Dornford Yates Revival?

Dornford Yates (the pen name of Cecil Wm. Mercer, 1885-1960) is a writer who thrived in the interwar period but who has never enjoyed a revival. He is usually linked with thriller writers of the period such as John Buchan, Sapper and Edgar Wallace. But their works and reputations remain better known. His career is reviewed in an article on the literary internet site Lion & Unicorn. This is by Alwyn Turner and is entitled “Imperial Fiction: Lower Than Vermin.” Turner makes the point that Yates wrote of an idealized upper class society that has now fallen out of favor. He was also openly anti-socialist and reflected this in his fiction. The same could be said of writers such as P G Wodehoue and Evelyn Waugh up to a point. But as explained by Turner, Yates:

…  had a problem that his work was set in a recognizable here and now, not in an escapist paradise. P.G. Wodehouse might jokingly title a novel Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (1954), but that was taken as fantasy fun, to be enjoyed in a sense of jokiness; Yates, on the other hand, seemed genuinely attached to that same feudal spirit…There’s also the lack of humour: the characters in the Berry books, in particular, are always roaring with laughter at each other, but there are precious few jokes for the reader. There’s also the fact that it took his publishers so long to bring out mass-market paperback editions of the books. And the sometimes rococo prose style that was dated even at the time. Then there’s the politics…Yates was a deeply conservative writer and had never had any time for the Left. The first page of Blind Corner (1927) introduces us to his hero Richard Chandos just as he’s being sent down from Oxford for beating up communists (he treated them ‘as many thought they deserved’). There’s never a shred of doubt in any of the books that the social order is as it should be, that it suits everyone really rather well, whatever their estate.

Waugh also depicted the upper classes in his writings and yearned to be accepted by them. But that didn’t stop him from satirizing them in his books and turning them into objects of comedy. Moreover, Waugh also hated the left and lost no opportunity in poking fun at them. But he doesn’t preach about them. Even his favorite target Tito was usually laughed off by being described as a woman, and Parsnip and Pimpernell were derided without being excoriated.

Turner does get around to Waugh near the end of his essay. He is here discussing one of Yates’ late novels Lower Than Vermin (1950) where he considers how the lives of an aristocratic family on an English country estate are wrecked by the lower orders:

Like Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited (1945), Yates is using the image of the great country estate to chart (and to lament) the changes in British society – and I don’t think a comparison between the two novels is to Yates’s discredit. He’s aiming at an epic, almost mythic expression of loss, and for the most part he achieves it. Most importantly, and again like Waugh, this is not polemic but art; one doesn’t have to share Yates’s political perspective to feel the power of the piece, just as one doesn’t have to be Catholic to appreciate Brideshead.

Turner seems to think it might be time for another effort at a Dornford Yates revival. One was attempted in the late 1970s and 1980s but came to nothing. A biography was published along with reprints of some of the more popular books. I recall buying some but couldn’t get on with them. As recently as 2015, literary scholar Kate Macdonald included him in her list of the Top 10 conservative novels in the Guardian with this recommendation for his 1931 novel Adele and Company:

The elegant, witty, masterful Pleydell family of White Ladies in Hampshire have their jewels stolen in Paris. Knowing that the French police are simply useless, they set out to detect and recover Daphne’s emerald bracelets and Adèle’s pearls themselves. The best introduction to all of Dornford Yates’s specialities: the thriller, the riotously funny comedy of the upper classes, and the novel of high-speed car chases. Beware of the high-octane snobbery, but it’s brilliantly written. (See previous post.)

As Turner says, Yates’ books are usually available in the second hand market at reasonable prices. He may well find a market among today’s Brexiteers. Turner mentions that one of his most ardent admirers is Michael Gove, who has this to say:

You can never have enough P.G. Wodehouse, Dornford Yates or John Buchan in the house. No matter how ill or upset you are, they’ll cheer you up.

