Ashgate Publishing has announced the release later this week of a major study of Waugh's later fiction. This is The Vocation of Evelyn Waugh: Faith and Art in the Post War Fiction. The book is by Marcel DeCoste, Associate Professor of English at Regina University in Saskatchewan, Canada, and an Associate Editor of Evelyn Waugh Studies. According to the publisher's description:
Rather than representing an ill-advised departure from [Waugh's] true calling as an iconoclastic satirist, DeCoste suggests, these [Post War] novels form a cohesive, artful whole precisely as they explore the extent to which the writer’s and the Catholic’s vocations can coincide. For all their generic and stylistic diversity, these novels pursue a new, sustained exploration of Waugh’s art and faith both. As DeCoste shows, Waugh offers in his later works an under-remarked meditation on the dangers of a too-avid devotion to art in the context of modern secularism, forging in the second half of his career a literary achievement that both narrates and enacts a contrary, and Catholic, literary vocation.
The book will be available from both Amazon and the publisher at a list price of £60.00/$104.95 . The publisher will offer a 20% discount (code C15JKW20) to Society members and others who were delegates to the recent conference at Leicester University and may be willing to extend that same discount to non-delegate members upon request.
Posted in Academia, Books about Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, Helena, Love Among The Ruins, Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen, Scott-King's Modern Europe, Sword of Honour, The Loved One, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, Unconditional Surrender/The End of the Battle
Tagged Ashgate Publishing, Marcel Decoste, The Vocation of Evelyn Waugh
At this year's Hay Festival, there was the repeat of of an event from previous years where letters from noteworthy persons of the past are read aloud by their counterparts of the present. The event is called "Letters Live" and has moved on from Hay to additional performances in theatrical venues. Earlier today actor Jude Law read out a letter of Evelyn Waugh that was described by the Daily Telegraph's reporter as the "biggest ostensible draw on this occasion."
According to the Telegraph, the letter was from Waugh to his wife Laura during WWII and involved the story of an accidental explosion. The letter was no doubt the one dated 31 May 1942 written while he was on training with the Commandos in Scotland. In it, he describes the Army's attempt to win favor with a local laird by removal of an unwanted tree through application of the Commandos' expertise with high explosives. It does not go well for the Army. The letter is published in the 1980 collection (Letters, p. 160) and rereading it will explain why it went over so well at the Hay Festival.
This week's Spectator reviews a biography of Pater Watson, probably best known to Waugh fans as the financial backer of Cyril Connolly's Horizon magazine during WWII and early postwar austerity. The magazine and Connolly are satirized as Survival and Everard Spruce in Waugh's Unconditional Surrender. Watson's biography is by Adrian Clark and Jeremy Domfield and is entitled Queer Saint: The Cultured life of Peter Watson, Who Shook Twentieth Century Art and Shocked High Society.
Watson possessed seemingly unlimited wealth from an inheritance based on margarine. He once bought a car for Robert Heber-Percy (Lord Berner's companion) only to be forced to extend the same favor to another of his chums:
Cecil Beaton was so jealous that he demanded one too. And it was forthcoming: ‘Do please select any roadster which catches your fancy,’ replied the exceedingly wealthy Watson, who inspired lifelong unrequited love in poor Beaton.
Waugh was not a particular friend of Watson but would have known him through Connolly and other connections and did benefit from his largesse indirectly through publication in Horizon. That magazine, for example, carried Waugh's The Loved One in an issue wholly dedicated to that novella.
The review is by Sofka Zinovieff who recently wrote a memoir of Heber-Percy and Lord Berners. See earlier post.
Bonhams has announced the sale next month of several books by Evelyn Waugh, including some of biographical interest inscribed to his friend Anthony Powell. For example, Waugh inscribed Powell's copy of Decline and Fall (1928) with the message, "For Tony who rescued the author from Worse than Death." The inscription is an expression of gratitude for Powell having arranged the publication of Waugh's first commercial book, Rossetti: His Life and Work, by Powell's employers, the publishers Duckworth. Ironically, Duckworth turned down Decline and Fall when Waugh offered it to them, a decision usually attributed to their objections to some of the book's language, but Powell says it was more likely motivated by the personal animus of Duckworth's owners to Waugh because of his marriage to Evelyn Gardner over her family's objections. There was some distant relationship between her family and the Duckworths. Decline and Fall was eventually published by Chapman and Hall who made similar objections to the book's language, but Waugh agreed to revisions.
It is interesting to note the existence of a fairly steady stream of presentation copies from the early 1930s after Waugh's marriage to Evelyn Gardner had failed. Powell remained close friends with John Heygate and Evelyn Gardner after her divorce and their marriage, and Powell and Heygate made several trips to Europe together which they each later wrote about in their respective novels and memoirs, but this did not prevent Waugh from continuing to express his continued friendship with Powell with gifts of books containing warm inscriptions. The friendship between the two novelists continued after the war when the Powells moved to a village in Somerset not far from the Waughs.
Also of interest are the two copies of Scott-King's Modern Europe. The first is enigmatically inscribed "To Tony the host of Bats with deepest respect. Evelyn." There follows a full page drawing below the signature of a large-eyed and veiled woman beside a man in a dinner jacket that might be a self-portrait of Waugh. The second copy contains the inscription, "Dear Tony, I am conscious of having abused your hospitality by defacing a copy of the story. I accordingly inscribe this with simple esteem & gratitude."
Thanks to Duncan McLaren for bringing this sale to our attention.
