Miniaturization and anticlimax in Evelyn Waugh's 'Sword of Honor.' (author)
Underlying most of the critical commentary that the trilogy has attracted to date is an assumption that I intend, in the following discussion, to modify: namely, that Sword of Honour, like the more openly nostalgic and sentimental Brideshead Revisited, constitutes an almost complete departure from the manic farce in Waugh's early fiction. The trilogy, critics have generally agreed, represents Waugh in a more somber, morally engaged, and forthrightly Catholic phase. Here, the author no longer presents bizarre or grotesque situations from a seemingly detached perspective (as in, for example, A Handful of Dust) but adopts fiction as, one could say, a "sword of honour," as a means of openly attacking the modern age and explicitly asserting an alternative set of values. In The Ironic World of Evelyn Waugh (1992), Frederick L. Beaty has refined this contrast between Waugh's fiction of the 1930s and his later work. Distinguishing between irony, which, in Harold Bloom's words, "undermines clarities [and] opens up vistas of chaos," and satire, which supposedly posits a discernable moral position, Beaty characterizes the novels prior to Brideshead as the work of a master ironist, who "stands apart from his creation[s] virtually to the extent of being an amoral observer" (29-30). The later novels, on the other hand, are works of satire that merely use "traces" of "irony as a technical device." Their "dominant world view is no longer ironic" (9).
I essentially agree that Sword of Honour offers, in Beaty's terms, a satirical vision of World War II. However, Waugh's use of irony - even as a so-called "technical device" - in this later work seems to me much more intricate and extensive than generally recognized. And, while subdued in comparison with Waugh's novels of the 30s, the trilogy does present more than a few "vistas of chaos," as Waugh's restless irony turns from target to target, at times threatening to subsume the entire world into its vision of futility and betrayal. Critical analyses of the trilogy have tended, up to this point, to examine the text primarily in terms of plot and character development.(2) I would like to take a different approach and to explore the issue of irony in Sword of Honour in two specific areas: language, considered here both as a medium and as a subject of the narration, and setting, or, more specifically, Waugh's presentation of physical space. What ultimately emerges from this less linear and less plot-bound consideration is the recognition that the trilogy not only attacks modern warfare (and midcentury English culture) with more pervasive irony than previously suspected, but also lampoons war fiction itself, subverting every imaginable convention. An examination of language and setting also suggests the myriad ways in which the trilogy undermines its own seemingly expansive structure, continually collapsing inward to form an anti-epic - the perfect form, as it turns out, for the protagonist's painful journey toward the renunciation of violence and "just" military causes.
Central to my reading is the assertion that Sword of Honour engages the reader, on many different levels, in a recurring - and perversely compelling - cycle of raised expectation and disappointment. On the level of plot, this pattern is obvious enough. We see, for example, that Waugh has filled the trilogy with false alarms and false starts, from the rumors of a German landing on the British coast - a contingency enthusiastically prepared for by the Halberdiers in vol. 1 (especially by Apthorpe, who witnesses the arrival of imaginary enemy parachutists) - to the terrible moment, repeated several times in the narrative, when Guy and his fellow soldiers are forced to return to port after having embarked, and psychologically prepared, for combat. "In the war of attrition which waged ceaselessly against the human spirit," Waugh writes of army life, "anticlimax was a heavy weapon" (339).
Yet Waugh has done more than simply create anticlimaxes that mirror the "screw-ups" or "SNAFUS" endemic to mass modern armies (as Paul Fussell suggests, 26-29). He has turned the preoccupations of conventional war novels upside down. Hoping to lead men in battle, Waugh's middle-aged protagonist endures a series of desk jobs; he sustains his only "wound" (a twisted knee) while playing football with a waste basket; and his closest brush with death is a plane crash that occurs a "half mile" from where he is standing (687). The plane crash episode has been criticized by Christopher Sykes, among others, as "add[ing] little if anything" to the trilogy (428). In terms of plot, perhaps so. Yet like the countless other instances of mechanical failure or human error that Waugh presents, it does contribute significantly to the ironic patterning of incident and imagery. Here, one is reminded that nearly all the deaths and injuries in Sword of Honour - a title rendered ironic both by the dishonor that pervades the Allied war effort (according to Waugh) and by the relative absence of martial violence - are ridiculous, the results of clumsiness or incompetence, of almost anything, in short, but enemy fire. Apthorpe, supposedly a veteran of the African bush, dies from a tropical disease, which Guy ignorantly exacerbated by presenting his friend with a bottle of whiskey. Tommy Blackhouse slips on the deck of a troopship and breaks his leg, thus missing out on the debacle at Crete. In a parallel passage, Ivor Claire injures his leg during an encampment outside Alexandria by tripping on a tent rope while pursuing "Arab marauders," a phrase that in itself contributes to the ever-reductive irony of the trilogy: the "marauders," one suspects, are petty thieves or children (350). Only Virginia and Peregrine, two civilians, die at German hands, blown up by a random buzz bomb.
