First Complete Works Volumes Published

The first four volumes of Evelyn Waugh’s Complete Works have been published by Oxford University Press. Alexander Waugh is interviewed on BBC Radio 4 in yesterday’s edition of World at One in connection with this event. The interview is by Luke Jones and takes place in the quadrangle of Hertford College, Oxford, where Waugh was a student. The interview ranges over several subjects arising from Alexander’s general editorship of the project. He hopes that the results of these publications showing all sides of the writer will have the effect of improving his grandfather’s standing in the academic community where he has been somewhat neglected as a comic novelist with a reputation for being a difficult personality. The program may be replayed at this link starting at 23:00 and continuing for about 7 minutes.

The Evening Standard is the first off the mark with a review of the early volumes. The review by David Sexton concentrates on the first volume of Personal Writings and A Little Learning because they contain new material not previously published. Sexton describes some of the new material in A Little Learning (edited by Barbara Cooke and John Howard Wilson) which:

… contains some primary material that will not be familiar to non-academic Waugh readers (“Wavians”, it seems), including three brief drafts of the unfinished sequel to A Little Learning — A Little Hope — and also a collection of interviews with Waugh, some well-known but others retrieved from obscure sources. There are some stinging  pronouncements here. He says in A Little Hope, for example, that when he returned to London from teaching in Wales: “London seemed alight & alive with fun & variety. More than this it seemed a lovable place, dignified & beautiful, with its own inalienable character. The love was short lived. In a few years I saw it distended, despoiled & reduced to insignificant uniformity. I now shun it as do most of my acquaintance.” Asked by an interviewer in 1948 if he likes England, he replies: “One can’t like it. I am English, it is where I belong. It is one of the inherited disadvantages of one’s life. It is no use pretending one is Patagonian and going to live in Chile.” To a writer, “words should be an intense pleasure just as leather should be to a shoemaker”, the welfare state is “a pure fraud”, people who believe civilisation is progressing “must be locked up in lunatic asylums by now”, and “universal education is a waste of time”. Very good.

The first of the projected 10 volumes of Personal Writings is entitled Precocious Waughs (edited by Alexander Waugh and Alan Bell) and contains newly published letters and parts of Waugh’s diaries which were previously omitted from publication. These cover the years prior to his entry to Oxford. According to Sexton:

It turns out Michael Davie missed very few of the most rewarding entries in his “cautious abbreviation” of these juvenile writings in his 1976 edition of the Diaries. However, by removing the repetitions and the more humdrum day-by-day details of Waugh’s intense involvement in the life of Lancing, he altered their overall impression which, at least to anybody who has no direct knowledge of the public-schools, is quite horrifying. How could such an individual as Waugh spend his formative years so obsessed by the school’s minute status markers, its hierarchy and manners, by sport, by the other boys? Even while cutting it, Michael Davie astutely observed that this school diary was a unique document. “Public-school novels and retrospective accounts of public-school life have proliferated but Waugh seems to be the only writer of the front rank — or indeed of any rank — to have preserved a day-to-day record of school life while it happened.” Re-reading these diaries to write A Little Learning, Waugh wrote, but did not publish, this paragraph, now included in the notes of the new edition and quoted by Alexander Waugh in his introduction: “If what I wrote was a true account of myself, I was [cold-hearted, supercilious, arrogant and callous] conceited, heartless & cautiously malevolent.

Other volumes issued this week include Vile Bodies (edited by Martin Stannard) and Rossetti: His Life and Work (edited by Michael Brennan). The first volume of the complete journalism (edited by Donat Gallagher) will be published later this year.

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