1966: The Year Waugh Died

In this week’s TLS, D J Taylor writes a long essay about literature in the 1960s, entitled “The Clinging Sixties.” He begins with a brief discussion of pivotal events of 1966 for sport and pop music. That was the year of England’s World Cup victory and also marked what was perhaps the peak of The Beatles’ productivity, which was distilled in the issuance of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band the following year. When he reaches his central theme, which is the literature of the whole decade, he opens with this one paragraph summary of the important literary events of 1966, the mid-year of the decade:

At first glance, the literary world of 1966 offers only a bewildering variety of styles. It was an age of self-conscious avant-garderie, and also an age of carrying on as usual. It was the year of J. G. Ballard’s The Crystal World and Nancy Mitford’s The Sun King; of Anthony Powell’s The Soldier’s Art – the eighth instalment of a novel sequence that started to appear in 1951 – and Christine Brooke-Rose’s determinedly elliptical Between. It was the year in which Evelyn Waugh died and Sarah Waters was born, the year of Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation and Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, of Basil Bunting’s Briggflatts and Kingsley Amis’s The Anti-Death League. Modernists and mad-lads jostle 1930s mandarins and one-time Angry Young Men, in a landscape whose major contested event was the defeat of Robert Lowell by Edmund Blunden – a convincing 477 votes to 241 – in the election to the Oxford Professor of Poetry. (Emphasis supplied)

The essay continues with the sort of analysis Taylor applied with great success to the earlier decades of the century in his recent study, The Prose Factory; Literary Life in England Since 1918. See earlier posts. Indeed, one suspects that this essay may have begun life as material that Taylor wrote for his book but was forced to delete as he neared its end. Whether recycled or not, the essay makes good reading and manages to put Waugh’s death into its literary historical perspective.


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