Praise for Decline and Fall Series Spreads Beyond the UK

There are several articles coming in from outside the UK where the BBC's TV adaptation of Waugh's Decline and Fall premiered a few weeks ago. A French TV website (Telerama) includes the series in a collection of its reviews of recent UK TV productions:

... this adaptation of the work of Evelyn Waugh (1928), in three episodes, is absolutely delicious. There is Hergé in the "tintinque" peregrinations, obsolete and sparkling, of that innocent Pennyfeather, a witness undergoing a full blow of the decay of the manners of his time ... Decline and Fall, with its fantastic gallery of characters, its varied humorous palette (grotesque gags, subtle jocularity, satirical dialogues) and its authentic grain of madness, accentuates the angles of a world that does not turn round. ... Irresistible ! [Goggle Translate]

A San Antonio (Texas) based news website (MySanAntonio.com) reports on the series in anticipation of TV streaming for US audiences on Acorn TV starting on 15 May ("a subscriber site for British television ... acorn.tv, offers a free trial and thereafter costs $4.99 a month"). The website is most interested in the role of Margot Beste-Chetwynde played by Eva Longoria, described as "San Antonio's adopted A-Lister":

If you’re wondering if Longoria speaks with a British accent here, the answer is no. As we soon learn, her character is American — from California, although her parents hail from Venezuela. Margot moved to Britain when she married a man from Winchester; she became a widow when her son was 9 ....The entire cast is superb ...  Corpus Christi-born Longoria, in particular, is a kick in this departure from her norm, spouting some of the best lines. One of my favorites? When his new love insists that Paul not return to teaching in Wales, he ponders other professions. “Journalism?” he suggests. “No, no, no,” Margot responds, “we’ll find you a proper job.”

 In the novel Waugh described Margo as simply "South American" to link her with her family's business, the Latin American Entertaniment Co.

Finally, in India, the news and entertainment website Scroll.in has posted a (mostly) favorable review of the series:

In adapting a comic novel for film or television, there is the danger that the wit on the page will come across as stilted or, worse, inappropriate on the screen. Gladly, the new BBC adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s 1928 novel Decline and Fall does not suffer this malaise. Over three episodes, director Guillen Morales, working with a screenplay by James Wood, transforms Waugh’s nifty saga into a curious mix of humour and caution.

...Decline and Fall fumbles somewhat [in Episode 3], as it tries to paint Pennyfeather as a tragic hero [after his trial and imprisonment] ... Pennyfeather’s final rescue is midwifed by Dr Fagan. Meanwhile, the jaunty Margot makes an unfortunate exit. Is she villainous or vacuous? Waugh left that question unanswered, and the series sticks to this lack of resolution. For all its successes, Decline and Fall worked better in Waugh’s hands, who sprinkled what is essentially a morality tale with generous doses of irony. Adapted to the screen, the series switches rather abruptly from really good comedy to something far harder to place.

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Waugh and George Steer (More)

The Spanish newspaper El Mundo has published a feature length story on British correspondent George Steer to mark the 80th anniversary of the attack on Guernica in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. Steer, reporting for The Times, is credited with having been the first to report German involvement in the attack, and his "scoop" is described in El Mundo:

On April 26 he got a car to travel to Marquina. He passed through Guernica and, shortly, crossed with a Heinkel 51 at the height [a la altura ?] of Arbácegui and Guerricaiz. He had to jump into the gutter, machine-gunned. He returned to Bilbao and, at night, learned of the disaster. In the event, he returned to Guernica to build his famous chronicle. The impact of his work is known. More interesting is the story of his failure. German propaganda, despite its obvious contradictions, managed to sell its version. Even the Times stung [picaron?]. That is why Steer dissociated himself from the newspaper and, little by little, began to say goodbye to journalism.

Waugh had known Steer earlier in Abyssinia where he was also reporting the invasion by Italy for The Times. According to El Mundo:

In Ethiopia, the pilot episode of World War was filmed and The Times hired Steer to write from the court of Haile Selassie I, besieged by fascist Italy. There was also Evelyn Waugh, correspondent of the Daily Mail, who left a couple of novels about that war: Black Snack [i.e., Black Mischief] and Bomb News [i.e., Scoop]. Those who once laughed at the evils of these stories will feel uncomfortable if they ask. The Ethiopian war was not a comedy, it was a tragedy. And Steer became so involved in the Ethiopian cause that he ended up on the blacklist of the Italians.

