Weekend Roundup–Friends at a Distance: Mitford/Waugh Letters

An article on the books blog The Captive Reader is effectively a new review of The Letters of Nancy Mitford & Evelyn Waugh first published in 1996. This is written by “Claire of Vancouver” and opens with this:

Mitford and Waugh write to entertain one another and, it must be said, show off.  They want to share the best gossip, make the cleverest comment, and score points in the ongoing competition that is their friendship. The results are fabulous.

Claire points out that the correspondence is needed because they were living far apart during most of it and rarely met in person.  As editor Charlotte Mosley comments: “…they found it easier to conduct a friendship on paper rather than in person.  When they did meet, Evelyn’s bad temper and Nancy’s sharp tongue – qualities which enhance their correspondence – often led to quarrels.”  After a chronolgical summary of several letters extending over numerous subjects, the article concludes:

The geographical separation was probably a very good thing for their relationship.  They are able to gossip continually about mutual friends … and, in Waugh’s case at least, provide critical feedback on the other’s writings …Waugh is a funny misanthrope but such a contrast from Mitford.  She manages to remain optimistic, to find happiness in a new dress she can’t afford or something terribly Parisian she’s just encountered or a ridiculous thing a member of her family has just done (so many to choose from)  … This was my first encounter with Waugh and I can’t say it did anything to make me warm to him.  But Mitford, on the other hand, her I love even more than before.  She could write devastatingly cruel things with incredible wit but these letters show what lay on the other side of that: the warmth and optimism that sustained her.

Another weblog (catholicism.org) has posted an article about Scott-King’s Modern Europe. This 1947 story was published separately as a short book in both the UK and USA. In the article, Robert Hickson argues that the Roman Catholic church might do well to adopt something more like Scott-King’s attitude to the modern world. The story is liberally quoted in the article and a full version is included in The Complete Stories.

A review in this week’s TLS addresses a book called Lost in Translation. This is reviewed by Lucy Beckett and is about a new attempt to improve the English vernacular version of the Roman Catholic liturgy. Waugh is prominently mentioned as one who was deeply disappointed in the version introduced in the 1960s and “who felt deprived of a precious inheritance from antiquity, and a blood- stained badge of recusant pride.” As described in the book, the new version was “an excellent, resonant and memorable translation, of which most English-speaking Catholics are, alas, unaware.” Although accepted enthusiastically by English-speaking prelates, it was not approved by Vatican officials. Whether Waugh would have joined with its supporters, however, seems doubtful since what he wanted was a return to the Latin services with which he was familiar, and not a better vernacular version.

In the Irish Times, Gerald Dawe writes an appreciation of Muriel Spark on the occasion of her centenary. As an example of her independent spirit, he offers the following anecdote:

Asked about “The Book I would Like to Have Written, and Why”, Spark, while name-checking several possibilities including Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One, The Book of Job which “enchants me above all other books in the Bible” along with the sonnets of Shakespeare, the dialogues of Plato, the notebooks of Kierkegaard, stories including James’s Daisy Miller, TF Powys’s Mr Weston’s Good Wine and novels by “most-admired contemporary novelist, Heinrich Boll”, is adamant: “I would not want to have written anything by anyone else, because they are ‘them’ and I am ‘me’. And I do not want to be anybody else but myself with all the ideas I want to convey, the stories I want to tell, maybe lesser works, but my own” (1981).




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