London in the Slump

A new book has been published about London in the 1930s. This is entitled Playboys and Mayfair Men and is written by Angus McLaren, Professor Emeritus at University of Victoria. The book focuses on a sensational jewel robbery at the Hyde Park Hotel, one of Waugh’s favorite London venues. Here’s a excerpt from the description of its contents on Project Muse:

In Playboys and Mayfair Men, Angus McLaren recounts the violent robbery and sensational trial that followed. He uses the case as a hook to draw the reader into a revelatory exploration of key interwar social issues from masculinity and cultural decadence to broader anxieties about moral decay. In his gripping depiction of Mayfair’s celebrity high life, McLaren describes the crime in detail, as well as the police investigation, the suspects, their trial, and the aftermath of their convictions. He also• examines the origins and cultural meanings of the playboy—the male 1930s equivalent of the 1920s flapper; • includes in his cast of characters such well-known figures as Noël Coward, Evelyn Waugh, the Churchills, Robert Graves, Oswald Mosley, and Edward VIII; and• convincingly links disparate issues such as divorce reform, corporal punishment, effeminacy, and fascism.

In another article, the 1930s practice of basing book titles on previous literary works is considered. This appears in the Shelter Island (NY) Reporter. The most prominent of these are The Grapes of Wrath, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Sound and the Fury. But the article also lists other notable examples including this one:

— “A Handful of Dust:” A book by Evelyn Waugh usually grouped with the early satires that established his reputation as the best comic novelist of his era. But this novel has dark undertones and its unexpected resolution is downright sinister. Waugh foreshadowed the shift in mood when he chose for his title a T.S. Eliot line from “The Wasteland:” “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

There are a few more recent examples such as Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Jerusalem but the practice seems to have flourished during Waugh’s most prolific period.

Finally, in a booksblog called Bookriot, blogger Clay Andres referred to Donald Trump’s multiple references in a speech at the United Nations to a nonexistent African country he called “Nambia” (perhaps conflating Namibia and Zambia). Andres is inspired to look for other examples of fictional (or as Trump might put it “fake”) countries on that continent. There is no shortage and among them are these:

Nowhere is this trend more apparent than literature, where authors and artists have been using made-up, “Africanish” names to as a way to describe some distant, unknowable place rather than referring to a real countries with real, distinct histories. Famous English novelist Evelyn Waugh did this a number of times, creating the countries of Ishmaella [sic] and Azania for his classic works Scoop and Black Mischief, respectively.

Well, not exactly. The fake country in Scoop was “Ishmaelia” so Donald Trump isn’t the only one challenged by African names.

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