A group of book bloggers has banded together to discuss books published in 1938.These happen twice a year and a previous session was devoted to 1924. This internet discussion on 1938 books will take place beginning today and continue until next Sunday 17 April. To find out more go to Stuck in a Book for an Introduction to The 1938 Club.
Waugh’s Scoop was published in 1938 and, as such, is a “member” of this club. To facilitate matters another blogger and Waugh fan, Kate Macdonald, has posted what she calls a “recap” of a similar internet discussion she moderated in February limited to the topic of Scoop. I take this to be a collection and distillation of the comments that were posted at that time–so, sort of a group essay, if you will.
Macdonald’s posting begins by putting the journalism of the day into historical context. She then includes two paragraphs relating to the racist and antisemitic views expressed in Waugh’s novel and concludes:
If we insist on applying the social and political views of today onto the novels written in a past epoch, we’re just making arguments where there aren’t any…[Waugh’s] narrative voice in Scoop does use the words we don’t use now, and we just have to accept it. If this affects your enjoyment of the novel, well, I’m sorry about that. It’s a pity, because it is possible to have politically acceptable beliefs now and still enjoy fiction that ignores that kind of thinking. In Scoop, which is largely set in Ishmaelia, an invented north African country, there is plenty of scope for Waugh to be offensive and unpleasant, but, cleverly, he is mostly offensive for a good reason: to show up the stupidity and greed of almost all the characters, black and white.
The group essay continues with a consideration of what are deemed the four main strengths of the book. These are:
(1) Lord Copper’s megalomania and his staff’s reaction to it;
(2) Waugh’s satirization of journalists and how they manipulate the truth;
(3) The book’s “spectacularly funny characters,” taking Julia Stitch as a case study.
She might have added a fourth which would be the hilariously funny scenes at Boot Magna. These have little to do with the more serious themes of the book but are just there to make you laugh. One might take them as Waugh trying to be Wodehouse, but more successfully.
The group essay goes on to include a discussion of journalistic foibles and concludes:
Compared to Waugh’s far less jolly travelogue Remote People (1930), Scoop is a riot of pleasantness and the love of human frailties. It’s certainly one of Waugh’s least uncomfortable novels, though the prickles are there.
NOTE (12 April 2016, corrected 13 April 2013): One of the participants in The 1938 Club has reposted a review of Scoop he wrote in 2013. He has also contributed a new review of Cyril Connolly’s Enemies of Promise, also published in 1938. Other bloggers have posted reviews of Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of the Heart and Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas of the same vintage.