Brideshead Revisited x 2

A Roman Catholic magazine, the Homilitic and Pastoral Review (HPR), has published a feature length article entitled “ Sacraments in Brideshead Revisited”. The magazine is aimed at church professionals and specializes in articles on “doctrine, spiritual guidance, morality and authentic pastoral practice.” The Brideshead article, by Sr Albert Marie Surmanski, O P,  focuses on the sacraments (primarily anointing of the sick and marriage) as they are described and applied in the novel. For her texts she chooses Charles Ryder’s questioning of the need for a priest to be brought into Lord Marchmain’s sick room (for which she provides an answer) and the description of the sacramental anointing of the sick as performed by Fr Mackay at the end of the novel. In the case of anointing, the text becomes very detailed and reviews the actual mechanics of the sacrament’s application in what is intended to be one of the most important scenes in the novel:

Several of the details in [Waugh’s] description are inaccurate: anointing of the sick is given with blessed oil of the sick, not chrism; priests anoint with their own hands, not cotton balls, but the power of the sacrament is described with consummate skill.

These “errors” may, of course, have been recognized as such by Waugh but intended to contribute to the character of the unpretentious country priest. Sr Surmanski does not address that point as it is, perhaps, beyond the scope of her article. Overall, the article explains the application of the sacraments in the context of Waugh’s novel in dispassionate terms that can be understood by laymen as well as professionals. But it probably would help to be familiar with the Roman Catholic liturgy and ritual to fully appreciate many of the details.

Another article has appeared in the Norwegian press about the recently published new translation of Brideshead Revisited into Norwegian (Gjensyn med Brideshead). This appears in the daily newspaper Vårt Land and is a review by Kristian Wikborg Wiese of the new translation of the novel by Johanne Fronth-Nygren. See previous posts. After summarizing the plot, the reviewer makes several comments about the translation. This is praised for successfully using appropriate Norwegian language to convey the social status of the English characters. The reviewer also offers what may be an original insight into the character of Charles Ryder as reflected in the forms of dialogue in which the book is written:

When we are in dialogue, a striking feature of the novel is the often long monologues some of the people speak to Charles Ryder. Whether it’s his father, the southern European and gay Anthony Blanche, or Sebastian Flyte’s sister Julia. In these cases it is clear that the main character chooses to listen rather than speak. This characteristic can be interpreted as the main character being a man in search of something bigger, more meaningful. But through Charles, the narrator of the book, we are at the same time part of an introspective journey, where the protagonist focuses on himself, in order to make sense through the memories. For a while he seeks cover in art. He lives as a painter and lives in a loveless marriage he later chooses to leave. But by constantly listening to other people, taking part in their experiences and thoughts, whether it is theological or social considerations, he is led towards a religious awakening. This comes gradually, and it is not until the last pages of the book it becomes clear that Charles Ryder has left his agnostic self for the benefit of religion.

The translation is by Google with minor edits. The translation is readable but struggles a bit in the final section where it describes Cordelia’s dealings with the African mission:

For example, Cordelia, the youngest of the Brideshead children, boasts “Six Black Cordelias”. This resulted from six occasions, on which she sent five divorces [should read “five shillings”] to some nuns in Africa, who in turn baptized six children and named them after her./Cordelia, den yngste av Bridesheadene, kan for eksempel skilte med «seks sorte Cordeliaer». Et resultat av at hun ved seks anledninger har sendt fem skilling til noen nonner i Afrika, som igjen har døpt seks barn og oppkalt de etter henne.

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Waugh Cited in Descriptions of Tory Meeting

Several news sources are quoting an unnamed Conservative MP who compared the recent meeting of the Party’s Parliamentary membership to a scene written by Evelyn Waugh. Sky News, for example, put it this way:

In a scene one MP described as like an Evelyn Waugh minor public school assembly, the PM’s arrival was greeted with traditional cheers and thumping of hands against desks. “Maybe they’re banging their heads against the tables,” said a journalist outside.

