1966: The Year Waugh Died

In this week's TLS, D J Taylor writes a long essay about literature in the 1960s, entitled "The Clinging Sixties." He begins with a brief discussion of pivotal events of 1966 for sport and pop music. That was the year of England's World Cup victory and also marked what was perhaps the peak of The Beatles' productivity, which was distilled in the issuance of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band the following year. When he reaches his central theme, which is the literature of the whole decade, he opens with this one paragraph summary of the important literary events of 1966, the mid-year of the decade:

At first glance, the literary world of 1966 offers only a bewildering variety of styles. It was an age of self-conscious avant-garderie, and also an age of carrying on as usual. It was the year of J. G. Ballard’s The Crystal World and Nancy Mitford’s The Sun King; of Anthony Powell’s The Soldier’s Art – the eighth instalment of a novel sequence that started to appear in 1951 – and Christine Brooke-Rose’s determinedly elliptical Between. It was the year in which Evelyn Waugh died and Sarah Waters was born, the year of Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation and Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, of Basil Bunting’s Briggflatts and Kingsley Amis’s The Anti-Death League. Modernists and mad-lads jostle 1930s mandarins and one-time Angry Young Men, in a landscape whose major contested event was the defeat of Robert Lowell by Edmund Blunden – a convincing 477 votes to 241 – in the election to the Oxford Professor of Poetry. (Emphasis supplied)

The essay continues with the sort of analysis Taylor applied with great success to the earlier decades of the century in his recent study, The Prose Factory; Literary Life in England Since 1918. See earlier posts. Indeed, one suspects that this essay may have begun life as material that Taylor wrote for his book but was forced to delete as he neared its end. Whether recycled or not, the essay makes good reading and manages to put Waugh's death into its literary historical perspective.


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William Boyd Reviews Pasternak Slater and Eade in Guardian

Novelist and Waugh admirer William Boyd in today's Guardian reviews the new books on Waugh by Ann Pasternak Slater and Philip Eade. See earlier posts. Perhaps because the Guardian had already reviewed Eade's book, Boyd spends most of his review discussing that of Pasternak Slater, whose work he describes as a "thorough conspectus" of Waugh's  books in the context of his chaotic life. According to Boyd, Waugh's:

challenge was to take the “chaos” of his life and try to transform it into the order of “imperishable art”... As Pasternak Slater brilliantly demonstrates, even Waugh’s most surreal, grotesque comic inventions have their factual counterparts and origins in his biography. Furthermore, this knowledge about the real sources compels readers and critics relentlessly to seek the autobiographical pattern in the fictional carpet. 

Boyd praises Pasternak Slater's book as a "superb piece of work" and her writing as "limipid and elegant," and he predicts it will become a "classic, enduring study." He remarks on her "unrivalled knowledge" of all Waugh's  work, which she calls on "to illuminate her trenchant scrutiny of the endlessly alluring novels."

He parts company somewhat on the degree to which Pasternak Slater argues that Waugh's reliance on his life provided:

...intricate, complex artistic patterns where I would see bolted-on “literary” themes. For me, A Handful of Dust is a sustained act of revenge against Waugh’s first wife, Evelyn Gardner, and her shocking desertion of him. Even the pretentious title can’t disguise the fact. Brideshead Revisited is thinly veiled nostalgic autobiography – at its best – not “the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters”, as Waugh himself intoned in the novel’s preface. The Sword of Honour trilogy is essentially Waugh’s war recounted, with all its absurdity, personal slights and bitterness, not some symbolic conflict between the values of Christendom and the atheistic impulses of Soviet Russia, and the shameful compromises of Britain’s wartime alliance with her.

Boyd is less impressed by Eade's book. He sees little need for a new biography, citing those by Martin Stannard and Selina Hastings as the standards, as well as the shorter work by Michael Barber. Recognizing that Eade had access to new material such as Waugh's letters to Teresa Jungman, Boyd is disappointed by the contents of those as disclosed by Eade:

... if the quoted extracts are any guide, this is no new Abelard and Heloise. Waugh is a great letter writer – witness his long correspondence with Nancy Mitford and Ann Rothermere – but these letters to Jungman seem standard adolescent lovelorn pleading. The sense of disappointment is acute...But Waugh is infinitely fascinating, and Eade’s new biography will doubtless add to that fascination. 

