English Writers in Mexico

A link to an article on English writers in Mexico has been posted on the internet by ProQuest. This was written by Simon Carnell and appeared in 2015 over several issues of the University of Manchester’s journal PN Review. It discusses the interwar works about Mexico written by D H Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene  as well as Malcolm Lowry’s postwar novel Under the Volcano. The discussion of Waugh’s Robbery Under Law is in the final installment (Part 3) appearing in vol. 41, #5 (May/June 2015) and entitled “Through ‘the literary-perception scrambler’? English writers in Mexico between the wars: Part 3. Evelyn Waugh and Malcolm Lowry: Towards a ‘Machine that Works.'” Parts 1 and 2 dealing with Lawrence, Huxley and Greene appear in Nos. 3 and 4 of vol. 41.

The opening installment sets out the parameters of the discussion:

…All four writers self-consciously present not an ‘Anglo-Saxon’ but a deliberately English view of post-revolutionary Mexico: an English view partly established, to a degree which has not been noticed, by denigrating writings and perspectives issuing from north of Mexico’s border with the United States. All four also operate with a vaunting lack of circumspection which derives from an assumption of relative ignorance about things Mexican in their English audience; a tendency towards racial stereo-typing (and worse) which derives in obvious part from the colonial legacy shared with that audience, and an emphasis – most pronounced in Huxley and Greene but also present in Lawrence and Waugh – upon the value of personally observed, ‘telling’ detail. If there was a single figure who exerted a powerful and distorting influence upon English writers about Mexico in the period, as Lowry stands accused of influencing the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ writers subsequently, that figure was D.H. Lawrence.

The section relating to Robbery Under Law begins with a discussion of how Waugh addresses each of these themes and then concludes with this:

When Waugh made a collection of his travel writings in 1945, he uniquely omitted anything from his book on Mexico, remarking in the preface that he was content to leave it in oblivion, ‘for it dealt little with travel and much with political questions’. Dealt with them, too, Waugh must have realised from the perspective of 1945, with an embarrassing naivety unacknowledged by his dismissal of the book elsewhere as being written ‘in the style of a Times leader of the 1880s’. The Mexican travel books of Lawrence and Greene have remained in print ever since their original publication; The Power and the Glory is generally asserted to be Greene’s ‘masterpiece’, and The Plumed Serpent continues to engage readers and scholars. They are books which still, one suspects, find their way into the luggage of first-time Anglophone visitors to Mexico. Robbery Under Law fell immediately out of print and is Waugh’s least known work, though it is sometimes cited as having value as a comprehensive statement of its author’s conservativism, and even achieved an afterlife of sorts by being extracted for an anthology of conservative ‘thought’. With its reissue in 2011, though, it takes its place alongside the works of other English literary travellers to Mexico between the wars in which detailed reportage of ‘travel’ and ‘political questions’ were hardly mutually exclusive. Indeed it has value there as a kind of unwitting because guilelessly outspoken reductio ad absurdum of some of the attitudes, assumptions and tone de haut en bas permeating the writings about Mexico of Lawrence, Huxley and Greene.

A link to the article (or at least Part 1) has been posted by ProQuest but a subscription is required and finding Parts 2 and 3 can be a challenge.

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