Waugh and Fake News

The Mexican newspaper Milenio, which is published in several editions in all the major Mexican cities, has printed a feature length article on Evelyn Waugh. This is by Danubio Torres Fierro and is entitled “Las fake news según Evelyn Waugh” (“Fake News According to Evelyn Waugh”). It appears in the newspaper’s weekly magazine, Laberinto (Labyrinth).

The article opens with a reference to Waugh’s 1939 essay “Well-Informed Circles–and How to Move in Them.” In this, according to Torres Fierro, Waugh spelled out the motivations and mechanics for the production of what is effectively fake news by journalists and others. After quoting several passages from Waugh’s essay, Torres Fierro

…comes to what matters in this article. It is not at all surprising that Waugh attacked with viciousness (and sarcasm) what he understood to be an unedefying and harmful act; often he himself put it to practice as a journalist, but above all always raised to the rank of a true writer, Waugh was mandated by supreme shelter in irony, and with it and from it to dedicate himself to not leave a puppet with a head [titere con cabeza] and liquidate the commonplace hypocrites.

Waugh’s article first appeared in Harper’s Bazaar (London) in January 1939 and later that year in Vogue (New York). It is collected in Essays, Articles, and Reviews (p. 241). Torres Fierro gives the original publication date as 1956.

The second half of the article is devoted to what is effectively a review of Philip Eade’s recent biography of Waugh. This is not a Spanish translation but the US edition of the book. What Torres Fierro seems to find most fascinating is Waugh’s correspondence, as quoted in the biography. He cites several letters to other writers such as Nancy Mitford and Graham Greene. He describes Eade’s book as revealing

a real life…as it unfolds and grows, incorporates, registers and distorts the characters that were part of the environment of the creator and inhabited the landscape that framed it.

The review seems to be a favorable one (although not entirely accurate since he sees in it “three marriages and a long progeny”). It closes with some thoughts on what George Orwell might have written in his projected essay on Waugh and the impact of Waugh’s conversion to Catholicism on his political beliefs. Although full of opinionated enthusiasm for Waugh’s life and work, it is somewhat disappointing that Torres Fierro did not apply some of that to a brief consideration of Waugh’s book on Mexico, Robbery Under Law, which was written at about the same time as the essay “Well-Informed Circles” with which the article opens. This may be down to the fact that Eade’s biography spends only about 2 pages on that book.

The paper also prints Spanish translations of two letters of Waugh,  separately and without apparent comment, although this must be connected to the main article. One is an October 1961 latter to the editor of The Times about the issue of indexes in novels, and the other is a July 1947 letter to the editor of an Irish religious journal defending his Catholicism. Both are included in the collected Letters (1980).

The translation is by Google and is not, in this case, as good as it should be. But this may be due to some extent to the difficulty of conveying the vigorous and idiosyncratic style of the original Spanish into English.

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