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Evelyn Waugh: The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold

This novel is very different from most of Waugh’s novels, not least because it was written at the instigation of his psychiatrist as part of the therapy he was undergoing for his breakdown. It tells the story of a middle-age, Catholic novelist, who is suffering from boredom, insomnia and various physical ailments. In order to escape from these problems and the harsh English climate, he sets out on a cruise on the Shakespearean-named Caliban, with a Dickensian-named captain, Steerforth. He soon starts hearing strange noises from the other cabins – music, people talking and so on. But, gradually, what he hears takes on a sinister tone – a crew member being tortured, another seriously injured. When he raises his concerns with the crew and his fellow passengers, they deny hearing these noises. Soon the voices attack him, accusing him of various sins. Slowly but surely, he is going mad. He disembarks at Port Said and makes his way home, where the voices follow him. He realises that the voices are hallucinations and his realisation helps him to gradually make a full recovery and write down his experiences – which is this novel. A very unWaughian novel but an interesting one on madness and its possibilities.

Publishing history

First published 1957 by Chapman & Hall