Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1763
When Waugh writes of the ingenious but unethical feats of the likes of Wenlock Jakes and Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock, the reader might be forgiven for thinking that he exaggerates just a little for the sake of being satirical. After all, how could a reputable journalist write an eyewitness report of a revolution in a Balkan country that had not yet happened, as Jakes did? And how could Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock write eyewitness accounts of an earthquake in Messina without leaving his desk in London? Surely these things are not possible. Think again. In 2002, a British journalist working as New York correspondent for London’s Daily Mail (the same Daily Mail that Waugh reported for in the 1930s and which was the model for the Daily Beast) seemed to be using Jakes and Hitchcock as his role models. The journalist, Daniel Jeffreys, wrote an eyewitness report for the Mail of the execution of a British citizen in Georgia (United States). It was a vivid account, including the condemned man’s mouthing of the words “I love you” as he was about to die. The only problem with the story was that Jeffreys made it up. He was not a witness to the execution. No one at the time in London’s Fleet Street knew this, and in an episode that could have been lifted directly out of Scoop, rival newspapers began berating their own foreign correspondents about why they had missed this scoop (exactly as happens in Waugh’s novel when Shumble gets a scoop by making a story up). One British journalist commented (quoted by David Amsden in New York magazine), “It’s very competitive being a foreign correspondent. But you can’t compete with someone who makes things up.”
Although the fabrication was later exposed, the Daily Mail never printed a correction or issued an apology. This was in keeping with British journalistic practice. Unlike their counterparts in the United States, such as the New York Times, British newspapers do not run a daily list of corrections to previous stories. They are no doubt aware of Corker’s comment to William in Scoop that, if you print too many denials, readers will start to distrust the newspaper. This is an interesting example of the skewed logic that helps to give the novel its Alice-in-Wonderland quality, where everything that happens seems to violate rational common sense but which is justified by its own curious form of logic.
If there were many more Daniel Jeffreys—one hopes there are not since this apparently was not the only story he is alleged to have made up—one might well understand the sentiment Waugh expresses in the Preface to Scoop: “Foreign correspondents, at the time the story was written, enjoyed an unprecedented and undeserved fame.” Waugh was in a position to know, since for a while he was one himself. It is remarkable how much Scoop is based on his own experience of journalism. The book in which he wrote of his time as a war correspondent, Waugh in Abyssinia, although little read today, gives a very entertaining account of how journalists went about their business in Addis Ababa in 1935. It also provides insight into how a novelist takes the raw experience of his own life and turns it into the stuff of fiction.
One of the amusing episodes in Scoop is when William loads himself up with excessive supplies for his trip, including such items as a collapsible canoe, six suits of tropical linen, a camp operating table and a set of surgical instruments, and even a portable humidor, “guaranteed to preserve cigars in condition in the Red Sea.” Courtesy of the Daily Mail, Waugh was given a similar opportunity to kit himself out before setting off to Abyssinia, an experience he describes in one of his memorable bon mots: “There are few pleasures more complete, or to me more rare, than that of shopping extravagantly at someone else’s expense.” Waugh also observed the excesses of others, especially those of a young reporter named William Deedes, of the Morning Post, whose equipment weighed a quarter of a ton and included clothing for every possible occasion and items such as snake-proof boots.
When Waugh reached Abyssinia, he soon found that life as a foreign correspondent was less glamorous than he might have expected. There was to be no “crouching in shell holes, typing gallantly amid bursting shrapnel.” Since the war had not yet started, there was little hard news to report, and like the journalists in Scoop, Waugh went in search of local “color” (items such as descriptions of the landscape, the lives of the people, and native traditions). However, because of the high cost of cables, there was little opportunity for Waugh the writer to produce many worthwhile pieces. In Scoop, Waugh made a running joke of the cost of cables and the need to economize. In spite of some chiding from the Beast, William never grasps the sparse, elliptical style that saves words and money.
