Waugh’s Influence: A Roundup

–Jessica Fellowes, niece of the creator of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes, has written a novel. This follows several companion books relating to the TV series. The novel is entitled The Mitford Murders and sounds like a combination of Agatha Christie and Nancy Mitford. But in Italy for the promotion of the Italian translation, she responded as follows to the question of what writer had influenced her in writing the book :

“Some of the critics have been talking about Charles Dickens…. Obviously it is a comparison that flatters me a lot, but frankly I do not know how relevant. I am an omnivorous reader, I have always read a lot to compensate for a hearing impairment that in some moments of my life has led me to a certain isolation. They are of rather traditional tastes. One of my favorite authors is Evelyn Waugh: I like the way he represents the surface of things, of people, of behaviors, in order to offer, in reality, a great depth of psychological penetration. That’s what I would like to be able to do in my books “.

The book may be the first of what becomes a series, one for each member of the Mitford family. The interview appeared in the Trieste paper Il Piccolo and is translated by Google.

–Patrick Skene Catling, British journalist and novelist, now age 92 and living in Ireland, was recently interviewed by the Irish Times. He is probably best known for his 1952 book The Chocolate Touch which inspired a successful children’s book series. His most recent book, published earlier this year, is Murder Becomes Electra. In the IT interview, he gave this answer to the question of what books had most influenced him:

Intensive reading and writing from childhood are helpful preparations for a literary career. I explored my father’s bookshelves and found inspiration in books by writers such as HG Wells (Scientific Romances), Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), Evelyn Waugh (A Handful of Dust), Flann O’Brien (The Third Policeman) and Nathanael West (The Day of The Locust).

–In another Irish Times article, a new book by Australian philosopher Damon Young entitled The Art of Reading is considered:

In order to truly appreciate a text we must also [writes Young] “overcome our egocentrism”, which Virginia Woolf signally failed to do vis-a-vis Joyce, whom she initially read through the prism of class snobbery and rivalry. The philosopher concedes, however, that Iris Murdoch’s notion of “unselfing” has its limits. We are “partial beings” whose “incompleteness varies” with age, so that some novels – Henry James’s in the case of Evelyn Waugh – need to be grown into.

–James Salter, American novelist, journalist and screenwriter, recently died at the age of 90. A West Point graduate, his real name was James Horowitz. The Financial Times reviews his uncollected writings now published as Don’t Save Anything. Among the pieces published are literary profiles he wrote for People magazine. including those in which he wrote about Graham Greene and Vladimir Nabokov:

Graham Greene, whom Salter visited in Paris, is described as “like a retired informer or spy or the principal figure in a notorious criminal case” living “in anonymity and quiet”. It took a hand-written note from Salter, slipped under Greene’s door, before he finally agreed to an interview. Another novelist that Salter has to work on is Vladimir Nabokov, whom he eventually tracks down to the Montreux Palace Hotel in Switzerland, where he had been living in a suite of rooms for 14 years with his wife, Vera. “[Nabokov’s] opinions are probably the most conservative, among important writers, of any since Evelyn Waugh’s,” Salter writes. But “he is far from being cold or uncaring”.

–Harry Mount, editor of The Oldie, has written an article about a new social phenomenon which sees English aristocrats marrying members of what he calls the “Glamocracy” rather than, as had previously been the case, each other. The latest example of this is Prince Harry’s engagement to a mixed-race American TV actress. After considering several other real life examples, Mount wonders how fictional characters, such as PG Wodehouse’s Lord Emsworth, would have adapted to the new fashion. This brings him around to Waugh: “Today’s Charles Ryder has much the same outlook as Rex Mottram.” But I’m not quite sure how this works, since even in the 1930’s, the social climbing middle class Englishman (Ryder) and the arriviste Canadian businessman (Mottram) had both set their caps at the same English aristocratic beauty—Julia Flyte. And it was her religion, not her class, that defeated both of them. Mount’s article appears in a recent issue of The Spectator.

UPDATE (13 January 2018); A link yo Harry Mount’s article in The Spectator was added.

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