Waugh in Reviews

The Prufrock column in this week’s Weekly Standard magazine contains this reference to the new book Ronald Knox: A Man for All Seasons, with a link to a review of the book:

The Catholic priest Ronald Knox made a deep impression on eventual convert Evelyn Waugh and translated the Latin Bible into English. He is almost entirely forgotten today.

The review by Greg Morrison appears in the University Bookman, an internet site sponsored by the Russell Kirk Center, a conservative think tank. Morrison’s review is more detailed and critical than that noted in our previous post. Here is its reference to Waugh:

In one of this book’s essays, Clare Asquith refers to Knox as “English Catholicism’s foremost convert.” … But Knox was in intimate contact with a more obvious candidate for “foremost convert”—the novelist Evelyn Waugh. Waugh arrived at Catholic belief after a long period of dissolution and profanity, at least half of it conducted in a spirit of ironic mockery. His earlier novels unflinchingly exaggerated the vices of the English aristocracy, and as he settled into his faith, he became increasingly unapologetic in his scorn for whatever he reviled about the modern world—the vernacular Mass, cars, children. It’s hard to imagine a more unlikely friend for the sober, temperate Knox. Yet Knox impressed him so much that Waugh wrote a biography of his friend, and Waugh was responsible for the literary remains of the famous author.

A UK reader Milena Borden has been studying reviews of the book about Steven Runciman which we mentioned in an earlier post: Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman by Minoo Dinshaw.  She has sent links to two of these reviews that implicate Evelyn Waugh. Although they were exact contemporaries, Runciman and Waugh do not seem to have known each other, at least not very well. But the reviewers do see parallels in their lives and careers. Both reviewers describe Runciman’s undergraduate love affairs at Cambridge in terms very similar to Waugh’s at Oxford. And although Runciman made his career writing popular history books, Rosemary Hill writing in the London Review of Books, notes this similarity between Runciman’s most popular book and the novels about WWII written by of Waugh and others of his generation:

The three-volume History of the Crusades, long in meditation, appeared in 1951-54. It was, in Averil Cameron’s judgment, ‘a great achievement of narrative history’… and Dinshaw makes a good point about its relationship to the prevalence of trilogies in postwar fiction: Waugh’s Sword of Honour, the three wartime volumes of Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time and Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy all dealt with the war itself, but the neo-Romanticism of the 1950s also created the appetite for richly coloured quasi-history which made T.H. White’s tetralogy The Once and Future King a bestseller. Like Macaulay, Runciman did not disguise what he saw as the relevance of history to the present and the books are saturated, as Cameron puts it, with ‘regret at the deplorable failure of the crusading West to understand Byzantium and the East’.

Ben Judah writing in the Financial Times also sees parallels between Runciman’s works and career and those described by Waugh in his books:

Had Steven Runciman not actually lived, someone, perhaps Evelyn Waugh, would have invented him. … Dinshaw, rather than writing a crisp biography, has written a gigantic one, as rich, funny and teemingly peopled as Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time. He is lucky that Runciman ran up against so many of the men who made the England of Waugh and Powell — and in situations worthy of PG Wodehouse, to boot. Runciman pierced a voodoo doll with the young George Orwell at Eton, was taught by Aldous Huxley, listened to Lord Grey recite him The Prelude on his estate, tutored a dissolute Guy Burgess at Cambridge, was a dining partner of John Maynard Keynes and Sergei Diaghilev and a beloved teatime companion of the Queen Mother.

Thanks to Milena for sending these links.

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