Evelyn Waugh's Scoop (London, 1938) is a satire on journalism. It is based on Waugh's stint as a war correspondent for the London Daily Mail in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in 1935, during which he covered the war between Abyssinia and Italy. Waugh admitted that he had no aptitude for war reporting, but he did observe closely the activities of his fellow journalists. The result was a satirical, farcical novel that takes lighthearted but deadly aim at the newspaper industry and the journalistic profession.
The plot rests on some comic twists of fortune. Lord Copper, the arrogant and ignorant owner of the Daily Beast, sends out by mistake a naïve writer of nature columns, William Boot, to cover the war in the fictional East African country of Ishmaelia. Geographically, at least, Ishmaelia is identical with Abyssinia. William gets some quick lessons in the devious way of journalists, who are always trying to outwit their colleagues and deliver a scoop. Helped by a series of lucky events, William gets several major scoops himself and returns to London as a world-renowned reporter. But it all means nothing to him, and he is happy to return to his country home, the isolated and dilapidated Boot Magna Hall, where his many eccentric relatives live.
Evelyn Waugh was born on October 28, 1903, in Hampstead, London, England, the son of Arthur
(an editor and publisher) and Catherine Charlotte (Raban) Waugh. He was enrolled at Lancing, a preparatory school, in 1917, where he wrote poetry, edited the school magazine, and was president of the debating society.
Waugh won a scholarship to Hertford College, Oxford, in 1922. At Oxford, he wrote poetry and stories for undergraduate magazines but, because of financial difficulties, he left the university in 1924 without graduating. He enrolled at Heatherley's Art School, and in 1925 he became a secondary school teacher in Wales and then in Buckinghamshire, England.
In 1927, Waugh married Evelyn Gardner. In 1928, his first novel, Decline and Fall, appeared. This was a satire on the English upper classes and the English educational system. While Waugh was writing his second novel, Vile Bodies (1930), he discovered that his wife was having an affair, so he filed for a divorce.
In 1930, he converted to Roman Catholicism, and he spent much of his time between 1929 and 1937 traveling. He visited the Mediterranean, Ethiopia (then known as Abyssinia), and North Africa, the West Indies and British Guiana, as well as Brazil, Mexico, and the Arctic. He reported on the Italian-Ethiopian war in 1935 and wrote several accounts of his travels, including Remote People (1931), about his African journey, and Waugh in Abyssinia (1936).
Waugh's third novel, Black Mischief, was published in 1932 and cemented his reputation as a brilliant satirist. It was followed by the bleak A Handful of Dust (1934), before Waugh returned to lighthearted satire with Scoop (1938).
In 1936, the Catholic Church annulled his first marriage, and the following year Waugh married Laura Herbert. This inaugurated a more settled period in his life, although it was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Waugh was given an officer's commission in the Royal Marines; in 1941 he volunteered for service with the No. 8 Commando Forces in the Middle East, and he took part in several raids on the North African coast. In 1944, he joined the British Military Mission to Yugoslavia.
One of Waugh's best-known novels, Brides-head Revisited, was published after the war in 1945. It achieved international success, especially in the United States, where it was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. In 1948, Waugh went on a lecture tour of Catholic universities in the United States.
In the 1950s, Waugh's literary output continued, although the satirist of the 1930s had now developed a deep dislike for contemporary society. His work from this period included the war novels Men at Arms (1952) and Officers and Gentlemen (1955), an autobiographical novel, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957), and a novella, Love Among the Ruins (1953). His last novel was another war novel, Unconditional Surrender (1961), which was published in the United States as The End of the Battle.
Waugh died on April 10, 1966, in Combe Florey, Somerset, England.
Book 1: The Stitch Service
Scoop begins as the young novelist John Courteney Boot visits his aristocratic friend, Mrs. Julia Stitch, in London. She is in bed, her face covered in a mask of clay while she directs domestic operations. With her are her secretary, her maid, her precocious eight-year-old daughter, and a workman who is painting ruined castles on the ceiling.
