THE SWORD OF HONOUR TRILOGY, "POSSIBLY THE BEST ENGLISH NOVEL TO COME OUT OF WORLD WAR II"—SIGNED BY EVELYN WAUGH IN UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER
WAUGH, Evelyn. The Sword of Honour Trilogy: Men at Arms. WITH: Officers and Gentlemen. WITH: Unconditional Surrender. London: Chapman & Hall, 1952-61. Three volumes. Octavo, original blue paper-covered boards, top edges blue, original dust jackets.
First editions of the three classic volumes in Waugh's fictionalized account, by turns keenly satirical and deeply moving, of his experiences in World War II, widely praised as some of the finest literature to emerge from the war—this set signed by Waugh on the title page of Unconditional Surrender.
Many readers consider Waugh's "Sword of Honour" books—"an unplanned trilogy of novels mixing the author's Second World War experience with his social and religious views"—to be his best work; literary critics routinely rank the trilogy as "possibly the best English novel to come out of" the conflict (An English Library, 54). The trilogy traces "a civilian's romantic involvement with both the army and the war… Although Waugh is addressing large and solemn themes, his writing still has enormous comic energy" (Parker & Kermode, 381, 383). Men at Arms depicts the Marines at Chatham, the dismal conditions at Deal and Kingsdown and the abortive attack on Dakar, and introduces the dominant theme of the regeneration of faith, a theme not fully resolved until the final volume. Drawn from Waugh's period with the Commandos and at the Allied reverse in Crete, Officers and Gentlemen is "dark, subtle and complex, carrying undercover all Evelyn's disillusionment with the army" (Hastings, 571). Unconditional Surrender is based on Waugh's role in Randolph Churchill's mission to aid Tito's Communist partisans in Yugoslavia— a situation rich in irony for the Catholic Waugh, who was painfully aware that he was helping to insure the ultimate rule of a Communist regime hostile to the faith of Yugoslavia's Catholic Croats and Slovenes. In a review of this work, Gore Vidal called Waugh "our time's first satirist," writing "in a prose so chaste that at time one longs for a violation of syntax to suggest that its creator is fallible, or at least part American" (quoted in Hastings, 599). "Sword of Honour is not merely the story of one man's battles; it is the whole history of the European struggle itself, told with verve, humor, pathos and sharp accuracy" (Burgess, 99 Novels, 62).
Men at Arms with some spotting to endpapers, small chip at foot of spine of slightly toned dust jacket. Overall, a near-fine set, scarce and desirable signed by Waugh in one volume.