Lost Children and Losing Margarine

The Guardian has published an article by Alex Clark about the theme of lost children in literature. The prime example is Ian McEwen’s Thatcher-era novel The Child in Time whch has been adapted for television by BBC/PBS in a 90-minute film that premieres on BBC One at 2100p, Sunday, 24 September. Clark explains the theme of this genre before he comes to specific cases:

In cultural artefacts as in life, the missing child is rarely given the liberty of a stable identity: after the initial, brutal drama of disappearance, a wave of emotional and psychological complications rush in to fill the space left by the agony and terror of loss. Quickly, the child becomes a cipher for more deeply rooted and amorphous anxieties about our ability to protect and to keep frequently unforeseeable dangers at bay; about the family’s relation to society as a whole; and about the fear of the unknowable, predatory other.

After considering the theme in several films and TV series, Clark mentions Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet when a lost child theme is use to tie the novels’ story back to the beginning where the two mothers searching for the child in volume 4 recall their search for lost dolls that opens the first volume. This where Waugh comes in:

It’s a stark difference with another kind of mother entirely: the heinous Brenda Last in Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust. She commits perhaps the greatest parental transgression of all when her son, John Andrew, is killed in a riding accident. When the news is conveyed to her, she momentarily believes that her lover, also called John, is dead when the truth is revealed, she utters the memorable – and unforgivable – words, “Thank God!” It is hard not to see Brenda, awful though she is, as a woman punished for licensing her sexual desire, firmly placed by Waugh beyond the pale.

Waugh also comes into an article on the academic website The Conversation in which Ellen Turner of Lund University discusses the downfall of margarine. This comes in the wake of Unilever’s announcement that it is discontinuing two of its popular brands of that product:

In a column penned by Evelyn Waugh for The Spectator in 1929, margarine represents a general post-war lack of good taste. During the war, writes Waugh, “[e]verything was a ‘substitute’ for something else”, the upshot being “a generation of whom nine hundred and fifty in every thousand are totally lacking in any sense of qualitative value” as a consequence of “being nurtured on margarine and ‘honey sugar’.” Such a diet, according to Waugh, makes them “turn instinctively to the second rate in art and life”.

Waugh’s article was the first in a series about the “Younger Generation”. It is collected in A Little Order and Essays, Articles and Reviews.

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Waugh and his Enemies: Hugh Trevor-Roper

In advance of the lecture (“Waugh’s Enemies”) scheduled for next Monday, 25 September at Hertford College, Oxford, the University of Leicester has posted a brief article about what will surely be one of the topics. This is by Milena Borden and refers to one of Waugh’s most prominent and consistent enemies, Prof. Hugh Trevor-Roper, variously holding appointments at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Dr Borden reviews the first of the public disputes between Waugh and Trevor-Roper. This arose from Trevor-Ropers’s first book, The Last Days of Hitler, and related, inter alia, to the professor’s unsubstantiated claim that Joseph Goebbels had received his schooling in institutions run by the Jesuits. After an exchange of letters in The Tablet, Trevor-Roper had to back off somewhat in a later edition at the direction of his US publishers. After summarizing the dispute, Dr Borden concludes:

So, what does this quarrel tell us about Waugh, Oxford, and the bigger question – ‘What is history?’. Is it factual, unemotional and secular or is it inductive and tainted with beliefs, and religious faith? Waugh, a devout Catholic, argued against the idea that fascism could be linked to his religion, whereas Trevor-Roper – a staunch anti-Catholic – understood and accepted criticism only if it was on the ground of academic accuracy. Waugh extended his absolute disdain for the historical empiricism of C. R. M. F. Cruttwell, his history tutor at Oxford, to The Last Days of Hitler, the book, which A. J. P. Taylor called ‘a delight for historian and layman alike’. The quarrel reached a point where all could enjoy the infinite view of history debates at Oxford.

Other disputes followed between the novelist and the professor, with letters published in the pages of The New Stateman. These related to the English Reformation and what came to be called “Popish Plots”. Some of these are reproduced in Waugh’s collected Letters. Neither side came out of these disputes the clear winner. But Trevor-Roper actually kept on a non-public but disputatious correspondence even after Waugh’s death.  See, e.g., “Destroy after Reading: Selected Correspondence of Hugh Trevor-Roper and Lord Birkenhead” (EWS 45.3: Winter 2015). For tickets to the lecture and further details go to this link.

