Waugh and Wales and Fashion

A recent article in the TLS entitled “Do the Welsh Just Sing?” by Samuel Graydon opens with a quote from Decline and Fall:

“The Welsh . . . are the only nation in the world that has produced no graphic or plastic art, no architecture, no drama. They just sing.” Such is Evelyn Waugh’s damning criticism from Decline and Fall. A little unfair, perhaps, and also, in one particular, very much mistaken. In Wales, it is not just singing. Male-voice choirs and rugby crowds aside, a sense of lyricism, music and song pervades the literature of the country. …

The article continues with a discussion of recent offerings of Welsh literature in such fields as fiction, poetry, drama and even opera. It concludes with a more detailed discussion of historic Welsh literature and in particular the The Mabinogi, which is a Medieval collection that had recently been republished in two versions.

The Daily Telegraph has mentioned Waugh in an article by Alice Vincent. This is in connection with the announcement of a new film to be entitled The Phantom Thread and will star Daniel Day-Lewis in what is said will be his last film performance. The plot, to the extent anything is known about it, is described in a quote from the film’s Wikipedia site as:

 “A drama set in the couture world of 1950s London, where Charles James – played by Day-Lewis – is commissioned to design for members of high society and the royal family.” Charles James was a real designer, who was born in 1906  into a wealthy military family and became known as America’s First Couturier. … James mixed in glamorous circles. He was a close friend of Cecil Beaton whom he met while at school in Harrow, where he also met Evelyn Waugh, before being expelled for a “sexual escapade“. … James is credited with inspiring Christian Dior to create The New Look, the flirtatious, fitted styling of the late Forties that revolutionised fashion in the middle of the last century. 

The inclusion of a Waugh connection seems a bit dodgy. If he did know James, it was not through a meeting at Harrow School which Waugh did not attend. Nor is Waugh likely to have met James there while visiting Cecil Beaton, since Waugh and Beaton were not on friendly terms in their school days. Any association (if there was one) must have have been rather fleeting since it does not seem to have come to the notice of Waugh’s biographers, of which he has had more than the average number for a 20th century British writer. Similar information appears on the Wikipedia site for Charles James. Wikipedia credits the sentence that includes Waugh to a 2014 Daily Telegraph article but that article does not mention Waugh. Perhaps some one might have a word with Wikipedia.

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Tom Wolfe Alters Waugh

Novelist Tom Wolfe has written a detailed obituary of painter and photographer Marie Cosindas for New York magazine. In this, he explains that Cosindas is best known for being the first photographer to realize the potentials of Polaroid color film. She studied under Ansel Adams who recognized that she composed things in color, not black-and-white, and converted her to color film just at the time Polaroid was introducing its own version. Wolfe brings Waugh into the story with an altered quotation from Decline and Fall:

Movie companies began to commission her to do Polaroid portraits for promotion: The Great Gatsby, The Sting’s Robert Redford and Paul Newman. As her income accumulated, she began to invest in stocks and bonds — on her own, no broker, no adviser — and made spectacular profits. “To Fortune, a much-aligned lady!” as Evelyn Waugh once put it — because she developed a spine-bending scoliosis in the early 1980s and suffered several serious falls. She went through a series of operations. Back surgery seldom leads to complete recovery.

The original quote is Paul Pennyfeather’s toast “To Fortune, a much-maligned lady!”, proposed at the Ritz just before he was arrested and then recalled at the very end when he meets Peter Beste-Chetwynde at Oxford (Penguin, 2011, pp. 209, 290).

In another quote from Waugh that appears unaltered, the Daily Telegraph includes Waugh’s characterization of Marseilles among other “Best Travel Quotes of All Time”:

“Everyone in Marseilles seemed most dishonest. They all tried to swindle me, mostly with complete success.” Diaries, Christmas Day, 1926.

Waugh was on his way to Athens to visit Alastair Graham who had recently been posted there by the Foreign Office. Waugh’s visit probably informed his description of Marseilles in Decline and Fall written a few years later. The Telegraph’s collection carries four other quotes about visits to Marseilles, and the one from Henry Swinburne written in 1783 is to much the same effect as Waugh’s:

“No place abounds more with dissolute persons of both sex than Marseilles…It is almost on a par with London.”


Posted in Art, Photography & Sculpture, Decline and Fall, Diaries, Evelyn Waugh, Newspapers | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Sports Day Revival

After falling out of favor, at least at the more progressive public schools, competitive sports are having a revival. According to Jane Shilling, writing in the Daily Telegraph, that has also created a renewed interest in sports days. For some, that spells enjoyment, for others, not so much:

While their fleeter classmates polish their winners’ cups, the unco-ordinated, the weedy, myopic and hopelessly vague, who would rather be working on their cantatas than running like the wind, can always find consolation in satire. “Few associated games with pleasure,” wrote Evelyn Waugh of his schooldays in his memoir, A Little Learning. “They were a source of intense competition, anxiety and recrimination to those who excelled; of boredom and discomfort to those who were bad at them.”

