Midweek Roundup

–The New York Times reviews a new book about Los Angeles. This is David Kipen’s anthology, Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters, 1542 to 2018. According to the review this isn’t exactly a “rescue mission” for the much reviled city:

[Kipen] prints loads of contumely — mostly snobbish disapproval from Eastern visitors — about his hometown. But his book deepens and expands and flyspecks our view of Los Angeles. Consuming it’s a bit like watching an orange-scented, palm tree-lined, gin-soaked version of Christian Marclay’s 24-hour movie montage, “The Clock” […]

Evelyn Waugh complained about “lunch in wineless canteens.” He continued: “We have trained the waiters in the dining-room  not to give us iced water and our chauffeur not to ask us questions. There is here the exact opposite of the English custom by which the higher classes are ecpected to ask personal questions of the lower.”

This quote comes from Waugh’s Diaries (pp. 673-74) for 13 February 1947.

–Novelist and critic Allan Massie writing in the Catholic Herald tries to explain why there are no Roman Catholic characters in Anthony Powell’s novels Dance to the Music of Time:

For many, myself among them, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and Anthony Powell were the outstanding English novelists of the middle decades of the 20th century, and I have been reading and re-reading them since I was a schoolboy more than 60 years ago. There aren’t many novelists one doesn’t tire of, but repeatedly returns to. […]

Waugh and Powell were friends, admiring each other’s novels, with more reservations on Powell’s part than Waugh’s. Powell disliked Greene’s novels, though insisting in his Journals that he had nothing against him as a man and would be quite happy to meet him again. I rather question this. Waugh and Greene, scarcely knowing each other at Oxford, became friends in middle life, when both were established as Catholic novelists. More of that, I hope, in a later article.

It is perhaps on account of writing this column that I have become aware of the strange absence of Catholic characters from the 12 volumes of A Dance to the Music of Time. The novel is not autobiographical, though it runs in parallel with Powell’s life, and it would be surprising if he hadn’t other Catholic friends besides Waugh. Indeed, his brother-in-law Frank Pakenham, Lord Longford, was a prominent Catholic (also a convert), so that Powell had Catholic nephews and nieces, among them Lady Antonia Fraser. Longford claimed to have been the model for two Powell characters – the Red peer, Erridge (brother of the narrator Nick Jenkins’s wife) and the appalling if irresistible Widmerpool. (“It’s ridiculous,” Powell said to me, “Frank can’t be both. He must make up his mind which he is.”)

Massie goes on to observe that Powell preferred to write about the occult (referred to in the article as “mumbo-jumbo”) more than about organized religion and populated his novel with characters from that spiritualist milieu; but Massie doesn’t think that Powell himself took it very seriously.

The Catholic Thing weblog has an article recommending a 1960 novel by Waugh’s friend Alfred Duggan. The article begins with this:

As a brief respite from the turmoil in Church and State these days, I’ve been indulging myself with a very pleasant read through Alfred Duggan’s novel (1960) The Cunning of the Dove– a fictional re-creation of the turmoil in Church and State in the days of King Edward the Confessor (1042-1066). Some things, it seems, never really change.

Duggan was a friend of Evelyn Waugh’s, a conservative Catholic, a powerful yet graceful writer who deserves to be better known for a series of novels set in the Middle Ages. As Waugh wrote of him: “This century has been prolific in historical novels, many garish, some scholarly. I know of none which give the same sense of intimacy as Alfred’s – as though he were describing personal experiences and observations.”…

Duggan died in 1964 and the quote is from a memorial message that Waugh delivered on the BBC; the text was published in the Spectator and later that year in the US Jesuit journal America. It is collected in EAR, p, 625.

–The National Catholic Register recommends a list of 5 Catholic novels. Among them is Waugh’s Helena:

It might come as a surprise that I am recommending Evelyn Waugh’s Helena (1950), this great Catholic novelist’s sole historical work over what is, pretty much objectively, his greatest work, the magnificent Brideshead Revisited (1945). Well, my recommendation is based solely on my great love of Saint Helen, who was the patroness of the parish to which I was assigned as a newly ordained priest (and note that I was able to get a mention in of the more famous Brideshead, all the while introducing Helena!) It is stated that Waugh himself believed that this was his best novel. This is the story of Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, and her quest to find the relics of the Lord’s Cross. It is a social commentary with allegories to life in Britain at the time of Waugh’s writing of the novel, while at the same time offering us a pious life of the great Saint, Helena. And the character of Helena herself is wise and witty. Although not Waugh’s usual style, this is a true pleasure to read.

–The Sunday Times (South Africa) has published an interview of novelist Lucinda Riley. Here’a an excerpt:

What is your most treasured book?

When I received my first big advance, I bought myself a first edition copy of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.

Riley’s latest novel is The Moon Sister. This seems to be part of a series celled The Seven Sisters of which this is Book 5.

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