… Waugh travelled, and one of his earlier writings on such subject, Labels, saw him leave the UK for parts that he himself knew were becoming well-trampled by the well-heeled, with the traditional ‘Grand Tour’ locations no longer on the itinerary….The British thirst for knowledge, for art and for antiquity ensured that museums in these far-flung places were well-attended by visitors, even if they weren’t always sure what they were seeing. Waugh might not have been the typical travel writer, but his appreciation of quality was respectable – this is a man who condemned the nightclubs of Paris for their mediocre Champagne, remember – and he noted the difficulty of being exposed to this new culture. Having been brought up in Western culture, with all that entails in terms of artistic movements, and progression; that of the Renaissance, of modernism, being exposed to Eastern art, with its repetition of shape, colour and pattern, Waugh found it impossible to judge its quality. It is an immutable truth that one is unable to judge how good something is when there is no frame of reference, or little frame of reference, to work from.
The blog post continues by applying this same need to apply gradual understanding of something new into the professional sports world. Specifically, it urges that “Unai Emery be given a berth of understanding as Arsenal coach.”
–In the art and design magazine Frieze, Emily Labarge has an essay on how ocean liners have been treated in literature. In this passage she links the names of fictional steamships to themes in the books where they appear:
Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out (1915), which marks Clarissa Dalloway’s first appearance, is an Edwardian satire that takes place on the Euphrosyne; Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley evades murder charges by sailing to Greece on the Hellenes, where he stands at the bow and envisions his rich new life in Athens; Evelyn Waugh’s Gilbert Pinfold loses his mind on the Caliban, imagining he is tormented by a family of tyrants who accost him via the ship’s electrical systems: voices in the ether, telling him to commit suicide – full fathom five.
–A Q&A in the Daily Mail asks whether Waugh had supported the Fascist government of Mussolini in the 1935 Abyssinian War. Here’s the answer (from Frank Jones in Coventry):
Waugh did, indeed, support Mussolini. According to biographer Philip Eade, Waugh was hired by the Mail as a correspondent to cover the Abyssinian crisis in 1935 and was ‘an unflinching advocate’ of the Italian invasion. He saw Abyssinia as a barbarous country, ruled by a violent government, and believed that Mussolini would be the most effective barrier against Hitler. ‘ In the matter of practical politics, it is certain that their [the Italian] government would be for the benefit of the Ethiopian Empire and for the rest of Africa,’ he concluded.
In later years, Waugh changed his tune. Eade quotes a letter in which he says: ‘ I am sick of Abyssinia and of my book about it. It was fun being pro-Italian when it was an unpopular and (I thought) losing cause.’
–On the website recode.net, former Google VP Jessica Powell is interviewed about her new novel The Big Disruption. This is about how Arsyen Aimo applies for a job as janitor in a Silicon Valley company and begins a rise through management. Here’s an excerpt:
Q. … We’ve been introduced to a janitor who then becomes something else.
A. Yeah, so Arsyen the janitor has just crashed the management team meeting and we’re about to meet the management team.
Q. Because they don’t know who he is.
Q. He gets a job he’s not …
A. He’s not qualified to do.
Q. Yeah, it’s like “Being There” with Peter Sellers.
A. Yeah. Or a little bit like … or “Scoop.” Scoop, something like that.
Q. Scoop is better, yeah.
–In the River Falls (WI) Journal, columnist Dave Wood contributes an article about those instances when you wish you’d said something as clever as some one else you later remembered:
When novelist Evelyn Waugh died in 1966, photographer Cecil Beaton surmised that “He died of snobbery.” Critic Edmund Wilson summed up Waugh’s prose style: “His style has the desperate jauntiness of an orchestra fiddling away for dear life on a sinking ship.”
Waugh probably had it coming. When he heard that his friend Randolph Churchill (Winston’s son) was in the hospital to have a lung removed after which doctors discovered that it was benign, the sharp-witted satirist opined that “Randolph’s operation signifies what’s wrong with modern medicine. The doctors removed from Randolph the only part of his body that was not diseased.”
That’s an often repeated quote, but in this case it is not quite what Waugh had written. In a diary entry dated March 1964, Waugh wrote:
Randolph Churchill went into hospital… to have a lung removed. It was announced that the trouble was not ‘malignant’. Seeing Ed Stanley in White’s, on my way to Rome, I remarked that it was a typical triumph of modern science to find the only part of Randolph that was not malignant and remove it. (Diaries, p. 792).
–The Australian Financial Review has an article about a recent Royal Commission Report on banking malpractice. The reporter Joe Aston enjoyed ploughing through its three volumes over the weekend if only because its author Kenneth Haynes sprinkled it with cites to relevant literary works. These included Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, George Eliot and most especially Charles Dickens. But there was one allusion that the reporter thought Mr Haynes had missed. This was from Bleak House (with which the article concludes):
In it, Dickens characterises a late member of the Smallwood family as “a horny-skinned, two-legged species of spider who spun webs to catch unwary flies and retired into holes until they were entrapped. The name of this old pagan’s god was Compound Interest. He lived for it, married it, died of it. Meeting with a heavy loss in an honest little enterprise in which all the loss was intended to be on the other side, he broke something–something necessary to his existence–therefore it couldn’t have been his heart–and made an end of his career.” Evelyn Waugh’s masterpiece A Handful of Dust ends with his protagonist enslaved by a madman in the jungle, forced to read him Bleak House for the rest of his days.
In those days there were no microphones to drop. So, The End.
Well, not quite. In Waugh’s novel the endless reading of Dickens was not confined to Bleak House, although if one had to choose a single volume, it would probably be that one.