Historical Context

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The Italo-Ethiopian War
The setting and many of the details in the novel derive from the historical situation in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in 1935 and 1936. Waugh covered the war as a foreign correspondent for the Daily Mail.

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Italy invaded Ethiopia in October 1935. The pretext was an incident on the border between Ethiopia and Italian Somaliland. The Italians had superior weaponry and captured the capital city, Addis Ababa—Jacksonburg in the novel—in 1936. Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini proclaimed Italy’s king Victor Emmanuel III emperor of Ethiopia. (In Scoop, the name of would-be dictator Dr. Benito is a deliberate reminder of Benito Mussolini.) The League of Nations opposed the Italian intervention but took only ineffective measures to end it. Britain had a stake in the region, but the other great European powers did not (unlike in the novel, where Britain, Germany, and Russia are all involved). The Italo-Ethiopian war, with its evidence that at least one of the totalitarian powers of Europe (the other was Nazi Germany) had imperialistic designs, contributed to the tensions that led up to World War II in 1939.

In Waugh in Abyssinia (1936), Waugh reported on his role as a journalist covering the conflict and offered his cautious support of the Italian intervention. In 1936, civil war broke out in Spain, in which the nationalist, fascist forces of General Franco attempted to overthrow a socialist government. The socialists received much support from leftist intellectuals in England, some of whom, like George Orwell, even went to Spain to fight against Franco. In the Preface to Scoop, Waugh pointed out that, in his plot, he tried to combine elements from the Italo- Ethiopian war with some details drawn from the Spanish civil war. The Spanish element can be seen in the playful description of the government of Ishmaelia as “liberal and progressive” and in the names of some of its leaders. General Gollancz Jackson, for example, is intended to remind readers of Victor Gollancz, a left-wing publisher in England. When conflict breaks out, the Ishmaelian rebels are presented, like Franco’s forces, as fascists. And the besieged government wins much support in leftwing circles in England: “In a hundred progressive weeklies and Left Study Circles the matter was taken up and the cause of the Jacksons restarted in ideological form.” This passage could equally serve as a description of how the left in England rallied to the cause of the Spanish socialists. Franco’s fascists were victorious in 1939.

Foreign Correspondents
The 1930s were the heyday of the glamorous newspaper foreign correspondent, both in the United States and Britain. In the days before television, these were the men (and, in a few cases, women) who informed the public about the course of events in the trouble spots of the world. In the United States, the foreign correspondent fulfilled an important function because, at the time, the political landscape was dominated by isolationist thinking. As Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. writes of these correspondents, “[T]heir ardent dispatches brought home to Americans the personalities, ambitions, intrigues, and dangers that were putting the planet on the slippery slope into the Second World War.”

Among the most famous American correspondents were John Gunther, Vincent Sheean, Raymond Gram Swing, Dorothy Thompson, Edgar Snow, Harold Isaacs, Paul Scott Mowrer, Edgar Ansel Mowrer, and H. R. Knickerbocker. The latter was the model for Wenlock Jakes in Scoop. Knickerbocker was a Pulitzer Prize winner who during his career covered nearly every war front in the world, including the Italo-Ethiopian war, which he covered for Hearst International. He and Waugh struck up a cordial relationship there but quarreled over a remark Knickerbocker made and even came to blows over it.

Gunther, who was head of the Chicago Daily News bureau in Vienna in the early 1930s, and who was later transferred to London, wrote in his book Inside U.S.A. (quoted by Schlesinger) that the 1930s

were the bubbling, blazing days of American foreign correspondence in Europe. . . . Most of us traveled steadily, met constantly, exchanged information, caroused, took in each other’s washing, and, even when most fiercely competitive, were devoted friends. . . . We were scavengers, buzzards, out to get the news, no matter whose wings got clipped.

