Charles Ryder's Schooldays, and Other Stories
The publication of any posthumous work by Evelyn Waugh is welcome, but the circumstances regarding Charles Ryder’s Schooldays and Other Stories, issued sixteen years after the writer’s death, are somewhat suspicious. A brief editorial notice accompanies the volume: “All stories excepting ’Charles Ryder’s Schooldays’ have appeared in a limited edition published in 1936 under the title Mr. Loveday’s Little Outing.” No other editorial comment appears, although the reader would like to know precisely when the stories were written, when or whether they were revised, and whether the author set great store by them. Furthermore, one would like more information about the single previously unpublished piece in the collection. The title story appears to be a fragment, consisting of fifty-one pages, of a longer work that was either incomplete at the time of the author’s death or abandoned years earlier. Did Waugh intend the fragment to be a sequel to Brideshead Revisited, published in 1945, or to serve as a prefatory novel to that successful book? Certainly Charles Ryder is a major character in Brideshead Revisited, the narrator whose point of view controls the reader’s perception of the theme, and the Charles Ryder of this fragment, although a young man in 1919 and a student in the Classical Upper Fifth at Spierpoint College, bears a strong resemblance to the similarly passive, introspective, sensitive (but older) artist of Brideshead Revisited.
Readers can find some answers to the questions raised by this collection in Christopher Sykes’s chatty biography, Evelyn Waugh (1975). For example, one learns from Sykes that Waugh wrote most of these stories during 1931 and 1932, and that they were originally submitted to various magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar. Waugh had written the rest of the stories, with the exception of the Charles Ryder piece, by 1934. The collection as a whole—minus that one fragment—was published in the middle of June, 1936, by Chapman and Hall, under the title Mr. Loveday’s Little Outing and Other Sad Stories. According to Sykes, “The book enjoyed success in England and later on in the United States, where it was published in October. It kept Evelyn’s reputation in the public eye but, except possibly for the title-story, added little to the reputation.” Sykes’s account appears to contradict that offered in the editorial notice to Charles Ryder’s Schooldays, where the original volume is said to have appeared in a “limited edition.”
A final question remains: Why did the present editors reissue under a new title a collection of stories, most of which were written fifty years previously and published as long ago as 1936? The answer is obvious to those who watched and enjoyed the superb 1982 BBC television presentation of Brideshead Revisited. Following the popular reception of the mini-series, the editors expected that readers would be interested in additional fiction relating to the characters or events of the 1945 novel. Indeed, when that book first appeared, it enjoyed the widest success of any of Waugh’s novels—not even A Handful of Dust (1934) or The Loved One (1948) had greater sales. Although critical reception for the book was mixed, the public reaction was favorable enough to encourage M-G-M in 1947 to consider presenting a film version of the novel. M-G-M eventually dropped the project, possibly because of pressure from the Catholic Legion of Decency, whose members objected to the references to adultery, but for a while Waugh was excited by the prospects of such a film and even interviewed two possible directors. Perhaps between 1945 and 1947, Waugh began his “Charles Ryder’s Schooldays”; certainly the style of the fragment is similar to that of the Brideshead Revisited period. Clearly, Waugh must have planned the story when another book describing the fortunes of Charles Ryder seemed appropriate.
As Waugh developed his story line, however, he probably came to the conclusion, after completing four chapters (or sections), that the material was not sufficiently promising. He could not sustain any genuine plot conflict, apart from Ryder’s annoyance with several boys, especially O’Malley, or the mild opposition he endured from the House Tutor, Mr. Graves. In sum, the story progressed well stylistically, with the subdued elegiac tone that informs Brideshead Revisited, the close attention to detail, and the sharp eye for satire, but the plot—the plot was languishing. Waugh had the good sense to give up his exercise in nostalgia, and for present-day readers, the Charles Ryder fragment is more interesting for the light it throws upon Waugh’s impressions of his own education, than for any additional significance that it brings to one’s appreciation of the novel. In fairness to Waugh, his editors should have mentioned the circumstances regarding the acquisition of the manuscript. Had Waugh rejected the fragment as unworthy of his talents? Without editorial help, the reader will have to judge these matters for himself.
The same cautious approach is recommended in examining the rest of the stories of this volume. Some of the pieces are droll, some wickedly satirical, but others are quite...
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