–America: The Jesuit Review has reposted on its website a 2013 essay about Waugh written by Jon M Sweeney. The essay was a response to the re-issuance of all of his fiction in the USA by Little, Brown and all of his books in hardback by Penguin Classics in the UK. It is entitled “Waugh’s Head Revisited” and opens with this:
…Seventy-five years ago Waugh was one of the world’s most popular writers of fiction. A convert to Catholicism like his friend Graham Greene, Waugh had less aversion to the label “Catholic writer.” For Waugh, joining the church was the result of an investigation into truth; it also came immediately after his first marriage ended. For Greene, it was always more of a matter of coming to terms with evil and sin, his own and others, and originated in his desire to marry a Catholic woman as a young man. Waugh couldn’t sound less like Greene, for instance, when he writes to a friend in Sept. 1964: “Do you believe in the Incarnation & Redemption in the full historical sense in which you believe in the battle of El Alamein? That’s important. Faith is not a mood.”
Waugh’s longtime publishers on both sides of the Atlantic—including Little, Brown and Company here in the United States in December 2012—have spent the last two years rereleasing much of his oeuvre in hopes that interest in his writing will revive. Will it? I wonder. Does anyone read Evelyn Waugh anymore?
Sweeney goes on with a fairly broad review of Waugh’s writing, mainly fiction but touching upon the non-fiction as well. He also compares and discusses the differences between the recent USA and UK reprints. The essay closes with this:
Evelyn Waugh deserves to be remembered. By most accounts, he is one of the best, if not the best writer of English prose of the 20th century. He does aristocracy, privilege, sadness, beauty, romance and wonder better than just about anyone. And he’s better on love and sex than most. […] Unless you have an interest in the life of Waugh and his role in the Catholic renaissance of 20th century letters, stick to the novels. His other books are mostly irrelevant today. […] The legacy of Waugh in England seems to be broader than it is here, where his prose and storytelling are all we remember. There Waugh remains (with Chesterton and Greene) an intellectual voice of a historic, religious minority, where he will be known more than ever as a distinctively Catholic writer, fiction or nonfiction.
–What should have been a major literary event was the opening of the film Vita and Virginia. This is about the affair bewteen Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. Marcus Berkmann reviews it for The Oldie and doesn’t find much to like. Here’s an excerpt from his review entitled (“Portrait of a Howler”):
Vita, who may not have quite enough to occupy her time, is fascinated by the Bloomsbury Group and goes to a party of theirs, which for budgetary reasons looks like a bring-a-bottle party from the 1970s with slightly posher accents. For some reason, director Chanya Button has chosen to portray the Bloomsbury Group as larky sixth-formers with a wacky sense of humour; or maybe she couldn’t afford real actors.
Enter Virginia, played by the Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki, who is far too beautiful for the frankly odd-looking Virginia, and possibly far too beautiful for real life as well. Debicki has an impossibly posh voice and talks in long sentences you never quite understand. Vita falls for her. They spend long scenes staring at each other, breathing heavily and flaring their nostrils to show uncontrollable lust. ‘You know very well that I like you – a fabulous lot,’ says Vita. ‘Do I?’ says Virginia, raising a well-bred eyebrow. ‘I like things wild and vast and complicated,’ says Vita. ‘So I hear,’ says Virginia, raising the other eyebrow this time. It’s around now that the thought dawns on you that she is a stupid person’s idea of clever person, a thought that’s impossible to shift for the rest of the film.
The Evening Standard’s reviewer (Charlotte O’Sullivan) was not much kinder:
[Gemma] Arterton is completely miscast. She plays Sackville-West as a pert, predatory trophy wife, the sort who causes mayhem in Evelyn Waugh novels. They should have given the part to Phoebe Waller-Bridge (whose sister Isobel provides the exuberantly jarring, rave-culture score).
–Another recent film finds disfavor with the critic for the Los Angeles Times. This is the TV adaptation of Catch-22 now playing on Hulu in the US and Channel 4 in the UK. The review written by Michael Hiltzik notes that bad novels (e.g., The Godfather) often make better films than great ones (e.g., War and Peace):
There are some obvious reasons why great books are often unfilmable. Great literary works have an inner life that can’t easily be presented through image and dialogue. No film can reproduce the moral dialogue that Leo Tolstoy has with his characters and the reader that makes “War and Peace” a unique reading experience. The key to Faulkner’s greatest novels is a prose style that invests his narratives with the power of Biblical parable, but has no cinematic analogue.
There also are less obvious reasons. One is that adaptations of great works often come to the task with an excess of reverence. The filmmakers are reluctant to communicate the exuberance of some first-rate literary work for fear of seeming disrespectful; the result is an agonizingly slow translation of a work that should move like a pistol shot. Even the generally fine 1981 miniseries of Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited” with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews drained away much of Waugh’s tragic sarcasm. That left mostly the tragedy, which wasn’t as much fun.
Waugh was asked to provide a favorable blurb for Catch-22 when it was first published but declined:
…It suffers not only from indelicacy but prolixity. It should be cut by about half. In particular the activities of “Milo” should be eliminated or greatly reduced. You are mistaken in calling it a novel. It is a collection of sketches–often repetitious–totally without structure. Much of the dialogue is funny.
You may quote me as saying: “This exposure of corruption, cowardice and incivility of American officers will outrage all friends of your country (such as myself) and greatly comfort your enemies.” (Letters, 572)
–Finally, an academic paper mentioned in a previous post has been published in a book containing papers collected from the conference on international law where it was presented. This is Norteamérica y España: una historia de encuentros y desencuentros [North America and Spain: A History of Convergences and Divergences]. The article by Dr Fernando Gomez Herrero from the University of Birmingham is entitled “Francisco de Vitoria in Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s On the Law of Nations“. It includes references to Waugh’s novella Scott-King’s Modern Europe:
The former American Senator for New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003) invokes the figure of the Spanish Dominican Francisco de Vitoria (1492-1546), in his fight within and against the imperial politics during the Reagan presidency. And he does it indirectly via the novella Scott-King’s Modern Europe (1947) by Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966). The connection is direct between this work of fiction with Moynihan’s social-science work titled On the Law of Nations (1990).