Waugh and Proust: A Handful de Chez Quoi ?

A brief letter in this week’s TLS raises several interesting points about Waugh’s understanding of Marcel Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. This is from Dorothy McMillan at the University of Glasgow:

Sir, – As your correspondents have shown (most recently, June 8), the title of Proust’s first volume is tricky to translate. Evelyn Waugh seems not to have understood it at all. Two of the chapters in the first edition of his A Handful of Dust in 1934 are headed, “À côté de chez Beaver” and “À côté de chez Todd”. Conor Cruise O’Brien thought that Waugh must have read some Proust because he had paid him “the tribute of misquotation”, although Waugh told John Betjeman in 1946 that he was then reading Proust for the first time. On both counts Scott Moncrieff’s decision in 1925 to ignore Waugh’s desire to become his secretary seems vindicated. Later editions of the novel correct to “Du côté de chez Beaver” and “Du côté de chez Todd”. Does anyone know who had a word in Waugh’s ear? DOROTHY MCMILLAN School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow.

In a recent issue of Tatler’s Hong Kong edition, Handful comes up in an interview of Lady Kinvara Balfour, described as a “British aristocrat—and producer, writer, creative director and public speaker.” This entry comes after an illustration of the original orange and black cover of the Penguin edition of the novel:

“This book by Evelyn Waugh is my favourite. I love Brideshead Revisited also, but A Handful of Dust is so unbelievably sad and so incredibly reflective of an extraordinary era in Britain. The movie adaptation was filmed at Carlton Towers, the home of my late grandfather (Miles Fitzalan-Howard, the Duke of Norfolk) in Yorkshire. Grandpa was invited by the director to be an extra; he stood in as a gardener who tips his cap when the character played by Anjelica Huston lands her plane on the driveway of the house.”

Finally, another paper opens a story about recent developments in the war in Yemen with this allusion to Scoop, the novel that followed Handful:

In a few days, we could all become relative experts on that Red Sea port city, which may have escaped our attention until now. It’s complicated, but the one-sentence version (with apologies to the late Evelyn Waugh, author of the epic journalistic novel “Scoop”) runs as follows: Pro-government Yemeni forces, supported by a Saudi-United Arab Emirates (UAE) coalition, are attacking Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who control Hudaydah, currently the only way that food and other humanitarian aid can get to 20 million Yemenis who live in the rebel-controlled territory, including the capital, Sana.

(The literary reference is twice justified. The setting of “Scoop” is 1930s Ethiopia, just across the Red Sea from Hudaydah, and the novel’s hero, a mis-assigned gardening correspondent, is sent to cover a confusing civil war with foreign involvement — in reality, the Italian invasion of then-Abyssinia.)

This appears in The Hill, a US based political website, and is written by Simon Henderson.

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