Boyd concludes his review by citing Pasternak Slater's analysis which:

shrewdly points to two personal humiliations in Waugh’s life that tormented him and shaped him as a man (and a writer). The first was his betrayal by his first wife – and their subsequent divorce – and the second was the ignominious collapse of his career in the army during the second world war. From his young manhood he aspired to the aristocratic life and, when war began, he aspired to be an aristocratic warrior/soldier. In both instances he failed, and – as so often in English lives – the reason behind that failure, and the lifetime’s anguish that ensued, was to do with class. I suspect he was refused admission to these select clubs for many reasons – personality, demeanour, appearance, chippiness, too-clever-by-half; but whatever the reasons, he felt the rejections painfully and they effectively ruined his life.

Both books are currently available in the UK and can be ordered from amazon.co.uk, and both will be available later this year from US publishers.

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Waugh in Politics; Margot at the DNC

The Guardian carries a story about the current renewed popularity of nostalgia in Britain. This harks back to the fashion started by the TV version of Brideshead Revisited, and the Guardian's reporter (Stuart Jeffries) finds that nostalgia has a political spin both then and now:

Conservatives have regularly used an apparently gilded past age as an alibi for rubbishing the present. It is the basis of one of our most successful export industries. In 1981, for instance, Jeremy Irons narrated the lyrical introduction to Charles Sturridge’s ITV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited: “Oxford in those days was still a city of aquatint. When the chestnut was in flower and the bells rang out high and clear over the gables and cupolas, she exhaled the soft airs of centuries of youth.”

Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel already dripped with nostalgia for a pre-war England and its allied oleaginous underlings (think Sebastian Flyte’s ever-so-’umble barber). Sturridge effectively put that nostalgia to work in Thatcher’s Britain. Just as Waugh’s novel, behind its lament for lost innocence, expressed posh contempt for upstart prole scum, so its TV adaptation was handily broadcast at a time when it could serve the reactionary agenda of a Conservative government that spent the 80s destroying the organised working classes.

The fashion press also announced an unexpected Waugh dimension in US politics. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Eva Longoria, the actress who is to play Margot Beste-Chetwynde in the upcoming BBC TV serial of Decline and Fall, is appearing at this week's Democratic National Convention where she will wear dresses from a fashion line she is promoting for The Limited. It is not news that Ms Longoria actively supports the Democratic Party, but her decision to use its Convention as a venue for a fashion statement is newsworthy. After the Convention, according to the report, she will fly to Wales to join the filming of the TV series.

Meanwhile, the Government of Wales has made a statement explaining its financial support for the BBC production. In an official Welsh Government press release, Cabinet Secretary for Economy Ken Skates said:

“I am delighted to announce this funding that ensures this eagerly awaited high profile drama series is to be filmed on location in Wales. It is the latest high end TV production to film in Wales and can only enhance our growing reputation as the location of choice.

“It will provide a real boost for the industry offering work and up-skilling opportunities for Welsh crew while creating a wider range of economic benefits for many small businesses working across a range of sectors.”

Wales Screen is working with Tiger Aspect and advising on locations in and around South Wales and assisting them with finding freelance crew and local trainees to work on the production.

The release also explains that it expects expenditures of "around £1.8m in Wales" but does not say how much of that is funded by the government's grant. 

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Waugh Cited in Defense of Somerset

Somerset County was rated as one of the 20 worst places to live in the UK. It ranked 14th on the list compiled by uSwitch, an internet consumer guide, which concluded that:

while the county has high rates of employment and a high life expectancy, house prices are high, and the county has a very high cost of living.

The Somerset County Gazette, based in Taunton, has published an article arguing the survey is wrong and offers 15 reasons to like Somerset. These include cider, cheese, and the Glastonbury Featival. Waugh is implicated in No. 14 : 

Poets, authors and more

Evelyn Waugh, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Jane Austen - three great reasons to love the county. Just some of the great authors and poets from Somerset or whose work was inspired by Somerset. This year, the Friends of Coleridge are celebrating the bicentenary of the publication in 1816 of Coleridge’s visionary poem ‘Kubla Khan'.

The article also displays a photo of Waugh, who was an obvious choice especially for a paper printed in Taunton. Waugh lived his last 10 years in Combe Florey near Taunton, his father came from Midsomer Norton near Bath, and his wife from Pixton Park near Dulverton at the other end of the county. They might also have mentioned the classic  novel Lorna Doone (1869) by R D Blackmore which is set in Exmoor in the west of the county (although some of the action may have slipped over into neighboring Devon), the poem "East Coker" one of T S Eliot's Four Quartets (1943) inspired by the south Somerset village of that name where his ashes are kept in the village church, and novelist Anthony Powell, Waugh's friend who lived in Chantry near Frome in north Somerset and whose novel Hearing Secret Harmonies (1975) was set there.

