Alastair Graham and Steven Runciman (more)

In a recent post we mentioned a weblog article that described the friendship or affair between Waugh’s Oxford friend Alastair Graham and historian Steven Runciman. The book cited in that article (Outlandish Knight by Minoo Dinwash) sheds additional light on this matter and contains some details that differ from those described in the article:

Runciman and Graham met in Turkey, not Greece as stated in the article. The meeting took place in 1937 at the residence of Sir Percy Loraine, then HM Ambassador to Turkey. Graham is described as “attached to the Embassy” but Runciman was only visiting. Dinshaw goes on to write that “Graham, characteristically, left no great impression” (Ibid., pp. 220-221). Later, Dinshaw elaborates a bit based on correspondence with another of Runciman’s friends, David Pinckney, whom Runciman met in New York in 1978. Pinckney refers to Runciman’s “long-ago, brief meeting with Alastair Graham…at Sir Percy Loraine’s table in Istanbul.” At this point, Dinshaw inserts a footnote about Runciman’s relationship with Graham. This footnote is described as “extensive” in the blog post but is in fact only three lines: “Steven had, however, thought Graham worth his while enough to photograph him, and pointed out this snap while showing his younger guest [i.e., Pinckney] his albums at Elshieshields, after sufficient wine had been taken” (Ibid., pp. 530-31). This would have been more than 40 years after their meeting in Turkey, so Alastair must have made some impression.

Although not mentioned in either the blog post or the Runciman biography, Alastair had previously served in the British Embassy in Athens where Percy Loraine also had a diplomatic post in the late 1920s. This was probably explained in Duncan Fallowell’s book How to Disappear which is cited in the weblog. Waugh described in Labels (p. 149) a 1929 visit to his “friend Alastair” in Athens who was working at the Embassy. Steven Runciman was also posted to Athens by the British Council, but that was just after the war.

 

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Vile Politics

Heather Wilhelm writing in National Review has noticed that several commentators have been making the analogy between present national politics and professional wrestling. You can best explain what’s happening by remembering that, like a professional wrestler (who isn’t so much interested in who wins the match but rather in maximizing the number of viewers), Trump’s loyalty isn’t to one side or the other but to being the subject of the most watchable story.

Looking for other ways of fitting today’s politics into a framework of understanding, Wilhelm comes up with three. One of these is to treat it like:

“An over-the top Evelyn Waugh novel. Ah, Evelyn Waugh, master of the ridiculous. Think of the characters in Vile Bodies, out of touch and absurd — “Adam felt a little dizzy, so he had another drink” — with last names like Outrage and Chasm. They bounce all over the countryside, vague and half-hearted, crashing cars and wasting money and giving vast fortunes to random drunk army majors who repeatedly and predictably disappear without a trace. If that doesn’t sound like political D.C., I don’t know what does. (The drunk army major reappears with the money at the end of the book, by the way — but by then, it’s been completely devalued.)”

The others are to view politics like a 1990’s soap opera that contunues indefinitely, where despicable people will just keep on appearing. And finally, just approach the subject like a Monet painting. It looks fine if you keep your distance. But don’t get too close or it will just appear to be a messy jumble of dots.

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Ann Pasternak Slater to Join Hertford College Event

It has been announced that Waugh scholar Ann Pasternak Slater, editor of Waugh’s short stories and author of the recent study Evelyn Waugh (Writers and their Work) will join Alexander Waugh and Barbara Cooke at the previously announced lecture at Hertford College, Oxford. This is on the topic “Waugh’s Enemies” and is scheduled for the afternoon of Monday, 25 September in the college Dining Hall. Only a few tickets are left. Booking details are available here.

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George Smiley and Basil Seal

The Evening Standard has reviewed John Le Carre’s latest novel A Legacy of Spies in which he revives his old characters from the George Smiley novels. The reviewer David Sexton has this observation about the pitfalls of this practice:

Often it is a mistake for novelists to revive their favourite characters late in their careers, actually detracting from, rather than adding to, their original achievement. Evelyn Waugh’s appalling Basil Seal Rides Again published two years before his death remains the classic example, Waugh himself accurately calling it “a senile attempt to recapture the manner of my youth”. Le Carré is now 85 and it is more than a quarter of a century since he last visited these characters. Yet, quite remarkably, he has pulled it off. A Legacy of Spies deploys a complex and ingeniously layered structure to make the past alive in the present once more (so complex, in fact, that the novel only reveals itself fully on a second reading).

