Author: Evenlyn Waugh.
Genre: Fiction, literature, satire, journalism.
Publication Date: 1938.
Summary: William Boot, a young man who lives in genteel poverty, far from the iniquities of London, contributes nature notes to Lord Copper's Daily Beast, a national daily newspaper. He is dragooned into becoming a foreign correspondent, when the editors mistake him for a fashionable novelist, a remote cousin with the same last name. He is sent to the fictional East African state of Ishmaelia to report on the crisis there, as Lord Copper believes it "a very promising little war" and proposes "to give it fullest publicity". Despite his total ineptitude, Boot accidentally and unknowingly gets very good at his job.
My rating: 7.5/10.
♥ There was a pause, during which Mr. Salter planned a frank and disarming opening: "How are your roots, Boot?" It came out wrong.
"How are your boots, root?" he asked.
William, glumly awaiting some fulminating rebuke, started and said, "I beg your pardon?"
"I mean brute," said Mr. Salter.
William gave it up. Mr. Salter gave it up. They sat staring at one another, fascinated, hopeless.
♥ ...but when he told Mr. Salter that he wanted nothing except to live at home and keep his job, he had hidden the remote and secret ambition of fifteen years or more. He did, very deeply, long to go up in an aeroplane. It was a wish so far from the probabilities of life at Boot Magna, that William never spoke of it; very rarely consciously considered it. No one at home knew of it except Nannie Bloggs. She had promised him a flight if she won the Irish Sweepstake, but after several successive failures she had decided that the whole thing was a popish trick and refused to take further tickets, and with her decision William's chances seemed to fade beyond the ultimate horizon. But it still haunted his dreams and returned to him, more vividly, in the minutes of transition between sleep and wakefulness, on occasions of physical exhaustion and inner content, hacking home in the twilight after a good day's hunt, fuddled with port on the not infrequent birthdays of the Boot household. And now its imminent fulfilment loomed through the haze that enveloped him as the single real and significant feature. High over the chimneys and the giant monkey-puzzle, high among the clouds and rainbows and clear blue spaces, whose alternations figured so largely and poetically in Lush Places, high above the most ecstatic skylark, above earth-bound badger and great crested grebe, away from people and cities to a region of light and void and silence - that was where William was going in the Air Line omnibus; he sat mute, rapt, oblivious of the cleft sticks and the portable typewriter.
♥ "But I have no interest in commerce. I am going to report the war."
"War is all commerce."
♥ "You know, you've got a lot to learn about journalism. Look at it this way. News is what a chap who doesn't care much about anything wants to read. And it's only news until he's read it. After that it's dead. We're paid to supply news. If someone else has sent a story before us, our story isn't news. Of course there's colour. Colour is just a lot of bulls'-eyes about nothing. It's easy to write and easy to read bit it costs too much in cabling so we have to go slow on that."
♥ "Why, once Jakes went out to cover a revolution in one of the Balkan capitals. He overslept in his carriage, woke up at the wrong station, didn't know any different, got out, went straight to a hotel, and cabled off a thousand-word story about barricades in the streets, flaming churches, machine guns answering the rattle of his typewriter as he wrote, a dead child, like a broken doll, spreadeagled in the deserted roadway below his window - you know.
"Well they were pretty surprised at his office, getting a story like that from the wrong country, but they trusted Jakes and splashed it in six national newspapers. That day every special in Europe got orders to rush to the new revolution. They arrived in shoals. Everything seemed quiet enough, but it was as much as their jobs were worth to say so, with Jakes filing a thousand words of blood and thunder a day. So they cjhimed in too. Government stocks dropped, financial panic, state of emergency declared, army mobilized, famine, mutiny - and in less than a week there was an honest to God revolution under way, just as Jakes had said. There's the power of the press for you.
"They gave Jakes the Nobel Peace Prize for his harrowing descriptions of the carnage..."
♥ They came as missionaries, ambassadors, tradesmen, prospectors, natural scientists. None returned. They were eaten, every one of them; some raw, others stewed and seasoned - according to local usage and the calendar (for the better sort of Ishmaelites have been Christian for many centuries and will not publicly eat human flesh, uncooked, in Lent, without special and costly dispensation from their bishop).
♥ The European powers independently decided that they did not want that profitless piece of territory; that the one thing less desirable than seeing a neighbour established there, was the trouble of taking it themselves. Accordingly, by general consent, it was ruled off the maps and its immunity guaranteed. As there was no form of government common to the peoples thus segregated, not tie of language, history, habit or belief, they were called a Republic. A committee of jurists, drawn from the Universities, composed a constitution, providing a bicameral legislature, proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote, an executive removable by the President on the recommendation of both houses, an independent judicature, religious liberty, secular education, habeas corpus, free trade, joint stock banking, charter corporations, and numerous other agreeable features.
♥ And the granite sky wept.
♥ So far as their profession allowed them time for such soft feelings, Corker and Pigge were friends.
♥ At a banquet given in his honour Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock once modestly attributed his great success in life to the habit of "getting up earlier than the other fellow." But this was partly metaphorical, partly false and in any case wholly relative, for journalists are as a rule late risers.
♥ They drank some sherry, and some Burgundy and some port, and, to celebrate William's arrival, a good deal more port. Then they settled themselves in easy chairs and drank brandy.
