Evelyn Waugh in Country Life

Country Life magazine has published a list of 60 things that make Britain great. No. 43 is the public school:

Ever since William of Wykeham set up his college for poor scholars in Winchester more than 600 years ago, these schools have been part of national life. Private schools only educate about 7% of the school-age population and annual fees are in excess of £30,000 a year for some. Nearly all, however, provide extensive academic, sports, music and arts scholarships and bursaries. They set a gold standard to which our universal education should aspire.

Each entry is accompanied by a representative photo of the subject and is followed by an appropriate quotation of a British writer. In the public school entry, the photo might be of Harrow and Evelyn Waugh provides the quote:

That’s the public-school system all over. They may kick you out, but they never let you down.

Country Life may not have fully appreciated the context of the quotation. It is from Decline and Fall (Part One, Chapter 3) where Captain Grimes is describing to Paul Pennyfeather his experiences as a public school teacher. He explains that he usually gets along all right at a school for about six weeks and "then I land up in the soup," no doubt referring to some pederastic activity. But the system supports its own. Grimes recalls his days as a schoolboy when he "got the push after my sixteenth birthday" for what appears to have been similar activity. His housemaster, "a public school man [who] knew the system" nonetheless gave him a "corking good letter" which he still used to find new employment whenever he got the sack.

Another Waugh connection, unattributed, is in entry No. 21, the country house. The unidentified illustration for that subject is Mells Manor where Waugh was a frequent guest of his friend Katharine Asquith.

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Spectator Competition

The Spectator's correspondent Lucy Vickery has set a competition for writing a short message in the style of one of four writers suggested by Michael Gove, Secretary of State, formerly for Education and now for Justice, as models for civil servants. Here are the rules:

No. 2909: Taking the Michael

Michael Gove has urged civil servants to take inspiration from George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen and George Eliot when writing correspondence. But which well-known writer would you like to see Whitehall bureaucrats take their lead from? You are invited to submit a memo generated by either the Department of Education or the Ministry of Justice as it might have been written by that writer. Please email entries (150 words maximum) to (click to email) by 29 July.

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Express TV Critic Rewatches Brideshead

The 1980s TV series of Brideshead Revisited was recently rebroadcast by ITV Encore and is still available on an online "catch up" site which may require a subscription fee and UK internet connection. The Sunday Express TV critic, David Stephenson, chose that as one of the TV dramas to review this week. He seems to have watched only the last episode but was duly impressed:

The scale of the series was epic, in every sense, and parts of it were shot like a film, with long tracking shots in this episode of Jeremy Irons and Diana Quick walking through the woods discussing the “lack of entail”...You couldn’t accuse it of rushing a story either. Here was Evelyn Waugh’s evocative classic told in its entirety by John Mortimer. No messing, no reimagining, no updating, just how the original writer would have imagined it on the screen.

I'm not so sure he's got it right about John Mortimer's role in the production. Although Mortimer receives screen credit, those involved in the production have explained that his script was largely discarded in favor of Waugh's original dialogue and narrative. Stephenson concludes by offering this advice:

My message to drama commissioners now is to watch Brideshead to see where they have gone wrong for the past 34 years. Don’t give us another reheated version of Dickens, or Tolstoy (we’re to get War And Peace soon on the BBC); just do it straight and you will be rewarded with millions of viewers. But maybe don’t put it out over a barbecue summer.

 

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Waugh at the Ashes

Waugh gets quoted in the Guardian's report of the opening ceremony of the Ashes Test Cricket Match in Cardiff. The reporter (Barney Ronay) is complaining about the lengthy opening ceremony which

kicked off with a rain-sodden male-voice choir singing not one, not two but three national anthems... “Never get mixed up in a Welsh wrangle,” Evelyn Waugh wrote in Decline and Fall. “It doesn’t end in blows like an Irish one, but goes on forever.” At times before the start of play in a series that, frankly, needs no introduction it was tempting to apply the same principle to Welsh cricket grounds and interminably woolly opening ceremonies.

The quote is Captain Grimes advising Paul Pennyfeather in the Llanaba pub where the local band is in a wrangle about sharing out the proceeds they have just received for their performance at the school's sports day. Grimes concludes his remarks with the comment: "They'll still be discussing that three pounds at the end of term: just you see." (Decline and Fall, London, 1928, p. 112.) And no doubt the tedious opening ceremony in Cardiff will still be discussed after the Test Match ends, if, indeed, any one notices when that happens. In case any one is interested, the match is between England and Australia.

