Death Announced of Wodehouse Society Founder

Lt-Col Norman Murphy, who founded the British branch of the P G Wodehouse Society, has died at the age of 83. According to the Telegraph, Murphy was

a literary sleuth whose researches over four decades showed that Wodehouse’s 98 comic novels were not solely the fruit of his romantic imagination, as claimed by Evelyn Waugh and others; they were based on real people, places and incidents...Tracing his way through a cocktail of fact and fiction Murphy showed that the innocent Bertie Wooster was a mixture of the steeplechase jockey Lord Mildmay of Flete and the actor George Grossmith; that Lord Emsworth was the probably the pig-loving 6th Earl of Dartmouth; and the scapegrace Ukridge an amalgam of two schoolfriends at Dulwich and a sponger who ran a chicken farm.

Unrelated to his Wodehouse researches, Murphy once made a note of  "the cameo appearance of the 17th Duke of Norfolk as a gardener sweeping leaves in the film of Waugh’s A Handful of Dust."

The obituary in the Times makes a similar observation:

Establishing himself as the foremost Wodehousian sleuth, Murphy disproved claims by Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell that the settings of Pelham Grenville’s novels were fictional. Murphy insisted that the whimsical world of loveable, aristocratic reprobates actually existed and proceeded to prove it by revealing the real-life name and location of practically every Wodehouse character and scene. “They are all based on fact, he just made it funnier,” he said...His sleuthing yielded instant results. Blandings Castle, for example, was revealed to be Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire, the resting place of Katherine Parr. Blandings’ gardens were based on Weston Park in Shropshire, of which he said: “There are no other places in England with the lake, the terraces, the Greek temple, the pond and the kitchen garden, the cottage in the wood laid out exactly as he described it.”

After founding the British outpost of the Wodehouse Society in 1997, Murphy married the president of the American branch four years later. The wedding took place, appropriately enough, on Long Island.

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A Tiger's Dinner

An auction house in London has on offer a letter from Evelyn Waugh dated 4 December 1964 to Peter Luke, playwright and journalist. In it, Waugh apologizes for having written in A Little Learning that Luke's grandfather, who was the father of Waugh's school friend at Lancing, Rupert Fremlin, "had been eaten by a tiger in India." Luke complained to the Sunday Times about this error, and they passed his letter along to Waugh. Rupert Fremlin (Luke's father) was described by Waugh in A Little Learning (London, 1964, p. 126) as a 

delightful, mercurial fellow...His alternations of exhuberance and depression--'Fremlin's "states"'--later became settled in melancholy. He was with us at university and died very young in West Africa.

When Luke explained that his grandfather died of natural causes, Waugh wrote in apology  that he

had memories (no doubt inaccurate) of Rupert telling us of a more dramatic ending which, again inaccurately, I thought your grandmother confirmed. In any case it seemed to us then a glorious death and it was in no spirit of ridicule that I recorded it. 

In his letter, Waugh explained that it was too late to change the text of the first edition but that future editions would be corrected. In fact, the 1973 edition (published after Waugh's death) states that Rupert's father was "wrongly believed to have been eaten by a tiger" (p. 123). The letter is Lot 66 in Forum Auction's current catalogue. The cataloguer erroneously describes the tiger's misremembered meal as Lukes's father, rather than his grandfather.


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Great Parties and Rock Concerts in Literature

A non-profit organization called Electric Literature, which supports writers and promotes literature, is holding its 2nd annual Genre Ball next week in New York City. In a promotional posting, they name what they deem to be the 11 greatest parties in literature. Among those are the parties in Waugh's novel Vile Bodies which are attended by the Bright Young People and summarized by Adam Fenwick-Syme in the much-quoted paragraph that begins: “Masked parties, Savage parties, Victorian parties...etc." Some of the other literary parties on the list include those in The Great Gatsby, The Bonfire of the Vanities, Less Than Zero and The Sun Also Rises

On America's other coast, another event next week will have a Waugh connection. Two Willamette Valley rock bands have scheduled a joint performance in Salem, Oregon, on October 28 to mark Evelyn Waugh's birthday. The bands, based in Salem, are Buttfrenchers and Face Transplant. The Salem Weekly News has announced the event, and details are available there. Aside from the coincidence of Waugh's birthday falling on the date assigned for their gig, there is nothing to explain why the bands have made this connection.

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Henry Green (More)

There has been more activity on the internet relating to the Henry Green revival. See earlier post. A blogger posting on has written a three-part article with illustrations that surveys most of Green's books. He makes an interesting comparison with one of Waugh's novels:

Curiously enough Loving was published at the same time as his friend Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited, which is also set in a large country house. But whereas Brideshead Revisited is a nostalgic paean to a rapidly vanishing way of life, wistfully conveying a time where everyone knew their place and was grateful for it, from the loyal servants to the obliging lords of the manor, Green was too clear-eyed to be having any of this self-serving sentimentality. His portrayal of down-stairs life resembles Jonathan Swift’s masterful satire Directions To Servants much more than the obsequious, incidental characters offered by Brideshead Revisited or indeed its present day variation that peddles the same insidious fantasy, Downton Abbey.