In many other details of Scoop that were based on Waugh’s experiences in Abyssinia, one can see the imagination of the novelist at work. For example, like William of the Beast, Waugh stayed at a Deutsches Haus, run by a formidable German lady. The actual owners of the hotel were a Mr. and Mrs. Heft, but Waugh obviously thought he could make the character stand out more if she were unencumbered by a husband. Thus Frau Dressler is presented as a widow, Herr Dressler having met his end at some point in the past, details unknown.
Waugh applied a similar technique to the menagerie that he encountered at the Deutsches Haus. In Waugh in Abyssinia, he describes two geese there who chomped at the ankles of anyone unwise enough to go near them. In Scoop, the geese metamorphosed into a remarkable goat who “essayed a series of meteoric onslaughts on the passers-by, ending, at the end of her rope, with a jerk which would have been death to an animal of any other species.” Eventually, of course, the rope breaks, providing Waugh with one of the funniest incidents in the novel.
Given the light, humorous tone of Scoop, it is perhaps surprising that Waugh was discontented and depressed much of the time he was in Abyssinia. Although he worked diligently, he was not an experienced journalist, and the Daily Mail regularly expressed disappointment with the material he sent them, which was judged to be inferior to that of his rivals. In this respect, Corker in Scoop represents Waugh. Corker receives a cable from his news agency that reads in part, “YOUR SERVICE BADLY BEATEN ALROUND LACKING HUMAN INTEREST COLOUR DRAMA PERSONALITY HUMOUR INFORMATION ROMANCE VITALITY.” In this comic exaggeration, one senses the frustration of Waugh the gifted writer who nevertheless finds himself unable to please a few newspaper editors in London.
Perhaps partly because of his own frustration and lack of success, Waugh soon developed a contempt for journalistic ways. The scenes in Scoop in which the journalists of different nations quarrel with one other at the meetings of the Foreign Press Association seem to be based entirely on what Waugh himself witnessed. And he also comments in Waugh in Abyssinia that it was common for journalists to steal or destroy their rivals’ stories.
For the celebrity American journalists he encountered, Waugh seems to have had nothing but half-amused contempt. He comments that the American press had created in its readers such a desire for personal details about the correspondents that they made a habit of cabling “expansive pages of autobiography about their state of health and habits of life, reactions and recreations.” He also claimed that the Americans would not hesitate in an emergency to invent a story, while the Europeans “must obtain their lies at second hand.” What he meant was that the Europeans had to have a source to which they could attribute their information, even if that source was completely unreliable and the journalist knew the information was almost certainly false. The result of these lax standards was that the stories cabled by the press corps in Abyssinia were, according to Waugh, an amalgam of “fantastic rumour . . . trivial gossip, with, here and there embedded, a few facts of genuine personal observation.”
Other elements of Waugh’s satire in Scoop are based on actual events in London’s Fleet Street. The move of star reporter Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock from the Beast to the Brute (a rival newspaper) after a dispute with Lord Copper is based on the departure of ace foreign correspondent Sir Percival Phillips from the Daily Mail to the Daily Telegraph after a dispute with the Mail’s owner, Lord Rothermere. This took place just before the Abyssinian war, so Waugh found it easy to get the vacant job with the Mail, especially when his friend Diana Cooper (the model for Mrs. Stitch) had a word with Lord Rothermere. This is paralleled in the novel when Mrs. Stitch whispers in Lord Copper’s ear about John Courteney Boot.
Is this, then, all there is to Scoop—a lighthearted riff on journalism, based on Waugh’s own experiences and not to be taken too seriously? Waugh appears to have intended it so, and, indeed, the novel has not attracted as much critical attention as Waugh’s earlier, darker, and more pessimistic satires. But Scoop cannot be dismissed without noting the kind of world it depicts. It is a chaotic, unpredictable one. No one has any control of his or her destiny because the world is ruled not by law or order as manifested in intelligible cause and effect relationships but by fickle fortune. In Scoop, however, fortune or fate is ultimately benign, because at the end of the novel, just as in a Shakespearean wish-fulfillment comedy, everyone receives what is dearest to his or her own heart. William returns to the country; Uncle Theodore gets the chance to saunter around London and even to get paid for it; Mr. Salter gets his dream job; and even Lord Copper, a man needing humbling if ever a man did, gets his desired future “full to surfeit of things which no sane man seriously coveted.” So all’s well that ends well, the trouble and strife that accompany everyone on the journey are just part of the game Lady Fortune plays, her purpose known only to herself.
