Mexican View of ‘Robbery Under Law’

The Mexican newspaper El Universal has published a short essay on Waugh’s 1939 book Robbery Under Law. This is written by author and university administrator Ángel Gilberto Adame who has also written biographies of Spanish-language writers such as Octavio Paz. The article appears in the paper’s “Opinion” section and opens with a description of the book’s genesis:

In 1938, when [Waugh’s] career was breaking down, he accepted an employment proposal from the Pearson family –magnates from the oil industry–, which consisted of traveling to Mexico and writing a book opposing the oil expropriation. The Pearsons were among the businessmen harmed by the decision of President Lázaro Cárdenas, so Waugh’s goal was to expose the injustice and dangers that emanated from the progressive policies of the Mexican president, which, from the point of view of its detractors, were closer to fascism than the international left press supposed. Philip Eade reports that Waugh received a check for 989 pounds to cover his travel expenses and those of his second wife, Laura.

It’s not clear what Gilberto Adame means by Waugh’s career breaking down (“cuando su carrera despuntaba“) at the time he accepted the arrangement. As Philip Eade explains, in 1938 Waugh was doing quite well financially, based on the proceeds from Scoop. Eade describes the arrangement as more in the normal course of business–an opportunity for some easy money and expense-paid travel. The essay then goes on to describe the details of Waugh’s itinerary and quotes from two letters home (to writer Henry Green and his mother-in-law) about  his early impressions of Mexico as well as a quote from his “Foreword” to the book. Comments relating to the text of book itself, however, are limited to this, with which the essay concludes:

The introductory chapter showed more trenchant comments: “For many people Mexico has, in the past, had this lunar character. Lunar it still remain, but in no poetic sense. It is a waste land, part of a dead or, at any rate, a dying planet. Politics, everywhere destructive, have here dried up the place, frozen it, cracked it and powdered it to dust. Is civilization, like a leper, beginning to rot at its extremities? ” Beyond his political background, Waugh’s visit incorporated a much less literary vision than those of other compatriots of his and placed himself, regardless of the mythical past, in the inhospitable region of corruption on which our institutions are built.

The essay had previously made the point that Waugh had also produced works of fiction from his previous foreign trips. When describing his more limited literary vision from this one than those of his compatriots, Gilberto Adame probably has in mind Graham Greene, Malcolm Lowry and D H Lawrence who wrote novels based on their Mexican visits. Waugh’s book on Mexico has been published in Spanish translation (Robo Al Amparo De La Ley) in two editions, in 1996 and 2008, in both Mexico City and Madrid (Source: World Cat). The translation of the essay is by Google with some edits, and Waugh’s original English has been substituted for the Spanish language quotation.

Waugh’s book on Mexico is also mentioned in a recent entry in the Oxford Reference Encyclopedia of Latin American History. This is entitled “Foreign Travelers’ Accounts and Fanny Calderón de la Barca’s Life in Mexico” and is written by Lourdes Parra Lazcano. A subscription is required to see the full text, and if any of our readers has access, they may want to explain what she has to say in a comment posted below.

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