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December 30, 2005

Black Mischief: I

Quite aside from its other charms, Black Mischief will delight readers to whom political correctness has become burdensome. Although a converted Roman Catholic, Evelyn Waugh embraced contemptuous racial bigotry with pagan abandon. In fairness, it ought to be pointed out that he had contempt for almost everyone on earth; but he was always happy to make use of stereotypes if it would get a laugh. Embarrassingly, it usually still does, at least in the context of his monstrous farces. One little nugget will suffice: the Oxford-educated heir to an African empire whose throne, for the moment, is anything but secure, finds himself abandoned in a fortress.

Night and the fear of darkness. In his room at the top of the old fort Seth lay awake and alone, his eyes wild with the inherited terror of the jungle, desperate with the acquired loneliness of civilisation.

And that's a fairly mild example. The "inherited terror" is meant quite seriously; Waugh believed in a kind of debased Darwinism, according to which we are who we were. If our ancestors responded to the nocturnal crashings-about of predators with exophthalmic anxiety, then so will we. Waugh is kind enough to allow Oxford to make its contribution to the Emperor's discomfort.

Black Mischief takes place on an imaginary island in the Indian Ocean, not far from either Somalia or Aden, formerly known as Sakuyu, but now the Empire of Azania...

Continue reading about Chapter One of Black Mischief at Portico.

Posted by pourover at December 30, 2005 12:00 AM

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