Source: Bryan Aubrey, Critical Essay on Scoop, in Novels for Students, The Gale Group, 2003. Aubrey holds a Ph.D. in English and has published many articles on twentieth-century literature.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2091
Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop is a social satire, making fun of the people who inhabit its world and of the moral values of the world itself. As most satires do, the book serves to comfort those who are not rich, powerful, or socially dynamic, by showing that the eminent members of society are no better than the average person, and are, in fact, usually worse. Waugh turns the common values of the real world on their head. In the real world, the privileged command what they want, while in Scoop the wealthy are so vague about their desires that they end up generally pleased with whatever results are reported to them. In the real world, political extremists are among the most dangerous people on the planet, whereas in the novel the guerillas’ disregard for human life is far overshadowed by their lack of competence. In reality, there are media stars who manage to claim the best stories for themselves, whereas, in Waugh’s version, the foreign correspondents who claim the most praise are those who ignore the facts of the situation they are covering and make up their own reality.
The success of a social satire is often attributed to the author’s courageous handling of the truth. Deep down, readers and critics all suspect that luck and not talent rule the world and that coincidence is a more important force than cleverness; a novel like Scoop serves to support that suspicion. Critics tend to give credit to an author like Waugh for showing some sort of plain, unvarnished truth that most novelists are presumably too greedy or frightened to show, as if social satirists are blessed with some sort of x-ray vision that enables them to see through the pretensions that cloud ordinary vision.
In fact, Waugh’s satiric method in Scoop is much simpler than that. The new reality that he awakens readers to in the novel is achieved by taking common expectations about the way the world operates and reversing them, and then, with a talented novelist’s eye for detail, building a reasonable explanation for how the inverted events might happen. A satire like this depends less on the novelist understanding the subtleties of society than it does on making readers accept that which is most unlikely.
There are dozens of cases in which this effect can be seen played out, from the first page to the last. The book begins by introducing readers to a character who holds promise as a protagonist but who soon turns out to be quite minor in significance. John Courteney Boot is described as the sort of underappreciated literary wit and social gadfly that authors frequently use as stand-ins for themselves. He has never been a foreign correspondent before, and the early pages of the novel follow his effort to become one. His lack of experience is itself a factor that makes him an ideal protagonist for a novel about foreign correspondents, giving the author a chance to introduce readers to this world as John Courteney Boot is learning about it.
It is precisely because John Courteney Boot seems so perfectly designed to be the protagonist of this novel that he ends up relegated to a small supporting role. Readers no sooner settle in to the idea of him than he disappears, replaced in the novel by William Boot, a distant relation who is, not surprisingly, even more unqualified to report on a foreign war than John Courtney Boot. John at least has social connections and a respectable writing style, but William is about as socially maladjusted as a person could be (happily secluded in his family’s country estate with his loony relatives and servants) and is, in addition, a bad writer.
There are several ways that the novel gains from the shift of focus from John to William. The most obvious is the sheer, joyous nonsense of hav- \ing the least talented man get the job. Humor depends heavily on anarchy, on the sense that anything can happen.
Putting William at the center of the novel is more than just a reversal of expectation, however. This shift defines the shape that the rest of the novel is to take. The book has to manufacture a reality around William: those in power have to be a little more dense and those who are just following orders have to be just a little more bitter to present a convincing situation where someone so unsuspecting could suddenly find himself on a strange continent so quickly. William does not represent the sort of historic blunder that could happen in the real world: rather, he is so entirely inappropriate to the book’s subject that Waugh constantly has to exercise his creativity to justify William’s existence. Once William is firmly in position as the novel’s protagonist, the other elements have to be equally, if not more, ridiculous. It is this nonsensical nature that is the source of the book’s comedy, but it is a mistake to think that, just because the events are about world affairs and are funny, they are necessarily a reflection of political reality.