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Max and Diana

Many of our readers will be familiar with the story of how Waugh's friend Diana Mosley (nee Mitford) and her husband Sir Oswald Mosley (leader of the British Fascist party) were imprisoned in 1940. Diana had, a few weeks before entering prison, given birth to a son. This was Max Mosley. But how many of us focused on the fact that this little chap would grow up to be Max Mosley, the racing car celebrity and scourge of tabloid journalism, who has just published his autobiography Formula One and Beyond?

Max's story is retold in a review of his book in The Spectator and an extended interview in the Guardian. It contains themes of car racing and newspaper scandal-mongering reminiscent of Waugh's Vile Bodies.  Either the Guardian's reporter or Max manages to get in a word about Waugh: "Evelyn Waugh dedicated Vile Bodies to the young Diana, saying “her beauty ran [sic] through the room like a peal of bells” .

That  book, as well as Labels, was dedicated to both Diana and her then husband Bryan Guinness, a friend of Waugh's from Oxford. That much-misquoted description, allegedly about Diana, comes from Waugh's unfinished novel Work Suspended (Penguin, 1976, p. 173) and applies to the character Lucy Simmonds, not Diana Mosley. Waugh in March 1966 wrote to Diana (in what may have been his last letter) about her relationship to Lucy:

…I must not leave you with the delusion that Work Suspended was a cruel portrait of you. It was perhaps to some extent a portrait of me in love with you, but there is not a single point in common between you and the heroine except pregnancy. (Letters, p. 639)

The misquoted passage has come to be repeated from one news story to another with "ran" erroneously substituted for Waugh's "rang," which rather spoils the simile.  Although Diana could arguably be deemed to be the object of that description, a bit of context would be helpful. It has instead become an established "fact" that Waugh  applied those words directly to Diana Mosley herself so far as the press are concerned.

 

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Waugh in Wonderland

In a recent New Yorker article, critic-at-large Anthony Lane, author of the essay on Waugh in the Cambridge Companion to English Novelists (2009), adds his own thoughts to the outpouring of words marking the bicentenary of the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 1865. Near the beginning, he quotes part of Waugh's epigraph to Vile Bodies in which Alice is discussing reality with Tweedledee and Tweedledum:

“You know very well you’re not real.”
“I am real!” said Alice, and began to cry.
“You won’t make yourself a bit realler by crying,” Tweedledee remarked: “there’s nothing to cry about.”
“If I wasn’t real,” Alice said—half laughing through her tears, it all seemed so ridiculous—“I shouldn’t be able to cry.”
“I hope you don’t suppose those are real tears?” Tweedledum interrupted in a tone of great contempt. 

The bolded text (from Through the Looking-Glass) was used by Waugh for the second half of his epigraph. Lane goes on to comment that "the tone is a perfect match for the chill, directionless frenzy of Waugh’s personae" in Vile Bodies.

Lane recognizes that there is more text in Waugh's epigraph (also from Through the Looking-Glass) but doesn't mention the content of the first half, which quite literally involves "directionless frenzy:"

'Well in our country,' said Alice, still panting a little, 'you'd generally get to somewhere else--if you ran very fast for a long time, as we've been doing.'

'A slow sort of country!' said the Queen. 'Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get to somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.'

The remainder of the article goes on to discuss now mostly familiar topics, such as whether Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll was a pedophile who would have either been arrested or hounded by the press in today's Oxford. One would like to hear Waugh's take on that issue. He did write an essay on Carroll in 1939 in which he comments: "Children became for [Carroll] the symbols of innocent faith and accordingly the only tolerable companions; converse with them gave his fantasies literary form" (Essays, Articles and Reviews, pp. 260-62). But that was before pedophilia had engaged the public's attention.

The article closes with the story of the 1932 lecture trip to the United States by Mrs. Alice Hargreaves, who as Alice Liddell was the model for Carroll's heroine. That was news to me, as was the fact that a film of that event (Dreamchild) was was made in 1985 with a script by Dennis Potter. That will have to go on my Netflix queue.

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The Pleasure of Antonia Fraser

In this week's TLS there is a review of a collection of essays edited by Antonia Fraser and entitled The Pleasure of Reading.  This is a reprint of a book first published in 1992 to mark the bicentenary of the W.H. Smith Co. It consists of 43 essays by writers recollecting the books that had given them the most memorable pleasure, and this new edition contains new essays and editorial material.

In the introduction, Lady Antonia recounts being told in 2014 about a letter from Evelyn Waugh to Diana Cooper written in September 1932 mentioning a visit to her when she was a few weeks old:

So I saw F. Pakenham's baby and gave it a book, but it can't read yet (MWMS, p. 14).