Waugh’s short story was first published in limited UK and US editions in 1963 and has subsequently appeared in his collected short stories. The book was dedicated to Ann Fleming and the quote comes from a letter Waugh wrote to her in December 1962 which was reprinted in the limited editions as well as in Letters, p. 562.

The online journal Artfix Daily has published a review of an exhibition entitled “Restoring the Minoans: Elizabeth Price and Sir Arthur Evans.” This is on display at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW).

The inclusion of Elizabeth Price is explained by her production of an imaginative video illustrating how archeologists enhance and elaborate the items they collect. Sir Arthur Evans was an outstanding example of such elaborative practices in connection with his early 20th c. excavations at Knossos Crete. This is where Evelyn Waugh comes in:

One telling example of Evans’s imaginative re-creations is the “Lady in Red.” Here, one of his primary draftsmen has created an image of a complete figure based on a single small fragment of a fresco painting. The female subject, characterized by such features as lines indicating a coquettish smile, is more evocative of contemporaneous European art, than of anything found in Minoan wall paintings. It may have been “restorations” like this that inspired Evelyn Waugh in 1929 to note that restorers of Minoan painting “have tempered their zeal for reconstruction with a predilection for covers of Vogue.

The quote is from Waugh’s 1930 travel book Labels (p. 136). There are, however, a few modifying bits left out. The complete quote reads: “…have tempered their zeal for accurate reconstruction with a somewhat inappropriate predilection for covers of Vogue.” The exhibit continues at the ISAW until 7 January 2018.

Finally, The Oldie’s weblog reports the events at its London literary luncheon earlier this week. Among the speakers was Waugh biographer Paula Byrne who discussed her recent biography of Kathleen Kennedy (Kick: The True Story of JFK’s Sister and the Heir to Chatsworth):

… Byrne talked about Kick’s surprising friendship with the bullish Evelyn Waugh, who asked her, on their first meeting, how big her ‘dot’ was. She thought he meant her belly button, and said it was normal-sized. In fact, he meant ‘dot’, as in the French for dowry. Byrne talked movingly, too, about the wartime death of Kick’s husband, the Marquess of Hartington, and her own tragic, early demise.

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Waughs and the Bat Colony

Late last month in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, we posted a message about the Waugh Drive Bridge in Houston and its bat colony. Patrick Kurp, who maintains a weblog called “Anecdotal Evidence” and lives in Houston, has provided the following response:

“Thank you for the note. … “Waugh” is pronounced as you might expect, roughly the way Evelyn would have spoken his surname. Given various Texas accents, it comes out “Waw,” rhyming with “claw.”I drive over the Waugh Bridge on my way to work and back home again. Here’s what I have found online, though you may have seen this already:
 
 
 
 
An online search discloses more stories. Not a happy event for anyone.…Patrick” 
 
Another reader, Dave Lull, found an email exchange by Texas A&M University students and graduates on the pronunciation of “Waugh”. Most concurred with Patrick’s conclusions. A&M is, however, not in Houston but is located in College Station between that city and Dallas. Some respondents also claimed to have heard the name pronounced Waff (as in “laugh”).
The bridge and street are named for Tyrell Thomas Waugh (1897-1918), a US Marine from Houston who died in WWI. He was the son of T L Waugh (1864-1944), at one time Houston’s Street and Bridge Commissioner. No apparent relation to Waughs of Midsomer Norton, Somerset, but the accessible internet records go back to a Rev John Waugh born in Scotland c. 1630 who emigrated to Virginia where he died c. 1706. Evelyn Waugh mentions his great-great-great grandfather was named Thomas Waugh, was a member of the Scottish Secessionist Church and lived in Berwickshire. A Little Learning (1973, p. 10)
Several streets in Houston owe their names to WWI heroes, according to the Houston Chronicle. Waugh Drive was previously known as Euclid Street, acccording to a 1913 map. The bridge of that name, made famous by the bat colony, was built in 1922-24 to replace what is known in Texas as a “low water crossing”–i.e., something you drive through when it hasn’t been raining, otherwise not. One wonders whether the bats will rebuild under the bridge. They may have learned by now that living under a bridge spanning something called a “bayou” in Texas may not be a good survival strategy, but my guess is that, when it all dries up, the bats will find their way back home.

