The Times is the first paper to review the new book Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford to be published by the Bodleian Library later this month. The book is by Dr Barbara Cooke who is Co-Executive Editor of OUP’s Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project. James Marriott is the reviewer and begins with a description of his own days as a student beginning in 2011 when the city was still populated with characters from Waugh’s novels. Here’s some of what he has to say about Dr Cooke’s book:
In Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford, Barbara Cooke, an academic at Loughborough University, gives a good rundown of his endless creative enthusiasms, which included writing, bookbinding and engraving. He also acted in a film, The Scarlet Woman, in which the Pope and the dean of Balliol College (played by Waugh) conspire to convert the English monarchy to Roman Catholicism. Amazingly, you can watch the whole camp thing on the website of the British Film Institute.
…In Cooke’s amiable trot round Oxford, the place is still very much Waugh’s “city of aquatint”… Readers new to the writer will get the impression that he was a high-spirited, bitchy, but ultimately good-natured chap. In fact, Waugh’s infamous nasty streak was well developed by the time he was an undergraduate. Cooke touches on Waugh’s persecution of his tutor, CRMF Cruttwell, but doesn’t hint at its insane extent. Waugh and Cruttwell never got on, but the older man hit the snobbish, insecure Waugh’s nuclear button when he called him “a silly suburban sod with an inferiority complex”… If Cooke gives the man an easier ride than he deserves, we can forgive her indulgence to the city. Everyone who has seen Oxford has fallen in love with it. If the university’s graduates eventually squirm at all that Brideshead nonsense, tourists deserve a chance at infatuation too. Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford is a decent guide for those longing to fall in love with the Brideshead dream for the first time.
Marriott gets one thing slightly wrong. Waugh did not exactly “flunk out” in 1924 as he puts it. He took his final exam in the term before he completed his residency (he started in Hilary term, January 1922) and passed but with a low third class grade. However, this poor result did cause the loss of his scholarship, and his father (Arthur Waugh) refused to pay the fees and expenses for Evelyn’s final term of residency that would have been required for a degree. This was due more to Evelyn’s extravagant expeditures than to disappointment with his degree results. As Dr Cooke explains in her book, Arthur Waugh also passed with a third but remained long enough to collect his degree. Under current university practice, Evelyn would have probably received his degree today as the residency requirements are normally waived for those who pass their final exams before their ninth term (unless of course Dean Cruttwell were still alive to withhold the waiver).
Thanks to James Marriott for citing the BFI’s posting of The Scarlet Woman. It can be watched on the BFIPlayer free of charge at this link. (A UK internet connection is required.) As is explained in Dr Cooke’s book, the film was made in and around the back garden of the Waugh family house on North End Road NW11 based on a script written by Evelyn shortly after he had taken his exams. It was directed by Evelyn’s Hertford College friend Terence Greenidge. As noted in a previous post, Dr Cooke will discuss her book at the Oxford Literary Festival on Sunday, 18 March at 10am in the Weston Library on Broad Street next to Blackwells. Click here for details.