Arcadia and Country Houses (More)

The BBC Radio 3 broadcast of the Words and Music episode on the subject of “Arcadia” is now available on the internet at this link. It is more music than words, and if you want to know source of either, you will need to follow the information that appears below the box with the start button. Some of the connections between words and music are obvious, others less so. In the entry prior to the Waugh reading, for example, the words are by Rachel Carson from Silent Spring describing how once there was an ideal US city surrounded by farms where all lived in harmony with nature but that was long ago (00:41:00). This is followed by Joni Mitchell singing “Big Yellow Taxi” with the refrain “They paved paradise and built up a parking lot.” In the case of Waugh, the reading comes from Book One, Chapter One, of Brideshead Revisited (Revised Ed., Penguin, pp. 25-26) beginning “At Swindon we turned off the main road…” and continuing through “‘…I could come back and dig it up and remember'” (00:44:30). This is followed by an excerpt from Debussy, “Sonate–Pastorale”.

In another contribution to the topic of writers and country houses (see previous post), the Times reviews a book by Phyllis Richardson entitled The House of Fiction: From Pemberley to Brideshead. This supports the proposition that one will know a writer’s work better if one visits the houses where the writer lived or which are described in the works:

We gain much, [Richardson] argues, by visiting the homes of great writers, especially those whose novels hinge on houses built, sold, married into, burnt down or left to go to rack and ruin…House of Fiction gives us old familiars — Jane Austen’s Pemberley, Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead — and other less obvious houses, such as Corley Court from Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child and Crome from Aldous Huxley’s Crome Yellow, a souped-up satire on Lady Ottoline Morrell’s boho-conchie house parties at Garsington.

The reviewer (Laura Freeman) doesn’t say much about which house is described in the chapter on Brideshead, but the publisher’s description on Amazon suggests that it might be Madresfield Court where “Evelyn Waugh plotted Charles Ryder’s return to Brideshead while a guest…” Well, there is a connection, but that’s not where the book was written; this may not be down to Ms Richardson so much as an overzealous blurb writer.  The book was mostly written, as recorded on its final page, in “Chagford, February-June 1944” at the Easton Court Hotel. Freeman also notes some structures she wishes Richardson had included in her book:

In any project like this you inevitably feel piqued that a favourite has been left out. Richardson gives us Miss Havisham’s Satis House and Mr Wemmick’s cheery Walworth cottage in Great Expectations, but not Mr Boffin’s “spanker” of a house in an “Eminently Aristocratic” part of town in Our Mutual Friend. We read of Waugh’s Brideshead, but not Mrs Beste-Chetwynde’s “ferro-concrete and aluminium” modernist palace in Decline and Fall. No chapter, either, on Toad Hall, Badger’s sett, Rat’s lodge or Mole’s hill, the four enviable bachelor retreats of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.

While there are possibly real world equivalents of Toad Hall (Mapledurham House) and  Satis House (although I thought it was burnt down), the modern Kings Thursday may have been a figment of Waugh’s creative imagination.

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