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Mr Sniggs and the Pillocks

In the Evening Standard, Sam Leith unburdens himself of his thoughts on today’s undergraduates as they are returning to classes in the UK this week. He opens with a passage from Evelyn Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall where Junior Dean Sniggs is counting up the fines he will collect from the Bollinger Club’s high spirits. Leith continues:

New figures find that over the last three years, £350,000 of fines were levied on students for antisocial behaviour — and there’s been a 16 per cent rise in the last year…Each new generation invents its own new way of being the pits. Look back through the annals of time and at every significant point in history there has been a student behaving like a pillock. Decline and Fall gives us student pillocks; Lucky Jim gives us student pillocks a generation later; The Young Ones gives us student pillocks a generation after that; Fresh Meat a generation after that. And what’s the first half of Romeo and Juliet but a bunch of students being pillocks? Don’t get me started on Hamlet.

After thinking it over, Leith decides it’s best to :

…let students be pillocks. Punish them, by all means. But fining them for drunken misbehaviour, the singing of ribald songs and wheelie bin-related hijinks is to further enmesh them in our glumly transactional world. We already soak them for tuition fees, the better to enrich members of the rent-seeking Vice-Chancellor class. Let’s stop there. We are all, at one time or another, the Bollinger Club. We don’t have to grow up to be Mr Sniggs.

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Waugh and the Country House (more)

Evelyn Waugh’s biographer Paula Byrne has reviewed the book House of Fiction by Phyllis Richardson in the current TLS. This book has been mentioned in several recent posts but Byrne focuses more closely on Richardson’s descriptions of Evelyn Waugh’s relations with the country house than do previous reviewers. Byrne takes issue with several of Richardson’s conclusions, especially relating to the houses she associated with Tristram Shandy and Northanger Abbey. In the case of Waugh and his connections with Madresfield Court, about which Byrne has written extensively in her biography, she notes several errors of fact and judgment on Richardson’s part. These include her placing Waugh in the “upper middle class”, claiming he was dependent on an allowance from his father in the “Bright Young People” era, mispelling Lord Elmley’s name, describing Countess Beauchamp as Roman Catholic, etc.:

An even greater problem than the local carelessness is Richardson’s obsessive and simplistic quest for real-life models for fictional houses…The quest for singular originals for literary houses (or characters) is always doomed to failure. For all the parallels between Madresfield and Brideshead, Hugh Lygon and Sebastian Flyte, Waugh also made use of Barford House, the home of his other  undergraduate love [sic], Alastair Graham.

Byrne seems to overlook Waugh’s first undergraduate lover (Richard Pares) in this regard and perhaps overstates his attachment to Hugh Lygon. She also includes a consideration of Richardson’s chapter on the different treatment accorded the country house in post-modern fiction, raising several interesting points about the survival of both the country house and its literary genre. She concludes with this:

As Toby Litt wrote appropos of his contribution to the genre, Finding Myself: “once you gather a group of people together in a country house then certain things try to force themselves in. Like ghosts. Like midnight flits. Like marital breakdown. Like meditations on the state of England.”

It is not clear from the review whether the quote is also contained in Richardson’s book or is an original contribution by Byrne, but, in either case,  it is a good way to end her article. Thanks to Peggy Troupin for sending this along.

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“Tsunami of Waviana”

The Australian magazine Quadrant has a review in its online edition by Mark McGinness of the early volumes of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh published earlier this week. The article is entitled “Total Waugh.” McGinness begins with an effort to make sense out of the selection of these first volumes for publication:

The first four volumes, published this week, cleverly encompass the young Waugh – his personal writings, his first biography, his second novel, and his autobiography.

Waugh’s early journalism will complete the package and, as noted by McGinness, this volume (the first of four devoted to this facet of his writing) will be published later this year.

McGinness offers quotes from the introductions to Rossetti and Vile Bodies to support his theory. When he comes to A Little Learning, Waugh’s last published book, he provides this  justification:

Waugh’s first and last sentences are so elegantly apt. He begins A Little Learning with “Only when one has lost all curiosity about the future has one reached the age to write an autobiography.” The memoir closes in July, 1925, after a suicide attempt in Wales where he swam out to sea and met a school of jelly-fish; and swam back to shore. His last sentence reads, “Then I climbed the sharp hill that led to all the years ahead.”