Anticlimax occurs in subtler ways as well, tying even the briefest of episodes or passages of description into this pattern of inexorable banality and letdown. A passage chosen almost at random from the Crete section of Officers and Gentlemen serves as an illustration. After witnessing growing signs of disorganization within the beleaguered British forces, "Fido" Hound and Guy finally reach Hookforce headquarters (predictably, a shambles), where they are warned to take cover from an enemy aircraft:
The little, leisurely reconnaissance plane grew from a glint of silver to a recognizable machine. It flew low above the road, dwindled, turned, grew again, turned its attention to the lorry and fired a burst, wide by twenty yards, circled, mounted and at length disappeared to seawards into the silent quattrocento heaven. (404)
Characteristically, this passage promises the kind of vicarious thrills normally offered by war fiction, only to deliver anticlimactic farce. Each detail helps to deflate the drama. The dreaded aircraft, for example, is not one of the German dive bombers - whose more lethal sortees mostly occur offstage - but a miniature "reconnaissance plane." Likewise, the enemy gunner who sends Guy and Fido scrambling for cover misses his large, defenseless target by 20 yards. Through its satirical inversion of conventional war writing, the passage prepares us for the climactic anticlimax in the final volume: Ritchie-Hook's death while leading a pathetic assault on a "little block-house" manned not by the Germans but by inept Croat nationalists (677).
Although Waugh's depiction of the British disaster at Crete has been compared with Stendhal's portrayal of the French retreat from Waterloo or Hemingway's description of the rout at Caporetto, Waugh refused, I contend, to write a historical epic. Taken as a whole, the trilogy offers an impressive panorama, its "theater of operations" ranging from London to Africa, from the Hebrides to Yugoslavia, but the trend in most scenes is toward the miniature, the collapse of seemingly gigantic events or profound historical moments into small-scale farce. Thus, in his only direct confrontation with the enemy on Crete - the Germans remain virtually invisible throughout the trilogy - Guy sees not a tank, or a detachment of troops, but a motorcyclist in a "grey uniform and a close-fitting helmet" who stops once in sight of the British, turns around, and then speeds off (411). Similarly, the London blitz, featured in the opening of Officers and Gentlemen, is reduced to a painting - "Pure Turner" remarks Guy (237). Or take the alleged German force that cuts short the demonstration battle staged for visiting Allied generals in vol. 3: Inevitably, the column of panzers reported by the partisans turns out to be "two scout cars" (692). Perhaps the most striking instance of miniaturization, however, is the transformation of Roger of Waybroke's "sword of honour," in the same volume, into a tiny emblem on a shoulder patch, the SHAEF insignia - a menacing symbol of the geopolitical expedience that Waugh believes to have characterized the Allied war effort.
Beyond such progressions from large to small, what we might term satiric implosions, miniatures themselves enter the text in revealing ways. For instance, Guy's Uncle Peregrine, an infamous bore, collects, in addition to rare books and "bibelots," unspecified knickknacks referred to only as "miniatures" (498). This irrelevant activity mirrors not only Peregrine's self-absorption and frivolity but also the reduction in scale experienced by the Crouchback family in general, as well as the Catholic gentry whose crumbling values they symbolize. Equally telling are the activities of the model-building department at Hazardous Offensive Operations Headquarters, an organization housed inside the Royal Victorian Institute, a forgotten museum (501). Assigned, ostensibly, to construct replicas of invasion beaches on the continent, these "disciples of William Morris" spend most of their time painstakingly assembling a scale model of the building they inhabit (502). Thus, the irrelevance of the museum, which is "little frequented," is reproduced in the bizarre departments of HOOH, with its resident witch doctor and toy builders, and then further reproduced, as if ad infinitum, in the model. As we will see, such a density of ironic significance typifies Waugh's treatment of space and scale.
One could easily trace this pattern of anticlimax and miniaturization to Waugh's own, now legendary, frustrations and vicissitudes as a wartime officer. An intertextual dynamic operates, however, beside the biographical - the two perhaps blurring into one - as the narrative evokes and then inverts the conventions of war literature, particularly the literature of the Great War. Since Waugh joined the British Army, as Andrew Rutherford points out (114-16), in part to emulate the generation of 1914, to subject himself to the "test" that he missed 20 years earlier, it is important to remember that his conception of the Great War, the conception that drove him to enlist, was essentially textual, derived from books such as Guy Chapman's World War I miscellany Vain Glory or David Jones's In Parenthesis, both of which Waugh reviewed in 1937. Indeed, Waugh's career as a novelist was intertwined with the literary legacy of the Great War from the beginning, his first novel Decline and Fall (1928) appearing the same year as Edmund Blunden's Undertones of War, R. C. Sherriff's Journey's End, and Erich Maria Remarque's Im Westen nichts Neues, works that marked the advent of an international boom in World War I literature.
Therefore, Barbara Sothill's ruminations in Put Out More Flags (1942) perhaps suggest a conscious intertextuality at the heart of Waugh's writings on war. Imagining the fate of her brother, Basil Seal, in the opening days of World War II, Barbara falls back on the literary imagery of World War I:
She thought of him in terms of the war books she had read. She saw him as Siegfried Sassoon, an infantry subaltern in a mud-bogged trench, standing to at dawn, his eyes on his wrist watch, waiting for zero hour; ... she saw him as T. E. Lawrence and Rupert Brooke. (13)
The Crouchback family's participation in the Great War could not be further divorced from these textual icons: Guy's older brother Gervase died, we are told, immediately after arriving at the Western Front, "picked off by a sniper ... fresh and clean and unwearied, as he followed the duckboard across the mud, carrying his blackthorn stick, on his way to report to company headquarters"(3) (15); Peregrine, true to form, contracted dysentery "on his first day in the Dardanelles and was obliged to spend the rest of the war as ADC to a colonial governor who repeatedly but vainly cabled for his recall" (597). Just as the anticlimactic destinies of Guy's brother and uncle turn the mythos of the Great War upside down, the trilogy as a whole denies the reader the excitement, however horrifying, offered by texts such as Im Westen nichts Neues, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, Good-bye to All That, or the Seven Pillars of Wisdom. In place of the drama of "zero hour," Waugh gives us a narrative with no battles at all - unless one includes the fiasco at Dakar, the rout at Crete, the absurd "Operation Popgun," or the farcical skirmish featured at the conclusion of Unconditional Surrender - and little violence, a narrative whose language and settings reduce wartime experience to a stream of anticlimactic banalities. Here, martial glory dies not in the trenches but in the office.
