George Smiley and Basil Seal

The Evening Standard has reviewed John Le Carre’s latest novel A Legacy of Spies in which he revives his old characters from the George Smiley novels. The reviewer David Sexton has this observation about the pitfalls of this practice:

Often it is a mistake for novelists to revive their favourite characters late in their careers, actually detracting from, rather than adding to, their original achievement. Evelyn Waugh’s appalling Basil Seal Rides Again published two years before his death remains the classic example, Waugh himself accurately calling it “a senile attempt to recapture the manner of my youth”. Le Carré is now 85 and it is more than a quarter of a century since he last visited these characters. Yet, quite remarkably, he has pulled it off. A Legacy of Spies deploys a complex and ingeniously layered structure to make the past alive in the present once more (so complex, in fact, that the novel only reveals itself fully on a second reading).

Waugh’s short story was first published in limited UK and US editions in 1963 and has subsequently appeared in his collected short stories. The book was dedicated to Ann Fleming and the quote comes from a letter Waugh wrote to her in December 1962 which was reprinted in the limited editions as well as in Letters, p. 562.

The online journal Artfix Daily has published a review of an exhibition entitled “Restoring the Minoans: Elizabeth Price and Sir Arthur Evans.” This is on display at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW).

The inclusion of Elizabeth Price is explained by her production of an imaginative video illustrating how archeologists enhance and elaborate the items they collect. Sir Arthur Evans was an outstanding example of such elaborative practices in connection with his early 20th c. excavations at Knossos Crete. This is where Evelyn Waugh comes in:

One telling example of Evans’s imaginative re-creations is the “Lady in Red.” Here, one of his primary draftsmen has created an image of a complete figure based on a single small fragment of a fresco painting. The female subject, characterized by such features as lines indicating a coquettish smile, is more evocative of contemporaneous European art, than of anything found in Minoan wall paintings. It may have been “restorations” like this that inspired Evelyn Waugh in 1929 to note that restorers of Minoan painting “have tempered their zeal for reconstruction with a predilection for covers of Vogue.

The quote is from Waugh’s 1930 travel book Labels (p. 136). There are, however, a few modifying bits left out. The complete quote reads: “…have tempered their zeal for accurate reconstruction with a somewhat inappropriate predilection for covers of Vogue.” The exhibit continues at the ISAW until 7 January 2018.

Finally, The Oldie’s weblog reports the events at its London literary luncheon earlier this week. Among the speakers was Waugh biographer Paula Byrne who discussed her recent biography of Kathleen Kennedy (Kick: The True Story of JFK’s Sister and the Heir to Chatsworth):

… Byrne talked about Kick’s surprising friendship with the bullish Evelyn Waugh, who asked her, on their first meeting, how big her ‘dot’ was. She thought he meant her belly button, and said it was normal-sized. In fact, he meant ‘dot’, as in the French for dowry. Byrne talked movingly, too, about the wartime death of Kick’s husband, the Marquess of Hartington, and her own tragic, early demise.

Share
This entry was posted in Academia, Basil Seal Rides Again, Discussions, Labels, Letters, Newspapers and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.