Duncan McLaren has recently added new postings about Waugh and his work to his website. The latest is entitled Men at War (2) and deals with the major portion of that novel that revolves around Guy Crouchback’s (and Waugh’s) early days in the Army. An earlier posting, Men at War (1), describes the very early pages of the novel where Guy is in Italy and returns to Engand at the very beginnng of the war. Those pages also describe Guy’s efforts to be accepted into the Army.
Much of the latest posting tracks the novel’s description of Guy’s military career against that of the author himself. McLaren determines that the very early Army chapters and those at the very end are heavily autobiographical, while those in the middle invovlve a more fictional story as Apthorpe (a largely fictitious character) takes over the plot from Guy.
As in previous posts based on textual material, McLaren injects information that illustrates his discussions. This include copious photographs (both historic and present day) of the settings described in the novel as well as maps showing the locations (both factual and fictional) where the action takes place. The posting can be read (along with Men at War (1)) as an introduction to the novel or as a chapter by chapter guide to the novel’s action. I would suggest the latter or perhaps a combination of the two.
Another posting was made several weeks ago in the series McLaren has been writing on Waugh’s relationships with other artists. These have so far included Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein and painter, Charles Spencelayh. A fourth entry in this series (actually the third in order of writing and publication) is When Evelyn Met Orwell. An actual meeting did take place in this case, and this forms the focus of McLaren’s discussion. McLaren in this instance starts with the consideration of the 2008 book by David Lebedoff entitled The Same Man: George Orwell & Evelyn Waugh in Love and War.
But he soon goes off on his own with discussions based on the correspondence between the writers that began after publication of Animal Farm in 1945. McLaren also uses reviews and articles each of them wrote about the other, including an unfinished essay Orwell was still writing about Waugh when he died. In addition, McLaren also brings in his own imagination to describe meetings between the two writers. In this case an actual meeting did take place when Waugh visited Orwell in a sanitarium in the Cotswolds at Cranham near where Waugh was living at Dursley. Although there was no transcript or other contemporary description of that meeting, McLaren inagines what might have been said. But before that an imaginary meeting takes place where Orwell stops by to find Waugh suffering a temporary writers block. As in other articles, McLaren uses maps and photos to illustrate his points. In this case he could find no photos of Orwell in the sanitarium or hospital but substitutes stills from a David Bowie film. A good idea up to a point but there were perhaps more of these than was called for.
Since both Orwell and Waugh were admirers of PG Wodehouse and his defenders against charges of treason, McLaren also brings him into the story. In addition, he uses an essay by John Howard Wilson, American Waugh scholar and founder of the EWS, in which Wilson argued that Orwell had been influenced by Brideshead Revisited when he wrote parts of 1984. McLaren cleverly weaves that essay into his text. McLaren also draws comparison between Waugh’s description of Guy’s wartime hospital visit to Apthorpe in Men at Arms and his own visit to Orwell in the sanitarium. The posting concludes with McLaren’s imagining of what the two writers might have discussed when Waugh made his 1949 visit (or visits) to Orwell at Cranham Sanitarium (in one case with his neighbor Frances Donaldson). As with other essays in this series, this one is both entertaining and informative. I am wondering who is next–Betjeman, Graham Greene, Cyril Connolly, Anthony Powell?