The meeting was not open to the press. A similar description appeared in BuzzFeed News and was picked up by other news services. The MP was no doubt reminded of the scene from the BBC’s recent adaptation of Waugh’s Decline and Fall where Paul Pennyfeather is introduced to his pupils. It is Prendergast whose arrival is greeted with a burst of applause. When Paul enters his classroom he is met with stony silence which is followed by the students each introducing himself as Tangent:

In a few seconds the room had become divided into two parties: those who were Tangent and those who were not. Blows were being exchanged, when the door opened and Grimes came in. There was a hush.

Silence was restored for the remainder of the period after Grimes gave Paul a walking stick and told Paul to set them something to do. After threatening them with the stick, Paul assigns an essay on “Self Indulgence”: 

There will be a prize of half a crown for the longest essay, irrespective of merit. (Penguin, 2011, pp. 44-45)

It seems unlikely that a stick was made available to the Prime Minister at the Tory Parliamentary Party meeting. While it was not clear if an essay subject was assigned, this one might have suggested itself: “Softer Brexit–Self Indulgence or Self Preservation?”

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Cyril Connolly Reconsidered

In an essay in the current TLS, Brian Dillon reconsiders the career of Waugh’s contemporary and friend Cyril Connolly. The essay is entitled “Cyril Connolly and the literature of depression” and was originally published in Dillon’s collection Essayism.  Dillon recognizes this topic is a challenge because Connolly published very little and most of that (a single novel and collected reviews) is justifiably forgotten. But while most critics would name Enemies of Promise as the one book for which Connolly should be most remembered, Dillon thinks that role should be assigned to The Unquiet Grave:

…the odd, fragmentary “word cycle” he published under the pen name Palinurus in the autumn of 1944. This is the book – an essay, an anthology, a complaint – in which the contradictions in Connolly’s talent and personality fail to resolve with the strangest, most seductive results. Here he anatomizes his worst traits: laziness, nostalgia, gluttony, hypochondria, some essential frivolity of mind that means his writing will always be summed up as “‘brilliant’ – that is, not worth doing”… You can hear that his pensées are already on the turn; his taste is for the overripe. Connolly’s perfectly wrought, disconsolate phrases revert to what one suspects they had been in life, before reaching the pages of his notebooks: jokes, that is, one-liners and gags.

After reviewing Connolly’s book and describing its links to contemporary European thought, Dillon considers its distinctly mixed critical reception:

The Unquiet Grave had a brief celebrity before it began to look antique. Elizabeth Bowen, Philip Toynbee and Edmund Wilson all admired it; Hemingway even wrote to say that he was “almost sure it will be a classic (whatever that means)”. Others remained unconvinced. An anonymous reviewer in the TLS spoke of the book’s “bleak silliness”. Waugh, who never missed a chance to pick on the sometime friend he called “Smartiboots”, complained that “Cyril has lived too long among Communist young ladies”.

Waugh’s review of the book was entitled “Palinurus in Never-Never Land or the Horizon Blue-Print of Chaos.” It appeared in the Tablet and was later included A Little Order and Essays, Articles and Reviews. The Waugh quotation in the TLS article, however, comes from a letter to Nancy Mitford, dated 7 January 1945 written from Yugoslavia. Letters, 196. Waugh’s negativity toward the book lived after him; Connolly discovered his friend’s handwritten marginal notes written in the copy Waugh received in Yugoslavia that was displayed at a US exhibit to which Connolly was invited. According to Waugh scholar Robert Murray Davis who was present, those notes reduced Connolly to tears.

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Brideshead Article Reprinted

The politically conservative journal Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture has posted a 2015 article by Roman Catholic journalist Joseph Pearce. The article, entitled “Revisiting Brideshead“, provides a concise and coherent restatement of the religious underpinnings of Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited. Particularly good, in your correspondent’s opinion, is Pearce’s exposition of the “avalanche metaphor”, from the closing pages of the novel, which is little noticed by other commentators who tend to seize upon the “twitch upon the thread metaphor.” The article was also reprinted in a 2016 special Waugh edition of the Saint Austin Review of which Pearce is co-editor. See previous post.  There is an opportunity for comment on the article on the Chronicle’s Facebook page.