On the Oxford University Press blog, Nick Shepley, author of a recent study on Henry Green, also makes several points of comparison relating to Waugh:

Henry Yorke (pseudonym Henry Green) and his wife, Dig, were the exemplar IT couple of the 1920s and 30s. Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh referred to them as the “Bright Young Yorkes” in their letters. They were indeed well connected – Dig’s friend, the Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother), became godmother to their son, Sebastian, in 1934. But to read Green’s novels of class, Living (1929) – “the best proletarian novel ever written” (Isherwood) – Party Going (1939) and Loving (1945), alongside Waugh’s evocations of class privilege in Vile Bodies (1930), A Handful of Dust(1934), and Brideshead Revisited (1945), is to enter a much more nuanced, unsentimental interwar landscape.

Shepley also notes that New York Review Books will shortly have brought all of Green's novels back into print. Our earlier post noted only the first three to appear in this project. Shepley also mentions a panel discussion of Green's work lead by an NYRB representative earlier this week at a New York bookstore.

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Penguin UK Publish New Brideshead Hardback

Penguin UK is selling a new hardback edition of Brideshead Revisited that was published last week. This is in their Penguin Classics series but has a dust wrapper that differs from the uniform hardback Penguin Classics edition of Waugh's books that they published in 2011. This book is in a new classics series that has abstract designs on the dust wrappers.  Others in the series include Orlando by Virginia Woolf and Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Brideshead along with Put Out More Flags and Vile Bodies are among the volumes in the 2011 classics uniform hardback edition that are no longer for sale on Penguin's website and have apparently gone out of print. A new edition of Put Out More Flags in yet another Penguin Classics series will be published next month with a bright orange paperback cover. And Penguin have also announced issuance of a TV tie-in edition of Decline and Fall to be published next March in conjunction with the new BBC adaptation.

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Mixed Results for Waugh in Imaginary Booker Prize Competitions

The results are in from the competition at the Cheltenham Literary Festival to determine which book would have won the Booker prize for the year 1945 had there been one. Brideshead Revisited was on the shortlist and its case was put to the selection panel by comedian, writer and Waugh fan Alexei Sayle. According to a report of the proceedings by Gloucestershire Live, Brideshead was edged out, coming in fourth in a short list of five. Nancy Mitford's Pursuit of Love came third; second place went to By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart and the winner was Animal Farm by Geroge Orwell. Sayle is reported to have responded: "I don't mind. I've got another event this evening."

Some consolation appears, however, in another competition announced by the London Review Bookshop. This selected the winners of Booker prizes for the years 1900-1968 if there had been competitions in each of those years. Waugh's Put Out More Flags was the LRB's 1942 winner. Their 1945 selection was Mitford's Pursuit of Love. Here's how the LRB explained its results:

If the Booker Prize had begun in 1900 - rather than in 1969 - who would have won each year? This is a provisional set of answers: if you have better suggestions, please email us, or tweet us using the hashtag #Booker1900. (Years where the winner seems particularly unlikely we have marked with a bold exclamation mark: [!]) We will revisit this list periodically. We've decided to go with the post-2013 Booker rules, so any English-language novel is eligible.

The 1942 choice of Put Out More Flags is one of the provisional choices marked with an exclamation point so its status may be in jeopardy.


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Waugh Article to Appear in Next Issue of Journal

The Space Between, an academic journal devoted to literature and culture in the interwar period, has announced the contents of its next issue. The lead article will be by Waugh scholar Naomi Milthorpe, who teaches at the University of Tasmania. The article is entitled "A Secret House: Evelyn Waugh's Book Collection". The Space Between is published annually by Monmouth University in New Jersey and may be contacted here. Dr Milthorpe is among the scholars who are scheduled to speak at next year's Evelyn Waugh Conference at the Huntington Library.

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Waugh Cited in Press Interviews

Several recent unrelated newspaper interviews mention Evelyn Waugh in the context of the careers of those interviewed. In the Catholic Herald, historical novelist Robert Harris talks about his latest novel Conclave. This has as its setting the selection of a Pope. The interview raises questions about Harris's interest in religion:

...this is an author who is clearly an admirer of the Church. Not only does he love the history and the art, the display and the ritual, from which politicians have learned so much, he also immersed himself in St John XXIII’s Journal of a Soul to prepare for this novel. He is a profound admirer of three Catholic novelists, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and the lesser known but underrated Brian Moore. These authors catch the spiritual dimension to life, the neglect of which was the great mistake of George Orwell’s, as Waugh was the first to point out.

