The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Guy Crouchback is a largely autobiographical character whose personality and past reflect Evelyn Waugh’s awareness of what he was and what he wished to be. Both author and protagonist are the same age, and, like Waugh, Guy is divorced from his wife because of her flagrant infidelity. More important, they share much the same religious, political, and social ideas. Both are staunch Catholics, supporters of conservative politicians, and defenders of a class system based upon the assumption that the upper classes are superior examples of humanity. The most significant experiences Guy has in the army, such as fighting in the battle for Crete and serving on a mission to Communist partisans in Yugoslavia, are taken from Waugh’s military career, and many of the other characters in Sword of Honour are drawn from real-life acquaintances of the author.

To the extent that there are differences between protagonist and literary creator, they tend to reveal Waugh’s conception of the ideal social background for a person of his acquired—rather than inherited—beliefs. Waugh came from an eminently respectable but nevertheless thoroughly middle-class family with strong literary and artistic leanings, vague but definitely Protestant religious sentiments, and liberal if by no means radical political views. He rejected most of this heritage by converting to Catholicism and adopting very right-wing positions on most issues, and, in his later years, he often bemoaned the fact that he had not been born into the nobility. Guy Crouchback’s aristocratic Catholic family and secure position in society undoubtedly reflect Waugh’s dreams as to how he might bring his past into line with his present, and anyone interested in Waugh’s conception of himself should pay very close attention to the character of Sword of Honour’s protagonist.

This process of idealization carries over into the portrait of Guy’s father, who is depicted in a reverently uncritical manner that occasionally verges upon sheer sentimentality. A deeply religious Catholic, saintly friend to the less fortunate, and at all times perfect gentleman, Gervase Crouchback is a rock of assurance in Guy’s otherwise turbulent world. One would also be justified in assuming that he represents Waugh’s idea of the perfect father, given those feelings of rejection and lack of understanding he experienced in his relationship with his real father, which are so gently but clearly detailed in his...

(The entire section is 1014 words.)