Birthday Roundup

Today marks the 115th anniversary of Evelyn Waugh’s birth on 28 October 1903. Several newspapers have marked the occasion in their “this day in history” columns, including the Daily Mail.

Other matters of note include:

–Another article about last week’s march in London seeking a “People’s Vote” on Brexit. (See previous post.) This appeared in the Guardian and was written by columnist Ian Jack. He was reminded of Waugh among others as the march commenced at and proceeded past the Ritz Hotel toward Parliament Square:

We joined what turned out to be a pre-march march – a vanguard to the vanguard – simply by leaving the pavement and walking into a dense and slow-moving procession just outside the Ritz. Nowhere else in the world, surely, do marches demanding political change penetrate a townscape that is so thoroughly ancien regime. Turning right into St James’s Street, we passed White’s, the gentlemen’s club named after its 17th-century founder where Prince Charles had his stag party the first time around, where no woman has ever been admitted, other than a cleaner or the queen. Pratt’s club was just across the street; Lock the hatter and Fox’s cigars lay a little farther down; turning left into Pall Mall, we came to Boodle’s club and the wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd; and eventually to slightly more newfangled clubs such as the RAC, the Reform, the Travellers and the Athenaeum. Behind every door, someone was waiting to call you “sir”, and in most cases to bar your admission. We might have been marching through a satire by Anthony Powell or Evelyn Waugh.

Waugh was a member of White’s and before that the Savile and St James’ and his friend and fellow novelist Anthony Powell was a long-time member of the Travellers.

–A review appears in Apollo magazine of a new biography of John Rothenstein, son of the painter William Rothenstein and long-time director of the Tate Gallery in the 1940s-60s. The book (Fighting on All Fronts) is by Adrian Clark and it is reviewed by Frances Spalding. Rothenstein and Waugh knew each other at Oxford and met up at the Savile Club in 1925 where, according to Spalding:

After four years of occasional journalism, intense socialising and active membership of the Savile Club, Rothenstein had arrived nowhere. In a conversation with Evelyn Waugh, whom he had met at Oxford, both admitted that their prospects looked bleak.

This was before Waugh’s success with Decline and Fall. Waugh may not yet have become a member of the Savile at that very low point of his fortunes but could have been there as a guest of his brother Alec. In his diary for 6 April 1925 Waugh mentions meeting “Johnny Rothenstein” at the Savile where he himself was looking for Alec. They ended up at Olivia Plunkett-Greene’s after buying some bottles of champagne and stopping off at the Alhambra to look up some other acquaintances. He left Olivia’s “very drunk” (Diaries, p. 205).

–Two papers also publish lists naming the 1981 TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited as one of the best TV series ever made. In the Daily Telegraph (which may be a reprint from an earlier edition) there is a selection of 22, of which Brideshead is listed as #1:

Brideshead Revisited is television’s greatest literary adaptation, bar none. It’s utterly faithful to Evelyn Waugh’s novel yet it’s somehow more than that, too. Adapatations are almost invariably less. Over 13 hours, it wallows in every last detail of Waugh’s longest work – indeed, large chunks of its run were spent with Jeremy Irons, as Waugh’s alter ego Charles Ryder, reading out passages from the book verbatim in narration. It makes achingly real a vanished world, and gives us a Sebastian Flyte (in Anthony Andrews) so disarming that it is impossible not to love him. Filming lasted nine months and took place all over Europe; it cost what in today’s money would virtually buy you a whole channel, let alone a one-off series. It represents a particularly British type of TV literary drama that they just don’t make any more (at least we thought they didn’t, until Wolf Hall).

The Herald (Glasgow) is issuing a list of 63 TV series boxsets to provide a sufficient number to get one through the upcoming winter. Brideshead is among the first batch of 21 published yesterday:

If the world feels like it’s too fast, then surrender to Brideshead Revisited, the classic Evelyn Waugh adaptation that now seems so drawn out it can feel like watching beautiful paint dry. Often included in lists of the greatest dramas of all time, it follows the story of penniless Charles Ryder, who falls under the spell of rich and glamorous Sebastian Flyte, and it made stars of Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews. Lingering and Proustian, it tells of the damage done by the gilded people of charm and wealth. Television simply doesn’t get much slower than this.

Did you know? The homo-eroticism in Waugh’s novel was kept low-key in this adaptation. “I did an analysis of all the homo-erotic references in the novel,” said its producer Derek Granger. “And when you write them up over two pages, it’s quite strong. But we decided it would be better to show nothing. It’s much more lilting, tender and emotional that way.”


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