Vile Bodies: Two Wins and a Loss

Esquire magazine has published a list of what it considers the “24 Funniest Books Ever Written” as compiled by Will Hersey. At number 6 is Waugh’s Vile Bodies (1930):

…Evelyn Waugh brilliantly, hilariously, unflinchingly but always humanely pinions a society which is in thrall to gossip and decadence, traumatised by war and catastrophe yet unable to stop itself rushing headlong into further and deeper cataclysm. This book is as much for our age as Waugh’s.

Other books on Esquire’s list by Waugh’s contemporaries include Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm (1932), Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim (1954) and Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 (1961). Waugh refused a request to offer a supporting blurb for Catch 22 but one of his favorite books also makes the list. This is Diary of a Nobody (1892) by George and Weedon Grossmith.

An article by Alex Clark in last Saturday’s Guardian newspaper criticizes Esquire’s list for naming only two novels by women. In additional to Cold Comfort Farm, the list also includes The Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend. The most prominent missing comic novel mentioned by Clark is Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate that is extensively quoted in the article’s introduction.

Meanwhile the report of an online books group is less enthusiastic about Vile Bodies. This is reported on

…none of us loved it, and most found it a perplexing bore… It was later in the book when a succession of BYTs had a go at being gossip columnists, basically making it up, that I got a bit fed up. This was because this summer I read Beverley Nichols’ novel Crazy Pavements … in which a young man has a job as a gossip columnist and gets taken up by some BYTs.  Crazy Pavements was published before Vile Bodies, and so it felt repetitive.  Both Crazy Pavements and the early novels in Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time sequence deal with the BYTs in a mostly non-satirical way, and I much preferred that treatment. It’s not until the very end of Vile Bodies that Waugh injects a bit of gravitas with a rather serious and perhaps fitting coda.

Finally, on the entertainment weblog The Wrap, Vile Bodies is mentioned in a reposted 2014 article in connection with what the blogger considers to have been one of Peter O’Toole’s most memorable film roles:

Bright Young Things” (2003): Stephen Fry‘s brilliantly acrid adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s “Vile Bodies” has no shortage of British eccentrics, but they all take a back seat to Peter O’Toole’s Colonel Blount, who seems to be operating in a dimension entirely his own. Dotty and circumloquacious, the good colonel pops up in only a few scenes of the film, but O’Toole’s wonderfully whacked-out performance stays in the memory.

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