As we approach Guy Fawkes Night in the UK, here is a miscellaneous gathering of Evelyn Waugh news items:
–A new book by Antonia Fraser may have some relevance to Guy Fawkes Night (at least in exploring the “aggressive” roots of Catholic persecution in Britain). This is THE KING AND THE CATHOLICS: England, Ireland, and the Fight for Religious Freedom, 1780-1829. The review of the book in the New York Times opens with this:
When Amazon Prime finally starts delivering to heaven, Evelyn Waugh should order a copy of Antonia Fraser’s new book, “The King and the Catholics: England, Ireland, and the Fight for Religious Freedom, 1780-1829.” Fraser’s latest considers a topic close to Waugh’s tart heart: bleak Roman Catholic prospects in aggressively Anglican England.
–US religion journalist and novelist Eve Tushnet has recently published a survey of 5 novels she considers to be related:
For a series of reactionary novels, published in the 1930s through the 1960s, the collapse of the previous order was not merely an economic and political transformation but an existential cataclysm which shattered men’s understanding of their place in the world. For these novels the death rattle of premodernity meant not merely revolution, but apocalypse. Four of these novels are classics of revolt against the times: Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, Joseph Roth’s The Radetzky March, Mikhail Bulgakov’s Russian Civil War novel White Guard, and Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy. The fifth, Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, is an experimental science-fiction collage novel which at first seems to sit oddly among works otherwise set in some version of a real, historical world. Yet to read these books not in order of publication but in the order I’ve just named them—slotting Hesse in right before Waugh—is to watch the apocalypse in slow motion. The post-apocalyptic world is recognizably our own, as the vanished world is recognizably alien. By exploring these novels’ common ground, we can see what we’ve lost—and what we’ve forgotten.
Her essay is spread over several postings on the ecumenical religious weblog Patheos.com. The final installment discusses Waugh’s Sword of Honour and opens with this:
Like The Leopard, Sword of Honour has its one iconic line, which sums up the book to people who misremember it: Hitler allies with the Soviet Union, and our hero Guy Crouchback rejoices, “But now, splendidly, everything had become clear. The enemy at last was plain in view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast off. It was the Modern Age in arms.” This is so ringing and almost-right that everyone forgets that it’s exposed as a mistake. Sword of Honour’s title is bitterly ironic: a premodern weapon, a premodern ideal, and a novel whose characters are all so permeated with modernity that they can’t even imagine the lost world correctly. The central symbol is an actual sword—made for “the steel-hearted people of Stalingrad,” to honor the British-Soviet alliance.
The earlier installments are all linked in this last one, so if one wants to read the entire essay it is perhaps best to start here to have all the links available.
–In a review of another recent book with a religious theme, Waugh also gets a mention. This is Haunted by Christ written by the former Anglican Bishop of Oxford Richard Harries. The review in Church Times describes the book as:
an attractive introduction to 20 novelists and poets, both believers and unbelievers, “who have meant a great deal to me over the years”. In all cases, “the pull of religion has been fundamental.” They are all, as Samuel Beckett was described, “haunted by Christ”.
Among the 20 writers discussed is Evelyn Waugh who appears in a chapter entitled “Grace in Failure: Four Catholic Novelists”. The other three are Graham Greene, Flannery O’Connor and Shusaku Endo.
–The Financial Times has an essay entitled “How comedy conquered the world of travel writing”. This is by contemporary travel writer Tim Moore who starts with Lord Dufferin’s classic Letters From High Latitudes and moves via Eric Newby and Bill Bryson to Moore’s own writing. Waugh’s contribution to the genre receives only oblique attention in this reference to one of Newby’s best known books:
Published in 1958, Eric Newby’s laconically titled A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush was a pomposity-pricking parody of all those stiff-upper-lipped expeditionary travelogues. […] A Short Walk begins with a glowing introduction by Evelyn Waugh, who astutely identifies “the essential amateurism of the English” as the bedrock of all native travel writing. And it ends with an encounter that seems to signal the changing of the guard, when Newby’s party bumps into the doyen of old-school gentleman explorers in a remote gorge,Wilfred Thesiger […]
The article concludes with a description of Moore’s latest book Another Fine Mess about his trip across America in a vintage Model-T Ford.
–Finally, The Independent newspaper has a list compiled by its literary critics of the 40 novels you need to read before you die. Among these is:
Brideshead Revisited: Evelyn Waugh bottles the intoxicating vapour of a vanished era in this novel about middle-class Charles Ryder, who meets upper-class Sebastian Flyte at Oxford University in the 1920s. Scrap the wartime prologue, and Charles’s entire relationship with Sebastian’s sister Julia (Dear Evelyn, thank you for your latest manuscript, a few suggested cuts…) and you’re looking at one of the most affecting love affairs in the English language. Chris Harvey
Another reference to Waugh’s novel appears in an interview of Stephanie Mann, author of a history of the English Reformation entitled Supremacy and Survival. Her book recently appeared in a paperback edition and does indeed carry a description of the events and consequences of Guy Fawkes Night (Chapter 6 includes “Catholic Disappointment: The Gunpowder Plot”). In anwer to a question in the interview about her favorite “imaginary” characters, she includes:
Cordelia in Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, the one member of the Flyte family who understands everyone and yet loves them, in spite of (or because of) their faults.
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