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Brideshead Included in All-Time Best TV Line-up

A Boston Globe reporter (Matthew Gilbert) decided to put together an all-time best schedule of TV programs to be watched during a one-week period (evenings only). Saturday was scheduled as "Epic" night, and the 1981 Granada TV series of Brideshead Revisited makes the line-up:


8: Brideshead Revisited (19)

9: Masterpiece: Bleak House

10: Game of Thrones

News: Frontline

Late Night: Saturday Night Live (20)

(19) No question, it’s one of the best miniseries ever made, both loyal to Evelyn Waugh’s novel and expansive in its spectacular setting. It was hard to choose one from the long list of ambitious TV miniseries — say David Simon’s devastating “The Corner,” or “Pride and Prejudice” from 1995 with Colin Firth. Likewise, I chose “Bleak House” at 9, but I could easily have substituted a number of “Masterpiece” period dramas from the series’ phenomenal catalog of classics.

(20) Yeah, we all hate “SNL.” Too long, weak writing, spotty cast, repetitive riffs. I never miss an episode.

Since Brideshead is in a one-hour time slot, the first or last episode would not be suitable. Of the one-hour episodes, number 2 or 3 would probably be a good selection.  From the same general period (late 70s-early 80s), other selections include All in the Family, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, and the Bob Newhart Show. And SNL overlapped Brideshead, having started in 1975.

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Charles Ryder in the Chapel

Rev. Terrance W. Klein, S.J., a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dodge City, uses the last paragraphs of Brideshead Revisited to conclude an essay on prayer. This essay appears in the online edition of America: The National Catholic Review published by the Jesuit order:

Brideshead was... a great house full of loves denied and passions embraced. Evelyn Waugh ends his story with a strange little reflection about the Catholic chapel in the Brideshead home. The characters have all exited, yet the narrator, Charles Ryder, who revisits the estate, now an army post, during the Second World War, insists that one actor remains.

"There was a part of the house I had not yet visited, and I went there now. The chapel showed no ill-effects of its long neglect; the art-nouveau paint was as fresh and as bright as ever; the art-nouveau lamp burned once more before the altar. I said a prayer, an ancient, newly learned form of words, and left, turning towards the camp; and as I walked back...I thought:

'...Something quite remote from anything the builders intended has come out of their work, and out of the fierce little human tragedy in which I played; something none of us thought about at the time: a small red flame—a beaten-copper lamp of deplorable design, relit before the beaten-copper doors of a tabernacle; the flame which old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart than Acre or Jerusalem. It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones.'"

The full quotation is available in the essay at the above link. 



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BBC Announces New Waugh Program on Radio 4

The BBC has published a schedule of next week's episode of Open Book, a regular series on BBC Radio 4. The 30-minute program will include a segment on Evelyn Waugh, marking the UK publication of the new biography by Philip Eade. The segment will consist of a guide to Waugh's works.

The program is presented by Mariella Frostrup and will be broadcast next Thursady, 28 July at 15.30p London time. It will be available thereafter on the internet via BBC iPlayer. 

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Progress Report from BBC Production of Decline and Fall

Radio Times has published a progress report from BBC's production of its adaptation of Decline and Fall in Wales. This includes a photo of actor Jack Whitehall made up as Paul Pennyfeather. Whitehall just joined the ongoing production in Wales:

“I am extremely pleased to be a part of this amazing adaptation by [Rev co-writer] James Wood," Whitehall said. "I’ve been a fan of this book since I read it as a teenager and I just hope that I can do it justice”...Filmed in over 70 locations around Wales, much of the action is set in a fictional public school in the Welsh countryside. The production marks 50 years since Waugh’s death.

According to the Radio Times report, the program should air later this year. More details are provided in a story in the Barry Gem, a local paper in South Wales. The filming has begun at Atlantic College, St Donats Castle, Llantwit Major, which is in the background of Whitehall's photo:

The Welsh Government is providing financial support to Tiger Aspect Drama and Cave Bear Productions who, it is anticipated, will spend around £1.8m in Wales. Decline and Fall has a strong Welsh flavour with the majority of the action set in a fictional public school in the Welsh countryside...Tiger Aspect Drama’s Executive producer, Frith Tiplady added: “We are excited and grateful that the support from the Welsh Government’s Wales Screen Fund has enabled us to film Decline and Fall in Wales. We are going to be filming some stunning Welsh locations and working with first class local crew."



