The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold

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The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold
First edition
Author Evelyn Waugh
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Historical novel
Publisher Chapman and Hall
Publication date
Pages 184

The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold is a novel first published in 1957 by English writer Evelyn Waugh. Strong parallels may be drawn between events in the novel overtaking the eponymous protagonist, Gilbert Pinfold, and episodes in the author's own life. In fact, Waugh later admitted that 'Mr Pinfold’s experiences were almost exactly my own', referring to this period in his life as 'my late lunacy'. He was advised to write the book by the then head of the psychiatric department at St Bartholomew's Hospital who interpreted the voices Waugh heard as hallucinations consequential to prolonged overconsumption of a mix of phenobarbitone and alcohol.

The novel was published in different versions for British and American consumption, particularly with regard to a number of racial slurs articulated by the hallucinatory voices which were excised from the US edition.

Plot summary[edit]

Gilbert Pinfold is a middle-aged Catholic novelist teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown. In an attempt to cure his nerves he doses himself liberally with bromide, chloral and crème de menthe. He books a passage on the SS Caliban, assuming it will be a nice break; however his crisis deepens and he slips into madness.


In a review published, shortly after the book's publication, in the New Statesman, J. B. Priestley argued that the autobiographical Pinfold was intoxicating himself in solitude with drugs and alcohol to deaden his mind in a conflict between his writerly self and his assumed persona as a Catholic landed gentleman.[1] A wounded Waugh quickly retaliated in The Spectator.[2]


  1. ^ Priestley, J. B. (31 August 1957). "What was wrong with Pinfold?". New Statesman.  Reprinted in Stannard, Martin, ed. (1984). Evelyn Waugh. The Critical Heritage. Routledge. pp. 387–92. 
  2. ^ Waugh, Evelyn (13 September 1957). "Anything wrong with Priestley?". The Spectator.  Reprinted in Waugh, Evelyn (1988). Gallagher, Donat, ed. Essays, Articles and Reviews. Methuen. pp. 468–70.