Waugh in Albania

Literary journalist and author David Pryce-Jones has written a “Letter from Albania: The Twilight of Zog” that appears in the current issue of The New Criterion. He reports on his attendance at a conference about the legacy of Communism in Albania where he is assigned a place at the dinner table next to the leader of the conservative party in Albania. In the course of their conversation, Pryce-Jones reports this exchange:

One of his favorite books, he turned aside to tell me, was Fitzroy Maclean’s Eastern Approaches (1949)—it gave the reader everything he needed to know about Communism. In the war, Fitzroy, a Brigadier and a Conservative Member of Parliament, had commanded the British military mission to Yugoslavia. Evelyn Waugh was one of its members, and he later put some of this experience into his masterpiece, Sword of Honour. One of the themes of the novel is that British foreign policy is in the hands of men from privileged backgrounds who behind closed doors are crypto-Communists selling out the nation—critics at the time dismissed this as right-wing paranoia. As editor of a book about Evelyn Waugh, I persuaded Fitzroy, rather against his inclination, to put on paper what it had been like to have on the military mission this uncompromising observer of events.

The book to which Pryce-Jones refers is Evelyn Waugh and His World (1973) of which he was the editor. Fitzroy Maclean’s contribution was a two-page memoir entitled “Captain Waugh” about his role in setting up the wartime mission to Yugoslavia in which Waugh served. He left it to Freddy Birkenhead to provide a detailed description of actually serving with Waugh in the field. This longer article (“Fiery Particles”) also appears in Pryce-Jones’ book. 

The former publisher and now spy novelist Joseph Kanon is the subject of this week’s “By the Book” column in the New York Times Book Review. Most of his books have post-war espionage themes, such as his best known The Good German (which was also made into a film) and his latest Defectors, which was just published. In the column, he responds to certain standard questions such as this: 

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

I know I should say Henry James and Proust and George Eliot, but the great and the good can be really heavy going at a dinner party. What would George Eliot actually talk about? So let’s go for a fun evening instead. Say, David Sedaris, Oscar Levant and Mel Brooks. Or, fun in a different way, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, if he promises to behave. But the fantasy meal I’d really like would be with Robert Oppenheimer, just the two of us. I’d ask him whether he thought my portrait of him in “Los Alamos” was fair. And then I’d ask him a hundred other things, and he’d talk and talk. Now that would be an evening.

Finally, a former journalist has written a first novel with a journalism theme. This is Stephen Glover who is interviewed in the current issue of The Oldie where he explains the inspiration for his novel:

… the novels about the Press which most of us remember from the 20th century tend to be the comic ones. That’s certainly true of probably the two most famous – Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop and Michael Frayn’s Towards the End of the Morning. When I came to make my own small contribution to the genre with Splash!, it seemed the natural thing to try to make it funny.

Several reviewers have already spotted this connection. See earlier post.

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