Later, Boot explains to Mrs. Stitch as she drives to an appointment that he must leave London because his American girlfriend is driving him crazy. Mrs. Stitch suggests that he go as a war correspondent to Ishmaelia, East Africa, where there is a crisis. She convinces the head of the Megalopolitan Newspaper Corporation, Lord Copper, that Boot is the man to cover the war. But Mr. Salter, the Foreign Editor at the Daily Beast, wrongly assumes that the William Boot who writes a nature column for the Beast is the man to whom Copper refers.
The countryman Boot lives in the ancient, dilapidated Boot Magna Hall with a crowd of eccentric relatives. William has no desire to leave his home and has never met anyone at the Beast. But when he receives a cable from Salter summoning him to London, he assumes it is because of an error in his column the previous week. He goes to London expecting to be fired. The encounter between William and Mr. Salter is uncomfortable for them both. After a series of comic misunderstandings, Salter asks him if he will go to Ishmaelia as a war correspondent. William politely declines, but when Salter tells him that, unless he goes to Ishmaelia, he will be fired, William reluctantly agrees.
The following morning, William meets Lord Copper. Copper wants the war in Ishmaelia to be resolved quickly and in a way that will create good news copy. After the meeting, Salter tries to explain to William who is fighting and why, but William is none the wiser.
After a comical episode in which William visits two rival Ishmaelite legations in London to get a visa, he flies by private plane to Paris, kindly allowing a stranger to fly with him. Then he boards the train for Marseilles, where he meets the stranger again, who turns out to be an Englishman. The stranger promises to repay William's favor whenever he can.
William then has an uncomfortable journey by sea to Aden. He meets an English journalist named Corker, who is also going to Ishmaelia but knows no more about the place than William. Corker explains the fundamentals of journalism to William, including how to interpret cryptic cables he receives from London. In Aden, William meets up again with the mysterious Englishman, and Corker searches for a story for his news agency.
Book 2: Stones £20
The narrator explains the brewing conflict in Ishmaelia, a backward place that is corruptly run by the Jackson family, with General Gollancz Jackson as president. The capital city, Jacksonburg, receives much foreign investment, little of which finds its way to the ordinary people. Six months earlier, trouble began when Smiles Soum, a lowly member of the Jackson family, quarreled with the leadership. He was perceived in London's liberal circles as a fascist, and support poured in for the president. Journalists flocked to the country, as war seemed imminent.
At the Hotel Liberty, a celebrated American journalist, Wenlock Jakes, is working on a book on English political and social life. There are journalists from many countries at the hotel, including the Englishmen Shumble, Whelper, Pigge, Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock, William, and Corker. The journalists are under pressure from their newspapers to cable a story, but little is happening. Eventually, Shumble makes up a story that a Russian spy has arrived disguised as a railway official. The story is treated as a world scoop but is soon killed by a chorus of denials.
William meets an old friend from school, Jack Bannister, at the British Consulate. Bannister tells him that there is, in fact, a Russian agent in Jacksonburg, but they do not know what he is up to. William is elated at getting such a tip-off, but Corker tells him it will not work after all the previous denials about the presence of a Russian agent.
More journalists arrive, and William moves to the Pension Dressler, run by a formidable German woman, Frau Dressler. There he meets Kätchen, a young German woman who is temporarily separated from her husband. They strike up a friendship, and she persuades him to buy her husband's collection of stones, which he later finds out is gold ore.
- An unabridged audiocassette tape of Scoop, narrated by Simon Cadell, is published by Cover to Cover Cassettes Ltd. (1998).
The journalists fall to quarreling amongst themselves, and then they all go on a trek to a place called Laku, where they have been led to believe there is some action. Laku, in fact, does not exist.
William receives instructions from his newspaper to remain in Jacksonburg. He is now the only correspondent left there, but he fails to send any news stories. The Beast office in London gets increasingly impatient with him and sends him a cable telling him he has been fired. Meanwhile, William has fallen in love with Kätchen. Kätchen persuades him to pay her to get news for him, since she knows some important people. She later informs him that the president has been locked up in his own palace, and William sends a cable with his first news item. The delighted Beast reinstates him.
At the British Legation, Bannister explains the political situation to William. He reveals that the Germans are backing the rebellion of Smiles, but the Russians are supporting the communist Young Ishmaelite Party. There is likely to be a communist-inspired coup, followed by a dictatorship. This is another scoop for William.