A passage from Unconditional Surrender, the most concentrated of the three volumes, suggests the subtlety and ironic precision of Waugh's narrative voice. Appearing near the end of the section devoted to the attack staged for Allied observers, the passage describes the moment when Guy discovers Ben Ritchie-Hook, accompanied by the photographer Sneiffel, at the head of the assault:
[Guy] raised his binoculars and recognized the incongruous pair; the first was Ritchie-Hook. He was signaling fiercely, summoning to the advance the men behind him, who were already slinking away ... (692)
The key phrase here is "summoning to the advance," a martial expression neatly counterbalanced, right down to the number of syllables, by the final three words, "already slinking away." The first phrase casts Ritchie-Hook as a model, heroic British officer, perhaps rather incongruously given the brigadier's suicidal love of violence, or "biffing," and his (literally) over-the-top exploits in the last war, which include returning from a trench raid with a pair of severed German heads. Since the phrase "summoning to the advance" could also describe the actions of a bugler, such as Gunga Din, it evokes the martial literature of the New Imperialism, including the adolescent fiction of G. A. Henty (programmatic works with titles such as With Wolfe in Canada or With Roberts to Pretoria), the Napoleonic novels of Conan Doyle, and the barracks poetry and fiction of Kipling. Also evoked is Waugh's Captain Truslove, a fictional fiction of Edwardian flavor (indeed, a seeming composite of characters from the three authors mentioned above), whose heroics Guy absorbs as a child and continues to remember fondly as an adult. As Waugh demonstrates, the values evoked by the phrase "summoning to the advance" may have a lingering significance within the tradition-conscious Halberdiers, whose formal dinner service (complete with "silver palm trees" and "bowed silver savages" ) suggests their anachronistic perpetuation of the imperialistic heroism embodied in Truslove, but they mean nothing amid the dishonorable arena of Yugoslavia. As a result, Ritchie-Hook's heroic gesture is appropriately undercut by the cowardly response of the partisans, seen "slinking away."
Another example of deflationary language - here, a matter of sentence length, of style, rather than word choice - occurs when the narrator describes the initially successful, but inevitably doomed, Finnish resistance to the Russian invasion of 1939:
The newspapers, hastily scanned, were full of Finnish triumphs. Ghostly ski troops, Guy read, swept through the sunless Arctic forests harassing the mechanized divisions of the Soviet who had advanced with massed bands and portraits of Stalin expecting a welcome, whose prisoners were ill-equipped, underfed, quite ignorant of whom they were fighting and why. English forces, delayed only by a few diplomatic complications, were on their way to help. Russian might had proved to be an illusion. Mannerheim held the place in English hearts won in 1914 by King Albert of the Belgians. Then quite suddenly it appeared that the Finns were beaten. (133)
While the passage detailing Ritchie-Hook's final moments relies for its irony on the connotative resonance of a time-honored martial expression, the account of the Finnish defeat utilizes a stylistic juxtaposition to achieve a sardonic effect. Note how the narrator piles one dramatic, hopeful detail on top of another, all presented amid relatively complex sentences, only to collapse the entire structure with a terse, intentionally bland and matter-of-fact, statement: "Then quite suddenly it appeared that the Finns were beaten." The eerie ski troops, the alleged ineptness of the Soviets, British sympathy - all prove to be sound and fury signifying nothing. Through his style, Waugh frequently inflates, and then punctures, the sense of drama that Guy - and the reader - expects of war experience.
A similarly reductive juxtaposition occurs in the collision between Guy's personal vocabulary of war, imbued with chivalric and liturgical significance, and the degraded, abbreviated usages of the modern British Army. This linguistic battle begins in the opening chapters of Men at Arms - though the title itself stems from chivalric discourse - as the narrator, at this point centered in the protagonist's consciousness, uses deliberately archaic diction to reflect Guy's naivete. Referring to the Russian-German alliance of 1939, which prompts Guy's return to England and his commitment to the war effort, the narrator remarks, "The enemy at last was plain in view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast off. It was the Modern Age in arms" (10). The language in this passage subtly underpins two of Guy's weaknesses: his chivalric nostalgia, suggested by phrases such as "plain in view" and "in arms," and his simplistic conception of the coming war as a contest between Christianity and the "huge and hateful" Mammon represented by the atheistic nations of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. These chivalric and religious sentiments find additional expression in Guy's parting words at Roger of Waybroke's tomb, as the modern man at arms asks the medieval knight to pray for their "endangered kingdom" (11).
