BBC has signed comedian and Evelyn Waugh fan Russell Kane do a series of podcasts on the theme of the Evil Genius. In this, he will trace characters through history who have been geniuses but who have also done horrible things. These will include “characters from W G Grace to Evelyn Waugh,” and at the end of each podcast Kane will decide (with the help of a panel) whether the subject’s genius is outweighed by his or her evil. The idea will be to decide whether it is acceptable to enjoy art that is somehow at the same time horrible.
Kane is well known in the Waugh world. For example, he once appeared on a BBC Mastermind Special (devoted to charity fundraising) and brilliantly answered a series of rapid fire questions on Waugh and his Novels (18 out of 19). See previous post. The first episode of the new series has been posted. It is devoted to the life and work of John Lennon.
Meanwhile, the TLS has posted an interview of literary journalist Adam Gopnick who writes for the New Yorker and who seems to think Waugh is, if not exactly evil, at least not so much a genius. In answer to the question of what writer he thought was most overrated, Gopnick answered:
My good friend and part-time literary conscience Anthony Lane will doubtless never speak to me again – he holds Waugh and Wodehouse to be the two pillars of fine modern style – but, love Wodehouse though I do, the Waugh cult I find still baffling. The meant-to-be-funny bits seem laboured and sniggering and schoolboyish – that hilarious thunderbox! – and the not-meant-to-be-funny bits embarrassingly ripe and second rate. This isn’t a political or religious prejudice, since I find Nancy Mitford, whom he condescends to in their letters, limitlessly fun. Nor is it anti-Catholic since Chesterton, whose anti-Semitism is a lot more overt even than Waugh’s, is an author I can never read enough. It’s just Waugh. (Add to the overrated list William Burroughs, whose life was certainly lively, but whose prose seems as dead as a doornail.)