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The Sword of Honour Trilogy

(Sword of Honour #1-3)

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  1,705 ratings  ·  140 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 711 pages
Published May 10th 1994 by Everyman's Library (first published January 1st 1965)
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Many literary careers are doomed to go on slightly longer than they should, and to outlive the author's original engrossing talent.

So concludes Christopher Hitchens, in a 2003 Atlantic article, "Evelyn Waugh: The Permanent Adolescent", reprinted in his collection of essays, Arguably. Actually, the sentence is the first of his concluding paragraph, which goes on
Waugh himself lived to lament the Second Vatican Council and to deplore the abolition of the Latin Mass - which meant that he became not
Roman Clodia
1. Men At Arms ~ 3*
This first part of what was originally a trilogy was quite uneven for me. Guy Crouchback is a well-intentioned though ineffective man who, in his late 30s, joins the army to 'do his bit'. The opening section in training is the funniest with the farcical episode of Apthorpe and his 'thunder box' being especially hilarious. But there are long sections where Guy is shunted around aimlessly or himself goes off on a quest to locate the owner of a legacy for which he has taken respo
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Men at Arms - Part 1 of Sword of Honour

What fun - a bit like a cross between MASH, PG Wodehouse and Brideshead!

An upper class British Catholic divorcé leaves his home in Italy at the start of WW2 to try to join the army, and eventually succeeds.

The story is populated by quirky characters and strange coincidences, with glimpses of poignancy. Most of the characters are in a perpetual state of genial incomprehension and incompetence.

Waugh served in WW2 and if his experience was anything like what
Oct 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Evelyn Waugh did not have "a good war" as a soldier however he was able to transmute his uncomfortable personal experience into something wonderful. Through Guy Crouchback, the detached observer and would-be knight, who mistakenly believes his private honour will be satisfied by war, Evelyn Waugh perfectly captures the bureaucracy, pettiness, absurdity, humour, and confusion of war. It all rings true with numerous little details that make this book so satisfying. It's everything that great liter ...more
M. D.  Hudson
Oct 13, 2010 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Roger Brunyate
Jun 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: comedy-sorta, ww2
Waugh's Final Words

Essentially, this is Waugh's swansong: three novels about the adventures of his quasi-autobiographical hero, Guy Crouchback, in the Second World War, gathered together by him and edited into a single volume at the end of his life. This is a compendium of my separate Amazon reviews of the individual volumes as I read them, followed by a brief consideration of the Trilogy as a whole.

Men at Arms (1952)

Amazon suggested Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy, the novel sequence th
The dystopian and satirical world of and unprepared England World War II