Steer is said to have contributed to the character of Pappenhacker in Scoop and his actions are also described in Waugh in Abyssinia. The El Mundo article describes Steer as 

... small, red-haired and mustachioed and, if anything, he looked like Chaplin. He was hyperactive and quarrelsome, heavy as a meat pie and innocent in the most blessed sense of the word, always looking for just causes to make them his own. Evelyn Waugh mocked him for his eagerness.

That's not that far off the description of Pappenhacker in Scoop:

...young and swarthy wth great horn goggles and a receding stubbly chin. He was having an altercation with some waiters... "He seems to be in a very bad temper." "Not really: He's always like that to waiters." ...  (Penguin, 2012, p. 41)

In Waugh in Abyssinia, he is described as "zealous", and in a later book review, Waugh remarked upon a "devotion to duty even at the expense of personal dignity and competitive zeal that was notable" even among the notorious "rough and tumble" of the international press corps. See previous post.

The translation is by Google Translate with a few edits and questions in brackets on which readers are invited to comment or propose improvements.

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Decline and Fall and British Humour

Writing in Standpoint magazine ("War on Waugh"), Waugh's great grand-daughter Constance Watson expresses dismay at the reaction to the BBC's adaptation of Decline and Fall which recently concluded its three-episode run on BBC One (emphasis supplied):

The great British sense of humour — once renowned for its unwavering ability to identify and mock the absurd, its unparalleled propensity to ridicule the institutions upon which our society is built — is dying. ... This tragic turn of events has been brewing for a while. ... so it is with particular interest that I witnessed the barrage of condemnation that swirled across cyberspace following the broadcast of the first episode [of the BBC's Decline and Fall]. Waugh was denounced as a racist, a snob, an anti-Semite and — less imaginatively — a conservative. And it wasn’t just the puritans on social media that leapt to vilify him. Alex Larman went further: “Waugh’s depiction of  1920s high society means very little to modern readers.”

Can it be so? ... [Waugh's] shrewd ability to capture the eccentricities of human conduct despite the 90 years that separates his fiction and our reality should serve to remind us of our infinite absurdities. So let us remember that: we are all ridiculous. And let’s keep laughing — before it’s too late, and we forget how to. 

Ms Watson must be referring largely to comments on social media rather than the print and broadcast media. The papers and weeklies were almost uniformly positive.  The only totally negative journal was Radio Times. The New Statesman published a critical review by Rachel Cooke but followed with a SRSLY podcast which was more favorable.  The TLS published a mixed review by an Oxford Eng Lit professor, but he was more concerned that the BBC had over-explained the humour and felt it would have been preferable to take the text as written. The other papers (including the broadsheets, weeklies and tabloids) and literary weblogs were more positive than not and several published multiple reviews. That was also the case with the Guardian and Observer--they had multiple favorable reviews and a critical editorial. See previous posts. Your correspondent missed the Guardian article cited by Watson, but it was not a review--more of a reconsideration of the novel, published on 20 March 2008, before the TV series had been conceived. Here's a link. Watson has taken Alex Larman's article out of context, and it deserves a fuller consideration (emphasis supplied):

...It is ... true that after Decline and Fall, Waugh never wrote anything so uncomplicatedly funny again. ... Along with Lucky Jim and A Confederacy Of Dunces, Decline And Fall is surely one of the greatest debut comic novels of the last century. ... One of the reasons why the book possibly isn't as popular today as it has been is that it can be argued that Waugh's depiction of a world of 20s high society means very little to modern readers, and that the arch dialogue and authorial commentary make it difficult to care about any of the characters. This seems an unfair criticism. ...

It's possible another reason that the book isn't as appreciated as it should be is that it has never been adapted for TV; the only version of it is an appalling film that has never been released on DVD. ... It's possible to imagine it working brilliantly with a younger David Tennant as Pennyfeather, Stephen Fry as Dr Fagan and someone very short "of about thirty, with a short red moustache, and slightly bald" to play Grimes. I quite like the idea of Toby Jones, who already proved in Infamous how skilled he was at portraying undesirable literary figures.

