Waugh Welcomes Students

Several student-oriented papers have quoted Evelyn Waugh in their greetings to students arriving or returning to university studies:

The Times Higher Education Supplement invited advisory Twitter messages to be posted in an effort to make first year students feel welcome. One of them offers this quote from Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited in a Twitter post from Nick Hillman:

Mine: Snakebite and black is not actually very nice.
Evelyn Waugh: ‘it was normal to spend one’s second year shaking off the friends of one’s first’.

Not sure what first part means. But the Waugh message was delivered to Charles Ryder by his older cousin and upperclassman Jasper.

–The Oxford student paper Cherwell offered an article explaining how the experiences described in the same novel should be applied in today’s Oxford:

Brideshead Revisited is not a book about Oxford: it is a book about aristocracy, religion, and death. Yet somehow, almost 75 years after it was first written, it continues to be one of the most famous fictional portrayals of life at our university. Our enduring fascination with Waugh’s portrait of university life, peppered with the drunken antics of rebellious upperclassmen, anecdotes of the eccentric and fashion forward Anthony Blanche, and the dramatic sending down of the troubled young Lord Sebastian Flyte, says something about how we see Oxford today. A clash is emerging between this traditional image of the university, and what a modern Oxford would like to be….The Oxford of Brideshead Revisited is from the 1940s. The university was definitely more exclusive in decades gone by, and it was almost certainly closer to the world that Waugh describes. But the fact that our cultural imprint is still drawing on an Oxford that no longer exists is revealing in itself. In recent times, Oxford has undergone a drive towards accessibility and diversification that has, in many ways, caused our university to change beyond recognition. There has been a vigorous emphasis on making university seem accessible to all and showing potential students that there is a place at Oxford for people of all backgrounds.

The Oxford described in Brideshead was actually from the 1920s when Waugh was a student, not the 1940s when it was written. It would already have been becoming more accessible in the 1940s as the arrival of ex-soldiers in large numbers would have had a levelling influence. That was one of the phenomena Waugh was arguing against in the novel’s wartime scenes.

–At the University of Massachusetts, new students are urged in the Daily Collegian to read two essays by George Orwell to help them acclimate themselves to the pressures of their new environment: “Such, Such Were the Joys” and “Inside the Whale”. The former describes rather vividly Orwell’s unhappy experience at his prep school where poorer students such as him were treated more harshly. In the latter he addresses the pressures on young people of the 1930s to abandon their traditional values which were seen to have resulted in the Depression and Fascism. Some turned to Communism and others, such as Evelyn Waugh and Christopher Hollis to Roman Catholicism. These converts

…went to the church with a world-wide organization, the one with a rigid discipline, the one with power and prestige behind it…It was simply something to believe in.

The article describes Orwell’s essay as:

…a history of British literature during the first half of the 20th century. More precisely, it is a series of Orwell’s opinions on the matter. He calls poet A.E. Housman’s poems “hard cheese” and implies that novelist Evelyn Waugh converted to Catholicism for the “prestige.” He also manages to chart the troubling development of the British communist movement, as you do. Here, readers may recognize his critiques from his novella, “Animal Farm”… But do not think for a moment that there is nothing new here. If anything, since he is writing expository prose rather than fiction, he offers a fuller and more nuanced presentation of those same themes and tracking them as they appear here proves pleasurable.

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