 

Thanks to Patrick and David for their responses.

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Danish Journal Publishes Waugh Article

The Danish cultural journal Critique has published for the first time the full version of an essay on Waugh’s life and work written in 2009. This is entitled “Evelyn Waughs korstog mod moderniteten” (“Evelyn Waugh’s Crusade Against Modernity”) and is summarized in this introductory paragraph:

The author Evelyn Waugh developed dramatically from the ultra-modernist, depicting the decadence of the British upper class, to a sharp conservative author who in Christianity saw a way of development for Western Civilization. The great British satirist Evelyn Waugh’s conservative modernity criticism is the subject of lecturer, PhD. Søren Besenbacher’s article from Critique II (2009), which we have reproduced here from the original manuscript on the occasion of the 10th Anniversary Jubilee.

Besenbacher concentrates mostly on Waugh’s novels, discussing the modernism in Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies and then, following his divorce and conversion, the religious themes developed in Brideshead Revisited and Sword of Honour. There are brief references to A Handful of Dust and Put Out More Flags but the other novels are hardly mentioned. Finally, the article looks briefly at Waugh’s political philosophy (such as it is) in Robbery Under Law, the only non-fiction book that is mentioned. The translation from Danish is by Google with a few edits.

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Walking Tour of Mayfair’s Bright Young Things

Footprints of London has announced a conducted walk through Mayfair which will highlight locations associated with the Bright-Young-Things era. The tour is scheduled for Saturday, 28 October, 1500-1700pm. Here’s a description:

A literary romp round Mayfair; the playground of the Bright Young Things in the 1920s. On this walk you will hear how their outrageous exploits were portrayed by writers including Michael Arlen, Anthony Powell and Evelyn Waugh and visit some of the locations depicted in novels of the era. The walk will last about two hours and starts on Piccadilly (north side) – Stratton Street exit from Green Park Station – and finishes close to Marble Arch.

The firm specializes in walking tours of London and October this year is their Literary Footprints Festival season. The Mayfair tour will be conducted by Jen Pedler and may be booked here.

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Alastair Graham, Steven Runciman and More Misfits

A blogger named John (who lives in the Southern US) posted on his weblog Notes from a Common-place Book a report of his recent trip to England. This posting is dated 4 September 2017. He sought out gravesites of writers he considered “misfits” based to some extent on his reading of Duncan Fallowell’s recent book How to Disappear: A Memoir for Misfits. (Reviewed in EWS 43.3 Winter 2013, p. 29: “The Quest for Alastair Graham”.) The blogger starts with Dylan Thomas and describes his grave at Laugherne in South Wales. This leads him to mention Thomas’s acquaintance in New Quay with Alastair Graham (who was a model for Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited) and Fallowell’s description of Graham. More interesting (or less familiar) is his mention of Alastair’s affair with Steven Runciman in the 1930s. This was mentioned not in Fallowell’s book but in the recent biography of Runciman by Minoo Dinshaw (Outlandish Knight, now available in paperback) mentioned in earlier posts:

I first read of Graham in a passing reference (but extensive footnote) in the new biography of Steven Runciman.  The two met in Athens [sic] in the mid 1930s, both in low-level diplomatic positions:  Runciman in early phase of a long and varied career [sic], and Graham in the only real job he ever tackled.  They had some trysts but Runciman was too discreet for someone like Graham.  The footnote in the Runciman biography led me to Duncan Fallowell’s How to Disappear:  A Memoir for Misfits, one of the most weirdly satisfying books I have ever read.  He devotes a chapter to Graham.

The blogger also describes visits to churchyards in Mells, where he photographs the graves of Ronald Knox and Siegrfried Sassoon, and in Combe Florey, where Evelyn Waugh is buried after he:

…purchased the social accoutrements to the life to which he aspired, [but] was ill-fitted for the role; in short, a misfit.  And Waugh would probably admitted as much.  Nothing illustrates his outsider status better than his grave.  The back side of the park is hard up against the Sts. Peter and Paul churchyard.  But Waugh, his wife and daughter are not buried in the graveyard, as such, but just over the cemetery wall into the field.  One has to step over a wall and onto the private property to view it. The English gravestones do not seem to age well, and his is already almost unreadable.  In time, the estate became too expensive to maintain and Waugh’s grandchildren were forced to dump it.  Vanity of vanities.

