Santa Claus Day

The columnist for the TLS, who writes their “NB” page and goes by the initials J.C. (said to be the abbreviation of critic James Campbell), had a Waugh encounter described in the latest issue.

On a day trip to Lewes, he found a copy of Waugh’s Love Among the Ruins at a secondhand bookshop. This was on the day that the Paris climate agreement was concluded and, when he opened the book, the first sentence immediately struck him: “Despite their promises at the last election, the politicians had not yet changed the climate.” Hooked,¬†he thought he’d better have the book:

The politicians’ promise was for snow on what, in this irreligious near future, was called Santa Claus Day. But the weather “continued from day to day¬†as it had of old,¬†most anomalously.” The Department of Euthanasia has logically superseded¬†¬†the Department of Pensions and is “the one department that’s expanding”; the Ministry of Art only sanctions¬†politically approved–we now say “correct”–output; drinking is monitored by the government.

In the pre- holiday period (what Waugh called “Santa-Claus-Tide”), the bookshop was “quiet but active.” Although tempted by a copy of J.M. Barrie’s My Lady Nicotine, J.C.¬†opted for

Waugh’s “amusement for the still civilized” instead. A first edition, complete with dust jacket designed by Waugh himself (he also drew most of the illustrations in the text, including one ¬†[that accompanies the article] of a¬†bearded¬†transgender figure receiving a garland) cost 10 pounds.

Santa Claus Day indeed! Sounds like a real bargain. My copy purchased 20+ years ago cost $50. For those not so fortunate as the TLS columnist, the novella can also be found in the collection of Waugh’s¬†complete stories.

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