Waugh’s collection of travel writings from the 1930s was published in the UK 75 years ago today. This was entitled When the Going Was Good. US publication followed in January 1947. This was has first book to be published after the success of Brideshead Revisited.
In an introduction, Waugh explains that what is reprinted comes from only four of the travel books he wrote between 1929 and 1939: Labels, Remote People, Ninety-Two Days and Waugh in Abyssinia. He distances himself somewhat from the latter, which he describes as more political than the others, and he further notes that his 1939 book about Mexico, Robbery Under Law, was excluded altogether because it was entirely devoted to a discussion of political matters.
He further explains that his life in the period these books were written was largely given over to travel and that he had no fixed abode. He expects, as he writes in 1945, to write no such book in the future, having by then adopted a more settled life:
These four books, here in fragments reprinted, were the record of certain journeys, chosen for no better reason than that I needed money at the time of their completion; they were pedestrian, day-to-day accounts of things seen and people met, interspersed with commonplace information and some rather callow comments. I have sought to leave a purely personal narrative in the hope that there still lingers round it some trace of vernal scent.
He then briefly summarizes what he best remembers about each book and notes that they all involved travel that fell largely outside of Europe, leaving time for more restful exploration of that continent ’til later. In this, he associated himself with his fellow travel writers Peter Fleming, Graham Greene and Robert Byron and distinguished himself from Cyril Connolly (referred to only as “Palinurus”) who, unlike Waugh and his fellow adventurers, had the foresight to visit Europe before it was “to melt overnight like an ice-castle, leaving only a puddle of mud…”
Looking ahead, he concludes by supposing that there will be few travel books such as his in the future:
There is no room for tourists in a world of ‘displaced persons’. Never again, I suppose shall we land on foreign soil with a letter of credit and passport (itself the first faint shadow of the cloud that envelopes us) and feel the world open before us. […] I never aspired to be a great traveller. I was simply a young man, typical of my age; we travelled as a matter of course. I rejoice that I went when the going was good.
That introduction is dated “Stinchcombe, 1945”. It was a year later that the book was published. Waugh was not to know, when we wrote the introduction, that a month after the book appeared he would be leaving England on a voyage to America with his wife that inspired The Loved One. And later that same year (1947) he made a trip to Scandinavia with the intent of writing about it for the Daily Telegraph. Nor could he have known that he would continue to travel on extended journeys to exotic destinations such as Goa, Ceylon, and the Holy Land, as well as repeat trips to the United States, British Guiana and Africa, two of which ended up in book form: The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold and A Tourist in Africa.
When the Going Was Good was later printed in book club editions (1947-49) and later still in a Penguin paperback (1951). It was recently republished as a Penguin Modern Classic (2000) and is still available in the UK, Canada and Australia in a revised version of that edition, as well as an e-book.