In contrast with Guy's romantic idiom, which defines the war as a lofty crusade, stands the coldly utilitarian bureaucratese of the British military, a language best illustrated by the cryptic description of Guy spit out by the "Electric Personnel Selector," an early computer, in vol. 3: "A/Ty. Captain Crouchback, G.,R.C.H., att. H.O.O. HQ" (505). Like Robert Graves in Good-bye to All That (1929), Waugh delights in parodying the ridiculously truncated or patently euphemistic usages of military discourse, as when Tommy Blackhouse, delirious after breaking his leg, delivers an especially demented set of orders to the soldiers about to land at Crete:
Forward headquarters consisting of BM and IO will report to Lt. Col. Prentice at B Commando HQ and give him written orders from GHQ. ME defining the special role of Hookforce in harassing enemy L of C ... Lt. Col. Prentice will report to G.O.C. Creforce and present these orders. (392)
Equally hilarious is the "monotone, liturgical incantation" delivered by a radio operator during a typically disastrous training exercise in Men at Arms. Once again, the text brings the narrator's ecclesiastical idiom - "liturgical incantation" - into collision with the vapid discourse of modern armies: "Hullo Nan, Hullo Nan. Report my signals. Over," drones the radio operator, attempting to reach several units who are hopelessly lost. "Hullo Nan. Hullo King. Nothing heard. Out. Hullo Able. Am hearing you strength one, inference five. Out. Hullo all stations." (175). And so on.(4)
The monosyllabic slang that characterizes wartime speech represents still another example of linguistic miniaturization, as the narrative moves from Guy's expansive diction, which dominates the opening of the first volume, to terse usages that trivialize death or disaster and render the war increasingly banal. Such language permeates the trilogy, constantly vying with Guy's more grandiloquent discourse. Virginia Troy, for example, describes the victims of German air raids as "blitzed" (553). Parachutists with malfunctioning equipment become "roman candles" (570). Egyptians are "Gyppos" (354). Yugoslav partisans are "Jugs" (702). Persons imprisoned and executed by the partisans, such as the Kanyis, are "jugged" (705). Incompetents are "duds" (480). Aggressive commanders are "fizzers" (469). Needless forms are "bumf" (429). A mistake or misunderstanding is a "balls-up" (82). Reprimands are "rockets" (108). Letters "sealed with a loving kiss" are signed with the grotesque acronym "SWALK" (230). Waugh could not resist associating such debased language with the Americans in the trilogy (whose names, including that of the aptly titled "Loot," are appropriately hideous), especially the three loathsome journalists introduced in Officers and Gentlemen: Scab Dunz, Bum Schlum, and Joe Mulligan. Through their abrupt titles and craggy manner, such characters resemble the similarly inhospitable Isles of "Mugg," "Muck," "Eigg," and "Rum" (274-75) featured in Guy's surreal Hebridean sojourn, while their no-less-truncated speech consists of colloquial cliches - "So what the hell?," "Is that a fact?," and "What's the story?" (443-44) - that reflect the debased condition of modern journalism and American English.
More disturbing than wartime abbreviations, jargon, and slang, however, are instances of language intentionally misapplied, as when, in Unconditional Surrender, Frank De Souza switches the titles of two partisan units from "brigade" to "company" in order to exaggerate their effectiveness. If Guy is an intentionally tepid version of Waugh himself, lacking (like Siegfried Sassoon's George Sherston) his inventor's artistic abilities, then De Souza represents Waugh's frenetic creative energy severed from any corresponding moral restraint. Indeed, although ostensibly a communist, De Souza delights in arbitrarily assigning meaning and moves through the trilogy as a kind of rhetorical anarchist, utilizing his formidable powers of language to create havoc. In Ludovic, reintroduced in the third volume as the commandant of a parachute school, De Souza finds his greatest inspiration, dubbing the otherworldly commandant "Major Dracula," and concocting fantastic explanations for Ludovic's bizarre behavior - explanations delivered with so much artistic and rhetorical finesse, however, that they envelope the entire school in an atmosphere of "mystery and dread" (133). Through De Souza's overwrought inventiveness and belabored black humor, the trilogy momentarily prefigures the surreal world of Joseph Heller's Catch-22. Even before Ludovic makes his somnambulistic entrance, for example, De Souza manages to terrify the other trainees - who are already fearful of becoming "roman candles" - with conspiracy theories worthy of Yossarian at his most justifiably paranoid. No one has seen the commandant, De Souza explains, because
[h]e's being held prisoner. There's been a palace plot and his staff are selling the rations on the black market. Or do you think the whole place has been taken over by the Gestapo? Where could parachutists most safely land? At a parachute training base. They shot everyone except the commandant. They have to keep him to sign the bumf. Meanwhile they get particulars of all our agents. There s that instructor who s always fooling with the camera. Says he's making "action studies" to correct faulty positions in jumping. Of course what he's really doing is making records of us all. They'll be microfilmed and sent out via Portugal. Then the Gestapo will have a complete portrait gallery and they can pick us up as soon as we show our faces. (571-72)
Yet De Souza's fantasies, unlike Heller's, are not intended as satire: They are merely brilliant lies, expertly crafted (note the devious insertion of "of course"), but serving only to display their creator's extravagant imagination and to disorient his listeners. Thus, his tale of imminent capture by the Gestapo, a facetious death wish, is as empty as Ludovic's novel of that title: Both narratives mask the soullessness of their authors behind a glittery surface of artifice and aestheticism.
