Waugh as a savior of Victorian heritage

In a new BBC Four series that started Sunday night, Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloodymindedness: Concrete Poetry, art historian and critic Jonathan Meades cites Evelyn Waugh as one of the leaders of the movement to preserve the Victorian heritage in art and architecture. It can currently be viewed on BBC iPlayer (UK viewers only unless you use a proxy service which provides a UK IP address).

Meades is setting up a defense of the Brutalist style of the post-war period and uses the experience of the Victorian Gothic as a test case for revival. That style had, according to Meades, come to be “calumnized” as monstrous by critics and the public at large during the early 20th century. He lists several factors responsible for a shift in sentiment after 1960. One was the early band of proselytizers of a revival among whom were Evelyn Waugh, John Betjeman, Harry Goodhart-Rendel, and Osbert Lancaster. Founders of the Victorian Society in the late 1950s, they had previously been regarded by their own generation as “puzzling provocateurs, not quite serious, forever mischievously guying the public with their perverse aestheticism.” They were later joined by Nikolaus Pevsner, an art historian by profession, who added “gravitas” to the movement. Presumably Meades will show in the next episode (to air on BBC Four next Sunday), that the time is now ripe for a change in attitude to the Brutalist structures which he himself describes as “concrete poetry.”

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