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The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold by Evelyn Waugh

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Gilbert Pinfold was a British writer of some renown. In his younger days he was very engaged with life and enjoyed being out and about with a host of friends. But when he reached middle age, he became bored with that life. He moved to the country with his very young wife who managed their estate and their seven children. He began to pass his days “in writing, reading, and managing his own small affairs”.


When he was about fifty, Mr. Pinfold had a difficult winter. He felt sick, his joints ached, and he couldn’t get warm. The doctor prescribed some medicine which he gladly took. He supplemented the medicine with warming tonics of his own choosing. Nothing seemed to help. In fact, his condition worsened until he could not take it any longer. He needed a holiday. His wife was worried about him and supported his decision to go away to warmer climes. Of course, business kept her at home, but he insisted that he would be fine on his own. He had a plan to slowly wean himself from the drugs and the alcohol and then to spend his days recovering from his illness and writing, working on a book that he had started but had been unable to finish. He boarded a ship bound for Ceylon.


Mr. Pinfold had barely settled into his quarters when he began to hear the strangest things being broadcast into his cabin. There was a passionate revival meeting followed by a very personal confession of sin. There was a party in full swing somewhere on board with a jazz band providing the entertainment. It was annoying to him, and he intended to let the Captain know what was happening and to request different accommodations. But then he was shocked to hear what was surely a murder and a plot to cover it up. He dared not report this to the Captain, because it appeared that the Captain himself might be involved. As the voyage continued, it occurred to Mr. Pinfold that someone might be playing a trick on him for some reason. Then it became apparent to him that people were plotting against him personally. Who could it be? The man who sat alone at dinner every night? Someone at the Captain’s Table where Mr. Pinfold ate his meals? The BBC, with whom he had recently had a very unsatisfactory interview? He began to suspect every person he saw. He knew that he had to get off that ship!


Evelyn Waugh is a brilliant comic writer. This story is funny, but it is a little disturbing too at times. The book is semi-autobiographical. Mr. Waugh had a similar experience and used this fictional story as a way to tell about it.


“Mr. Pinfold sat down to work for the first time since his fiftieth birthday. He took the pile of manuscript, his unfinished novel, from the drawer and glanced through it. The story was still clear in his mind. He knew what had to be done. But there was more business first, a hamper to be unpacked of fresh, rich experience—perishable goods. He returned the manuscript to the drawer, spread a new quire of foolscap before him and wrote in his neat steady hand

The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold

A Conversation Piece

Chapter One

Portrait of the Artist in Middle Age”


This is a short book, almost a short story really, and a very entertaining one.


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