There is a diverse assortment of cites to Waugh’s works this week, with The Spectator scoring a hat trick in its various editions:
—The Spectator has a review of a new book that attacks “modernist” architecture. The book is entitled Making Dystopia: The Strange Rise and Survival of Architectural Barbarism and is written by James Stevens Curl. In his review, Stephen Bayley attacks the book on its writing style, scholarship, production standards and timeliness. He brings Evelyn Waugh into it on the side that is being defended by the author: anti-modernism:
Curl’s ambition is to compose the critique of all critiques, joining a tradition of anti-modern alarm which has included E.M. Forster, Orwell, Vonnegut and Prince Charles. And, of course, Evelyn Waugh. In Decline and Fall, Margot Beste-Chetwynde commissions a new ‘clean and square’ house from Professor Otto Silenus. Dismayed by the result, she soon has it demolished, saying: ‘Nothing I have ever done has caused me so much disgust.’
Needless to say, based on the position taken by the reviewer, the article concludes that Curl fails in his ambition.
–In another Spectator article, Tim Dawson undertakes a defense of the English Public School. He also turns to the same Waugh novel to help make his point:
There is much the state sector could learn from private education. Structured days; proper, engaged pastoral care; and discipline. Evelyn Waugh famously jokes in Decline and Fall that any man who has been to public school would be quite at home in prison. Old Etonian Jonathan Aitken quipped similarly when he was sent down for perjury. The archaeologist Osbert Crawford compared them to prisoner of war camps. Well, perhaps; but POW camps with better cricketing facilities.
–The USA edition of The Spectator in an article by Benjamin Riley cites Waugh as an authority on the basis for the popularity of Chippendale style furniture:
It all began with the orders. In the preface to his Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director (1754), Thomas Chippendale started with ‘an explanation of the five Orders’ — those foundations of all architecture, the Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, and Composite. ‘Without an acquaintance with this science,’ he continued, ‘the cabinet-maker cannot make the designs of his work intelligible.’ Nearly two hundred years later, Evelyn Waugh said much the same thing. Writing in 1938 in Country Life, Waugh noted that by learning the orders of architecture, ‘you can produce Chippendale Chinese; by studying Chippendale Chinese, you will produce nothing but magazine covers.’. One sees Waugh’s point — to practice architecture, or design of any kind, effectively, a return to first principles is necessary…
The article is written in connection with an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art entitled “Chippendale’s Director: The Designs and Legacy of a Furniture Maker”. This will run through January 27, 2019. The quote is from Waugh’s article “A Call to the Orders” reproduced in Essays, Articles and Reviews and A Little Order. Thanks to reader David Lull for sending a link to this article.
–Harry Mount, author and editor of The Oldie magazine, waxes nostalgic after a recent visit he made to what might be called a Waugh heritage site. This is in his Diary column in the Catholic Herald:
Over the weekend, I made a pilgrimage to Combe Florey, the Somerset village and house where Evelyn, and then Auberon, Waugh, lived. As a child, I went there several times – my parents were friends of the Waughs. Seeing the charming classical house made me think what Bron would have thought of today’s political climate. He would find a Britain utterly changed since his death 17 years ago – a Britain that’s largely lost its sense of humour.
The widespread attacks on Boris Johnson for his burka article are the tip of the humourless iceberg. Bron specialised in shocking to amuse – and Boris’s little barbs were nothing compared to Bron in full flow. Several decades of virtue-signalling, disapproval of bad behaviour and priggish attacks on funny writers have removed the necessary elements of humour: to be contrary and outspoken; to exaggerate, play down, or to be just straightforwardly rude. MeToo is the icing on the cake, removing bawdiness from jokes – an essential element of humour since time began.
–Finally, a books blog called the “ANZ LitLover” has posted an article about Waugh’s novel Helena. This is noteworthy for its photographs of many sites relevant to the novel, such as two arches to Trajan in the unlikely locations of Ancona and Benevento, Constantine’s arch in Rome and his statue outside York Minster and a mosaic of Sts Constantine and Helen from St Isaac’s Cathedral in St Petersburg. There is also a commentary on the text:
What makes this a worthwhile book to read? Well, for a start, it’s always a good thing to have the role of women acknowledged in history, even belatedly. And secondly, loosely based on the vaguest of historical fact, it allows Waugh full reign to create a most interesting story, enabling a critique of the excesses of the age which counters versions of Imperial Rome that focus more on murder and mayhem than the problem of political corruption and governance. And it’s often droll, with surprisingly sensitive portraits of women in an era when men have so successfully hogged the limelight….