One aspect of the book that hints at satire of political intrigue but ends up playing as straightout farce is the way that William’s relationship with Kätchen is handled. Her character has aspects that are easily recognizable from any espionage story containing a femme fatale. She is foreign, mysterious, beautiful; she appears to be helpless; and she draws William close to her so subtly that he does not even seem to notice the burden that she is putting on him. In a more serious story, Kätchen would lead William into danger, while in a true social satire, she would represent an element of society that is dangerous to people like him. In this novel, though, she is benign. Her involvement is not an indicator of anything, just a harmless amusement unto itself. She ends up less a threat than an annoyance, costing William nothing but money, which he spends from his expense account. Even the return of Kätchen’s husband, who early on presents a threat as one of the mysterious factions vying for control of Ishmaelia behind the scenes, ends up being laughably harmless: “the German,” as he is referred to throughout the book, only wants to sleep and to brag about a previous disaster in which he carved a canoe with his own hands that promptly sank. Waugh uses readers’ familiarity with characters like Kätchen and the German to make them seem threatening and more significant to the story than they end up being; as he does with other elements of Scoop, he then plays the situation for humor by presenting exactly the opposite of what is expected.
Exactly as good-natured and harmless as Kätchen are the journalists with whom William works. They range from Corker, who goes from war zone to war zone collecting souvenirs, to Wendell Jakes, who won a Nobel Peace Prize once for his reporting on a war that he himself created when he wrote lies about political strife in a calm country where he woke up after having fallen asleep on a train. While critics who read this novel as a social satire could make much of the ways that the journalists presented here reflect the callous professional detachment of real journalists, the connection is more playful than real. It may be true that the press is able to change the course of nations through frivolous mistakes, and it is almost certainly true that newspaper reports make journalists sound like they understand the complexities of foreign societies much, much more than they actually do. Still, after putting forth a convincing case that reporters have the power to create reality with their words, Waugh dismisses the entire press corps from the story, sending them off to the nonexistent town of Laku following a bogus lead. The book captures a sense of the herd mentality that dominates the foreign press corps but, by removing the journalists from the story, it surrenders any chance of examining the nuances of how the experienced war correspondents really operate.
Modern readers find themselves uncomfortable with the novel’s treatment of Africans. The subject of colonialism is never a comfortable one now, as sensitivity toward racial prejudice has evolved. For Waugh’s satire of the citizens of fictitious Ishmaelia to work, he would have to show respect for Africans. For modern readers to appre- ciate his sense of humor, he would have to treat the African characters no differently than he would treat the European ones. Whether it is because he lacked the interest in the concerns of Africans or because he was too willing to give in to his own pride in being British, Waugh fails at satirizing the politics of Africa at the time.
The closest Waugh comes to successful political satire of the Ishmaelites is in the book’s depictions of the two opposing consuls that William visits in London to obtain a visa to the presumed war zone. The fact that the Consul General is from Antigua and the rival legation is from Sierra Leone gives a nice, sharp commentary about outsiders poking into African politics. These two odd characters help to shed light on what was wrong with emerging African nations in the early 1900s. Their success as satiric characters is probably due to the fact that their roles in the book are so brief: they are both such minor, passing characters in William’s life that the novel has no responsibility for granting them any semblance of reality.
Those in power in Ishmaelia, however, appear to be written more for humor than for political satire. As he does throughout the book, Waugh relies on the old pattern of simply inverting readers’ expectations of the political activists rather than working his satire out of any true sense of the people in this situation. Both the ruling Jackson party and the Communist insurgents are portrayed as lazy and incompetent. Political issues are not the defining points of this political struggle: greed is what motivates both Ishmaelite parties, as well as the Germans and Russians that are backing them. Greed is, if course, an important political motivator, and some have argued persuasively that it is the ultimate driving force behind any political stance. It is also more humorous to reduce political passions down to a base instinct, knocking down their pretensions. It is, however, dishonest to reduce whole categories of people to one simple motivation.