Kätchen's husband returns, as does Kätchen, who has been imprisoned because her papers were not in order. William is full of regret at losing her, but he cooperates in an escape plan. The two Germans escape down the river by using a canoe that William brought with him in his luggage.
When William returns from seeing them off, he discovers that the Young Ishmaelite Party has taken over the government, the Jacksons have been imprisoned, and a Soviet state has been declared.
As William despairs over his loss of Kätchen, the mysterious Englishman reappears, by parachute. He likes to be called Mr. Baldwin, and it turns out that he is a savvy businessman who has a large financial interest in Ishmaelia and has been manipulating events to his advantage. He explains the political situation, giving William yet another scoop, and then arranges a quick counterrevolution that topples the day-old Soviet state. President Jackson is reinstated. Mr. Baldwin then writes William's story for him and cables it to the Beast.
Book 3: Banquet
Back in London, Lord Copper recommends William to the prime minister for a knighthood. But by mistake the letter informing him of this is delivered to John Courteney Boot, the novelist.
William returns to England, covered in glory because of his journalistic successes. Other newspapers woo his services, and literary agents want his autobiography. But William wants only to return to his home at Boot Magna, from where he writes to Lord Copper declining his invitation to a banquet. Mr. Salter is sent to Boot Magna to bring William back, but he has a very uncomfortable time in the country and cannot persuade William to attend the banquet. The situation is saved when William's uncle Theodore shows up in the offices of the Beast, and it is agreed that he will be passed off as William Boot. At the banquet, Lord Copper goes along with the deception. Back at Boot Magna, William is free to continue writing his nature columns, which is all he ever wanted to do.
Mr. Baldwin is a small, mysterious man who, with his servant, joins William on his flight to Paris. He also turns up on the train to Marseilles. Later in the novel, he parachutes in to Jacksonburg and explains to William the political maneuverings going on in the country. It appears that Baldwin, which is simply the name he prefers to be known by, is a well-connected international businessman who is out to profit personally from the turbulent situation in Ishmaelia, whilst also preserving British economic interests. He owns the mineral rights in Ishmaelia, rights that the Russian and German governments are scheming to acquire. Eventually, it is Mr. Baldwin who writes the text of the final news story that William sends to the Beast. In that story, Baldwin refers to himself as a "mystery financier" and compares himself favorably to two of the great Englishmen of the past, Lawrence of Arabia and Cecil Rhodes, founder of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Baldwin also arranges the counterrevolution that topples the day-old Soviet state in Ishmaelia.
Jack Bannister is a senior official in the British Legation in Ishmaelia. He is an old school friend of William Boot and passes on to him vital information about the country's political situation.
Doctor Benito is a rather sinister figure who is the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Propaganda in Ishmaelia. The journalist Pigge regards him as "creepy." Small and neatly dressed, suave and self-possessed, Benito allies himself with the Russianbacked Young Ishmaelite party and, when President Jackson is overthrown, he emerges as the new dictator. But his hold on power lasts only one day; he is toppled by the counterrevolution arranged by Mr. Baldwin.
Uncle Bernard, one of William's uncles, spends his life conducting scholarly research on the family pedigree. Had he had more money, he would have made a claim to the vacant barony of de Butte.
Nanny Bloggs is William's old nanny at Boot Magna Hall.
John Courteney Boot
John Courteney Boot is a successful writer. He has written eight books, including novels, as well as travel and history books, and he is a well-known and respected name in intellectual circles. He accepts Mrs. Stitch's recommendation to become a war correspondent for the Daily Beast because he is desperate to get away from his American girl-friend. But there is a mix-up, and his remote cousin, William Boot, gets the coveted job. At the end of the novel, yet another bureaucratic mix-up ensures that a knighthood intended for William goes instead to John Courteney. Finally, still trying to evade his girlfriend, John Courteney Boot goes off to Antarctica as a reporter for the Beast.
Priscilla Boot is William's sister. It is she who, as a joke, inserts all the references in William's article to the fictitious "great crested grebe."
William Boot lives in the country at Boot Magna Hall, from where he writes a twice-weekly nature column for the Daily Beast called Lush Places. When a misunderstanding occurs, William is sent to Ishmaelia as a war correspondent, but he is a countryman and has little knowledge of the wider world. Even on the train journey to London, he makes a fool of himself, first in the dining-car, ordering whiskey when all they are serving is tea, and then in the carriage when he pays for a drink with an old sovereign, mistaking it for another coin, a shilling. Everyone stares at him.
