Waugh’s April 1946 letter to Randolph Churchill about his visit to the war criminal trials in Nuremburg is reprinted in the latest edition of The American Reader: A Journal of Literature and Criticism. The editorial introduction to the letter suggested that Waugh’s military service had started only when he joined the mission to Yugoslavia in 1944. Your correspondent sent the following comment to The American Reader to correct this suggestion:
The editorial intro to Waugh’s letter is a bit misleading as regards his WWII military career. After considerable efforts to overcome objections arising from his somewhat advanced age (36), he managed to join the Royal Marines in late 1939. He saw action in the abortive raid on Dakar, West Africa, in Summer 1940 before transferring to the Commandoes in late 1940. He participated in a raid at Bardia in North Africa and in the Battle of Crete in 1941. After his return to England in Summer 1942, he was shunted among units, trying but failing to secure another overseas assignment. After an extended leave in early 1944 during which he wrote his bestselling novel Brideshead Revisited, he was (as noted in the intro) invited by Randolph Churchill to join the mission to Yugoslavia.
The original letter appeared in Mark Amory’s 1980 collection (p. 226). Thanks to Waugh Society member Prof. Robert Murray Davis for calling this to our attention.
From the University of Leicester’s news page
Acclaimed writers Selina Hastings, William Boyd and Paula Byrne are set to speak at a major conference on the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project – which is being co-led by the University of Leicester.
The trio of writers are all fans of Waugh [...] – and will speak to leading scholars from around the world about their own work on the author.
The conference is being held as part of the University’s involvement with the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project – a 42-volume scholarly edition which seeks to publish every piece of writing or art work by Waugh.
The event will be held at the University’s state of the art conference venue College Court from April 24 to 26, 2015.
Note the call for papers at the end of the article: “Anyone interested in presenting a paper is asked to send abstracts of no more than 250 words to Dr Barbara Cooke, the project’s Research Associate, at (click to email)
by Friday 27th June 2014.”
Today is the 48th anniversary of the death of Evelyn Waugh.
In recognition of English Mother’s Day and to counterbalance the rash of greeting card excess, the Guardian has published an article by Moira Redmond entitled Bad Mothers in Books: a literary litany. Top award goes to Charles Dickens with a hat trick consisting of Mrs. Nickleby, Mrs. Copperfield and Mrs. Jellyby. Other obvious winners include Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prujudice and Lady Montdore from Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate who pronounced upon the death of her granddaughter, “So the poor little baby died; I expect it was just as well, children are such an awful expense.” Waugh wins inclusion for Brenda Last (although Lady Marchmain must also have been on the short list):
Brenda Last (in the 1934 novel Handful of Dust) takes some kind of prize: her lover and her child are both called John, and when she is told “John is dead” she is relieved that it is the child. The main thought that this provokes is “How much did Waugh hate his first wife to write this fictionalised version of her?”
Whether or not she was a replication of the first Mrs. Waugh is perhaps debatable but one can hardly deny that Brenda was a piece of work worthy of inclusion with the others in the Guardian’s maternal rogue’s gallery.
In a BBC TV interview broadcast last Sunday (March 23, 2014) which continues to be available over the internet on BBC iPlayer, Mark Lawson spoke with novelist Joanna Trollope about her writing career. She is distantly related to the novelist Anthony Trollope but never found that the relationship had helped her own career in any way. She began with historical novels, but really hit her stride in the 1980s with what came to be called “the Aga saga,” consisting of stories of modern women in contemporary rural English settings. The best known are those which were made into popular TV series in the mid 1990s such as The Choir (1988), and The Rector’s Wife (1991) and The Village Affair (1989). When Lawson noted the similarities of several of her plots to the events in her life, Trollope agreed that most of her plots were evoked by real life but pointed out that she was quite capable of getting ideas from something as prosaic as a supermarket queue. Some autobiographical elements obviously crept into the stories but in a “very diffused way.” On the other hand, she had never tried to take anyone directly out of real life and put them into a story. In her opinion, she thought one would “have to be as skilled as Evelyn Waugh to do that because that’s an extraordinary accomplishment.” She offered no examples of Waugh’s success in this regard.
Alexander Waugh, grandson of Evelyn and son of Auberon, will give a public lecture, A Word or Two About Evelyn Waugh, at 7 p.m. tomorrow, March 19, at Durham University. Additional details at the link above.
