Paula Byrne to Appear at Highclere and Other Waugh News

Biographer Paula Byrne (author of Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead (2009)) will appear in a program entitled "Literature and Landscapes" to be held at Highclere Castle near Newbury, Berkshire, in May. The venue is better known as the setting for the TV series Downton Abbey, but there is also a Waugh connection. It is the home of the Earls of Carnarvon, and Laura Waugh's father, Aubrey Herbert, was a younger son of the 4th Earl. His life is described in a book by the Waughs' daughter Margaret Fitzherbert, The Man Who Was Greenmantle (1983). The family also has a villa in Portofino, Italy, which was named Altachiara, the Italian equivalent of Highclere. Evelyn Waugh was a frequent visitor at Altachiara and first met Laura on a visit there. There is little mention of any visits by Evelyn to Highclere, but he must have made some.  This connection is not stated in the promotional material for the lectures nor is it known whether Byrne intends mention it but she may be unable to resist the temptation to do so. 

In other news, controversial US commentator Milo Yiannopoulos has cited Waugh (also a controversialist in his day) in defense of some of his actions. Yiannopoulos is, among other things, a Roman Catholic and, according to a religious website:

A lot of people have a lot to say about Milo. I want to focus on something constructive. After a talk last year at UCSB, he was asked: “How do you reconcile being a Roman Catholic and a homosexual? I’ve never been able to understand that about you.” Milo responded to this question in a layered way that shocked me, precisely because the response was so adequate, the question so fully answered. ... He began by saying that, the question itself exposes a level of ignorance both about Catholicism and about what it means to be gay. He quotes Evelyn Waugh who once said, “If you think I’m bad with God, imagine me without him”...

That's more of a paraphrase than a quote, but it conveys the general meaning of Waugh's statement. For a complete description of Milo's own self-defense, here's a link to the website

In the Fairbanks (Alaska) News-Miner a local librarian offers an article on lexicography. After a discussion of his attempts to avoid the use of the word "very",  he lights on the subject of Roget's thesaurus as his conclusion:

Fortunately, just before publishing the first edition of the thesaurus, Roget added an alphabetical appendix “thus enabling readers to use the thesaurus as a conventional book of synonyms, without necessarily having to delve into its complex philosophical underpinnings.” Like Roget, the new Fairbanks North Star Borough library catalog facilitates getting your head around huge amounts of information. For that matter, “facilitates” is another expression worth trotting out on occasion. As Evelyn Waugh noted, “one’s vocabulary needs constant watering or it will die.”

Finally, a website devoted to developing creative writing skills includes Waugh's Brideshead Revisited as an example of the skillful use of a book's setting to advance its story. Other examples offered include J K Rowling's Hogwarts, Tolkien's Middle Earth, Dickens' Victorian London, and C S Lewis' Narnia.

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Favorite Second Novels

The Royal Society of Literature is conducting a poll of UK residents to determine their favorite second novel. The competition is explained on the RSL's website:

Second novels are a notorious challenge for writers. Whether their first novel was a triumph or a flop, the pressure is always on the follow-up. But what do readers make of second novels? Do we even know which of our favourite novels are second novels? We have decided to hold a public vote to raise literary awareness and discussion. We hope above all that the process will encourage people to read more novels.

Waugh's Vile Bodies is among the books nominated for consideration, but the competition is stiff. Among other nominees are James Joyce's Ulysses, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Lewis Carrolls's Through the Looking Glass. Voting closes on 31 March and the winner will be announced on 5 April. Thanks to Dave Lull for sending us the link.

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Wrong Waugh

The interactive internet site Ranker has started a new rating survey in which Evelyn Waugh is included. A previous posting has him under consideration for the rating of Best Roman Catholic Author, in which he is currently listed as #3. See previous post where earlier this month he had achieved the rank of #12 on that list. The new entry, however, is based on a false premise. It seeks responses to the rating for the Most Famous Alumnus of Sherborne School in Dorset. Evelyn is currently listed at #2 in that category, outranked only by Chris Martin, a member of the British rock band Coldplay. It was, however, Alec Waugh (Evelyn's older brother) and his father Arthur who were Old Shirburnians. Evelyn was unable to attend that school due to a scandal caused by publication of a book by Alec entitled Loom of Youth (1917) which depicted a homosexual affair between schoolboys. Evelyn was instead enrolled at Lancing College in Sussex where he did well enough to earn a scholarship to Hertford College, Oxford. Another O.S. with a Waugh connection on the list at #4 is actor Jeremy Irons who played Charles Ryder in the 1981 Granada TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited. Other writers appearing below Evelyn on the list are poet Cecil Day-Lewis (#5) and novelist John le Carré (#7).

