Waugh and Powell in the Spectator

The Spectator has posted a podcast in which Hilary Spurling, author of the recent biography of Anthony Powell, discusses the book with Sam Leith, the Spectator’s literary editor. Near the end of the interview Spurling is comparing the lives and careers of Matisse (also subject of a biography written by her) and Picasso. She described them as  the two greatest artists of their age, but thought Picasso was the more successful in promoting himself and had the reputation of having lived a more exciting and eventful life. They each shared the good luck to be a friend and influence of the other and each inspired the other to jump higher. Leith then interjected and suggested that you could say the same thing about Powell (=Matisse) and Waugh (=Picasso) to which Spurling agreed, adding that Waugh was best at satirizing people but Powell was more interested in understanding them. In the Spectator’s print edition, Mark Amory, editor of Waugh’s letters, selected Spurling’s biography of Powell as his book of the year.

The Swedish paper Expressen has an article by Johan Hakelius in which he discusses the 1980 South African movie The Gods Must be Crazy. The storyline has a primitive Botswana bushman find an unbroken but empty Coke bottle that was thrown from a plane into the desert. When he returns it to his tribe, they conclude that it must be a gift from the gods. Hakelius compares this to the story Waugh tells in Remote People (Penguin, 2011, p. 93) in which he visits the monastery of Debra Lebanos in a remote region of Abyssinia.

There he is shown to their world-famous library. It consists of five or six piles of documents, and a couple of sacred images that are treated with great reverence. Waugh notes that the images were cut outs from a mass-produced German religious almanac dating back to the 19th century.

Hakelius is applying these two events to a recent news story in Sweden but greater knowledge of the background is needed to make sense of that. Translation is by Google with minor edits.

Finally, the Daily Mail has published an excerpt from a new book written by Christopher Matthew (The Old Man and the Knee: How to be a Golden Oldie) in which, as part of Matthew’s attempt to confront his aging, he considers a hearing aid may be needed for him or his wife. This causes him to recall Evelyn Waugh:

…all couples who have been together for a long time have silly arguments about the most trivial things, usually because one or other of them is going deaf and gets the wrong end of the stick. And while I’ll admit I sometimes can’t hear everything that actors, especially American ones, say on television (for which I blame them — sloppy delivery), so far I have not felt the need for artificial help. Should that need ever arise, today’s hearing aids are so discreet as to be almost invisible. Few want to flaunt their disability but one who made no bones about his deafness, and even deployed it as a social weapon, was Evelyn Waugh.

Although only 62 when he died, he acquired two large ear trumpets. One, in tortoiseshell, was a gift from the Duchess of Devonshire, which one could attach to one’s head, thus allowing one to eat and drink. Waugh’s cousin, the communist writer Claud Cockburn, described how Evelyn used this to withering effect at a Foyle’s Literary Luncheon, at which moralising intellectual Malcolm Muggeridge was the main speaker. Within a minute of the unfortunate victim rising to his feet, Waugh had unscrewed the trumpet from his head, placed it on the table in front of him and sat gazing intently at his plate.


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