Simon Leys on Evelyn Waugh

This week’s issue of The Weekly Standard¬†carries a review of a biography of Simon Leys (1935-2014). The review is entitled “Muddle Kingdon” and the reviewer is Stephen Miller. Leys was the pen name of Pierre Ryckmans, a Belgian who became an Australian and made a name for himself as a Sinologist who deconstructed the underpinnings of Maoism, much to the dismay of Western Maoists in the 1970s. The biography also mentions his articles and appreciations of writers such as George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh. Leys’¬†essay on Waugh, entitled “Terror of Babel” recently appeared in a collection of his essays issued by New York Review Books: The Hall of Uselessness (2013). It had first appeared as an article in the March 1993 issue of the Independent Monthly, a Australian cultural¬†magazine, and was later included in an Australian collection of his works, The Angel and the Octopus¬†(Sydney, 1999).

Waugh is also mentioned in another book review (unsigned) appearing in this week’s Economist. This is a biography of the Byzantinist, Steven Runciman (1903-2000), entitled Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman¬†by Minoo Dinshaw. Waugh and Runciman were contemporaries but don’t seem to have known each other particularly well (Runciman studied¬†at Eton and Cambridge). According to the review, the book frequently cites Waugh’s WWII trilogy (Sword of Honour) as well as those of Olivia Manning. Runciman was in the Balkans and the Middle East¬†during WWII. He had posts in both Jerusalem and Cairo and may have contributed to one or more of the characters in Manning’s Balkan and Levant Trilogies.¬†Waugh may have met him in Cairo. According to the review, during his student years Runciman also made “frequent trips to London to socialise with the ‘bright young people’ (and be photographed with his budgerigar by Cecil Beaton),” and he may well have met with Waugh in those days as well. Beaton’s photo is on the book’s dust wrapper.¬†

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