Scoop oversimplifies its African characters, straying too far away from satire. They do not have enough in common with real people in similar situations to reflect the real world but are instead played simply as buffoons. The cause does not seem to be racism, as the novel’s narrative voice is generally evenhanded (although it does, notably, slip once, referring to the infuriatingly dense cabdriver as “the coon”). Of course, Waugh would have had the patronizing attitudes toward Africans that were common among Europeans in his time, and in light of those common attitudes his portrayal of Africans is not as harsh as one might expect. Still, he clearly favors the British. One striking example of this: in the real world, a patently incompetent newspaper reporter like William would not be able to walk away from the leader of a victorious political coup saying, as he does, “You’re being a bore.” In the end, all of the political intrigue between Russians and German and the various Ishmaelite parties turns out to play into the plans of one British manipulator, Mr. Baldwin, who appears to be the only person who has control over the whole situation.
To raise questions about the idea that Scoop is a political satire should not diminish the book’s value or effectiveness. The novel’s view of the world is far from a reflection of the political reality it is taken from; still, it is quite funny and often brilliant. There are things that remind readers of the way the world works and that is the core of political satire. The problem is that, when writing about a complex situation, Waugh resorts often to the comic device of playing against expectations rather than offering readers a comic view of what might really happen in such circumstances.
Source: David Kelly, Critical Essay on Scoop, in Novels for Students, The Gale Group, 2003. Kelly is an instructor of creative writing and literature at several colleges in Illinois.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2151
Written in 1938, Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop depicts a comic world of dishonest war journalists caught up in a rebellion in the fictional African country of Ishmaelia. The novel is based, in part, on Waugh’s stint as a war correspondent in Abyssinia in 1935. On the surface, Waugh does not appear to take the subject of journalistic irresponsibility seriously. Though at times Scoop seems more farce than satire, the pointed comic criticism of a powerful press gone awry is more effective precisely because it is entertaining. Having been a correspondent himself, Waugh saw journalistic corruption first hand. In the foreword to Michael Brian Salwen’s book Evelyn Waugh in Ethiopia: The Story Behind “Scoop,” Leonard Ray Teel writes of Waugh’s time as a journalist: “The correspondents’ conspiratorial competition for scoops disgusted him. Having missed a big story, he received a critical message by cable from his editors. He is said to have used that cable to light a cigar.” In Scoop, Waugh has found a more creative way to burn the newspaper establishment by plucking the simple and unsuspecting country gentleman William Boot from his rural existence, where he writes a column titled “Lush Places,” into the middle of a fictional war. Scoop explores the subjects of power and the power of information and demonstrates this in a number of ways during the course of the story.
Truth is in short supply and, more importantly in Waugh’s world, nothing can be taken at face value. At the outset, Waugh leads readers down the garden path by focusing their attention on John Boot only for them to discover that William Boot is the main character. In Scoop, mistaken identity happens often and first impressions cannot be trusted as fact. Truth, reality, and facts are usually creations, or distortions, of man, with the press being the largest villain.
From the beginning of the story, the value of truth is irrelevant to Lord Copper, publisher of the newspaper not so subtly named the Beast. One might assume someone with the title “Lord” is an upstanding fellow, but it is quickly apparent that wielding the considerable power of the press is what drives him. As Lord Copper learns of the intrigue in Ishmaelia, he expresses his view of the role his paper should play: “The Beast stands for strong mutually antagonistic governments everywhere. Self-sufficiency at home, self-assertion abroad.” This statement informs the reader of the enormous egotism of Lord Copper, a symbol of the press, and Waugh’s view of the British Government as arrogant. Lord Copper also states: “I am in consultation with my editors on the subject. We think it a very promising little war. A microcosm of world drama. We promise to give it fullest publicity.” Lord Copper’s interests in the “little war” is not about the people or politics involved but exploiting the inherent drama to sell newspapers.
