Last Reviewed on October 3, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 566
Vile Bodies , Evelyn Waugh's second novel, is a series of vignettes connected by little more than their grotesque improbability and the fact that they happen to people from the same social set: the "bright young things" of 1920s England. The novel opens with a rough channel crossing in which...
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- Critical Essays
Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh's second novel, is a series of vignettes connected by little more than their grotesque improbability and the fact that they happen to people from the same social set: the "bright young things" of 1920s England. The novel opens with a rough channel crossing in which almost everyone becomes sick except Mrs. Melrose Ape, an American evangelist who is on tour with her "singing angels." Adam Fenwick-Symes, the protagonist, insofar as the book has one, is a young author who going home to get married. The novel he wrote in Paris is confiscated by customs agents at Dover, and he is forced into a new contract with his publisher: it includes no advance and stipulates that he produce novels at an alarmingly fast rate.
Lottie Crump, the owner of the hotel where Adam is staying, is forgiving about his inability to pay the bill and invites him to a party where he wins a thousand pounds in a bet—and promptly loses it again when he gives it to a drunken major to put on a horse. A little later, a girl who has been swinging on a chandelier falls and dies. This is one of several such meaningless and unregretted deaths in the book.
One of the guests invites Adam's friend Agatha Runcible and a group of other young people to her house. In the morning, it turns out that the house is at 10 Downing Street, and her father is the Prime Minister. Subsequent rumors of orgies cause the collapse of his government.
Adam receives a cheque for a thousand pounds from Colonel Blount, the father of his fiancée, but it turns out that he has signed the cheque "Charlie Chaplin" and it is worthless. Meanwhile, Lord Balcairn, a gossip columnist who writes the "Mr. Chatterbox" column in the Daily Excess, has committed suicide, and Adam becomes the new Mr. Chatterbox. He invents fictitious figures for the gossip column to avoid being sued and is highly perturbed when he finds that one of them, Ginger Littlejohn, actually exists. While he is away talking to Colonel Blount again, Nina Blount, his fiancée, writes the column and gets Adam fired by mentioning green bowler hats, against which the paper has a prejudice. The Honorable Miles Malpractice, another bright young thing who was on the initial channel crossing, becomes the new Mr. Chatterbox.
At a motor race, Adam encounters the major to whom he gave a thousand pounds to bet on a horse. The major assures him that his winnings are safe, borrows five pounds, and disappears. Agatha Runcible crashes her car and dies in a cottage hospital. Completely without funds, Adam promises Ginger Littlejohn that the latter can marry Nina Blount if he pays Adam's hotel bill. Littlejohn marries Nina but is immediately called up for military service.
After spending Christmas with Nina and her father, Adam also goes to the war and meets the drunken major, who now claims to be a general and offers to pay the money he owes to Adam. Adam thinks the money will be useless in the circumstances, but they eventually find the general's car, in which are a case of champagne and a girl called Chastity, one of Mrs. Melrose Ape's singers. Adam drinks some champagne and falls asleep. The ending, in which nothing is resolved, is fitting in view of the fragmented, episodic narrative.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1191
During the rough English Channel crossing, almost everyone is in some stage of seasickness. Some become tipsy and take to their berths. The Bright Young People, led by Agatha Runcible and effeminate Miles Malpractice, strap themselves with sticking plaster and hope for the best. A few hardy souls gather in the smoking room where Mrs. Melrose Ape, a famous female evangelist traveling with her troupe of singing angels, bullies them into singing hymns. Father Rothschild, S.J., contemplates the sufferings of the saints.
Adam Fenwick-Symes, a young writer, is hurrying home to marry Nina Blount. To his dismay, the Dover customs authorities confiscate and burn the manuscript of the autobiography he wrote while in Paris. Almost as bad is the case of Agatha, who is stripped and searched after being mistaken for a notorious jewel smuggler.
In London, Adam’s publisher offers him a contract to write a novel, but with no advance in royalties. With only ten shillings to his name, Adam wonders how he is going to get married. Luckily, he is staying at Shepheard’s Hotel. Lottie Crump, the proprietress, who bullies kings and advises members of Parliament, is careless about bills if she likes her guests. Most of her guests are drunk. One young man makes a foolish bet with Adam and loses a thousand pounds. Adam calls Nina and tells her they can get married immediately, but before he leaves the hotel a drunken major persuades him to put the money on the horse, Indian Runner, in the November Handicap. Then the major disappears, and Adam is forced to call Nina again and tell her that their marriage will be postponed.
