General Election, Water Voles, and Nothing

A local news website in Kent has introduced Evelyn Waugh as an issue in the ongoing UK General Election. Kent Online has compiled a list of candidates for the seat in the Folkestone and Hythe constituency, with a thumbnail sketch provided by  each. The UKIP candidate Stephen Priestley offered this as his “Fun Fact” entry: “I am known to be a talented impersonator, and have memorised long passages from Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Brideshead Revisited.’” One wonders whether his BR quotes will shift many votes.

Private Eye in a review of Hanif Kureishi’s latest novel opens with a quote from Evelyn Waugh. Kureishi’s novel is entitled The Nothing, and the reviewer notes that some one should have warned Kureishi about his choice of a title because “nothing…is more calculated to stir an outbreak of pun-heavy facetiousness among reviewers.” Waugh’s 25 May 1950 letter to Nancy Mitford is then quoted: “I think nothing of Nothing” he wrote in reference to his friend Henry Green’s 1950 book of that title. The Private Eye review goes on to prove its point by quoting another notice of Kureishi’s book in the Literary Review which stated: “At least Mr Kureishi got his title right.” 

Waugh explained at some length his dismissive reference to Henry Green’s novel, effectively reviewing it (NMEW, p. 189):

I began it with the highest expectations & and please try & believe me, no tinge of jealousy, and was sharply disappointed. Some lovely lyric flashes, some very funny characters…but the idiom ran false everywhere…What Henry never did for a moment was to define his characters’ social positions…He stole from me the idea of a character having his leg off bit by bit before dying. I used it about a little boy in my first book, who was shot at school sports.

Waugh was an early booster of Henry Green’s work as was explained by Prof Donat Gallagher in his paper at the recent Waugh conference in Pasadena where he noted that Waugh had reviewed Green’s early novel Living three times. Thanks to Milena Borden for spotting this article.

Finally, The Times has an article about the recovery of the water vole in England:

Since getting a rather florid mention in Scoop, Evelyn Waugh’s 1938 satirical novel about the press, the water vole has had a tough time of it. Now, however, once more “feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole”… The water vole… has disappeared from 90 per cent of the streams and rivers where they once lived…Now water voles appear to be thriving [in some areas] and bringing benefits to other wildlife…


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