Black Mischief

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Black Mischief
First edition
Author Evelyn Waugh
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Comedy
Publisher Chapman and Hall
Publication date
Media type Print

Black Mischief was Evelyn Waugh's third novel, published in 1932. The novel chronicles the efforts of the English-educated Emperor Seth, assisted by a fellow Oxford graduate, Basil Seal, to modernize his Empire, the fictional African island of Azania, located in the Indian Ocean off the eastern coast of Africa.

The novel was written by Waugh whilst staying as a house guest at Madresfield Court in Worcestershire. The old nursery had been converted into a writing room for Waugh. The Lygon sisters, who after 1931 had the run of the place (their father, William Lygon, 7th Earl Beauchamp, having been forced into exile under threat of prosecution for his homosexuality), posed for some of the drawings Waugh did for the first edition.[1]

The book was criticised by the editor of the Roman Catholic paper The Tablet. Waugh had become a Roman Catholic in 1930 yet the editor condemned the book as "disfigured by outrageous lapses, which would be a disgrace to anyone professing the Catholic name."

The novel has been published in the United Kingdom by Penguin Classics (ISBN 9780141183985), and in the U.S.A. by Back Bay Books (ISBN 0316917338).

Plot synopsis[edit]

After winning a civil war Seth, Oxford-educated emperor of the fictional nation of Azania, makes it his goal to "modernise" his country. He recruits Basil Seal, a shiftless college friend and heir to an English political family, to preside over the newly established Ministry of Modernization, with the help of Krikor Yokoumian, a successful Armenian entrepreneur. Unbeknownst to Seth and the Ministry, the French consul Ballon plans a coup d'état. At a "Birth Control Parade" organized by Seth, Ballon and several religious leaders overthrow the Emperor and install his senile uncle Achon. However, Achon dies upon coronation, and Seth dies in hiding. Basil attends Seth's funeral feast and discovers afterwards that he has eaten the stewed remains of his girlfriend Prudence Courteney, the coddled daughter of the British Minister, whose plane had vanished after the evacuation of the British compound. With no heir to the monarchy, the League of Nations steps in and claims the country as a League of Nations Mandate. Basil returns to England and disturbs his old friends because he has become "serious."


  1. ^ The Waugh Trilogy, Arena, BBCTV