The political conflict in Ishmaelia is derived out of a dispute among the current ruling family, the Jacksons. Smiles Soum, a distant family member of the Jacksons, is the fascist leader, upset by his minor post as “the Assistant Director of Public Morals.” With such a title, one can only assume it is a low position, with little influence, within the government. Smiles Soum believes that the Ishmaelites, a race of whites, “must purge themselves of the Negro taint.” Such words arouse international interest and the world’s press soon arrives eager to spread future news, providing Soum the power he desires. Waugh mocks the ignorance of Europeans in Africa by having them equipped with “cuckoo clocks, phonographs, opera hats.” The inclusion of such racial intolerance is undoubtedly a comment on the conflict between world powers at the time, but it is not the focus of this novel. While racism may be insidious, Waugh is determined to keep our attention on those who could tell us about it in detail but do not.
William is quickly indoctrinated into this treacherous world of journalism when a fellow journalist, Corker, tries to scoop him by refusing to decipher a message from the Beast to William written in “cablese.” After learning that they will be working together, Corker agrees to teach William how to read the message. Corker also tells William that two of the great war correspondents, Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock and Wenlock Jakes, made their reputations on two dubious scoops. These two journalists of international prominence derived their celebrity from lies and deceit in what is commonly expected to be the most reputable of professions. The journalists’ stories in Scoop are untrustworthy and gratuitous. Continuing his education of William, Corker advises him to wire “colour” stories when there is nothing to report: “Colour is just a lot of bulls-eyes about nothing. It’s easy to write and easy to read . . . ,” which is precisely what the editors desire.
Colour stories, lies, and deceit are the common tools of a journalist in Waugh’s world. The power of misinformation is Waugh’s theme. On one occasion, it is mistakenly believed that Hitchcock has traveled to the city of Laku to interview Smiles Saum. The world’s correspondents at once follow in his footsteps, always afraid of being scooped. Readers soon learn that Laku is Ishmaelian for “I don’t know.” The city was, in fact, erroneously added to the map years ago by a European mapmaker who thought that a servant’s answer of “Laku” to his question, “what is this place?” was the name of the city. In Waugh’s world, the haphazard is often generated through people’s ignorance, greed, and lack of attention to truth and detail. Not only does a servant have the power to name a city in the right set of circumstances but this misinformation leads the world’s press on a goose chase. This is further emphasized as Hitchcock exits from his hotel room and readers learn that he never left for Laku. He tells William: “The job of an English special [correspondent] is to spot the story he wants, get it—then clear out and leave the rest to the [news] agencies.” Waugh is continually building on the formidable power of the press, which is all too eager to supply misinformation in order to present stories the public will devour rather than focusing on the less entertaining facts.
One person who does actually supply accurate information to William is Kätchen. This down-onher- luck woman exerts considerable power over the country journalist and is at the root of a major turning point in William’s journalistic career, not to mention the novel. Captivated by her instantly, William is in love and cannot resist any request. Waugh presents Kätchen as selfish and manipulative, thus her influence over William is limitless. Kätchen persuades William to make her his secretary, which has unpredictable results. Just as all seems lost for William and he receives a wire stating that “LORD COPPER PERSONALLY REQUIRES VICTORIES,” Kätchen takes female action. Through a series of shopping sprees, which says a lot about Waugh’s view of what occupies a woman’s time in the 1930s, Kätchen learns that President Jackson is being held hostage in an apparent coup d’etat. Before William can contact the Beast, he receives word that they have sacked him. Undeterred, William decides to send the information anyway. William Boot displays the same sarcasm as the author, only without the benefit of punctuation: “NOTHING MUCH HAS HAPPENED EXCEPT TO THE PRESIDENT WHO HAS BEEN IMPRISONED IN HIS OWN PALACE BY REVOLUTIONARY JUNTA HEADED BY SUPERIOR BLACK CALLED BENITO AND RUSSIAN JEW WHO [Jack] BANNISTER SAYS HE IS UP TO NO GOOD THEY SAY HE IS DRUNK WHEN HIS CHILDREN TRY TO SEE HIM BUT GOVERNESS SAYS MOST UNUSUAL LOVELY SPRING WEATHER BUBONIC PLAGUE RAGING . . . SACK RECEIVED SAFELY THOUGHT I MIGHT AS WELL SEND THIS ALL THE SAME.”
