[lit-ideas] Re: "Mad dogs, and Englishmen"

  • From: Stephen Straker <straker@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 19 Jun 2004 07:39:40 -0700

Judy Evans wrote:
>> there is the underlying obvious simile, "Englishmen _are_
>> like mad dogs".
> how rude...    I think really it's the English resistance to a siesta
> he has in mind! ... 

This has been stewing away in my brain as I tried to think how to
explain that Coward is talking about *ordinary* mad dogs and
*ordinary* Englishman and - of course! - having something to say about
ordinary Englishman ... such as Judy points out: how it certainly
wouldn't do to lie down for half the day! 

So, trying to get the right tone I've put this into the compost
section of what passes for my mind and turned to the casual reading
I'm allowed when not distracted by volleys from [lit-ideas]. Quite by
chance I found myself enjoying a review of the _Collected Travel
Writings_ of Evelyn Waugh when the following BRILLIANT passage fell
into my lap. Just BRILLIANT, I say. Attend! and note the date. 

"For Waugh's most irreverent, seditious treatment of the romantic
conventions of the genre [travel writing], however, one must read
_Ninety-Two Days_ (1934), which recounts his journeys through - and
the very choice of setting bespeaks a certain perversity of
temperament - the hinterlands of British Guiana.  If there is any more
unprepossessing expanse of earth upon the globe, one cannot imagine
where.  This book is an unremitting account of misery, privation, and
pointlessness in a world of dun landscapes, tormenting insects,
malnutrition, and cultural stagnancy.  What makes it fascinating,
though, is the almost demented composure of the author; it
demonstrates with remarkable poignancy how, in its way, British
equanimity can constitute a kind of emotional extremism.  When Waugh
describes farine, the practically inedible staple of the indigenous
diet (which, in its unrefined form, is in fact toxic), or the nightly
labor of extracting djiggas from the soles of his feet before they can
lay their septicemial eggs, or his almost constant hunger and thirst,
one is left with a sense not only of the sublime callousness of
nature, but of the lunacy of choosing to confront it with a good will
rather than fleeing from it with or without one's dignity intact."

THIS, I submit, is what Coward is talking about. 

"When the Going Was Bad," First Things, 143 (May 2004), pp. 50-53
by David B. Hart
a review of _Waugh Abroad: Collected Travel Writing_ (Knopf: 2003) 

It will be difficult to find a better evocation of mad dogs and
Englishmen, out in the noonday sun. 

best wishes, 

Stephen Straker 

Vancouver, B.C.

To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,
digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html

Other related posts: