The Scorbutic Taxi Driver

A blogger has posted a brief essay on the derivation and useage of the word “scorbutic.” He encountered it in Waugh’s 1927 story “A House of Gentlefolk” where the narrator expresses his disappointment at there being no car arranged to meet him at the station where he has arrived to visit the Duke of Stayle:

With a little difficulty I found the driver of the taxi, a sulky and scorbutic young man who may well have been the bully of some long-forgotten school story. It was some consolation to feel that he must be getting wetter than I. It was a beastly drive.

The writer of the article, who blogs as “Manny” on the weblog Ashes from Burnt Roses, traces the meaning of the word to the Latin for the disease scurvy:

So why is the taxi driver assumed to have this disease? First, the taxi driver’s disease echoes and foreshadows the mentally diseased grandson on which the story will hinge. Second, it shows a society that has been reduced to malnutrition. And third, it’s a detail that can be projected on to the current state of the British Empire, sickened and debilitated. It’s a wonderfully placed detail, pregnant with meaning.

The story is included in The Complete Short Stories of Evelyn Waugh (Everyman, London, 1998, p. 39). 

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