Waugh and Brit Grift

The online newspaper The Daily Beast¬†(which owes its name¬†to a fictional newspaper in¬†Scoop) recently ran a story by James Kirchick¬†entitled “The Brit Grifters and the Designated American Suckers.” This¬†suggests a¬†history¬†of British residents whose careers have hit a wall in their homeland and who¬†move to¬†the USA¬†where they¬†set themselves up as experts of one kind or another. In the USA, they manage to succeed, at least for a time, thanks to American gullibility. Current examples¬†of this type of career transfer, according to The Beast, include Louise Mensch,¬†Milo Yiannopolis, Piers Morgan,¬†and Sebastian Gorka.¬†

The Beast then notes a long literary tradition of this type of transatlantic career move starting with The King and The¬†Duke in Huckleberry Finn¬†and continuing with the shady young Englishmen hanging around Jay Gatsby’s crowd in Fitzgerald’s novel. More recently, examples have appeared in films such as Arthur¬†and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, where the phonies¬†were played by Dudley Moore and Michael Caine, respectively.¬†Perhaps another example might be the hired gunman Butler in Robert Altman’s 1971 film McCabe and Mrs Miller. Although we don’t know his back story, his accent would suggest that he may have occupied a more exalted position¬†in England, at least for a time. Waugh also¬†made a contribution to this literary stereotype:

Evelyn Waugh’s comedic novella The Loved One, a devilish satire of English expatriates in Hollywood, featured the character Dennis Barlow, a poet and failed screenwriter who winds up working at a pet cemetery. In his attempts to court a young cosmetician, Barlow frequently peppers his speech with quotations from Tennyson and Poe while pretending that the verse is his own.

That’s a good point but Dennis can hardly be said to have achieved the level of success of the recent British grifters cited in The Beast. Indeed, Dennis¬†ended up cremating his loved¬†one at the pet cemetery after she ditched him, before going back to Blighty with his tail rather between his legs than wagging. ¬†

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