Waugh and his Enemies: Hugh Trevor-Roper

In advance of the lecture (“Waugh’s Enemies”) scheduled for next Monday, 25 September at Hertford College, Oxford, the University of Leicester has posted a brief article about what will surely be one of the topics. This is by Milena Borden and refers to one of Waugh’s most prominent and consistent enemies, Prof. Hugh Trevor-Roper, variously holding appointments at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Dr Borden reviews the first of the public disputes between Waugh and Trevor-Roper. This arose from Trevor-Ropers’s first book, The Last Days of Hitler, and related, inter alia, to the professor’s unsubstantiated claim that Joseph Goebbels had received his schooling in institutions run by the Jesuits. After an exchange of letters in The Tablet, Trevor-Roper had to back off somewhat in a later edition at the direction of his US publishers. After summarizing the dispute, Dr Borden concludes:

So, what does this quarrel tell us about Waugh, Oxford, and the bigger question – ‘What is history?’. Is it factual, unemotional and secular or is it inductive and tainted with beliefs, and religious faith? Waugh, a devout Catholic, argued against the idea that fascism could be linked to his religion, whereas Trevor-Roper – a staunch anti-Catholic – understood and accepted criticism only if it was on the ground of academic accuracy. Waugh extended his absolute disdain for the historical empiricism of C. R. M. F. Cruttwell, his history tutor at Oxford, to The Last Days of Hitler, the book, which A. J. P. Taylor called ‘a delight for historian and layman alike’. The quarrel reached a point where all could enjoy the infinite view of history debates at Oxford.

Other disputes followed between the novelist and the professor, with letters published in the pages of The New Stateman. These related to the English Reformation and what came to be called “Popish Plots”. Some of these are reproduced in Waugh’s collected Letters. Neither side came out of these disputes the clear winner. But Trevor-Roper actually kept on a non-public but disputatious correspondence even after Waugh’s death.  See, e.g., “Destroy after Reading: Selected Correspondence of Hugh Trevor-Roper and Lord Birkenhead” (EWS 45.3: Winter 2015). For tickets to the lecture and further details go to this link.

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