If Waugh … had managed to avoid competitive games at Lancing, his schooldays might have been happier, but the loss to generations of readers would have been incalculable: deprived of the savage (but strangely recognisable) description in Decline and Fall of that most anarchic of scholastic traditions, the school sports day.

Perhaps. But the disastrously chaotic sports day described in Decline and Fall probably owes more to Waugh’s experience as a schoolmaster at the shambolic Arnold House in Wales than the the better ordered events at Lancing.

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Waugh on Father’s Day

On the occasion of Father’s Day, in the San Diego Reader, a free distribution weekly newspaper, columnist Matthew Lickona has picked through his previous articles for those relating to fatherhood. This one from 1997 cites one of Waugh’s more neglected writings:

…In Evelyn Waugh’s short story, “Work Suspended,” the narrator falls in love with a pregnant woman, despite the fact that “her grace [is] daily more encumbered,” and she is “deprived of sex, as women are, by its own fulfillment.” In contrast to this is the love affair of Piet and pregnant Foxy in John Updike’s Couples, wherein Piet declares, “I love the way your belly is so hard and pushes at me.” Before I married, I agreed with Waugh — sex with a pregnant woman seemed somehow of another order, almost weird. But when Deirdre got pregnant, three months into our marriage, I started tending toward Updike.

Work Suspended was not written as a short story although it is published in collections with them. Waugh started it as a novel but was interrupted by his army duty in WWII. When he took up writing again, he started over and wrote Brideshead Revisited but published this fragment to show what might have been.

Another of Waugh’s fictional fathers is quoted in an editorial in the Spanish language paper Diario de Cadiz. This is in an article arguing that it is inappropriate to compare the number of deaths attributed to terrorism to those caused, for example, by traffic accidents:

But the whole point, even in the most well-intentioned cases, is to refer to the judgment of Gervase Crouchback, who in Evelyn Waugh’s trilogy Sword of Honor warned his son Guy, a soldier, that “Quantitative judgments do not apply,” that is , That “quantitative judgments do not count”. He said this in the middle of World War II. Every life is sacred and a dictator (or anyone) who unjustly strikes one has perpetrated a crime of incomparable magnitude. Our sensitivity does not need more crimes to horrify us.

The translation is by Google Translate with minor edits.

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Waugh and the Honours List

Twice a year (on the Queen’s Birthday and New Years) the London papers can be expected to drag out their list of those who in the past have rejected honours offered them just as the papers announce the latest list of honourands. And Evelyn Waugh is now firmly implanted in the newspaper archives on the “rejector” list for having turned down a CBE in 1959. This fact is stated recently in both The Mirror and the Huffington Post. Waugh was, according to his biographers,  expecting a knighthood, such as had been awarded to his friend Maurice Bowra in 1951. Ironically, Bowra’s biographer says that Sir Maurice was disappointed not to have been offered a peerage. But once he had rejected what was offered, Waugh realized that the possibility of a knighthood was now probably off the table (although sometimes later offers of enhanced titles are made). Bowra for his part was later awarded a Companion of Honour (but not a peerage).

Waugh later expressed regret to Graham Greene for turning down the CBE at the time Greene himself had rejected a Companion of Literature (C. Lit.) in 1964. Waugh had accepted a C. Lit. which was awarded in the previous year (1963) by the Royal Society of Literature, not the Government. The RSL was headed up by Waugh’s friend Freddy Birkenhead, and Waugh told Nancy Mitford he thought it would be “stuck up and unfriendly to Freddy if I refused.” He was deputed by Birkenhead to ask Greene to reconsider.  Greene again refused and told Waugh he himself had previously turned down a CBE and had no regrets. A few years later in 1966 Greene was awarded and accepted a Companion of Honour (CH). Waugh wrote a letter of congratulations expressing the thought that “one of your characters remarks that its is the only public recognition worth having.” Greene responded a few days later telling Waugh that he felt a “bit snobbish in accepting it … you should have had it first & then I could happily have followed in your footsteps, but you probably refused it.” That was their last written communication. Greene was later offered the C.Lit. again and accepted it in 1983, along with the Order of Merit in 1986.

