Waugh’s Press Nemesis Recalled in The Independent

The Independent on Sunday newspaper (April 20, 2014) has run an article recalling the career of a media figure from the 1950s who locked horns with Evelyn Waugh. Christopher Fowler’s article appears in the paper’s regular column Invisible Ink devoted to forgotten writers. The subject of the article is Nancy Spain, who at the time of her confrontation with Waugh was a reporter for the Daily Express. The story briefly mentions the lawsuit successfully brought by Waugh against the paper for an article written by Ms. Spain claiming that Alec Waugh’s books outsold his own.

The IoS story suggests that Ms. Spain brought disrepute to the Daily Express by being sued twice by Waugh. Waugh’s other litigation was over a statement appearing in the paper’s review of a book by Rebecca West. According to Martin Stannard’s definitive biography of Waugh, that review was the work of the paper’s literary editor Anthony Hern, not Ms. Spain, although Waugh’s animus toward Ms. Spain may have contributed to his litigiousness. Waugh won both suitsthe one naming Spain’s article in court and the other in a settlement shortly thereafter.

Ms. Spain’s career extended far beyond inspiring the wrath of Waugh. As explained in the IoS article:

She was a journalist, broadcaster and television presenter, a genuine populist who wrote columns for the red tops when they still commissioned bright writing instead of pursuing celebrity gossip. Spain was a Woman’s Hour regular, and appeared as a panellist on What’s My Line and Juke Box Jury.

“Red tops” refers to the tabloid press, although at the time Ms. Spain was writing for the Express it was owned by Lord Beaverbrook and published in a broadsheet format. She later worked for the even more downmarket News of the World (recently consigned to its grave by the Murdoch organization) which proudly introduced her to its readers in these terms: “She’s gay, she’s provocative, she’s going places.” She was apparently living openly in lesbian relationships at a time when that was uncommon.  This probably explains Anthony Powell’s 1957 telegram to Waugh when he won the lawsuit: “Congratulations on Burning Sappho.” She died two years before Waugh in a 1964 plane crash on her way to cover a horse race. Waugh uncharacteristically seems not to have noticed.

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Waugh Letter Appears in The American Reader

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 EWS member Prof. Robert Murray Davis for calling this to our attention.

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Speakers announced for 2015 Evelyn Waugh conference at University of Leicester

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.”
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Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh: Oct. 28, 1903 – Apr. 10, 1966

Today is the 48th anniversary of the death of Evelyn Waugh.
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Waugh Wins Place in Literary Bad Mothers Competition

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.

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Novelist Joanna Trollope Salutes Evelyn Waugh

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.

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Public lecture on EW by Alexander Waugh: Durham University, March 19, 7 p.m.

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.

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Hugh Trevor-Roper on Evelyn Waugh (more)

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.

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David Bowie, Waugh Fan

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.

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Complete archives of The Tablet and The Catholic Herald now online

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.

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