There is a diverse field of material covered in this latest roundup gathered from the last two weeks:
—Quadrant Magazine, an Australian cultural journal, carries on its website a droll pleading (tongue lodged in cheek) from Tony Thomas that Decline and Fall be restricted by the Human Rights Commission for its unfair and racist treatment of the Welsh. Thomas claims Welsh ancestry. Here’s his plea:
By current standards of ethnicity and lineage my ancestor’s leek-infested origins in some misty valley populated by sheep-botherers and not enough vowels makes me as Welsh as they come. So I’m hurting, really hurting, that Evelyn Waugh’s racist abuse remains on library shelves. The priority of Prime Minister Morrison should be to protect Welsh-Australians from insult and ridicule. I identify as Welsh via my great-grandmother, Cymreigis Thomas. …
I thought civic libraries were safe spaces but in my Moonee Valley Library last week, while leafing through Evelyn Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall, I was newly offended, insulted and intimidated as a Welshperson. I disagree with book burnings but each library should have a naughty corner for works like Decline and Fall, Conrad’s book about that person of colour aboard the Narcissus, Neville Shute’s A Town Like Alice, Guy Gibson VC’s Enemy Coast Ahead (because of the name of the squadron’s black Labrador), Biggles in Australia, and a shelf-load of other books literally beyond the pale.
The article continues with quotes from the novel of examples of the racial abuse suffered by his kinsmen from Waugh’s pen. He also gives other examples of racism in the novel warranting the HRC’s condemnation, such as Waugh’s descriptions of the character “Chokey”. Even in this mock-somber context, they remain hilarious. The article concludes:
You might think Scott Morrison has bigger fish to fry than my hurt Welsh feelings. Well OK. Let him fix energy and immigration policy and restore the budget to surplus. But look you, bod yn barchus I bobl Cymru – don’t mess with us Welsh. It’s the land of my fathers, or at least, great-grandmothers.
–Anti-immigrant crusader Steve Sailer has posted a story on his website VDARE.com, reposted in the Unz Review, about the crisis of Venezuelan refugees in the remote city of Boa Vista, Brazil. He notes the linkage, discussed in previous posts, between this crisis and Waugh’s visits to the city described in Ninety-Two Days:
Life in Venezuela has to be pretty awful these days if people are fleeing to Boa Vista. Boa Vista was the destination of an expedition that writer Evelyn Waugh mounted in 1933 in which he crossed the savannah from British Guiana by foot, as recounted in his travel book Ninety-Two Days. During the weary journey of several weeks, he looked forward to the civilized luxuries of Boa Vista, from which he hoped to get river passage to the even more opulent Amazonian city of Manaus, with its famous opera house. But, like Rick in Casablanca, he was misinformed…
The story continues with quotes from Waugh’s travel book as well as a clip from the ending of the film adaptation of A Handful of Dust depicting the conclusion in which Tony Last ends up reading Dickens in an area of Guyana north of Boa Vista.
Waugh’s Put Out More Flags was published in 1942 and is a satire on the English in the first years of the war. Lin Yutang’s The Importance of Living was published in 1937, quickly became a bestseller (and indeed may still hold the record for the largest number of copies sold of a China book, though Lin’s charming and sophisticated books, notably My Country and My People, are little remembered today. Lin’s tips are still worth reading though – ‘If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live’ – indeed. Sadly, though it is clear Waugh read Lin, I can find no reference to the two ever meeting…..
—The Scotsman in a review of the BBC TV drama series Press which debuted last week on BBC One cites Waugh’s novel Scoop. The story is built around two fictional London papers, one a tabloid (The Post) and the other a quality (The Herald) and the respective staff members of each:
There may … have been concerns that Press (BBC1) was coming from the histrionically flaming pen of Mike Bartlett …. But, this news just in: journos are not too snottery here. They don’t spend lunch-hours which turn into whole weeks down the pub. They’re diligent, dogged and decent. Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. “Up to a point, Lord Copper” was how everyone in Evelyn Waugh’s newspaper satire Scoop! would avoid contradicting the fearsome proprietor. If everyone was the three D’s in Press it would be worthy but dull, so we have Duncan Allen (Ben Chaplin), a tabloid tyrant who sacks on the spot, brings down politicians and is impervious to grief. To paraphrase Carly Simon, he walks into the newsroom like he’s walking on to a yacht. Well, slithers rather than walks.
Oddly, the review fails to mention the role played by David Suchet (Dr Fagan in the recent adaptation of Decline and Fall) who appears at the very end of episode one, in what seems likely to become the Lord Copper role, as owner of the fictional tabloid who is attempting to rein in his editor. How successful he may be will no doubt be revealed in the next episode.
–Finally, a reader has sent a link to another essay by David Pryce-Jones that has been reposted by The New Criterion on its webpage. This is entitled “The Pen is Mightier” and was written in 2013 on the occasion of the Little, Brown republication of Waugh’s fictional work in a uniform edition. It opens with this:
Evelyn Waugh was one of those characters that English literature throws up now and again, who put a special stamp on the times, like Dean Swift or Dr. Johnson. About the best that most writers can expect from posterity is cultural embalming, probably in the form of a monograph written by some academic paid to read books nobody else is reading. Almost fifty years after his death, Waugh remains a presence because the spirit of comedy in his books is pure and irrepressible. A reissue of his fiction by Little, Brown and Company attests to the lasting nature of his works. Indeed, Captain Grimes, the Emperor Seth of Azania, Basil Seal, Mr. Todd, William Boot, Mr. Joyboy and Aimée Thanatogenos, and Apthorpe command their place in the British psyche along with Mr. Pickwick and Jeeves. (Footnote omitted)
The essay goes on to discuss interesting aspects of various Waugh novels, with particular reference to Brideshead Revisited and Sword of Honor. Pryce-Jones also includes discussions of Waugh’s relations with several of his fellow writers, including Cyril Connolly and his own father Alan Pryce-Jones:
My father, Alan Pryce-Jones, had almost certainly stayed at Madresfield and put on his white tie and tails for the same occasions as Waugh. He, too, aspired to write a great novel, and meanwhile invited Waugh to contribute to Little Innocents, an anthology of childhood reminiscences that he edited in 1932. Ten years later, in the review that Alan wrote of Put Out More Flags, he spoke for quite a number of readers when he wondered, “Doesn’t Mr. Waugh overdo it a little?” Waugh then referred to “the man Jones,” until Alan converted to Catholicism and was rewarded with an inscribed copy of Helena.
Among David Pryce-Jones’ own recollections of personal meetings with Waugh is the one described in this anecdote:
…I was invited to the wedding reception in the House of Lords of Waugh’s eldest son, Auberon, always known as Bron. Waugh was standing by himself in an inner courtyard, a compact overweight figure with a tailcoat and top hat. Fury and the wish to be elsewhere were visible in his features. “My name’s Waugh, Evelyn Waugh, father of the bridegroom,” he said. “Who are you?” I explained that we had met before, and he started back: “I used to know your poor dear father” (who still had another forty years to live).
This an interesting and informative article and The New Criterion is to be congratulated for reposting it, as well as the other recent David Pryce-Jones piece mentioned in a previous post. Thanks to reader David Lull for passing along this link.