BBC: Waugh and Eliot

There will be a program on BBC4 tonight that may be of interest to our readers. This is “Return to TS Eliotland,” presented by A N Wilson. It will air at 9pm and will be available on BBC iPlayer thereafter. A UK internet connection is required. Here is the program description from the BBC website:

AN Wilson explores the life and work of TS Eliot. From the halls of Harvard University to a Somerset village, via a Margate promenade shelter, he follows the spiritual and psychological journey that Eliot took in his most iconic poems. From The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock to The Waste Land and from Ash Wednesday to Four Quartets, Wilson traces Eliot’s life story as it informs his greatest works.

Wilson travels to the places that inspired them, visiting Eliot’s family’s holiday home on the Massachusetts coast, following the poet to Oxford, where he met and married his first wife, Vivien Haigh-Wood, and on to London. He explores how Eliot’s realisation that he and Vivien were fundamentally incompatible influenced The Waste Land and examines how Eliot’s subsequent conversion to Anglicanism coloured his later works. Wilson concludes his journey by visiting some of the key locations around which the poet structured his final masterpiece, Four Quartets.

Eliot’s poetry is widely regarded as complex and difficult; it takes on weighty ideas of time, memory, faith and belief, themes which Wilson argues have as much relevance today as during the poet’s lifetime. And whilst hailing his genius, Wilson does not shy away from confronting the discomforting and dark side of his work – the poems now widely regarded as anti-Semitic.

Waugh admired Eliot’s work and used a quote from The Waste Land as the title for his novel A Handful of Dust.

In another allusion to the BBC, the Sunday Telegraph carried a story this week by James Innes-Smith about how irritable the English people are. It opened with this:

Asked to describe his worst character trait on the BBC’s Face to Face programme, Evelyn Waugh replied, quick as a flash, ‘irritability’, in his own uniquely irritable way. While Scots tend towards surliness, the Welsh fury and the Irish argumentativeness, the English excel at being mildly irritated by, well, pretty much everything.

Because we struggle to express our emotions, they tend to emerge in all kinds of skewed ways. Catch an Englishman’s eye as he boards a busy train or waits in line at the bank and you can almost feel the self-righteous indignation bursting from his neck veins. For us English, it’s the little things that set us off.

Other examples cited of notably irritable Englishmen appearing on BBC over the years include Basil Fawlty, Hyacinth Bucket and Victor Meldrew. In addition to the YouTube link, Waugh’s Face to Face interview is transcribed in v. 19 of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh: A Little Learning, p, 552.

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