 

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Weekend Roundup: Somerset in the News

Most of our Waugh news in this week’s roundup come from or relates to the county of Somerset:

An Australian radio program on the ABC network announces the upcoming TV series on the career of politician Jeremy Thorpe. This is based on the book A Very English Scandal by John Preston who is interviewed by ABC. He explains how Thorpe’s career was more or less ended by a 1970s scandal, the flames of which had been fanned by Auberon Waugh. Thorpe, who represented a North Devon constituency, had hired a shambolic hitman to kill a former homosexual lover (Norman Scott) who was blackmailing Thorpe  (homosexuality at the time being illegal). The plot failed when the hitman misfired and killed Scott’s dog Rinka and then scarpered. The dog’s suspicious death was reported by an “obscure family-owned Somerset newspaper with about 5,000 subscribers” one of whom was Auberon Waugh who lived at Combe Florey and wrote for Private Eye. He saw the story and smelled a bigger one. It began with an entry in his Private Eye Diary for 15 December 1975:

West Somerset is buzzing with rumours of a most unsavoury description following reports in the West Somerset Free Press about an incident which occurred recently on Exmoor. Mr Norman Scott…who claims to be a good friend of Jeremy Thorpe, the Liberal statesman, was found by an AA patrolman weeping beside the body of Rinka, his Great Dane bitch, which had been shot in the head.

Auberon began pursuing Thorpe in his Eye column and even went so far as to run against him on the ticket of the Dog Lovers’ Party. Given his importance to the story, Auberon will surely be portrayed in the TV series to be broadcast later this year on BBC. The role of Thorpe will be played by Hugh Grant and that of Norman Scott by Ben Whishaw (who played Sebastian Flyte in the 2008 Miramax film of Brideshead Revisited.) The ABC report does not say who would play the part of Auberon Waugh nor does the cast list on IMDB mention anyone assigned to that role. Maybe we will have to be satisfied with a mention.

Another politician with a Somerset connection is also in the news. This is Jacob Rees-Mogg a Euro-skeptic representing a Somerset constituency who is receiving a lot of attention as a potential minister or even Prime Minister in a Conservative Party Shake-Up over Brexit. Writing in the weekly paper The New European, Michael White doesn’t think so. He dismisses Rees-Mogg as a “faux aristo with plenty of principles and views–but no policies” and “a barmaid’s idea of a gentleman,” citing an Old Etonian who explains:

“True blue bloods were always rather lovable yobs, like mongrels…Would-be grandees accumulated behavioural traits they had read about in PG Wodehouse. Jacob doesn’t get noblesse oblige, an ethical system destroyed by Thatcher. His clothes are issued by a theatrical costumer, his children’s names a pale imitation of Evelyn Waugh.”

According to Wikipedia, the youngest Rees-Mogg was born last summer and is named Sixtus Dominic Boniface Christopher Rees-Mogg. Each of other five children have either 5 or 6 names to their credit (counting Rees-Mogg as two). The Waughs’ youngest child (their seventh) was named Michael Septimus.

Meanwhile, the Somerset Live news service has reported that the owner of the Farmers Arms public house in Combe Florey (site of Evelyn Waugh’s final residence and gravesite) has received planning permission to rebuild a new pub on the site of the one that burned down last year. See previous post. The new structure will have enhanced restaurant and bar facilities and improved access for disabled patrons but will otherwise replicate the ambience and exterior of its former incarnation. Presumably this means that it will have a thatched roof.

Finally, blogger Patrick Kurp on his weblog Ancedotal Evidence has posted this about Waugh’s biography of Ronald Knox, who lived his final years at the other end of Someret in Mells where he is buried in the churchyard:

In 2009 I read Monsignor Ronald Knox (1959), Evelyn Waugh’s biography of his friend … Waugh quotes a 1901 letter Knox writes to his sister Ethel:

“I am dying to know how your photograph of me gracefully propped like a belated noctivagous reveller against the corrugated lithological specimen in the garden of our delightful country residence so exquisitely named in the sonorous nomenclature of our somewhat verbose Cymric neighbours Glan Gwynnant, has come out in printing.”

Knox was thirteen when he wrote this, and I had to look up “noctivagous.” Waugh tells us Knox’s letters from Eton were “often humorous in intent, alternating a parody of nursery speech and an extravagant pedantry.” While still a boy, his language could be downright Firbankian. That’s why I copied the sentence into a commonplace book.

Patrick recalled the word after finding a reference to an opossum species of that name. This research was inspired when his dog brought home several opossums of a different species.