That's hardly vilification. And Larman leaves it open to consider that the BBC's adaptation, while not following his own casting prescriptions, may contribute something toward rehabilitating Waugh's reputation among the "modern readers" to whom he refers. One wonders how many of the social media commenters on whom Watson apparently relies for her "barrage of condemnation" read anything much longer than a Twitter post. Tip of the hat once again to David Lull for sending us a link.

UPDATE (30 April 2017): In rereading the Alex Larman article in the Guardian for another purpose, I noticed that it was dated 20 March 2008, long before the BBC TV series had even been mooted. My renewed interest in the article was based on the fact that Larman thought Margot Beste-Chetwynde's name would be pronounced "Beast Chained" rather than "Beest Cheating", as in the BBC's adaptation. The Guardian's search engine has a habit of resurrecting stories with renewed relevance from long past editions but without any warning that they are from the past.

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Cousin Jasper's Advice

Rosamund Urwin in the Evening Standard has written an article about degree results. She opens with this:

In Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited, the protagonist Charles Ryder receives advice from his cousin Jasper before starting his Oxford degree. “You want a first or a fourth,” he says. “Time spent on a good second is time thrown away.” I’d long thought this view as dated as those degree classifications. Surely a 2.1 ... is a green light to employers? It reassures them that you hadn’t spent three years as a library hermit... That’s no longer true. This week, figures showed that among recent grads, a first wins you a £2,500 bonus. I imagine this shift reflects student ambition rather than employers’ desires: the smart kids don’t want to pile up debt just to while away time in Wetherspoons. And given how obsessed many of those who went to university are with the result, this seems wise...

So, Cousin Jasper is redeemed.

A reference to Waugh also opens another article. This is by K E Colombini in The American Conservative and is entitled "The Literature of Angels and Demons". 

Tucked away as a footnote in Philip Eade’s recent biography of Evelyn Waugh lies an interesting observation comparing Waugh to another contemporary novelist, Graham Greene: Lady Diana Cooper, a friend of both the British authors, commented in a letter to her son that Greene was “a good man possessed of a devil,” and Waugh “a bad man for whom an angel is struggling.”...Lady Diana’s comparison of Waugh and Greene strikes at the heart of good literature ... One can easily analyze the major serious works of these two novelists to find countless examples of people struggling between their personal angels and demons...

The article continues with a discussion comparing Brideshead Revisited and Greene's The Power and the Glory and extending to the recent films Silence and The Young Pope and the poetry of T S Eliot.

In the weblog Literary Hub, an article appears that collects references to books that inspired writers to write. Here is the entry for South African novelist Nadine Gordimer:

Q. Perhaps the isolation of your childhood helped you to become a writer—because of all the time it left you for reading—lonely though it must have been.

A. Yes… perhaps I would have become a writer anyway. I was doing a bit of writing before I got “ill.” I wanted to be a journalist as well as a dancer. You know what made me want to become a journalist? Reading Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop when I was about eleven. Enough to make anybody want to be a journalist! I absolutely adored it...

Finally, Lord Fowler, The Lord Speaker, in another reference to Scoop opened an address to the London Press Awards 2017 with this:

'Looking back I think there is a tendency these days to think of the sixties as the golden age of newspapers. But as that splendid figure in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop was apt to say to his proprietor – "Up to a point Lord Copper". The truth is that the newspapers of today are better informed, better written, infinitely better laid out, and altogether better value for the reader than they have ever been. They not only hold officialdom to account they also campaign much more vigorously than ever before on issues which are of undoubted public concern but can get swept under the carpet...

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Mugwump Redivivus

In the present UK electoral climate, The Spectator has republished a 1959 article by Evelyn Waugh in which he expressed his views of elected governments: 

‘Mugwumps‘ are in the news today, after Boris Johnson used the term to describe Jeremy Corbyn. In the 2 October 1959 issue of The Spectator, Evelyn Waugh also used the term, when he wrote a piece entitled ‘Aspirations of a Mugwump.’ 

