Evelyn Waugh, Travel Writer

Several recent articles remind us of Waugh’s pre-eminence as a travel writer in the 1930s, a time when foreign travel was still something exotic. The adventure travel magazine Avaunt has added Waugh’s Ninety-Two Days (1934) to its reading list:

This account of a journey on horseback into the jungles of then British Guiana is certainly a lesser-known work by the Brideshead Revisited author, but Ninety-Two Days by Evelyn Waugh is nonetheless a hilarious catalogue of complaints, with Waugh crafting a wonderfully eccentric sketch of an underprepared trip in uncharted territory.

British author Ben Mcintyre writing in the Times describes another book of travels to South America which Waugh had favorably reviewed after his own trip to the area. This was by Peter Fleming, older brother of Ian Fleming, the spy novelist. Fleming joined an expedition organized to locate the mysterious explorer Col Percy Fawcett. He reported the somewhat shambolic events of that venture in the Times and later wrote the book. According to Mcintyre:

… the resulting book, Brazilian Adventure, was a minor masterpiece, brilliantly subverting the established rules of travel writing. Fleming lampooned the absurdity of explorers’ chest-thumping tales of derring-do (including those of Fawcett) and gloried in the “atmosphere of caricature” that surrounded his own expedition…The book was an instant bestseller, becoming the most successful travel book published between the wars. “I am putting it in the highest class,” wrote Evelyn Waugh. The New Yorker called Brazilian Adventure “one of the most amusing and engaging travel records ever written”. Fleming single-handedly invented a new subgenre of travel writing, adventurous but self-mocking, hair-raising but tongue in cheek, a style later echoed by writers such as Eric Newby and Redmond O’Hanlon. Fleming was hailed and admired as a daredevil of a very British sort, not least by his younger brother.

Mcintyre’s article may have been occasioned by the opening of a film about the Fawcett expedition entitled The Lost City of Z (apparently based on a book of that title) which he mentions in the Times. Waugh’s review of Fleming’s book appeared in August 1933 while he would have probably been writing Ninety-Two Days which was released the next year. Waugh modestly doesn’t take the occasion to boost his own upcoming book but keeps to the subject of Fleming’s work in what is a relatively long Spectator review. Waugh’s review is collected in Essays, Articles and Reviews, p. 136.

Blogger Eamonn Fitzgerald has posted an article about Waugh’s travel writing entitled “Waugh on Travel and Terror”. He takes as his focus a 1959 article by Waugh in which he bemoans the decline of foreign travel in the postwar period as compared to its golden age between the wars: 

“I See Nothing But Boredom
 Everywhere” was the ominous title of a piece by Evelyn Waugh that appeared in the Daily Mail on 28 December 1959. The future of travel was the great man’s theme. Like all newspaper prophesy, it was ignored as soon as it was read, and because Waugh was extremely contrary, his predictions were dismissed as the bitter reproaches of an ageing man (he died in 1966). A rereading, however, shows that he had imagined our future with incredible prescience and was rightly appalled by the vista. He said: “One went abroad to observe other ways of living, to eat unfamiliar foods and see strange buildings,” but in the future, he foretold, the world would be divided, on the one hand, into “zones of insecurity” dominated by terrorism and, on the other, vulgar tourist traps consisting of “chain hotels, hygienic, costly, and second rate,” to which people would be transported by the uniform jet. Well, we’ve got the terror now, we’ve all stayed in ghastly, modern hotels and air travel began its journey towards industrial conformity and security nightmare some while ago.

Waugh’s article predicting the future was not limited to foreign travel but included other topics as well. The article is also collected in EAR, p. 538 and A Little Order, p. 45.

Finally, Time Out magazine recommends to those visiting London, which must be rather tense after the recent terrorist attack near Parliament, that they might want to drop in on this event on the other side of the city in Spitalfields as a “fun thing to do”:

Libreria Bookclub: Scoop, Libreria, Sun, free. Take your ma to Libreria’s March bookclub for some intellectual chit-chat about ‘Scoop’, Evelyn Waugh’s classic satire on journalism, and discuss whether the novel is as relevant in today’s climate as it was when first written.


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