Put Out More Rabans

The London Review of Books has published a biographical description of his father’s experience in the early days of WWII by Jonathan Raban. One of the few literary allusions in the article is Raban’s reference to Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags in connection with his father’s experience of the “phoney war” in the months before the German invasion of France and the Low Countries. According to Raban:

 the most conspicuous feature of the Phoney War was the havoc caused by the ‘evacuees’ from the big cities: several million school-age children, along with pregnant women and mothers with their under-fives, who were bundled onto trains and sent out into the countryside in the first four days of September 1939. This chaos, born of bureaucratic panic and a gross overestimation of the likely casualties of German bombing raids, was called Operation Pied Piper, and it plays a central part in Evelyn Waugh’s seriocomic novel of the Phoney War, Put Out More Flags.

The LRB introduction explains that Raban, who has written several travel books (as well as  novels and essays) reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh, suffered a stroke in 2011 and is only now beginning to be able to write again. He may well be a distant relative of Waugh whose mother’s maiden name was Catherine Raban. It’s not a common name, and both seem to have clergymen in their family backgrounds. Jonathan Raban previously commented on Waugh’s novel in a National Public Radio interview (All Things Considered) in 2008. Here’s an excerpt:

…For my money, Waugh is the greatest stylistic craftsman of the 20th century. Tone-deaf to music, he was pitch-perfect when it came to the music of the English language. I love the limpidness of his writing, its shocking clarity. Put Out More Flags is as tightly constructed — point and counterpoint — as a baroque fugue. If it begins in something close to farce, it darkens steadily, like a long summer sunset, as 1940 wears on, and gravity becomes the order of the day. Even Basil Seal eventually finds a serious job — in a commando unit, where, fighting Nazis overseas, being an incorrigible rogue will make good moral sense. His transformation, from bounder to useful soldier, mirrors the transformation of a whole society, as Britain learned, slowly and painfully, how to fight for its survival…

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