The effects of Ian Kilbannock's misapplied language are even more serious. While Guy's war experience steadily shrinks, moving from the grandiose to the trivial, Kilbannock's propaganda, like De Souza's fictions, works in the reverse, inflating irrelevant or banal situations into high drama. Hence, to cite the most spectacular example of this willful severance of signifiers from the signified, the farcical "Operation Popgun" becomes, through the agency of Kilbannock's typewriter, a daring assault on Fortress Europe, and the cowardly Trimmer - whose name suggests the expeditious cuts and adjustments made by his unscrupulous creator - an exemplar of British manhood.(5) A betrayer of the traditional class structure (it is he who unleashes the upstart air marshall on Bellamy's and who reinvents a cockney as the ultimate knight at arms), Lord Kilbannock demonstrates the obsolescence of Guy's chivalric idiom by suggesting that such language only has meaning when invoked ironically. As B. W. Wilson has pointed out,(6) Kilbannock's drunken misquotation of Hugh Latimer ("We shall this day light such a candle by God's grace in England as I trust shall never be put out" ) evokes the medieval flavor of Churchillian rhetoric amid, of course, the most ridiculous situation imaginable: a tiny raid accidentally directed against the French coast.
Waugh invites us to laugh at such lunatic corruptions of language and rhetoric - and the way that this corruption carries over into the lives of the characters - but not without bitterness, for the obliteration of factual discourse conducted by De Souza and Kilbannock represents the most alarming deflation in the trilogy, one even worse than the bizarre acronyms and jargon that have perverted the language of arms or the vulgar slang and Americanisms that Waugh presents as corroding the mother tongue: the collapse of language into an arbitrary instrument of political coercion.
Just as Waugh's language - and his presentation of language as a subject in the narrative - creates a deflationary pattern, the settings in Sword of Honour present several reductive motifs: most prominently, the collapse of large spaces into small or the clearing away of old, meaningful objects in favor of hollow forms of modernity. As James Carens implies,(7) by provocatively comparing the trilogy with Forster's Howards End and Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, Sword of Honour focuses on the issue of national destiny during a period of social upheaval (in this case wartime). To adopt Guy's medieval idiom, who will emerge from the test of World War II to rule the Kingdom of England, thus controlling and dividing its space? And, concomitantly, who will define the values of the culture as a whole? Space, then, in terms of land and interiors, assumes virtually the same importance as it does, to extend the useful Comparisons that Carens makes, in a Jane Austen novel; it is typically tied to issues of class power and responsibility.
Granted, some of the settings in the trilogy serve primarily to create comic juxtapositions, the more bizarre and unexpected the better. A good example is the Hebridean "New Castle" featured in Officers and Gentlemen. A neo-Scottish fortress, replete with "objects of furniture constructed of antlers" (288), an irrepressible bagpipe player, and blinding peat smoke, the New Castle seems to exist outside of time - hence its contradictory title - and at a surreal remove from the nearby training operations of Tommy Blackhouse's X Commando (yet another ridiculous military title). An equally outrageous contrast results from the throw-away, almost Monty Pythonesque, juxtaposition of Apthorpe's exotic Victorian safari gear, brought all the way from Africa, with the drab closets and sheds where it is hidden from Ritchie-Hook's single watchful eye. More ominous, but likewise born of Waugh's delight in the incongruous, are the rooms of Kut-al-Imara, the funereal grammar school where the Halberdiers encamp in Men at Arms; each is named after a bloodbath of World War I, including "Paschendael," "Loos," "Wipers (so spelt)," and "Anzac" (84), and thus mocks the frivolity of Guy's training during the Phoney War period of 1939.
Yet Waugh's treatment of physical space more typically reflects the steady shrinkage of all that the noble, anachronistic Crouchbacks represent. In the case of the Crouchbacks' family seat, Broome, this shrinkage is literal. Unlike Howards End - or, for that matter, Brideshead Revisited - Sword of Honour centers not on the country house but on its absence, its ghost. Broome, we learn in the first volume, is now lent to a convent, its furnishings auctioned off to pay creditors, while Guy's father occupies two rooms in the nearby Marine Hotel. By the middle of Officers and Gentleman, this space has collapsed into a single compartment, as Mr. Crouchback, informed by Mrs. Vavasour of the Cuthberts' scheme to evict him (so that they may capitalize on the wartime housing shortage), relinquishes his sitting room. The contest over room allocation within the Marine Hotel, in which Waugh pits a reduced squire against plebeian usurpers, abetted by a housing officer (the embodiment of intrusive, liberal government), belongs among the trilogy's many parodies of warfare, which range from the mock-heroic struggle between Apthorpe and Ritchie-Hook, over the mock-Promethean thunderbox, to X Commando's machine gun massacre of seals and deer on the Isle of Mugg. More importantly, however, the episode presents the class dynamics of Sword of Honour in microcosm: The traditional landed classes, represented by the waning Crouchbacks (as opposed to the more resilient but less chivalrous smart set of Bellamy's), are, we see, shrinking in the face of postagrarian values, wartime class leveling, and populist politics.(8)
True, Mr. Crouchback does repossess his sitting room, but only after the evacuees have returned to the cities, leaving the opportunistic Cuthberts with little option but to satisfy their original tenants. Nor is this the final stage in Guy's father's claustrophobic descent from the spacious rooms of Broome and the power and freedom that they once represented. From his cramped quarters in the Marine Hotel, be is eventually moved to the "little burying ground" beside the medieval church in Matchet, where, the narrator tellingly remarks, there "was not room for many [mourners] to stand" (541). Not surprisingly, the church itself mirrors, once again in spatial terms, the Crouchbacks' decline and the wasting away of English Catholicism: "the nave and chancel are of Anglican use," while only "the north isle and adjoining burying ground are the property of the lord of the manor" (534).
