Lord Ottercove Redux

The pages of the TLS  have been the scene for the reappearance of a character named Lord Ottercove who first surfaced (or not) in the novels of Evelyn Waugh and William Gerhardie. This discussion started with Paula Byrne’s review of the CWEW edition of Vile Bodies in the 24-31 August issue where she noted that Waugh had originally named a character Lord Ottercove (based on Lord Beaverbrook) in his 1930 novel. Byrne explained that, upon advice of counsel, Waugh changed that character’s name to Lord Monomark.

A correspondent (Thomas Frick of Los Angeles), then wrote a letter to the TLS noting that William Gerhardie later picked up that same name for a character in his 1934 novel Resurrection.  As described by Gerhardie:

Lord Ottercove had a prodigious, an infectious capacity for enjoying himself; where he was there, everyone felt, was enjoyment and people involuntarily foregathered round the spot occupied by Lord Ottercove out of the natural wish to enjoy themselves–in reality only to see Lord Ottercove enjoying himself. The difference, having regard to the complicated  reflexes of our natures, being hardly distinguishable.

Mr Frick wondered in conclusion whether other writers had used that name.

In the current issue of TLS, novelist William Boyd answers that question. It turns out that it was not Waugh who invented the name. According to Boyd:

…Waugh lifted the name from Gerhardie’s novel Jazz and Jasper (1928) where Ottercove appears as a thin disguise of Beaverbrook. Beaverbrook was something of a champion and support of Gerhardie, as it happens. And Vile Bodies was heavily influenced by Jazz and Jasper in all manner of ways.

How much of this is revealed in the CWEW edition of Vile Bodies is difficult to say because it has no index. (See pp. 166, 254: line 67.538.) It might be noted that Waugh later had occasion to invent a character named Lord Copper in his novel Scoop who also resembled Lord Beaverbrook, at least up to a point.

In another recent TLS issue, novelist and critic D J Taylor in his “Freelance” column discusses the issues raised by censorship in today’s more open publishing environment:

Not long ago, I was commissioned to write a piece for the Guardian about a forthcoming television dramatization of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall. One of the fascinations of this adaptation, I proposed, would be to see how the producers dealt with the scene at which Mrs Beste-Chetwynde arrives at the Llanabba school sports day accompanied by her friend Mr Sebastian Cholmondley, otherwise known as “Chokey”, whereupon Philbrick, the school butler, remarks “What price the coon?”

It was not possible, the section editor said apologetically, to print the word “coon” in the Guardian. In the end we had to settle for a bromide or two about “casually racist remarks”. In fact, Waugh’s attitude to racial issues in Decline and Fall is double-edged, and while he may very well be poking fun at some of Mr Cholmondley’s cultural pretensions (“I read Shakespeare”, he tells the school’s headmaster. “Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear. Ever read them?”), he is also satirizing the well-attested late 1920s phenomenon of fashionable society women taking up black men as sexual playthings. It is difficult to convey much of this if you are not allowed to reproduce the language he used.

Thanks to reader Peggy Troupin for sending links.


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