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Black Mischief

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  2,914 ratings  ·  189 reviews
Black Mischief, " Waugh's third novel, helped to establish his reputation as a master satirist. Set on the fictional African island of Azania, the novel chronicles the efforts of Emperor Seth, assisted by the Englishman Basil Seal, to modernize his kingdom. Profound hilarity ensues from the issuance of homemade currency, the staging of a "Birth Control Gala, " the rightful ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published August 30th 2002 by Back Bay Books (first published 1932)
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Average rating 3.74  · 
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 ·  2,914 ratings  ·  189 reviews

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Sep 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Although this is not my favourite novel by Waugh, it is undoubtedly an outrageously un-politically correct tale, set in an imagined African state. Waugh wrote the novel after a winter spent in East and Central Africa, which also resulted in a non-fiction work Remote People (Penguin Modern Classics). The imaginary state of Azania may be remote, but new Emperor, Seth, has been Oxford educated and is desperate to bring modernity to his confused population. "I am the New Age. I am the Future" he dec ...more
Jul 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Its a hoot from the very first page. Sustained hilarity from the first page to the last. A riot! An uproar! A scream! Its going on my 'laugh-out-loud' list.

You rarely see this level of comedy displayed in a novel. Its like one long, erudite, madcap Monty Python sketch. Narrated with utterly taut deadpan restraint. 'Black Mischief' is the very last word in making fun of colonialism. If you ever thought the English dry or humorless; read Waugh. This is truly the pillar underlying all the British
Feb 24, 2019 rated it it was ok
I guess I didn't find the profound hilarity that the description of this book promised.

Reading this and Vile Bodies, I'm wondering if creating lots of idiotic straw man characters and having them do and say ridiculous things is really satire or just a lazy way to create 'profound hilarity'.

Mar 18, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have previously really enjoyed 'Scoop', 'A Handful of Dust', and 'Decline and Fall', and had heard good things about this book. Primarily I had heard that it was very funny. Whilst it certainly has a few moments of laugh out loud hilarity overall I thought it was a somewhat incoherent and inconsistent read.

One of the most striking things for a modern reader is the incessant casual racism that peppers the book. That said it's mainly just racist epithets, although there are a few obvious stereo
Nov 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Azania is the name of the country...a hot-diggity satire on the modern world which should, I hope, offend the Politically Correct...whose brains went into the cannibal pot. Now, can we pray ?
Apr 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
Dearest Evelyn, what to make of your uneven and thoroughly racist Black Mischief? Your apologists claim that it lampoons everyone, usually adding: "especially the Europeans", but there's a more than a shade of difference between aloof & irrelevant (Sir Sampson et al) and too stupid to civilize (Seth et al).

The quality of your writing is wonderful and there's plenty of laughs to be had in the first two thirds. Ultimately, however, the work collapses once you have to find some way to move to a co
Howard Olsen
Jul 13, 2008 rated it really liked it

Waugh’s third novel is a departure from his first two classic satires of British society. For one thing, Black Mischief is largely set on the fictional East African island nation of Azania, although most of the characters are Brits. Second, Waugh actually has a plot that can be neatly summarized; namely that Basil Seal is a bit of a wastrel MP who travels to Azania where he hooks up with the Oxford educated Azanian Emperor Seth, who wants to bring Progressive Soviet-style governmen
Florence Penrice
Mar 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
What those who object to this book seem to miss is that NO ONE is immune to Waugh's satire. Everybody, apart from poor Seth, going mad amidst the chaos, is mercilessly ridiculed. It seems such a shame to miss the fun of the menu for the ball (with all the vitamin groups covered), and life in the diplomatic compound, for what seems to me to be a knee-jerk reaction.
Alice Handley
May 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
Totally hilarious but kind of embarassing to read on the bus in Oakland.
Apr 14, 2020 rated it liked it
An interesting book to read as a product of its time, and of course also a product of the extremely right wing values and attitudes of Evelyn Waugh. The tone is set before the story starts, with a Preface which Waugh wrote in 1962. Its final paragraph reads:

"Thirty years ago it seemed an anachronism that any part of Africa should be independent of European administration. History has not followed what then seemed its natural course."

