Evelyn Waugh, Mark Twain, and US Election

Christopher Buckley, writing in the New York Times, invokes Evelyn Waugh in a review of an audiobook of Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Buckley turned on the recording and ran it straight through for 8 hours to avoid any more news about the the recent US election. The review opens:

“It was as though someone had switched off the wireless, and a voice that had been bawling in my ears, incessantly, fatuously, for days beyond number, had been suddenly cut short.” Those lines are from Evelyn Waugh’s novel “Brideshead Revisited.” They came to me as I switched off the 2016 presidential campaign and listened to Nick Offerman’s audiobook narration of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” What a tonic those eight hours were!

The quote comes from the Prologue to Waugh’s novel where Charles Ryder is awakened after a nighttime arrival at his unit’s new quarters only to learn that they are to be stationed at Brideshead Castle (1960, rev. ed., p. 24). Whether Christopher Buckley thinks the country has now arrived at the equivalent of Brideshead Castle seems unlikely. Although his father may have thought so, even that is not beyond doubt. Rather, Christopher seems to have been pleased to escape into an earlier, happier world for 8 hours.

Although there would appear little political content in Twain’s novel, Buckley does come up with this:

Decades later, Twain would call President Teddy Roosevelt “the Tom Sawyer of the political world of the 20th century.” This was not intended as a compliment.

Perhaps the scene in which Tom persuades his friends to paint his aunt’s fence might remind one of the President-elect’s “Sawyeresque” proposal to have the Mexicans pay to build one. 

UPDATE (15 November 2016): A reader has pointed out that it may not have been Huck Finn who painted the fence of Tom’s aunt, as originally stated. The only ones named in the novel are Ben Rogers, Billy Fisher and Johnny Miller. But it also says, “If he hadn’t run out of whitewash, he would have bankrupted every boy in the village.” So Huck may have been among those who contributed. Thanks to Mark Pinkerton for catching this.

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