Céline, Muriel Spark and Lloyd Cole

Frederic Raphael is still best known for the TV adaptation of his own 1976 novel The Glittering Prizes, which is often compared with Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Indeed, it is not too much to say that the popular and critical success of Raphael’s 1976 TV series paved the way for the production of the Granada TV adaptation of Brideshead a few years later. Raphael has now written a review in the TLS (“Aryan ghetto of one”) of a new book about the works of the French novelist known as Céline. This is the pseudonym of Dr Louis-Ferdinand Destouches, probably the most well-known French novelist who also collaborated with the Nazis.  The book under review is published in French and is entitled Céline, La Race , Le Juif, (“Céline, Race, and the Jew”) but Raphael’s review seems to range well beyond its pages. Céline’s sympathies for what Raphael calls “Aryanism” actually predated the Nazi occupation. Raphael discusses Céline’s first novel, published in 1932 and entitled Voyage au bout de la nuit (“Travel at the end of the night”), and it is in that discussion that an Evelyn Waugh character is mentioned:

Céline’s jagged masterpiece reads like the grumpy shtick of a paranoid one-man bandsman. His disgust with human beings appears to have originated in the carnage of the Great War, in which the young Louis-Ferdinand was a teenage combatant. The brave, foolhardy colonel who literally loses his head in the early pages of Voyage has something in common with Evelyn Waugh’s biffing Brigadier Ritchie-Hook; but his creator lacks any faith in the patriotic cause, still less in the Judaeo-Christian God. Nothing on earth was worth dying or living for and there was nothing else. Bardamu’s anti-pilgrim’s progress takes him to war, to colonial Africa, to 1920s New York, then to medical practice in a slummy Parisian banlieue. The slough of despond was always his likeliest return address.

Without knowing more about Céline’s character, it would be foolhardy to take issue with this comparison. But Ritchie-Hook was not known to be a racist; he was more of an equal opportunity biffer so long as there was an enemy available. And it was not Ritchie-Hook who loses head in Men at Arms but an enemy soldier he encounters in Africa (probably serving with the Vichy French troops stationed where Ritchie-Hook had landed with Guy’s patrol). Ritchie-Hook dies in Unconditional Surrender, but this is from enemy fire in Yugoslavia, not decapitation. Thanks to Milena Borden for sending a link to this review.

Meanwhile, the Guardian has cited Waugh (and Graham Greene) as contributing to their decision to name Muriel Spark’s Momento Mori to be their reading group book of the month:

Originally published in 1959, Memento Mori was Spark’s third novel. It was described by the author’s famous champions Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh respectively as a “funny and macabre book [that] has delighted me as much as any novel that I have read since the war”, and a “brilliant and singularly gruesome achievement”. Gruesome, because of its constant refrain “remember you must die” and because of the painful and unexpected ways some of its characters meet the inevitable.

The quoted language does not seem to come from a review by Waugh (he reviewed other books by Spark but there is no record of a review of this one) but may be taken from a blurb he provided for the cover. He did recommend this book in a letter to Ann Fleming.

Finally, the Lancashire Post reports an interview of a musician who has returned to the UK after many years in the USA. This is Lloyd Cole, who made his name by organizing a band called the “Commotions” while at the University of Glasgow. They were quite prominent throughout the 1980s. Before that, in college at Runshaw in Lancashire, Cole recalls the creation of another less successful band:

“Me and Trevor Morris and Carl Bateson set-up a band, we were called ‘Vile Bodies’ but I don’t think we actually ever played out, maybe three or four engagements lined-up, where we were going to play at parties. I don’t think any came off. “I don’t think I’d come across Evelyn Waugh or even knew who she [sic] was when Trevor came up with the name.”

Perhaps it’s just as well that group never got up and running.

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