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Waugh’s 1930

An anonymous Spanish-language blogger posting on picapicaweb has written a series of six brief articles tracing Evelyn Waugh’s movements in the year 1930. “Pica pica” is the scientific word for magpie, and the blogger claims to pick up those bits of information which suit his or her varying purposes. In this case, the blogger starts with a brief summary of Waugh’s life up to 1930. The date of this first post on the weblog is 23 May 2017. Additional posts appear at approximately one day intervals, starting with post #2  which relates to the publication of Vile Bodies.  This is accompanied with a quote of the “masked parties” paragraph from that book. The post says that publication was in June of 1930, but the London publication was actually in January. The book published later in the year was Labels which came out in September.

Post #3  explains the genesis of Waugh’s trip to Abyssinia with a quote from Remote People. It concludes:

In mid-September (sic) Waugh decides to convert to Catholicism and does so on the 29th. Since he will turn 27 on October 28, he also decides to celebrate it in Ethiopia and attend the coronation ceremonies of the Emperor Haile Selassie. His friends applaud the occurrence … Evelyn is a sparkling type. The party without end; Drinks, tobacco, beautiful people, witty conversations and always someone at the piano.

Waugh’s decision to convert to Roman Catholicism took a bit more time than is suggested in this article. Martin Stannard (Early Years, p. 227) dates the first mention of that decision to a diary entry on 2 July 1930.

In succeeding posts, also based on Remote People, the blogger describes Waugh’s visit to Abyssinia in #4:

Evelyn knows almost nothing about Ethiopia. He travels around the country and attends  the coronation festivities of the new emperor in Addis Ababa; The Ras Tafari, the Negus, the self-styled Haile Selassie I, King of Kings.  A month of celebrations, parties and nonsense. A permanent nonsense. Everything happens without order or concert. Continuous astonishment. The unexpected is the everyday. Waugh is English and England has an empire. Young, elegant, cultured, sophisticated … watches the events with an exquisite ironic distance. He does not understand or feel empathy. In the background he exhibits the curiosity of a walker by the zoo. The coronation took place on November 2, 1930 in the Cathedral of St. George in Addis Ababa, the religious ceremony lasted almost two days with very brief interruptions. Evelyn knows very well who his readers are and gives them what they expect. Send brief, intelligent and delicious chronicles. With the touch of British superiority. A success. In mid-November Waugh is back in the port of Djibouti. He has to make a decision because he is  facing a dilemma.

Post #5 describes the descision to proceed to Aden rather than directly back to Marseilles and then:

Fifteen splendid days in Aden, Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam, Mombasa, Nairobi, Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika, Albertville, Elisabethville, Cape Town … crosses Africa without leaving the British Empire (sic) ; Kenya, Uganda, Rhodesia, South Africa. Trains and boats. Who does Waugh relate to? Businessmen, officials, military, merchants, plantation owners … all Europeans. The natives are lower ranks (“subalternos”), they are part of the landscape. He embarks in Cape Town, makes stops in Santa Elena and Tenerife “where everybody bought some nauseous cigars”. On the morning of March 10, 1931, Evelyn Waugh arrives in Southampton. After five months the strange journey is over.

The detour to Albertville and Elisabethville took him through the Belgian Congo, not part of the British Empire.

Post 6 summarizes the results of the trip and the eventful year, starting with a quote from the conclusion of Remote People. The post itself concludes:

Evelyn Waugh published his trip as “Remote People” in 1931. Bright book, especially regarding Ethiopia and the stay in Aden. Twilight of a colonial world in which the natives were complacent and the travelers did not fly and transported trunks. World War II put an end to all that. From 1945 Evelyn will not be the same, of its evolution perhaps we will speak another time.

The posts are illustrated with relevant, well-reproduced photos, including covers of the Spanish language translations of the books cited. Translation is by Google with minor edits.