Adam and Nina go to Archie Schwert’s costume party. Finding the affair dull, some of the Bright Young People go off to Lottie’s for a drink. Judge Skimp, an American guest, is entertaining. One young woman, who fell while swinging on a chandelier, dies, despite the champagne used to bathe her forehead.
The party is about to break up when Miss Brown invites the group to her house, which happens to be No. 10 Downing Street, for her father is Sir James Brown, the prime minister. Agatha stays all night because she had forgotten the key to her own house. The next morning, still in her Hawaiian grass skirt, she finds reporters and photographers waiting when she goes out the front door. Reports of midnight orgies at No. 10 Downing Street cause a change of government, and Mr. Outrage, whose dreams are filled with visions of nude Japanese ladies, becomes the new prime minister.
On Nina’s advice, Adam calls on Colonel Blount to ask if the eccentric gentleman can finance his daughter’s wedding. The colonel generously gives him a check for a thousand pounds. Adam is jubilant and takes Nina to a country hotel where they stay overnight. He is so happy that she waits until the next morning to tell him that her father, an absentminded movie fan, signed Charlie Chaplin’s name to the worthless check. The wedding is postponed once more.
At Lady Metroland’s party for Mrs. Ape, Baron Balcairn, a gossip columnist known as Mr. Chatterbox, shows up in disguise after the host refuses to send him an invitation. Suspected of spying on a secret political conference among Lord Metroland, Father Rothschild, and Mr. Outrage, he is exposed. Deciding to give his paper the scoop of scoops, he reports a sensational but false account of indiscreet confessions made by aristocrats whom the evangelist converted. Then he goes home, turns on the gas, puts his head into the oven, and quietly dies.
Adam becomes Mr. Chatterbox. In the meantime, Balcairn’s hoax swamps the courts with libel suits against the Daily Excess. Mrs. Ape confirms the story in a special interview and then departs with her angels to pep up religion at Oberammergau, Germany. Because Adam is forbidden to mention the names of those suing the paper, he is forced to invent fictitious people for his column. Among his creations is a man named Ginger, a model of fashion and a popular figure in society.
He is rather surprised when he finally encounters Captain Eddy Littlejohn, a man whom everyone calls Ginger. Adam and Nina meet him at the November Handicap, where Indian Runner comes in first, paying thirty-five to one. A few minutes after the race, Adam spies the drunken major, but he disappears before Adam can push his way through the crowd to collect his winnings.
Adam promises Nina that he will speak to her father again. He finds the colonel making a film based on the life of John Wesley and too busy to pay any attention to Adam. During his absence, Nina writes his column and mentions green bowlers, a fashion item that is taboo in the Daily Excess. As a result, Adam loses his job, and Miles becomes Mr. Chatterbox. Miles takes the post because he needs the money. His brother, Lord Throbbing, returns unexpectedly from Canada and throws Miles, along with his disreputable boxing and racing friends, out of Throbbing House.
Adam, Agatha, Miles, and Archie Schwert go to the auto races where, to get into the pits, they wear brassards indicating that they belong to the crew of car 13. Between heats, Adam again meets the drunken major, who, after assuring him that his thirty-five thousand pounds are safe in the bank, borrows five pounds to make a bet.
When the driver of car 13 is disabled by an Italian rival, Agatha, who wears a brassard designating her as a spare driver, takes the wheel. Careening madly, she establishes a course record for the lap before she leaves the track and drives across country until she crashes the car into a monument. She is found wandering about in a dazed condition and dies in a nursing home, still thinking that she is driving in a spinning world of speed and sound.
Adam has no money to pay Lottie’s bill for seventy-eight pounds sixteen and twopence. Meeting Ginger Littlejohn, he borrows that amount and promises in return that Ginger can marry Nina. Shortly after Ginger and Nina return from their honeymoon, Ginger is called up for military service. Adam and Nina spend Christmas with Colonel Blount. The Wesley film is finished, and the colonel, planning to show it as a Christmas treat, is too preoccupied to notice that his supposed son-in-law is a writer he met previously as Fenwick-Symes. On Christmas night, they hear that war was declared.
Adam meets his drunken major again on a blasted battlefield during a lull in the fighting. The officer, who insists that he is now a general, announces that he lost his division. Adam is not quite so badly off; he loses only one platoon. The general offers to pay the thirty-five thousand pounds on the spot, but Adam thinks the money will be useless. They do find the general’s car and in it are a case of champagne and Chastity, one of Mrs. Ape’s singing angels. Adam drinks some of the wine and falls asleep, leaving the general and Chastity to entertain each other.