The volume Precocious Waughs is the first of 12 devoted to personal writing and, to McGinness, this one contains the greatest revelation. It includes his schoolboy diaries and adolescent letters published for the first time. According to the editors (Alexander Waugh and Alan Bell):

“The clarity of his writing, even in adolescence, and his sharp eye for the absurdity of formal situations and social intercourse –  the same traits that combined so artfully to make his fiction –  are here all shown in their earliest forms, fusing to create a vivid critical and comical commentary on everyday life.”

McGinness concludes with a congratulatory message to OUP for undertaking this ambitious project, foreseeing what he describes as a “tsunami of Waviana” :

One might have expected this sort of honour to be restricted to Shakespeare, Austen or James. Instead it has been conferred on a twentieth-century writer, an abiding enemy of both the Common Man and the Modern Age, but one of the greatest stylists in the English canon. Even committed Wavians may quake at the fulsomeness of it all — four done and 39 to go – but the style, the tone, the presentation and erudition displayed so far, deserve the widest acclaim.

McGinness’s review is cited and linked in the “Prufrock” column of the Weekly Standard magazine which adds its comment:

The first volumes of The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh will be published in a few weeks—a massive undertaking to print every word Waugh wrote. “One of the fascinating aspects of Evelyn Waugh is how much of his life he poured into his art. When his Diaries were published in 1976 his eldest son, Auberon, declared, ‘[They] show that the world of Evelyn Waugh’s novels did in fact exist.’”

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Waugh and the Small, Cornered Creature (more)

In a previous post, we discussed a quote attributed to Evelyn Waugh in an unsigned Private Eye book review about a new collection of stories by James Kelman. A search turned up the quote as having first appeared in a novel by D J Taylor who was also suspected of having written the review. Taylor, who is indeed the reviewer, has explained all this in a recent email:

Inspired by your researches, I decided to summon all the powers of memory at my disposal and track this back to source. It is NOT EW. Here is Alan Watkins in his Brief Lives (1982), writing about my namesake A.J.P. Taylor:

‘He was a short, slight man with a peering and somehow suspicious expression. He resembled a small creature of the field who was apprehensive of attack but would turn nasty in that event.’

I think I must have confused this with EW by misremembering a William Boot, Countryman column in Scoop.

So, that’s sorted. The quote as written by Watkins is unlikely to be mistaken for Waugh whereas, as modified by Taylor for his novel Real Life, it might easily be. Indeed, Taylor’s early novels, of which Real Life is one, are written very much in the Waugh satiric comedy tradition and should have received more attention than has been the case. Others include Trespass and The Comedy Man (published together with Real Life as Returning: Three Novels) as well as English Settlement.

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First Complete Works Volumes Published

The first four volumes of Evelyn Waugh’s Complete Works have been published by Oxford University Press. Alexander Waugh is interviewed on BBC Radio 4 in yesterday’s edition of World at One in connection with this event. The interview is by Luke Jones and takes place in the quadrangle of Hertford College, Oxford, where Waugh was a student. The interview ranges over several subjects arising from Alexander’s general editorship of the project. He hopes that the results of these publications showing all sides of the writer will have the effect of improving his grandfather’s standing in the academic community where he has been somewhat neglected as a comic novelist with a reputation for being a difficult personality. The program may be replayed at this link starting at 23:00 and continuing for about 7 minutes.