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Decline & Fall: DVD Extra Features

The Acorn TV DVD of the BBC’s Decline and Fall adaptation has 15 minutes of extra features. This is for sale in North America. These include interviews with several of the cast and crew falling into 3 tightly edited 5-minute segments: Satire, On Set and Adaptation. Among those interviewed are the director Guillem Morales and the screenwriter James Wood as well as the principal cast members. There are also a “photo gallery” and subtitles. Here are some highlights which may be of interest:

In the first segment, Eva Longoria who plays Margot stresses that, although the story is a comedy, because it is satire, the roles must be played seriously, not as slapstick. David Suchet who plays Dr Fagan notes that he was most looking forward to the Welsh Silver Band scene which has the funniest line in the book. Unfortunately, although he doesn’t mention this, that scene does not come across on the screen because much of the comedy depends on Waugh’s satirical written description of the band and the Welsh. Suchet gets a laugh out of the line, however.

In segment 2, Morales explains that because the comedy depends on the characters and their dialogue, other aspects of the film needed to be realistic. This included the settings which were in many cases locations. But in the case of the King’s Thursday country house interiors, where most of Episode 2 is filmed, the sets were constructed in the studio. James Wood sees the three episodes as taking place in three distinct worlds, having in mind the school, the country house and the prison.

Finally, with respect to the adaptation, Jack Whitehall thinks the script adheres very closely to Waugh’s book. James Wood noted that this was only the third Waugh novel to be adapted for TV; the others he mentions are the 1981 Granada TV Brideshead Revisited and the Channel 4’s Sword of Honour adapted by William Boyd. (He seems to be unaware of the BBC’s 1960s B&W multi-episode TV adaptation of Sword of Honour and the London Weekend’s 1987 two-hour adaptation of Scoop for ITV and PBS, also written by William Boyd). Both Wood and Morales made the point that because so many readers know and love the book, they had to be careful to meet their expectations. There was little need to update the story since the targets of Waugh’s satire such as college rowdies, incompetent prison wardens and ineffective schoolmasters are still around today.

Unfortunately, there is no running commentary of the cast and crew to accompany the  film such as was made for the anniversary edition of Granada’s Brideshead Revisited. Those were popular in the early days of DVDs but have perhaps fallen out of fashion. Acorn Media is also selling the DVD in the UK and this seems to include the same extra features.

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Mr Trump Puts Out More Flags

The Washington Post earlier this week revealed that Donald Trump was planning a huge military parade like those previously mounted following the victorious end of a war. In response, one of their columnists (Dana Milbank) suggests what Trump needs is a good old fashioned Roman triumph. His column opens with this refrence to Evelyn Waugh:

The Post’s scoop about President Trump’s plans for a grand military parade in Washington brings to mind Evelyn Waugh’s classic satire about England’s upper crust in the early days of World War II, “Put Out More Flags,” named after a Chinese proverb:

“A man getting drunk at a farewell party should strike a musical tone, in order to strengthen his spirit . . . and a drunk military man should order gallons and put out more flags in order to increase his military splendor.”

In his novel’s epigraph, Waugh followed this quotation from Lin Yutang’s Importance of Living with another quote from the same source:

“A little injustice in the heart can be drowned by wine; but a great injustice in the world can be drowned only by the sword.”

What Waugh means by this second quote is not entirely clear. This might suggest that, as in the novel, after the flags are put out and the wine has been drunk, the swords are drawn. Since Mr Trump does not consume wine (at least not in the quantities foreseen by the Chinese epigramist), this Chinese proverb could have troubling implications.

After describing in great satiric detail how Mr Trump would incorporate into his parade all the elements of the classical Roman triumph, Mr Milbank concludes:

There’s only one problem with this plan, as I see it. In the Roman triumph, a slave would ride with the general in his chariot and repeatedly whisper into his ear, “Memento mori”: Remember, you are mortal. For our parading president, this could be a dealbreaker.