Moreover, it is fitting, given the trilogy's reductive motifs, that Guy winds up at the close of the final volume in the "Lesser House" or "Little Hall" (491) of the once-expansive Crouchback estate, while Ludovic, whose decadent excesses in the final volume parody Guy's earlier withdrawal from human ties, purchases Guy's previous home in Italy. The former structure signals Guy's renewed commitment to life and to the traditional responsibilities of his class, albeit on a scale greatly reduced from that of his ancestors. The latter has a more ambiguous significance. Though founded by Guy's attractive, Pre-Raphaelite grandparents, Gervase and Hermione, and described fondly by the narrator, the Crouchbacks' Italian estate assumes an ominous aura early on. It is significant, for example, that honeysuckle obscures the structure's original title, the "Villa Hermione," leading the locals to refer to the building by the less felicitous, even grotesque, appellation of "Castello Crouchback." This detail subtly prepares us for the discovery that this "place of love and joy" (9) has been perverted by Guy's self-imposed exile from England. For it is here, in a structure intended originally as a setting for "honeymoons" and "holidays" (9) (never as a substitute for the true, however diminished, Castle Crouchback in England), that Guy spends seven years brooding over his failed marriage, cut off from his surroundings and from the true meaning of his faith, never "simpatico" (13). Thus, the "Castello Crouchback," already darkened by Guy's withdrawal, will make an appropriate setting for Sir Ralph Brompton's homosexual circle - throughout Unconditional Surrender, Waugh, like Hemingway, associates homosexuality with cultural degeneration - and for Ludovic's isolating aestheticism.
Nor are the Crouchbacks alone in the shrinkage and perversion of their physical structures. Aristocratic space is threatened throughout the trilogy, both by the pressures of wartime and by the dawning Age of the Common Man, which Waugh so despised. Not unlike Broome, the Kilbannocks' family seat in Scotland, we are told in passing, "had been requisitioned and, though massive, was being eroded by soldiers. The Dowager Lady Kilbannock lived in the factor's house" (561). Likewise, vulgarity in the form of Air Marshal Beech insinuates its way into Bellamy's, Guy's once exclusively upper-class club, while Trimmer performs the same feat within the club's wartime extension: X Commando. Nor is it a coincidence that the aristocratic Ivor Clair, whom Guy naively idolizes as the "fine flower of them all" (342), wins his MC for "shooting three territorials who were trying to swamp his boat" at Dunkirk (281). In this particular example of besieged upper-class space, Waugh's irony soon turns against Clair, who has abandoned the chivalric code, and the Army, which misconstrues (as with "Operation Popgun") cowardice as valor. When Julia Stitch later remarks that Clair naturally found a "more comfortable" means of escaping from Crete than Guy's nightmarish passage - "Trust Ivor for that," she tells Guy - Waugh perhaps provides a clue that the "three territorials" at Dunkirk were not "trying to swamp his boat" at all (461, emphasis mine). Clair, a latter-day Dorian Grey, handsome but amoral, thus parallels Ludovic ("Dracula"), the working-class murderer.
Guy's disenchantment with the Army, which Clair's disgrace exacerbates, is also presented in terms of space - or, more specifically, through images of diffusion. When Guy returns to the anteroom of the Halberdier barracks following his disillusioning misadventure in West Africa, he finds that the regimental memorabilia associated with his heady days as a recruit has been removed:
It was not the room Guy had known, where he had sprained his knee on Guest Night. A dark rectangle over the fireplace marked the spot where 'The Unbroken square' had hung; the bell from the Dutch frigate, the Afridi banner, the gilt idol from Burma, the Napoleonic cuirasses, the Ashanti drum, the loving-cup from Barbados, Tipu Sultan's musket, all were gone. (245-46)
A similar image appears in connection with the Great Hall at Broome, which, in Guy's childhood, had "been hung with weapons collected in many quarters and symmetrically arranged in great steely radiations of blades and barrels" (543). "These," the narrator concludes, in yet another terse, deflationary statement, "had been sold with the rest of the furniture" (543). In both passages, we see the dispersal of objects that reflect externally Guy's romantic mental picture of war, a mental picture that is likewise cleared, by the conclusion of the trilogy, of both its medieval regalia and the late-Victorian trappings of Truslove's adventures.
By the beginning of Unconditional Surrender, Guy has himself become a piece of martial flotsam, relegated to a forgotten office in the HOOH, which "he shar[es] with a plaster reconstruction of a megalosaurus, under whose huge flanks his trestle table was invisible from the door" (501). The dinosaur image could not be more appropriate: Amid the darkening world of the final volume, with its Byzantine conspiracies and pragmatic sellouts, Guy's notions of chivalry seem prehistoric. Other objects in the office suggest a surrealistic hell: On the trestle table, for example, are "three wire trays, 'In,"Out,' and 'Pending,' all empty that afternoon - a telephone, and a jigsaw puzzle" (501). Buried deep within the Royal Victorian Institute, this silent room becomes the ultimate symbol, in spatial terms, of the gap between Guy's expansive visions of glory on the battlefield and the claustrophobic realities of modern, bureaucratized warfare.
Guy's subsequent experiences in Yugoslavia, where he indirectly aids Tito's partisans in replacing one form of totalitarianism (and anti-Semitism) with another, further confirm the importance of physical settings in the narrative. Again, images of violated or perverted structures pervade the text: The Yugoslav church where Guy prays for his dead wife, for example, "had been renovated and repainted and adorned and despoiled, neglected and cosseted through the centuries"; as with the similarly degraded chapel at Broome, only "parts" of the original structure survive; partisan police lurk outside "shunning the mystery" (668-69). Attached to an appropriately shrinking - and, ironically, unwelcome - liaison office, Guy ends his crusade acting as Moses for a group of Jewish refugees, who, in one of Waugh's bitterest touches, are confined by the partisans to a death camp previously used by "the Germans and Ustachi" (701). Thus, the spiritual corruption suggested by the church is confirmed as we see the physical structures of genocide traded back and forth between various Yugoslav factions (a grim foretaste of the Balkans wars in the 1990s).
