Evelyn Waugh: Equal Opportunity Racist

The conservative website Heat Street has published an article by UK journalist Constance Watson defending Waugh’s 1932 novel Black Mischief against charges frequently leveled at it for its racist remarks, citing several from Twitter as examples. As she points out, the book is indeed racist, but it satirizes all races, if not with equal vigor at least without unfairly singling out any one or two in particular:

Black Mischief is a transgressive comedy that satirizes modernization. In doing so, Waugh ridicules women, Jews, fascists, Arabs, the French, upper class white colonials, as well as indigenous populations, therefore showing himself to hold intense disdain for humanity. Rather than racist, Waugh is anti-human and pro-God. Comedy is used to reveal the absurdity of the human race. The social media pharisees are missing the joke.

Watson goes on to point out that a more reasoned analysis has been applied to the book in recent times, even by present day Ethiopians who might well have been thought to have reason to complain about how their ancestors were described. In addition, she notes:

Women are shown to be glib, unintelligent and jolly, capable of conversing only on ‘their hats and physical disorders.’ Jews are portrayed as parsimonious and immoral – ‘[in the local town] you were jostled against the wall by… Jews foreclosing on mortgages… taxation… vulgar display… no respect of leisure.’ And similarly, the western white colonials are mocked and slandered, characterized as frivolous, corrupt and louche, ‘insupportable barbarians.’ The English are depicted as thick, semi well-meaning fools who get everything wrong… 

The article concludes:

The detrimental effects of colonization are felt by the reader – they’re simply hidden in amongst the jokes. If the [politically correct prudes] are happy to attack Waugh on the grounds of racism, they should tread carefully. For in his quest to satirize the modern, to scorn the human race, to show that we are fallen and without God, Waugh leaves no race, gender or class unscathed.

Watson, who also writes for other journals such as The Spectator and Standpoint, discloses in the Heat Street article that Evelyn Waugh is her great grandfather. 

This entry was posted in Articles, Black Mischief, Twitter, Waugh Family and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.