New Book Challenges Waugh’s Views of Selassie

A new book on the life and career of Emperor Haile Selassie challenges the views of his earlier critics. The book, King of Kings: The Triumph and Tragedy of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, translated from the original German, is reviewed in a recent issue of the Guardian. The author is Asfa-Wossen Asserate, a relative of Selassie. According to the review

Selassie projected an image of himself as a paternalistic ruler. His ambition was to found a dynasty and “modernise” his country’s feudal system through a forward-looking (if paradoxially absolute) monarchy. His coronation in 1930 – attended by Evelyn Waugh, who Asserate describes as a “notorious sneerer” – drew ridicule for its display of sumptuously plumed and gold-braided uniforms and other regalia. Yet in lampooning Selassie as a tinpot Caesar, Waugh and other critics rather missed the point. The Napoleonic hats and gowns were part of Selassie’s vision of a parallel world equal to that of the white man. Why should the European powers have all the pomp and ceremony?

Waugh wrote about Selassie’s coronation in Remote People (1931), in the U.S. entitled They Still Were Dancing. He later wrote a fictionalized version of the same events in Black Mischief (1932).

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