In another article in The Spectator, Dr David Butterfield of Queens' College, Cambridge, thinks Boris misapplied the term:

Trust Boris to dominate the headlines by reopening that most famous of books, Johnson’s Dictionary. Writing in the Sun, our effortlessly provocative Foreign Secretary swiped at Jeremy Corbyn with this colourful barb: ‘He may be a mutton-headed old mugwump, but he is probably harmless.’ ... In fact, there’s more to being a ‘mugwump’ than a throw-away jibe. The word comes from the original New Englanders, the Algonquins, for whom mugquomp meant ‘great chief’. It was a term of respect laden with connotations of nobility. But that presumably wasn’t what Boris had in mind. ... the term ‘mugwump’ came to be associated with a group of Republicans who switched party affiliation in order to support the rival Democrat candidate. ...Who were these Mugwumps, then? They were very firmly members of the establishment – high-class and high-society big beasts. They formed the traditional business elite, and saw themselves as figures of social and intellectual importance. ...Boris Johnson is a man who can cut a phrase into a lapidary weapon with the very best of them... But I’m not yet sold on this one. Some may make a case for Corbyn being other things: a mugger (gurner), a muggletonian (a devotee of an obscure and misguided cult), muggins (fool), or just a mug (a hirsute-faced sheep). But here we are. For better or worse, mugwump – that plodding, doltish spondee – may well stay stuck to Corbyn.

From this disquisition on the term, it would appear that it was correctly applied to Waugh by whoever devised the title for his 1959 article. That article was published in The Spectator as part of a "symposium of election comments." Essays, Articles and Reviews, p. 537; A Little Order, p. 139.

Waugh also appears in another Spectator article: "Debate: Is boarding school cruel?". This has Alex Renton, who recently wrote a book on the history of British boarding schools: Stiff Upper Lip and Lara Prendergast, online editor of The Spectator taking opposite sides. Renton argues the affirmative (that they are cruel) and Prendergast, the negative (missing the opportunity to point out that a fictional namesake would probably have been on Renton's side; although, maybe not--Prendy thought boarding schools and their students were cruel to underpaid and persecuted masters, but not necessarily the reverse). Her statement, in any event, implicates Waugh:

Literature does a good job of reinforcing the sense that boarding schools are ruthless places that churn out dysfunctional characters. Alex's book is no exception. He has extrapolated from his own experiences, and found contemporary sources who confirm them. Boarding school is terrible for children, they say, supported by quotes from authors such as Dickens, Kipling and Evelyn Waugh. Alex paints a hellish picture. It's just not one that I recognise.

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Leicester City, The Novel and Evelyn Waugh

BBC Radio 4 is repeating a December series by Simon Barnes entitled Everything You Think About Sport is Wrong. Episode 4 is called "The Novel" and explains how sport is like this literary form. Both tell a story and can spread the tale over several matches or volumes or in a single sitting. They can be epic stories like Vince Lombardi and tales with profoundly flawed heroes like Oscar Pistorius. Both forms have seven basic plots outlined by Christopher Booker: the quest, overcoming monsters, rags-to-riches, voyage and return, high comedy, rebirth and tragedy. The 2016 story of Leicester City Football Club and the Premier League title invokes most of these plots over a long series of novels (a roman fleuve of sport). Barnes concludes with a list of the novels brought to mind by Leicester's pursuit of the title: Cinderella, King Arthur, My Fair Lady, Clark Kent emerging from the phone booth, the Spectacle Girl learning she was beautiful, The Ugly Duckling, Brideshead Revisited and Lucky Jim.

The link of the Leicester City story to most of these novels is fairly obvious but that to Brideshead, less so. Readers are invited to comment below if they see the connection. Thanks to reader Milena Borden for spotting this reference. 

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BBC to Rebroadcast Pinfold-Producing Interview

The BBC radio interview which contributed to Evelyn Waugh's hallucinatory episodes described in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold will be rebroadcast later this week. This episode of the Frankly Speaking series will be carried on BBC Radio 4 Extra on Saturday, 29 April 2017 at 14:15 UK time and will be available online thereafter on BBC iPlayer. Here are the BBC's background notes:

... Evelyn Waugh is grilled about his life and career by Charles Wilmot, Jack Davies and Stephen Black. Regarded as one of the most brilliant novelists of his day, Waugh loathed the BBC. His grandson Alexander believes that this interview, along with a cocktail of sleeping draughts, helped to send him "rather mad". The author later turned his experience on Frankly Speaking into a scene in his novel The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold with Stephen Black becoming the character Angel who haunts Pinfold in his hallucinations.

