Alexander Waugh Replies: Whose Howlers?

In a previous post, we noted Lewis Jones’ selection in The Spectator of Alexander Waugh’s recent book on the identity of Shakespearian authorship as a book of the year. Jones had some reservations about the book, to which Mr Waugh has now replied in this week’s issue:

Pointing out howlers

Sir: As many Spectator readers will be aware, Stratfordian scholars are short on facts, which is why a whole industry is now built around the task of correcting their howlers. In a short paragraph adverting to his literary tastes, Lewis Jones complains of a ‘book’ by a ‘scholar’ (why the inverted commas?) which he calls ‘sensibly priced at £0.00’ and which he believes ‘argues that Shakespeare’s works must have been written by a proper toff’ (Books, 18 November). Into this muddle he facetiously drags my grandfather, Evelyn Waugh, claiming that he ‘scraped a third at Hertford’.

Where shall I start? Evelyn Waugh did not ‘scrape a third at Hertford’, he never graduated from Oxford or anywhere else. The title to which Jones refers (Shakespeare in Court) costs £1.74, which is the average price of a Kindle-Single, and it does not argue that a ‘proper toff’ or any other candidate wrote Shakespeare’s works, but simply lays out the facts that demonstrate why orthodox assumptions about Shakespeare are incorrect. Jones has neither bought nor read this book — that much is obvious — so did we really need his error-strewn opinions on it?
Alexander Waugh
Milverton, Somerset

In other news relating to previous posts, more reviews have been posted (both favorable) of the ongoing stage production of Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (adapted by Roger Parsley) in Adelaide, Australia. These appeared in StageWhispers.com (Anthony Vawser) and AustralianStage.com (Valerie Lillington). The production by Adelaide’s Independent Theatre Company at the Goodwood Theatre continues through Saturday (25 November).

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Report of Bodleian Waugh Exhibit

A Spanish-language blogger posting on En Compostela (literally “In Compostela”, probably referring to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain) has written an illustrated report of a visit to the Evelyn Waugh exhibition (“City of Acquatint”) at the Bodleian Library in Oxford:

On the occasion of the publication of the first volumes of the Complete Works [of Evelyn Waugh] there was a small exhibition in the Weston Library. The printed material was mostly negative, but at least there were original things of Waugh, especially of the artistic facet of his career… Being a painter (failed) is a theme that runs through his work: This in particular [is illustrated in] two prints of 1923… Richard Pares  [and] Harold Acton who is declaiming The Waste Land with a loudspeaker,  just like Anthony Blanche  in  Brideshead Revisited…There is also a police citation for drunk driving in a car with Matthew Ponsonby. The tabloids were primed, calling Waugh, without saying his name, the “incapably drunk passenger.” That too ended up in Bridshead Revisited. If Waugh were just the sum of what is displayed (apart from the drawings) as positive, he would be a pretty disgusting person: posh, drunk, frivolous. What makes him great is what they tried to ignore, precisely, that greatness that they do not recognize, alas, even in Oxford itself.

The posting contains several photos of the items mounted in the exhibit which was scheduled to run through 22 October. The translation is by Google Translate with some effort at editing what appears to be vernacular Spanish. Any efforts to improve it by commenting below would be appreciated. The weblog also contains reports and photos of a visit to Christ Church, both the college and the cathedral, posted below those of the Waugh exhibit.

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Pre-Raphaelite Exhibit at the Royal Academy

Milena Borden has kindly sent us the following report about an exhibit in London likely to be of interest to our readers:

The Royal Academy of Arts in London is holding an exhibition ‘Works of Feeling: Pre-Raphaelite Book Illustration’ in its Library Print Room (free). The 42 black and white wood engraved illustrations include four by Gabriel Dante Rossetti (1828-1882). His life and art was the subject of Waugh’s first book, Rossetti: His Life and Works (1928). I had this connection on my mind when I went to the RA. The works are displayed with taste on the walls of the small entry to the library on the second floor and also in four glassed cases. After exploring the exquisite engravings of Millais, Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Solomon, Hunt, Sandys, Whistler and Poynter, I decided to inquire about Waugh and Rossetti and asked if there was a copy of his book in the library. But there was no card with his name in the hand- written Rossetti catalogue of that period.

