Two recent magazine articles are devoted to Waughs. The current issue of the Tablet contains an article entitled “Scoop revisited.” This is by critic and novelist D.J. Taylor and relates to the 1960 BBC Face-to-Face TV interview that was recently rebroadcast on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Evelyn Waugh’s death. Taylor concludes that Waugh got much the better of the interviewer John Freeman, considered rather aggressive at the time:
Nervous or not, Waugh offers a lesson in how to deal with the media so consummate that you wish he had survived to take on Sir Robin Day or Jeremy Paxman. Unwelcome questions are lobbed straight back (Q: “You have said that you were unhappy at Lancing [his public school]” A: “Have I? Whom to?”)…
Freeman, with whom you rather sympathise, receives his coup de grâce when wondering why Waugh has consented to appear on the programme in the first place. “Poverty,” his guest breezily returns. “We have been hired to talk in this deliriously happy way.”
As one who was recently rebuked by the “Evelyn Waugh Newsletter” for suggesting that the great man, had he lived, would have shied away from the modern media circus, I now realise that my critic was right. Waugh was a sharp operator, who would have contrived to project his personality – or sometimes only conceal it – in any age.
In the Australian conservative literary journal Quadrant, Mark McGinness has written an article entitled “Half a century in the wake of Waugh” (v. 60, n.4, April 2016). Although according to the abstract, this article begins with a description of Evelyn Waugh’s funeral, the subjects of the article are summarized as:
World War (1939-1945); English fiction; Waugh, Alec, 1898-1981; Detective and mystery stories
The article is behind a paywall and requires a subscription.
NOTE (24 April 2016): As it turns out, the brief description of the Quadrant article is misleading. It is NOT primarily about Alec Waugh but is instead a rather good summary of the life and work of his younger brother Evelyn. In effect, it is an Australian tribute to Evelyn Waugh on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his death. Alec figures in it only as part of the description of Evelyn’s childhood during which their father favored his elder son.
McGinness’ article opens amusingly with an Australian reference:
Some years ago, a knock-about neighbour glanced at a book I was carrying, a recent biography, which had splashed in bold characters across its spine ‘EVELYN WAUGH’. “Ah,” he suggested, “Steve and Mark’s Mum?” It is now half a century since the writer’s death, and thirty-five years since, to general acclaim, the cameras lovingly panned the glories of Castle Howard and the spires of Oxford, catching the languid tones of their inhabitants in Brideshead Revisited. So perhaps Waugh had faded from popular consciousness?
Australians will know, as your correspondent was informed by Prof. Don Gallagher, that Steve and Mark Waugh are Antipodean cricket players. (For the record, Steve’s mum is named Beverley.) After an entertaining and accurate summary of Evelyn Waugh’s career, that demonstrates no fading from popular consciousness has occurred, McGinness concludes with a reference to another Aussie:
His life will surely continue to be a source of fascination. And his work? With his genius for narrative and his mastery of prose, his gift for comedy and his grasp of character, Evelyn Waugh could expect to be read for as long as fiction is prized. The great Clive James, in his review of the Letters, put it perfectly, “Waugh is in a direct line with Shakespeare and Dickens. …… consensus has been delayed because many critics were rightly proud of the Welfare State and regarded Waugh’s hatred of it as mean-minded. He was paid out for his rancour by his own unhappiness. For the happiness he can still give us it is difficult to know how to reward him, beyond saying that he has helped make tolerable the modern age he so abominated.”
James’ 1980 review, entitled “Waugh’s Last Stand,” first appeared in the New York Review of Books and was reprinted in his collected essays From the Land of the Shadows (London, 1982, p. 120).
NOTE (1 May 2016): The Quadrant article is now posted on the internet in full.