The Evening Standard is the first off the mark with a review of the early volumes. The review by David Sexton concentrates on the first volume of Personal Writings and A Little Learning because they contain new material not previously published. Sexton describes some of the new material in A Little Learning (edited by Barbara Cooke and John Howard Wilson) which:

… contains some primary material that will not be familiar to non-academic Waugh readers (“Wavians”, it seems), including three brief drafts of the unfinished sequel to A Little Learning — A Little Hope — and also a collection of interviews with Waugh, some well-known but others retrieved from obscure sources. There are some stinging  pronouncements here. He says in A Little Hope, for example, that when he returned to London from teaching in Wales: “London seemed alight & alive with fun & variety. More than this it seemed a lovable place, dignified & beautiful, with its own inalienable character. The love was short lived. In a few years I saw it distended, despoiled & reduced to insignificant uniformity. I now shun it as do most of my acquaintance.” Asked by an interviewer in 1948 if he likes England, he replies: “One can’t like it. I am English, it is where I belong. It is one of the inherited disadvantages of one’s life. It is no use pretending one is Patagonian and going to live in Chile.” To a writer, “words should be an intense pleasure just as leather should be to a shoemaker”, the welfare state is “a pure fraud”, people who believe civilisation is progressing “must be locked up in lunatic asylums by now”, and “universal education is a waste of time”. Very good.

The first of the projected 10 volumes of Personal Writings is entitled Precocious Waughs (edited by Alexander Waugh and Alan Bell) and contains newly published letters and parts of Waugh’s diaries which were previously omitted from publication. These cover the years prior to his entry to Oxford. According to Sexton:

It turns out Michael Davie missed very few of the most rewarding entries in his “cautious abbreviation” of these juvenile writings in his 1976 edition of the Diaries. However, by removing the repetitions and the more humdrum day-by-day details of Waugh’s intense involvement in the life of Lancing, he altered their overall impression which, at least to anybody who has no direct knowledge of the public-schools, is quite horrifying. How could such an individual as Waugh spend his formative years so obsessed by the school’s minute status markers, its hierarchy and manners, by sport, by the other boys? Even while cutting it, Michael Davie astutely observed that this school diary was a unique document. “Public-school novels and retrospective accounts of public-school life have proliferated but Waugh seems to be the only writer of the front rank — or indeed of any rank — to have preserved a day-to-day record of school life while it happened.” Re-reading these diaries to write A Little Learning, Waugh wrote, but did not publish, this paragraph, now included in the notes of the new edition and quoted by Alexander Waugh in his introduction: “If what I wrote was a true account of myself, I was [cold-hearted, supercilious, arrogant and callous] conceited, heartless & cautiously malevolent.

Other volumes issued this week include Vile Bodies (edited by Martin Stannard) and Rossetti: His Life and Work (edited by Michael Brennan). The first volume of the complete journalism (edited by Donat Gallagher) will be published later this year.

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Rex Mottram Redux

In his American Conservative magazine weblog, Senior Editor Rod Dreher has cited Waugh’s character Rex Mottram from Brideshead Revisited in connection with recent actions of President Trump. Dreher had previously adopted the term “Mottramism,” originally coined by Canadian Blogger, Mark Cameron, who used it to describe those Roman Catholics who accepted without question Pope John Paul II’s failure take effective action against sex abuse in the priesthood. They were, like Rex Mottram, “willing to agree with any absurdity proposed in the name of Catholic authority, and showed no intellectual curiosity into its truth or falsehood.” See previous post. Dreher used the term to refer to those Roman Catholics who accepted certain controversial teachings of the new Pope but now sees another example of this practice:

This useful term should now be deployed to describe supporters of Donald Trump who continue in their docility towards the Great Man despite that fact that he sells them out. I don’t have a strong opinion about DACA, but surely the fact that Trump has reached a deal with the Democrats to keep the so-called “Dreamers” in the country qualifies as a massive betrayal of Trump’s base.

There is, as you might well imagine, quite a lively online conversation regarding this topic at The American Conservative. Indeed, since the appearance of Donald Trump as a political force, Rex Mottram seems to be enjoying quite a comeback in politics, with character traits of his being attributed to Trump himself, as we have noted in a previous post. Dreher is now taking it further, attributing “Mottramism” to Trump’s supporters.