Waugh wrote extensively about Rossetti’s illustrations in part III of the biography: “The Aesthetes.” Interestingly enough, a story he wrote then about how difficult it was for the Daziel Brothers workshop to manage Rossetti’s illustrations in Poems of Alfred Tennyson, (1857) is covered in the Introduction to the current exhibition by Amanda-Jane Doran, a contemporary art writer. It did feel that the new edition of Waugh’s biography of Rossetti in The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh, Volume 16 (September 2017) would fill a gap in the RA collection.

The exhibition at the RA continues until 22 December.

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Black Mischief in New Right Journal

Waugh’s somewhat neglected novel Black Mischief is reviewed in an artlcle posted in the Books Against Time column of the North American New Right journal, published by Counter-Currents Publishing. The review is No. 4 in a series entitled “Masterpieces of Aryan Literature”.  The general tenets of the “New Right” seem to be that history is cyclical and we are presently living in a down cycle; in these circumstances, the past is better than the present. The review is written by a blogger posting as Quintilian and provides an accurate plot summary of the novel together with this brief and pointed analysis:

…Waugh was brutally honest about the inferiority of the Negro race and its incompatibility with Western civilization. In the world according to Waugh, wogs began in Calais, and the United States wasn’t far behind. Anglo-Saxon superiority was a given and prejudice (in the sense described by Robert Nisbet) kept the savages and the lower classes at bay. All this was done, though, with great wit and manners. Nowhere is Waugh’s satirical genius seen in better form than in his 1932 novel Black Mischief…I can report that the ending is unexpected, and if you’ve ever read Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus you might get a hint of what to expect…

Robert Nisbet was a conservative American sociologist who was educated and taught at the University of California, Berkeley and retired as Albert Schweitzer Professor at Columbia.

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Waugh’s Helena at the Museum of the Bible

A new institution has opened in Washington, DC. This is the Museum of the Bible. It is spread over eight floors of a purpose built structure and is reviewed in the the conservative journal Washington Free Beacon by Micah Meadowcraft. In discussing the museum’s foundation, Meadowcraft makes reference to Evelyn Waugh:

In his short novel Helena, Evelyn Waugh recounts the mother of Constantine’s decision to become the patroness of Jerusalem’s pilgrim sites. Helena concluded, quite logically, that if Christianity makes historical claims there should be historical evidence, and with it, objects and associated locations convenient for and demanding the building of churches. And if she has the money to pay for building them then they ought be built. Though aiming to be nonsectarian (BCE and CE, not BC and anno Domini), the Museum of the Bible is an endeavor in a similar vein by Hobby Lobby president and museum chairman Steve Green and friends. The Bible is the most important—the banal might say best-selling—book of all time; there is evidence and detritus of how it came to be and where it has been, of what it has done and where it is going; there is money, clearly Solomonic amounts of money, to be spent. Spend it they have, to the tune of more than $500 million, and built it, and it is extraordinary.

A New Zealand news website has posted a review of Waugh’s novel The Loved One. This is by Rachel Pope on Stuff.co.nz which is owned by Australian newspaper chain Fairfax Media and publishes three major papers in New Zealand. She recommends the book and opens with this:

This novel is classic Waugh, in that it is sharp, cutting, incisive, sarcastic and spares no one. He is described as one of the best satirists of his day and was widely known for his sardonic wit. Some of the one-liners in this book are truly shocking and I would read it for this alone. For example, conversing with an American, it is noted that one is not required to actually listen to what is being said. Another: an American asked what Hogmanay was and the answer was “Glaswegians being sick in the street.”

Meanwhile, in Australia, the stage production of Brideshead Revisited by Adelaide’s Independent Theatre Company opened this weekend with a favorable review on the website GlamAdelaide.com. The review concludes:

Independent Theatre create something very special here. Their Brideshead Revisited stays faithful to the themes of the original novel, while artfully employing the dry humour of the British upper classes – delivering an enjoyable and unforgettable performance.