Launched in 1952 on the BBC Home Service, Frankly Speaking was a novel, ground breaking series. Unrehearsed and unscripted, the traditional interviewee/interviewer pairing was initially jettisoned for three interviewers firing direct questions - straight to the point. Early critics described it as 'unkempt', 'an inquisition' and described the guest as prey being cornered, quarry being pursued - with calls to axe the unscripted interview. But the format won out and eventually won over its detractors.

Unknown or very inexperienced broadcasters were employed as interviewers, notably John Freeman, John Betjeman, Malcolm Muggeridge, Harold Hobson, Penelope Mortimer, Elizabeth Beresford and Katherine Whitehorn. Only about 40 of the original 100 programmes survive.

According to Martin Stannard, the original broadcast took place on 16 November 1953. There is a more detailed description of the events leading up to the interview and its repercussions in Stannard's The Later Years, pp. 333-38.

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Philip Sassoon, The Duke of Kent and the Sitwells

Waugh crops up in a number of articles about the upper class in the interwar period. In  Spear's magazine, editor William Cash reviews a book by Damian Collins, MP for Folkestone and Hythe. This is a biography of Philip Sassoon entitled Charmed Life, the Phenomenal World of Sir Philip Sassoon which has just appeared in paperbackSassoon had a house at Port Lympne in the Folkestone and Hythe district and was also for a time a predecessor of Collins as its Member of Parliament. After a background of Sassoon's family and his early history, Cash reaches the topic of his social climbing, a subject close to Evelyn Waugh's heart:

To be honest there is quite a lot that is not to like about Sassoon’s almost compulsive-obsessive collecting of celebrities and politicians, socialites and artists. He didn’t just have an upwardly mobile party flitting nature. He gave dinners and lunches for prime ministers as a form of social and political pimping. ...  But Collins manages to make Sassoon emerge as an all too human if hugely enigmatic man whose Jewish background and social, aesthetic and sexual complexities (he was discreetly gay) all make him such an unlikely figure to ‘epitomise’ (in the words of fellow MP Bob Boothby) ‘the sheer enjoyment’ of the decade 1925-1935, with life at Port Lympne, the exotic fantasy country house he had decorated by Rex Whistler, being one of ‘endless gaiety and enjoyment’.

Collins's book, according to Cash, illustrates how Sassoon used his skills to charm his way into the top reaches of the society of the times. Cash concludes:

Yet like him or loathe him, Sassoon gave the parties and political ‘Cabinet lunches’ that tout London- from Diana Cooper to Churchill – wanted to be invited to. ... That was why Evelyn Waugh described ‘charm’ as one of the deadliest of English social sins. The English ‘disease’ no less, as the exotic old Etonian Anthony Blanche says to Charles Ryder in Brideshead. In many ways the gay socialite aesthete Blanche and Sassoon have much in common, including a taste for expensive suits tailored in the New York style. ... Noel Coward called Sassoon ‘a phenomenon that would never recur’. Although I dare say I would not have had the moral or social courage to have tuned down his engraved At Home invitations, I do hope Coward is right.

The Scottish Daily Mail has run an article by John McLeod about the Duke of Kent, who was a younger brother of George VI but was a bit more of a social animal than his older brother, perhaps a bit more like his eldest brother who became the Duke of Windsor. He died in a plane crash in Scotland in 1942 while serving in the Navy. According to the Mail's story, he sounds like he was also a notable charmer, perhaps in a league with Philip Sassoon, only with a better pedigree:

...gorgeous to both men and women, and he knew it. He was highly intelligent, sophisticated. a keen collector of beautiful things--only the second royal boy to attend a proper school [Eton College] and the first to hold a proper professional job. Indeed, at the darkest hour of the Abdication crisis a reeling Government seriously considered installing him on the throne--and (disguised as the Duke of Clarence) Kent even had a walk on cameo in Evelyn Waugh's sublime novel, Brideshead Revisited.

