Chez Buce enjoyed a viewing of Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honor trilogy on the big screen at the Buce Odeon last week. We'd both read the novels, though separately (this is a strong pro-Waugh household). We give it two thumbs up; it's one of those rare events, a really successful screen representation of what was already a pretty good book. Or so I would have thought; but if so it confounds my theory that good books don't make good movies--only mediocre books make the transition, because there's too much going on in a really good book to be satisfactorily transmitted to the screen. But this doesn't seem right; I retain my high opinion of Waugh, on paper and on screen. The clue might be that Waugh makes his points by understatement: by setting up character and situation and then letting the voices speak for themselves. Perhaps this is something that really does transfer well to the screen. Besides, we all know that the Brits just do these movie transfers better than anybody else, so if anyone has a chance, it is they.
One point that had never struck me before: how much of the overarching plot of the Waugh trilogy is a reflection--okay, almost a direct steal--from the other great British multivolume war novel. That would be Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford, which we read just last winter. Think about it: old-school (if slightly down-market) aristo, wedded to a creed almost comically antique (think Don Quixote here)--and yoked to a woman so richly undeserving as to make you gasp (but admit it now: British girls never did look like a lot of fun, did they?). He moves more or less impassively through his War surrrounded by lunatics whose capacity for harm is limited only by their incompetence. Poor Ford. He never did get the respect he felt he deserved, and had he lived long enough to read Sword, I'll be he would have thought it actionable.
It brings to mind what I've always seen as an other case of arrant imitation in high places. That would be Henry James and George Eliot--in particular, James' sniffy, dismissive review* of Middlemarch, (one of) whose plot(s) he then suavely lifted for Portrait of a Lady. Perhaps we should just write it up as homage.
*In the Library of America Henry James: Essays on Literature--American Writers, English Writers at 958-66. See also his comments on Daniel Deronda, id. at 973-92 (1984).