If this were just a review of the ineffective, jaundiced, sarcastic snobbish, effete England portrayed by Evelyn Waugh throughout the Sword of Honor Trilogy, this would be a 4 star review. It is depressing when it is not negative when it seems to fail to see any part of England before, during or after World War II as a home to honest, good hearted or even competent people. However Waugh writes well. He builds his story on cr
Jan 18, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
My first impression of this trilogy was that it reminded me of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. There is the same hapless protagonist, buffeted by the same institutionalized incompetence of Army life. But whereas Heller’s antagonists were painted with broad strokes, cartoonish in their imbecility, Evelyn Waugh’s characterizations are more subtle and nuanced. Catch-22 pivots suddenly to a very dark place as the incompetents are revealed to be not just inept, but murderously so, but Sword of Honor ends a ...more
An immensely entertaining and thought provoking account of one man's experience in WWII. Despite Guy Crouchback's (thinly veiled fictional version of Evelyn Waugh) best efforts to "do his part" to he is destined to always be on the periphery of the war. Contributing, but not very heroically. Even when he finds himself in the thick of things (Battle of Crete. May 1941) his experience is as a glorified message boy. He is constantly walking from one post to another during the battle. An officer wit ...more
David Prestidge
May 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
In my opinion, the masterwork of 20th century English fiction. 'Brideshead' lent itself to million dollar TV adaptation, but the books 'Men At Arms', 'Officers And Gentlemen', and 'Unconditional Surrender' are almost too good for TV or screen. There was a fine (and now lost) TV version in the 60s, with Edward Woodward as Crouchback, and host of character actors, (including Ronald Fraser as Apthorpe) playing the supporting parts, and an all-too-brief 2001 version for TV with Daniel craig as Crouc ...more
This is Evelyn Waugh's final edited version of the Sword of Honour trilogy. If you're interested in reading the trilogy, you really should read this version, as the book is really one long, continuous story with the same characters throughout, and some apparently tedious passages have been edited out. Highly recommended by me as well. ...more
Mar 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
An interesting take on the British experience of World War Two and also of Anglo Catholicism by the author of Brideshead Revisited. Recommended to me by one of my high school teachers who had lived the same sort of muddled war time experience. A good parallel to Anthony Powell's account of the war in the volumes of his Dance to the Music of Time sequence that cover the war. ...more
Nov 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An incredible achievement as a work of art. What a cast of characters and story, across the Second World War, from the outbreak to the end.
Nov 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: group
There could be some debate about whether this is Waugh's crowning masterpiece; I think it is. It is certainly his most personal book. He pours into it his wartime experiences, his faith, his disillusionment with the modern world, and his thoughts and feelings about all of them. Even in his non-fiction he kept a greater emotional distance than he does here.
The books have different themes, which together make the story of Guy Crouchback's war. It is a trilogy and each book could be read separately
Beth Cato
Apr 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2009, in, historical, fiction
MEN AT ARMS:[return]This is the first book of the Sword of Honour Trilogy.[return][return]Evelyn Waugh wrote these books in the 1950s based on his personal experiences in Word War II, yet altered enough to be fiction. The main character is Guy Crouchback, the last son in a rather prestigious English Catholic family. He's spent a great deal of time living in his family villa in Italy, but has nothing else to show for himself. His wife left him years ago and has since had a string of husbands. As ...more
Mark Adderley
I enjoyed this novel immensely. I've previously read Brideshead Revisited, which I enjoyed, but not immensely. Sword of Honour is much more fun. Waugh has the ability to depict a character swiftly, allow us to enjoy him for a few pages, and then to drop him for later. Such is Colonel Ritchie-Hook, a superbly comic character. He's one of those old soldiers who is completely full of himself, and yet whom we seem to love anyway. Waugh's ear for a character's voice, and his talent for comedy are bot ...more
Russell McCreight
Jul 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, fiction
Sword of Honour follows Guy Crouchback, the scion of an ancient English aristocratic Catholic family, as he enters into the service of his King in what he sees as a crusade against the evil manifestations of modernism; Fascism and Communism. What actually transpires is at the same time a highly amusing satire of Regimental life in the fictitious 'Royal Corps of Halberdiers' and the myriad of 'special forces' raised during the Second World War for raids and special service, as well as a depressin ...more
Charles Samuels
Jul 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I don't often laugh out loud when reading but Waugh's masterful wit and chummy irony got to me on more than one occasion. Characters like Apthorpe and Brigadier Ben Ritchie-Hook are what really set this novel apart in my mind. Wherever their names appear you know something is about to go down.

Even though the novels are drenched in wit and irony, this is by no means a comedy but a rather complex drama set across a vast social, psychological, and spiritual tapestry. I didn't really know what to m
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
War in literature may be glorious or terrible, and is often both. In Sword of Honour, it's neither. It is absurd, arbitrary, and very often, desperately tedious. Waugh mined his own wartime experiences for this trilogy of novels which he later edited into one 796-page epic, so the book has a certain amount of weight, both metaphorically and literally. It comes with his trademark cynicism, his acute sense of the ridiculous, but also with an authenticity born of experience.

It's slightly uneven, n
Sep 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
For some reason I love stories about the war. Both wars, actually - I'd rate Sword of Honour alongside William Boyd's An Ice Cream War (and Any Human Heart, for that matter) for the sort of grown-up boys-own adventure feel of the story. It's the same reason I adore Tintin - part itchy-foot travel fantasy, part nostalgia for a world that never was. Guy Crouchback's adventures through Italy, Egypt, Crete, Dakar, Yugoslavia and the rest are gleeful, and Waugh's characters are exactly who you want t ...more
J. Mulrooney
Nov 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is the book -- the group of books -- where Waugh puts it all together.