William is an honest, good-natured man, but he is also very naïve and passive. He has no idea of how to do the job that has been assigned to him. Corker has to teach him the elements of journalism, but even then he shows himself to be an unpromising student, failing to understand the urgency with which he is required to gather news at any cost. Then he foolishly falls in love with the German woman Kätchen and allows her to exploit him for money. It is only through a series of fortuitous events that William gets the scoops that make him famous. When he returns to London, he is unprepared for the glory and renown that now accompanies him, and he turns down all manner of offers from the literary and journalistic world that would have made him rich and even more famous. All he wants is to return home to the peaceful, unchanging world in the country that he knows and loves, and it is his good fortune that another misunderstanding involving the name Boot allows him to do just that.
Lord Copper is the proprietor of the Megalopolitan Newspaper Corporation. He relishes his position of power and the trappings that go along with it, and he also possesses a grandiose sense of his own importance. This is suggested by the larger-than-life statue of him that stands in the entrance lobby of the Megalopolitan building in London's Fleet Street. Lord Copper claims that he allows his journalists to hold their own opinions, but, in truth, he has very pronounced ideas about the stories he is prepared to print. He is a powerful and ruthless man who likes to have his own way and usually succeeds in getting it. He dominates his staff, none of whom dares to contradict him, which means that Lord Copper is never made aware of the ignorance he displays on many topics. Nor does he realize that he is regarded as a bore, a fact that can be seen by the attitude of his guests at the banquet. The only person who enjoys Lord Copper's regular banquets is Lord Copper himself, largely because they give him the chance to give a long, uninterrupted after-dinner speech.
Corker is an English journalist whom William first encounters on the train to Marseilles. Gregarious, irreverent, and worldly wise, Corker is the opposite of William. Observing William's ignorance, he takes him under his wing, trying to teach him the basics of journalism. When Corker is pressed by Universal News, his news agency, to send a story, he concocts one based on the flimsiest research.
Frau Dressler is a German woman who runs a hotel, the Pension Dressler, which acts as center for the Germans in Jacksonburg. Frau Dressler has lived in Africa all her life. She is a large woman with a lot of energy who drives a hard bargain with the local peasants when they sell her their wares.
Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock
Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock is a famous English journalist who travels to Ishmaelia. He hides out by himself and, because of his reputation, all the other journalists are afraid that he is working on a big story somewhere that they have missed. Hitchcock eventually concocts a fake interview with the leader of the fascists, which supposedly took place in a town called Laku, a place that does not in fact exist. This piece of disinformation sends all the other journalists off on a wild goose chase to Laku, while Sir Jocelyn returns to Europe to work on his next assignment.
Wenlock Jakes is the highest paid journalist in the United States; his work is syndicated all over America. However, according to Corker, Jakes's methods leave a lot to be desired, since he tends to make his stories up. He even won a Nobel Peace Prize for his courageous reporting of a revolution in the Balkans but, according to Corker, that revolution only began because Jakes's story created such an unstable situation that within a week a revolution actually did occur. Jakes spends his time in Jacksonburg writing a book called Under the Ermine, a trashy exposé of English political and social life, for which has been paid a large advance by the publisher.
Kätchen is a young German woman who is temporarily separated from her husband and is staying at the Pension Dressler. Under her helpless exterior, Kätchen is amiably cunning, and she easily gets William, who falls in love with her, to fork over money to her from his expense account. She gets into trouble with the authorities in Ishmaelia because her immigration papers are not in order. As a result, she is briefly imprisoned. Kätchen is naïve in political matters and believes that a solution to her difficulties is to marry William. She thinks this will automatically make her a British citizen, safe from detention. Eventually, she and her returning husband escape down a river in William's canoe.
