No. 22: “When the Going was Good” by Evelyn Waugh
Travel Blog • Frank Bures • 05.10.06 | 7:15 AM ET
To mark our five-year anniversary, we’re counting down the top 30 travel books of all time, adding a new title each day this month.
Territory covered: Ethiopia, Yemen, East Africa, Guyana and Brazil
In the first part of the 20th century, Evelyn Waugh was one of a handful of bright young writers who headed off into the wild world to propel the genre of travel writing forward. “We turned our backs on civilization,” Waugh wrote of himself, Peter Fleming and Robert Byron, whose early death Waugh mourned. “From 1928 to 1937,” he wrote, “I had no fixed home and no possessions which would not conveniently go on a porter’s barrow. I traveled continuously, in England and abroad.” Armed with trunkloads of wit, an eye for characters and the cocksure attitude of the imperialist he was, Waugh headed to Ethiopia, Yemen, East Africa, Guyana and Brazil. The result was several travel books that went out of print. But the author pulled long excerpts from them, which were reprinted in When the Going was Good. Each is essentially a short travel book itself, including one about the coronation of Haile Selassie and Waugh’s attempt to travel from Guyana to Brazil. It all has a carefree feeling, as Waugh himself admitted. “I never aspired to be a great traveler,” he wrote, “I was simply a young man, typical of my age; we traveled as a matter of course. I rejoice that I went when the going was good.”
Outtake from “When the Going was Good”:
The scenery is tremendous, finer than anything I saw in Abyssinia; all round for immense distances successive crests of highland. In England we call it a good view if we can see a church spire across six fields; the phrase, made comic by the Frankaus of magazine fiction, “Wide Open Space”, really does mean something here. Brilliant sunshine quite unobscured, uninterrupted in its incidence; sunlight clearer than daylight; there is something of the moon about it, the coolness seems so unsuitable. Amber sunlight in Europe; diamond sunlight in Africa. The air fresh as an advertisement for toothpaste.
—Frank Bures is the books editor of World Hum.