A Handful of Hard Cheese

Michael Deacon writing in the Daily Telegraph finds echoes of Waugh in a recent story. This involves the rescue of TV presenter and explorer Benedict Allen from the jumgles of Papua New Guinea into which he had disappeared. Deacon is:

…relieved to learn that Allen… has been found and is on his way home. When I read that he’d departed alone to Papua New Guinea on a search for an ancient tribe of alleged headhunters, and hadn’t been heard from since, I feared that he’d suffered the most terrible fate. Not death, but the horror that befalls Tony Last, the main character in Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of DustAt the end of the novel, Tony, like Mr Allen, sets off on an expedition into the jungle – only to be taken captive by an ancient tribe. Instead of killing or torturing him, however, their chief subjects Tony to a far graver punishment. He forces him to spend the rest of his life reading aloud the complete works of Charles Dickens, over and over and over.“Let us read Little Dorrit again,” the illiterate chief tells Tony, after telling an English rescue party that their missing compatriot has sadly passed away. “There are passages in that book I can never hear without the temptation to weep.”

Another recent allusion to Waugh’s novel occurs in a New York Times article on the growing number of American women cheesemakers who are achieving notice and success. The article by Alexandra Jacobs opens with this:

Last year Erin Bligh, the proprietor of Dancing Goats Dairy in Newbury, Mass., planned to introduce a new cheese — hard, with spicy peppers — called Madam President, in what she assumed would be a fromage homage to a historic election. Then came the unexpected result: hard cheese indeed, in the Evelyn Waugh sense of the phrase.

“I’m like, ‘Oh damn, this is awful,’” said Ms. Bligh, 29, who has four full-time employees overseeing a herd of 45 goats. She renamed the cheese General Leia Organa, after the Rebel Alliance leader in “Star Wars,” and sent chunks to fortify friends attending the women’s march in Boston. “This is my small piece of the resistance,” a local customer told her, brandishing a wedge.

The reference is to chapter III of Handful entitled “Hard Cheese on Tony” in which his marriage falls apart and his son dies.

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