Roundup: Black Shorts and Literate Oenophiles

–Writing in America: The Jesuit Review, Rob Weinert-Kendt, journalist and editor of the American Theatre magazine, recalls how his life has been shaped by his reading and viewing of Brideshead Revisited as a teenager. He begins by putting the story in historical perspective:

…I realized something startling about “Brideshead” as I rewatched and reread it recently: More years have now elapsed since the series aired (37) than passed between the novel’s publication in 1945 and the creation of the series in 1981 (36). That doesn’t just make me feel old; it also happens to refract the last century in a sobering and clarifying new light. Waugh’s novel takes much of its animating energy from the death-haunted abandon of the Jazz Age years, between the grim bookends of World Wars I and II, when he was a giddy young Oxfordian. The intervening years between the novel and the series, though ostensibly chilled by the Cold War, witnessed the cultural revolution of the 1960s, then the retrenchment represented by Thatcher and Reagan, into which the apparent aristocratic nostalgia of the “Brideshead” series sailed with perfect timing.

He goes on to explain how Brideshead influenced his decision to have his parents send him to a Jesuit prep school where, although he was and remains a Protestant, he was turned

…from a class-obsessed preppy into something of a left-leaning, redistributionist hippie. My faith would weather more challenges in adulthood, but by the time I left Brophy [his Jesuit prep school] it was as strong and deep as an 18-year-old’s faith can be; at last rooted in something more enduring than an argyle sweater, it had blossomed accordingly. But there is no denying that superficial material attractions are what had lured me into the realm of the selfless and the spiritual, and planted at least a part of me there forever. (I won’t dwell here on the irony that Waugh, a notoriously conservative crank, would be mortified by the socially liberal form my religion has taken.)

He wonders what effect Brideshead may have on today’s younger generation and supposes that “contemporary readers may simply not find as much to grab them in the social history of between-the-wars England.” But he concludes that to worry about this is “to miss the point the book is making, and certainly made in my life: Earthly delights are but a foretaste of the feast to come. As St. Augustine wrote: ‘Late have I loved thee, O beauty so ancient and so new.’ In contemporary parlance: Better late than never.

–In the Guardian, Ian Sansom reviews a book by Ben Schott in which he revisits the Wodehousian world of Bertie Wooster. This is Jeeves and the King of Clubs. The review opens with this:

According to Evelyn Waugh, “Mr Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own.” He has certainly continued to release future generations from the irksome captivity of writing as themselves. Following in what he calls “the patent-leather footsteps of the greatest humorist in the English language”, Ben Schott of the Schott’s Miscellanies fame has written a homage to everyone’s favourite Wodehouse creations, Jeeves and Wooster. (He’s not the first: Sebastian Faulks had a go in 2013, in Jeeves and the Wedding Bells.) The book, we are told, is “Authorised by the PG Wodehouse Estate”, which is certainly reassuring – but is it any good? The stakes are high. Fond pastiche or parody? A novel or a novelty?

The review continues by summarizing a plot which should resonate with Wodehouse lovers. It revolves around a right wing political group called the “Black Shorts” which sounds like a good start. The Waugh quote comes from a 1961 BBC Home Service broadcast, reprinted in the Sunday Times (16 July 1961) as “An Act of Homage and Reparation to P G Wodehouse.” EAR, p. 561.

–In a Guardian opinion article, Marina Hyde is reminded by the current mind-numbing Brexit scandal of a previous British political crisis as it was described by Waugh:

For some, Brexit is so unwatchable that it has passed through the looking glass and is now obsessively watchable. There is a definite strand in the British temperament that does enjoy a good constitutional crisis. In a 1936 diary entry [p. 415], Evelyn Waugh wrote of the abdication drama: “The Simpson crisis has been a great delight to everyone. At Maidie’s nursing home they report a pronounced turn for the better in all adult patients. There can seldom have been an event that has caused so much general delight and so little pain.” If only the Brexit crisis were as victimless an event. The Wallis Simpson affair was clearly a net benefit for the nation (plus a good 25% on the share price for Cartier).

–Finally, returning to Brideshead, novelist Jay McInerney includes that novel on a Literary Hub list of 8 novels for the literate oenophile:

There are many reasons to love this uncharacteristically romantic novel by Waugh, including the delirious wine commentary of its protagonists Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte who spend an idyllic summer trying to drain the wine cellar at Sebastian’s ancestral castle and inventing ways to describe it.

“It’s a little shy wine like a gazelle.”
“Like a leprechaun.”
“and this is a wise old wine.”
“A prophet in a cave.”
“And this is a necklace of pearls on a white neck.”
“Like a white swan.”

And more ominously, there is this exchange:

“Ought we to be drunk every night,” Sebastian asked one morning. “Yes, I think so.”

“I think so too.”

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