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Decline and Fall of the Bullingdon Club

This week's Spectator has a feature article and podcast by Harry Mount on the parlous straits of Oxford's Bullingdon Club. He confesses to having been a member himself but seems open minded about its likely demise: 

It isn’t quite dead — but it is down to its last two members. That’s barely enough people to trash each other’s bedrooms, let alone a whole restaurant, as the Bullingdon was wont to do, according to legend — not that we ever did that sort of thing in my time in the club, from 1991 to 1993. The Bullingdon, or Buller, as it is sometimes known, just couldn’t survive 11 years of bad headlines — from 2005 to 2016, when three of its former members, David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson, were the most powerful Conservatives in the country. 

Before it's gone, Mount decides that the Bullingdon deserves a proper survey of its career. Waugh's depiction of the club in his fiction contributes to this:

Over the centuries, the sporting interests of the club morphed into heavy drinking interests. By 1894, the heavy drinking turned to bad behaviour — Bullingdon members smashed all 468 windows in Christ Church’s Peckwater Quad. In 1927, they did it again — leading to them being banned from meeting within 15 miles of Oxford.

That incident must have inspired the opening scene of Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall — published only a year later, in 1928, and due to be revived this spring in a BBC2 adaptation. The book begins with the dons of Scone College longing for the Bollinger Club to smash up the quad, so the college can make a fortune in fines. The dons are thrilled to hear that distinctive noise, ‘the sound of the English county families baying for broken glass’. It is Waugh’s magnificent lampoon that still defines the Bullingdon today — and, indirectly, led to the club’s own decline and fall. The Bullingdon crops up again in Brideshead Revisited (1945), where ‘cretinous, porcine’ members try to dunk Anthony Blanche in Mercury, the fountain in Christ Church’s Tom Quad.

It was the administrators of Scone College--the Junior Dean (Mr Sniggs) and the Domestic Bursar (Mr Postlethwaite)--rather than the teaching staff who were eagerly anticipating the collection of fines to compensate for the wreckage left behind by the Bollinger Club. But perhaps bursars and junior deans are also considered "dons". 

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail has profiled one of the actors in the upcoming BBC production of Decline and Fall. This is Katherine Kingsley who "plays game-huntress Pamela Popham." She has also been cast to play Dusty Springfield in a West End musical based on the singer's career planned to open next year.

 

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Waugh Quoted in Bruising Battle of Cardinals

A story in Catholic World Review by Edward Peters, described elsewhere as a Canon Law expert, opens with a quote from Brideshead Revisited to describe a doctrinal dispute between two Vatican officials:

Evelyn Waugh’s character Charles Ryder described his friend Sebastian’s protracted acts of self-destruction as “a blow, expected, repeated, falling upon a bruise, with no smart or shock of surprise, only a dull and sickening pain and the doubt whether another like it could be borne” (Brideshead Revisited, 1945) . I thought of Waugh’s words as I read... some excerpts translated from Francesco Cdl. Coccopalmerio’s new, short book on Pope Francis’ Amoris laetitia.

Cardinal Coccopalmerio's book reportedly takes an expansive position on the Pope's pronouncement. Another related article on LifeSite News requotes Waugh from the CWR article. Both articles see as opposing Coccopalmerio's position another high-ranking Vatican cleric, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, who is prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. 

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Anti-Valentine to EW from KQED

On the latest episode of The Cooler, the weekly pop-culture podcast on KQED, the theme is Valentine's Day and opens with an extended discussion of celebrity couple break-ups.  From this the commentators segue into a discussion of a letter from Evelyn Waugh to his wife which they find particularly mean spirited. This begins at the 15:30 minute point on the Sound Cloud audio clip if you want to skip the rather tedious celebrity break-up discussion. The text of most of the first paragraph of the letter dated 7 January 1945 concluding with the sentence "Do grasp that" is read out on the air (Letters, p. 195). The full text together with this summary appears on the KQED website

It starts off promisingly enough with a cute nickname — sweet whiskers! — but quickly devolves into documenting just how very boring and disappointing he thinks his wife is. The letter ends with a condescending catchphrase perfectly suited for a reality TV villain. ‘Do grasp that’? Do grasp this drink in your face, Evelyn.