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Pinfold and the Paranormal

A  blogger posting as has made a detailed analysis of Evelyn Waugh’s novel The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold and compared the hallucinations described there with those reported by victims of alleged invasive electronic surveillance. According to the blogpost, Waugh’s novel:

…gives a fascinating first hand account of the kind of thing those suffering from electronic harassment report and we can use this text which is composed in a methodical manner, as a valuable resource to identify the purpose and nature of these auditory hallucinations.

These descriptions of “electronic harassment” come from YouTube posts of broadcasts (linked in the blogpost) on TV and radio where these victims are interviewed. Whether these comparisons have any validity is hard to say, but a few minutes of listening to the posted broadcasts should be enough to for most of us to judge for ourselves that the comparison may be a bit of a stretch. The effort is nonetheless an interesting, original and unforeseen use of Waugh’s writings. 

Another blogger posting as Diary of an Autodidact has written a detailed review of Brideshead Revisited. At age 40, this is the first Waugh novel he has read. Here’s an excerpt of his conclusions:

Waugh was a true craftsman of words, with gem following bon mot, and pictures told clearly in an economy of words. His skill is apparent, as is his ability to see the cracks in people and society…Anthony Blanche is in many ways the most perceptive and honest character in the book, recklessly baring the souls of the other characters while making them all uncomfortable. Waugh is a delightful writer – his prose seems so effortlessly good, never labored, and always fit to the purpose. Brideshead Revisited is a good book, despite its flaws. Perhaps best is the way Waugh complicates motives. Nothing is as pure as it seems, and we are all flawed, wounded, and damaged. Waugh may not be convincing in his proposed cure, but he poses the essential questions, creating memorable characters along the way.

Finally, Canadian writer John Metcalf posting on The, begins an article with a consideration of Canadian novelist Margaret Laurence. She was once thought to be “at the leading edge of Canadian writing” and died in 1987. After a discussion of her writing style, he progresses to Evelyn Waugh and Cyril Connolly:

Most of the writers I know have treasured particular sentences by whatever writers are in the pantheon they have constructed for themselves. One of the sentences in my own casket of treasures is by Evelyn Waugh. In a review for a newspaper of World Within World, the autobiography of the rather humdrum poet and literary functionary Stephen Spender, Waugh wrote: “To see him fumbling with our rich and delicate language is to experience all the horror of seeing a Sèvres vase in the hands of a chimpanzee.” Evelyn Waugh brings me to the friend of his Oxford University days, Cyril Connolly. And Cyril Connolly will bring me back again to sentences.

The article then continues with a consideration of Connolly’s career. Waugh’s review of Spender’s book is included in the collections Essays, Articles and Reviews and A Little Order

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Baltimore Sun Quotes Waugh on Useage

In his Baltimore Sun column entitled “You Don’t Say” (about language, useage, etc.), John McIntyre quotes a paragraph from a letter Evelyn Waugh wrote to Nancy Mitford in which Waugh comments on an article she wrote for Encounter magazine on the subject of upper class British useage. The letter is dated 19 October 1955 and is reproduced in the Mark Amory collection at pp. 451-52. McIntyre cites that as the quotation’s source but describes the letter in his introductory paragraph as follows:

In a letter of 1955 to Nancy Mitford about her article “The English Aristocracy,” later included in Noblesse Oblige, Evelyn Waugh makes the link between idiosyncratic linguistic preferences and social class.

McIntyre seems to suggest (although his statement is ambiguous) that this letter of Waugh’s was included in the collection entitled Noblesse Oblige. It may be that he only intended to say (correctly) that Mitford’s article was later published in that collection. For avoidance of doubt, however, it should be noted that Waugh wrote another longer, more detailed letter, entitled, rather pompously, “An Open Letter to the Hon Mrs Peter Rodd on a Very Serious Subject”, and that was the letter included in the collection. It was originally published in the December 1955 issue of Encounter magazine and is also reprinted in the collection of Waugh’s Essays, Articles and Reviews. In that “open letter”, he makes some of the same points that are made in the earlier letter now published in the Sun, but the Sun’s version contains personal references to friends of Waugh such as Perry Brownlow (described therein as “very illiterate”) and Ronald Knox (who is said to blanch “if one says ‘docile’ with a long o”). Waugh would not have made such comments in a “letter” he knew would be published contemporaneously. In any event, the quote published in the Sun works quite well for the purpose intended.


