Mid-September Roundup: Applause and Design

The Times newspaper carries an excerpt from David Cameron’s new memoirs For the Record in which he recalls his education. After prep school and Eton, he discusses Oxford and concludes with this about his membership in the Bullingdon Club:

I can’t, of course, write about Oxford without three dreaded words that haunted me for most of my political life: the Bullingdon Club. When I look now at the much-reproduced photograph taken of our group of appallingly over-self-confident “sons of privilege”, I cringe. If I had known at the time the grief I would get for that picture, of course I would never have joined. But life isn’t like that.

At the time I took the opposite view to Groucho Marx, and wanted to join pretty much any club that would have me. And this one was raffish and notorious. These were also the years after the ITV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, when quite a few of us were carried away by the fantasy of an Evelyn Waugh-like Oxford existence.

It seems odd for Cameron to include Waugh’s Brideshead among the reasons for his joining the Bullingdon when Waugh himself had rather rubbished it in his first novel Decline and Fall and doesn’t mention it in any positive way in Brideshead (except for its persecution of Anthony Blanche).

–The Daily Telegraph earlier this week carried an article by Emily Hill expressing concern that, in the UK, applause was in danger of becoming a spontaneous reaction unconnected with any thought of approval of what was being applauded. The article refers to applause in Parliament on the occasion of the announcement by John Bercow that he was stepping down as Speaker of the House of Commons. He was one of the few participants in recent debates who attempted some semblance of impartiality on the matters arising from the Brexit process. The comment is, however, not surprising in the rabidly pro-Brexit Telegraph, which has been flirting with unreadability recently in an apparent race with the Daily Mail to the bottom of the objective reporting chart.

In the course of the article other examples of automatic applause were cited, including one from an Evelyn Waugh novel:

‘If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands’ is a hideously repetitive nursery song many of us were brainwashed with as children – which perhaps explains the spontaneous applause when Speaker Bercow resigned in the Commons this week.

[…] As a nation, though, I fear that we’ve officially lost the plot. We used to clap as a mark of respect at the start of toasts and the end of speeches. Take that brilliant banquet scene in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, when Lord Copper makes a 38-minute speech and notes with approval that “even the waiters… were diligently clapping”…

Lord Copper’s speech is delivered at the end of Waugh’s novel. But it should be noted that the waiters were applauding before the speech when Lord Copper rose to deliver it, not 38 minutes later, after it had come to an end (London: Penguin, 2011, pp. 300-02). The point is no less valid, however; perhaps even more so.

–In another article, the Daily Telegraph describes an exhibit at Charleston, the museum in East Sussex that was the farmhouse home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. The exhibit displays the works of the Omega Workshop founded by Bloomsbury art critic Roger Fry. According to the Telegraph:

Fry set out, through Omega, to blur the boundary between fine and applied arts, while offering struggling artists an income. Bell and Grant joined as directors, and the likes of Paul Nash and Gaudier-Breszka went on the payroll. Everything produced or sold was chosen to translate the joy felt by the creator to the purchaser. […] To buy into such pleasure was not cheap. Omega objects were aimed at arbiters of fashion and taste such as E M Forster and Lady Ottoline Morrell. Even Charles Ryder, in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, arrives at Oxford with an Omega screen.

Charles also brings with him a book written by Roger Fry. This was entitled Vision and Design. The Telegraph’s article concludes with this:

Shutting up shop after six years, Fry declared Omega a failure, saying “I think it it would have succeeded in any other European country.” Despite his disappointment, Omega did at least give design a long-denied artistic credibility. But it would take the Bauhaus that opened in 1919, the year Omega closed, to have a more startling impact on design worldwide.

The exhibit is open through 1st January 2020. Information is available at this link.

–The latest issue of the journal Christianity and Literature (No. 68.4, September 2019) contains an article by Taryn Okuma entitled “‘Much to Repent and Repair’: Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour and Modern War Literature”. Here is an abstract:

Although Evelyn Waugh’s World War II trilogy Sword of Honour is often read for its distinctly Roman Catholic critique of the war, not enough attention has been paid to the central role that the sacrament of penance plays in Waugh’s depiction of the war and the narrative structure of the trilogy. Guy Crouchback’s spiritual journey towards true repentance during the war is echoed formally by Waugh’s construction of a retrospective and didactic narrative that encourages the reader to look back and reflect, resulting in a war literature that is Catholic both in content and form.

Taryn Okuma is Associate Professor of Practice (English) at Catholic University in Washington, DC.



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