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Céline, Muriel Spark and Lloyd Cole

Frederic Raphael is still best known for the TV adaptation of his own 1976 novel The Glittering Prizes, which is often compared with Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Indeed, it is not too much to say that the popular and critical success of Raphael’s 1976 TV series paved the way for the production of the Granada TV adaptation of Brideshead a few years later. Raphael has now written a review in the TLS (“Aryan ghetto of one”) of a new book about the works of the French novelist known as Céline. This is the pseudonym of Dr Louis-Ferdinand Destouches, probably the most well-known French novelist who also collaborated with the Nazis.  The book under review is published in French and is entitled Céline, La Race , Le Juif, (“Céline, Race, and the Jew”) but Raphael’s review seems to range well beyond its pages. Céline’s sympathies for what Raphael calls “Aryanism” actually predated the Nazi occupation. Raphael discusses Céline’s first novel, published in 1932 and entitled Voyage au bout de la nuit (“Travel at the end of the night”), and it is in that discussion that an Evelyn Waugh character is mentioned:

Céline’s jagged masterpiece reads like the grumpy shtick of a paranoid one-man bandsman. His disgust with human beings appears to have originated in the carnage of the Great War, in which the young Louis-Ferdinand was a teenage combatant. The brave, foolhardy colonel who literally loses his head in the early pages of Voyage has something in common with Evelyn Waugh’s biffing Brigadier Ritchie-Hook; but his creator lacks any faith in the patriotic cause, still less in the Judaeo-Christian God. Nothing on earth was worth dying or living for and there was nothing else. Bardamu’s anti-pilgrim’s progress takes him to war, to colonial Africa, to 1920s New York, then to medical practice in a slummy Parisian banlieue. The slough of despond was always his likeliest return address.

Without knowing more about Céline’s character, it would be foolhardy to take issue with this comparison. But Ritchie-Hook was not known to be a racist; he was more of an equal opportunity biffer so long as there was an enemy available. And it was not Ritchie-Hook who loses head in Men at Arms but an enemy soldier he encounters in Africa (probably serving with the Vichy French troops stationed where Ritchie-Hook had landed with Guy’s patrol). Ritchie-Hook dies in Unconditional Surrender, but this is from enemy fire in Yugoslavia, not decapitation. Thanks to Milena Borden for sending a link to this review.

Meanwhile, the Guardian has cited Waugh (and Graham Greene) as contributing to their decision to name Muriel Spark’s Momento Mori to be their reading group book of the month:

Originally published in 1959, Memento Mori was Spark’s third novel. It was described by the author’s famous champions Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh respectively as a “funny and macabre book [that] has delighted me as much as any novel that I have read since the war”, and a “brilliant and singularly gruesome achievement”. Gruesome, because of its constant refrain “remember you must die” and because of the painful and unexpected ways some of its characters meet the inevitable.

The quoted language does not seem to come from a review by Waugh (he reviewed other books by Spark but there is no record of a review of this one) but may be taken from a blurb he provided for the cover. He did recommend this book in a letter to Ann Fleming.

Finally, the Lancashire Post reports an interview of a musician who has returned to the UK after many years in the USA. This is Lloyd Cole, who made his name by organizing a band called the “Commotions” while at the University of Glasgow. They were quite prominent throughout the 1980s. Before that, in college at Runshaw in Lancashire, Cole recalls the creation of another less successful band:

“Me and Trevor Morris and Carl Bateson set-up a band, we were called ‘Vile Bodies’ but I don’t think we actually ever played out, maybe three or four engagements lined-up, where we were going to play at parties. I don’t think any came off. “I don’t think I’d come across Evelyn Waugh or even knew who she [sic] was when Trevor came up with the name.”

Perhaps it’s just as well that group never got up and running.

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Waugh in Abyssinia Again

Evelyn Waugh is quoted prominently in an article appearing on an Ethiopian news website called ethioexplorer.com. The quote is in the original English although the text of the article is in Amharic:

“Abyssinia could not claim recognition on equal terms by the civilized nations and at the same time maintain her barbarous isolation; she must put her natural resources at the disposal of the world; since she was obviously unable to develop them herself, it must be done for her, to their mutual benefit, by a more advanced Power. “Evelyn Waugh, Waugh Abroad: Collected Travel Writing/ Evelyn Waugh (New York: Everyman’s Library)

This quote originally appeared in Waugh’s 1936 book Waugh in Abyssinia, p. 40. It comes from the first chapter entitled “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to the Ethiopian Question.”

