Late July Roundup

–The Daily Telegraph has another story about the sale of Piers Court containing some new and corrected information:

Piers Court at Stinchcombe occupies a remote corner of Gloucestershire. … It has views of the Welsh Hills and the Forest of Dean, and played a role in some of the most extraordinary episodes of British history. A grand Georgian facade was wrapped around the original Elizabethan shell that was ransacked by Parliamentarians in 1645 after the fall of Royalist-occupied Bristol. Cromwell’s soldiers turned over Piers Court searching for commander Prince Rupert, the nephew of King Charles I. A few hundred years later it became the home of Evelyn Waugh for 19 years, where he wrote Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen and Helena.

The correction removes Brideshead Revisited listed in previous reports as having been written at Piers Court. (See previous posts.) They could have listed The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957) as having been written there (although published shortly after he moved). The novel’s description of Pinfold’s house (called Lychpole) probably wouldn’t attract any offers:

…this shabby old house which, over the years he had filled with books and furniture of the kind he relished…The central heating plant at Lychpole was ancient and voracious. It had not been used since the days of fuel shortage…Mr and Mrs Pinfold withdrew into two rooms, heaped the fires with such coal as they could procure and sheltered from draughts behind screens and sandbags. (C&H, 1973, pp. 122, 134)

–A Manchester online magazine, AboutManchester, has an article relating to a WWI exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North. It asks the question of whether this war should continue to be commemorated now that the centenary of its end has been reached. Waugh contributes this to the debate:

Then came the annual 11th November commemorations, the silence even back in 1919 atttracted criticism, Evelyn Waugh described it as a “disgusting idea of artificial nonsense and sentimentality, […] a disgraceful day of national hysteria.” Ninety eight years later Simon Jenkins would use the same language describing the 11th day of the 11th month which had become as a synthetic festival whose time had passed.

The quote comes from Waugh’s Diaries, p. 37 (11 November 1919). It omits language which, when taken in context, makes it somewhat less harsh: “If people have lost sons and fathers they should think of them whenever the grass is green or Shaftesbury Avenue brightly lighted, not for two minutes on the anniversary…”

–Robbie Millen in The Times  comments on this year’s Booker Prize longlist and complains that it reflects blandness and works not giving offense, or as he puts it “Pffft”, the sound made by a semi-deflated balloon. He thinks writers need to be more edgy:

It has also turned writing into a group activity. God help us, it has made writers more collegiate, more homogenised, blander, more self-congratulatory, more supportive — shudder — nicer. Groupthink is the death of thought-stirring writing.

Evelyn Waugh was never mistaken for a nice person (he said of Stephen Spender: “To see him fumbling with our rich and delicate language is to experience all the horror of seeing a Sèvres vase in the hands of a chimpanzee”). Nor Virginia Woolf (on James Joyce’s Ulysses: “The work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples”). Nor Gore Vidal (“It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”). Nor Norman Mailer (on Vidal: “I’ve had to smell your works from time to time, and that has helped me to become an expert on intellectual pollution”).

We need such writers to look at the world through a cold, gimlet eye, willing to put down on paper that unpleasant, truthful thing. We want them to be awkward, to be rude, to chuck grenades. To say things that others won’t say. To be the cat that walks alone. I await the Booker book that has bad, subversive thoughts. The anti-pffft novel.

–The newsletter QInsider has an article entitled “The Write Way to Travel” in which it cites various writers to recommend to its readers ocean voyages on Cunard liners. Most prominent among those quoted is Evelyn Waugh:

What’s more romantic than a surprising avowal of love? Perhaps one delivered aboard a huge ship, during a storm in the Atlantic. Those are the circumstances in which Captain Charles Ryder, the narrator of Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 classic novel Brideshead Revisited, comes closest to living happily ever after.  Waugh could have based this passage in any one of the book’s settings: Brideshead Castle, an Oxford college, or in any of the members’ clubs of pre-war London. However, he, like so many great 19th and 20th century authors, chose that isolated, technical wonder, thepassenger ship, to carry this scene forward. …Waugh even returned to a nautical setting for his late 1957 sci-fi-inflected novel, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, a slightly unhinged, fantasy inspired by Waugh’s own hallucinations, brought on by the misuse of sedatives during a passage to Ceylon.

They might also have mentioned Waugh’s early travel book Labels which takes place on a Mediterraean cruise.

–The Irish Times in an opinion article about the ongoing Brexit negotiations likens them to dysfunctional families in works of fiction:

Sometimes it seems that contemporary Tories act like dysfunctional characters from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. A more modern take on the lives of the ruling classes and minor aristocrats is to be found in Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose series of novels. These and other chroniclers of the the English elites explore – sometimes subtly, sometimes brutally – just what makes these people tick. They are devoid of the human connections that many of us take for granted. Narcissism and other clinical personality disorders are rampant; psychopathy and cruelty are common. Empathy is noticeable only by its absence.

–Finally, the website has compiled a list of the 101 books Millennials should read before they die. Waugh is included under the “Comedy and Satire” category:

Evelyn Waugh,The Loved One (1948)
Only Evelyn Waugh could write a side-splitting comedy about the work of morticians. The novel is set in California where Hollywood residents bury their beloved pets in the Happier Hunting Ground. The main character is an Englishman who is smitten by a rather dim mortician’s assistant and woos her by sending her famous English love poems under the pretence that he is the author.

Others in this category include P G Wodehouse, Joy in the Morning, and Flann O’Brien, The Dalkey Archive.

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