He doesn’t mention the need for repair of the Waugh gravesites which was recently in the news. A photograph of the gravesite is included in the weblog, but it is taken from the top of the wall looking down into the churchyard so that any damage to the retaining wall is not noticeable.

UPDATE (11 September 2017): Based on information in the biography of Steven Runciman by Minoo Dinshaw, the above posting has been modified.  See later post. The spelling of Alastair’s name has also been corrected.

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The Other Decline and Fall

The Guardian has reached No. 83 in its selection of the 100 greatest non-fiction books of all time. The selection by Robert McCrum is going backwards in time so it is nearing its final stretch. This week’s column is devoted to Edward Gibbon’s 1776-88 multivolume work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. According to McCrum, Gibbon was an amateur who mastered his historical subject but his command of English prose style is also worth noting:

Next to his learning, there’s his style, whose later devotees include both Winston Churchill, (No 43 in this series), and Evelyn Waugh. “It has always been my practice,” wrote Gibbon, “to cast a long paragraph in a single mould, to try it by my ear, to deposit it in my memory; but to suspend the action of the pen till I had given the last polish to my work.” Decline and Fall is a cathedral of words and opinions: sonorous, awe-inspiring and shadowy, with odd and unexpected corners of wit and irony, concealed in well-judged footnotes. For example, in chapter VII on Gordian, he writes:

“Twenty-two acknowledged concubines, and a library of 62,000 volumes attested the variety of his inclinations, and from the productions which he left behind him, it appears that the former as well as the latter were designed for use rather than ostentation.”

His footnote provides a witty coda: “By each of his concubines, the younger Gordian left three or four children. His literary productions were by no means contemptible.”

Waugh’s first novel which borrowed its title as well as some of its style from Gibbon is not mentioned.

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Waugh and Jesuits in Guyana

The Jesuits have published material from their archives relating to Waugh’s trip to British Guiana in 1932-33. Waugh visited the Jesuits twice at their mission station of St Ignatius in the central Rupununi region of south-west Guyana on his way to and from Boa Vista in Brazil. His visits are described in his travel book Ninety-Two Days published in 1934. What the Jesuits have published is a summary of Waugh’s passages about his visit as well as previously unpublished descriptions of the visits noted by the priests at their mission.

… Fr Mather’s 1933 diary (our ref: SJ/38/2/6) gives a few clues. In typically laconic style, Mather noted the arrival of ‘Mr Waugh’ in late January. During a week-long stay Waugh seems to have spent his time following and observing Fr Mather at work, and taking photographs. After Waugh had departed for Boa Vista, Mather made an interesting observation about an incident which is not recorded in any earlier entries: ‘Mended leg (made a new one) of longue-chair which had snapped under Mr Waugh.’

Waugh returned to St Ignatius on 22 February 1933; he ‘rode up on his weary horse’ according to Mather. In Ninety-Two Days it is apparent how very close Waugh came to becoming utterly lost when he mistook one mountain range for another. During Waugh’s second stay, many more photographs were taken of Rupununi life and Fr Mather gave the novelist a good haircut. It was during this second stay that Waugh began reading Fr Mather’s collection of Charles Dickens, and in so doing, temporarily re-discovered the joy of reading for pleasure.

Fr Mather made more arrangements for Waugh’s onward journey (and more walking sticks). On 5 March 1933 he wrote, in perhaps the most expressive diary entry in this period, of Waugh’s final departure: ‘Mr Waugh v. appreciative of his sojourn. Mutual regards & good wishes at his parting.’ Waugh joined Fr Keary for part of his return journey to Georgetown. From Georgetown he sailed, via Trinidad, back to England and resumed his literary career.

The article is posted on the website Jesuits.org.uk.  It also includes a narrative by archivist Sally Kent of the history of the mission which was founded by British Jesuits in 1909 and a brief account of the lives of the two priests Waugh met there.

 

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