Waugh and Spanish Civil War

Waugh’s views on the Spanish Civil War recently came up for comment in the TLS.

In his review (July 4) of a recent book about war correspondents in Spain, Hotel Florida by Amanda Vaill, Jeremy Treglown commented that it was unfortunate that Waugh did not report on that conflict because “no one would have communicated its ironies more sharply.” In the July 11 issue, reader Nicholas Rankin noted in a letter to the TLS that although Waugh did not report on the Spanish conflict, he did make his views known in the publication Authors Take Sides on the Spanish War: “If I were a Spaniard I would be fighting for General Franco.” Rankin goes on to comment that Waugh’s detached irony seemed to have failed him when he wrote to Diana Cooper during his subsequent coverage of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia: “i have got to hate the ethiopians more each day goodness they are lousy & i hope the organmen gas them to buggery.”

That is not to say, surely, that Waugh, although he made little effort to show impartiality in reporting that conflict, would have expressed his views in quite those exaggerated terms had he intended them for publication.

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Complete Works Project Launches New Website

The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project at the University of Leicester has launched a new website. Its Resources page is particularly useful. The project blog can be found here.
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Peter Harrington’s Evelyn Waugh catalog

The bookseller Peter Harrington’s Evelyn Waugh catalog contains many desirable volumes, none more so than Graham Greene’s inscribed copy of Helena (£25,000). Note, however, the last sentence in PH’s description of the item:

First edition, first impression, large paper issue, being one of about 50 copies specially bound and printed on handmade paper. A major association copy with the author’s signed presentation inscription to the front free endpaper, “for Graham from Evelyn Oct 1st, 1950″ With the estate label of Graham Greene to the front pastedown. On 16 November 1950 Waugh wrote to Greene thanking him “awfully for writing about Helena. I hardly hoped you would like it. I am exhilarant to hear you do…” The copy is, however, almost entirely unopened – only the last 50 pages are cut – suggesting that Greene merely read the ending and wrote his appraisal from that.
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1960s Vintage Films of Waugh Novels Now Available on DVD

According to this post by film blogger Michael Barrett, both the early theatrical films made of Waugh novels are now available in digital format: The Loved One (MGM, 1965, directed by Tony Richardson, screenplay by Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood), and Decline And Fall Of A Bird Watcher (20th Century Fox, 1968, directed by John Krish, screenplay by Ivan Foxwell).

Of the two, D&F is the better film adaptation, although LO is better known. The film of LO was something of a disaster with much of the plot rewritten. The portions relating to Waugh’s satirization of Hollywood’s British film colony are the best, but that was true of the novel as well. John Gielgud’s Francis Hinsley and Robert Morley’s Ambrose Abercrombie are worth the price of admission (or DVD as the case may be). The remainder is so over the top as to be best forgotten. Anyone wishing to know more about how the film came to be the mess that it was might want to seek out Mischief in the Sun: The Making and Unmaking of ‘The Loved One’ (1999) by Waugh scholar Robert Murray Davis.

The screenplay of D&F more closely follows Waugh’s plot, but that plot is essentially unfilmable. Fans of the novel will nevertheless enjoy watching it, if only to see the performance of Leo McKern as Capt. Grimes in his pre-Rumpole days. Made-on-demand DVDs are available from Amazon.com for $19.95 each at the links above.

Thanks to R. M. Davis for sending us the PopMatters post. The plug for his book was entirely my idea.
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Waugh on Weddings

As the month of June approaches, Moira Redmond was inspired to contribute an article to the Guardian newspaper for May 20, 2014 entitled “Marriage plots: the best wedding dresses in literature.” The article is included in a regular column called Books Blog and may appear only in the paper’s internet edition. After trolling through history to mention obvious literary weddings in novels such as virtually all those of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and Nancy Mitford’s Pursuit of Love, Redmond decided to include a sample from Waugh’s writings as well. Wedding scenes, at least happy ones, are a bit thin on the ground in Waugh’s fiction. Most notably one thinks of the wedding of Julia Flyte and Rex Mottram which is described in Brideshead Revisited as a rather “squalid” affair in the chapel of the Savoy Hotel. But Redmond managed to come up with this quote from Waugh’s diaries in which the writer

rather charmingly describes his daughter Margaret getting married in 1962 “in a tea gown of her great-grandmother’s out of the acting cupboard, used in countless charades.”

