Handful Profiled in Indian Press

Today's English-language edition of Mid-Day, a daily Mumbai compact newspaper, features an article that profiles Waugh's 1934 novel A Handful of Dust and compares it to the social mores of the present day. This is by Aditya Sinha in his column "The Hippie Hindu." The article begins by describing the book as "simultaneously a hilarious novel while being a most depressing read." After summarizing the plot, Sinha continues

Waugh’s writing pierces the heart of two matters: marriage and human nature. Marriage is such a precarious and impossible Westphalian balance-of-power that it often ends in a Cold War type standoff, each partner held back by the fear of Mutually Assured Destruction (yes, marriage is MAD). Brenda’s feeling of imprisonment is uncannily familiar...In A Handful of Dust, Waugh takes the most intimate human connection, marriage, to reveal our wasteland of savagery; and if two people can’t escape the asphyxiation of association, then society likely can’t, either. No surprise that the modern world around us often seems more depressing than the saddest of stories. Waugh got his novel’s title from TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, which says: “our society promises to show us fear, in a handful of dust”. That possibly exemplifies our modern condition.

Sinha also manages to get in a mention of Waugh's follow-on novel  Scoop (1938) which he describes as:

a riotous look at journalism through stylised prose...[that] never resorts to abuse, [in] contrast to the illiterate hordes in contemporary India, whose intellectual achievement is to call journalists “presstitutes”. 

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Waugh on Queueing

In today's Canberra Times there is an article about the prospect faced by Canberrans of the need to queue for tickets to popular events such as hockey matches. This is apparently an unusual feature of life in Canberra, a city that is small enough to avoid the need for queueing, a phenomenon which the writer of the article (Ian Warden) says is more typical of England:

Perhaps because of my English working-class background, I have always had a fondness, an aptitude, even a genius for queuing. Traditionally the English are accomplished, virtuoso queuers. In one of Evelyn Waugh's novels there are docile working-class Londoners who go out looking for queues to join, never asking what it is they are queueing for.

Warden must be thinking of Waugh's novel Unconditional Surrender which begins with the description of a queue that has formed outside Westminster Abbey to view a sword that will be presented to the Soviet Union in gratitude for their help in winning WWII:

The people of England were long habituated to queues; some had joined the procession ignorant of its end--hoping perhaps for cigarettes or shoes--but most were in a mood of devotion...Already the police were turning away the extremity of the queue saying:"You won't get in today. Come back tomorrow morning--early," and the people obediently drifted into the dusk to join other queues elsewhere (Unconditional Surender, New York, 2012, pp. 15-16, 31).


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Waugh's Writing Cited for Guyana Anniversary

The current issue of Caribbean Beat (the inflight journal of Caribbean Airlines) carries a story about the five areas of touristic interest in Guyana. This is part of a promotional effort in connection with this year's 50th anniversary of Guyana's independence. One of the regions described is the savannah (or Rupununi region) lying south of the coast. It was in this region (in what was then British Guiana) that Evelyn Waugh spent much of his time during a 1932-33 trip he later described in his book Ninety-Two Days. The author of this section of the article (Brendan de Caires) quotes from Waugh's book to evoke the character of this remote area:

Outsiders aren’t always charmed. Trekking towards Brazil in 1933, the British writer Evelyn Waugh felt so disoriented by the landscape — “empty plain; sparse, colourless grass; anthills; sandpaper trees, an occasional clump of ragged palm” — that he sought refuge in the writings of Thomas Aquinas. Waugh’s diary, which would later be written up as Ninety-Two Days, finds him “sat among ants for an hour,” enduring “great heat and suffering from thirst,” cold and sleepless in his hammock, and with “feet full of jiggers.” Water offered no relief: “one does not do much swimming in these rivers because they are full of dangerous creatures — sting ray, electric eels, and carnivorous fish.” En route to Kurupukari, he endures the company of Mr Bain, a man whose “tiresome solicitude” and garrulity disprove the legend that “men who administer distant territories are ‘strong and silent’”:
“Listen,” said Mr Bain one day, “that is most interesting. It is what we call the ‘six o’clock beetle,’ because he always makes that noise at exactly six o’clock.”
“But it is now a quarter past four.”
“Yes, that is what is so interesting.”

