Waugh on Writing x 3

Waugh scores a hat trick in today’s press with three stories citing him on the art of writing. In the Daily Express, Waugh appears in a review of the BBC’s ongoing series based on John Lanchester’s 2012 novel Capital. The reviewer, Matt Baylis, has read some of Lanchester’s novels, which he found agreeable, but he has trouble understanding the relevance of several characters in the BBC adaptation based on their dialogues. He contrasts this series with the 1981 Granada TV production of Brideshead Revisited:

…one of my favourite adapted-for-TV books was penned by a man with whom I disagree on almost every level. Evelyn Waugh, author of Brideshead Revisited, once said he had no interest in characters at all. He wasn’t interested in psychology, just in “speech, action, language”. The language of that particular book contains phrases I’ll never forget. Many of them thanks to John Mortimer’s memorable 1981 TV adaptation, since he mostly preserved the original prose, rather than turning the book into a play. As a result the people in it tend to reel off lovely passages that sound like lovely passages, rather than real people speaking.

In the Daily Telegraph, Waugh appears in a review of a book entitled Social Class in the 21st Century by Mike Savage. The reviewer contrasts the new book’s complicated formulas separating the British into seven different classes with the views expressed by Waugh in his comments to Nancy Mitford (reprinted in Essays, Articles and Reviews, p. 494):

“There are subjects too intimate for print,” Evelyn Waugh chided her. “Surely class is one?”… As Waugh wrote to Mitford, ” class distinctions in England have always been the matter for higher feeling than national honour, the matter of feverish but very private debate”.

The reviewer goes on to complain about Savage’s rather turgid and complicated discussion of class based on surveys and research and concludes;

You find yourself longing for his team to have dumped their findings in the lap of an author with a real flair for both the English language and English peculiarities – a Waugh, a Mitford, or an Orwell – and let them loose on the data. The result would have been far less rigorous, but a great deal easier to digest.

Finally, the Harvard Crimson includes Waugh in a column devoted to advising its readers how to improve their writing skills. Because it is written by one who lacks confidence in her own, she proceeds by quoting others:

“An artist must be a reactionary. He has to stand out against the tenor of the age and not go flopping along; he must offer some little opposition.” —Evelyn Waugh [Paris Review (No. 8, 1963), Interview by Julian Jebb]

Now is your chance to indulge in all the irrelevant, outmoded, practically unreadable words you always wanted to use in your writing! Rescue them from their linguistic retirement home, where “eventide” is swapping tales of the good old days with “betwixt,” and “blithering” is looking for his false teeth. Why would you say “bearded” when you could say “barbigerous”? Or “the annoying habit of giving unwanted advice” when you could say “ultracrepidarianism”?…Evelyn Waugh said you could.

One can only wonder where the writer ever got the idea that Waugh advocated the use of language such as that quoted? Not from reading his works, surely.

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