Paul Johnson: Novelists at Arms

Paul Johnson in Standpoint magazine surveys novels and novelists of the Second World War, including James Jones, Norman Mailer, Olivia Manning, Anthony Powell, and Evelyn Waugh:

It is a mistake, in my view, to hold a popularity contest between A Dance to the Music of Time and Sword of Honour. They are wonderfully complementary. We are lucky to have both. Waugh did not cover so long a spectrum. But we should see Brideshead Revisited as his verdict on the pre-war period, which in Uncle Tony's account requires six novels. And Put Out More Flags is a knockabout farce, a comic curtain-raiser to the actual war beginning with Men at Arms, continuing with Officers and Gentlemen, and ending with Unconditional Surrender. All these titles are savagely ironic, the last signalling Waugh's despairing acceptance that there is nothing he, and any other honourable souls left, can do about the appalling state of the world which has emerged from what began as a just war.

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