Waugh and “How to Spend It”

The London Review of Books Blog has posted an article by Inigo Thomas on conspicuous consumption as evidenced by the magazine How to Spend It that accompanies weekend editions of the Financial Times. The blog article opens with a description of Waugh’s  appreciation of conspicuous consumption in his own days:

Evelyn Waugh was no enemy of money – he wrote for it, he made a lot of it – but monied society was his subject, and like F. Scott Fitzgerald he wrote about the careless, destructive people for whom spending money is a palliative for everything, the Toms and the Daisys, the Beavers and the Brenda Lasts…. In a piece about hotels in New York, Waugh explained there was no end to what you could spend your money on if you stay in one:

“These hotels provide many surprises. Every time you ring a bell a different servant answers it; every time you touch the door handle there is a flash of blue lightning and you get a violent electric shock; there are only two sorts of food – tepid and iced – and all indistinguishable in taste whatever the name on the menus. But the beds are comfortable, the telephone girls are polite, and you have only to sit in the foyer to be endlessly amused and excited. You need never leave the hotel. Trade conventions are arriving and dispersing at every moment. You can wander through bazaars and cafes in every style of decoration. You can have your hair dyed and all your teeth pulled out. If you happen to die you can be embalmed and lie there in state.”

The blog article goes on to describe levels of consumption as advertised in the FT‘s magazine that probably would exceed anything Waugh could have reasonably imagined in the 1940s, at least at his income bracket. Indeed, it seems unlikely that a novelist living today, even one as successful as Waugh, would be among the audience targeted by the advertising in thr FT.

The Waugh quote comes from an essay entitled “Honeymoon Travel”, published in a collection called The Book for Brides (1948); reprinted in Essays, Articles and Reviews, p. 343.  On his 1947 trip to New York (on the way to/from Los Angeles) he stayed at the Waldorf Astoria. Apparently, he was not entirely satisfied with that hotel, however, because on subsequent trips to New York, he stayed at The Plaza. Thanks to David Lull for calling this article to our attention.

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