Audio recordings of past public lectures at Durham are available at the website. If Alexander’s lecture joins them we’ll update this post.
An earlier post here mentioned the publication of One Hundred Letters from Hugh Trevor-Roper. Standpoint magazine has now published a review of the volume, which it had earlier excerpted. In the review, Paul Johnson, friend (or at least acquaintance) of Evelyn Waugh and fellow Roman Catholic, mentions HTR’s rather prickly relations with Waugh:
For social purposes Trevor-Roper was an Anglican but regarded Christianity as inferior to Judaism or even Islam. He had a particular detestation of Catholics, especially converts. The genial Frank Longford, who would go the length of England to help a poor ex-criminal in distress, he dismissed as “an ass”, and he treasured a letter from Lord Birkenhead denouncing Evelyn Waugh in unmeasured terms, though would not refer to it publicly for fear of “incurring the insane malice of his son”, Auberon Waugh.
A copy of the Birkenhead letter was enclosed in a letter HTR sent to Alasdair Palmer relating to Waugh that was among the earlier Standpoint excerpts, but he told Palmer to destroy it after reading.
Whether the denunciatory letter adds to anything said by Birkenhead elsewhere is hard to say. (Birkenhead had the misfortune of being cooped up with Waugh and Randolph Churchill in Yugoslavia during WWII.) There may be a copy of his letter among the papers of HTR archived at Christ Church College, Oxford. It seems unlikely that HTR would have himself destroyed it after having made such a meal of it in private letters. Moreover, by the time of his death, he no longer needed to fear the “insane malice” of Auberon Waugh, who predeceased him by two years. The letter would make interesting reading.
Thanks to Waugh scholar Prof. Robert Murray Davis for bringing Johnson’s review to our attention.
A list of singer/songwriter David Bowie’s 100 favorite books includes Evelyn Waugh’s 1930 novel Vile Bodies. The list appears in an Independent newspaper article that was published in conjunction with the exhibition David Bowie is at the Victoria & Albert museum, which ran for several months last year, closing in August.
Bowie is described as a “voracious reader.” For example, when he travelled to the desert to make the film The Man Who Fell to Earth, he was accompanied by a trunkful of books. Three books by Waugh’s contemporary George Orwell appear on the list, making Orwell Bowie’s favorite writer. Among these is 1984 which is the title of one of the songs on his 1974 album Diamond Days. Bowie once proposed to turn Orwell’s novel into a rock musical but was refused permission. Other books on Bowie’s list by writers of the interwar generation include Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood, Blast by Wyndham Lewis, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The exhibition moved from the V&A to Toronto and will travel (via stops in Sao Paulo and Berlin) to Chicago next September where it will be shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the only US venue.
The Tablet and The Catholic Herald have made available online and searchable their archives of past issues.
The Spectator did this last year, benefiting greatly Evelyn Waugh enthusiasts and also admirers of the work of his son Auberon, a fixture for many years in the periodical.
In a new BBC Four series that started Sunday night, Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloodymindedness: Concrete Poetry, art historian and critic Jonathan Meades cites Evelyn Waugh as one of the leaders of the movement to preserve the Victorian heritage in art and architecture. It can currently be viewed on BBC iPlayer (UK viewers only unless you use a proxy service which provides a UK IP address).
Meades is setting up a defense of the Brutalist style of the post-war period and uses the experience of the Victorian Gothic as a test case for revival. That style had, according to Meades, come to be “calumnized” as monstrous by critics and the public at large during the early 20th century. He lists several factors responsible for a shift in sentiment after 1960. One was the early band of proselytizers of a revival among whom were Evelyn Waugh, John Betjeman, Harry Goodhart-Rendel, and Osbert Lancaster. Founders of the Victorian Society in the late 1950s, they had previously been regarded by their own generation as “puzzling provocateurs, not quite serious, forever mischievously guying the public with their perverse aestheticism.” They were later joined by Nikolaus Pevsner, an art historian by profession, who added “gravitas” to the movement. Presumably Meades will show in the next episode (to air on BBC Four next Sunday), that the time is now ripe for a change in attitude to the Brutalist structures which he himself describes as “concrete poetry.”