callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

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Put Out More Flags

I was reminded of Put Out More Flags when I mentioned the Countess of Ranfurly’s war memoir recently, because it deals with much the same type of people. Once the idea was in my head I could hardly wait to read it yet again. This story of the phoney war, when people were scrambling for good war jobs or to get into the same regiment as their friends, features some characters from earlier novels, for example Basil Seal and Peter Pastmaster. It is very funny indeed and so beautifully written that I find I know whole sentences, even passages, off by heart. Take this, for instance.

‘These were benevolent, companionable people; their carefully limited families were ‘out in the world’ and came to them only for occasional visits. Their daughters had flats and jobs and lives of their own in London; their sons were self-supporting in the services and in business. The tribute of Empire flowed gently into the agricultural countryside, tithe barns were converted into village halls, the boy scouts had a new bell tent and the district nurse a motor-car; the old box pews were taken out of the churches, the galleries demolished, the Royal Arms and the ten commandments moved from behind the altar and replaced with screens of blue damask supported at the four corners with gilt Sarum angels; the lawns were close mown, fertilized and weeded, and from their splendid surface rose clumps of pampas grass and yucca; year in, year out, gloved hands grubbed in the rockeries, gloved hands snipped in the herbaceous border; baskets of bass stood beside trays of visiting-cards on hall tables. Now in the dead depths of winter when ice stood thick on lily ponds, and the kitchen gardens at night were a litter of sacking, these good people fed the birds daily with crumbs from the dining-room table and saw to it that no old person in the village went without coal…

(Basil) contemplated it as a marauder might look down from the hills into the fat pastures below; as Hannibal’s infantry had looked down from the snow-line as the first elephants tried the etched footholds which led to the Lombardy plains below them and went lurching and trumpeting over the edge.’

I have read this passage countless times and every time find it quite perfect, without being able to see how he does it. I admire Waugh as a prose stylist almost beyond admiration. You could read the whole of his diaries and letters without finding a dull sentence. Only P G Wodehouse comes even close.
Tags: evelyn waugh, novels, p g wodehouse, phoney war, prose style, put out more flags

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