Helena and Crete

The Tablet has published an article relating to correspondence that arose in response to a mention of Waugh’s novel Helena in a 1951 book review in that paper. The review by Fr Gerard Meath related to Dorothy Sayer’s book The Emperor Constantine. This is explained in an article by Jamie Callison originally published in 2014. The Tablet’s reviewer:

Fr Gerard Meath OP could not have known that, in making a brief comparison between respective fictional accounts of St Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, produced by Waugh and by Dorothy Sayers, he would end up defending himself from the great and the good of the Catholic world – a foray that the newly digitised archive of The Tablet now lets us follow in full. The offence arose when, with Waugh’s Helena in mind, Meath wrote: “Miss Sayers feels no need to be smart and she shows us a woman who was made a saint not by her aristocratic inheritance so much as by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Waugh took offense at this comparison and wrote a response which The Tablet printed in its 3 November 1951 issue. There ensued an acrimonious correspondence that continued until the issue of 8 December, with others such as Martin D’Arcy and Ronald Knox joining in. Waugh’s initial response to The Tablet is not included in his collected Letters but the dispute is described in Martin Stannard’s volume 2 (pp. 297-99) and Robert Murray Davis, et al., Bibliography (pp. 109, 222).

The Washington Times has mentioned Waugh in its review of a book about WWII in Greece. The review by Claire Hopley discusses the new book My Last Lament by James William Brown and opens with this contextual comparison:

It would be hard to count all the multitude of novels about World War II. But among the thousands written in English, few have focused on how it played out in Greece. Of the two that come to mind, Evelyn Waugh made the 1941 Battle of Crete — in which he fought — the linchpin of the first volume [sic] of his “Sword of Honour,” in which the British retreat from the island robs the hero of his faith in human nature.

The other book is volume 3 of Olivia Manning’s The Balkan Trilogy. The reference to Waugh’s work should have mentioned volume 2 of his war trilogy (Officers and Gentlemen) where the Battle of Crete is described, not volume 1 (Men at Arms). 

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