Put Out More Flags

by Evelyn Waugh

Hardcover, 1999




Folio Society, (1999)


Upper-class scoundrel Basil Seal, mad, bad, and dangerous to know, creates havoc wherever he goes, much to the despair of the three women in his life-his sister, his mother, and his mistress. When Neville Chamberlain declares war on Germany, it seems the perfect opportunity for more action and adventure. So Basil follows the call to arms and sets forth to enjoy his finest hour-as a war hero. Basil's instincts for self-preservation come to the fore as he insinuates himself into the Ministry of Information and a little-known section of Military Security. With Europe frozen in the "phoney war," when will Basil's big chance to fight finally arrive?

Media reviews

For my money, Waugh is the greatest stylistic craftsman of the 20th century. Tone-deaf to music, he was pitch-perfect when it came to the music of the English language. I love the limpidness of his writing, its shocking clarity. Put Out More Flags is as tightly constructed — point and
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counterpoint — as a baroque fugue.
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1 more
[Put Out More Flags} is the best record I have read of England in the first year of the Second War. In it, at the very height of his powers, Waugh somehow fuses the savage, deadly comedy of his earlier books with the ominous seriousness of his later ones. . . . If I'm not mistaken, Put Out More
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Flags is the greatest of Evelyn Waugh's great novels. As such, it deserves to be revived and reread as long as we read English
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User reviews

LibraryThing member jennyo
I'm a big fan of Evelyn Waugh. This one, like Scoop, is one of his funnier books. In it, Waugh takes a sly, satiric look at England during WWII. The bits about the Ministry of Information were excellent, on par with the scenes with Ryder's father in Brideshead Revisited or the Colonel Blount
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character in Vile Bodies.

Not much more now because I'm tired and ready for bed. If you like Waugh and haven't read this one yet, do so. It's good. If you haven't read Waugh but would like to give him a try, this is as good a place as any to start.
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LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
From what I hear, "Put Out More Flags" isn't thought to be one of Evelyn Waugh's strongest novels. I'm hardly old Ev's biggest fan, but I'm not sure that this reputation is particularly deserved. It is, in my opinion, more polished and more consciously humorous piece than "Decline and Fall" and
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serves as a pretty good wartime update of the feckless, spineless, wealthy layabouts that typically populate Waugh's books. I think I even recognized Peter Pastmaster, whom we met in "Decline and Fall." Basil Seal and Ambrose Silk, the two central characters of "Put Out More Flag's" large cast, are memorably ridiculous London dandies and there's also the Connellys to recommend this novel, three perfectly awful lower-class children on a mission to disturb the quiet country lives of the local gentry. (Obnoxious children seem to be something of a Waugh trademark, and one that I particularly enjoy.) Waugh isn't exactly a likeable writer, but, as other readers have commented, after having enjoyed, or endured, a good deal of "Greatest Generation" mythologizing, it is positively refreshing to encounter an uncharacteristically sardonic, low-key take on the Second World War, though, as Waugh notes in his introduction, the book is set before the bombs began falling on London in earnest. As the novel ends, some of these formerly frivolous characters even begin to make themselves useful to the war effort, though, also in typical Waugh fashion, their transformations are largely a question of falling into place rather than the fruits of a Woolfian search for inner resolve. A good war, it seems is just what some of these upper-class airheads needed.