Her reaction upon learning of this letter "was not amusement but indignation: I learnt pretty soon" (p. xviii). Waugh was a friend of both her father Frank Pakenham and her mother Elizabeth (nee Harman) from his Oxford days.

According to the Amazon search function, Waugh is mentioned 14 times in this book. Among the writers recounting their presumably pleasurable reading of his books are Patrick Leigh Fermor, John Mortimer, Tom Stoppard and Sue Townsend.

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Mrs. Melrose Ape in China

The South China Morning Post recently ran a story by Jason Wordie about the activities in China of the American evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson . While best known for her Angelus Temple of the Foursquare Gospel Church in Los Angeles, the precursor of today's megachurches, her missions to China and South Asia also influenced later waves of U.S. missionaries. The article goes on to mention her inspiration of one of Waugh's characters:

While she enjoyed a tremendous following, not everyone was a fan. In Vile Bodies, his delicious satire of the 1920s, Evelyn Waugh lampooned McPherson as Mrs Melrose Ape – a woman evangelist with her travelling troupe of “angels”. This cutting novel was written some years before conversion to Catholicism transformed Waugh into a humourless, snobbish, religious bigot of another kind.

The article might have mentioned another allusion to Mrs. McPherson. The heroine of Waugh's novel The Loved One was named after after her.  This was Aimee Thanatogenos, whose father was a follower of McPherson and lost his money in religion at the Foursquare Gospel Church. As Aimee explained:

Dad wanted to change the name after he lost his money. I wanted to change it too but it rather stuck. Mother always kept forgetting what we'd changed it to and then she'd find a new one. Once you start changing a name, you see, there's no reason ever to stop. (Little, Brown, 1948, p. 90)

Perhaps the SCMP's reporter would do well to read the whole of The Loved One before asserting that Waugh's writing after his conversion to Roman Catholicism was "humourless." The Loved One was written nearly 20 years after Waugh's conversion.

 

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Crouchbackian Undercurrents Seen in Australian Novel

A recent Australian novel tells the story of a soldier who suffered through the British evacuation of Crete. This is Archipelago of Souls by Gregory Day. It is reviewed by a  writer identified only by his/her initials ("AF") in The Saturday Paper, a newly-established print newspaper published weekly throughout Australia. The Australian soldier, Wesley Cress, is compared to Guy Crouchback in that both are seriously disillusioned by what they see has happened in Crete:

Just as the hero of Waugh’s trilogy retreats from the world he despairs of after the conflict’s end, so too does Wesley Cress consciously withdraw. But this is where the two authors part company. Waugh’s creation Guy Crouchback, aristocratic scion of an old Catholic recusant family, heads for a castle in Italy; Day’s invention, Wes Cress, a farmer’s son from Colac in Victoria, heads for King Island in Bass Strait: an island off an island.

I'm not sure where the reviewer gets the idea that Guy returns to a castle in Italy after the war. At the time of the the Cretan debacle, that option would hardly be one that Guy contemplated, as Italy was still in the war. In the end, he settles at Broome, not Italy, and in 1950-51 sells the castle to Ludovic.  He may have made visits to the castle in the years before Ludovic's purchase, but no such visits are mentioned in Waugh's epilogue to the trilogy.

Where the authors part company is in how they describe the events in Crete.  The Cretan experiences of Wesley Cress are quite different from Guy's in that Cress missed the evacuation and remains trapped behind the lines in Crete. He is haunted by his experiences as he tries to re-establish himself after the war and strives to come to terms with them by writing them down and sending them to a local girl with whom he has fallen in love. Guy's experiences, on the other hand, are not told in flashbacks but form the present narrative of the novel.  He broods generally over the poor performance of the British forces and specifically over the Ivor Claire episode but cannot be said to have been unhinged by them, as seems to have been the case (or nearly so) with the depressive Australian.

Thanks to R.M. Davis for drawing our attention to this article.

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Waugh and the Mitfords

A brief article by your correspondent about Waugh and the Mitford sisters has been posted on The Mitford Society's internet site. It relates to the sisters Nancy, Diana and Deborah. The article originally appeared in The Mitford Society Annual, volume 1 (2013).     Volume 2 (2014) is now also available, containing an article by the editor Lyndsy Spence entitled "Evelyn Waugh & Diana Guinness," an extract from her recent book Mrs Guinness: The Rise and Fall of Diana Mitford, the Thirties Socialite.

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