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This article is taken from PN Review 223, Volume 41 Number 5, May - June 2015.

English Writers in Mexico between the Wars, Part Three: Evelyn Waugh and Malcolm Lowry
Through 'the liteary-perception scrambler'?
Towards 'A Machine that Works
Simon Carnell
Evelyn Waugh introduces Robbery Under Law as ‘a political book; the sketch of a foreign country where I spent a day under two months’, though only before justifying his right to speak with authority about Mexico on the back of such a stay. ‘Superficial acquaintance,’ he goes on to remark, ‘is one of the tools of our trade’. Waugh’s ‘trade’ at this date was as much that of a travel writer as novelist – a travel writer whose ‘hope’, as he goes on to define it, in terms which Greene, Huxley and even Lawrence would not have dissented from, ‘is to notice things which the better experienced accept as commonplace and to convey to a distant public some idea of the aspect and feel of a place which hitherto has been merely a geographical or political term’. Quite late on in the book he refers in passing to ‘my friends in Mexico who have been ruined and outlawed’, but what he fails to mention is the fact that his trip to Mexico was funded by a family who had made millions as a result of their oil interests there, and had effectively bankrolled Waugh to write a book critical of the Cárdenas government and its programme of expropriation and nationalisation. Or as he was to put it in a letter, with his own eye on the financial main chance: ‘A very rich chap wants me to write a book about Mexico’.  

There is rather more polemic than freelance ‘noticing’ in Robbery Under Law, including an up-front, thoroughgoing and explicit dismissal of American views of ...

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