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Waugh Introduces New Edition of Greek Poetry

References to Waugh’s novels are used to introduce a review of the first volume of a new edition of The Greek Anthology published by Harvard University Press and The Loeb Library. The review is by Hayden Pelliccia and appears in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books.

One of the poems in the anthology is the epigram written by Callimachus to commemorate the death of Heraclitus. The entire text of this as translated by William Johnson Cory is quoted in the article. Waugh quotes two lines of the translation in Officers and Gentlemen (1955), a few years after he had written his own brilliant comic parody of the poem in The Loved One (1948). In O&G, Waugh has the British Commander in Chief (based on Field Marshall Wavell who is soon to be relieved) recite the Cory translation from memory at a party given by Julia Stitch which Guy Crouchback attends. In the book, only the first and last lines are quoted:

They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead…/For death he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.

When the C-in-C finishes, another guest, described as a cabinet minister, offers to one-up him by reciting the poem in Greek, but he is put off doing so by one of the other guests, a Greek. O&G, Penguin, 1977, pp. 130-31.

In The Loved One, Dennis Barlow uses the poem as the basis for a eulogy to be read out at the funeral of Francis Hinsley after he hung himself. The NYRB article quotes the first part of Waugh’s version in explaining the poem’s relevance to the new anthology:

Waugh, like other even mildly modernist Englishmen of his era, was both embarrassed by Cory’s sentimental old chestnut and unable to get it out of his head. He had the poetry-plagiarizing hero of The Loved One adapt it to commemorate the suicide of his mentor:

“They told me, Francis Hinsley, they told me you were hung
With red protruding eye-balls and black protruding tongue
I wept as I remembered how often you and I
Had laughed about Los Angeles and now ’tis here you’ll lie…”

This trip from the sublime—which Callimachus’s Greek text is—to the camp and down to the ridiculous is fully in keeping with the spirit of the Anthology, the vastness of which accommodates poems of remarkable variety.

It it worth quoting the last two lines of Waugh’s parody, just for the sake of completeness:

Here pickled in formaldehyde and painted like a whore,/Shrimp-pink incorruptible, not lost nor gone before. (Penguin, 1951, p. 69)

The same poem comes up again in Waugh’s biography of Ronald Knox, near the end of Knox’s life when he delivers the Romanes Lecture at Oxford despite the weakness he was suffering in his final illness. As described by Waugh:

When, half-way through, to illustrate a point, Knox recited in full Cory’s familiar rendering of the Greek epigram, ‘They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead’, most of those present recognized his words as his own farewell to Oxford, and some with whom of old he had ‘tired the sun with talking’, did not restrain their tears. (Penguin, 2011, p. 439)

This lecture was delivered in 1957 a few years after Waugh has the C-in-C recite the poem in O&G.

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Review of Auberon Waugh Autobiography Posted

Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture has posted on the internet a 1998 review of Auberon Waugh’s autobiography Will This Do? The magazine is a publication of the Rockford Institute, a think tank promoting the views of the “paleoconservative,” as opposed to the “neoconservative,” movement. The review appears in an article entitled “Waugh After Waugh” by Andrei Navrozov. The review was written before Auberon’s death but makes several points that are equally valid today. For example:

With the feigned naivete that is another trademark of Waugh’s journalism, this book is divided into two sections, some 200 pages for “Youth” and a mere 80 pages for “Maturity.” It does not surprise me in the least that the first section, more classically “autobiographical” in that it covers Waugh’s relationship with his father and the many branches of a becomingly complex family tree, is actually quite dull. This is because, deep down, Waugh does not fully appreciate his own uniqueness and cannot entirely accept his role in the modern world as the great progenitor he is, rather than a mere descendant of a world that is no more. Bron Waugh modest?! In this sense he is excruciatingly so, to the detriment of his writing. He simply cannot write—not with a straight face, at any rate—in a genre that he has not himself at least in part invented. Perhaps for this very reason, though it may also be just so much perverse coquetry, he is very firm about dissuading us from reading any of his five published novels. The second, ridiculously brief, section where he finally comes into his own as England’s favorite venomous viper is itself worth the price of the book…

The article suggests that the book is still in print in the Carroll and Graf edition. Amazon, however, is selling only second-hand copies, but those are available at reasonable prices. See above link.

