Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop (London, 1938) is a satire on journalism. It is based on Waugh’s stint as a war correspondent for the London Daily Mail in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in 1935, during which he covered the war between Abyssinia and Italy. Waugh admitted that he had no aptitude for war reporting, but he did observe closely the activities of his fellow journalists. The result was a satirical, farcical novel that takes lighthearted but deadly aim at the newspaper industry and the journalistic profession.
The plot rests on some comic twists of fortune. Lord Copper, the arrogant and ignorant owner of the Daily Beast, sends out by mistake a naïve writer of nature columns, William Boot, to cover the war in the fictional East African country of Ishmaelia. Geographically, at least, Ishmaelia is identical with Abyssinia. William gets some quick lessons in the devious way of journalists, who are always trying to outwit their colleagues and deliver a scoop. Helped by a series of lucky events, William gets several major scoops himself and returns to London as a world-renowned reporter. But it all means nothing to him, and he is happy to return to his country home, the isolated and dilapidated Boot Magna Hall, where his many eccentric relatives live.
Book 1: The Stitch Service
Scoop begins as the young novelist John Courteney Boot visits his aristocratic friend, Mrs. Julia Stitch, in London. She is in bed, her face covered in a mask of clay while she directs domestic operations. With her are her secretary, her maid, her precocious eight-year-old daughter, and a workman who is painting ruined castles on the ceiling.
Later, Boot explains to Mrs. Stitch as she drives to an appointment that he must leave London because his American girlfriend is driving him crazy. Mrs. Stitch suggests that he go as a war correspondent to Ishmaelia, East Africa, where there is a crisis. She convinces the head of the Megalopolitan Newspaper Corporation, Lord Copper, that Boot is the man to cover the war. But Mr. Salter, the Foreign Editor at the Daily Beast, wrongly assumes that the William Boot who writes a nature column for the Beast is the man to whom Copper refers.
The countryman Boot lives in the ancient, dilapidated Boot Magna Hall with a crowd of eccentric relatives. William has no desire to leave his home and has never met anyone at the Beast. But when he receives a cable from Salter summoning him to London, he assumes it is because of an error in his column the previous week. He goes to London expecting to be fired. The encounter between William and Mr. Salter is uncomfortable for them both. After a series of comic misunderstandings, Salter asks him if he will go to Ishmaelia as a war correspondent. William politely declines, but when Salter tells him that, unless he goes to Ishmaelia, he will be fired, William reluctantly agrees.
The following morning, William meets Lord Copper. Copper wants the war in Ishmaelia to be resolved quickly and in a way that will create good news copy. After the meeting, Salter tries to explain to William who is fighting and why, but William is none the wiser.
After a comical episode in which William visits two rival Ishmaelite legations in London to get a visa, he flies by private plane to Paris, kindly allowing a stranger to fly with him. Then he boards the train for Marseilles, where he meets the stranger again, who turns out to be an Englishman. The stranger promises to repay William’s favor whenever he can.
William then has an uncomfortable journey by sea to Aden. He meets an English journalist named Corker, who is also going to Ishmaelia but knows no more about the place than William. Corker explains the fundamentals of journalism to William, including how to interpret cryptic cables he receives from London. In Aden, William meets up again with the mysterious Englishman, and Corker...
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