Thursday 11 May 2023

Reading: Scott-King's Modern Europe, by Evelyn Waugh

I first realised that Evelyn Waugh had written a book called Scott-King's Modern Europe when I was reading a book about Waugh by Malcolm Bradbury. What Bradbury does not mention but I suspect, now that I have read Scott-King's Modern Europe, is that Rates of Exchange owes its inspiration at least in part to the 1947 book by Waugh.

You can find Scott-King's Europe on Internet Archive. It is only available on hourly loan but it can be read in one hour if you are not interrupted and in two hours even if you are. It is the story of a classics master who long ago made a translation of an obscure poet and is consequently invited on what would now be called a freebee to a country called Neutralia, which is holding a celebration of the poet.

Bradbury claims the book was written by Waugh after a visit to Spain. To me the country Scott-Rigby is taken to seemed stranger and more remote than Spain could ever feel to a visitor from England. In any case, Waugh is, as always in my view, unable to put a word out of place and full of perceptive melancholy humour and wisdom. No one is a hero, everyone is scrabbling to live in some sort of reasonable comfort, life is consistently absurd and strange. The business of travel - the waiting rooms and so forth - are horrible, people are mysterious, surprising and absurd, confused surrender is the only useful attitude in face of the onrushing tide of life's events.

I suspect someone could rig up a proposal for an academic thesis on books about innocents abroad, which could include Rates of Exchange, Scott-King's Modern Europe and the scariest I've yet found of the genre - Metropole (or in Hungarian Epepe) by Ferenc Karinthy. If one wanted to, it also wouldn't be impossible to argue that the story of Scott-King's Modern Europe has some similarity to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - in both, the main characters are swept from their daily lives to a strange world quite outside their experience and then returned to their normal existences, with no one in their original world being any the wiser. 

Incidentally, Evelyn Waugh wrote Scott-King's Modern Europe in the same place he wrote Brideshead Revisited, a house that Country Life claims is "one of the most beautiful houses in Gloucestershire". It was sold in an auction last year. It looks really lovely, but I wouldn't like to be in charge of cleaning it. The skirting boards alone would take half a lifetime, surely.


  1. A note to Waugh's letter of 8 June 1946 to Nancy Mitford, found in The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, edited by Charlotte Mosley, says "[Waugh visited Spain] To attend a conference in honour of Francisco de Vitoria, the 16th-century Dominican theologian and writer on international law. This tedious and uncomfortable visit inspired Evelyn's novella Scott-King's Modern Europe (1947)."

    That the number of Ph.D. candidates is so much greater than the number of published novelists, I expect that somebody has already written that dissertation.

    Nobody is really innocent in them, but for scary academic fiction it is hard to beat James Hynes's novellas collected in Publish and Perish or his novel The Lecturer's Tale.

  2. You are such a fount of knowledge - thank you, George ! ZMKC