There follows a bullet point recitation, said to be based on research from Wikipedia, of the reasons you don't want to receive a Valentine from Evelyn Waugh. This starts with his mean-spirited nastiness and proceeds through charges that he was a defender of the class system, racist, Fascist, anti-Semite (probably included within racism but for avoidance of doubt mentioned separately) and concludes with equal opportunity bigot. The list was prepared by presenter Emmanuel Hapsis and is also reproduced on the KQED website which is headed by a photo of Waugh surrounded by colorful bits of Valentine candy decorated with nastygrams. The audio moves on to other topics but adopts "Do grasp that !" as a consistent catch phrase through to its conclusion. This is from the Public Radio outlet in San Francisco, in the unlikely event any of our readers feel like sending in a donation. On the other hand, there is no such thing as bad publicity in book publishing, which is something Waugh well understood when he developed the nasty public persona which has attracted so much attention from the media over the years.

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News Bomb

As the concern over fake news spreads, an online newspaper in Chile has joined others in recommending Waugh's Scoop. See earlier posts. This appears in a column "VerComeryLeer [SeeEatRead]" by Miguel Ortiz in the digital journal El Definido:

We are being bombarded, permanently, by information. We get news on Facebook, Twitter, the TV, the newspapers ... and this has included fake news, which unfortunately quickly goes viral. In that context it is very illuminating to read one of the funniest novels by the British writer Evelyn Waugh: News bomb! (Scoop)...Published in 1938 this novel is a satire of tabloid journalism and correspondents abroad. To write it, Waugh relied on his own experience as a journalist for the Daily Mail, when he was sent to cover the invasion of Abyssinia by Benito Mussolini...The protagonist's journey becomes something surreal, because the other war correspondents are drinking, the alleged war does not exist, and journalists invent information for the sole purpose of "scoring a hit" [“golpear” ?] and influencing public opinion.

A privileged pen, to laugh with the best English humor. (And if you like the author and want to read something more serious: Brideshead Revisited ["Retorno a Brideshead"], a jewel).

 The Spanish version of Scoop recommended in the article is entitled ¡Noticia bomba! Una novela de periodistas. According to Carlos Villar Flor, the version under this title was first published in Barcelona in 1985 and was translated by Antonio Mauri. An earlier version translated by Horacio Laurora as Primicia was published in 1947 in Buenos Aires.  See EWNS 42.1 (2011). The translation from the article is an edited version of Google Translate.

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Waugh Watering Hole Rescued by Villagers

The Abingdon Arms in the Oxfordshire village of Beckley has been rescued by the efforts of the villagers. They have taken ownership and, according to the Oxford Times, will soon have the pub reopened for business:

The Abingdon Arms is a beautiful 17-century pub right in the heart of Beckley, with fantastic views over Otmoor, the local RSPB reserve, and has been frequented by some literary greats. Evelyn Waugh famously drowned his sorrows at the pub on hearing that he’d got a third in his Oxford finals and the view from the pub across the chequered fields of Otmoor inspired Lewis Carroll’s giant chessboard in Alice through the Looking Glass.

Waugh began to visit the pub during his undergraduate days and at one time shared with Alastair Graham the rental of a caravan  on the grounds of the pub. According to Martin Stannard, the pub was much more than a place for Waugh to drown his sorrows. It was the venue for a nine-day honeymoon after his first marriage. He also used it as a refuge for his writing and composed portions of Rossetti, Vile Bodies and Remote People on its premises. According to the Oxford Mail, the village's acquisition of the pub has been finalized, and they are now looking for a tenant.

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Waugh in the News

Several papers have alluded to Evelyn Waugh or his works in recent stories:

The Irish Times has an article in its "London Letter" column inspired by an interview with David Hockney in which the artist expressed his acquiescence in if not outrught support for the recent Brexit vote. The story goes on to consider what positions other artists might have taken:

If England’s living writers show little sympathy for the spirit of Brexit Britain, there may be richer pickings for Brexiteers amongst the dead. The two paramount curmudgeons of late 20th-century English letters, Kingsley Amis and John Osborne, would have voted Leave with bad-tempered relish. And Evelyn Waugh, who once complained that the Conservative Party had “never put the clock back a single second”, would have been irresistibly drawn by the nostalgia of Brexit.

