Handful, Oxford and North End Road

Author Gill Hornby in her Daily Mail column takes up the literary genre of expat novels. This is in response to two of her children expatriating themselves:

We Brits didn’t only build the model for expat life, we’ve also provided its cliches: Surrey lawns in improbable climates, eating Yorkshire pudding beneath a boiling sun. In A Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh takes that nostalgia for home to its satirical extremes. Tony Last is a happy country gent until his wife deserts him. In a fit of self-pity, he joins an expedition to the Amazon and ends up prisoner in a steaming rain forest, forced to read aloud the works of Dickens for the rest of his life: a vision of expat hell.

Other novels recommended are Old Filth by Jane Gardam and The Expats by Chris Pavone.

A blogger (TomWinnifrith.com) has recently posted a comparison of his own Oxford career with that of Evelyn Waugh:

… I botched my entrance papers somewhat and double botched my interview when trying to get into Christ Church at Oxford (The House) and, was thus, not that surprised to be rejected some 31 years ago. But to its credit, Hertford College gave me a second chance and after an interview which I found rather confusing I was, rather to my surprise, offered a place. Clearly Professor Malpas saw something in me although, to this day, I cannot really say what. But his inspired call, has allowed me to make the same joke for thirty years about how the two greatest writers of the 20th Century were both shunned by The House and ended up at Hertford: that is to say myself and Evelyn Waugh.

Waugh’s diaries and biographies have a different explanation of  his entrance experience at Oxford. When he first visited the university with his father in September 1920, he was much impressed by New College, his father’s alma mater, and Christ Church. In his diaries he noted: “Father has put my name down for New College and I am going to try for a scholarship at the House” (Diaries, p. 100). But he was advised by his teachers at Lancing to aim lower: “Lucas tells me that it is better to go up to Oxford as a scholar in a smaller college than New, from an educational point of view. Apparently, the dons make much more of you. As a commoner [i.e., without a scholarship], however, New College is far the best as you are in a really intellectual atmosphere.” (Diaries, p. 142). In the end, when he sat the scholarship examination, he listed as his first preference the more modest Hertford College, where not only was there less competition for a scholarship, but if one was awarded, it was worth more.  He was offered a scholarship by Hertford and accepted without apparent hesitation (A Little Learning, pp. 137-39; Hastings, pp. 79-80). So, although he harbored a desire to attend Christ Church as well as New College, he never made the attempt.

Another blogger, George Callaghann, has posted on YouTube a video filmed in front of the Waugh family home at 145 North End Road in London NW11. In his video, he discourses for about 2 1/2 minutes on the career of Evelyn Waugh, to the accompaniment of considerable background traffic noise. Unfortunately, he begins his narrative with rather a clanger by asserting that Waugh lived in the house from the 1920s until his death in 1966. His family actually moved into the house when he was four years old (about 1907-08) and Evelyn could be said to have made his home there on and off until his father sold the house and moved to Highgate in 1933. After that, Evelyn lived mostly in hotels, his club or with friends until his second marriage in 1937 when he moved into his own house near Dursley in Gloucestershire. Aside from that, the commentary is accurate. Callaghann does not, alas, offer an inside view of the house and garden.

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