My Life in Pictures, by Malcolm Muggeridge. New York: William Morrow. 144 pp. Illustrated. $22.95. Few people can have had as long, as varied, and as interesting a life as Malcolm Muggeridge, as may be seen in this book, which is a kind of annotated photo album. And annotated, it must be said, in that most distinctive of voices so familiar to readers of his books and articles and to those who remember his pioneering work on BBC radio and television. Plummy, rich, ruminative, pontifical, at times self-satisfied, always sure of his absolute correctness at any given time on any given topic, this is a voice that can elicit anger as well as interest and has generated much controversy over the years.
``My Life in Pictures'' takes the reader on a fast-moving journey from Muggeridge's childhood in urban Croydon, where his father was an early Fabian Society and Labour Party stalwart, to his current life as a recent convert to Roman Catholicism in the rural beauty of Robertsbridge, in Sussex. Along the way, he has been a student at Cambridge, a teacher in Imperial India and Egypt, a correspondent in the Soviet Union, a researcher in the International Labour Office of the League of Nations in Geneva, a gossip columnist in London, an intelligence officer in Mozambique, a newspaper reporter accredited to Harry Truman's White House, host of several television programs, and editor of Punch - among other things!
Along the way, too, are encounters with writers like Evelyn Waugh, George Orwell, P.G. Wodehouse, and Graham Greene, to whom he contrasts himself in the following manner: ``Graham I have described as a saint trying to be a sinner, and I see my life in part as a sinner trying to be a saint. Alas for human ambitions!''
And there are others of all stripes to be found - and illuminated amusingly - in these pages. Beatrice Webb, Kitty Muggeridge's aunt, is dismissed by her niece as a humbug, for all her noble principles. A retired Charles de Gaulle graciously refuses Muggeridge's slightly tongue-in-cheek invitation to return to the BBC microphone where he had first rallied Frenchmen and the world to his cause. And a sad Olga Peters, soon to be taken unwillingly to Russia by her mother, Svetlana Allilueva, writes a touching letter of thanks to the Muggeridges:
``Thank you dearly for your enchanting letter.
``In your letter you told me this: `there's no reason why individuals shouldn't be happy and loving together.' But I'm afraid my mother and I aren't as happy and loving together as we are supposed to be....''
Perhaps the most charming section of the book is the final one, depicting the octogenarian Muggeridges in their lovely country home, shopping, walking, collecting eggs from their chickens, mowing the lawn, or sharing a vegetarian lunch. Readers familiar with Muggeridge's autobiographical writings will know that the years of their long married life have been filled with difficulties and tragedy. It is heartening to see this handsome couple pictured in such apparent contentment. Muggeridge bends Wordsworth's lines to read, ``Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/ But to be old is very heaven,'' and uses this as the epigraph to his book. How delightful it is to see old age really being enjoyed for a change!
Merle Rubin reviews books frequently for the Monitor.