Complete Works of P. G. Wodehouse Completed

The final volume of the complete works of novelist P.G.Wodehouse has been issued. This brings to closure a 15 year project of publisher Everyman's Library. For the first time all 99 of Wodehouse's books are in print from a single source. This milestone was noted in the Yorkshire Post with the following quote from Evelyn Waugh, who was an admirer of Wodehouse's work:

It was Evelyn Waugh, no literary slouch himself, who once said to [Wodehouse]: “You are the head of my profession.”

The Wodehouse project is coming to completion just as a plan to publish the complete works of Evelyn Waugh is gaining momentum. The Waugh project is intended to cover all his books as well as his other writings such as letters, many of which have not been previously published. It is expected to extend to 42 volumes to be issued by Oxford University Press over the period 2016-22. A team of expert editors is already at work. The University of Leicester is sponsoring a conference later this week where the editors, other noted writers and Waugh enthusiasts will gather and discuss their progress.

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Lancing College Announces Annual Evelyn Waugh Lecture

Lancing College has announced this year's lecture, named for one of the most famous "OLs" (as its former students are called). The speaker is Charles Moore, former  editor of the Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, biographer of Margaret Thatcher and convert to Roman Catholicism. The lecture will be this Thursday, April 23, at the college in Sussex and may be booked here.

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Three Waughs Mentioned in Independent Article

In last week's Independent on Sunday, columnist and novelist D J Taylor mentioned three Waughs in his column. He was discussing the hardships worked on the children of successful parents as they sought to find their own careers. After discussing the children of Kurt Cobain, Charles Dickens and Kingsley Amis, he reached the Waughs:

Some aspirants find the whole business of working in the family business too unnerving and go off at a tangent – Auberon Waugh, for example, who after a handful of novels gave up any attempt to emulate his father Evelyn and settled for being a highly distinguished journalist… [The experience of Cobain's daughter] is reminiscent of the career of Vyvyan Holland (1886-1967), the younger son of Oscar Wilde, who as his friend Alec Waugh once delicately put it “detested notoriety as much as his father had delighted in it”.

 

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Waugh Recognized as Expert on Style

In yesterday's Guardian, Waugh is named twice by novelist and bibliophile Joseph Connolly in his list of Top 10 books on the topic of "style." Connolly (no apparent relation to Waugh's friend Cyril Connolly a/k/a Everard Spruce) names Brideshead Revisited as one of his Top 10 in this category, contrasting it to another selection, Scott Fitzgerald's Gatsby:

The rather more tasteful English vision: “The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder”, without whom the aspiration to class and wealth simply couldn’t be triggered. The lavish food, wine, clothes, cars and sensuous self-indulgence – the easy grace of the true aristocracy – is deeply envied by the middle-class upstart Ryder: the outsider, looking in – who yearns to emulate such consummate style.

Another of Connolly's choices is Nancy Mitford's 1956 essay collection Noblesse Oblige to which Waugh contributed:

Nancy Mitford is always credited as the one responsible for bringing U and Non-U language and behaviour to the attention of the terrified middle classes, but it was actually Alan SC Ross who first started probing into sociological linguistics in the magazine Encounter. Mitford further explored the theme, and Osbert Lancaster, Evelyn Waugh and John Betjeman were eager to joyously and snobbishly pitch in. The middle classes strove to do better, and they are striving still.

Waugh's contribution ("An Open Letter")is included in Essays, Articles and Reviews, p. 494.

Further evidence of Waugh's skills as a tastemaker appears in an article by novelist Allan Massie in today's Daily Telegraph ("The Boat Race and Grand National show we're creatures of tradition").  A popular drink at the Grand National is called a Black Velvet, a mixture of stout and champagne. Waugh is quoted by Massie as describing it as a "sour and invigorating drink." The quotation comes from Waugh's 1942  novel Put Out More Flags (Penguin, p. 38).

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The Loved One Added to Recommended Books about L.A.

Last month the Guardian issued another in its series of book recommendations about U.S. cities. This one related to books about Los Angeles. Others have dealt with San Francisco and New Orleans. The original L.A. list contained no books by British writers, unless Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep is included in that category. After reviewing comments by readers, the Guardian included Waugh's The Loved One among 10 books added to the list, with this explanation:

The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh (1948)
Waugh’s satirical novel about the movie industry, the British expatriate community in Hollywood, the pet funeral business, and the sometimes ridiculous connections between the three was recommended by McSee, CarlRusso and JakeStockwell, who said:

Evelyn Waugh snarls at the hypocrisy and ridiculousness of the American Dream and the Brits who try to maintain the pomp of their diminished homeland. A jolly good film adaptation too (monstrous Mr Joyboy) which is nice for a story that features the movies.

They seem to have overlooked the funeral business per se in which Mr. Joyboy was employed. I'm afraid I can't agree that Tony Richardson's 1965 film adaptation was "jolly good;" and nor did Waugh (Letters, p. 633).

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Plashy fen and leprechaun-flavoured wine

Waugh scored a twofer in last week's Telegraph with citations relating to both nature and food writing. On March 30, Waugh's parody of nature writing in Scoop is cited by Robert Macfarlane in an interview as an example of what that genre needs to escape:

Nature writing, he says, “still carries a hint of 18th-century cleric; of the plashy fen [as William Boot had it in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop]”.

