The ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold; a conversation piece

by Evelyn Waugh

Hardcover, 1957




Boston, Little, Brown [1957]. Third Printing


Based on a true episode, this sharply comic novel, and Waugh's own biography are entangled in a richly fascinating way. The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold--A Conversation Piece recounts a period of mental confusion and breakdown in the life of Gilbert Pinfold, an established novelist of mature years. Prone to moments of paranoia and memory-loss, he attempts to cure himself by going on a cruise to the tropics. But an active imagination means peace of mind becomes an increasingly illusory destination.

Media reviews

[T]he first part of [the novel] is first-rate. Its "portrait of the artist in middle age," before he sets forth on his tedious journey, is a genuine gothic horror, a gargoyle to terrify anyone who has ever contemplated a literary career. Mr. Pinfold is publicly successful; he is so prosperous that
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he does not write as much as he could, because the tax-gatherer would only take his earnings away from him; but privately he is in such advanced decay that even the most long-standing habits of self-congratulation have failed. The acid bath so often prepared for others has now found its way into his own tub.
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1 more
This [Penguin ed.] is a terrific edition of a mildly neglected classic. It is an uncomfortable book: not only is it the most faithfully autobiographical of Waugh's novels, it is about Waugh's own period of madness.

User reviews

LibraryThing member P_S_Patrick
Lacks the hilarity of Waugh's other dark comedies, and is repetitive and predictable across large sections. However it retains some interest for historical and psychological reasons. As it is at least semi-autobiographical we get some insight into Waugh's own later life, and his period of mental
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breakdown. His delusions and paranoia provide the main stock of humour here, though this mainly falls flat. Not a classic.
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LibraryThing member stillatim
Some people can only read a book if they know that the events it describes 'really happened.' I'm the other way round: if, as with OGP, the book fictionalizes actual events, I often get bored. There's a good reason for that--what I most appreciate in fiction is the distance between author, narrator
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and characters. When someone is describing what actually happened to him/her, all of that distance gets squished into a tiny, tiny little span, and I often end up feeling like the author is an idiot who's incapable of self-reflection.

That's particularly sad in the case of Waugh, who often has great swathes of distance in his work. But here... well, I just can't help feeling like it's just a bunch of self pity. Had I come out of the book feeling like Waugh himself had learned from his Pinfoldian experience (i.e., that some of his various sillinesses were not harmlessly silly, but actually obnoxious), I might have had a better time. As it was, Pinfold comes out of it feeling like he's a superman who can defeat psychological disturbance with an apt phrase, and that therefore he's quite right to ignore the accusations leveled at him. Is that how Waugh felt? I can't help but believe that it was. If someone can convince me otherwise, I'd really appreciate it, because I suspect this book has made it much harder for me to go back and enjoy Waugh's earlier works.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
Rather an odd book, really, and not by any means my favorite Waugh novel. Funny in parts, but more often just something of a slog.



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