This week’s issue of The Spectator reviews a new collection of Ronald Knox’s works. This is entitled Ronald Knox: A Man for All Seasons and is edited by Francesca Bugliana Knox, who is related to Knox by marriage. See earlier post about the book launch. It is reviewed by Christopher Howse who sees it as evidence of a renewed interest in Knox and his work which is long overdue. Howse summarizes Knox’s life and brings Waugh in at the point Knox was living as the guest of Waugh’s friend Katharine Asquith in Mells, although they knew each other before that, since the time Knox was the Roman Catholic Chaplain at Oxford in the 1930s:
Emotionally, Knox needed the company of a woman, which, after Daphne Acton had gone safely to Rhodesia, Providence found for him in the person of Katharine Asquith, then in her sixties, with whom he stayed from 1947 for the last decade of his life at lovely Mells in Somerset. There he was visited by Evelyn Waugh (‘very mellow and nice’ as Mrs Asquith, unlike so many, called him in her diary), who wrote his biography (1959).
There’s the rub. Waugh portrays Knox as disappointed and ill-used by the Catholic church after his conversion in 1917…Yet in reality, was a decade as chaplain at Oxford a lesser task than being, say, Bishop of Salford? It might be galling to translate the Bible and then face quibbling objections from churchmen who couldn’t even write a verse of Greek. But most people do not translate the Bible at all…This habit of discounting has been mistakenly applied to all Knox’s writing.
So it is welcome to see this collection of essays on Knox (and some previously unpublished writings by him) that insists he should not be discounted … Biographically, new light is shed by Clare Asquith (the Countess of Oxford) on the years at Mells and by Dominic Aidan Bellenger, who traces Knox’s early connections with the Caldey island Benedictines under the ineffably eccentric Abbot Aelred Carlyle. The editor of the whole caboodle, Francesca Bugliani Knox, married to the cryptographer Knox’s grandson, offers several tempting threads for future Knox scholars to pull at, such as his correspondence with Laurence Eyres, a friend for 46 years. But God forbid that Ronald Knox should become an academic subject. He lived by writing, and he should be read.
The Spectator’s internet edition in its “Life” section also includes a Waugh novel among “Books to get you through winter: A literary selection that will banish the winter blues”:
The one to make you laugh so hard you’ll forget it’s cold outside: Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (Penguin, £9.99). I’d defy anyone not to howl with laughter reading this bonkers story. A mix-up in Fleet Street results in a bumbling nature journalist being sent to cover an African crisis. Cue satire of the highest order. Waugh’s mocking tone is counterbalanced by a pitch-perfect lightness of touch and rich dollops of ridiculousness. Just perfect.