Waugh in Kenya

A French language weblog is in the process of posting a longer article entitled “The Happy Valley: Des Blancs au Kenya [Whites in Kenya]”. This contains, in part 2, a brief chapter on Evelyn Waugh’s contribution to the subject. The blogger, posting as “Le Comte Lanza” and referring to Waugh’s Remote People (1931), translated into French as Hiver africain [“African Winter”], writes that Waugh:

[…] is very little interested in blacks, but seems to have been seduced by the white community, at least some of whom belong to a particular social group, which he describes as: “a community of English squires established on the Equator”.

On several occasions, he puts it this way: he arrives in the middle of a meeting or a horse race and immediately the people, who do not know him, integrate him into their group; he joins with them in having a good time (we’re downing a lot of alcohol – which was Waugh’s weakness); at the end, someone says: do not believe that it always happens like that in Kenya, it is exceptional …

And, the last time Evelyn Waugh describes this scenario, he gets ahead of himself: I know what you are going to tell me, that it’s exceptional and that I do not have to believe that it always happens like that in Kenya! And (of course) his interlocutor, hilarious, replied: But on the contrary, it always happens like that in Kenya!

According to Waugh, the whites of Kenya spent their time at parties where there was nothing to displease him. As he wrote at a time when it was still fashionable not to make certain allusions in “mainstream” books, let alone give specific details, Evelyn Waugh refrained from talking about what was without doubt the main feature of the way of life of at least some of the white owners he had met, a free sex life, free of the “prejudice” that ran elsewhere. However, he seems to have been aware of this characteristic.

Nearly thirty years later, Waugh returned to Kenya for a brief stopover in 1960, shortly before independence, and notes that the gap had widened further between colonial administrators and settlers […]: the former wanting to rule the country like a Montessori school and the latter, […] like a league of feudal domains (A Tourist in Africa).

This was published in 1960 and was Waugh’s last travel book; it was apparently never translated into French (although a Spanish language edition in 1985 is recorded in WorldCat). The translation of the article is by Google with minor edits.


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