This trilogy of novels about World War II, largely based on his own experiences as an army officer, is the crowning achievement of Evelyn Waugh’s career. Its central character is Guy Crouchback, head of an ancient but decayed Catholic family, who at first discovers new purpose in the challenge to defend Christian values against Nazi barbarism, but then gradually finds the complexities and cruelties of war too much for him. Yet, though often somber, the Sword of Honour trilogy is also a brilliant comedy, peopled by the fantastic figures so familiar from Waugh’s early satires. The deepest pleasures these novels afford come from observing a great satiric writer employ his gifts with extraordinary subtlety, delicacy, and human feeling, for purposes that are ultimately anything but satiric.
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