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The Sword of Honour Trilogy (Everyman's Library Classics & Contemporary Classics) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 10, 1994
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“[Men at Arms is] a highly entertaining novel. Waugh’s sharp wit and sure touch of satire are always at work.” –The Atlantic Monthly
“[Officers and Gentlemen is] deft and amusing, sober and appalling. And it offers, incidentally, one of the most graceful salutes of many seasons to the flexibility of the English language.” –New York Times
“Wise, amusing, and beautifully written. And because Officers and Gentlemen verifies a deepening seriousness and charity in Mr. Waugh’s art, it extends and renews the promise of his brilliant talent.”
“The End of the Battle [is] hypnotically readable . . . The complete work now clearly emerges as Mr. Waugh’s main achievement to date, and the one piece of English fiction about [World War II] which is certain to survive.” –Times Literary Supplement
“Sword of Honour was the climax of [Waugh’s] career as a novelist . . . Here in his final work there run together the two styles, of mischief and gravity, that can be noted in his writing from the beginning . . . He may justifiably have thought of it as crowning his work.” –from the Introduction by Frank Kermode
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Everyman's Library does a good job of ensuring high-quality hardcovers to give as gifts.
The paper is a bit thin but the typeface is attractive enough
great price from Amazon - $17.82 (RRP $25 US).
Briefly, the actual novel is a classic discussion of 20th century values as seen through the prism of fading British hegemony and the ethics of an outsider Recusant through the 2nd world war. The characters are very human, but as usual from Evelyn Waugh, there is a great focus on the aristocracy (and its foibles).
From time to time, the reader sees flashes of "Catch-22" in the sections that detail the combat experiences of the book's protagonist, Guy Crouchback. Crouchback is the witness to all of the really awful things that transpired during the war, and often the victim of much of it. However, with all of author Evelyn Waugh's eloquent cynicism that is the main substance of "The Sword of Honor", he does allow for some redemption and reward for this one character who stays true to himself throughout the novel. That isn't to say that Crouchback is particularly sympathetic to a modern reader, but he is certainly more so than most of the rest of the dozens of characters that populate the trilogy.
This is a wonderful book that still had plenty of zing and meaning. Highly recommended.
The key to understanding Waugh, not just this book, but also all of the others is his distrust of the 20th century. He came of age during the 1920s and biographers have noted an early fascination with the pre-Raphaelites. Although this artistic brotherhood focused on life in the pre-industrial age Waugh the satirist brought his powers to bear on the post World War I modern world its mores and hypocrasies. World War Two brought high taxes and democracy to this admired world of the British gentry and Waugh correctly chronicles this in his summary of the war in the trilogy.
The book is also a wonderful social satire drawing portraits of many of Waugh's own circle including Diana Mosley (With the fascist sympathies air brushed out here) Cyril Connolly and others. He marks the fall of the aristocratic officer and the rise of the "Trimmers" of the world whose heroism is more a result of luck and press puffing than genuine achievement.
The turning point in the book is the Crete campaign. Here British high born leadership collapses finally. Waugh sees this military failure coupled with the subsequent alliance with Bolshevik Russia to be one of the failures of the war. The so-called "Stalingrad sword" which appears as a character in its own right is symbollic of the passing away of the former way of life. It is not surprising that Waugh kills off the saintly Mr. Couchback (the hero's father) at this point in the book to provide a last hurrah for the old Catholic landed gentry.
The book is replete with a full gallary of comic characters. My favorite Apthorpe is unfortunately killed off in the first novel. To detail the reasons would be to deprive future of readers of the genuine pleasure in encountering him in the novels. However despite this absence in the two subsequent volumes, there are plenty to keep one amused. My second favorite of Virginia Troy, who is the ex-wife of our hero, Guy Crouchback. It is entertaining to watch this very worldly woman make her way through war-time Britain. There is Ludovic, the aspirant writer, enlisted man and probably the personification of the future post-war world with his trite novel "The Death Wish." Finally there is Trimmer, a former barber who becomes a hero because Britain needed one who was working class (at least in the opinion of HO HQ).
This is a major work by Waugh and probably his best book after "A Handful of Dust." In many ways it is superior to the earlier masterpiece in that provides Waugh with a wider canvas to express himself. This is a must for all readers of Waugh.