The quality of the translation by Google of the Amharic text is not particularly good, although it appears that the article is about the humiliations suffered during the conquests of Ethiopia and other African countries by European empires. Waugh’s quote is obviously cited as presenting the case in favor of colonization. The article’s message is perhaps best summarized in its concluding paragraph, which is more coherently translated than the others:

The Battle of Adwa is not just a celebration of the independence and sovereignty of Ethiopia. Obviously, the victory of Adwa is a pioneer in the struggle for equality and freedom for Africans. It is a symbol of equality and freedom for all black people in the world, not just in Africa. The victory of Adwa is a symbol of victory and perseverance not only to black people but also throughout the world and throughout history.

Adwa (referred to by Waugh as Adowa) was the 1896 battle in which the Italian effort to annex Abyssinia to their African possessions was defeated. Waugh described the battle (p. 20) as “decisive but far from ignominious.”

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When the Going was Written

A feature length article by Jorge Martinez appears in the Buenos Aires newspaper La Prensa and is entitled “Auge y caida de la literatura de viajes” (“Rise and fall of travel writing”). Although the article is written in Spanish, most of the books discussed are written in English or French. After describing the writings of the 19th century, featuring those of Richard Burton and Mungo Park, Martinez comes to

the interwar period of the 20th century which was especially fruitful in travel literature. The adventurers already alternated with scientists and writers in search of subjects, and all orbited around the governments of the great imperial powers that disputed the dominion of the Arab lands and the Near East.

He begins with T E Lawrence, Gertrude Bell and Freya Stark then comes to the group that included Evelyn Waugh. These are described in this paragraph that includes a quote from Waugh:

The eve of the second world slaughter seemed an ideal moment for the literary journey. As always, travelers scorned the Europe that unknowingly marched again to death, and were dazzled by the strange and the exotic. “These were the years when Mr Peter Fleming went to the Gobi desert, Mr Graham Greene to the Liberian hinterland, Robert Byron… to the ruins of Persia. We turned our backs on civilization,” declared Evelyn Waugh in the preface to When the going was good (1946), a selection of the four travel books he wrote between 1929 and 1937.

Continuing in the paragraph quoted in the article, Waugh wrote:

..Instead we set off on our various stern roads; I to the Tropics and the Arctic, believing that barbarism was a dodo to be stalked with a pinch of salt. The route of Remote People was easy going; the Ninety-Two Days were more arduous.  We have most of us marched and made camp since then, gone hungry and thirsty, lived where pistols are flourished and fired. At that time it seemed an ordeal, an initiation to manhood.

Others mentioned by Martinez include Partick Leigh Fermor, who wrote after the war about his travels in the thirties, Somerset Maugham and Hilaire Belloc, all acquaintances of Waugh. Martinez concludes with a discussion about the later generation, who revived travel writing in the 1960s and ’70s: these include Bruce Chatwin, Jan Morris and Paul Theroux, who recently wrote about Southern America (Deep South). Martinez concludes: “Apparently, the last word is not said. Centuries pass, and traveling and storytelling (“viajar y contar”) remain synonymous.”

The translation is by Google with a few edits.

UPDATE (5 February 2018): A reader helpfully clarified the concluding sentence which has accordingly been modified.

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Weekend Roundup–Friends at a Distance: Mitford/Waugh Letters

An article on the books blog The Captive Reader is effectively a new review of The Letters of Nancy Mitford & Evelyn Waugh first published in 1996. This is written by “Claire of Vancouver” and opens with this:

Mitford and Waugh write to entertain one another and, it must be said, show off.  They want to share the best gossip, make the cleverest comment, and score points in the ongoing competition that is their friendship. The results are fabulous.

Claire points out that the correspondence is needed because they were living far apart during most of it and rarely met in person.  As editor Charlotte Mosley comments: “…they found it easier to conduct a friendship on paper rather than in person.  When they did meet, Evelyn’s bad temper and Nancy’s sharp tongue – qualities which enhance their correspondence – often led to quarrels.”  After a chronolgical summary of several letters extending over numerous subjects, the article concludes:

The geographical separation was probably a very good thing for their relationship.  They are able to gossip continually about mutual friends … and, in Waugh’s case at least, provide critical feedback on the other’s writings …Waugh is a funny misanthrope but such a contrast from Mitford.  She manages to remain optimistic, to find happiness in a new dress she can’t afford or something terribly Parisian she’s just encountered or a ridiculous thing a member of her family has just done (so many to choose from)  … This was my first encounter with Waugh and I can’t say it did anything to make me warm to him.  But Mitford, on the other hand, her I love even more than before.  She could write devastatingly cruel things with incredible wit but these letters show what lay on the other side of that: the warmth and optimism that sustained her.

