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January 12, 2006

Black Mischief: II

Chapter Two of Black Mischief, considerably shorter than the first, takes us from the wilds of Azania deep into Waugh country. If Waugh is generous with his contempt for foreigners, it's hard to describe his feeling about the English. They're certainly very dangerous.

We are at the British embassy compound in Debra-Dowa. William and Prudence are dallying in the sunshine, exchanging desperately icy stabs at wit.

"Oh, dear, men are hard to keep amused." Prudence sat up and lit a cigarette. "I think your effeminate and undersexed," she said, "and I hate you."

"That's because you're too young to arouse serious emotion."

As indeed she is, still in her teens. Presently William and Prudence get back on their mule and head back to the Legation. Meanwhile, Waugh takes us on a tour d'horizon of the diplomatic establishment at Debra-Dowa. In addition to His Britannic Majesty's minister, there is the American Mr Schonbaum, whose interesting career the author traces, and the French M Ballon, about whom Waugh says no more than that he is a Freemason. Thus the stage is set for the presentation of one of Waugh's monumental incompetents, Sir Samson Courtenay.

As a very young man he had had great things predicted of him. He had passed his examinations with a series of papers of outstanding brilliance; he had powerful family connexions in the Foreign Office; but almost from the outset of his career it became apparent that he would disappoint expectations.

Sir Samson's problem - of which he is sublimely unaware - is an inability to pay attention to the things that matter. This, working with an inbred aristocrat's very peculiar priorities, renders Sir Samson deliciously oblivious...

Continue reading about Chapter Two of Black Mischief at Portico.

Posted by pourover at January 12, 2006 08:00 PM

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