Erik Olafsen is the resident Jacksonburg correspondent of a syndicate of Scandinavian newspapers. He plays many roles: he is also Swedish vice-consul, a surgeon at the hospital, and the proprietor of the Tea, Bible and Chemist shop. Olafsen is a large man with an eccentric character. He claims that he came to Ishmaelia as a refugee after he killed his grandmother in Sweden. It is Olafsen whom Mr. Baldwin chooses to put the counterrevolution into operation. The drunken Swede single-handedly routs the young Ishmaelite delegates as they listen to Doctor Benito.
Mr. Pappenhacker is the reporter for the communist newspaper The Twopence. He is more educated than the other journalists and tends to keep himself apart from them. He also makes a habit of being rude to waiters, since he thinks this will make them dissatisfied with the capitalist system and so hasten the communist revolution.
Pigge is one of the English journalists in Ishmaelia.
Uncle Roderick is the least eccentric of William's three uncles. He manages the financial affairs of the family estate and household.
Mr. Salter is the foreign editor at the Daily Beast. He does not like his hectic job, which he calls a "dog's life," and he knows little about foreign affairs. Nor did he like his previous job as editor of the women's page, which was much too difficult and stressful compared to the only job he really loved—the one at which he was able to choose the jokes in Clean Fun, one of Lord Copper's comic weeklies. However, Salter never expresses his discontent to Lord Copper. On the contrary, he is obsequious to his boss and never ventures to correct any of Lord Copper's errors or misstatements.
Mr. Salter lives an ordered, conventional life in London and regards the countryside as hostile territory. His visit to Boot Magna Hall confirms his worst impressions. He is forced to trek six miles across fields in his business suit to get there, and when he finds himself in the strange company of the Boot family, he is completely out of his depth. At the end of the novel, however, he has more luck. Lord Copper makes him become art editor for home knitting, a job he is sure to like.
Shumble is one of the English journalists in Ishmaelia. He invents a story that there is a Russian spy in the country disguised as a railway official. At first the story is treated as a scoop, and Shumble is smug and self-satisfied at his success—but then the other journalists unite to kill the story by publicizing vehement official denials.
Algernon Stitch is the husband of Julia Stitch. He is a minister in the British cabinet.
Mrs. Julia Stitch
Mrs. Julia Stitch, wife of Algernon Stitch, is a beautiful, well-connected, society lady. She is always busy with many things, and she specializes in solving the problems of people in her circle. It is Mrs. Stitch who persuades Lord Copper to hire John Courteney Boot as war correspondent. Mrs. Stitch has one notable eccentricity: she owns a small black car and has a habit of driving it on the sidewalk in order to beat the London traffic.
Uncle Theodore is William Boot's eccentric, old-fashioned uncle who makes frequent, disastrous visits to London. When Mr. Salter visits Boot Magna, Theodore regales him with stories that he hopes are suitable for publication in the Beast, although Mr. Salter falls asleep and hears none of them. When Salter wakes, he makes the mistake of telling Theodore to contact the features editor of the Beast, which gives Theodore another excuse to make a trip to London. Theodore is taken on by the Daily Beast and, in the absence of William Boot, is passed off as the famous journalist Boot at the banquet organized by Lord Copper to honor him.
Journalism and the Truth
Waugh wrote that his main theme was "to expose the pretensions of foreign correspondents … to be heroes, statesmen and diplomats." In the novel, he pokes fun at the idea that the profession of journalism is characterized by a disinterested search for the truth. On the contrary, the only concern of the journalists is to file a story that will meet with the approval of their bosses at the newspaper. The goal is to keep one step ahead of the competition, which is why the journalists behave in such an unscrupulous manner toward one another. They steal their competitors' cables and lie about anything they think will give them an advantage. For example, they all say they will be leaving for Laku at "tennish" in the morning, but in fact they are all ready to leave at dawn. The talk of leaving later was simply to try to steal a march on the opposition.
Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock appears to be a past master at tricking his rivals. In Jacksonburg, he lies low so that a rumor will start about his "disappearance." This will make his story, that he has conducted an interview with an important political leader in the town of Laku, appear plausible. In fact, Sir Jocelyn could not have done what he claims, since the town of Laku does not exist. But his fabrication serves his purpose not only of getting out of Ishmaelia, a place he does not like (having filed the story, he is free to move on to his next assignment in Europe), but also of deceiving the other reporters.
