Evelyn Waugh at the Hay Festival

An article in Vanity Fair describes an event at this year’s Literary Festival in Hay-on-Wye that featured a reading from a work of Evelyn Waugh. So far as appeared from the schedule, there were no events in which a Waugh topic was to be presented. He does appear, however, in the latest iteration of the Letters Live presentation as described in Vanity Fair:

After a venison burger (it really is that sort of place), Letters Live kicked the afternoon off. The concept—actors of note reading letters of note—was a welcome break from the weightier matter of the morning. Benedict Cumberbatch read a 1961 letter by Patrick Leigh Fermor about crabs (and not the nautical kind; “my private fauna”, he called them). Clark Peters read Groucho Marx , and Toby Jones read Evelyn Waugh’s “lousy proposal” of marriage to his ex-wife’s 19-year-old cousin. There were moving letters as well: Tony Robinson delivered Italo Calvino’s impassioned defence of the right to choice penned in response to an anti-abortion friend, and a man sitting in front of V.F. was moved to tears by novelist Katherine Mansfield’s final letter to her brother, serving in the trenches in 1915. Far and away the largest applause of the event, however, was for Rose McGowan, who read both Dorothy Parker and a hilarious 2007 open letter of complaint to Procter & Gamble for printing the message “Have a happy period” on their tampons.

The Waugh letter Jones read is presumably that dated 28 April 1936 (Letters, pp. 103-05). It was written from one of his friend Percy Br0wnlow’s estates where Waugh was at the time living above the estate office and writing Waugh in Abyssinia. Vanity Fair’s reporter, Thomas Barrie, attended the Saturday, 2 June Letters Live performance, but it was repeated on Sunday. The exact contents of the programs were not announced in the Festival listings, but they did mention actor Benedict Cumberbatch’s appearance at both. Whether Toby Jones read the Waugh letter again on Sunday isn’t mentioned. Another letter of Waugh to his wife, written after they were married, has been read at previous performances of Letters Live. This is the one dated 31 May 1942 and describes the army’s unintended damage to the home of Lord Glasgow in the process of removing an unwanted tree. See earlier posts.

Benedict Cumberbatch features in another press story mentioning Waugh. This is from the USA entertainment journal Variety in which an interview of the actor is reported. When asked by the other participant in the interview, actress Claire Foy, whether he was involved in the recent adaptation of Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels from the project’s conception, he answers:

I was. The books had been out for a while. I’d come to them quite late by word of mouth, and immediately was like, “This is extraordinary material.” It’s some of the most beautiful, stunning prose of the 21st century, in the vein of Evelyn Waugh and Wodehouse. It’s got that incredible ease about it and wit. In a line, you get the whole picture of a character. It just holds you. There are these amazing laugh-out-loud moments, but also this trauma at the center of it. This man who’s abused by his father from the age of 5 onwards.

Finally, another member of the Waugh family makes an onstage presentation. This is Alexander Waugh who delivered a lecture relating to the authorship of Shakespeare’s works in the recent Shakespeare Week at Brunel University in West London. See previous post. A video recording of his lecture has now been posted on YouTube.

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