However, Waugh's disdain is not confined to "the natives". His
From the standard of personal enjoyment, I would give this book a negative one star. I disliked and was bored by the "satire", the characters, the entire premise. The only reason I finished Black Mischief was because I was stuck on a plane and this was the only book I had with me.
However, gut instinct aside, I recognize this book has its clever moments. It was well crafted. The writing occasionally caught me up with its wittiness and style.
A total dud read in some ways, but worth more than one
Steve Shilstone
Dec 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Staggers back and forth between funny and offensive until it gobsmacks you with its ending.
Apr 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
Evelyn Waugh’s Black Mischief, published in 1932, recounts the unfortunate attempts of Seth, sovereign of the mythical East African Empire of Azania, to modernise his dominions. In this he is aided (although perhaps aided is the wrong word) by Basil Seal, an unscrupulous an incompetent English adventurer. Black Mischief has been accused of racism but in fact the British and French are lampooned every bit as mercilessly as the Africans. In other books Waugh gleefully ridiculed Americans as well ( ...more
Lorenzo Berardi
I lost my track somewhere in Azania a couple of weeks ago.
Now it's all darkness around me.

What I can recall is that this novel has one of the most exhilarating and sarcastic beginnings I have ever found.

Quoting Waugh:
'We, Seth, Emperor of Azania, Chief of the Chiefs of Sakuyu, Lord of Wanda and Tyrant of the Seas, Bachelor of the Arts of Oxford University, being in this the twenty-fourth year of our life, summoned by the wisdom of Almighty God and the unanimous voice of our people to the thron
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
As much as I liked Waugh's Scoop I just didn't enjoy this. He writes well but Basil, Seth and Ballon never grabbed me and I found myself bored in and with Azania.
'...constitutional monarchy, bicameral legislature, proportional representation, women's suffrage, independent judicature, freedom of the press, referendums...
What is all that? asked the Emperor.
Just a few ideas that have ceased to be modern.'

That was fairly fun. A satire about a small nation of complicated culture and history, with a new leader who wants to replace the savagery of barbarism with the savagery of civilization..
I tend to quite like these small country political stories and have
Mar 28, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa
If you've ever read something and taken offence at an unpolitcally correct comment and thus been unable to finish said book - please don't read this. It is rather unpolitically correct and delights in playing up to countless stereotypes. The only thing that can be said is that Waugh is fair and no culture, ethnicity or group is free. Everyone is mocked.

There are some funny moments, funny comments and utterly non-pc names (General Connolly's wife for one), and there were a couple of points where
Dec 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: group
Evelyn Waugh travelled in several countries in East Africa. This novel is set in the fictitious island country of Azania, which is an amalgamation of several African countries and Waugh's imagination. He remorselessly satirises colonial officials who have no idea what is going on in the countries they are supposed to be administering, inept Western educated African leaders attempting to modernise their countries, corrupt opportunistic businessmen and even the 'bright young things' back home who ...more
Aug 08, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bit of an odd one, this. One of Waugh’s relatively early novels, you can see the similarities with the excellent Scoop. To the reader today, however, the racism jars. And of course one hopes it is ironic and that the writer is mocking it but, actually, he isn’t, I am afraid. There are many things he is mocking and he does so brilliantly, especially the insouciant complacency of the British upper class. But imperial prejudice against other races is not his target, sadly.

The story is essentially a
Sep 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Re-read 08-September to 13-September-2016. Revised rating to 4 stars, down from 5.

Still very funny, still a great satire, but not 'Amazing'.

I read Remote People: A Report from Ethiopia & British Africa 1930-31, an excellent travel book Waugh wrote before Black Mischief, which was clearly mined for information and inspiration in writing this satire.

Another recommended read for you: Waugh in Abyssinia (1936).
Why not go all the way and read Waugh Abroad: Collected Travel Writing.
May 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Black Mischief is a ruthlessly witty sendup of modernization, colonization, uncivilized culture, civilized culture, and almost everything else. As one of Waugh's earlier novels, it lacks the miraculously beautiful prose of later writing (and I don't just mean Brideshead; even his mature comedies ascend into poetry at times) though there are glimmers of the greatness to come. It is, however, polished and wildly funny. I have always admired Waugh's knack for absolutely reveling in black humor wit ...more
Jul 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Sometimes, in mid-reading, you feel like you got a Wodehouse with a Waugh cover: you got the English young misfit bloke with a golden heart, the young frivolous girl, the love triangle etc.

