BBC has started a series of three programs on Tatler magazine: Posh People: Inside Tatler. In the first episode (Monday, 24 November) Matthew Bell, newly appointed Commissioning Editor, is among those interviewed. He was formerly the society diarist for the Independent on Sunday newspaper but describes himself as from a solidly middle class family. The editor, Kate Reardon, explains that the magazine is as interested in the well-behaved newly rich as it is in the debauched aristocracy. In pursuit of the latter, Bell is dispatched to Oxford to investigate the Bullingdon Club, and specifically to find out how they have managed to suppress the club photograph that included David Cameron in his days as a member. Bell is filmed outside Hertford College (40:27), which he explains was where Evelyn Waugh lived as an undergraduate. He cites Waugh as having satirized the Bullingdon in Decline & Fall where he described it as “the sound of English county families baying for broken glass.” He might have mentioned that Waugh renamed it the Bollinger. Bell attributes his own interest in the upper class life to his having read Waugh’s novels from the age of 12. As depicted by Waugh, the upper classes appealed to Bell as seeming to have “such a fun time, in a romantic world.” The series continues on BBC 2 next Monday and can be viewed on the internet via BBC iPlayer for the next four weeks. A proxy server connection is needed from outside the UK.
Robert McCrum, novelist and literary journalist, has for several months been writing a weekly Guardian column naming and discussing what he considers the 100 best novels in English. He is working through the history of English novel year by year from the “beginning” (Pilgrim’s Progress) to the present day (although some years are skipped over and others have multiple selections). He has now arrived at the 1930s. His latest selection, no. 60 on the list, is Waugh’s Scoop, which was also recently named by the Daily Telegraph in an anonymous top 100 list. McCrum’s columns usually stir up a lively discussion among Guardian readers, and this one is no exception, with expressions of supporting and contrary views of the book selected. There are several votes for Handful of Dust among this week’s commenters. Most of McCrum’s own commentary addresses the journalistic targets of Waugh’s satire. This is not surprising, given McCrum’s career as a literary journalist. I feared that he might miss out my own favorite parts of the book, which are those that take place at Boot Magna. But I was gratified when I reached his conclusion:
Many of these caricatures might remind some readers of Waugh’s debt to Dickens, but Scoop remains fiercely modern. So little has really changed. The six words of “Up to a point, Lord Copper” conjure a marrow-freezing universe of corporate fear. Most famous of all, there’s the glorious parody of the “feather-footed” vole questing through the “plashy fen”, a pointed reminder of the deep sentimentality always to be found in the Street of Shame.
On November 13 at 7:00 p.m., at the American University of Rome, Dr. Lisa Colletta will give her inaugural lecture as a full professor at AUR. Based upon her 2013 book exploring the same subject, her lecture “Travelers, Exile, and Expats: British Novelists in Hollywood” is teased as follows on the AUR website:
Was early Hollywood, with its celluloid dreams and theme-park cemeteries, the beginning of the end of the Western humanist tradition? Drawn to Los Angeles for a variety of reasons that included everything from easy money, political disaffection, spiritual longing, and the Mediterranean climate, writers such as Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, Anthony Powell, J.B Priestly, Dodie Smith and Evelyn Waugh, and P.G. Wodehouse represent an incursion of expert settlers representing British culture and civilization. But instead of establishing themselves once again with a mission of colonial superiority, they soon found that their cultural power clashed with the commercially inviolable mass production of American popular culture. Lisa Colletta explores how the British experience in Southern California challenged traditional ideas of national identity and power and implicated them in a complex of choices and influences filtered through the Hollywood dream machine.
Mark Amory, who edited the pioneering volume of Evelyn Waugh’s letters that appeared in 1980, has recently announced his retirement as Literary Editor of The Spectator. He went to work there in “about 1985.” In his valedictory article announcing his departure, he recalls that in his early days he would arrive at his office only to find no one on the premises sufficiently sober to compose a magazine, but was impressed that it still managed to appear each week.
A similar situation seems to have prevailed at Amory’s retirement party, also held in The Spectator’s offices. This event was reported by Jeremy Clarke (author of the magazine’s “Low Life” column) in this week’s edition. Clarke arrived late, well primed by a few pints in the pub across the street, and worked his way drink-by-drink to the back of the room where Amory sat at a table with his two daughters. On his way, Clarke recalled earlier meetings with Amory:
At a Spectator party in Doughty Street I’d sought him out and said, ‘Was it really you who edited Evelyn Waugh’s letters?’ He said that it was. Had he met him? He had. He was friends with Auberon as a schoolboy, and he used to stay at Combe Florey in the holidays. I was inarticulate, he said, only managing the most common expletive by way of a reply. And at virtually every summer party since then, I’ve lurched or bounded up to him and said, ‘Go on, then. What was He like?’…Being a perfectly polite man, every year Mark Amory pretends to consider my inane question afresh, and every year he had said, as though suddenly struck by a very new aspect of the man, ‘He wanted you to please him; and he made you want to please him.’
Unfortunately, on this occasion Amory spotted Clarke as he lurched toward the table and made “a dash for it… shepherding his girls ahead of him, saying that he was leaving for Ireland.” Clarke concludes with a description of own journey into ever increasing stages of inebriation at other nearby venues as the caterers cleared up after Amory’s last Spectator party
From the Arts & Humanities Research Council’s news pages:
It’s been just over a year since work began on the first ever Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh. Together with Oxford University Press and the Waugh family, the project has been working to make not only Waugh’s novels available to the public but also his biographies, short stories, letters and diaries, and all his essays, articles and reviews spanning half a century of writing life.
