'Very occasionally it is worth noticing a bad book at some length' - we have it on Evelyn Waugh's own authority - 'if only to give reputable publishers a reminder that they must not be insolent in what they try and put over on a public already stupefied by literary overproduction.' The present case is not quite of the kind Waugh had in mind. After all, his own production ended nearly twenty years ago, and included some quite readable if not profoundly illuminating novels, and what we have here is a reprint of his journalism, a collection which is 'complete', the editor says, 'in the sense that it is as comprehensive as the realities of publishing allow, and in that it seeks to include within one set of covers everything that any serious reader of Waugh might hope to find ... everything notably funny, elegant, beautiful, profound or self-revealing, and everything that seems to define Waugh's own aims.' The 'overproduction' could in the nature of the case not be stopped, at this time of day, even by the least 'insolent' publisher; if there is a charge against Methuen it could only be of over-publication. For surely nobody really needs 650 pages of this stuff?
LRB 16 February 1984 | PDF Download