Early Summer Roundup: Promotions and Lists

Hertford College, Oxford, has prepared a gallery of its illustrious alumni for use on its promotional website. Waugh is the youngest of the 12 Old Hertfordians included. The unattributed entry is a well-presented summary of his writing career. It begins with this:

Evelyn Waugh was born in London and educated at Lancing School and Hertford College, Oxford. On his own admission he wasted his time at Oxford. After university he taught for a brief period in private schools and was dismissed from one of them for drunkenness. He worked for the Daily Express, and studied arts and crafts in a desultory way. His first work, privately printed when he was 13, was The World to Come: A Poem in Three Cantos (1916). The next, also privately printed, was PRB: An Essay on The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood 1847-1854 (1926). His first novel, Decline and Fall, was based on his experiences as a teacher and was published in 1928. In the same year came Rossetti: His Life and Works. Decline and Fall introduced a considerable comic novelist and Vile Bodies (1930) sealed his reputation and brought him financial success.

Other literary Hertfordians mentioned include John Donne, Thomas Hobbes and Dean Swift. Another Dean, by name of Cruttwell, frequently featured by Waugh in his books but is not mentioned.

After leaving Oxford, Waugh registered as a student at the Heatherley School of Fine Art in London. That institution still exists and also uses Waugh in its online promotional material:

Veronica Ricks, Principal of The Heatherley School of Fine Art, is describing the ethos of London’s oldest independent art school (it was founded in 1845). Distinguished former pupils include Rossetti, Burne Jones, Millais, Sickert, Evelyn Waugh, Franz Kline and Henry Moore and local resident Quentin Crisp was a regular life model.

Waugh’s influence on singer-songerwriter David Bowie has previously been mentioned. A detailed article by James Gent (“All the Way from Nashville”) tracing the composition and performances of Bowie’s 1973 Alladin Sane album was recently posted. This includes a reference to Waugh’s novel Vile Bodies and its context in that album:

First off, the title track. Rock music never did this before. How ballsy to sell a hit album to pop kids, those youthful acolytes, and hit them squarely with a title song that’s not only an askew homage to Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century, and then slam them with a deranged, lengthy piano solo incorporating fragmented shards of everything from Tequila to Rhapsody In Blue…

The CondĂ© Nast Traveller magazine has an article entitled “10 Cool Things to Do in Marseille”. Here is number 6:


Evelyn Waugh wrote in 1926 that ‘Everyone in Marseille seemed most dishonest. They all tried to swindle me, mostly with success.’ The city has a chequered history but formerly rough neighbourhoods … have been spruced up and are worth a visit. I always felt safe in Marseille, even at night. In any event, many inhabitants believe the Notre-Dame basilica keeps a protective watch over them.

The quote is taken from Waugh’s Diaries for Christmas Day 1926.

On the website Open Culture there is a discussion by Colin Marshall of the outline used by Joseph Heller when he wrote his comic novel Catch-22. This implicates Evelyn Waugh’s dismissive attitude toward the book (Letters, pp. 571-72) :

When Catch-22 finally went into print, one of its advocates, an advertising manager named Nina Bourne, launched an aggressive one-woman campaign to get copies into the hands of all the influential readers of the day. “You are mistaken in calling it a novel,” replied Evelyn Waugh. “It is a collection of sketches — often repetitious — totally without structure.” But the book’s apparently free-form narrative, full of and often turning on puns and seemingly far-fetched associations, had actually come as the product of a deceptive compositional rigor. As one piece of evidence we have Heller’s handwritten outline above. (You can also find a more easily legible version here.)

An article on the London-based website The Conservative Woman considers an issue raised in Brideshead Revisited. The author, journalist Fionn Shiner, was “most interested in the figure of Lord Marchmain, the father of the Flytes, whose inexplicable hatred of their mother, and his adulterous ways, are a catalyst for the family’s tragic lives.” She goes on to discuss a Swiss study of the impact of this phenomenon within families. The website invites comments of which a considerable number seem to have been filed.

On the website Literary Hub, Emily Temple made a survey of the favorite books lists of famous authors to see what books were most popular among this rarified group. She explains her methodology:

I looked at 68 lists made by famous authors, from the classic …  to the contemporary …, and kept track of which books they recommended most often. The results were interesting—not particularly because of the most recommended books (many of them are pretty predictable) but because of the details—the groupings, the exclusions, the agreements between authors you wouldn’t necessarily think had similar taste.

Waugh’s novel A Handful of Dust was among the most listed books, appearing on the lists of Tom Stoppard, Jay McInerney, Danzy Senna. He was also among the writers with multiple book mentions: A Handful of Dust (as above); Brideshead Revisited (Stephen King); Put Out More Flags (Alan Hollinghurst).

Finally, Roman Catholic literary journalist and critic Joseph Pearce has responded to requests by his readers that he publish his own Desert Island selections of books. He offers a list that is, not surprisingly, heavy with Catholic writers such as G K Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. Waugh has a book included in his 10 selected novels: “Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh could not possibly be left behind.” The entire list that includes 10 each in poems, plays, nonfiction and great ideas is available on the National Catholic Register’s website.

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