THIS SET of 11 stories appears in accordance with a familiar publisher's trick. I do not think it is an unfair description. The late George Orwell was very apt to use it. A set of short stories is published and then a new edition is brought out with a different introductory story, so that the reader buys a newly entitled book and can be persuaded, apparently, that he has bought a new collection of short stories. The practice is familiar and apparently is not resented. On this occasion there is only one new contribution, and that is called "Charles Ryder's Schooldays." The original edition was in 1936 when a book came out called "Mr. Loveday's Little Outing and Other Sad Stories." It was a success, though it never reached a place amid Evelyn Waugh's major works.
This was partly due to a curious accident in Waugh's composition.
Although he was naturally endowed as a short story writer, having all the necessary accomplishments for that purpose, namely economy of style, a sense of point and manageable wit, he was not a naturally excellent short story writer. To this, there was an exception; the eponymous story of the 1936 collection, "Mr. Loveday's Little Outing." It was superb, and has been remembered to this day as a cautionary tale. The rest of the contributions are rather disappointing. "By Special Request" gives an alternative ending to the novel A Handful of Dust which does more than justify the existing ending. "Cruise" and "On Guard" are somewhat in the style of A.P. Herbert, who was not a natural teacher for Waugh. "Incident in Azania" is simply disappointing. It has none of the energy of the other sketches of life in Africa, of which very few have been published as such. "Bella Fleace Gave a Party" was spoiled at the time by being too familiar a story. It was supposed to have happened to an ambitious hostess in Ireland where the present story is set. It's a good story, but, as I say, in the days when it was familiar and told as true it had run its course. It may have a different future before it now.
What is to be said about the new eponymous story, "Charles Ryder's Schooldays"? We can guess the date. It must be some time after Waugh had obtained special leave to withdraw from military life and write a novel. He mentions it in his diary as his occupation when the war had come to an end, some time after this period. There is no evidence that Waugh ever tried to get it published in his lifetime. My own interpretation of it is that it was a trial run for a different approach to Brideshead, introducing the character of Charles Ryder, and he wrote what he did write with no other object than to familiarize himself with material at which he had not looked seriously since the far-off days of Decline and Fall. This is making, I am conscious, a rather wide assumption. It assumes that Charles Ryder is in fact the first character to be introduced in the original draft of Brideshead Revisited and also that Waugh intended a chapter to be devoted to his school, Lancing, and I think you can say Lancing here, because from what little I know about Lancing it is an exact picture. As such, it seems good and lifelike, but I am afraid it cannot be said to be an inspired picture because I do not find schools inspiring subjects, at least not as Waugh wrote about them, except in pure farce like Decline and Fall. He did not naturally like schools. I do not think he was a natural "Old Boy." After a certain age, quite early in life, he never seems to have gone back to Lancing and did not have a great love for the place as other people have.
There is a certain element of autobiography in this collection of short stories, or in "Charles Ryder's Schooldays," and that is over the incident of a printing press. We know that Waugh was an enthusiast for printing and wanted originally to be a printer, but nothing came of the ambition. It was a long struggle before he gave up. His first book, P.R.B., was a printing venture as much as anything else. Curiously enough, Waugh gives this ambition to the young Charles Ryder, though it leads to nothing and seems to be founded on very little. It may be taken as a proof or as an additional reason to suppose that he never intended to publish this book.
When one thinks what Waugh still had in him to accomplish, he certainly was wasting his time in writing this school story about Charles Ryder. He had a much better book in Brideshead. His quite trifling things, and there are a few in his last period, are infinitely superior to "Charles Ryder's Schooldays." I have no doubt that it was simply, as I said before, a trial run, not intended more seriously. One would like to know about the circumstances of the story's discovery. Of course, Waugh's death was unexpected. He died suddenly of a heart attack, and nothing seems to be known about the story, so the discovery may have been purely accidental, and probably was. One thing is certain, he will not be remembered for these "Schooldays," not if they were 20 times better. It was not his metier. He will be remembered for "Mr. Loveday's Little Outing," among others, although not for all those stories, of which three or four are rather unworthy of him, but none of them so unworthy as "Charles Ryder's Schooldays."