Waugh and Country Houses

There have been several recent articles that mention Evelyn Waugh in connection with English country houses:

Carlton Towers. As noted in a recent post, this house was the setting of Hetton Abbey in the 1980s film version of A Handful of Dust. Waugh had been an invited guest there in the late 1930s but that was several years after he wrote the novel. The present owners are offering the house as a venue for corporate events and are taking advantage of the Waugh connections in their promotional materials:

Carlton Towers starred as Hetton Abbey in the 1988 film A Handful Of Dust by Evelyn Waugh, and provided a stunning backdrop for the television dramatisation of Charles Dickens’ Micawber, starring David Jason. More recently lavish ITV1 costume drama Victoria was filmed at Carlton Towers. Starring Jenna Coleman as the young queen, Carlton played the part of Windsor Castle in the acclaimed series.

Sevenhampton Place. This is a large house that was the last residence of Ian Fleming. It is described and illustrated, along with several of his other country houses, on a website dedicated to Fleming’s life and works :

Ian and Ann Fleming moved into what would be Ian’s final house, Sevenhampton Place in the village of Sevenhampton near Swindon in Wiltshire, in June 1963. It was Ann’s ideal home, but it was far from in an ideal state when the Flemings bought the house in 1959. The house required considerable repair, renovation and refurbishment, and it was four years before Ian and Ann could take up residence… In a letter to Evelyn Waugh, Ann Fleming describes its forty bedrooms, billiard room and ballroom, though these rooms would be considerably altered. …the house itself dates to the 18th century. The house was remodelled in 1904 before being remodelled a second time by the Flemings…

Ann Fleming’s letter to Waugh was dated 31 August 1959 and describes the house as “near Faringdon”, which is a more bucolic setting than Swindon, the nearest mainline station. The letter is collected in the 1985 edition of The Letters of Ann Fleming, edited by Mark Amory. She also told Waugh that it had “a romantic garden and a better piece of water than yours…the Carolean wings are lovely…”

Pemberley. This is a fictional house described in Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice that was the home of the heroine’s love interest Mr Darcy. It is described in a recent New York Times article:

When did she fall in love with Darcy? Elizabeth’s sister Jane asks. “I believe,” replies Elizabeth, “I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.” It is not a joke. As do country houses elsewhere in literature — Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead, for instance — Pemberley embodies the Tory values of old England. This is what Elizabeth is marrying into and what she will support, wholeheartedly, as Mrs. Darcy.

This discussion of the traditional view of Austen comes in a review by literary critic John Sutherland of a new and revisionist book about Austen’s life and work entitled Jane Austen: The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly. This new “radical” view of Austen rejects the foregoing interpretation of Austen’s motivations for marrying Darcy:

… Kelly’s Elizabeth is from another political galaxy. Elizabeth’s undutifulness as a daughter, her laughter, her lack of reverence for Mr. Collins, her lack of respect for Lady Catherine de Bourgh — they’re all of a piece. Elizabeth is, in short, constructed to be “a conservative’s nightmare.” … Why does Kelly’s Elizabeth marry the master of Pemberley? Because she is strong enough to radicalize him. Would Kelly’s Elizabeth have voted for Jeremy Corbyn? The answer is obvious.

Waugh would probably have taken a dim view of this revisionist interpretation of Austen (if, indeed, he bothered to express any view at all), but I wonder if he would agree with the Sutherland’s “traditional view” as applied to Brideshead Castle that it “embodied the Tory values of old England”. It may have done so up to the time of Lord Marchmain’s conversion to Roman Catholicism but afterwards, perhaps not so much? New values were brought in by his wife’s religion which would be consistent with “Tory values”, but only up to a point. And it was that conflict which could be said to have caused their marriage and family to fall apart. Charles Ryder at first fell in with the traditional values but in the end accepted the whole package.

UPDATE (16 July 2017): Today’s New York Times Book Review is a special issue largely devoted to the works of Jane Austen on the 200th anniversary of her death. In addition to the article mentioned above by John Sutherland, it carries two other book reviews, three feature length essays devoted to Austen and an Austen quiz. One of the other book reviews includes a book by Waugh scholar Paula Byrne who wrote Mad World (what she calls a “partial life” of Evelyn Waugh). The new review covers her second book about Austen–The Genius of Jane Austen: Her Love of Theatre and Why She Works in Hollywood. Reviewer, novelist Jane Smiley, concludes that of the three books covered in her article, Byrne’s “gives us the most insightful analysis of the making of the Austen legacy,”

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