Arthur Waugh and Prufrock and More

The Weekly Standard’s current issue has an article by American literary scholar William Pritchard marking the centenary of T S Eliot’s first collection of poems–Prufrock and Other Observations. The lead poem in the slim volume of twelve was “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” previously included in a 1915 poetry anthology. Evelyn Waugh’s father, Arthur, had commented on Eliot’s poem when it appeared in that anthology. According to Pritchard:

… Arthur, was not taken by [the poem’s] originality … What Eliot and these young poets in their eagerness to be clever had forgotten was that “the first essence of poetry is beauty,” and that the “unmetrical, incoherent banalities” of such upstarts would eventually be corrected. Waugh concluded by alluding to a “classic custom in the family hall” in which a drunken slave was displayed by way of warning family members of the perils of unbridled self-expression. When Ezra Pound came to review Prufrock and Other Observations he mocked “a very old chap” (Arthur Waugh) for comparing the younger poets to “drunken helots,” Pound providing words that weren’t in the review. In fact, the reviewers of the Prufrock volume were more indifferent to the poems than outraged by them, as Arthur Waugh had been.

As evidenced by the numerous allusions at the recent Evelyn Waugh conference in Pasadena to T S Eliot’s work and its reflection in the works of Arthur’s son, Evelyn Waugh did not apparently share his father’s views. One bit of the evidence of the poem’s surviving influence may be the Weekly Standard’s regular column “Prufrock” by Micah Mattix.

The Daily Mail in a column by Val Hennessy entitled “Retro Reads” has recommended Waugh’s Decline and Fall (the book not the TV series):

With chortles galore — if somewhat public schoolboy chortles — Waugh’s comic novel on the page is hugely more amusing than the recent TV adaptation…One for the boys, I’d say. Posh, middle-aged boys at that.

Despite Hennessy’s dismissive attitude toward the TV series, the article is accompanied by a cover shot of the Penguin TV tie-in edition with Jake Whitehall appearing in his role of Paul Pennyfeather.

Finally, John Zmirak in his daily online religious-themed news report The Stream announces his resentment at “whatever satirical novelist is scripting our daily events from Hell. Or Purgatory, at best. No writer in Heaven would be cruel enough to inflict all this on us. Or would he?” He then lists four examples, but these are not from among the usual dystopian novels crowding the best seller lists such as 1984, Brave New World or The Handmaid’s Tale. Included in the books on Zmirak’s list is one by Evelyn Waugh–Love Among the Ruins which “predicted our transgender madness, the euthanasia craze, and the toxic, infantilizing effects of the welfare state …. ” The top satirist named by Zmirak for getting the future right is Anthony Burgess in The Wanting Seed:

which laid out a compelling theory of history: That the back and forth of ideologies and religions in the West acts like a see-saw. We always are either at or on the way to one extreme or the other. We oscillate between two theories of man.

 Waugh’s book is included in his Complete Stories.



This entry was posted in Anniversaries, Conferences, Decline and Fall, Love Among The Ruins, Newspapers and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.