At this event [at this year's Literary Leicester festival], join Waugh biographer and co-executive editor Martin Stannard, research associate Barbara Cooke and doctoral student Rebecca Moore as they look back over 12 months of reading, editing and – occasionally – discovering new Waugh materials. Martin will introduce the project in general and his work on ‘Vile Bodies’ in particular (Waugh was in the middle of writing it when his first wife left him). Barbara will be talking about working with the thousands of letters and diary extracts which should be included in the edition, while Rebecca will report back on her research into the concept of decadence in Waugh.
For further information, please contact Barbara Cooke: (click to email).
Three previously unknown letters from Evelyn Waugh to his friend Eleanor Watts, the girlfriend of the man who ran off with the novelist’s wife in 1929, are to be sold at Bonhams Fine Books, Atlases, Manuscripts and Photographs Sale on 12 November in London.
More at Fine Books & Collections magazine.
This week’s New York Times Book Review contains a review by writer David Leavitt of a novel by British satirist Edward St. Aubyn that was originally published in England in 1998. The novel, entitled On the Edge, is compared to Waugh’s The Loved One and William Boyd’s Stars and Bars in that it “indulges some very British lampooning of American culture and its excesses.” An example quoted by Leavitt of St. Aubyn’s targets is the U.S. food industry:
Menus couldn’t decide whether to advertise dieting or eating. Often the contents of salads and sandwiches hung around shyly among the real stars: the ingredients that had been left out, and the pointless variety of methods by which the sodium-free, unbleached, sugarless, decaffeinated, coffee-free coffee could be vaporized, sun-dried, skimmed, scorched and served in 16 different kinds of cup.
The book’s belated U.S. publication is attributed to the success in this country of St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose series of five linked novels. Leavitt thinks it may have been passed over initially by U.S. publishers for fear of a backlash because of its sharp satirization of the U.S. But that did not happen in the case of The Loved One nor for that matter in the case of the Melrose novels where features of U.S. culture were subject to equally pointed satirical attacks. In this case, St. Aubyn has done for the New Age spa (think Esalen Institute) what Waugh did for the U.S. funeral industry (think Forest Lawn). Both institutions have survived satirization and have continued to flourish.
In another allusion to Waugh, Leavitt notes the novel’s ”complexity and subtlety, as well as the the elegance with which it modulates between Waughian parody and Fosterian pathos.” Waugh fans could do worse than to try St. Aubyn if they are looking for Waugh’s satirical spirit applied to updated targets, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. Indeed, St. Aubyn, like Waugh, is no shrinking violet when he aims his pen at the foibles of his own countrymen, with particular reference to its upper classes.
Last month the Daily Telegraph published a list of the 100 novels everyone should read. This includes translations as well as books in English. There is no explanation of how or by whom the list was compiled or whether the books are ranked in any kind priority of “bestness.” Only one book or series by each author is named. Scoop is listed as #18.
“18 Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
Waugh based the hapless junior reporter in this journalistic farce on former Telegraph editor Bill Deedes.”
Others on the list from Waugh’s generation include The Great Gatsby, Dance to the Music of Time, Cold Comfort Farm, 1984, Brighton Rock and Mrs. Dalloway. There in no novel by D H Lawrence or Ernest Hemingway on the list.
There is nothing new under the sun. Except, perhaps, this:
On Wed., Nov. 26th, at Barts Pathology Museum in London, Dead Meet (“Dating and Networking for Death Professionals”), is holding its Inaugural Dead Meet Up, a networking event at which noted Waugh scholar and EWS honorary vice president Ann Pasternak Slater will discuss “The Loved One.” After Ms. Pasternak Slater’s talk, Kevin Sinclair, a member of the British Institute of Embalmers, “will tell [the audience] whether or not the procedures [described] in the book are true to life.”
The event runs from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. and is open to all, although Dead Meet members receive discounted admission and special tour privileges within Barts [sic] Pathology Museum.
A memoir of the residents of Lord Berners’ Faringdon House estate in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire) has been written by the granddaughter of one (or possibly two) of them. This is The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me , by Sofka Zinovieff (Jonathan Cape, 436pp, £25, U.S. publication scheduled for 2015).
The author’s relationship to the menage is a bit complicated. Her mother, Victoria, was the child of Jennifer Fry, who lived at Faringdon in the 1940s and married Robert Heber-Percy (“The Mad Boy”). He was also Berner’s companion and may (or may not) have been Victoria’s father. Heber-Percy and Fry were soon divorced, and he later married Evelyn Waugh’s friend Dorothy (“Coote”) Lygon. Other male companions also came and went after Berners’ death in 1950. The estate was left by Berners to Heber-Percy, who kept changing his own will, causing Waugh to make the following comment in a letter to Diana Cooper dated December 12, 1950: ‘I went to dinner at Faringdon … the Mad Boy has installed a Mad Boy of his own. Has there ever been a property in history that has devolved from catamite to catamite for any length of time? It would be interesting to know.’
Heber-Percy ultimately left the estate to Zinovieff who still owns it and rents it out to American millionaires. This is all explained in more (and more entertaining) detail in a review of Zinovieff’s book by Waugh’s grandson, Alexander Waugh, in the current issue of Literary Review.