A Week of Waugh

A review of the preceding week’s online press and blogs turns up several references to Evelyn Waugh. The New York Public Library’s blog contains a short article on the occasion of Waugh birthday, recounting the origins of The Loved One:

With a caustic remark for every occasion, he seemed, like Dorothy Parker, to begin every morning by brushing his teeth and sharpening his tongue…Waugh’s LA novel mocked Americans as vacuous, uncultured saps, easy marks for the nearest British expat. Its ending is classic Waugh dark comedy, doubtless the reason why Waugh called it his “most offensive work.” He anticipated a harsh backlash upon publication, telling Randolph Churchill (son of Winston), “Give my love to any friends you see in USA. There will be none after the publication of The Loved One.”  He also asked his agent to avoid publishing the book in communist countries, fearing it would be used as anti-American propaganda. (Footnotes omitted)

Two papers commented on Waugh’s attitude to the press. The Baltimore Sun quoted at length from Scoop a conversation between Lord Copper and Mr Salter in an article entitled “Some Personality Types are Eternal.” The Observer (NY) quotes Waugh in the context of the recent revival of the Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur play The Front Page:

Evelyn Waugh, of all people, once described The Front Page as a barely intelligible story about newspaper life where neurotic men in shirtsleeves and eyeshades rushed from telephone to tape machine, insulting and betraying one another in surroundings of unredeemed squalor. The description still fits.

The Guardian in its ongoing selection of the best 100 works of nonfiction, this week chose Robert Byron’s 1937 travel book The Road to Oxiana. Waugh’s assessment of the book and its author are cited in support of its selection:

According to Robert Byron’s Oxford contemporary Evelyn Waugh – never the most reliable witness – the future author of The Road to Oxiana used to delight in shouting “Down with abroad”…An enthusiastic literary critical response ranged from Graham Greene, who admired Byron’s demotic, conversational brilliance, to the rivalrous Evelyn Waugh, who had to concede the book’s high spirits, via the Sunday Times, which linked Byron to his namesake (no relation) and declared him “the last and finest fruit of the insolent humanism of the 18th century”. Today, widely considered to be Byron’s masterpiece, The Road to Oxiana stands as perhaps the greatest travel book of the 20th century.

Waugh reviewed the book in the Spectator and the review is reprinted in his Essays, Articles and Reviews (p. 197). The quote must come from a review in the Sunday Times by some one else. 

Finally, in what may be one of the most original assessments of Philip Eade’s recent biography of Waugh, a blogger on Movie Nation has proposed that it be made into the next big TV series to fill the gap left by the termination of Downton Abbey:

He’d make the great subject for a serial autobiography, weaving in and out of the history of WWI boys’ schools to fascist sympathizer/bigot/anti-Semite to WWII “hero” to Great Man of British Letters. I envision a “Man Who Came to Dinner” take, with say Eddie Marsan or David Wenham — nobody too pretty, mind you. None of this McAvoy or Garfield casting. Maybe Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne or Ben Whishaw. Skewering, flirting, shocking and mocking. Waugh is a natural for a mini series. All his life experiences leading up to his “masterpiece,” “Brideshead,” which captures class, Catholicism, homo/bisexuality and WWII officer corps heroics in one tale.

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