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The Fruit of Whispering Glades

The TLS has published an article marking the centenary of the birth of Jessica Mitford, sister of Waugh’s friends Nancy, Diana and Deborah. The story (“Happy 100th Birthday, Decca”) is by Mark McGinness who has also recently written about Waugh in the Australian press. After reviewing her early life of rebellion and support of left wing causes, McGinness discusses her midlife decision to try a career in writing. Her best known book was inspired at least in part by Waugh’s writings about the American funeral industry in his novel The Loved One and his Life magazine article “Death in Hollywood” (UK title “Half in Love with Mournful Death”). According to McGinness:

In 1963, her lethal exposé of the unscrupulous and sinister funeral industry, The American Way of Death, became a classic and, after decades of sibling infamy, she at last tasted fame in her own right. Evelyn Waugh reviewed it positively, but, as Decca wrote to Debo, he “said I don’t have a ‘plainly stated attitude to death’. So if you see him, tell him of course I’m against it.” Her book even influenced Bobby Kennedy when he chose his brother JFK’s coffin. Offered a choice between one for $900 and one for $2,000, Bobby went for the former, telling Decca that were it not for her book he would have felt obliged to order the more expensive one.

Waugh’s review entitled “Embellishing the loved ones” appeared in the Sunday Times, 29 September 1963. Although it has not been included in in his collected journalism published thus far, it will no doubt become available in the final of the four volumes of his Complete Works that are devoted to his essays, articles and reviews. The UK version of Waugh’s article about the US funeral industry is available in EAR and A Little Order and the US version, at the link above. Mitford wrote an updated version of her book before her death in 1996. This was published in 1998 and entitled (appropriately) The American Way of Death Revisited and includes a chapter devoted to Forest Lawn.

 

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Waugh’s Twofer in First Things

There are two articles on Waugh in the recent print and digital editions of First Things, a nondenominational religious journal. The first is a long essay on Waugh’s work and religion by Paul V Mankowski, SJ that is combined with a review of Philip Eade’s recent biography. This appears in the October 2017 print edition of the journal and is entitled “Waugh on the Merits”. It opens with a discussion of Waugh’s prose style. This is followed by a consideration of his religion and an illustration of his beliefs as displayed in his short story “Out of Depth.” Mankowski then discusses Waugh’s satire and explains how that is informed by his religion. Here he relies primarily on examples from Put Out More Flags and Helena.

After these matters are concluded. Mankowski turns to Eade’s biography. He explains how Eade has relied on prior biographies and uses unpublished materials to fill out and update these earlier works. He concludes:

With commendable moderation and, I think, insight, Eade permits the severest judgments on the character of Waugh—and they were severe—to be those attested by Waugh himself, whereas the evidence for virtues contrary to his self-constructed image of truculent misanthropy comes from the first-person testimony of recipients of his silent but exceptional and exceptionally frequent acts of generosity. One gets the sense throughout his work that Eade has set his hounds to sniff out the documents and interviews that give the truth, even if unsensational, rather than the racy or amusing anecdote; yet in the end his evenhandedness serves to sharpen rather than blur the likeness he has crafted. In sum, Eade succeeds in giving a convincing picture of a complex man—one more interesting, in human terms, than the portrait the artist gave us of himself.

In the journal’s online edition, Senior Editor Matthew Schmitz has written a shorter article about Waugh’s religious beliefs: “Christianity is for Cucks.” This starts with a quote from the same story “Out of Depth” cited by Fr Mankowski:

Dishevelled white men were staring ahead with vague, uncomprehending eyes, to the end of the room where two candles burned. The priest turned towards them his bland, black face ….

Evelyn Waugh knew that a vision of Africans proclaiming the faith to whites would startle his readers in 1933…I sometimes think we are heading toward the world described by Waugh. He got the idea from John Gray’s novel Park, whose hero is transported to a future in which savage Englishmen live underground while civilized Africans cultivate England’s green and pleasant land, celebrating splendid Latin liturgies, studying the perennial philosophy…

Schmitz goes on to describe emails from alt-right commenters arguing that, for reasons such as those described by Waugh, ‘Christianity is for cucks’, the alt-right’s abbreviation  for cuckolds. He goes on to explain that this attitude wouldn’t bother Waugh, citing as an example Guy Crouchback, one of Waugh’s best-developed religious characters, who goes through three volumes of Sword of Honour in a state of cuckoldry but comes out of it a better person.

“Out of Depth” originally appeared in Harper’s Bazaar (London) in December 1933 where it was subtitled “An Experiment Begun in Shaftesbury Avenue and Ended in Time”). It later was included (without the subtitle) in the 1936 collection Mr Loveday’s Little Outing and Other Sad Stories and is currently available in The Complete Short Stories.

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