NYRB Reviews Eade Biography

The current issue of the New York Review of Books has a review of Philip Eade’s biography of Evelyn Waugh. This is by John Banville and is entitled “The Strange Genius of the Master.” Banville also named Eade’s book as among his best reads of the year in the Guardian. See earlier post. In another article entitled “Jesuits Admirable and Execrable,” Garry Wills considers a number of books about Jesuits. Among those listed is Waugh’s biography of Edmund Campion. Both of these articles are behind a paywall requiring a subscription to read them.

UPDATE (25 January 2017): It is worth seeking out this issue of NYRB for both of the reviews mentioned above. In Banville’s review of the Eade biography, he carefully summarizes the book and offers up his own opinions on the relatively few occasions where he differs from those of Eade or thinks more need be said. More interesting are his comments on Waugh’s work, a topic on which Eade admittedly did not dwell. For example, Banville dismisses what is Waugh’s most popular book, Brideshead Revisited, as vastly overrated:

…despite many wonderfully sustained and beautifully written passages, [it remains] a soggy mess: sentimental, queasily religiose, self indulgent–as he later came ruefully to acknowledge–dismissively class-conscious, in places embarassingly melodramatic, and in other places just plain silly.

Banville thinks Waugh’s best works are Decline and Fall (“brilliant debut”), Scoop (“eviscerated Fleet Street journalism”) and Sword of Honour (“expresses more about the nature of war and warfaring than Hemingway and Clausewitz put together”). He concludes:

Philip Eade has written a brisk, lively, and entertaining account of a strange, tormented, unique creature…While previous biographers have been respectful (Martin Stannard) or compassionate (Selina Hastings), Eade seems genuinely to like his subject, and takes Waugh largely as he presented himself to the world… 

Garry Wills’ essay on the Jesuits ambitiously lists 8 books as its subject. Among these are Waugh’s biography of Edmund Campion and the more recent (and more detailed) version by Gerard Kilroy. But Wills’ article lives up to his ambition. In its concluding section, he deals with the life of Campion (after admitting some personal interest in the subject because he went to a high school named for him) as his final Jesuit case study in which he compares Campion’s career with that of Daniel Berrigan. He finds more differences than similarities and in the process compares Waugh’s short book both with its source, the 1876 work by Richard Simpson, and with the new scholarly work by Kilroy. He explains what bits of Simpson Waugh left out where they were inconsistent with his own thesis and shows how Kilroy fills in blanks left by Simpson as well as those created by Waugh. For example, he demonstrates fairly persuasively that Campion resisted returning to England after his years in Prague where he had enjoyed a considerable success because he foresaw that other members of the mission were set on a confrontation with the Crown that he thought unnecessary and contrary to the best interests of English Catholics. This is certainly the best short essay on Campion that this correspondent has encountered and it takes only less than 1/3 of the total text.

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