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Martin Stannard Reviews New Waugh Biography

Martin Stannard, who wrote the standard and so far definitive biography of Evelyn Waugh, has reviewed the latest one by Philip Eade. Professor Stannard is also in charge, with Waugh's grandson, Alexander, of the publication of the complete works of Waugh by OUP beginning next year. Both Professor Stannard and Alexander Waugh will be among the speakers at next year's conference on Waugh at the Huntington Library in California. The review, entitled "Oh ! what a lovely Waugh," appears in this week's issue of The Tablet.

Stannard's biography was issued in two volumes in 1986 and 1992 and covered over 1000 pages. He recognizes that important new material has become available since then and comments on how it has informed Eade's 400-page book. He sees little new, however, in the descriptions of Waugh's often troubled relations with his family and friends. Although there is a different approach to his military career, the basic story remains unchanged:

So what, exactly, is new here? Alexander Waugh...generously gave Eade the run of his extensive archive. This contains the majority of the previously unpublished material, crucially a brief memoir by Evelyn Nightingale, Waugh’s first wife, and a cache of letters from Waugh to Teresa (“Baby”) Jungman, with whom he was infatu­ated in the 1930s. Both offer potential “scoops”: the memoir was not available to previous biographers, and the letters were only discovered by Alexander after Selina Hastings had completed her 1994 biography. But neither (at least as quoted here) substantially extends Hastings’ account.

More important, as Professor Stannard sees it, is Eade's use of Hastings' own archive, which she donated to the Waugh estate, to clarify "the complex chronology of the 1929 marital catastrophe." Eade's book

... also contributes helpfully to a more sympathetic image of Waugh by quoting from his friends’ letters of sympathy after his death...Ultimately, however, for those aware of the “story so far”, the experience of reading this book will be one of déjà vu - with huge gaps. Eade not only omits analysis of Waugh’s books, but also of his Catholicism. This biography is, we are told, “scrupulously researched”, and on one level that is true. But it is largely researched from printed sources, and the unpublished ones add little to them. As an intelligent piece of book-making to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Waugh’s death, it offers some sprightly cherry-picking among the more scandalous anecdotes. As a revisionary biography, its claims are overstated. A life revisited, yes. But not a life revised.



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Biography Reviewed in Herald

The new biography of Evelyn Waugh by Philip Eade is reviewed in the (Glasgow) Herald (now rebranded simply, and rather pompously, as "The Herald" but still published in Glasgow) by Richard Strachan. He points out that a disproportionate part of the book (nearly 2/3) is taken up by Waugh's childhood and education, the period before he had even written a book:

None of this is new information as such, and Waugh was perfectly open about his Oxford dalliances in later years, but Eade spends an inordinate amount of time trying to pin down precisely if he slept with Hugh Lygon, for example, one of the models for Brideshead’s Sebastian Flyte, and later goes into great detail about who Waugh had lunch with on the French Riviera. In contrast, his trip to Abyssinia to cover the coronation of Haile Selassie for the Daily Mail, which produced two books (Black Mischief and the travelogue Remote People) is accounted for in only half a page.

Strachan then notes that this concentration on the early years leaves little room for any analysis of Waugh's writing and how it was affected by his life, a criticism raised by several previous reviewers. It is also noted that Eade specifically eschews any intention of concentrating on Waugh's works. Strachan goes on to find that:

Where Eade excels is in fleshing out Waugh’s military career, using newly-uncovered archive material to cast light on one of the more controversial events of the war, and in the process exonerating both Waugh and his commanding officer Bob Laycock from precipitately leaving Crete before the British evacuation. 

The review concludes with a comparison to a previous literary biographical conundrum:

Much like Gordon Bowker’s recent biography of James Joyce, which labours in the shadow of Richard Ellmann’s monumental work, Eade’s life of Waugh acts as a complement to rather than a replacement of Selina Hastings’s more substantial 1994 biography. It’s a decent, full account of the particulars of Waugh’s life, but by the end of the book he still remains an impenetrable figure, mercurial and enigmatic, and animated by a strange despair.

In this case, however, it is also the definitive two-volume biography by Martin Stannard as well as Hastings's later but also impressive and readable, if somewhat derivative, work that stand in the place of Ellmann's path-breaking biography of Joyce.

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