This incident highlights a point Waugh wishes to emphasize: the question of whether a particular newspaper story is true or not is a secondary consideration, ranking well behind the need to interest readers and scoop the opposition. The famous American reporter Wenlock Jakes is typical in this respect. He won his reputation partly by filing stories that he simply made up. For example, he sent an eyewitness report of the sinking of the Lusitania (a passenger ship that was sunk off the coast of Ireland by the Germans in World War I). The only problem with Jakes's story was that he filed it four hours before the ship was hit. Similarly, Sir Jocelyn Hitchcock managed to give day-to-day reports about an earthquake in Messina without ever leaving the comfort of his desk in London. In Ishmaelia, Shumble takes a leaf out of their book by making up his own story about the presence of a Russian spy in disguise. The irony is that Shumble, although he never knows it, comes close to the truth, even though truth is not his main concern. (There really is a Russian agent in Ishmaelia, although it is not the railway official whom Shumble identifies.)
Much of the theme of the deviousness of the journalistic profession is brought out in William's interactions with Corker. When William receives his first cable from the Beast, he misinterprets it to mean that he should stay in Aden. Corker knows perfectly well that the cable does not mean this, but he declines to enlighten William. Only when Corker discovers that he and William are not rivals after all—since the Beast is accepting Corker's Universal News agency stories as well as William's—does he let William in on the secrets of the cryptic cables they receive.
When Corker is pressured by his agency to file a story about reactions in Ishmaelia to a proposed international police force, Corker's methods are revealing. He asks just one person, Mrs. Earl Russell Jackson, who runs the hotel where he is staying. She completely misunderstands the question, but that does not stop Corker from inventing a story that the women of Ishmaelia are opposed to an interventionist police force.
It is Corker again who sets William straight about how the newspaper business is run. After Shumble's false story about the Russian spy, William suggests that they simply explain that the story was a mistake. But Corker tells him that such behavior would be "unprofessional"; newspapers do not like printing denials, since too many denials might lead the public to mistrust what they read; besides, it makes it look as if the reporters were not doing their job properly. Instead, Corker assures William that all the journalists must now find a Russian spy, whether he exists or not, so they can keep their newspapers abreast of the breaking story (which, of course, is not really a story at all). The way the process works seems to ensure that the real truth is unlikely to come out.
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.
Topics for Further Study
- In Scoop, the Daily Beast has a definite editorial position on the war in Ishmaelia. On the World Wide Web, examine the editorial pages of the New York Times and the Wall St. Journal. What can you tell about each paper's political position from its editorials? When both editorialize on the same issue, what differing positions do they take up, and what does this indicate about their underlying political philosophies? You can also try the same exercise with the Washington Post and the Washington Times.
- More people today get their news from television rather than from newspapers. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each medium as a source of news?
- Often in fiction, the protagonist grows and changes as a result of the experiences he undergoes. Does this happen to William Boot, or is he just the same at the end of the novel as he was at the beginning? If he has changed, how is he different?
- In recent wars, such as the Persian Gulf War of 1991 and the war in Afghanistan in 2001–2002, the American government has imposed restrictions on American reporters covering the conflict. This was not the case during the Vietnam War. Should the press have unfettered access to war zones and be free to report whatever is happening, or should restrictions be imposed in the cause of national security? Who should decide?
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.
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.
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 left-wing 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.
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
Compare & Contrast
- 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.
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."
Scoop was well received by critics on publication in 1938, and this confirmed Waugh's reputation as a writer of humorous and effective satire on whatever subject he chose. Everyone agreed that the novel was amusing and entertaining. The anonymous reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement, for example, praised Waugh's "ribald wit" that "spurts in a brisk uninterrupted flow upon the caprices of sensational journalism." But the reviewer also found that the character William Boot "is too much the simpleton, too facile an instrument for satire," and he thought it fitting that the
knighthood at the end should go to John Boot rather than to William.
Novelist John Brophy, in an appreciative review in the Daily Telegraph, commented that Waugh as a writer was extremely good at making people laugh. But this alone did not make him a satirist, "for indignation founded on some belief is necessary to satire, and I have never been able from his books to discover what Mr. Waugh believes in."