Proceeding through the post-Waugh years with references to Margaret Drabble, W.G. Sebald and Donna Tartt, Redmond reaches the following rather laconic conclusion:

Weddings have much less place in modern literary fiction–perhaps authors are leaving the subject to what they consider to be chicklit. But surely some same-sex weddings are turning up in books now?


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Entire Back-catalogue of Evelyn Waugh Newsletter/Studies Now Available Online

In a major development in the field of Evelyn Waugh scholarship, the entire back-catalogue of the Evelyn Waugh Newsletter/Studies has been made available through the University of Leicester Special Collections Online.

The Evelyn Waugh Studies Collection comprises searchable complete runs of the Evelyn Waugh Newsletter (1967-1989), Evelyn Waugh Newsletter and Studies (1990-2010) and Evelyn Waugh Studies (2011-). It has been made available on Special Collections Online as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project, based in Leicester’s School of English.

The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project blog at Leicester notes this important development.

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Lancing College 2014 Evelyn Waugh Lecture

Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair of Arts Council England and President of the Royal Television Society, was the guest speaker at the 2014 Evelyn Waugh Lecture at Lancing College on May 1.

This year’s lecture, entitled “The Drain Brain,” focused on Sir Peter’s great-great-grandfather, Sir Joseph William Bazalgette (1819–1891), who was the chief engineer of London’s Metropolitan Board of Works. Sir Joseph is known for being responsible for the creation of a sewer network for central London in response to the ‘Great Stink’ in summer 1858.

Now in its sixth year, the Evelyn Waugh Lecture honours one of Lancing’s most illustrious old boys and is followed by a dinner for members of the Lancing Foundation to thank them for their loyalty and generosity to the College. Previous years’ guest speakers have been Sir David Hare, Alexander Waugh, Christopher Hampton CBE FRSL, the Reverend Professor Richard Griffiths, and Derek Granger with Anthony Andrews.

See http://www.lancingcollege.co.uk/media/news/article/2577/Evelyn-Waugh-Lecture-2014 for more.

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D. J. Taylor Explores Literary Reputations

In today’s Guardian (May 10, 2014), critic and novelist D.J. Taylor discusses the survival of literary reputations: Literary Hero to Zero.  Later in the day, he presented a broadcast on BBC Radio 4 entitled Pulped Fiction, containing interviews, archival recordings and commentary relating to the same subject. (The broadcast, part of the series Archive on Four, can be heard online until May 17 on BBC iPlayer at the link above.) In both cases, Taylor points out how some writers’ reputations, such as those of Angus Wilson and Iris Murdoch, have unexpectedly dropped after their deaths.  In others, such as those of Virginia Woolf and Barbara Pym, they fell off the charts only to enjoy a later revival.

Taylor, in the Guardian article, credits the popularity of the 1980s TV series of Brideshead Revisited with the survival of Waugh’s reputation. He claims that this wave of popularity resulted in six-figure profits enjoyed by Waugh’s estate in the mid-1980s.  In the radio program Taylor interviewed novelist and critic David Lodge, Honorary President of the Waugh Society.  Lodge noted that, towards the end of his career, Waugh’s reputation had fallen into “considerable disfavor” among the critics , giving as example the Observer’s review panning  Men at War. But what saved Waugh’s reputation, according to Lodge, was the classic status accorded the best of his works. They meet Lodge’s test of a really good novel–that it can be re-read endlessly.

The interview of Lodge took place at a literary festival in Norfolk, something Taylor thought would have appalled Waugh if he had been asked to appear. In this he perhaps overlooks the fact that Waugh was a master of the literary publicity machine as it existed in his day and used the press and broadcast media to great advantage in keeping his name before the public, even if he sometimes used outrageous behavior to do so. One can easily imagine Waugh drawing crowds at today’s literary festivals as part of his own publicity efforts. After all, by the time he died, Waugh had managed to begin what would probably have become a successful career in the new medium of TV. Although he professed to be appalled by its content, that didn’t prevent him from using TV effectively to promote his own career.

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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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