Perhaps the most memorable presentation of physical space, however, occurs in the blockhouse attack, the pathetic "engagement" that, at the close of vol. 3, finally finishes off any hope still held by Guy - or the reader - of witnessing conventional military spectacle. We have already seen how Waugh's language subtly contributes to the anticlimactic dynamics of this scene. Equally important are the details of the setting. First, there is the target itself, yet another building perversely turned from its original purpose: Built "more than a century earlier, [as] part of the defensive line of Christendom against the Turk," the blockhouse now houses fascist "domobrans," "lazy people" who are still asleep when the partisan forces (the brigades that De Souza converts on paper into companies) move into the position (690). Waugh adds to the ridiculousness by placing this minuscule objective in a wide valley, which stresses its strategic irrelevance, and by providing the observers with a panoramic view of the mock battlefield, described throughout with such incongruously biblical phrases as "[t]here was no longer peace in the valley" (691). Predictably, the "battle" fought amid this absurd setting is a fiasco: The partisans reveal their positions prematurely, are bombed by their own air support, and then flee from what later prove to be fictitious German tanks. "Before a German armoured column [we] disperse," explains the interpreter. "That is the secret of our great and many victories" (691). No one notices that Ritchie-Hook has slipped away from the group until it is too late; subsumed into the grotesque pointlessness of the situation, his death merely adds irony to irony, leading the Pattonesque American general to conclude erroneously that the partisans "mean business," and prompting the Germans, who suspect a ruse, "to be vigilant for one-eyed men" (693). Ignorance and stupidity thus characterize decision making at the highest levels of the Allied and Axis armies - a "vista of chaos" indeed.
As the title of the American edition of Unconditional Surrender - The End of the Battle - suggests, the blockhouse episode is the closest thing to a battle in the entire trilogy, the only moment when shots fired in anger actually have lethal results. And it is the moment when Waugh's use of miniaturization and anticlimax reaches its greatest intensity and brilliance. Here, as in the chapters set in Dakar and Crete, Sword of Honour becomes the ultimate antiwar novel, but not through the emotional polemics and shock tactics of its World War I precursors; rather, Waugh refuses to grant modern warfare even the dignity of tragedy or horror, stressing instead its essential banality and emptiness.
By focusing on reductive motifs, I have necessarily stressed the darker dimensions of the trilogy, perhaps creating the impression that its various implosions, both linguistic and spatial, finally draw the entire narrative into a black hole of nihilism and despair. Such a collapse, however, never occurs, in part because Sword of Honour ultimately constitutes more than a satirical anti-epic: Consistent with Waugh's inversion of literary genres and conventions, Guy's middle-aged adventures also form a pattern more typically found in novels with younger heroes - that of the Bildungsroman. Though 35 at the opening of the trilogy, Guy begins his crusade as, essentially, an adolescent, one whose innocence and idealism, at least in regard to modern warfare, seem closer to the generation of 1914 than 1939. Thus, Waugh's relentless emphasis on shrinkage paradoxically complements the protagonist's growth as he sheds his faith in the redemptive value of war and modifies his concept of chivalry to accommodate more personal, less dramatic acts of self-sacrifice and commitment to others - such as the adoption of Trimmer's son. Here, for once, miniaturization becomes a positive, as Waugh, like Dickens, locates the possibility of virtue only within the intimate confines of private life. Indeed, Guy's most poignant moment of self-recognition - the climax of the trilogy - comes when he realizes that the chivalric code which led him to join a "just war" of nations made him part of a collective death wish. When Mme. Kanyi remarks that "even good men thought their private honour could be satisfied by war, [that] [t]hey could assert their manhood by killing and being killed," Guy can only respond: "God forgive me, I was one of them" (702).
Guy's growth by the end of Unconditional Surrender has also been spiritual. Though mired, as we have seen, in situations that ceaselessly deflate into pettiness and banality, Guy rejuvenates the faith that he had earlier practiced as an empty formality by accepting his father's precept that "Quantitative judgements don't apply" in matters of the church: "If only one soul was saved that is full compensation for any amount of loss of face" (491). Meant to describe the actions of the "Mystical Body" (specifically in regard to the Lateran Treaty), Mr. Crouchback's remarks ultimately apply to his son, who becomes a modest Christ figure through his rescue of Virginia's soul and that of her child. Moreover, Guy saves himself: At the conclusion, he has shaken free of egocentric isolation, transferred his Palace of Art to Ludovic, and reentered life through a second marriage and fatherhood - albeit in the Lesser House.
Seen in this way, then, Waugh's use of miniaturization and anticlimax unites a number of thematic emphases in the text: the send-up of bureaucratized total war (accomplished through the systematic overturning of war novel conventions), the lament for Catholic gentry in decline, and the pedagogical focus on Guy's redefinition of his chivalric and spiritual values. Such density underscores the brilliance of Waugh's magnum opus, a work that retains the manic energy of the earlier novels - and much of their chaotic irony - while cautiously, and never sentimentally, positing the survival of goodness in a century dominated by the death wish.