His young novels are nasty and laugh-out-loud funny. Brideshead is elegiac, beautiful and entirely unfunny. His books on Campion, Helena, and his travel writings are neither nasty, elegiac, nor funny, but show him a sensitive reporter of things seen and told.

The Sword of Honour books balance the three Waughs together. He still has an eye for la merde, but a more human and forgiving eye than young Evelyn; he has a sense
Dan Pearce
Oct 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is Evelyn Waugh at his best. He describes the tragedy of war through individual human frailties. Nobody ever seems to be completely in control- capricious fate sending men and women to arbitrary deaths. And through the muddle and pathos runs Waugh's dark satirical humour we saw earlier in Scoop, his comic novel about the war in Ethiopia.

Three volumes that compare well are Powell's wartime novels from A Dance to the Music of Time: The Valley of Bones, The Soldiers Art, and The Military Philo
Vel Veeter
Jun 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Book 1: Men at Arms

This book starts off with a discussion of the localized history of a estate belonging to a wealthy English family, all of which sets the scene for the kind of historical and cultural and familial draw the role and life of the soldier has on the protagonist of this novel. Somewhere between the Sword of Damocles and Chekhov’s rifle, the titular Sword of Honour (the trilogy’s if not this novel’s name) hangs over the family providing fate, guidance, and doom.

We cut forward to Guy
Dec 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, fiction
I thoroughly enjoyed this set of books. Waugh's myriad of characters keep popping up throughout the course of the story. It is alternatively comic, light, serious, and always engaging. ...more
Feb 17, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have an undying predeliction for aristocratic catholicism in literature and consequently loved Brideshead Revisited before it went into Julia territory. I suppose I expected some of the same in this book, having read a number of reviews that all started a little something like 'despite my distate of reading about wealthy catholics', but found little in any of the three books that really propounded any catholic overtures.

To be honest, I didn't love this book. I 'liked' it in that it had some re
Jan 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is the master work that Brideshead Revisited could have been-- a productive and consistently enjoyable blend of Waugh's youthful frivolous dark humor and his later serious morality. Unfortunately, the context in which it is presented-- inconsequential and far-flung margins of the British military involvement in World War II-- is tough slogging indeed unless the reader has the requisite background knowledge to be able to parse the constant barrage of British military acronyms and jargon, and ...more
Feb 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read the whole novel, Waugh's tongue in cheek depiction of WWII through the eyes of English noble, Guy Crouchback, who enlists contrary to the advice of his fellow countrymen and of reason, given that he is rapidly approaching forty as the war is about to begin. The novel is an immense depiction of the end of the class system in England, the fall of the Empire, and the improbable pursuit of honor by this last, true acolyte of the England that had made the world shake. Catholic, faithful, and e ...more
May 13, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's difficult not to get annoyed with a protagonist whose problems mostly stem from being a Catholic, and an aristocrat at that. Such problems seem self-inflicted, avoidable... but then I got to thinking that perhaps they aren't. How could the hero give up any of the beliefs that have been inculcated in him from birth, even if he wanted to (which he doesn't). So the Catholic misery is a fixture of the plot. As to the rest, the dialogue often reads like a sitcom, often farcical. There is a recur ...more
Jul 17, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Let me just sum up this book in one word.....tedious. I tried really hard to finish it, and made it about one third of the way through the third book in the trilogy, but even the golden vocal chords of Simon Prebble couldn't persuade me to continue on to the end. ...more
Tom Doss iii
Mar 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Probably the best British novel to come out of WWII. (three books, altogether )
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Evelyn Waugh's father Arthur was a noted editor and publisher. His only sibling Alec also became a writer of note. In fact, his book “The Loom of Youth” (1917) a novel about his old boarding school Sherborne caused Evelyn to be expelled from there and placed at Lancing College. He said of his time there, “…the whole of English education when I was brought up was to produce prose writers; it was al ...more

Other books in the series

Sword of Honour (3 books)
  • Men at Arms (Sword of Honour, #1)
  • Officers and Gentlemen (Sword of Honour, #2)
  • The End of the Battle (Sword of Honour, #3)

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