Waugh in the Food Columns

Lisa Hilton, biographer, novelist and now food critic for Standpoint magazine, was apparently assigned to write a review of a new Italian restaurant in Covent Garden called Margot. This establishment was downgraded by some other food critics such as Jay Rayner for being too formal for present Londoners. After offering a brief defense of Margot’s formality and praise for its food, Hilton launches into the topic she really wants to write about which is the Southern Italian region of Puglia. She gets there by quoting Evelyn Waugh in this introduction:

Puglia makes me think of Evelyn Waugh’s comment on the Sphinx: “As a piece of sculpture it is wholly inadequate to its fame. People . . . went out to see it by moonlight and returned very grave and awestruck; which only shows the mesmeric effect of publicity. It is about as enigmatic and inscrutable as Mr Aleister Crowley.” Poor, tatty, overcrowded Europe of course retains some places of genuine beauty, but why will no one admit that the French Riviera nowadays resembles at best the less-unpleasant areas of Los Angeles, or that Ibiza is no longer a “White Isle” in any sense but the narcotic one? English people love Puglia, because they think it’s the real Italy…

The quote is from Waugh’s 1930 travel book Labels (p. 102). Waugh later spent time in Puglia during WWII because its chief town Bari was the staging base for his outpost in Yugoslavia. The food served during that period was probably not worth mentioning, although may well have been better than what was on offer in the UK.

Waugh surfaces in another food story, this one about obesity. This is posted on the weblog ConservativeHome.com by MEP Daniel Hannan who thinks that the UK government’s campaign against obesity has gone too far and is at risk of becoming yet another example of unnecessary and annoying interference in private lives. He closes his article with this quote from Waugh:

By what right, though, do we presume to tell people what to eat? “There are,” wrote Evelyn Waugh, “no respectable reasons for wanting not to be fat”. To reject the good things in life from no higher motive than vanity was, as he saw it, a tragically modern form of decadence. All right, Waugh was not exactly a good example of a contented fat man. Although he was the soul of elegance on the page, he was selfish, irritable and sadistic in person. So let me instead give the last word, as I gave the first, to Shakespeare, and through him to the amplest, merriest and wittiest fatty to have graced our literature, John Falstaff: “If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked!”

The source of this quote has proved elusive, although Mr Hannan has cited it previously in a 2008 article where he attacked the then Labour government and the EU for the same anti-obesity policies. It does sound a bit like Waugh but would he have used a double negative? I wonder if this may be a paraphrase rather than a quote?

Finally, and unrelated to food, the V&A Museum has mounted an exhibit of the artworks from the books of the Folio Society to mark the society’s 70th anniversary. This is called “The Artful Book” and will be on display from 5 September until 28 January. Among the works on display are illustrations by Kate Baylay for the Folio Society’s 2015  edition of Vile Bodies. Some of these are reproduced in the announcement appearing in digitalartsonline.

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