Waugh’s friend and fellow novelist Anthony Powell was awarded and accepted a CBE in 1956, and Waugh wrote to Nancy Mitford at the time that he thought it the sort of award appropriately made to “sccond grade civil servants” but was “WRONG” for writers. “I trust you will stand out for CH or Dame.” Mitford accepted a CBE in 1972. Powell himself later turned down a knighthood in 1974 which he ironically thought inappropriate for writers.  He was also concerned that this would would cause endless confusion as to how his wife should be addressed. She was “Lady Violet” by birth but might be addressed in the less exalted form “Lady Powell” as wife of a knight. That sounds like a joke, but in Powell’s case that concern may have been a serious one. In 1988, Powell was offered and accepted a Companion of Honour.

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Brideshead is a Picnic, but not Always

The Field magazine has an article about the traditional British picnic and urges its revival. After describing literary picnics in The Wind and the Willows and Emma, the article decides there are two basic types:

… it would be appalling humbug not to recognise the indolent pleasures of the “opera”-level picnic (table, chairs, ice buckets for the wine) or the race meeting “tailgate buffet”, as the late AA Gill famously dubbed them. They are a great treat in themselves … [but] can demand a level of planning, purchasing and equipment more terrifying even than the humble dinner party now made daunting by the world of the trophy cookbook. It is time to recapture the joys of the “picnic proper” in the country – simple and fun, an alfresco meal that is more about the encounter with nature than anything else….Of course, the picnic proper doesn’t have to be that simple but it should not be too elaborate, either. It should be about being out in the open air, looking out on nature and enjoying freedom from the tyranny of the indoors – and technology. Evelyn Waugh caught the magic of the lightly planned picnic when Lord Sebastian Flyte calls on his Oxford friend, Charles Ryder, in Brideshead Revisited (1945): “I’ve got a motor-car and a basket of strawberries and a bottle of Château Peyraguey – which isn’t a wine you’ve ever tasted, so don’t pretend. It’s heaven with strawberries.” They seek some shade and find “a sheep-cropped knoll under a clump of elms”, where they ate the strawberries, drank the wine and looked up at the trees.

A more sober and somber reading of the novel can be found in the article “Contra Mundum Comes Home: Brideshead Revisited, Your Gay Relative, and a Twitch Upon the Thread” posted on the website Joseph. This is by Joseph Sciambra who describes himself as a gay Roman Catholic who in his youth came out but then in later life has come back in. He tracks his own experience in leaving and then coming back to his faith in the stories of Sebastian and Julia in Waugh’s novel, the differing responses of Lady Marchmain, Cordelia, and Bridey to their loss of faith and the responses of Sebastian and Julia to those reactions. Here’s a sample of what is quite a long article:

In both cases, Sebastian and Julia have sought to escape the trauma of their father abandoning the family, through the mind-numbing diversions of debauchery and excess. The route taken by Sebastian was the more intoxicating and precipitous with the gay decadence of the 1920s eerily similar to the pre-AIDS era of the discotheque. Sebastian’s hardcore riotous living flames out rather quickly while Julia’s smoldering restlessness does a slow burn. The separate courses taken by either sibling, though differing in duration and intensity, both finished at the same dead-end of discontent and hopelessness. Yet, as was the case with Sebastian, because homosexuality was not widely accepted during his time, there is this anxious rush by the family to do something about his problem.

The article is well-researched and well-written (although a bit of proofing would be useful to avoid clangers like “Sebastian Flute” which I first thought must part of some elaborate joke). The reader should be forewarned that of the three family members who respond to what they view as the “problems” of their siblings’ apostasies, Bridey’s reaction is the one seen by the author of the article as being the most successful. But the case made for this point, as well as others, is well-reasoned and dispassionately presented. 

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Waugh Conference at Gerald Brenan House in Malaga

The Gerald Brenan House in Malaga, Spain, has announced a one-day conference on Evelyn Waugh to take place a week from today on Friday 23 June.

According to the Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia, the conference will start with a showing of the first episode of the 1981 Granada TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited. This will be followed with a talk by Waugh scholar Carlos Villar Flor entitled “From Oxford to Brideshead: Return to Evelyn Waugh.” The lecture:

… will outline the most relevant facts of Waugh’s biography, focusing on those who inspired one of his masterpieces, ‘Brideshead Revisited’. Villar will also analyze the echoes of this novel in [Waugh’s] later work, especially the military trilogy “Sword of Honour”. And, finally, [Villar] will comment on the two film adaptations of Brideshead that have been carried out to date.

The Gerald Brenan House is named for the expatriate English writer who lived there and at other houses in the area for much of the post WWI period. He was associated with the Bloomsbury Group and hosted many visits by English writers and artists. Waugh does not seem to have been among them, but his friend Daphne Fielding wrote about her visits to the house.

Villar Flor is a professor at the University of La Rioja specializing in the 20th century English novel. He has written and contributed to several books on Waugh, translated several of Waugh’s books into Spanish, and lectured at many international conferences dedicated to Waugh’s works. He has also written three novels of his own published in Spanish. The Gerald Brenan House is now run as a museum and conference center by the City of Malaga. The house is located at Calle Torremolinos, 56, Churriana, Malaga; Tel: 951 926 196.

