Waugh in the Papers

There are references to Waugh and his works in several major newspapers. In The Weekend Australian, an article in their opinion section urged Brits, Yanks and Aussies to stop blaming voters they view as irredeemably dim for results such as Brexit, Trump and, in Australia, Pauline Hanson. Better to let the democratic systems have the time to sort things out. The article goes back to George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh for support:

Politics is always changing, always new but always the same…. We grapple with the notions of post-truth and fake news as if they are revelations but our delusion is exposed by looking back 70 years to George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language. “Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists,” wrote Orwell, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Evelyn Waugh was on to all this in 1938 with his novel Scoop, which, save for the missing digital technology, is as searing an examination of media behaviour as you could write today. “I read the newspapers with lively interest,” says Waugh’s Mr Baldwin. “It is seldom that they are absolutely, point-blank wrong. That is the popular belief, but those who are in the know can usually discern an embryo of truth, a little grit of fact, like the core of a pearl, round which have been deposited the delicate layers of ornament.” 

Mr Baldwin was the enigmatic character Waugh met on his outward journey to Africa who turned out to know much more than any of the journalists about what was going on in Ishmaelia. Scoop, Penguin 2011, pp. 226 ff. 

Waugh is cited in two reviews of Roy Hattersley’s new book about the history of Catholicism in England, entitled The Catholics. In The Irish Times, Eamon Duffy, describes  Hattersley as an atheist who discovered after his father’s death that he had been an unfrocked Roman Catholic priest. Duffy finds the book riddled with errors and concludes that Hattersley labored without the help of a fact-checker. He also criticizes Waugh indirectly in this reference to Hattersley’s discussion of Edmund Campion:

One of the book’s few heroes is the Jesuit martyr, Edmund Campion, but Hattersley draws on Evelyn Waugh’s elegant but derivative study published in 1935 rather than the deeply researched recent biography by Gerard Kilroy. Similarly, Hattersley’s principal guide to one of his book’s villains, Thomas More, is the late Jasper Ridley’s ferociously partisan onslaught on More’s reputation, The Fanatic and the Statesman, where More features, predictably, as the fanatic.

The Financial Times, however, is kinder to Hattersley’s book. Their reviewer Ian Thomson describes it as “well-researched if occasionally platitudinous” and a “scholarly chronicle” of its subject but a book that “at times feels too long and meandering to be digested pleasurably.” Waugh features as one of the writers who, as distinguished from Graham Greene saw “in Catholicism an alternative to godless Communism. The persecution and slaughter of Spanish priests by the government that preceded Franco’s had been roundly condemned by Evelyn Waugh, Hilaire Belloc and other Catholic authors. Any Englishman who was publicly Catholic in the 1930s was assumed to be in favour of Franco. Yet Greene was a left-leaning Catholic. Whose side was he on?” Thomson seems to have answered that question earlier in his opening paragraph, perhaps suggesting that Hattersley failed to do so.

UPDATE (17 March 2017): Melanie McDonagh writing in The Spectator had this to say about Roy Hattersley’s book:

He has firm literary views: he finds Greene and Waugh obsessed with sex and despair.. Still, given that there hasn’t been a comprehensive survey of the Catholic Church in England since John Bossy’s serious history in 1975, this is a brave, if flawed, attempt to fill the gap.



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