Evelyn Waugh and Sword of Honour’s Ending

In 2001, the then-not-so-famous Daniel Craig was talked into filming a long TV movie based on the most underrated novel of the 20th century, Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour. I recently watched it, and I highly recommend it to all Waugh’s fans; I found Craig a rather acceptable Guy Crouchback. Also, there is a key point of the movie where it departs from the book version (at least the one I have) and it makes for a better story: the ending.

I remember the novel, which I read about a decade ago, pretty well, and was satisfied to see some of the classic, much-quoted bits, from it in the script. Of course, this being 2001, the Catholic theme is much diminished, but is still there. For example, when Guy’s father famously tells his son that  “if only one soul was saved that is full compensation for any amount of loss of ‘face.'”

In the movie, this is appropriately in a line of dialogue, rather than in a letter, as in the novel. The full context is not there, it’s only apparent when one turns back to the novel:

“That isn’t the church. The Mystical Body doesn’t strike attitudes and stand on its dignity. It accepts suffering and injustice. It is ready to forgive at the first hint of compunction… How many children may have been brought up in the faith who might have lived in ignorance? Quantitative judgements don’t apply. If only one soul was saved that is full compensation for any amount of loss of ‘face.'”

This paragraph is very relevant, because Guy–in the movie and in the book–ends up taking care of Gervase, the grandly-named kid fathered by the ghastly Trimmer on his wife Virginia. The last shot has Guy, thoroughly disappointed by World War II like so many of his age and persuasion, (those of a younger age and  a different persuasion would end up terribly disappointed too, judging by this 2009 survey) grabbing the toddler, and saying: “I’m your father” with some Christian emotion.

And that’s it. Credits roll.

I felt cheated: I distinctly remembered how, in the novel, the widowed Crouchback ends up marrying a proper, if unexciting, Catholic heiress who gives him more children, so that he’s not simply stuck raising Trimmer’s product.

I was in Beijing when I saw the movie, with no access to my library, so I went to the next best thing, and Wikipedia reminded me of something Stannard refers to in his massive Waugh biography, and that I had forgotten completely; or chosen to forget:

After the end of the war Guy meets the daughter of another old Roman Catholic family, Domenica Plessington, and marries her. In Waugh’s first version of the novel’s conclusion, Guy and his second wife produce further children who are ironically to be disinherited by Trimmer’s son. Waugh altered this ending to an uncompromisingly childless marriage in the revised text, after realising that some readers interpreted such a conclusion as hopeful. “No nippers for Guy,” he clarified in a letter to Nancy Mitford. Even so, although Waugh died in 1966, in the Penguin 1974 reprint Guy still has two sons with Domenica Plessington.


About David Roman

Communicator. I tweet @dromanber.
This entry was posted in A Correspondent's Progress, Sights and Sounds and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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