can re-read and re-read without ever tiring of it because the mood and atmosphere deepen, the sense of mortality. (Whereas the comedy and social caricature of his most anarchic novels--Vile Bodies, say--turn brittle and remote with the passing years.)

As for the Sword of Honour trilogy, it has a literary cult following that I've never understood, finding its hero the most appalling priggish shit. The three military volumes of Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time are also the weakest of the twelve. Go fig.

Mike Schilling

As for the Sword of Honour trilogy, it has a literary cult following that I've never understood, finding its hero the most appalling priggish shit.

To be fair to Waugh, I think he knew that. The scene where Guy Crouchback tries to seduce his ex-wife (because the Church still recognizes the marriage, so from his and their point of view it's licit marital sex) is painfully funny for just that reason.


When you read about Waugh, did you read about the bananas? for me it summed up everything about the man. Son Auberon Waugh told a story about his family, during the stringent rationing after WW II, actually managing to get some bananas. Evelyn ate every last one of these precious items in front of his distressed and yearning children, who hadn't seen fresh fruit in weeks. Yeah, he was a thoroughly detestable person. But I agree with Mr. Wolcott, Brideshead Revisited is well worth your time, with more jokes at the expense of Catholicism than you might imagine. (I remember one character at the end of the novel, in discussing the last rites, blithely says she'd been told if the priest got there while the body was still warm, absolution still counted.)

M.A. Peel

I don't memorize poetry or lines from novels easily, and I have always admired those who can. The one exception for me is a line from BR that seared into my brain on the first reading: "I could tell him, too, that to know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom." Waugh--much more pleasant to muse upon then CH.

The Heretik

Um, Larkin? Well it's true he said a poem was best experienced on the page and not necessarily in voice. But of his pages, while some were bitter (or some might say pointed), some were also choice.


Down stucco sidestreets,
Where light is pewter
And afternoon mist
Brings lights on in shops
Above race-guides and rosaries,
A funeral passes.

The hearse is ahead,
But after there follows
A troop of streetwalkers
In wide flowered hats,
Leg-of-mutton sleeves,
And ankle-length dresses.

There is an air of great friendliness,
As if they were honouring
One they were fond of;
Some caper a few steps,
Skirts held skilfully
(Someone claps time),

And of great sadness also.
As they wend away
A voice is heard singing
Of Kitty, or Katy,
As if the name meant once
All love, all beauty.

Where light is pewter, some good may yet exist, even as old images grow moist and fade into that mist.


Alcoholics bask in self-pity and self-centeredness, never realizing what crushing bores they are.

Jim Tourtelott

One curious note in the hit piece on JP II is Hitchens's upbraiding of the Pope for opposing the first Gulf War, a conflict Hitchens himself loudly and publicly opposed. While now he tells us it was in Augustinian terms a just war, that was certainly not the position he took, for example, in his famous television squabble with Charlton Heston.

One of Hitchens's specialties, years ago, was the evisceration of elderly gents, radical in their youth, who spent their mature years spouting what he once called "John Bull-shit." He was always particularly good at sticking it to Paul Johnson. I wonder if he has ever called Johnson to apologize.

Nanuk of the North

Say what you like about Hitchens (please, say it!) but he sure is fun to hate.


Surely Hitchens opposed the 1991 Gulf War?


Amis's late novel, The Old Devils, is well worth reading - not exactly *non*-misanthropic, but a lot more humane than what led up to it, and pretty funny too.


I adore the great English monsters. They are so much funnier and fiercer than our own. And they don't march around the world mucking things up. Why we don't have satirists to match is beyond me. (I do try.)


There is something parasitic about those English public shcool ponces whose only skill in life is what they learned in prep school. They learned an ascerbic turn of phrase which we are invited to accept as wit. They learned to juggle verbal inanity as if it constitutes something real in the world. They learned to fall back on the comfort of their class certainties like self satisfied infants in a foetal comfort zone.
They should get off their fat arses and try working for a living; for a month or two at least.
I can't despise them more than I do....I've tried.

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