UPDATE (6 June 2017): Thanks to David Lull for confirming that Andrei Navrozov is the author of the original review published in 1998.

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Waugh Echoes in Kevin Kwan Trilogy

Singapore-born novelist Kevin Kwan has just completed a trilogy of comic novels which began with Crazy Rich Asians in 2013. According to the Seattle Times, the trilogy is

set among three intergenerational and ultrarich Chinese families and peppered with hilarious explanatory footnotes, [and takes place] mostly in Singapore but flits easily from one glamorous world city to another, with Young family heir Nick and his American-born girlfriend (later wife) Rachel as our levelheaded tour guides.

Kwan in an interview with Moira Macdonald in the same article explains that he always intended the story to be told in three books. He identifies his influences in answer to another question:

I love Anthony Trollope’s “Dr. Thorne” and his “Palliser Series,” Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited,” as well as everything Jane Austen has written. I have to admit that being a child of the ’80s, I was also inspired by family sagas on TV: “Dynasty,” “Falcon Crest” and more recently “Downton Abbey” and “Game of Thrones”!

In the Toronto Star, Shinan Govani, reviewing the final book in the trilogy Rich People Problems, also makes an allusion to Waugh’s writing:

Taking social climbing to its zenith, and continuing its stealth public service of providing a peephole into a billionaire caste we only really knew from pages of The Economist, the new book comes, like the first two, with a smidgen of Evelyn Waugh, a dollop of Edith Wharton, and a dash of Dynasty. As I’ve said before: Kwan’s world is so outrageous and so wicked it succeeds in making Downton Abbey look like Downton Arriviste, and Gossip Girl feel gauche.Packed to the gills, as ever, with real estate porn, a foodie free-for-all, and fashion’s Little Black Book, another thing struck me: how much of a glossary he’s created for the modern snob.

The article continues with an A to Z of references from the three books. The second book in the trilogy is entitled China Rich Girlfriend and was published in 2015.

The Metro, a UK free distribution newspaper related to the Daily Mail, reviews another new novel with a Waugh connection. This is Party Girls Die in Pearls: An Oxford Girl Mystery by novelist and fashion journalist Victoria “Plum” Sykes, who is the grand daughter of Christopher Sykes, Evelyn Waugh’s friend and biographer. See previous post. This is Sykes’ third novel and, according to The Metro, the book is a:

…murder mystery comedy. Set in an Oxford college in 1985…it is a delightful, daft-as-a-brush caper as effervescent as the champagne everyone in the novel keeps necking. But…Sykes is no Evelyn Waugh when it comes to truly skewering Oxford collegiate life. And you have to suspend an awful lot of disbelief to swallow its bonkers set-up.

UPDATE (12 June 2017): A more positive review of the Plum Sykes novel can be found on the Daily O, an Indian online news and opinion journal:

Everyone sounds as if they’re straight out of Evelyn Waugh novels and Oscar Wilde plays…It’s all terribly posh, and please by all means regard this book as a serious anthropological exercise, especially with its almost all-male clubs and its Hildebeest conquests (as in inhabitants of the all female hall St Hilda’s). This is a campus free of gender issues, set in the 1980s so that there are no allegations of sexual harassment by tutors/date rape culture/excessive drink/drug-use. … Helpfully supplied with footnotes, it’s delightful and can be easily dismissed as anachronistic (though given the reactions to Theresa May’s premiership perhaps sexism isn’t such a dated attitude after all among the toffs)…All done very delicately and very snobbily. Think Agatha Christie meets Nancy Drew and dive in. Swim in a sea of Dom Perignon and top it with an enormous fry-up. It’s that kind of a breezy read. Ms Flowerbutton, bring more on.

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