Labels Reconsidered

A recent issue of the Goldsmiths, University of London literary magazine (GLITS-e-journal) is devoted to “The (Re)Imagined Mediterranean” and contains several articles on that theme. One of them, by post-graduate student Jasmine Bajada from the University of Malta, is entitled: “De/Mythologising the Mediterranean in the Modern Age: Evelyn Waugh’s Labels: A Mediterranean Journal (1930)”.

The article opens with a quote from Waugh’s 1957 novel The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold:

The sea might have been any sea by the look of it, but he knew it was the Mediterranean, that splendid enclosure which held all the world’s history and half the happiest memories of his own life; of work and rest and battle, of aesthetic adventure and of young love.

It goes on to note that

in Labels, Waugh attempts to show how the Mediterranean that English travellers experience is in fact not the Mediterrean itself but a mythologized Mediterranean, that is a Mediterranean fashioned out of the myths that for centuries have been constructing the Mediterranean imaginary. The Mediterranean, especially for people of a Northern origin, is a place where culture, history, vitality, passion, and mystery intersect. Waugh’s aim in Labels is precisely to deconstruct this mythologisation of the Mediterranean in order to depict a Mediterranean that, in Kingsley Amis’s words, is ‘totally free of Mediterranean mystique’. [Introduction to 1974 Duckworth edition.] However, as shall be discussed, Waugh’s travelogue is ironically a construction of the Mediterranean in the interwar period of a ‘modern megalopolitan’ (Labels, p. 11) in search of a ‘Sense of the Past’ (Labels, p. 45) that ultimately is not as free of myths as it purports to be. Counterproductively, Labels reconstructs the Mediterranean from the perception of a Northerner gazing upon the Mediterranean with a colonial eye that reproduces a deeply embedded myth of the Mediterranean, that of Eurocentrism.

After developing these points, the article concludes with this:

…Waugh’s cruise aboard the Stella Polaris serves him to confirm his Englishness and to subsequently colonise the Mediterranean textually by writing a travelogue that appears to deconstruct previous Northern representations of the Mediterranean but that reimagines the Mediterranean as a region with a Western centre and an Oriental margin. Only years later in hindsight, as Waugh writes in his semi-autobiographical novel The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957), does he realise that the Mediterranean is inclusive and home to many, even to himself: ‘The Mediterranean had always welcomed Mr. Pinfold in the past. His annoyance would be over, he believed, once he was in those hallowed waters.’

Footnotes have been omitted. Page cites to Labels refer to Penguin Classics 2011 edition. A complete copy of the article can be found at this link.

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