1 Since the Everyman's Library edition is the only version now available in the United States, I have selected it as my primary text. For better or worse, this edition ignores the revisions contained in Waugh's one-volume recension, completed in 1965, and presents Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen, and Unconditional Surrender in their original form. Frank Kermode's introduction - thorough in every other respect - does not explain why.
2 These include - along with the analyses offered by Burgess, Rutherford, and Bergonzi - Robert Blow's "Sword of Honour: A Novel with a Hero," James F. Carens's "All Gentlemen Are Now Very Old," Patrick Costello's "An Idea of Comedy and Waugh's Sword of Honour," Marston LaFrance's "Sword of Honour: The Ironist Placatus," Colman O'Hare's "The Sacred and Profane Memories of Evelyn Waugh's Men at Arras," and B. W. Wilson's "Sword of Honour: The Last Crusade." Several biographical studies address the trilogy as well; most helpful are Humphrey Carpenter's Evelyn Waugh and His Generation, Calvin Lane's Evelyn Waugh, and Martin Stannard's Evelyn Waugh: The Later Years, 1939-1966.
3 Among other things, Waugh points us here to the wealth of ironic associations implicit in the Crouchback name: Had Gervase only crouched while passing the parapet, he might have lived. Yet to do so would have violated the sense of knightly, aristocratic honor implied by Gervase's entry "straight into the Irish Guards" and his dandyish "blackthorn stick," the modern man at arms' - or officer's and gentleman's - substitute for the sword. Thus, this character's death suggests the disastrous incongruity between the noble, chivalrous Crouchbacks and the modern world, an incongruity confirmed by Guy's misadventures in the next war.
4 Again, like Good-bye to All That - with its collection of cryptic military documents and incoherent student essays - Sword of Honour repeatedly stresses that miscommunication is endemic to the modern age, especially in wartime. Examples of garbled communication in the trilogy range from the mysterious titles of the American products, such as "Brisko" and "Yumcrunch," which Guy's father receives in a care package from the United States, to the bizarre telegrams that announce the "birch" (birth) of Virginia's son (655).
5 Appropriately, Trimmer, the antithesis of Roger of Waybroke, is associated throughout the trilogy with reductive phallic imagery. In contrast with the medieval knight's sword, for example, is Trimmer's commando dagger, a weapon that, of course, he never uses. Note as well the emasculated title of Trimmer's most celebrated exploit - "Operation Popgun" - and the dysfunctional antiaircraft gun, with a round "stuck half in and half out of the breech" (282) placed under his command on the Isle of Mugg.
6 In "Sword of Honour: The Last Crusade," Wilson persuasively interprets the trilogy as "a parody of chivalry" (88).
7 See Carens's introduction to Critical Essays on Evelyn Waugh, 22-23.
8 Here I am indebted to Martin Parsons of the University of Reading for his expertise on the British homefront during the blitz. My observations on class struggle within the Marine Hotel derive from our discussion of wartime evacuations and housing.
Beaty, Frederick L. The Ironic World of Evelyn Waugh: A Study of Eight Novels. Dekalb: Northern Illinois UP, 1992.
Bergonzi, Bernard. Wartime and Aftermath: English Literature and Its Backgrounds, 1939-60. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993.
Blow, Robert. "Sword of Honour: A Novel with a Hero." Durham University Journal 80: 2 (June 1988): 305-11.
Burgess, Anthony. The Novel Now: A Guide to Contemporary Fiction. New York: Norton, 1967.
Carens, James F. "All Gentlemen Are Now Very Old." Critical Essays on Evelyn Waugh. Ed. James F. Carens. Boston: Hall, 1987.
Carpenter, Humphrey. Evelyn Waugh and His Generation. London: Faber, 1989.
Costello, Patrick. "An Idea of Comedy and Waugh's Sword of Honour." Kansas Quarterly 1: 3 (1969): 41-50.
Fussell, Paul. Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989.
Graves, Robert. Good-Bye to All That. New York: Doubleday, 1957.
Heller, Joseph. Catch-22. New York: Simon, 1961.
LaFrance, Marston. "Sword of Honour: The Ironist Placatus." The Dalhousie Review 55 (1975): 23-53.
Lane, Calvin W. Evelyn Waugh. Boston: Twayne, 1981.
O'Hare, Colman. "The Sacred and Profane Memories of Evelyn Waugh's Men at Arras." Papers on Language and Literature. 20:3 (Summer 1984): 301-11.
Rutherford, Andrew. The literature of War: Five Studies in Heroic Virtue. New York: Harper, 1978.
Stannard, Martin. Evelyn Waugh: The Later Years, 1939-1966. New York: Norton, 1992.
Sykes, Christopher. Evelyn Waugh: A Biography. Boston: Little, 1975.
Waugh, Evelyn. Put Out More Flags. Boston: Little, 1942.
-----. The Sword of Honour Trilogy. New York: Knopf, 1994.
Wilson, B. W. "Sword of Honour: The Last Crusade." English. 32 (1974): 87-93.
Steven Trout is an assistant professor of English at Fort Hays State University. His publications, devoted primarily to twentieth-century war literature, include articles on Robert Graves's Good-Bye to All That, R. C. Sherriff's Journey's End, and the fiction of Henry Williamson and R. H. Mottram. He is working on a book on the relationship between literature and historiography and coediting a collection of critical essays entitled New Perspectives on the Literature of the Great War.
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|Publication:||Twentieth Century Literature|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1997|
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