Then last Sunday in an article ("The Sound of Food") by Jane Shilling, the language used by Waugh in Brideshead Revisited to describe wine is compared to that of a present day quest by an Oxford academic to find sound equivalents to describe tastes:

Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte, the exquisite Oxford undergraduates of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited, baptised their friendship in a torrent of fine wine and adjectival excess: “It is a little, shy wine like a gazelle ... Like a leprechaun. Like the last unicorn ...”

The quote is somewhat misleading in that Charles and Sebastian in this scene are tasting three separate but unnamed wines from the Brideshead cellars. The shy, gazelle-like, leprechaun-flavoured variety is also compared to something "dappled, in a tapestry meadow…like a flute by still water." The wine that reminded them of the last unicorn was also compared to a "necklace of pearls on a white neck" and "a swan."  Brideshead Revisited (Penguin, pp. 81-82)

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John Freeman (1915-2014)

We're late in observing this sad event.

John Freeman died on December 20, 2014. Here's his obituary from the Daily Telegraph. Freeman was Waugh's interviewer for an episode of the BBC's Face to Face series (described in a recent post).

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D.J.Taylor Cites Waugh to Rebut Fears of E-Book Threat to Novel

In a recent Independent on Sunday column ("Ebook apartheid: Fay Weldon calls on writers to adapt their style for technology," 8 March 2015), critic and novelist D.J. Taylor addresses an argument by fellow novelist Fay Weldon. At the Bath Literary Festival, Weldon urged that writers need to "dumb down" their product to reach the ever increasing percentage of the reading audience that prefers e-books to print versions. Taylor notes similar past concerns about the impact of technological innovation on writing styles:

It was Evelyn Waugh, writing more than half-a-century ago, who noted the existence of a link between the words on the page and the implement that transmits them. To a certain extent, the rolling periods of the Augustan satirists are a result of their being written with a quill pen, each sub-clause marked by a dip in the ink-well. Similarly, the boiled down, staccato prose pioneered by Ernest Hemingway in the 1920s is intimately linked to his habit of composing straight onto the typewriter – an act which, according to Waugh, makes you write like a Gatling gun.

While Taylor does not cite the source of Waugh's analysis, it may be his own interpretation of Waugh's 1955  essay "Literary Style in England and America" (Essays, Articles and Reviews, p. 479), although I can't find any reference in that essay to Gatling guns or typewriters. In any event, the styles of both Waugh and Hemingway survived, and Taylor is confident that the serious or literary novel will survive the e-book as surely as it did the typewriter and that writers need not and should not adapt their style to the new format. Oddly, he does not include in his comments what motivated his own recent decision to publish his latest novel (or novella) exclusively as an e-book (From the Heart, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2014, 121 pp., $2.99).

 

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Ishmaelia vs. Azania

Last month, the Independent ran a column naming what it deemed to be the 10 best fictional countries created by writers. None of Waugh's efforts made the first cut, but the response was so great that a second round was published, expanding the list to the top 50. Waugh's "Ishmaelia" from Scoop (1938) is named in this new list, nominated by three readers:

Ishmaelia. Scoop, by Evelyn Waugh, with its “very promising little war” (Lord Copper). Nick Reid, Dan Kelly and Fiona Laird.

Not mentioned is another fictional county of Waugh's, "Azania" from Black Mischief, effectively the same country as Ishmaelia but with a different fictional history and slightly different geography. Waugh may be, if not unique, at least one of the few novelists to have done a double. 

Coincidentally, the map of Azania provided at the beginning of Waugh's novel bears some resemblance to the 1669 map of Atlantis which illustrates the Independent's article. The Azania map's cartographer is not identified, but Waugh executed several drawings for a limited edition of Black Mischief and may well have also drawn or contributed to the map. Later editions include some of the drawings, as well as the map, all of which are attributed to Waugh in the Penguin version.

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Max Hastings Watches the BBC's Face-to-Face Interviews

In this week's Spectator, Max Hastings, former Daily Telegraph editor, comments on his viewing of DVDs of the BBC's Face to Face interviews, which he had recently been sent as a gift. The recordings have been circulation since 2009, and it seems remarkable that he has only just caught up with them. He describes them as "compelling" and offers these comments on several of the interview subjects (including Evelyn Waugh):

That old rogue Lord Boothby seemed intelligent and curiously appealing. Adam Faith, then 20, handled himself brilliantly, while Simone Signoret was a bore. We marveled that such a repellent human being as Evelyn Waugh could have written the best English novels of the past century. Gilbert Harding, supposedly a monster, appeared movingly vulnerable. A BBC spokesman with whom I discussed the programmes said the only subject for whom John Freeman [the interviewer] formed a violent dislike was Martin Luther King.

The Waugh interview is available on YouTube.

While Hastings may consider Waugh repellent, that assessment must be based on evidence other than his performance in this interview. Waugh holds his own very well against Freeman, the often aggressive interviewer. Freeman was a Labour politician at the time he joined the BBC. Waugh had written his school friend, Tom Driberg, also a Labour politician (and journalist), in advance of the interview, asking if he knew "anything damaging about [Freeman] that I can introduce into our conversation if he should become insolent" (Letters, p. 544). Driberg's response, so far as I am aware, is unrecorded, but based on Waugh's performance, it doesn't appear that he needed any outside help.

Freeman's own comments on the interview are contained in a written introduction to the DVD set by Hugh Burnett, producer of the TV series:

Waugh was very difficult, he was very uptight, I think he disliked me, and whether he did or not, he was very nervous…I'm disappointed that I didn't succeed in getting more out of him, because of all the people on the list of Face to Faces, he is the one I think I hold in most honour.

Thanks to Gwyn Price-Evans for bringing this article to our attention.

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