Finally, on the occasion of the commemoration of this year’s  World Toilet Day (19 November), the Irish Times includes this reference to Evelyn Waugh:

Then there are those who were dying to go – famous people who departed while on the toilet…Evelyn Waugh collapsed on the commode in 1966 after coming home from a Latin mass and died. Although there were drowning rumours (perpetuated by Graham Greene), his official cause of death was heart failure.

Others in this category were Elvis Pressley, Judy Garland and King George II. The story is by Deirdre Falvey and is entitled “Urine for a treat.”

UPDATE (20 November 2017): An article in today’s Guardian takes up the subject in the above-cited Irish Times article. This is by Michele Hanson in her health column and relates to the need to be willing to talk about constipation:

“Do not strain at stools,” [the] heart-failure-clinic nurse warned …, or you might peg out, like George II, Elvis and (probably) Evelyn Waugh, from fatal heart arrhythmia. We can mention breastfeeding and period stains out loud without shame. Now let’s, please, add constipation. Because the older you get, the more likely you are to have it. So chill out and loosen up. At least at the top end.

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Bridey and the Chapel

A posting on the Roman Catholic religious weblog Aleteia takes as its theme the passage containing the discussion between Charles Ryder and Lord Brideshead (“Bridey”) in Brideshead Revisited about the artistic value of the decorations in the family’s chapel. This is entitled “Truth, Relativism and Brideshead Revisited” and is written by Tod Worner, who frequently comments on Waugh’s works.  See previous posts. These decorations had earlier been described by Sebastian as “a monument of art nouveau” and that is followed by Charles’ own detailed description of the wall paintings, carvings and metal work as examples of the “arts and crafts movement of the last decade of the nineteenth century” (Brideshead Revisited, London, 1945, pp. 35-36). In a later scene, after Charles’ talent as an artist has been revealed to the family, Bridey starts the following conversation, quoted in the Aleteia post (bracketed language is from the posting):

Instantly enchanted by the sublime artistry and soaring architecture of Brideshead, Charles found himself engaged in a discussion on the nature of the estate’s chapel with Sebastian’s elder brother, Bridey. Bridey inquired:

“You are an artist, Ryder, what do you think of it aesthetically?”
“I think it’s beautiful,” said [Sebastian’s youngest sister] Cordelia with tears in her eyes.
“Is it Good Art?”
“Well, I don’t quite know what you mean,” [Charles] said warily. “I think it’s a remarkable example of its period. Probably in eighty years it will be greatly admired.”
“But surely it can’t be good twenty years ago and good in eighty years, and not good now?” [asked Bridey]
“Well, it may be good now.” [Charles answered.] “All I mean is that I don’t happen to like it much.”
“But is there a difference between liking a thing and thinking it good?”

Worner then continues with a discussion of the religious significance of Bridey’s question. This is thoughtful and well argued from a religious point of view but takes the discussion in the novel somewhat out of its context, since Bridey was not asking about what Charles thought of the religious significance of the decorations but rather his expert advice as to their artistic merit. Indeed, the quote stops just short of Sebastian’s response to Bridey’s question: “Bridey, don’t be so Jesuitical” (p. 83). Ironically, one might use the same term to describe the discussion that follows the quote in the weblog.

Another religious blogger (this one Protestant: One-Eternal-Day.com) has posted the conclusion to Waugh’s story Scott-King’s Modern Europe, including a copy of the US edition’s dustwrapper, with the explanation that it is reposted “because it is ‘very wicked indeed’ to deprive the young of historical perspective.”

Finally, a recent issue of the Catholic Herald contains an article entitled “Meeting the Evelyn Waugh of Wall Street”. This is written by William Cash and is based on an interview of novelist Tom Wolfe that Cash had conducted in the 1990s. The article is behind a paywall, but the epithet in the title apparently applies to Wolfe.

