Two Hits and Two Misses

The staff at The American Conservative magazine are asked to contribute to a regular column called “TAC Bookshelf” describing and rating their current reading. Andrew J Bacevich devoted his latest contribution to Evelyn Waugh. He considered Sword of Honour a “masterpiece” and Brideshead Revisited as “not half bad”. But he didn’t like Scoop:

Scoop stands in relation to the Waugh oeuvre much as, say, Across the River and Into the Trees does in relation to Hemingway’s.  While there are moments of high humor—especially when the resourceful Mrs. Stitch appears on the page—few of the characters in Scoop elicit either interest or empathy. They are less funny than pathetic. One can see in Waugh’s protagonist William Boot some slight resemblance to Guy Crouchback, the central figure in Sword of Honour. Both are innocents let loose in a world beyond their ken. But whereas Crouchback achieves some modest enlightenment as a consequence of his adventures, Boot remains implacably dim. The racist and anti-Semitic overtones will offend some readers.

He seems to miss the point of the Boot Magna scenes which are among the funniest Waugh ever wrote. Perhaps it would help if he watched the 1987 TV film (screenplay by William Boyd) in which veteran character actors Denholm Elliott and Michael Hordern played Mr Salter and Uncle Theodore, respectively. The film is otherwise foregettable, but these two roles were played to Wavian perfection.

Blogger Dennis Cooper, meanwhile, has considered the tendency of writers to leave some works unfinished. Among those notable works missing in action are unfinished novels by Truman Capote (Answered Prayers), Robert Musil (The Man Without Qualities), and David Foster Wallace (The Pale King). Fragments of the latter two were published, but Capote’s magnum opus (an American version of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past) has never been found, although he left a key to an unidentified safe deposit box where he told a friend he had left it. Also mentioned is an unpublished work by Evelyn Waugh:

The Temple at Thatch was Evelyn Waugh’s first attempt at a novel, and its failure temporarily derailed him. Waugh began writing the book in 1924 during his final year as an undergraduate. The plot, according to diary entries, is largely autobiographical and based on the writer’s experiences at Oxford, with themes of madness and black magic. So what went wrong? In 1925 he gave the manuscript to his friend Harold Acton, who criticized the book (Acton later said: “It was an airy Firbankian trifle, totally unworthy of Evelyn, and I brutally told him so. It was a misfired jeu d’esprit.”). Waugh was so distraught that he burned the manuscript and went to the beach and started swimming out. In his biography, Waugh said: “Did I really intend to drown myself? That was certainly in my mind.” But a short way out, he was attacked by a jellyfish and swam back. For a while afterward, he stayed away from fiction writing, but soon returned.’ — PW

Cooper also mentions an unfinished work by Hunter S Thompson that was called Prince Jellyfish but fails to make a connection. The Waugh entry is headed by a still from the 1924 film The Scarlet Woman: An Ecclesiastical Melodrama, in which Evelyn Waugh played the Dean of Balliol, but the figure in the photo is not Waugh. Anyone knowing his identity, please comment below.

UPDATE (23 January 2018): Dave Lull thinks a good guess as to the identity of the actor in the photo is Derek Erskine (otherwise unidentified guards officer, real name unknown). This is based on this information from Charles E. Linck, Jr, “Waugh–Greenidge Film–The Scarlet Woman”, Evelyn Waugh Newsletter No. 2.3 (Autumn 1969):

Buckingham Palace: His Majesty of England, Defender of the Faith, by Derek Erskine (a Guards Officer, real name unknown) : (the King reverently glances at a cross). The Earl of Kettering, His Majesty’s Chamberlain played by Michael Murgatroyd (Viscount Elmley, now Earl Beauchamp) : (who shows the King papers, gets signatures, talks of official business).
This entry was posted in Adaptations, Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh, Newspapers, Scoop, Sword of Honour, Television and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.