The translation of the La Vanguardia article is by Google Translate with a few minor edits. 

Posted in Academia, Adaptations, Brideshead Revisited, Conferences, Evelyn Waugh, Film, Newspapers, Sword of Honour | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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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Betjeman Interview on BBC

BBC Four has rebroadcast a TV interview of Waugh’s friend and contemporary, John Betjeman, by Michael Parkinson. The original broadcast was in November 1977, and it was Betjeman’s third and final appearance in a Parkinson interview. According to Parkinson,  Betjeman was the only guest invited to appear that many times. The best of Betjeman’s own TV presentations were behind him by 1977, but he still made a few more as late as 1982, even after he was confined to a wheelchair. At one point in this interview he reads his poetry to the live music of Jim Parker, a combination that had proved popular on recordings such as Banana Blush. According to his daughter Candida, quoted by biographer Bevis Hillier, Betjeman found this interview one of “the most frightening experiences of his life. He was terrified that he was going to be asked difficult questions.” He was already by then suffering from, ironically, Parkinson’s disease. He does look a bit hesitant and worried at the beginning of the interview. But, as Hillier writes:

He need not have worried. ‘Is your poetry relevant, do you think?’ Parkinson asked. ‘No, thank God.’ (Bevis Hillier, John Betjeman: The Bonus of Laughter, 2005, pp. 252-53)

The other guest on the program was singer Gracie Fields. The replay followed the broadcast of a biopic about her, so that explains the scheduling of this particular interview. One can only hope that others will follow. The program is available via the internet on BBCiPlayer until 13 July. A UK internet connection is required.

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Ryder, the Father Figure

A literary weblog called BookerTalk has posted an article naming the 10 most loved or unloved fathers in literature. This is in observance of Father’s Day this weekend. One of those named in the unloved category is the father of Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited:

This is a man who enjoys rare books more than he does his son’s company. Having barely registered the fact that his son Charles has even been off at Oxford University for many months he can’t wait to see him gone again, eagerly encouraging him to Go off to visit his new chums at Brideshead or  Venice. Anywhere is preferable to having him at home.

Charles himself is no slouch when it comes to child neglect. When he returns from his lengthy painting trip to Latin America, he does not even know the name of his daughter who was born in his absence and named Caroline after him (as his wife had explained in letters), nor can he even recall the name of his son when it is mentioned by his wife. After his return he shows no further interest in either child as he pursues his love affair with Julia Mottram. Perhaps the “prize” should have been jointly awarded to both Ryders. At least Waugh made Ryder père’s neglect humorous through overstatement; the same cannot be said for Charles’ selfish attitude toward his children.  Other literary figures falling into the unloved column include Paul Theroux’s Allie Fox in Mosquito Coast, Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, and Paul Dombey in Dickens’ Dombey and Son.

The Tatler has an article that also links Waugh with a questionable father figure. This is the gossipy story of André Balazs, hotel tycoon and celebrity collector. The article opens and closes with a Waugh reference. Here’s the opening: “What [Balazs] is, is a libertine. A sybarite. A risk-taker. A character from Evelyn Waugh, almost.” What character did they have in mind, I wonder–Rex Mottram? Trimmer? Perhaps that’s unfair to Waugh’s characters based on some of the stories told by Tatler about Balazs. One of these has a connection to both fatherhood and to the Waugh family:

He’s currently expecting a child with the socialite Cosima Vesey, 29, daughter of the 7th Viscount de Vesci, although they’re ‘not attached’, says a friend…People say the relationship between the couple was ‘low-key’.

The story closes with the thought: “If only Evelyn Waugh were still alive.” Perhaps Tatler were unaware when they wrote that closing that Waugh might, indeed, have more than a passing interest in the fate of one of the characters in Balazs’ story. This is Cosima Vesey. Waugh’s wife, Laura, was the grandaughter of the 4th Viscount de Vesci, one John R W Vesey (1844-1903). So Cosima must be a distant cousin of Laura and the Waugh children, as will her child. The line descended through nephews for two generations after the 4th Viscount, but there is still some relationship. Waugh had every reason to be grateful to that family (or at least the grandparents’ generation). Viscountess de Vesci (née Evelyn Charteris; 1851-1939), Laura’s grandmother, generously made an unanticipated wedding gift to the couple of Piers Court which Waugh had expected to have to pay for himself when he agreed the purchase. Still, Waugh could see the humour in almost any situation (e.g., Trimmer’s fatherhood in Sword of Honour) and, as Tatler seems to suggest, could probably have found something funny to say about this one as well.

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