Weekend Roundup: From Sword of Honour to Women of Knossos

In a recent issue of The Australian, Greg Sheridan writes about how his countrymen should deal with the shame of the recent cricket cheating scandal. This is entitled “National brand needs tending, not tears.” As an example of how the national image image should be managed, he looks at that projected over the years by Australian soldiers, known locally as “Diggers,” and cites a passage from Evelyn Waugh:

In Evelyn Waugh’s classic Sword of Honour trilogy he deals with the chaotic Allied retreat from Crete during World War II. Waugh was never one to give undue praise to colonials. But consider this scene: “While Guy stood there beside Tommy’s bunk a huge, bloody, grimy, ghastly Australian sergeant appeared in the door. He grinned like a figure of death and said: ‘Thank God we’ve got a navy,’ and then sank slowly to the deck and on the instant passed into the coma of death.” (Officers and Gentlenen, Penguin, p. 167)

Waugh was one of the greatest novelists and naturally he doesn’t explicate the meaning of the Australian sergeant. But in that single image is a whole narrative of strength and will, beyond even the point where death should have intervened.

This scene quoted in the article occurs in Waugh’s novel as the Commandos are arriving in Crete to find the landing area in a shambles as the retreating and defeated Allied forces are scrambling on board Guy’s ship even before the arriving troops have disembarked. Sheridan contrasts the attitude of the Digger sergeant in Waugh’s novel with the weeping cricket players who were caught cheating and thinks that they might learn something from the Digger about future behavior. He concludes: “I respect the cricketers’ emotions–but all that weeping. You’d think they had lost a family member, not been suspended from cricket…We have a lot to live up to in this field, and a lot at stake. Lest we forget.”

An interview in the German press also mentions Sword of Honour. A publisher (Petra Kehl) specializing in young adult books is asked for examples of Christian books for this age group and answers:

Unfortunately, I find time and again that parents understand a religious book always to be about a saint or something similarly pious. I recently gave a lecture entitled, “It does not always have to be saints – why children need ordinary Catholic heroes,” in order to dissuade their parents. It is important that the author writes out of a Christian attitude. The heroes may well have weaknesses. A good example … is “Without Fear and Reproach” [translation of the German title of Sword of Honour] by Evelyn Waugh, in which  the protagonist is not “pious” in the strict sense, but he quite naturally lives the rituals of his faith, which have passed over into his flesh and blood, even though he encounters incomprehension in his Protestant environment. [doch er lebt ganz selbstverständlich die Rituale des Glaubens, auch wenn er damit in seiner protestantischen Umgebung auf Unverständnis stößt, sie sind ihm in Fleisch und Blut übergegangen.] [?]

Sword of Honour was published in German under the title Ohne Furcht und Tadel which refers to a standard that was expected to be observed by Medieval knights. The source of the interview is unclear. It shows up in a Google search as having appeared in the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung but it is posted on the website kath.net.

The National Review publishes a review of Alan Hollimghurst’s new novel The Sparsholt Affair. This is by Randy Boyagoda and is entitled “Brideshead is not Revisited”. The article opens with this:

For readers who can imagine English life thanks to college reading lists featuring books by Evelyn Waugh, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, and the like, Alan Hollinghurst’s new novel will be both deeply familiar and undoubtedly strange. The Sparsholt Affair begins in the plummy voice of Freddie Green, a literary man remembering his days at Oxford during the Second World War.

Although Hollinghurst’s story begins, like Waugh’s, at Oxford, after that it goes in different directions. The reviewer is somewhat disturbed by Hollinghurst’s “…decision to create expectations of important, even crowning revelations — about important events and the characters’ involvements in them — without ever entirely fulfilling them.

Boris Izaguirre, novelist, screenwriter, TV personality and gay is interviewed in the Spanish language El Huffpost by Bettina Dubcovsky. Boris was born in Venezuela in 1965 but has been living in Spain and the USA since the Chavez regime. He has written 8 novels since 1991 as well as several essay collections, but the beginning of the interview relates mostly to his TV series and his own TV appearances. His best known novel seems to be Villa Diamante which won an award and has been translated into French. When the interview turns to his books, it results in this exchange:

Boris Izaguirre is as we see him: histrionic (although now somewhat less), mannered, intense, funny, maybe a bit of a fragile character, but I’m sorry, it’s wrong, … he knew how to merge frivolity with culture and intellect. Rara avis. He attributes that achievement to his favorite books, such as Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. “It’s the story of a castle and the Flyte family that fascinates the protagonist Charles Ryder, an observer who sees everything from the outside, I think I live my life that way,” he says. The truth is that Boris speaks a lot (with a superb transparency), but he observes and hears a lot more.

The discussion then turns to Boris’ latest book, which sounds autobiographical:

Tiempo de Tormentas is the story of the relationship of a mother who is a professional dancer and is called Belén with her son Boris, who is gay for 49 years. … Above all it speaks of that maternal filial bond that crosses many stages: that of discovery, of protection and separation. “It’s like a roller coaster!” Says the author, “I always thought it was a good idea to share this connection, which was very intense, always very positive but with its conflicts and difficult times, which has a country in the background. Once more… being an outside observer (like Charles Ryder) was the best way to see what happened in Venezuela.

The remainder of the interview is mostly biographical.

Finally, back to Crete where we started, the Weekly Standard carries a review of two new translations of Homer’s The Odyssey, both by academics: Emily Wilson and Peter Green. Wilson’s gets a lot of attention from reviewer Susan Kristol because it is the first English translation of this work by a woman. That discussion even extends to the dustwrapper, where Waugh makes a contribution:

The attractive dust jacket of Wilson’s hardcover suits the feminist marketing scheme. The cover features a well-known, heavily restored Minoan fresco of three women who look ready for a party. (Evelyn Waugh memorably commented about this and other frescoes from Knossos: “It is impossible to disregard the suspicion that their painters have tempered their zeal for accurate reconstruction with a somewhat inappropriate predilection for covers of Vogue.”)

Waugh’s description appears in his early travel book Labels. See earlier posts. The translations from German and Spanish are by Google with edits. Any comments on the translated passages (especially those highlighted) may be made as provided below.

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