Other English Catholic writers are more problematic, although Graham Greene, an anti-imperialist who lived in France for the latter half of his life, would have been a firm Remainer. Hilaire Belloc was half-French, but his anti-Semitism made him suspicious of all transnational projects that were not dominated by the Catholic Church...GK Chesterton shared Belloc’s preoccupation with the Jews. His Short History of England, published during the first World War, is imbued with English nationalism. Still, it locates English history firmly within the story of western Christendom and European politics, quoting with approval Rudyard Kipling’s rhetorical question “what should they know of England who only England know?”

The Daily Telegraph in a compendium of 100 jokes about love, sex and marriage (possibly with a view to the upcoming observance of St Valentine's Day) includes this one from Waugh (which appears in his novel Vile Bodies) :

All this fuss about sleeping together. I'd sooner go to the dentist any day.

The Guardian in a review of a film entitled Final Portrait by Stanley Tucci makes a Waugh connection. The film is about artist Alberto Giacometti's obsession with an American art critic James Lord whom he invited to his studio to pose but then kept him there for an extended pleading inability to complete the portrait:

His subject, though delighted and flattered by the honour, is forced to make a series of ruinously expensive flight cancellations. Complaining would of course be unthinkable ingratitude and discourtesy. He begins to fear he will be there for ever, like Tony Last in Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust reading Dickens to the jungle madman. For some reason, Giacometti likes having him around as ally and witness to all the tensions in his life: perhaps focusing on Lord’s youth is a way of indefinitely deferring death. Lord has to figure out a way of persuading Giacometti to stop painting. A strange bond develops between the men, something between friendship and duel.

Finally, the following item, along with a film clip, appears in the Gay Times compilation of  "14 unforgettable same-sex kisses" from the movies:

Brideshead Revisited – Ben Whishaw and Matthew Goode

This big screen adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited tells the story of Charles Ryder and his infatuation with Lord Sebastian Flyte, their wealthy family and ancestral home, Brideshead. It caused controversy online, with some suggesting the friendship between the pair has become distorted – no doubt their concerns with the movie became stronger when its star Ben Whishaw shared an intimate kiss on screen.

UPDATE (16 February 2017): A similar selection of "same-sex kisses" as that appearing in Gay Times has been published in the German-language Bild newspaper under a byline for Tobias Perlick. This is limited to 10 scenes. While it also makes some substitutions for the Gay Times selections, Brideshead Revisited (2008) survives and is now at the top of the list.  

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In the Beginning was the Waugh

Journalists and bloggers are making a practice of opening stories with quotes from or cites to the works of Evelyn Waugh. Here are two notable recent examples:

The Guardian in a story about today's match between England and Wales in the Six Nations rugby football competition opens with this:

There is a tongue-in-cheek line in Evelyn Waugh’s 1928 novel Decline and Fall – “We can trace almost all the disasters of English history to the influence of Wales” – that resonates on weekends like this. England have played international rugby across the Severn since 1882 yet there is never a year, even now, when they approach the bridge toll booths whistling the carefree tune of the entirely relaxed.

The England supporters needn't have worried. The final score was England 21 Wales 16.

A blogger (James Wimberley) on the website A Reality-Based Community posts an article entitled "A Letter from Parsnip." It begins with a quote from another Parsnip:

"I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street…"

This is the opening line of Auden’s fine poem on the outbreak of the Second World War. A year later, Evelyn Waugh memorably pilloried Auden and Isherwood in his satire Put Out More Flags, as the poets Parsnip and Pimpernel bravely opposing fascism from New York. He had a point. In the summer of 1940, petit-bourgeois Kentish shopkeepers and lumpenproletariat middle-aged farm labourers were joining the Home Guard, Dad’s Army, in order to fight invading Panzers and Brandenburgers, a battle in which they would have got themselves killed. Every wargamed rerun of Operation Sea Lion confirms the wisdom of Hitler’s decision to cancel the invasion, but the shopkeepers didn’t know that at the time. My excuse for Parsnippery is that I’m not American and don’t live in the USA, so I’m not running from anything. It would still be rather unseemly to egg on others to take personal and career risks from a safe vantage point in Spain...

The blogger seems to be at a safe distance from the current controversial efforts of the Trump regime to establish a government in the US but is defending the right of himself and others similarly situated to register their opposition.

Elsewhere on the internet, there is a favorable review of Stephen Fry's 2004 adaptation of Vile Bodies, retitled Bright Young Things,  and, in Time Out, a recommendation for the 1960s adaptation of Waugh's Decline and Fall, released as Decline and Fall of a Birdwatcher, as well as, for the 1948 novella The Loved One, a review of both the book and the film.

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