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Joan Didion Reviews Sword of Honour

In an article posted on the website Acculturated, Nic Rowan discusses novelist and essayist Joan Didion’s early career of reviewing books for the National Review in the 1960s. Rowan claims that her later career cannot be fully understood without considering these early and formative writings:

…By writing semi-weekly book reviews of the year’s hot literature for the nation’s only major conservative magazine, Didion made sense of the world in which she lived through its literature and its movies.Unfortunately, none of these essays are collected in a compendium or available online, so you’ll have to hunt through old print editions of the magazine to find them…

In a review of Evelyn Waugh’s The Sword of Honor trilogy, Didion reveals what she means when she calls someone a writer. For although a fictional account of Guy Crouchback, a middle-aged English aristocrat fighting in World War II, Didion calls The Sword of Honor a true story, because it follows a man who “attempts to make a social cause a moral cause in a society bereft of moral meaning.”

In many ways, Crouchback and Didion are attempting the same thing, except Didion is an American. In the same review, Didion wrote that the American story—the one she would go on to tell in her many essays—is a delicate tragedy: “Every real American story begins in innocence and never stops mourning the loss of it,” she wrote. “The banishment from Eden is our one great tale, lovingly told and retold, adapted, disguised and told again, passed down from Hester Prynne to Temple Drake, from Natty Bumppo to Holden Caulfield; it is the single stunning fact in our literature, in our folklore, in our history, and in the lyrics of of popular songs.”

For Didion, things are always falling apart. The center will never hold.

Didion’s review was entitled “Evelyn Waugh: A Gentleman in Battle” and appeared in the National Review dated 27 March 1962. She was reviewing the final volume of the war trilogy, entitled The End of the Battle in the USA, but was discussing all three volumes. In her review she referred to the trilogy as “Men at War.” That is the title mentioned on the front flap of the US edition’s dust jacket. The publishers were apparently unaware of Waugh’s intended title for the one-volume edition of the war trilogy. That single volume recension entitled Sword of Honour appeared in 1965 (USA, 1966). Didion’s review is, in fact, available in the National Review’s digital archive and may be read in full at this link.

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Waughs in Spectator Books of the Year

The Spectator is publishing its annual list of Books of the Year selected by various writers. Among the choices in this week’s column is this one by journalist Lewis Jones, who writes for both the Spectator and the Telegraph:

I notice belatedly that the ‘scholar’ Alexander Waugh has published a ‘book’, [that is] counter-factual. Shakespeare in Court (Kindle Single, sensibly priced at £0.00) argues that Shakespeare’s works must have been written by a proper toff, and not only one whose verses C.S. Lewis thought showed ‘faint talent’, but also one who rather inconveniently died before the composition of Othello, King LearMacbeth etc. It seems to me that Alexander is barking up the wrong tree. Since at least 2014 it has been obvious to a growing number of snobbishly ignorant but determined conspiracy theorists that his grandfather Evelyn, who came from Golders Green, went to a minor public school and scraped a Third at Hertford, could not possibly have written Brideshead Revisited. Their favoured candidate is Nancy Mitford, whose mortal remains, they believe, were secretly stuffed and mounted at the Church of St Peter & St Paul, Combe Florey.

Jones’ other choice (also selected by novelist Susan Hill) is Craig Brown’s cod biography of Princess Margaret, Ma’am Darling.

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Evelyn Waugh, Essayist

A Spanish language website has reposted a 2011 article from the Guardian’s “Top 10” series in which journalist Harry Mount, now editor of The Oldie, lists his favorite essays. He begins by defining the term:

There’s not much point in trying to define an essay. Its parameters are so broad and slack that they encompass practically any shortish passage of non-fiction which makes a general argument. As a rough rule of thumb, I’d say anything that creeps over 40,000 words is entering book territory; and anything too autobiographical strays into memoir. But, still, you could write 50,000 words about yourself, and it could be an essay in every regard.

Among the 10 examples he selects is Evelyn Waugh’s “A Call to the Orders”:

Evelyn Waugh considered life as a printer, cabinet-maker and carpenter before becoming a novelist. He maintained an interest in the visual arts throughout his life; this plea in defence of the classical orders of architecture appeared some time after his literary success began. The essay is full of angry argument, deep architectural knowledge and lyrical description. “The baroque has never had a place in England; its brief fashion was of short duration; it has been relegated to the holidays – a memory of the happy days in sunglasses, washing away the dust of the southern roads with heady southern wines.” You don’t have to agree with the argument to be compelled by it – a rare thing in an essay.