Waugh returned to British Guiana in 1962 on a cruise with his daughter Margaret, then 19.  He wrote of this journey for the Daily Mail and the Sunday Times in articles reprinted in Essays, Articles and Reviews ("Here They Are, the English Lotus-Eaters," p. 583 and "Eldorado Revisted," p. 592). He found conditions in Guiana much changed since the 1930s, with horseback travel to the interior replaced by jeeps and airplanes in the wake of newly opened bauxite mines. He was appalled by the racial hatreds that had been revealed by introduction of a degree of self rule and concluded that "no collection of people could be less 'ripe for democracy' or even for one-party dictatorship" (EAR, p. 595). Waugh also discovered after his return to England that he had bored some of his British hosts during this visit, a revelation from which he never fully recovered.



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Waugh Biographer to Appear at Buxton Festival

The Buxton Festival in mid-July will feature a talk by Philip Eade on his new biography of Evelyn Waugh. The talk is scheduled for Wednesday, 13 July at 1:45p in the Pavilion Arts Center; tickets £10.50. This will be a week following the announced UK publication date of  Eade's book on 8 July. Here's a description of the talk:

In the 50th anniversary of the death of Evelyn Waugh, Philip Eade presents some of the most revealing and in some cases unknown events of his 63 years: his difficult relationship with his embarrassingly sentimental father and favoured elder brother, and the burning ambition they inadvertently provoked in him; his love affair with Alastair Graham at Oxford; his disastrous first marriage to Evelyn Gardner and its complicated annulment; his momentous conversion to Roman Catholicism; his complex interest in the aristocracy, and what the aristocrats made of him; his chequered wartime career; his nervous breakdown; his strangely successful marriage to Laura Herbert; his unconventional attitude to his six children; his sharp tongue; his devastating wit; his egomania; and the love, fear and loathing that he variously inspired. 

Other scheduled speakers of likely interest to our readers are D J Taylor (author of The Prose Factory), Alexei Sayle (admirer of Waugh's satiric wit) and Benjamin Wild (who will talk about Waugh's contemporary, Cecil Beaton). Here's a link to the literature program

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Lisa Hilton Video re Brideshead

Novelist and biographer Lisa Hilton has posted a one-minute video in the Why I Love This Book series explaining why Waugh's 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited is her favorite novel. She is most impressed by the quality of the writing which managed, in a period of extreme deprivation, to convey a sense of joyfulness and luxury by recalling the recent past. Hilton has recently published a thriller entitled Maestra under her initials L.S. Hilton. This promises to be the first part of a trilogy. She is known in this parish as the author of The Horror of Love which is a study of the relationship between Nancy Mitford and Gaston Palewski. See previous post. The video can be viewed on YouTube.

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The Tablet Reprints Excerpt from Waugh Requiem

The current issue of The Tablet reprints an excerpt from the address delivered by Fr. Philip Caraman at the Requiem Mass for Evelyn Waugh at Westminster Cathedral on 21 April 1966:

Christ commanded us to trade with our talents. This Evelyn Waugh did. He sought perfection in his craft and came nearer to achieving it than perhaps any man of his time. But the way he cultivated his gifts was only one manifestation of his fidelity – the virtue marked the whole man ...

It is not an accident that A Handful of Dust is generally reckoned the best of his earlier novels. It was written when he was still wounded by the failure of loyalty. Under the shock he sought a faith that would underpin morals. He found it, assisted by Fr Martin D’Arcy, to whom he dedicated and gave his book, Edmund Campion. “Conversion,” he wrote, speaking of himself in the third person, “suggests an event more sudden and emotional than his calm acceptance of the propositions of his faith – in early manhood when many Englishmen of humane education were falling into Communism.” Unlike them, he remained steadfast.

By special dispensation, the Mass was celebrated in Latin.

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Brideshead Reviewed (Yet More)

The Daily Mail has posted a brief but largely positive review of the Brideshead Revisited stage adaptation that opened last week in York. The review is by Patrick Marmion who, after praising the production and performances ("serious, witty and elegant"), concludes:

... it was brave to stage the book without enlisting the magnificent Palladian backdrop — let alone the rose-tinted views of Oxford, Venice and Tangiers. But that doesn’t stop dramatist Bryony Lavery encompassing Waugh’s sprawling grandeur.

She relates it as impressionist memories in this handsome show for the re-opening of the Theatre Royal after its £6 million refit. So one cannot just zone out in a warm bath of fragrant nostalgia. Instead we grapple with Waugh’s guilty Roman Catholicism — and designer Sara Perks’ set is almost Protestant in its minimalism...The closing death throes of Lord Marchmain feel interminable, but overall this is an engaging show that keeps faith with Waugh’s seriousness as much as his dreaminess.