♥ "Decent bloke that," said Corker, when they again drove off. "You know, I never feel Swedes are really foreign. More like you and me, if you see what I mean."
♥ He gazed out of the window; it opened on a tiled, resonant well; he gazed at a dozen drainpipes; he gazed straight into the office opposite where the Art Editor was having tea; he gazed up to the little patch of sky and down to the concrete depths where a mechanic was washing his neck at a cold tap; he gazed with eyes of despair.
"I have to denounce the vacillation of the Government in the strongest terms," he said. "They fiddle while Ishmaelia burns. A spark is set to the cornerstone of civilization which will shake its roots like a chilling breath. That's what I've got to say and all I know is that Boot is safe and well and that the weather is improving..."
♥ He rose with dignity and swaggered into the yard.
The milch-goat looked up from her supper of waste paper; her perennial optimism quickened within her, and swelled to a great and mature confidence; all day she had shared the exhilaration of the season, her pelt had glowed under the newborn sun; deep in her heart she too had made holiday, had cast off the doubts of winter and exulted among the crimson flowers; all day she had dreamed gloriously; now in the limpid evening she gathered her strength, stood for a moment rigid, quivering from horn to tail; then charged, splendidly, irresistibly, triumphantly; the rope snapped, and the welterweight champion of the Adventist University of Alabama sprawled on his face amid the kitchen garbage.
♥ The bells of St. Bride's chimed unheard in the customary afternoon din of the Megalopolitan building. The country edition had gone to bed; below traffic-level, in grotto-blue light, leagues of paper ran noisily through the rollers; overhead, where floor upon floor rose from the dusk of the streets to the clear air of day, ground-glass doors opened and shut; figures in frayed and perished braces popped in and out; on a hundred lines reporters talked at cross-purposes; sub-editors busied themselves with their humdrum task of reducing to blank nonsense the sheaves of misinformation which whistling machines piled before them; beside a hundred typewriters soggy biscuits lay in a hundred tepid saucers. At the hub and still centre of all this animation, Lord Copper sat alone in splendid tranquility. His massive head, empty of thought, rested in sculptural fashion upon his left fist. He began to draw a little cow on his writing pad.
Four legs with cloven feet, a ropey tail, swelling udder and modestly diminished teats, a chest and had like an Elgin marble - all this was straightforward stuff. Then came the problem - which was the higher, horns or ears? He tried it one way, he tried it the other; both looked equally unconvincing; he tried types of ear - tiny, feline triangles, asinine tufts of hair and gristle, even, in desperation, drooping flaps remembered from a guinea-pig in the backyard of his earliest home; he tried different types of horn - royals, the elegant antennæ of the ibis, the vast armoury of moose and buffalo. Soon the paper before him was covered like the hall of a hunter with freakish heads. None looked right.
♥ "But you do think it's a good way of training oneself - inventing imaginary news?"
"None better," said William.
♥ An hour earlier, at Taunton, he had left the express, and changed into a train such as he did not know existed outside the imagination of his Balkan correspondents; a single tramlike, one-class coach, which had pottered in a desultory fashion through a system of narrow, under-populated valleys. It had stopped eight times, and at every station there had been a bustle if passengers succeeded by a long, silent pause, before it started again; men had entered who, instead of slinking and shuffling and wriggling themselves into corners and decently screening themselves behind newspapers, as civilized people should when they travelled by train, had sat down squarely quite close to Mr. Salter, rested their hands on their knees, stared at him fixedly and uncritically and suddenly addressed him on the subject of the weather in barely intelligible accents; there had been very old, unhygienic men and women, such as you never saw in the Underground, who ought long ago to have been put away in some public institution; there had been women carrying a multitude of atrocious little baskets and parcels which they piled on the seats; one of them had put a hamper containing a live turkey under Mr. Salter's feet. It had been a horrible journey.
♥ He had covered a good six miles tacking from field to field under the setting sun; he had scrambled through fences and ditches; in one enormous pasture a herd of cattle had closed silently in on him and followed at his heels - the nearest not a yard away - with lowered heads and heavy breath; Mr. Salter had broken into a run and they had trotted after him; when he gained the stile and turned to face them, they began gently grazing in his tracks; dogs had flown at him in three farmyards where he had stopped to ask the way and to be misdirected; at last, when he felt he could go no farther but must lie down and perish from exposure under the open sky, he had tumbled through an overgrown stile to find himself in the main road with the lodge gates straight ahead; the last mile up the drive had been the bitterest of all.
♥ "Good evening." Uncle Theodore leaned out as far as he safely could and stared at Mr. Salter though a monocle. "From where you are standing," he said, "you might easily take me to be totally undraped. Let me hasten to assure you that such is not the case. Seemly black shrouds me from the waist down."
♥ He observed his discarded shoes; so did James; neither of them felt disposed to stoop; each respected the other's feelings.
♥ Lord Copper began to see himself in a new light, as the deserted leader, shouldering alone the great burden of Duty. The thought comforted him. He had made a study of the lives of other great men; loneliness was the price they had all paid. None, he reflected, had enjoyed the devotion they deserved; there was Cæsar and Brutus, Napoleon and Josephine, Shakespeare and - someone, he believed, had been disloyal to Shekespeare.