Waugh’s 1930

An anonymous Spanish-language blogger posting on picapicaweb has written a series of six brief articles tracing Evelyn Waugh’s movements in the year 1930. “Pica pica” is the scientific word for magpie, and the blogger claims to pick up those bits of information which suit his or her varying purposes. In this case, the blogger starts with a brief summary of Waugh’s life up to 1930. The date of this first post on the weblog is 23 May 2017. Additional posts appear at approximately one day intervals, starting with post #2  which relates to the publication of Vile Bodies.  This is accompanied with a quote of the “masked parties” paragraph from that book. The post says that publication was in June of 1930, but the London publication was actually in January. The book published later in the year was Labels which came out in September.

Post #3  explains the genesis of Waugh’s trip to Abyssinia with a quote from Remote People. It concludes:

In mid-September (sic) Waugh decides to convert to Catholicism and does so on the 29th. Since he will turn 27 on October 28, he also decides to celebrate it in Ethiopia and attend the coronation ceremonies of the Emperor Haile Selassie. His friends applaud the occurrence … Evelyn is a sparkling type. The party without end; Drinks, tobacco, beautiful people, witty conversations and always someone at the piano.

Waugh’s decision to convert to Roman Catholicism took a bit more time than is suggested in this article. Martin Stannard (Early Years, p. 227) dates the first mention of that decision to a diary entry on 2 July 1930.

In succeeding posts, also based on Remote People, the blogger describes Waugh’s visit to Abyssinia in #4:

Evelyn knows almost nothing about Ethiopia. He travels around the country and attends  the coronation festivities of the new emperor in Addis Ababa; The Ras Tafari, the Negus, the self-styled Haile Selassie I, King of Kings.  A month of celebrations, parties and nonsense. A permanent nonsense. Everything happens without order or concert. Continuous astonishment. The unexpected is the everyday. Waugh is English and England has an empire. Young, elegant, cultured, sophisticated … watches the events with an exquisite ironic distance. He does not understand or feel empathy. In the background he exhibits the curiosity of a walker by the zoo. The coronation took place on November 2, 1930 in the Cathedral of St. George in Addis Ababa, the religious ceremony lasted almost two days with very brief interruptions. Evelyn knows very well who his readers are and gives them what they expect. Send brief, intelligent and delicious chronicles. With the touch of British superiority. A success. In mid-November Waugh is back in the port of Djibouti. He has to make a decision because he is  facing a dilemma.

Post #5 describes the descision to proceed to Aden rather than directly back to Marseilles and then:

Fifteen splendid days in Aden, Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam, Mombasa, Nairobi, Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika, Albertville, Elisabethville, Cape Town … crosses Africa without leaving the British Empire (sic) ; Kenya, Uganda, Rhodesia, South Africa. Trains and boats. Who does Waugh relate to? Businessmen, officials, military, merchants, plantation owners … all Europeans. The natives are lower ranks (“subalternos”), they are part of the landscape. He embarks in Cape Town, makes stops in Santa Elena and Tenerife “where everybody bought some nauseous cigars”. On the morning of March 10, 1931, Evelyn Waugh arrives in Southampton. After five months the strange journey is over.

The detour to Albertville and Elisabethville took him through the Belgian Congo, not part of the British Empire.

Post 6 summarizes the results of the trip and the eventful year, starting with a quote from the conclusion of Remote People. The post itself concludes:

Evelyn Waugh published his trip as “Remote People” in 1931. Bright book, especially regarding Ethiopia and the stay in Aden. Twilight of a colonial world in which the natives were complacent and the travelers did not fly and transported trunks. World War II put an end to all that. From 1945 Evelyn will not be the same, of its evolution perhaps we will speak another time.

The posts are illustrated with relevant, well-reproduced photos, including covers of the Spanish language translations of the books cited. Translation is by Google with minor edits.


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