You also have, on the other hand, a lot of prejudice, cinicism, mocking the feminist-ecologist kind and lots of good-humour which is rarer and rarer.

But what really makes a difference, if your reference is Wodehouse, is that Waugh is absolutely cruel with his characters. Wodehouse is light and hopeful; in Wa
Czarny Pies
Sep 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: White supremacists looking for a congenial read.
Recommended to Czarny by: FrankenStan urged me nought to read it but to confess to having read it.
Shelves: english-lit
This book is tasteless and racist. However it also offers and excellent satire on the colonial systems as well as the systematic miscommunication that always exists between the colonizer and the colonized.

Black Mischief might have found a larger audience had it been much more correct politically.
Nov 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: evelyn-waugh
Azania the African country in which the novel is set. Laugh out loud in many parts with that dry British wit. The satire is excellent and Basil is a survivor. I think I will never be able to hear the name Prudence again without thinking of this story! There are parallels with politicians today and Emperor Seth except he never proposed building a wall.
Oct 21, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: guardian-1000, 2017
Slightly more fun than being stuck in a lift with Boris Johnson.
review of
Evelyn Waugh's Black Mischief
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - February 19-28, 2018

Read the full review here:

Africa's a continent. There're bound to be significant differences between the culture of Egypt & the culture of South Africa, between the culture of Liberia & the culture of Nigeria. It's awkward for me to review this bk. I've read so little from &/or about Africa. I haven't read Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth. I have read Melv
Andrew Darling
Nov 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Evelyn Waugh admired P G Wodehouse immensely. In the sixties and seventies, Penguin rarely published an edition of a Wodehouse title without printing on the back cover Waugh’s endorsement of ‘Mr Wodehouse’s idyllic world … a world for us to live in and delight in.’ In some respects, the two writers were very similar. Both observed the same narrow social class of English people with a comic eye, but with one crucial difference; where Wodehouse’s portraits were primarily painted with a gentle and ...more
May 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Black Mischief by Evelyn Waugh

Instead of a spoiler alert- this could give you little information about Black Mischief and some idea about the thoughts of this reader when encountering the African emperors and characters of this book.

There is a tendency in all amateur reviewers to go beyond writing about someone else’s book and put in script personal emotions and feelings. That could make the difference between a resume and a review. There is also graphomania to consider and the tests that prove
Feb 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book may be unacceptable to young people today as it's about upper class colonial types who ruin a pristine African island/nation in their own little schemes and greedy plots.

But I think it wrong to judge bygone eras by the standards of today and I read these books with an open mind. This one is brilliant, particularly the structure.

It opens in London with a young upper class twit at a loose end. He's wealthy and arrogant, doesn't know what to do with himself and ends up going to Africa whe
Aug 01, 2012 rated it liked it
A cacophonous shoeshine man once told me "Societal rancour is the stuff that really gets your cardiovascular system moving. How are we meant to stay heart-healthy if we can’t have a go at anyone?"

The shoeshine man later died, although not before joining the Lumpenproletariat, which (I suspect) was a personal life-long dream of his.

I believe that any of the so-called product of our doltish incapacity for defining who or what we are simply that: Product. Goods purchased or sold not based upon the
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Bright Young Things: Colonialism 7 21 Oct 09, 2013 12:18AM  
Bright Young Things: Black Mischief by Evelyn Waugh (2013 Reading Challenge) 39 76 Sep 17, 2013 11:08AM  

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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

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“We, Seth, Emperor of Azania, Chief of the Chiefs of Sakuyu, Lord of Wanda and Tyrant of the Seas, Bachelor of the Arts of Oxford University, being in this the twenty-fourth year of our life, summoned by the wisdom of Almighty God and the unanimous voice of our people to the throne of our ancestors, do hereby proclaim...” 2 likes
“You know," he added reflectively, "we've got a much easier job now than we should have had fifty years ago. If we'd had to modernise a country then it would have meant constitutional monarchy, bicameral legislature, proportional representation, women's suffrage, independent judicature, freedom of the press, referendums . . ."

"What is all that?" asked the Emperor.

"Just a few ideas that have ceased to be modern.”
More quotes…