Weekend Roundup: Waugh in the Book Reviews

The Daily Telegraph reviews a book by Julie Summers entitled Our Uninvited Guests about the wartime use of British country houses to shelter evacuated refugees from the bombed out cities or provide military bases. The review is by Robert Leigh-Pemberton and begins with an extensive quote from Evelyn Waugh. Although one assumes this would be taken from Waugh’s novel Put Out More Flags which had a plot that centered on this subject, instead it comes from a letter to his wife:

In the spring of 1942, Evelyn Waugh related in a letter to his wife how the colonel in charge of his commando, eager to be “chums” with the Earl of Glasgow, had offered to remove an offending stump from the peer’s woodland, promising “we can blow a tree down so that it lands on a sixpence” and that no new trees would be hurt.

Delighted, the earl invited the whole commando “to luncheon for the great explosion”. At the luncheon, the colonel, anxious not to disappoint Lord Glasgow, kept telling his young subaltern to “put a bit more” explosive in that tree. When the fuse was lit, the tree, “instead of falling quietly sideways, rose 50 feet into the air taking with it half an acre of soil and the whole of the young plantation”.

Lord Glasgow walked back to his castle “in dead silence” only to discover that every pane of glass in it had been shattered by the blast, whereupon “he gave a little cry and ran to hide his emotion in the lavatory and there, when he pulled the plug, the entire ceiling, loosened by the explosion, fell on his head…”

This letter is at risk of becoming a journalistic cliché as a result of its widespread appearance in theatrical performances of amusing letters. See previous posts. The Telegraph review continues:

The earl’s castle fared better than many houses requisitioned in Britain during the war. Julie Summers’s Our Uninvited Guests documents the variety of uses to which they were put, ordering them by the degree of horror that the prospect excited in the owners. At best, a house might be made into a girl’s school or a maternity hospital … At worst, it might become a full-blown military installation…

Waugh is also cited in several other book reviews this weekend. The Wall Street Journal reviews the collected editions of the works of Canadian-born writer Margaret Millar who was married to another more well known novelist writing under the name of Ross McDonald. They both wrote detective novels and lived in Santa Barbara which was the setting of many of her books. McDonald is best known for his Lew Archer series. His real name was Kenneth Millar and, according to the WSJ, he once made this comparison of one of his wife’s novels:

In “The Murder of Miranda” (1979), a lively later tale of nasty doings at a Southern California beach club, Millar surprisingly displayed a biting comic tone that reminded her husband, at least, of Evelyn Waugh’s. Kenneth Millar —Ross Macdonald—died in 1983.

The journal of the Jesuits, America, mentions Waugh in two reviews. The first is a reconsideration of a late and now neglected work by Mark Twain. In an essay by Ted Gioia on Twain’s book Recollections of Joan of Arc, Gioia claims that Twain considered it his best work and criticized those who read Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer while ignoring what he thought was his masterpiece. One then expects him to draw a parallel with Evelyn Waugh’s own estimation of his historical novel Helena which Waugh thought was his best work and is also relatively neglected. Gioia misses that opportunity and instead brings Waugh into his review in this comparison:

[Twain] once stated that he had been taught “enmity toward everything that is Catholic,” and yet in his novel about Joan of Arc, Twain comes across as more passionately Catholic than even more famous writers aligned with the church, like Graham Greene, Walker Percy or Evelyn Waugh.

Finally, Waugh makes a brief and unexpected appearance in another America review. This is by Senior Editor, James T Keane, and considers four new books on the subject of Bob Dylan:

The most eclectic of recent books on Dylan but perhaps also the most entertaining is Robert Hudson’s The Monk’s Record Player: Thomas Merton, Bob Dylan, and the Perilous Summer of 1966. Hudson makes an ambitious claim: that Bob Dylan (né Robert Zimmerman) and Brother Louis (né Thomas Merton), though separated by age, creed, lifestyle and vocation, were virtual doppelgängers: “Although they lived their lives a thousand miles apart, their souls were next-door neighbors.”

Hudson’s thesis suffers from the awkward fact that the two never met, that Merton was twice Dylan’s age, and that there is little indication Dylan even knew who Merton was. But Hudson works mightily to make connections, and his quotations from Merton’s letters and diaries make it clear that the hermit was deeply affected by the vagabond’s music, first by “Highway 61 Revisited” (Hudson claims the title is a clear reference to Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited), quickly followed by “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Another Side of Bob Dylan”and“The Times They Are A-Changin’.” In fact, in rueful diary entries concerning his famous love affair with “M,” Merton wrote that his troubles extended beyond the contradictions of being “a priest who has a woman.” He was also not sure he didn’t love Bob Dylan more than Mass in the vernacular…

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