Inventing invention: Alan Munton, sword of honour and the invention of disillusion

Gallagher, Donat (2007) Inventing invention: Alan Munton, sword of honour and the invention of disillusion. Evelyn Waugh Newsletter and Studies, 37 (3). - .

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[Extract] Alan Munton’s recent essay, “Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour: The Invention of Disillusion,”[1] is the most protracted disparagement of Waugh since Conor Cruise O’Brien’s “The Pieties of Evelyn Waugh.”[2] The writers differ in that O’Brien was a polemical stunt man, aiming to dazzle and wound, whereas Dr Munton, like so many British academics and journalists who write about Waugh, is moralistic. But the effect is the same. Apart from a few grudging concessions about the personal themes in the trilogy, and a backhanded compliment on the “honesty” that drove Waugh to “provide the ammunition later used against himself” (241), Waugh is allowed no decent motive, no information, no intellectual integrity—not even the courage and flair needed to make a really unpopular point of view noticed.

The essay begins with a complex survey of Waugh’s writings up to 1939, one theme of which is “continuous reinvention” (232). This means that Waugh invented “different principles” as each new topic arose—Abyssinia, Spain, Mexico. The same opportunism (we are told) skews Waugh’s approach to World War II and leads to “substantial historical distortions” in Sword of Honour (244). It follows that if the events that bring about Guy Crouchback’s “disillusion” never happened, then Guy’s disillusion must be “invented.”

I enjoyed Dr Munton’s well-written essay and admire him for defending the values he believes Waugh subverts. But I must say that almost every statement in the essay relevant to the “invention” theme is (to use Dr Munton’s phrase) a “perverse interpretation” of Waugh’s words. Space permits discussion of only four “perverse interpretations” that relate directly to Sword of Honour and to Waugh’s fitness to write about World War II. Ironically, Dr Munton is so wrong about Waugh, and so muddled about history, that he emerges as inventing the “invention” he attributes to Waugh.

Item ID: 14874
Item Type: Article (Book Review)
Keywords: Waugh; Crete; Finland; Munton; Layforce
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Date Deposited: 15 Nov 2010 02:16
FoR Codes: 21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2103 Historical Studies > 210305 British History @ 50%
20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2005 Literary Studies > 200503 British and Irish Literature @ 50%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970119 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of the Creative Arts and Writing @ 50%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950504 Understanding Europes Past @ 50%
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