In Waugh's novel, the Duke and his wife appear at the exhibition of Charles Ryder's Latin American paintings arranged by his wife Celia. This is described in Chapter 2 of Book 3 in the 1960 edition:

Presently there was a slight hush and edging away which which follows the entry of a royal party. I saw my wife curtsey and heard her say: 'Oh, sir, you are sweet'; then I was led into the clearing and the Duke of Clarence said,: 'Pretty hot out there I should think.' 

'It was, sir.'

'Awfully clever the way you've hit off the impression of heat. Makes me feel quite uncomfortable in my greacoat,'

'Ha, ha.' (Penguin 1962, p. 254)

Prof Paul Doyle also comments that Kent would have been one of the "young princes" in Book 2, Chapter 2 of the novel whom Julia was ineligible to marry.

Finally, Renishaw Hall, the home of the Sitwell family, has announced the offering of  curated Literary Hall Tours of the property. Waugh was one of several artists of his generation who were taken up by the Sitwells and enjoyed visits to the estate. Among those mentioned in the announcement in addition to Waugh are writers Wilfred Owen, T.S Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Aldous Huxley D.H. Lawrence and painters Rex Whistler and John Piper. The Sitwells were also artists in their own right: Edith Sitwell established herself as a poet on an international scale, her brother Osbert was the writer of his brilliant memoir, Left hand! Right Hand!, describing his Renishaw childhood, while her youngest sibling, Sacheverell, become one of the great writers of the time on art and architecture. 

The tours begin on 28 May and continue at the rate of one per month thereafter through September. They can be booked at this link.

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Complete Works of Waugh Available in USA

Amazon.com is offering for sale in the USA the first five volumes in the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh to be published by Oxford University Press. The dates of publication and US dollar prices are set forth below. For more details about the contents, see previous post:

Volume 2 Vile Bodies, edited by Martin Stannard, 14 November 2017,  $85.00

Vol 16 Rossetti: His Life and Work, edited by Michael G. Brennan, 14 November 2017, $110.00

Volume 19 A Little Learning, edited by John Howard Wilson and Barbara Cooke, 21 November 2017, $85.00

Volume 26 Essays, Articles and Reviews 1922-34, edited by Donat Gallagher, 14 November 2017, $130.00

Volume 30 Personal Writings 1903-1921: Precious Waughs, edited by Alexander Waugh, and Alan Bell, 14 November 2017,  $85.00

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OUP Announces Dates for First Complete Works Volumes

The Oxford University Press on its website has announced the publication of the first volumes in the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project. There are five books in this initial batch which will begin to appear on 7 September 2017 with Rossetti: His Life and Work, Waugh's first book and Volume. 16 of the CWW series. On 14 September 2017 four more volumes will be published. Here are the details from the OUP website:

Vol 16 Rossetti: His Life and Work, edited by Michael G. Brennan (7 Sept; includes a detailed biographical appendix with information about all of the paintings and other works of art referred to in Waugh's biography as well as critical notes allowing readers to track the development of the book through drafts from manuscript stage to publication and beyond) £85.00

Volume 2 Vile Bodies, edited by Martin Stannard (14 Sept; includes previously unpublished material and critical notes allowing readers to track the development of the book through drafts from manuscript stage to publication and beyond as well as illustrations of manuscript, cover, and other artwork by Waugh from this period) £65.00

Volume 19 A Little Learning, edited by John Howard Wilson and Barbara Cooke (14 Sept; includes all interviews of Waugh and all known fragments of A Little Hope which was to have been the sequel to this book as well as critical notes allowing readers to track the development of the book through drafts from manuscript stage to publication and beyond) £65.00

Volume 26 Essays, Articles and Reviews 1922-34, edited by Donat Gallagher (14 Sept) £100.00

Volume 30 Personal Writings 1903-1921: Precious Waughs, edited by Alexander Waugh, and Alan Bell (Sept 14; includes many of Waugh's early letters and diary entries published for the first time) £65.00

All volumes are critical editions and will include introductions and full contextual notes, introducing the reader to the literary, social, and biographical context of each book. Where appropriate relevant illustrations and photographs will also be included. 

According to Amazon.com, US publication dates are 14 November 2017 for all volumes except A Little Learning which will be November 21. For details of US publication, see subsequent post. The books are available from Amazon.co.uk which lists 1 September 2017 as the UK publication for all volumes.

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