At Hertford College with ‘Waugh’s Enemies’ and Friends

The following account was written by Milena Borden who attended the lecture in Oxford earlier this week. Many thanks to Milena for her report:

The title of the Monday afternoon discussion in the Dining Hall of Hertford College was as wonderful as the event. Waugh’s identity at Oxford (1923–1926) dominated the expertly conversation between the three panellists and just over twenty people in the audience including dons, publishers, the college archivist, PhD students and admirers of Waugh. Barbara Cooke, an editor of A Little Learning, Volume 19 of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh (OUP) displayed for sale at the door, illustrated her presentation with a slide show of the faces Waugh disliked, whereas Ann Pasternak Slater intercepted with erudite comments about how he transformed them into stylish and often comic fictional characters.

Unsurprisingly, Waugh’s tutor, C.R. M. F. Cruttwell, became the centre of a lively debate with Alexander Waugh following in what it seems to be by now a family tradition of making a caricature of the don’s habits and tastes. However, Christopher J. Tyerman, Professor of the History of the Crusades at Hertford defended him passionately saying that it must have been very frustrating to have Waugh as a student and also claiming that Cruttwell, despite of what Waugh thought about him, was an excellent scholar whose A History of the Great War: 1914-1918 (1934) became a classic. I was honoured to be given the chance to talk about Waugh’s feud with the Oxford historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, and also about his intense and anecdotal disapproval of the Yugoslav communist leader Tito he met during the Second World War. This led to a broader reflection on Waugh’s political opinions and allegiance to the Catholic religion and Campion Hall, which came after Hertford. There were delicious details about Waugh’s friends and loves at Oxford, and a discovery that Randolph Churchill was an enemy and a friend at the same time. The greatest strength of the gathering was that it was unmistakably a Hertford event with no drinks or rolling laughter, which so much characterised Waugh’s life outside its walls. But of course a discussion of a reasonable length, as this one was, cannot include everything about Waugh in Oxford.

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