Travel Book Launch

The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project last week conducted a virtual book launch for the next two books to be published in the series: Ninety-Two Days and A Tourist in Africa. The meeting was conducted by Barbara Cooke, a CWEW Executive Editor, and the presenters were Douglas Patey and Patrick Query who edited these two volumes.

Patrick Query, who teaches at West Point and is the former secretary of the Evelyn Waugh Society and past Co-editor of its journal Evelyn Waugh Studies, opened with a discussion of A Tourist in Africa (1960). He first explained how Waugh came to write this book, the last of his six travel books. He needed a trip to break away from the strain and tedium of his family duties, the Christmas Holidays and the British winter. As it turned out, his agent had already learned somehow that the Union Castle steamship line were looking for some one to write a book that would promote their services to Africa. This was an ideal destination for Waugh who was quite familiar with the territory. His agent noted that the project had been turned by Laurens van der Post, a well-known and popular writer at the time. Waugh agreed to the project so long as he was free to write and have it published as he wished, subject to the understanding that he it would be intended to promote the services of Union Castle.  Patrick made the observation that, unknown to most readers, van der Post was rather a nasty piece of work on several levels, leading Patrick to wonder what the book might have looked like if van der Post had agreed to write it.

Patrick noted that the two outstanding passages of the book in which Waugh was fully engaged with the subject were at the beginning where he visited the Campo Santo cemetery in Genoa with Diana Cooper and toward the end when he visited the Serima Mission in Zimbabwe. These were new experiences, whereas many of the other points he visited were places he had stopped on his earlier travels. Patrick went on to explain that the manuscript development was not as challenging as for other books except in the later passages where wholesale textual rearrangements in the published book were difficult to track from the available manuscripts because no typescripts were available. Waugh, as usual, avoided political comment, and Patrick made the interesting point that, in view of the turbulent political situation in Africa at the time, the book might have been better for it if Waugh had departed from his usual practice and injected his political opinions. But even as it is, the book represents a useful view of Africa in the period just before everything changed.

Douglas Patey, who teaches at Smith College, has written a biography of Waugh, and is a long-standing member of the EWS, presented his edition of Ninety-Two Days (1934). He began by contrasting the genuine danger and adventure involved in a trip to British Guiana and Northern Brazil as compared to Waugh’s other travel destinations. He also discussed why Waugh may have chosen that area for his trip as opposed to less adventurous zones. He then noted what he thought would be the difficulty faced in researching the textual development of a book for which there were no manuscripts, typescripts or corrected proofs available. Waugh had given the manuscript to Diana Cooper in thanks for the use of her cottage on the South Coast to write the book, but it appeared to have gone missing.┬á As it turned out, however, Jeffrey Heath possessed a photo copy Diana had allowed him to make when he wrote his book about Waugh, and a copy of the original later surfaced at the Huntington Library. Loren Rothschild had donated it after he acquired it through dealers to whom Diana’s descendants had passed it on.

Doug then continued his presentation with a comparison of several passages describing scenes that appeared in various newspaper and magazine articles that preceded book publication. Copies of these had been distributed to attendees before the conference to facilitate discussion. This was probably the most interesting part of his presentation because you could see and hear from Doug’s reading just how Waugh had improved both the vocabulary and grammar as well ┬ámodulating and polishing the subject matter as he moved from journalism to literature. He closed by mentioning something I had never realized. Long after Ninety-Two Days was published, the writer Pauline Melville wrote a novelized version of the story based on the visit of a British academic to Guyana researching the details of Waugh’s trip. This is entitled The Ventriloquist’s Tale (1997) and contains not only places and events that made up Ninety-Two Days but characters as well, including one based on Waugh himself.

There followed a Q&A session, addressing subjects such as the changing descriptions of racialism and the British Empire in literature, the difference between Waugh’s writing as reflected in travel books and fiction, and the photographs he took for Ninety-Two Days. The books will be published in the UK the last week of March and in the USA the last week of April. They may currently be ordered from either OUP or Amazon.


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