Another weblog (catholicism.org) has posted an article about Scott-King’s Modern Europe. This 1947 story was published separately as a short book in both the UK and USA. In the article, Robert Hickson argues that the Roman Catholic church might do well to adopt something more like Scott-King’s attitude to the modern world. The story is liberally quoted in the article and a full version is included in The Complete Stories.

A review in this week’s TLS addresses a book called Lost in Translation. This is reviewed by Lucy Beckett and is about a new attempt to improve the English vernacular version of the Roman Catholic liturgy. Waugh is prominently mentioned as one who was deeply disappointed in the version introduced in the 1960s and “who felt deprived of a precious inheritance from antiquity, and a blood- stained badge of recusant pride.” As described in the book, the new version was “an excellent, resonant and memorable translation, of which most English-speaking Catholics are, alas, unaware.” Although accepted enthusiastically by English-speaking prelates, it was not approved by Vatican officials. Whether Waugh would have joined with its supporters, however, seems doubtful since what he wanted was a return to the Latin services with which he was familiar, and not a better vernacular version.

In the Irish Times, Gerald Dawe writes an appreciation of Muriel Spark on the occasion of her centenary. As an example of her independent spirit, he offers the following anecdote:

Asked about “The Book I would Like to Have Written, and Why”, Spark, while name-checking several possibilities including Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One, The Book of Job which “enchants me above all other books in the Bible” along with the sonnets of Shakespeare, the dialogues of Plato, the notebooks of Kierkegaard, stories including James’s Daisy Miller, TF Powys’s Mr Weston’s Good Wine and novels by “most-admired contemporary novelist, Heinrich Boll”, is adamant: “I would not want to have written anything by anyone else, because they are ‘them’ and I am ‘me’. And I do not want to be anybody else but myself with all the ideas I want to convey, the stories I want to tell, maybe lesser works, but my own” (1981).

 

 

 

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Waugh and Tito

Standpoint magazine in its current issue has reprinted a letter from Milena Borden who is also one of our readers. She was commenting on an article in the magazine’s November issue as explained in her letter. Here is the text of her letter:

Robin Harris’s fine report from Zagreb, ‘Tito’s Crimes Should Never be Forgotten’ (Standpoint, Nov 2017) would have been applauded by Evelyn Waugh. Fifty five years ago almost to the date, in his Sunday Express article ‘Our Guest of Dishonour’ (30 Nov 1952). he asked, ‘Who is the man?’. Waugh argued that ‘Tito was simply his Comintern code-word. Marshal was a rank of the Red Army unknown in Yugoslavia. He had Stalin’s commission and Stalin sent him his marshal’s cap.’

Waugh protested to Anthony Eden’s invitation to Tito to visit London and was against the ‘English Conservative courtship’ of the Yugoslav leader. This was intensified by the split with Stalin in 1948, correctly judged by Harris as a matter of personal ambition rather then principal disagreement. [No doubt Waugh would have also enjoyed hearing more about Tito’s undignified personal life as he jokingly referred to him as a ‘she’ presumably meaning among other things that he was not a real ‘man’. ]

The main agreement he would have had with Harris is the deceptive misconception that Tito was a heroic ‘antifascist’ rather than a communist dictator. Waugh himself wrote an important report about the brutal elimination of Catholic priests by Tito’s partisans. He immortalised the British alliance with Tito in Unconditional Surrender (1961), the third part of his war trilogy Sword of Honour as the ultimate betrayal: ‘He was busy then, as now, in the work for which he has a peculiar aptitude – hoodwinking the British.’

The bracketed text above was deleted from the version reprinted in Standpoint. Waugh’s 1952 Sunday Express article is collected in Essays, Articles and Reviews.  Thanks to Milena for passing this along.

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