The press is replete with celebrities citing Evelyn Waugh this week. In the Daily Express, actor Freddie Fox cited Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited as one of his six favorite books:
“Oxford, in those days, was still a city of aquatint” is a beautiful line at the beginning. Waugh was a sensational writer and conjures an image of the past I find quixotic and also sad in its nostalgia.
He comes from a distinguished thespian family (father is Edward; mother, Joanna David; uncle, James; cousin, Laurence). Other favorites include Flashman at the Charge, The Secret History, and John Donne’s Selected Poems.
Actress Kristin Scott Thomas has an interview in The Irish Times that extends over her entire career. Most recently she appeared in the Winston Churchill docudrama The Darkest Hour. She finds she has generally had better success with her roles in French films, although there are exceptions:
… it’s interesting to note the films she speaks most fondly of: a 1988 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust; the Romanian comedy An Unforgettable Summer (shot not too long after the fall of Ceausescu); Catherine Corsini’s marital-implosion drama, Leaving.
The Handful of Dust adaptation was a product of the same producer/director team that gave us the 1981 Granada adaptation of Brideshead Revisited.
A different class of celebrity is represented in The Tatler which has an article by Richard Prendlebury about the careers of famous English war correspondents. The article seems to focus on the career of William Howard Russell who reported the Crimean War for The Times as its paradigm, but gives Evelyn Waugh his due:
Who could fill [his shoes] after Russell was gone? Not … the writer Evelyn Waugh, who covered the Abyssinian campaign for the Daily Mail in 1936. He did so with little enthusiasm and a singular lack of sympathy for the embattled country. But his observations, dressed in fiction, became the satirical novel Scoop, the war correspondent’s ‘bible’, as it is so often described. Waugh managed to capture the absurdity of almost everything about the job – let’s say 95 per cent – that occurs until the time when one is on the frontline and among those who are trying their very best to kill each other.
Finally, perennial celebrity wannabee Taki Theodoracopulos has written an essay on his weblog in which he bemoans the decline in the English aristocratic standards marked by Prince Harry’s choice of a mixed-race American actress as his bride. He supposes that:
Snobs like Evelyn Waugh, who wrote about madcap aristocrats and their follies, must be really turning over in their graves. Today’s Charles Ryder more resembles Rex Mottram in his search for an ideal wife, celebrity and money replacing blue blood and tradition. Everyone, even a writer for The Spectator by the noble name of Harry Mount, has called this state of affairs marvelous: the fact that class barriers of the past have been replaced by barriers of money and fame, even beauty. I am not among them.
Once again, I am not sure I grasp this point about Waugh’s characters. Both Charles Ryder and Rex Mottram in their day sought the hand of the same English aristocratic beauty–Julia Flyte. And in their day, Rex already had the money and celebrity as a businessman and politician and wasn’t seeking more of that through his marriage to Julia but was seeking heightened social status. And Charles had already married an aristocrat of a higher status that Julia who didn’t come freighted with Julia’s Roman Catholic baggage. So how would Charles be more like Rex today? Taki seems to have picked up this confusion from the same Harry Mount article he criticises in his essay. See earlier post.