Travelers’ Waugh

Evelyn Waugh was well known as a travel writer and two foreign newspapers have cited his work in their recent travel columns. In the Kenyan newspaper, Daily Nation, columnist John Fox pulled out an old, unread copy of Waugh’s last travel book A Tourist in Africa for his latest article. His column specializes in stories about days out around Nairobi:

A Tourist in Africa was written in 1960, only a few years before I also first came to Africa. It is a crafted diary of two months travelling around Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia). Reading it properly, I have found it delightfully provocative and, often, insightful about the challenges East and Central Africa were facing at that time….

This is what Waugh picked up on the voyage about Nairobi: “I was told Nairobi is now unfriendly, huge and infested by thieves; the carefree life of the Muthaiga Club is a memory; rather a scandalous one.” Waugh must have given his ear to some Kenyan cowboys. Once landed in Mombasa, he noted the “apartheid” that had grown up between the pre-independence administrators and the settlers. He makes this amusing comment: “There was then simply a division between two groups of Englishmen, one trying to run the country as a Montessori School, the other as a league of feudal estates.” The bon viveur Waugh would … have appreciated the many high class restaurants and hotels that are now to be found in the city he failed to visit.

Waugh had a 5-day stop in Mombasa on his cruise down the coast and spent it mostly around that city, where he found that the “old tradition of open hospitality flourished as it used to up country.” He also made a 2-day side trip to Kibo on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro where he joined some other passengers from the cruise (pp. 43-59). As noted in the article, he avoided Nairobi itself.

The German newspaper Die Welt in its travel section prints an excerpt from a German book about the author’s recent trips to England. The book is entitled Lesereise England (Reader’s Guide: England) and is written by Stefanie Bisping. The excerpt deals with her visits to Yorkshire where she stopped at several country houses, among them Castle Howard. It was there that she encountered Evelyn Waugh:

Evelyn Waugh, a satirist, novelist and admirer of the English manor… passed Castle Howard in 1937 on his way to Ampleforth Abbey, then the seat of a Benedictine abbey and boarding school. … [A]lthough numerous mansions came under the hammer between the world wars and many cultural treasures of the interiors were sold overseas, the phenomenon of the manor was still little known as a tourist attraction.

Even Waugh’s immortal novel “Brideshead Revisited” about the decline of the feudal world of the nobility was still a dream of the future. And yet he imagined Castle Howard in the winter of 1944, tormented by bad food, constant danger, and memories of better times, writing the book on the glamorous prewar world of the nobility. For Castle Howard, built in 1699 by Charles Howard, the third Earl of Carlisle, is not just – like Brideshead – the only dome-crowned Baroque palace in England. Like Waugh’s fictional nobility, the Howard was once a castle that was demolished to be rebuilt as a castle elsewhere on land where a village had previously been planed. Finally, Castle Howard owns its own chapel. However, this is not a Catholic as in Brideshead, but a rock solid Anglican, and one with beautiful windows that show stations of the life of Christ. It was designed by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones and made in the workshop of his colleague William Morris.

She goes on to explain that although the building at Castle Howard resembles Waugh’s description of Brideshead Castle, the family he describes was more like the Lygons living at Madresfeld Court in Worcestershire. She also writes that the staff and literature explaining Castle Howard to visitors do a good job of deccribing the nature of Waugh’s limited personal connection with the place. Translation is by Google with minor edits.

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