Blunted Sword

A review of Waugh’s Sword of Honour appears in the latest issue of the journal of the Augustine Institute Faith & Culture. This is by Joseph Pearce who is also editor of the Saint Austin Review. Here are some excerpts:

…The truth is that I found Waugh’s Sword somewhat blunted by the sin of self-indulgence, in which far too many unnecessary and uninteresting characters are introduced into the mix without any obvious point from the perspective of the overall plot. The novel would have been far better had it been half the length and had half its characters been harmlessly excised. One thing’s for sure, it is not “Waugh’s masterpiece” as a reviewer in Time had claimed. …  In Brideshead Revisited, which, pace Time, is indubitably Waugh’s real masterpiece, there are relatively few characters, each of whom has a real personality and serves a real purpose to the plot.

Sword of Honour does contain elements of Waugh’s genius, such as the delightfully immoral and ironically named Virginia and the delightfully psychopathic Ben Ritchie Hook. There’s also the scathing satire on the vacuity of modernity, which is a recurring feature of Waugh’s oeuvre, and a sardonically satirical exposé of the sheer nastiness of communism. With regard to the latter, Waugh’s Sword has a real cutting edge in its treatment of the communist partisans in Yugoslavia during the war, combining the acerbic realism of Solzhenitsyn, the grimness of Orwell, and the dexterous lightness and humour of Wodehouse. …

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2 Responses to Blunted Sword

  1. Don Kenner says:

    I am a fan of Pearce’s work. Many of his books sit on my shelf. But he has a tendency towards these summary judgements or off-the-cuff dismissals of any work that falls under his umbrella of expertise, but fails to meet his exacting — and not always clearly stated — criterion. To accuse Waugh of “the sin of self-indulgence” in Sword of Honour is absurd. He may find the book longwinded; most Waugh fans I’ve encountered do not. One cannot judge every character or plot line by its utility toward a Catholic critique of modernity. The novels are more than that (I remember Pearce dismissing a biography of Waugh with a similar lack of charity). Sword of Honour will live on as one of the two or three greatest works by possibly the greatest writer of the 20th century. Pearce is a very intelligent man. I cannot help but wonder if one day he’ll re-read the novels, perhaps in their original form as single books, and have occasion to recant this hasty judgement.

  2. He could be seen as the height of moralism to criticise the genius of Waugh’s Sword of honour in this way. Guy is a wanderer, who is not lost but looking for signs of life.

    The opening pages are marvellous vindication of matrimony; evoking a quality of fragile wonder that accompanies catholic family tradition.

    I read the book while pregnant with my fourth child and it became an instant friend I returned to its pages out of hearty regard for the bravery war showed in launching the book as one volume and providing a forward explaining its historical context: The author’s mindset that shared by some Protestant writers – taking a certain direction from the view that pre-Vatican two Roman Church was somewhat ahistorical and will never change.

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