The essay appeared in a 1938 issue of Country Life, after having been rejected by Harper’s Bazaar. It is collected in A Little Order (p. 60) and Essays, Articles and Reviews. Among the other essays selected by Mount are George Orwell’s “Why I Write” and Isaiah Berlin’s “The Hedgehog and the Fox”, as well as Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”. Waugh also wrote an essay with Swift’s title taken as his subtitle for “What to do with the Upper Classes”. That appeared in Town and Country for September 1946.

Another member of the Waugh family may be branching into essay writing. Evelyn’s grand  daughter Daisy Waugh has written what is more an essay or op ed piece (which may come to much the same thing) than it is a news article. This is entitled “Unpopular Opinions” and appears in the online newspaper iNews. It addresses issues of political correctness that were favorite targets of both her grand father and her father (Auberon).

UPDATE: The last paragraph was added after posting those preceding it. Thanks to David Lull for sending this along.

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Waugh’s Watering Holes in the News

Several of Waugh’s pre-war venues have been in the papers recently. The Abingdon Arms in Beckley (near Oxford) was frequently visited by Waugh in his student days and thereafter, sometimes accompanied by his friend Alastair Graham. He wrote some of his early works while staying there (Letters, pp. 36-37). According to an article by Katherine MacAlister in the Oxford Mail:

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 inspired Lewis Carroll’s giant chessboard in Alice through the Looking Glass.

The pub had fallen on hard times in recent years and ran through several unsuccessful managers. As reported in an earlier post, it was ultimately taken over by a consortium of locals who refurnished it and found a new manager. The results as reported by MacAlister seem to have been successful:

The pub has been run by brother and sister Aimee and Tom Bronock since May, who have since refurbed and restyled the business and its menu, so we popped down for dinner to find out how they are getting on. It’s a much more serene and simple set up, a tad too quiet if anything, lacking that addictive hustle and bustle of yesteryear, but it was busy none-the-less. The menu followed suit – soup, fishcakes, charcuterie, pigeon or a tomato plate – countrified, seasonal and devoid of frills.

There follows a fairly detailed description of the new menu which sounds like it would be worth a trip if you’re nearby.

Another recently renewed venue reported as having been visited by Waugh is the Lygon Arms Hotel in Broadway, Worcs. This had also suffered an extended period of decay. As reported by Fiona Duncan in the Daily Telegraph:

…those dark days are now over and Broadway can once more be proud of its historic coaching inn where both Charles I and Oliver Cromwell dallied during the Civil War and whose former guests also include Edward VII, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Evelyn Waugh and Prince Philip. The rot set in when it was sold by the Savoy Group in 2003; since then it has changed hands no less than six times, but two years ago it joined Chewton Glen and Cliveden House in the stable of Iconic Luxury Hotels, owned by the billionaire Livingstone brothers and run by hotelier Andrew Stembridge. A multi-million pound programme of refurbishment and redecoration is now complete.

Evelyn Waugh’s association with this hotel seems somewhat doubtful, however. This may have been based upon his close connection with the Lygon family who lived at Madresfield Court, Worcs., during the early 1930s, but when he visited them he stayed in the County Hotel in Malvern, which was much closer to their house (Letters, pp. 56-57), or in their house itself. That family’s connection to the hotel in Broadway (if any) is tenuous, and how it came to bear their name is not explained in the history posted on the internet. There is another hotel of the same name in Chipping Campden, Gloucs., which explains its name through its acquisition in the 19th c. by a retired butler who had worked for a member of the family.

Finally, one of Waugh’s London clubs (The Savile) recently made the news by allowing one of its members to retain his membership after he decided to undergo a sex change. As explained to the Sunday Telegraph by one of the other members, Jerry Hayes, a former MP and practising barrister:

“He’s not joining as a woman, he joined as a man. It would be unfair to a terrifically friendly guy to expel him just because he’s become a woman. That was never considered…This is not at all setting a precedent for who can become a member because this individual applied to join as a man…”

 

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