Waugh and the Small, Cornered Creature

Private Eye (8-21 September) cites Waugh in its review (“Doesnae land”) of James Kelman’s collected stories That Was a Shiver. This comes after reminding readers that in the early 1990s Kelman was the “hippest cat on the block.” One critic at the time had remarked that “if you knew the meaning of the word ‘fuck’ you’d read 10 percent of his output already” and another noted Kelman’s belief that ‘proper English’ was simply another form of imperialist oppression:

He was also responsible for one of the funniest moments in British television when, reluctantly persuaded into a dinner-jacket for the 1994 Booker ceremony, he appeared before the bank of TV cameras looking like the small creature of the field once described by Evelyn Waugh–“cornered in his lair but liable to turn nasty.”

That quote sounds like Waugh and works well in the context but was actually written by D J Taylor in his 1992 novel Real Life (p. 60). Taylor liked it so much that he used it again almost verbatim in a 2002 New Statesman essay about novelist William Cooper who reminded him of character from an Evelyn Waugh novel that he (Taylor, not Waugh) described in those same terms. Taylor also writes for the Eye so perhaps he has recycled this phrase yet again in this unsigned review. Kelman won the Booker prize in 1994 for his novel How Late It Was, How Late. It deserved the award for the title, if nothing else. Thanks to Milena Borden for the clipping from the Eye.

Waugh also appears in another book review. This one is in the Scottish paper The National and refers to Alexander Starritt’s novel about journalism The Beast:

Starritt’s novel …  has been described as a satire but I hesitate to use that term because The Beast never strays far from reality. It, of course, namechecks Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop and has echoes of Michael Frayn’s Towards the End of Morning but it is modern in setting and plot.

Finally, Waugh merits a mention in a gossip column of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Russ Stanaland, who emailed that he’d just reread Evelyn Waugh’s novel “Decline and Fall,” says one of the characters is “a wealthy, ill-mannered lout whose actions left havoc in his wake.” The name of the character is Sir Alastair Digby-Vane-Trumpington.

The entry before that describes a scene that might have been used by Waugh in one of his travel books:

Aboard a cruise ship on the way to Costa Rica, Eileen Alexander was seated with a Wyoming couple who’d brought their own bottle of wine, which they handed to a waiter so that he could serve it. At an appropriate time in the meal, the waiter approached, unscrewed the top and handed it to the gentleman to sniff.




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