William Boyd, Winston Churchill and Evelyn Waugh

Simon Kuper writing in the Financial Times reports an interview with novelist William Boyd. This is on the occasion of publication of Boyd’s latest novel Love is Blind:

Boyd draws a “binary division” between two kinds of novelist: autobiographers, such as Evelyn Waugh, who mine their own lives and societies; and those such as Graham Greene, who find their material elsewhere. Boyd is in the latter camp: “I will sit down and imagine narratives and conjure up a character in my mind. Some may be loosely based on real people but basically it’s an act of invention.”… Boyd can find ideas anywhere, which autobiographical novelists cannot. He says of Philip Roth, who retired from writing at 79: “I think he’d written himself out. He did write a lot of books about Philip Roth, essentially. I think Scott Fitzgerald and Waugh did [the same] as well. Evelyn Waugh said, ‘I’ve got one book left in me and that’s my Sword of Honour trilogy,’ which is effectively what he did in the war. Then he stopped because he was a totally autobiographical writer. The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold came to him because he freaked out and went mad and said, ‘Ah, got a novel there.’ So I can see Philip Roth thinking, ‘I’m going to write another Zuckerman novel.’ ‘You’ve done 12 of them, mate,’ ” and Boyd stifles a pretend yawn.

In a review of Boyd’s new novel, The Economist describes his early books, such as A Good Man in Africa and An Ice-Cream War, as “inspired by Evelyn Waugh.” Boyd notes in the FT interview that he writes his endings first; he doesn’t mention that Waugh did that in the case of both A Handful of Dust (which the FT interviewer says Boyd had found deficient in some respects) and Sword of Honour. In Waugh’s case, he not only wrote the endings first but published them as stories (“The Man Who Liked Dickens” and “Compassion”) before incorporating them into his novels.

In the New Statesman, William Boyd reviews a new book that collects Winston Churchill’s letters to his mother. This is Darling Winston edited by David Lough. Boyd brings Evelyn Waugh into his discussion of the book:

Evelyn Waugh once said of Churchill that he was a man “always in the wrong”. These letters tend to bear that harsh judgement out – he was violently opposed to home rule for Ireland, for example – and one can see how imperial Britain’s might and sway completely shaped his attitude to “abroad”. And his single-mindedness, his sometimes overweening self-belief and conviction, can be seen as stemming from his absurdly entitled background – as the confidential, unguarded tone of these letters makes clear.

On another site promoting yet another book about Churchill (by Ashley Jackson) published a few years ago, that same quote appears at greater length:

Winston Churchill attracted far more criticism alive than he has since his death. He was, according to Evelyn Waugh, ‘always in the wrong, surrounded by crooks, a terrible father, a radio personality’.

The quote is from a letter Waugh wrote to Ann Fleming in January 1965 on the occasion of Churchill’s death (Letters, p. 630). Probably the best analysis of Waugh’s assessment of Churchill appears in an essay by John Howard Wilson collected in Waugh Without End: New Trends in Evelyn Waugh Studies (2005).

Finally, satirist P J O’Rourke writing in the Wall Street Journal chooses Waugh’s novel Black Mischief as one of his five favorite political satires (novels that “skewer the hypocricies of public life”):

The most bitter and excoriating of Waugh’s novels is also his most offensive. In just the first few pages, Waugh offends (by my count) three races, nine ethnicities, 11 religions and two sexual orientations. His language is hurtful, insensitive, privileged and exclusionary. We have progressed since Waugh’s time. All civilized people should condemn him. And being condemned by progress and civilization is what the book is about.

Other titles on the list include Anthony Trollope’s The Warden and Christopher Buckley’s Little Green Men.

This entry was posted in A Handful of Dust, Black Mischief, Evelyn Waugh, Interviews, Letters, Newspapers, Sword of Honour, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.