This week's New York Review of Books (June 4) has a retrospective article ("The Most Beautiful Girl in the World") by Robert Gottlieb on the life of Evelyn Waugh's good friend, Diana Cooper. The occasion for the article is the U.S. publication of Diana's letters to her son, John Julius Norwich: Darling Monster. The article lists several books consulted by Gottlieb by and about her and her husband, including her letters to Evelyn Waugh and Conrad Russell.
Her friendships with these two men are contrasted. In the company of the older Russell she could relax, but her relationship with the younger Waugh was "punctuated by friction, disagreement, asperity." Diana referred to it as "that jagged stone." But, according to Gottlieb, their correspondence shows "that they enjoyed snapping at each other as much as they enjoyed being together."
The article concludes with a description of her driving habits. Not mentioned is the fact that Waugh's own first description of her in his fiction involves a driving incident. This is in Scoop where she appears for the first time as Julia Stitch. According to her son, driving remained her favorite "occupation" until she was 89 when she drove into a traffic island on Wigmore Street. "She drove straight home, locked the car, went to bed and never drove again." Nor did she ever leave the bed where she died a few years later in 1986, shortly before her 94th birthday.
The article is behind a paywall, but your public library may have a subscription that you can use online without having to visit the library.
The Wall Sreet Journal has announced an internet book group that will discuss Waugh's 1934 novel A Handful of Dust. The group will be moderated by novelist Joseph Kanon, said to be best known for thrillers such as The Good German and Leaving Berlin. The details of the group's discussions are spelled out in an article which seems to be published outside the WSJ's usual paywall and should be accessible to our readers.
The reviewer for the Daily Telegraph (Miranda Seymour) has joined those for the Daily Mail and Independent in praising Duncan McLaren's new biographical approach to Evelyn Waugh's early life. See earlier post. According to Seymour:
McLaren ... offers us two scoops. Exposing the shadowy but charismatic figure of John Heygate to the light, he shows how attractive this flawed and fascinating individual appeared, not only to She-Evelyn, but to Waugh himself. More crucially, McLaren creates an absorbing portrait of the captivating and influential figure of Alastair Graham, at whose elegant Warwickshire home, Barford House, Waugh stayed on no fewer than 21 occasions.
She goes on to summarize McLaren's work as an "alert, comic and original approach to the frequently overearnest world of critical studies in Eng Lit."
GQ Magazine has published an article by Duncan McLaren identifying several of Evelyn Waugh's drinking venues which are still functioning. In some cases, he also found accommodations in these establishments while writing the works mentioned in McLaren's article. The article is based on the research McLaren did for his recently published book: Evelyn! Rhapsody for an obsessive love. See earlier post.
Mark Lawson in this week's New Statesman reviews a novel by Jesse Armstrong which is said to have a distinct Wavian influence: Love, Sex and Other Foreign Policy Goals. (The choice of title would not appear to have been influenced by Waugh.) This is the first effort at a novel by screenwriter Armstrong, with credits for such satirical TV and film scripts as The Thick of It, The Peep Show and In the Loop. The story involves the travels of several British young people to Bosnia in 1994 seeking adventures such as their predecessors found in Spain during the 1930s civil war. Waugh enters the plot after they arrive on the scene:
As the bright young things and the out-of-his-depth duffer blunder into geopolitical jeopardy, a literary discussion in a battle-scarred bar throws up the name of Evelyn Waugh. This seems fair because Armstrong’s novel can be read as a synthesis of elements from Waugh’s 1930s satires about the English in foreign conflicts: Black Mischief, Scoop and A Handful of Dust, to which a river sequence seems directly to allude. Armstrong, though, has rather more jokes than Waugh about “dongs” and fewer racial stereotypes, although Bosnian Serb warlord readers may disagree.
Lawson praises the book as "the best Waugh-like war story debut novel since William Boyd’s A Good Man in Africa almost 35 years ago."
NOTICE (added 14 May 2015): The Spectator's reviewer this week finds another allusion to Waugh in Armstrong's new novel:
Not surprisingly, he has a real flair for comic dialogue. In his tale of the hapless and randy Andrew, a working-class boy who blags his way onto a Ford transit van full of good-hearted lefties on their way to solve the Bosnian war in 1994, he give us an updated version of Evelyn Waugh’s Paul Pennyfeather from Decline and Fall.
One of the cover stories in this week's TLS is "Plashy Fens: The Limitations of Nature Writing" by Richard Smyth. Or so its title is described on the contents page, if not in the heading of the on-line version of the article itself. The article is a broad (and rather lengthy) survey of nature writing from Gilbert White to Robert MacFarlane, Helen MacDonald and Richard Mabey.
In discussing previous characterizations of Gilbert White's works, in which they were deemed to be "charming", Smyth has occasion to cite Evelyn Waugh:
Today we are more likely to call it “lyrical” nature writing than “elegant” nature writing. And “charming” is not quite right now, either – at least not in the feather-footed-through-the-plashy-fen sense in which Fisher meant it. Perhaps we might now use something a little darker – “bewitching”, or “enchanting”.
Smyth goes on to provide examples of nature writers striving for descriptive phrases through the 19th and 20th centuries. He assumes knowledge of the source of "plashy fen" and does not mention Waugh as its author or offer any context for Waugh's own satirization of nature writing. He may be unaware that one of his exemplars, Robert MacFarlane, also recently resorted to the "plashy fen" to describe 18th century nature writing, requiring his Daily Telegraph interviewer to provide square brackets for a reference to the source of the term. See earlier post.
All this leads to a concern that "plashy fen" may be about to make the leap from satire to cliche, at least among nature writers. It would be sad if that were to be the case. Perhaps Waugh supporters should propose a moratorium on the use of this phrase by nature writers to protect its satirical status.