With the French celebrating their National Day and their World Cup victory this past weekend, our latest roundup is dedicated to them. Appropriately enough, our first entry relates to France.
–In the weblog Literary Hub, Emily Temple admits that most writers admire the work of Marcel Proust. To keep things in perspective, she collects several opinions that differ. One of these is Evelyn Waugh who wrote in 1948 to Nancy Mitford (who lived in France at the time and loved it there):
I am reading Proust for the first time—in English of course—and am surprised to find him a mental defective. No one warned me of that. He has absolutely no sense of time. He can’t remember anyone’s age. In the same summer as Gilberte gives him a marble & Francoise takes him to the public lavatory in the Champs-Elysees, Bloch takes him to a brothel. And as for the jokes—the boredom of Bloch and Cottard. [NMEW, p. 92]
Other anti-Proust writers in the LitHub’s collection include James Joyce, D H Lawrence and Anatole France who is supposed (apocryphally) to have said: “Life is too short and Proust is too long.”
… I came across sentences spoken by Lactantius, the Christian convert who helps bring the title character to the true faith, that seem to express Waugh’s writerly credo:
“He delighted in writing, in the joinery and embellishment of his sentences, in the consciousness of high rare virtue when every word had been used in its purest and most precise sense, in the kitten games of syntax and rhetoric. Words could do anything except generate their own meaning.”
…Waugh judged it his best book, which it is not, but Helena embodies his interest in “joinery,” “the construction of wooden furniture, fittings, etc.” (OED). Before Waugh resolved to be a writer, he considered devoting his life to painting, and then contemplated carpentry and printing. Writing, for him, is a species of making, not an emotional pressure valve. His books are usually funny, yes, but always exactingly crafted. In a 1953 interview with the BBC, when asked if he was conveying a “message” in his work, Waugh replied:
“No, I wish to make a pleasant object, I think any work of art is something exterior to oneself, it is the making of something, whether it’s a bed table or a book.”
–BBC Radio 3 on yesterday’s broadcast featured excerpts from the works of Evelyn Waugh in a special episode of Words and Music, which is subtitled “The News”. According to the BBC’s description, the program started with:
… the 19th century, when newspapers were seen as noble messengers, [and continued] to the 21st, with 24-hour rolling news on every screen. Comical newshounds in novels by Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Trollope, populate the first half of the programme … Music, poetry and archive clips reflect key moments in history…We hear themes used for news programmes by Malcolm Arnold, John Williams and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and incidental music for plays and films, such as Samuel Barber’s School for Scandal and Bernard Herrmann’s score for Citizen Kane. Newsreader Kathy Clugston and Miles Jupp, host of BBC Radio 4’s The News Quiz, are the readers for a special edition of Words and Music exploring the evolution of how we get our new.
The program can he heard on the internet over BBC iPlayer for approximately 4 weeks.
–The Countess of Carnarvon on her website discusses the past success of the TV series Downton Abbey that was filmed on Highclere estate in Berkshire where she lives with her family. She is posting in connection with last week’s announcement of a new production that will be a full length film based on the earlier story. As she ruminates over the past successes, her somewhat random thoughts turn to this:
Researching my book “Catherine” about the 6thcountess, I found [the 1920s] a fascinating time in British politics where the rise of the Labour party knocked against the hard edged glamour of Evelyn Waugh’s world of decadent aristocrats. In fact, Evelyn Waugh married, in turn, two nieces of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and I have to admit that “Brideshead Revisited” is one of my favourite books.
I wonder if she has in mind the introduction of a new character: a lately successful and upwardly mobile (if somewhat gauche) young novelist who falls in with one or more of the family’s younger female members. I can’t recall which of them remains unattached after the last episode but that doesn’t matter. It’s probably too much to hope for but maybe the Countess will have a word with Julian Fellowes.
–Finally, on the weblog Nigeness, the blogger “Nige” announces that he is undertaking a rereading of the novels of Auberon Waugh. This was inspired by his recent enjoyment of Auberon’s Private Eye Diaries. He mostly liked Auberon’s first novel The Foxglove Saga but was disappointed by the ending:
Again and again, Waugh sets up and executes brilliant comic set pieces involving these three and various authority figures and walk-on characters. Misunderstandings, confusion and crossed signals abound, and there are many laugh-aloud scenes and moments (which is a great deal more than you can say about many supposedly comic novels). Up to somewhere near the end, The Foxglove Saga is a joy to read. Then, I think, something goes wrong with the tone, and the latent cruelty in Waugh’s (both Waughs’) comedy comes too near the surface…So, a novel full of promise, which for much of its length is brilliantly achieved and very funny, fails to carry through to the end. Never mind – the best bits are truly comparable to Waugh pere at his funniest, and suggest a great comic novelist in the making. Bron, incredibly, was only twenty when he wrote this one. What happened next? Well, three years later, he published a second novel, Path of Dalliance. I have a copy, and am going to read it. I’ll be reporting back…
Thanks once again to Dave Lull for sending links to some of the stories reported above.
UPDATE (22 July 2018): The Sunday Times for today recommends the BBC Radio 3 programe described above:
This is a sequence without a presenter, beautifully, wittily, creatively crafted. Nobody tells you what you’ve heard. Part of the joy is guessing what you’re hearing. Last week’s theme was The News. The words came variously from Alvar Lidell, Anthony Trollope, Evelyn Waugh, Carol Ann Duffy and others. The music included Leroy Anderson, John Adams, Scott Joplin and a rainbow of news signature tunes. The readers were Miles Jupp (who presents Radio 4’s The News Quiz) and the Radio 4 newsreader Kathy Clugston; the producer was Helen Garrison. The result was intense pleasure.