Quarreling with Waugh

In an interview posted earlier today by ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Clive James is asked by Mark Colvin for more insight into his recent rereading of Waugh’s Sword of Honour:

I’m always re-reading it. Always quarreling with him. But you always quarrel with Waugh because he makes Brideshead so seductive. You know that it’s a whole pile of reactionary romanticism and you hate yourself for being drawn into it, but these sandstone castles on the sweeping lawns – he had a way of putting that you want to just move into it. And I love his prose. I would have hated him very much and he wanted to be hated. He was a pig of a man, really, since he was greatly gifted.

Waugh comes up again when James is discussing Edward St. Aubyn whose Patrick Melrose series he is currently reading: “…he can do the social stuff better even than Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell could because Edward St Aubyn really is social. He had the background that those guys wanted.” And then again, when asked about critic John Carey:

He’s a great scholar, of course… But he has a social position and he does think that that whole era of people like Evelyn Waugh and Osbert Lancaster and Betjeman was simply overprivileged and far too servile towards the upper class, wanted to be part of the upper class. And he thought that that took art away from the people and he’s very keen – Carey is very keen that the people should be in possession of art. On the other hand, given all that and given his quite fierce stance on this, he is – he is capable of seeing that Evelyn Waugh’s little book Decline and Fall is one of the great achievements of the 20th Century and so – so that’s what I like about Carey. He can actually – he doesn’t let his prejudices warp his judgement.

An audio version of the interview is also available. Click the start arrow in the box on the left below the title of the program: “Summer Series: Clive James, in the face of death.”

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