Kätchen continues to figure largely in William’s professional rise. Shortly after his first scoop, William learns that the Germans and Russians have been trying to mine gold ore. Dr. Benito, the minister of foreign affairs and propaganda for Ishmaelia, is working for the Soviets and imprisons Kätchen to try and keep William from wiring his latest scoop. However, this is not an effective deterrent and, suddenly, the world powers have been altered. William Boot, Countryman, now has the power—whether he is cognizant of his new found influence or not. Scoring his second enormous scoop, William sends a 2,000 word telegram to the Beast informing them of the plot. The Beast is beyond thrilled and William’s celebrity begins to grow. But there is no safety in this woman’s arms for William. Having been involved with the failed German attempt to win the mine deal, Kätchen’s previously absent husband returns and is now in grave danger. Ever the smooth customer, Kätchen bribes her way out of prison, reunites with her husband, and William, still powerless to Kätchen’s desires, provides them with his canoe for their escape. Even though the inclusion of this scheming woman appears to the reader, like many of Waugh’s plot points, to be arbitrary, her presence must lead us to conclude that he wishes us to come away with a certain view of the female sex. While one recognizes this characterization of Kätchen as a negative stereotype, there is another individual in Scoop who evades explanation and yet fills a pivotal role in this power play.
The revolution and counterrevolution in Scoop suggests that the overthrow of governments comes about through blundering, irrationality, and, finally, the unknown powers that lurk behind the scenes. In the case of Mr. Baldwin, whose true identity remains a mystery throughout the novel, the power of one individual can change the fate of a country. Mr. Baldwin is the greatest power in Scoop— intangible and thus unknowable. A powerbroker and manipulator of world events behind the scenes, Mr. Baldwin creates outcomes and then uses William to filter information to the world via newspapers. While Mr. Baldwin freely uses his power from unseen quarters, he chooses not to be recognized as the author of his own views. Instead, he shuns the spotlight while positioning William to be bathed in it even further. In another nod towards Waugh’s ideas on British attitudes toward Africa, Baldwin tells William he has a message for the British public: “‘Might’ must find a way. Not ‘Force’ remember; other nations use ‘force’; we Britons alone use ‘Might.’ Only one thing can set things right—sudden and extreme violence, or better still, the effective threat of it.” Baldwin, like Waugh, understands the importance of well chosen words.
Because of the enigmatic Baldwin, the unassuming countryman, William Boot, returns to London an enormous celebrity and respected journalist. Lord Copper has orchestrated a tremendous banquet and has even used his influence to obtain a knighthood for William. William’s absence cannot, however, prevent yet another mix-up—his invitation to the banquet is sent to John Boot and, as the banquet is about to begin, there is no Boot to congratulate. Uncle Theodore, William’s eccentric relative, arrives at the paper to speak with the features editor about some of his “dirty stories” they might be interested in and is quickly shuffled in to take the place of honor. This mix-up makes Uncle Theodore the third Boot to be considered a war correspondent. Shakespeare, who used mistaken identities throughout many of his comedies, would be proud of the variety of ways Waugh finds to mistake identities in Scoop.
Shakespeare’s characters often escaped into the woods where lines of reality are blurred. Conversely, William Boot journeys from his authentic country life to enter a game with the power brokers of the urban world that William is ill-equipped to play. Scoop is an escapist novel that contains a plethora of absurd situations highlighting the disparity between reality and illusion, fact and fiction. By the end, the only way for William to preserve his soul is to return to the small familiar manageable and tranquil world of the country where the truth can be somewhat contained and not so easily manufactured. While much seems to have returned to normal, there is a question of the harmony created at the end. Working on his old local column “Lush Places,” William writes that “rodents pilot their furry brood through the stubble,” which is not a metaphor of complete fulfillment. As the novel closes, readers are left to pause and give consideration to our own existence in a world that is far from perfect and often tragically comic. The ultimate power of Scoop is the power of fiction to remake reality, which is perhaps Waugh’s final point.
Source: Daryl McDaniel, Critical Essay on Scoop, in Novels for Students, The Gale Group, 2003. McDaniel is a writer with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan.
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