Two other reviews are more reserved. Both find the staging of the play to be excellent but have problems with the uneven script and direction: Adam Bruce in A Younger Theatre and Heather Cawte in YorkMix.

The BBC, meanwhile, on Radio 4 has broadcast, not a review, but an interview of the playwright, Bryony Lavery, who adapted the novel for the stage. This was transmitted yesterday on the program Front Row, presented by Samira Ahmed.  Ahmed begins by asking how Lavery dealt with the problem of the public perception that Castle Howard, where previous adaptations were filmed, was identified as the setting of the story. This  challenge was addressed, according to Lavery, by creating an "air stately home," enlisting the imagination of the audience to do much of the work of recreating it on stage. She  describes in some detail how she managed this same problem of depicting the scenes in Venice on a bare stage, using the movements and body language of the cast members to create images in the minds of the audience.

When asked how she dealt with the need to "pare down" the story to fit into the time limits of a workable stage performance, Lavery explained that she used the cascading series of memories recalled by Charles Ryder to move from scene to scene. It required 5 drafts to reach a finished product. Finally, Ahmed asks why Lavery has used the practice of adaptation so frequently, given that she has also written successful original stories for stage productions. Lavery answers that the use of a book provides the opportunity to work with an "absolutely wonderful writer" such as Evelyn Waugh, take a plot and characters that are already fully worked out and then transpose them to the stage, allowing the scriptwriter to concentrate on theatrical elements.

The program is now available worldwide via the internet on BBC iPlayer.

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Brideshead Reviewed (More)

Several more reviews have been posted of the stage production of Brideshead Revisted. In the York Press, Charles Hutchinson finds much to like in the new theatre, the settings and the performances but also concludes that 

as Bryony Lavery's two and a half-hour adaptation becomes more episodic, shedding its earlier abstract coat, it begins to drag like the 1982 television series once the Evelyn Waugh wit fades out and Rosie Hilal's Julia comes to the fore. Like Mercutio, you rather miss the disgraceful Sebastian as the wounds deepen.

Dominic Maxwell's review in The Times is behind a paywall and requires a subscription but does not begin well:

It’s hard to know which element is most intrusive in this whistle-stop tour of a great novel: Brideshead regurgitated. Is it the insistent insertion of Christopher Madin’s soupy soundtrack, all sensitive piano and la-di-da synthesized strings as it tries to force-feed us the grandeur and charm of Brideshead, the English country home at the heart of Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 masterpiece?

In What's On Stage, Ron Simpson is also largely negative:

Evelyn Waugh's novel is a problematic subject for stage adaptation, rather better suited to film perhaps with its louche behaviour in lush surroundings, though there its satirical edge and existential debate are likely to give way to the upper classes behaving badly with style. Bryony Lavery's adaptation and Cruden's direction firmly banish any Downton Abbey tendency, but Waugh's unique mix of devotion and irony proves difficult to translate to the stage.

Comments by two bloggers are a bit more positive, especially about the theatre and the staging, but are overall mixed: British Theatre Guide and Kirkbymoorside  Town Blog

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Labels Reassessed

A multicultural, award-winning internet portal called Qantara.de has posted a new review (or reassessment) of Waugh's 1930 travel book Labels: A Mediterranean Journey. This site is sponsored by several German cultural and political institutions, including the Goethe Institut and Deutsche Welle. The review is written by Sherif Abdel Samad from the point of view of a 21st century Egyptian. The reason given for circulating a new view of this old book is that it 

still offers a fresh testimony of a world unknown to readers except from the writings of Naguib Mahfouz. Without indulging in lengthy and descriptive passages, Waugh narrates his impressions of the many cities he visited – Haifa, Crete, Port Said and Cairo – in a fresh light tone. Notorious for his wit and politically incorrect statements, he neither shies away from mocking fellow travellers nor from making racist remarks about the locals.

...Waugh took immense pleasure in depicting the hotels and bars of Port Said, staffed by Sudanese and Berber servants, frequented by English commercial agents and partying Egyptian officials; listing venues where the food was great and the drinks pure, ridiculing Europeans turning up on Saturday evenings for dance festivities, all the while observing that those in British service ranked higher than any Egyptian. The expatriate English community lived an extremely secluded existence, indulging in amateur theatricals and dinner parties. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Waugh′s endeavours to delve into Egyptian street and night-life met with baffled incredulity.

