Waugh: A Review and A Profile

In the latest issue of the Australian literary journal Quadrant, Mark McGinness reviews the first volume of Waugh’s collected journalism in v. 26 (Essays, Articles and Reviews 1922-1934) of OUP’s Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh edited by Prof Donat Gallagher. The review is entitled “Evelyn Waugh and the Fourth Estate”. It begins with a brief description of Waugh’s career and explains how his journalism fitted into it. Also noted are Prof Gallagher’s earlier collections. McGinness then samples several selections from the current volume, liberally quoting where that is helpful, from both Prof Gallagher and Waugh. He notes particularly an article from Isis where Waugh encapsulates Hamlet rather brilliantly, then moves on to his two newspaper articles on marriage and conversion to Roman Catholicism. Also noted, inter alia, are reviews of books by Vita Sackville-West, Somerset Maugham, DH Lawrence, Henry Green, Dorothy Sayers and Thomas Hardy. It might have been mentioned that of that list, slightly more than half had been included in Prof Gallagher’s 1983 collection. He does however note helpfully, as I believe so also does Prof Gallagher, that of the 170 entries in this new volume, 110 have never been reprinted. McGinness then surveys the critical response to that earlier collection, quoting grudging respect for Waugh’s journalism by critics such as Julian Barnes, Philip Toynbee and CH Sissons. But then he wisely quotes back Prof Gallagher’s own response, which applies nicely to the present collection as well.

The review concludes with an assessment of OUP’s ambitious undertaking of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh:

This resurgence, this tsunami of Waviana, underplayed by its own publicists as “essentially an academic project”, is reminiscent of OUP’s launch in 2004 of The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (the ODNB), the greatest feat in the history of publishing. The best studies, chambers, libraries and dens that already hold the ODNB’s sixty-one volumes of dark blue buckram should now make room over the next few years, for the forty-three tomes, in bottle-green, navy and maroon, by one of the Dictionary’s illustrious entrants, Arthur Evelyn St John Waugh. Such a tribute has been conferred on few–Shakespeare, of course; among more recent writers Oscar Wilde and Edith Wharton. And now this abiding enemy of both the Common Man and the Modern Age. Even committed Wavians may quail at the fulsomeness of it all–five done and thirty-eight to go–but the polish, the production. the quality and scholarship revealed so far deserve universal praise.

McGinness can find nothing to complain about, but then, upon reflection, neither can I. In terms of previous complete works projects, he might have mentioned those devoted to Waugh’s contemporaries DH Lawrence (Cambridge University Press) and George Orwell (Secker & Warburg), but that quibble relates to the review, not to the book itself.

The website of the magazine Anglotopia has posted a copy of a profile of Evelyn Waugh published last year in its print edition. The USA-based magazine and website are designed for people who consider themselves Anglophiles. The profile starts out quite well and goes through the early years in an entertaining, breezy style that conveys much of the detail without bogging down. It misses on a few points. Waugh did not go down from Oxford with a third-class degree. That was the grade he received on his exams but to receive the degree he needed another term in residence. (McGinness may have also got this wrong: “he went down with a low third-class.”). The Anglotopia profile also claims that Waugh was employed by the Shakespeare Head Press where his essay “The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood” was printed. It was, in fact, his friend Alastair Graham who was apprenticed to that firm at the time “PRB” was published. CWEW v.26 (EAR 1922-34), pp. 95-96.

Toward the end of the Anglotopia profile, however, the text becomes more problematic. For example. this is the total content of its description of Waugh’s war career:

With the outbreak of WWII Waugh was anxious to curb the spread of Nazi barbarism, despite his right-wing politics, and he talked his way into the Royal Marines. He proved a poor officer and was demoted from captain to intelligence officer, and in that capacity, he was involved in negotiations in Yugoslavia with General Tito. The war did, however, give him the material for some of his best work, the Sword of Honour trilogy, which was published over the next decade.

There are too many things wrong with that to warrant comment, although it might be noted briefly that Waugh was never himself engaged in negotiations with Marshall Tito. There’s nothing wrong with the concluding sentence.  It may well be the case that space constraints precluded the same depth of analysis for these later years as was devoted to the earlier period.

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