In the Spectator, Derek Verschoyle declared Scoop to be an "enchanting book," admiring the calm way in which Waugh demolishes his satirical targets, without "surprise, sentiment or resentment." Verschoyle picked out the depiction of the Boot family as the highlight of the book: "[it] reveals an inventive power which it is little exaggeration to call that of genius."
Since its positive initial reception, however, Scoop has not usually been ranked with the very best of Waugh's achievements. It often takes a back seat to Waugh's earlier satires of the 1930s, especially Vile Bodies and Black Mischief. However, with the general reader, Scoop has been and remains one of Waugh's most popular novels.
Aubrey holds a Ph.D. in English and has published many articles on twentieth-century literature. In this essay, Aubrey shows how Scoop arose from Waugh's experiences as a journalist in Abyssinia in 1935.
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.
Kelly is an instructor of creative writing and literature at several colleges in Illinois. In this essay, Kelly explains that Waugh's humor is not based in deep understanding of social situations but in simple comic reversal of expectations.
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 having 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 straight-out 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 appreciate
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.
McDaniel is a writer with a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan. In the following essay, McDaniel discusses the subjects of power and the power of information in Waugh's novel.
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.
What Do I Read Next?
- Waugh's Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder (1945) chronicles twenty years in the lives of the Marchmains, a wealthy English Catholic family. Unlike his earlier novels, this is not a satire but an exploration of love, politics, and the call of religion.
- English comic writer P. G. Wodehouse was one of the influences on Scoop, and his novel Full Moon (1947) is one of his most popular romantic farces. The setting of Blandings Castle is similar to Boot Magna in Scoop, and the intricate plotting, eccentric characters, and happy ending make the novel a classic of its kind.
- Secrets of the Press: Journalists on Journalism (1999), edited by Stephen Carter, is an entertaining collection of essays by British journalists on the state of the profession today. The essays by Christopher Munnion ("Into Africa"), Ann Leslie ("Female 'Firemen'"), and Emma Daly ("Reporting from the Front") describe, often amusingly, their experiences as foreign correspondents.
- Selina Hastings's Evelyn Waugh: A Biography (1994) was written with the full support of Waugh's family, who were dismayed at the negative portrayal of Waugh's personality in an earlier biography by Martin Stannard. Hastings presents a more balanced view that aims to give as close an impression as possible of what it was like to know the man.
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.
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.
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.
scoop / skoōp/ • n. 1. a utensil resembling a spoon, with a long handle and a deep bowl, used for removing powdered, granulated, or semisolid substances (such as ice cream) from a container. ∎ a short-handled deep shovel used for moving grain, coal, etc. ∎ a moving bowl-shaped part of a digging machine, dredger, or other mechanism into which material is gathered. ∎ a quantity taken up by a scoop: an apple pie with scoops of ice cream on top.2. inf. a piece of news published by a newspaper or broadcast by a television or radio station in advance of its rivals. ∎ (the scoop) the latest information about something.• v. [tr.] 1. pick up and move (something) with a scoop: Philip began to scoop grain into his bag. ∎ create (a hollow or hole) with or as if with a scoop: a hole was scooped out in the floor of the hut. ∎ pick up (someone or something) in a swift, fluid movement: he scooped her up in his arms.2. inf. publish a news story before (a rival reporter, newspaper, or radio or television station).DERIVATIVES: scoop·er n.scoop·ful n.
Scoop ★★ 2006 (PG-13)
Allen's 35th directorial feature is evidence he should ease up on that yearly quota. This time the kvetching centers around a naive journalism student (Johansson) who is given the scoop of a lifetime by the ghost of a muckraking journalist (McShane), and must investigate with the help of a thirdrate magician (Allen) on whose stage the ghost appeared. Feels like a patchwork collection of past Allen flicks with nothing new or interesting, including the requisite abundance of selfcentered Judaic jokes. 96m/C DVD . US Woody Allen, Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, Ian McShane, Charles Dance, Romola Garai, Fenella Woolgar, Julian Glover, Victoria Hamilton, Anthony Head; D: Woody Allen; W: Woody Allen; C: Remi Adefarasin.
Hence scoop vb. †ladle or bale out XIV; remove (as) with a scoop XVII. Also in mod. use, orig. U.S., to take up in large quantities; cut out (a rival newspaper editor, etc.) XIX (whence sb. exclusive piece of news).