One of the famous British correspondents was F. A. Voigt. In the 1920s and early 1930s, he was Berlin correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. His reporting angered the German authorities, and on one occasion in the early 1920s he was kidnapped; a wall around him was sprayed with bullets, but he escaped. Later, Voigt wrote fearlessly about the menace of Hitler’s Nazi Party and had to leave Berlin hurriedly for Paris when Hitler came to power in 1933. Even then he continued to write in opposition to Hitler. Voigt’s friends and colleagues used to say that he would rather be burned at the stake than be frightened off a story—an attitude that typified the foreign correspondent in the public mind, although such a glamorous view of the profession was not shared by Waugh, as Scoop makes abundantly clear.

A Scoop in Ethiopia
During the Italo-Ethiopian war in 1935–1936, there was one of the most famous journalistic scoops of the century. An Englishman named F. W. Rickett, negotiating on behalf of an American oil company, secured a huge oil and mineral concession from the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie. Rickett (who is the original on which the character Mr. Baldwin in the novel is based) gave the information exclusively to three journalists, including Sir Percival Phillips of the Daily Telegraph. (Phillips is the model for Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock in Scoop.)

Waugh missed out on the scoop because, like the crowd of journalists in Scoop, he had been out of Addis Ababa chasing another story. The Daily Mail was not pleased with his performance and cabled him, “Badly left oil concession suggest your return Addis immediately.”

Literary Style

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Satire is literature that diminishes its subject by ridiculing it. A satire can evoke reactions such as amusement, contempt, or scorn. It can be aimed at an individual, a group of people, an institution, or a whole nation. The object of Waugh’s satire is the entire newspaper industry, from the proprietor Lord Copper to the editors in Fleet Street and the foreign correspondents in the field.

An example of Waugh’s method can be seen in the incident Lord Copper relates, in which he and his star reporter Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock quarreled over the date of the Battle of Hastings, as a result of which Hitchcock left the Beast for the Brute. The Battle of Hastings, when the invading Normans defeated the army of the Anglo-Saxon King Harold, took place in England in 1066. The date 1066 is known by every English schoolchild, but not, apparently, by England’s most famous foreign correspondent. The incident suggests that Hitchcock is ignorant beyond imagination, and also implies that this kind of juvenile dispute is the level on which the newspaper business in Fleet Street is conducted. Even the titles of the newspapers, the Beast and the Brute, are satiric, mocking their pretensions to be the purveyors of news, information, and culture. Mr. Salter, the Beast’s foreign editor, is almost as ignorant as Copper’s view of Hitchcock. He cannot find Reykjavik on a map, nor can anyone else in his office. He is ill read, never having heard of the well-known novelist John Courteney Boot, and neither he nor the Beast’s managing editor has the knowledge or ability to judge a writer’s style, which is why they both think that William Boot’s absurd, high-flown effort, “Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole” is an example of good style.

Satire is usually distinguished from farce. Whereas satire may have a serious purpose in exposing vice or folly and pointing the way to something better, farce is comedy pure and simple. It is designed to make people laugh, using unusual situations or improbable events. Farce often makes use of physical humor such as slapstick or horseplay; it may also use practical jokes.

There are many farcical episodes in the novel. One of the funniest is when the aggressive goat at the Pension Dressler finally breaks the rope that fetters her and sends Dr. Benito’s pompous emissary, who has just boasted to William that he was a college welterweight boxing champion, sprawling in the garbage.

Other examples of farce are the series of improbable events due to misunderstandings, such as the confusion over the two (and later three) Boots; the entry of Olafsen in a drunken frenzy to end the revolution almost before it has begun; the journalists’ trek to a place that doesn’t exist; and Salter’s calamitous trek over six miles of country to Boot Magna Hall.

Farce is evident in the dialogue, too, as when Salter and William, when they first meet, talk at cross-purposes and so cannot communicate at all. William is expecting to be fired, while Salter has been instructed to offer him a job. To make matters worse, Salter has been given erroneous ideas about suitable topics of conversation when meeting a man from the country.

There is more farce nearer the end of the novel, when Salter is forced to travel to Boot Magna Hall. The Boots not only make the mistake of thinking that he walked the six miles from the railway station out of choice, but they also leap to the conclusion that his disheveled appearance is because of drunkenness. So, during dinner, when all the poor man needs to boost his flagging spirits is a little alcoholic refreshment, they refuse to give him anything other than water.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Amsden, David, “Death or Glory: When the stakes are high, British journalist Daniel Jeffreys always gets the story—and he never lets the facts get in the way,” in New York, May 6, 2002.