Samad says that Waugh contemplated writing a novel about Port Said but never followed through with the project. He continues through Waugh's book with quotes and summaries, particularly of those portions dealing with Egypt, and concludes:

Waugh also displays a racist colonialist approach towards Muslims. ″Living as we are under the [impact of the] collective inferiority complex of the whole West, and humbled as we are by the many excellencies of Chinese, Indians, and even savages, we can still hold [up] our heads in the Mohammedan world with the certainty of superiority. It seems to me that there is no single aspect of Mohammedan art, history, scholarship, or social, religious, or political organisation, to which we, as Christians, cannot look with unshaken pride of race.″

Waugh was undoubtedly a product of his time, raised in a colonial atmosphere of racial and religious superiority. The impressions he gathers in his book fit the Orientalist mindset, without offering any deeper insights and yet, for all its shortcomings, ″Labels″ remains a fascinating read, presenting the vibrant intensity of Egyptian street life.

After Waugh's general dismissal of the Mohammedan culture, he writes two pages of descriptive prose praising Arab architecture as an exception (Labels, London, 1974, pp. 111-12). That might have been worth a brief mention.  Perhaps Samad will follow up this project with a fresh look at Waugh's views of Egypt in his novel Officers and Gentlemen where some scenes are set in wartime Cairo and Alexandria, as well as descriptions of Egypt in his later travel book A Tourist in Africa and his diaries and letters.

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Black Mischief in Sri Lanka

In this week's "Midweek Review" column in the daily Sri Lankan English-language newspaper The Island, columnist Dr. Kamal Wickremasinghe compares what he describes as the neocolonialist policies of the current government of Sri Lanka with the comic plot of Waugh's 1932 novel Black Mischief. In introducing Waugh to his readers, the columnist reminds them of an earlier, largely foregotten connection Waugh had with Sri Lankan (then Ceylonese) politics:

A brief digression to an encounter with our own S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike is further suggestive of Waugh’s early mediocrity: Waugh was one of the contestants Bandaranaike defeated at the Oxford Union elections in 1923. Bandaranaike later described their acquaintance in 1930: "I remember Evelyn Waugh as an undersized, red-faced, rather irresponsible youth. I would never have suspected that he had it in him to write the charming books he has produced"; Waugh’s own references to Bandaranaike in his autobiography, In A Little Learning (1964) suggests that the feelings of disdain have been mutual. Waugh wrote: "There were very few, if any, Negro undergraduates [at Oxford], but Asiatics abounded, and these were usually referred to as ‘black men’ whether they were pale Egyptians or dusky Tamils; [...] certainly the only oriental whom I met, the Cingalese [sic] Bandaranaike, returned to Colombo fiercely anti-British. This sentiment did not save him from assassination by his fellow countrymen when he lost the protection of the British Crown."

The columnist deletes several lines from Waugh's statement in which he explained, inter alia, that there was "no rancour in the appellation" and no personal contempt or hostility were intended, although he conceded, "We may have caused offense." (A Little Learning, London, 1964, p. 184). The article goes on to explain how Waugh used his writing skills to rise out of his undergraduate mediocrity to become one of the most successful writers of his generation. A plot summary of Black Mischief is then provided, leaving it to the paper's readers to make the relevant connections to today's political situation with which they would be intimately familiar. The column concludes:

Seth’s approach of never paying attention to detail and dealing only with the larger issues is dangerously ill-equipped to administer a land rife with corruption and torn by tribal feuds, conspiring colonial powers, and a polyglot population proves his undoing as the coup d’état attests.

The most interesting part of Waugh’s novel is the relationship between Emperor Seth and Basil Seal. Basil, who only came out to Azania because he had no means to make a living in London is enthusiastically embraced by Seth who was pining for a man of progress and culture he can trust. Seth’s modernisation efforts in the hands of a man like Basil Seal, a financially impoverished member of the British aristocracy never had any chance of success...

Waugh’s contempt is reserved for African leaders who slavishly imitate and often misinterpret European virtues at their peril. The situation is too close to home!...[Waugh's] words: "For in that city [New York] there is neurosis in the air which the inhabitants mistake for energy" need to be quoted for the benefit of our political leaders.

No mention is made of Waugh's 1962 preface to a new edition of Black Mischief

Thirty years ago it seemed an anachronism that any part of Africa should be independent of European administration. History has not followed what then seemed its natural course. 

Posted in A Little Learning, Articles, Black Mischief | Tagged , , | 3 Comments