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Evelyn Waugh: Put Out More Flags

This is Vile Bodies meets The Sword of Honour Trilogy – the Bright Young Things go to war. Only they don’t quite go to war, because it is still the phoney war and no-one is really fighting. Particularly not Basil Seal.

Basil is determined to not only survive the war, but profit from it. He starts by making himself local billeting officer while at his sister’s house and foists the Connollys, a family of unruly evacuees, on the well to-do and then removes them – for a price, of course. However, he is almost caught by a real billeting officer so has to return to London, where he works for the Ministry of Information. He tricks his friend, Ambrose Silk, who has recently founded a new arts magazine, into changing an anti-Nazi article about one of Silk’s former boyfriends and then betrays him to his superiors as a fascist. He takes over Silk’s flat, when Silk flees to Ireland. However, when faced with the choice of marrying Angela, his mistress, whose husband has been killed in action, he suddenly decides to enlist in the special service, which is where the novel ends.

With the exception of Seal – and even he seems to see the light at the end – the Bright Young Things have become more responsible. We see many of them in the army, taking their responsibilities seriously. Of course, if this were anyone but Waugh, we could have ended up with a rather mawkish story about serving your country but, as it is Waugh, we get ludicrous scenes and high comedy mixed in with the patriotic duty bit. Not one of his great books but a big improvement over Vile Bodies.

Publishing history

First published 1942 by Chapman & Hall