In his column in this week’s New Statesman, journalist and critic Nicholas Lezard experiences a Waugh moment worthy of note. While looking for excuses to delay preparations for a trip to the U.S., he is introduced to his daughter’s new boyfriend. His first impulse is to look him in the eye and say, “Hi. I’m your worst nightmare.” But that is quickly rejected as having been suggested by a friend and likely to come across as second-hand. Then, he has this insight:
My daughter’s boyfriend’s first name is Old Testament, so even though he’s not actually Jewish, I toyed with the idea of pretending he was, for my own amusement, like a father in an Evelyn Waugh novel, and ostentatiously not serving him bacon at breakfast and asking him if he’d be going to shul on Saturday. The idea is to keep them on their toes, you see, and make them wonder where the theoretical and practical limits to the father’s insanity lie.
The father in the Waugh novel is of course that of Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited (pp. 61-3). He tortures Charles’s unfortunate school friend Jorkins by insisting upon thinking him an American he has previously met. The joke gets funnier the longer Waugh stretches it out, and John Gielgud in the Granada TV film makes an absolute feast of it.