Brophy, John, Review of Scoop, in Evelyn Waugh: The Critical Heritage, edited by Michael Stannard, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984, pp. 198–99, originally published in Daily Telegraph, May 13, 1938.

Review of Scoop, in Evelyn Waugh: The Critical Heritage, edited by Michael Stannard, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984, pp. 197–98, originally published in Times Literary Supplement, May 7, 1938.

Schlesinger, Arthur J., Jr., “A Man from Mars,” in Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 279, No. 4, April 1997, pp. 113–18.

Stannard, Michael, Evelyn Waugh: The Early Years, 1903–1939, J. M. Dent & Sons, 1986.

Teel, Leonard Ray, Foreword, in Evelyn Waugh in Ethiopia: The Story behind “Scoop,” by Michael Brian Salwen, Edwin Mellen Press, 2001, p. v.

Verschoyle, Derek, Review of Scoop, in Evelyn Waugh: The Critical Heritage, edited by Michael Stannard, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984, pp. 199–201, originally published in Spectator, May 13, 1938.

Waugh, Evelyn, Scoop, Little Brown and Co., 1977, pp. 133, 215.

—, Waugh in Abyssinia, Longmans, Green and Company, 1936.

Further Reading
Beaty, Frederick L., The Ironic World of Evelyn Waugh: A Study of Eight Novels, Northern Illinois University Press, 1992. Beaty examines the role that irony plays in Waugh’s fiction, in terms of plot, theme, and character. He argues that Waugh’s use of irony adds unstated and often crucial meaning to the text.

Crabbe, Kathryn W., Evelyn Waugh, Continuum, 1988. This is a readable survey of Waugh’s novels, but in the chapter on Scoop, Crabbe makes the error of confusing the two characters Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock and Wenlock Jakes.

Davis, Robert Murray, Evelyn Waugh, Writer, Pilgrim Books, Inc., 1981. This includes a chapter on Scoop, in which Davis analyzes the changes Waugh made as he revised the novel from early drafts.

Lane, Calvin W., Evelyn Waugh, Twayne English Authors Series, No. 301, Twayne Publishers, 1981. Lane concentrates on Waugh’s fiction, with chapters on all the major novels. He also discusses Waugh’s views on the craft of fiction and offers an evaluation of Waugh’s achievement as a satiric novelist.

Compare and Contrast

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1930s: Ethiopia (Abyssinia) is invaded by Italy in 1935. The Italians use poison gas, defying the Geneva Protocol that banned such weapons in 1925. The Italian occupation continues until 1941, when British forces liberate the country.

Today: After rebels topple the socialist government of Ethiopia in 1991, multiparty elections are held in 1995 for the first time ever. In 1998, a border war breaks out with Eritrea, Ethiopia’s northern neighbor. It is resolved by a peace treaty in 2000.

1930s: Newspapers and radio are the only means by which people are informed about world events.

Today: Most people use television rather than newspapers as their main source of news. However, more and more people are turning to the Internet as a news source. Because of the growth of the Internet, the old concept of a single daily edition of a newspaper is changing. The major newspapers, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, have websites in which the main stories are updated every few hours.

1930s: Foreign correspondents such as H. R. Knickerbocker and John Gunther are well known in America for their vigorous and thorough reporting of world events.

Today: Newspaper foreign correspondents are no longer household names to the American or British public. Their place has been taken by television reporters. Reporters such as MSNBC’s Ashleigh Banfield make names for themselves by broadcasting from dangerous parts of the globe. Television and newspaper reporters take risks in doing their jobs, and occasionally there is a tragedy. The kidnapping and murder of Wall St. Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002, as he pursued a story about terrorism in Pakistan, illustrates the dangers encountered by reporters in unstable regions of the world.

Media Adaptations

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An unabridged audiocassette tape of Scoop, narrated by Simon Cadell, is published by Cover to Cover Cassettes Ltd. (1998).

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Critical Essays