Waugh Among Top “Conservative” Novelists

Literary historian and professor of British literature at Ghent University, Kate Macdonald, has published in the Guardian a list of what she considers the top 10 “conservative” novels. This is based in part on her recent book Novelists Against Social Change published last month by Palgrave Macmillan. In that book she discusses the novels of John Buchan, Dornford Yates and Angela Thirkell as they represent a conservative point of view. She complains that today’s teachers of literature ignore these works because their characters oppose social change and support imperialism.

Ignoring fiction of a political colour that you don’t agree with is teaching with blinkers on. Literary history should function as a 360-degree panopticon.

In her Guardian list, she expands the field to include “conservative” novels by other writers such as Nancy Mitford’s The Blessing (1951), Ian Fleming’s Dr. No (1958) and Dorothy Sayer’s Gaudy Night (1935). Also included is Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited about which Macdonald offers the following:

I’m sorry if this is a predictable choice, but Waugh is the most wonderful Tory writer, and this novel is a glorious elegy for the conservative life he could see disappearing after the second world war. It’s his most readable novel, and such a marvellous evocation of a vanishing prewar life of privilege. Waugh borrowed Thirkell’s obnoxious Captain Hooper from her novel Growing Up (1943) and put him in this novel to represent the ghastly new egalitarian world.

I wonder on what authority she has it that Waugh has read Thirkell’s 1943 novel or was sufficiently familiar with it to “borrow” a character?

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