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Put Out More Flags (Penguin Modern Classics)

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Sir Joseph would have liked to say that there was no next step in that direction; that the best Basil could hope for was oblivion; perhaps in a month or so when the luncheon was forgotten…

What’s more, when it comes to modelling flags, you will find that there are only five core structures that you need to know. Once you master all five, you can model flags. In 1928 he married Evelyn Gardiner. She proved unfaithful, and the marriage ended in divorce in 1930. Waugh would derive parts of “A Handful of Dust” from this unhappy time. His second marriage to Audrey Herbert lasted the rest of his life and begat seven children. It was during this time that he converted to Catholicism. The independent-minded quarterly magazine that combines good looks, good writing and a personal approach. Slightly Foxed introduces its readers to books that are no longer new and fashionable but have lasting appeal. Good-humoured, unpretentious and a bit eccentric, it's more like having a well-read friend than a subscription to a literary review.

Whilst being largely a farcical comedy, it also contains interesting elements of well-observed social history – particularly the decline of the English upper class, the institutions of government, and ideological movements of the period in what we would now call ‘culture wars’. Like in all of Waugh’s novels, we get a perfect glimpse into the decayed social structure of the pseudo-intellectuals (i.e., Marxists) in Britain. The novel is not necessarily happy, few of Waugh’s are, but its wit is razor sharp. For reasons one can’t fathom, Basil is often in the company of the avant-garde Marxists. He tells one surrealist painter who is frightened by the war, “You know I should have thought an air raid was just the thing for a surrealiste; it ought to give you plenty of compositions--limbs and things lying about in odd places you know” (Waugh 32).

Lady Seal seeks the aid of Sir Joseph Mainwaring (Jo) a well-meaning, well-connected booby of the old school. Sir Joseph arranges a meeting between Basil and the Lieutenant-Colonel of an elite regiment. To please his mother, Basil lunches with Sir Joseph and the colonel. The disastrous interview is summed-up in a brief, understated exchange between Sir Joseph and Lady Seal: Through his unsavory vision, we see how England rapidly converted from the drawing-room to the battlefield in the course of a year. Basil resists finding a war job until it's absolutely necessary, and watches his friends and acquaintances join forces with the war effort. Waugh wrote this book in real time; it came out in 1942, so the voices and attitudes are those of the upper class that were part of his daily round. We see the language change from society shorthand to military doublespeak, the outfits from tea gowns to fatigues, and the attitudes from conversation to action. Angela's husband visits her with their child before embarking with the ill-equipped and ill-organised British forces for Norway, where he dies in combat. For a projected literary magazine, Ambrose Silk writes about his lost love, a Brownshirt named Hans who is now in a Nazi concentration camp. Basil persuades him to leave out Hans' fate, so that the article appears to praise the SA. He then shows it to his boss as evidence of a cell of allegedly dangerous fascists. The publisher is jailed, but Ambrose escapes to neutral Ireland, disguised as a Jesuit priest. Basil takes over his luxurious flat and adds to it Susie, his boss's luscious secretary.

But the joys of Put Out More Flags do not reside entirely in its major characters, male and female, drawn at full length; for each of these, there are a dozen vignettes of people and places, sketched, it would seem, in a Basil is frivolous, mischievous and incorrigible. His antics are also indulged and even grudgingly admired by his closest friends and connections.

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