Mike T in his weblog Boats Against the Current added another article to the growing list of internet encomia on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Waugh’s death. He makes an interesting comparison with other writers of a curmudgeonly type:
An extraordinary thing has happened with Waugh: Despite being regarded as snobbish, racist, and misanthropic…, he has maintained his reputation as one of the great writers of English prose in the 20th century. There is at least one reason why that reputation didn’t decline, I believe: the cantankerous, contrarian Waugh, unlike, say, T.S. Eliot or Philip Larkin, expressed virtually all his objectionable views openly, so he could not be convicted of hypocrisy. In short, there were few if any posthumous revelations of secret, politically incorrect thinking.
A Roman Catholic weblog joins the list of those recently expressing a fascination with Rex Mottram, a character in Brideshead Revisited. In this case it is his inability to grasp the essence of Roman Catholicism, rather than his politics and personality that is deemed remarkable:
Rex, boorish and unchurched, wishes to marry Julia, a Catholic from a devout family. “I’ll become a Catholic,” he agrees. “What does one have to do?” Rex dutifully meets with a priest, Fr. Mowbray, but their conversations always end in frustration. “He’s the most difficult convert I have ever met,” says Fr. Mowbray at one point. “He doesn’t seem to have the least intellectual curiosity or natural piety.” Rex, for his part, couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Here’s how he puts it to Julia’s mother: “If your Church is good enough for Julia, it’s good enough for me…. Look, Lady Marchmain, I haven’t the time. Instruction will be wasted on me. Just you give me the form and I’ll sign on the dotted line.” Despite his protests, his fiancée and her family recognized the crux of the matter: Rex just wasn’t getting “it” – the “Thing,” as Chesterton put it.
The description of Julia’s family as “devout” is debatable. Her mother, sister and elder brother certainly were, but (at that point in the novel, at least) she, her younger brother and her father were not. Rex fit right in, and he gave Waugh and the pious members of the family some one to feel smug about.