A Sri Lankan paper, the Daily News, reports on an interview with a local novelist, Ashok Ferrey, who studied mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford. His books include Love in the Tsunami and Colpetty People. When asked who are his favorite writers, Ferrey answered:

They are Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Muriel Spark and R.K. Narayan. All of them are very funny. Graham Greene I love, because all his books are to do with good and evil. They are about people who through no fault of their own end up in a world where they are forced to make decisions and are forced to pull a gun out and shoot. He deals with the ethics and the morality of things. He deals a lot with guilt. Evelyn Waugh is supremely funny and satirical and yet there is an underlying pathos and sadness. Muriel Spark is absurd and her characters are so weird. I empathize because some of my characters are somewhat weird. And R.K. Narayan is such a funny observer of life. Surely if you like a writer’s work twenty years ago you will still like it now? I have been told that R.K. Narayan is completely out of fashion now! But I love his style because his words are very simple. It is a deceptive simplicity.

Finally, in an Evening Standard interview, Kim Jones, artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear, was explaining to the reporter the many and various objects of interest which decorate his Paris apartment. Prominent among them were artifacts of the Bloomsbury Group, including

... a favourite, painted screen by Roger Fry. ‘It’s from 1909, belonged to Evelyn Waugh’s brother and is mentioned in Brideshead Revisited. I was tipped off about it by Bryan Ferry who knew I was interested in Omega Workshop stuff.’

Although the article is accompanied by several photographs, the screen does not seem to be among them, The Omega Screen is used in Brideshead to illustrate Charles Ryder's transition in artistic tastes. He buys it shortly after his arrival at Oxford to express his interest in the Bloomsbury Group, then has it removed when he acquires different tastes from Sebastian and his circle, ultimately selling it to Collins to help get himself through the summer term (Penguin, 1962, pp. 29, 35, 60).

UPDATE: The ever resourceful David Lull has found an auction house internet listing for the sale of the Roger Fry screen formerly owned by Alec Waugh. It is described in the novel as a "screen, painted by Roger Fry with a Provencal landscape..." (Penguin, 1962, p. 29). Sounds like a ringer for the one in the listing. This may be where Kim Jones acquired it. Tip of the hat once again to Dave Lull.

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Anne Ford and Helena

Booksellers Peter Harrington have on offer a post card from Evelyn Waugh to Anne Ford.  The message relates to US publication of Waugh's novel Helena in 1950. Here's the text and description from Harrington's internet catalogue:

A postcard inscribed by Waugh to Anne Ford, publicity director at Little, Brown & Co., regarding his novel Helena, published that year: “No praise for Maclean. Loyalty to a former commander seals my lips. But no praise. I hope you have now seen ‘Helena’. I don’t expect it to be popular in USA but I think it my best book. Please use ‘blurb’ for it identical with English blurb. All good wishes, E”. Ford has circled the phrase “I think it my best book” in pencil and written below it: “Do not use quote until I check with him – note his request to use English blurb – be sure Miss Jones knows.” The Maclean referred to was Fitzroy Maclean, Waugh’s commanding officer in Yugoslavia, who Waugh had used as a model or Constantius Chlorus in Helena.

Waugh had visited Ford on his 1948 US tour sponsored by Life magazine. She arranged his trip to Boston, including stops at Boston College where he spoke informally to students and Harvard University where he met up with Maurice Bowra who was a visiting professor at the time. Ford entertained Waugh at her home in suburban Brookline where her mother prepared the meal. She and her mother later visited Waugh at his home in England where he also entertained them to dinner, taking care to serve the same wine as they had served him. Ford later described these visits in a memoir published in the Boston Globe after Waugh's death.

His instructions relating to the publication of Helena were followed. The blurb on the inside front leaf of the dustwrapper is identical to the one in the UK edition, with one exception. The following sentence was omitted, possibly so that it would fit on the page:

[The book] should not be dismissed as trivial merely on account of its brevity, for the author has long made compression and selection his particular study and here he distils [sic] what would have occupied three or four volumes of a less industrious writer.

There is no mention of the fact that he thought it his best book. Waugh seems to have gotten it wrong about the book's likely popularity in the US. According to the Bibliography by R M Davis, et al., the first edition was reprinted four times. The same source records no reprinting of the first UK edition.

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Waugh Quoted in Times Article on Brexit

The Times for 11 October carries an article castigating those members of the Conservative Party who are now backing away from the anti-immigrant groundswell that carried the day for the Leave faction who led the campaign for Brexit. The unsigned article opens with a quote from Waugh's first novel:

To adapt Evelyn Waugh’s famous line about schools from Decline and Fall, in post-Brexit Britain “We class foreigners, you see, into four grades: leading foreigner, first-rate foreigner, good foreigner and foreigner.” And “Frankly, foreigner is pretty bad”. That, at any rate, seemed to be the dominant message emanating from the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham last week. I thought of this when I heard Irish friends complaining that, for the first time, they wondered if they were really welcome in the United Kingdom. When you discover that not one or two or three but half a dozen or more such friends are prepared to think like this, maintaining the view that there’s nothing to see here becomes progressively more difficult.

The adapted quote appears in the first chapter of Waugh's novel (Penguin Classic, 2011, p. 16) where the school recruiter Mr Levy explains to Paul Pennyfeather the unambitious status of the Llanabba School.

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