Sunday Roundup: from Rails to Balls

–The new railroad line from Djibouti to Addis Ababa is featured in a recent illustrated story in the Irish Times. This project was financed by the Chinese and was placed into full operation earlier this year. The service is now running on a regular basis and seems a far cry from the unreliable experience described by Evelyn Waugh in his 1930s writings about this region. According to the Irish Times:

…after leaving Addis Ababa, the author’s train arrived at each station roughly on time during its 12½-hour passage. Passenger satisfaction, however, is tempered by nostalgia for what has been lost in the bid for modernity. “It’s like being transported as cattle in a container: you’re sealed up at Addis Ababa before being deposited at your destination,” says […], a Dire Dawa businessman who used to take the old railway line that was constructed in the early 20th century and conveyed the novelist Evelyn Waugh when he came as a reporter for the Times to cover the 1936 coronation of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie.

The story gets the Waugh chronology a bit wrong. He first travelled the railway in 1930 on the way to cover the coronation for the Times. That story is told in Black Mischief and Remote People. In 1935 he used the railway again to cover the invasion of Ethiopia by Italy for the Daily Mail, immortalized in the novel Scoop, and he returned again in 1936 for some follow up research for his book Waugh in Abyssinia.

–The Catholic Herald has a story comparing the career of a recently deceased Roman Catholic bishop in Wisconsin with that of Edmund Campion as described by Evelyn Waugh in his 1935 biography. The story opens with this:

Early in his biography of Edmund Campion, Evelyn Waugh wonders why his subject spurned the smooth path that lay before him – accommodation with the nascent Anglican establishment, with all the comfort it afforded – and sought, instead, the way of the Cross. We like to imagine our saints facing starkly clear choices. But that wasn’t the case with the Oxford tutor who would go on to become the great Jesuit martyr; Campion had to find Calvary through a glass darkly. […]

So “why throw up so much that was excellent, in straining for a remote and perhaps unattainable perfection?” Waugh immediately answers his own question: “There was that in Campion that made him more than a decent person; an embryo in the womb of his being, maturing in darkness, invisible, barely stirring; the love of holiness, the need for sacrifice. He could not accept.” […] The Waugh passage came to my mind as I read news that Robert Morlino, the Bishop of Madison, Wisconsin, had died on Saturday from a “cardiac event”, per his diocese. The bishop’s memory will long endure as a defender of orthodoxy, at a time, not unlike Campion’s, when many otherwise decent men chose accommodation with corruption inside the Church and moral disorder in the world outside.

–The Daily Mail has been covering the story of the dilapidation and projected restoration of the Wentworth Woodhouse estate near Rotherham, South Yorkshire. Although it is described by the Mail as the largest country house in Britain and the largest private residence in Europe, Waugh had little connection with the house or the family that owned it, the Fitzwilliams. Waugh does however rate a mention in the Mail’s story thanks to his friendship with Kathleen Kennedy, JFK’s sister:

Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, a decorated war hero, and [Kathleen], whose husband, the Marquess of Hartington, had been killed in action in 1944, had [in 1948] been desperately in love for two years. Rumours swirled that, when they crashed [on 13 May 1948], they were on their way to the Vatican to obtain special dispensation from the Pope to marry, if Peter divorced his wife. The passionate affair was an open secret among their friends. […] No one will ever know for certain what Peter and Kick were planning when they took off from Croydon airport, with enough luggage for a world cruise – including dozens of outfits, a caseful of negligees and most of Kick’s jewels. Such was her love of clothes, all this might really have been packed for just a long weekend – or maybe, as friend Evelyn Waugh believed, the couple were actually eloping.

Waugh’s opinion on the reason for the trip is contained in a letter to Clarissa Eden, dated 6 September 1952, Letters, p. 382.

BBC Radio 4 has reposted an episode of its Open Book program from 2016 in which Mariella Frostrup discusses Philip Eade’s biography of Evelyn Waugh with novelist and literary critic D J Taylor. See previous post. In addition, they have reposted a 2005 episode of Good Reads in which actors Hugh Dennis and Maria Aitken discuss Waugh’s A Handful of Dust with presenter Sue MacGregor. Books by Ian McKewen and Vladimir Nabokov are also discussed.

The TLS has an article that consists of extracts from the commonplace book of Dwight Garner, book critic for the New York Times. These are grouped into “conversations with each other” on a common topic:

Never write “balls” with an indelible pencil on the margins of the books provided.

– Evelyn Waugh

Language is balls coming at you from every angle.

– Alan Bennett

I hear you . . . have finished a novel a hundred thousand words long consisting entirely of the word “balls” used in new groupings.

– F. Scott Fitzgerald, letter to Ernest Hemingway

Doesn’t this all sound balls? But it is not quite balls.

– Jean Rhys

The Waugh quote is from a 1946 letter to Mary Lygon (Letters, p. 240) advising her of proper behavior in the London Library which she had recently joined.

There is also this one from Auberon Waugh in a group about book reviews:

Have Anthony Powell’s reviews always been this bad, or has he had a stroke?

– Auberon Waugh, Diaries

That was from his Private Eye Diaries on the occasion of his having read Powell’s review of Evelyn’s Letters.


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