I'm moved to wonder, though, and not for the first time, why Waugh felt the need to spend so much time on them in the first place. After all, the nineteenth century gave us plenty of good novels about characters striving to find their proper place in society, and he doesn't seem particularly interested in their inner lives. Since Waugh's socialites are a tiny, unrepresentative portion of an already tiny upper class, it's curious that Waugh should choose them to illustrate Britain's experience in World War II, or any aspect of twentieth century society. I suspect, again, that the author's attitude toward them might have been motivated by personal spite, even when his creations are trying, in their limited, self-centered ways, to do their best for king and country.
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LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
Just as acerbic as Vile Bodies but less charming; just as morally outraged as Sword of Honour but with less pathos; Put Out More Flags falls uncomfortably between two stools. It bruises its rump, and retreats into an air of umbrage that undermines the humour, frequently. It's an appropriate
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document of the "phony war" in that sense, embodying-not-just-depicting a lot of the pettiness and irrelevance of an interwar Britain that hadn't yet cottoned on to the fact that the war was no longer "inter." And as a result it's cool in the last pages how all of that falls away (goodbye, all that!) as everyone starts to catch up and understand that they've entered a time to try their souls. A purification, but one with ironic bite when you know about Waugh's own history in the war--this book was written in 1942, after a couple of bungled attempts on his part to nobly give his all to make the world safe for patrician constitutional toffness, but when the victory still hung in the balance and he still had hopes of reaching his apotheosis. There would be more bungles, and a deeper disillusionment devastatingly chronicled in Sword of Honour, which makes this book seem small--a blinkered smallness mistaking itself for realism, the Chamberlain to Sword of Honour's (cos albeit the man was a warmonger and war criminal, a racist and a glutton, and we reject big man history and find the Allied win in the overwhelming industrial economics of the thing, he was still in some wise a titan) Churchill.
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LibraryThing member elissajanine
This is the first Waugh book I've read, and I really enjoyed it. It was bitingly humorous, and the characters were engaging. My favorite character was Angela Lyne--drinking alone, waiting for Basil Seal to die. I liked this satirical look at Britain in the year preceding World War II, and I'll
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certainly read more.
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LibraryThing member nog
Right up there with the best of Waugh, it apparently portrays England at the beginning of WWII pretty accurately. More nasty behavior by the privileged class.
LibraryThing member jamespurcell
Dated but apt for the times.
LibraryThing member stillatim
Second tier Waugh: not quite with Brideshead and Sword of Honour, but the equal of Vile Bodies, and very much like the latter. Not much narrative really, but an extraordinary portrait of human foibles, tinged with melancholy. I don't think anyone does that better.
LibraryThing member nigeyb
I recently read, and very much enjoyed Sword of Honour, like this book, Sword of Honour is a satirical novel about the Second World War.

The books that comprise the Sword of Honour trilogy were written in the 1950s and 1960s when Evelyn Waugh was able to put the Second World War into some kind of
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perspective. Sword of Honour also happens to be one of Evelyn Waugh's masterpieces.

Put Out More Flags, an earlier war novel, opens in the autumn of 1939 and all takes place during the twelve months of the war. It was published in 1942.

I have read most of Evelyn Waugh's major works now, and, as usual, the quality of the writing is a pleasure. The story follows the wartime activities of characters introduced in Waugh's earlier satirical novels Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies and Black Mischief.

The uncertainty and confusion of the so-called "phoney war" are brilliantly evoked, and - as is so often the case - the satire and humour are very black. Basil Seal, who readers may recall from Black Mischief, is the star of the show. His opportunism creating all manner of mischief for those he runs into, and his scam involving a troublesome family of evacuated children sums him up perfectly. To suggest this book is full of humour would be misleading: one scene involving the troubled and tragic Cedric Lyne visiting his estranged wife Angela, with their son Nigel, for once impressed by him in his army uniform, is absolutely dripping with sadness and melancholy, and demonstrates Waugh's extraordinary skill.

Overall the book felt slightly uneven and a bit rushed. There is much to admire and enjoy, however I conclude this is one of Evelyn Waugh's less successful novels (against his exceptionally high standards). It's of most interest to Waugh completists (of whom I am definitely one) and should not be prioritised ahead of his key works: (Brideshead Revisited, Sword of Honour, Decline and Fall, and A Handful of Dust.
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LibraryThing member leslie.98
Evelyn Waugh's look at the first year of Britain's involvement in WW2 revolves around Basil Seal. Seal and his friends & family are typical Waugh characters and his depiction of the Ministry of Information was hilarious! It is an interesting look at how many Brits felt at the beginning of the war,
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an attitude easily forgotten in the events that followed
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LibraryThing member wealhtheowwylfing
The general image of Britain at the beginning of the second World War is very different from the polite, quietly ridiculous society portrayed here. The story follows an aging rascal (Basil, who I came to hate), his aristocratic family, and his friend Ambrose, a flamboyantly gay writer. The talk is
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witty, the characters vivid, and the plot mostly serves to show how wrong all the experts where when it came time for war.
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