Armistice Day Roundup

— Fr John Hunwicke posting on his website addresses literary works related to the commemoration of Armistice Day (Remembrance Sunday in the UK):

As far as WW2 is concerned, I often think about the contrast between two great fictional literary products of that war, both written by combatants; both overtly semi-autobiographical. [Nicholas] Monsarrat’s The Cruel Sea is written by an ideologically and morally rudderless lapsed Marxist; as a memorial to the men who fought the war of the Atlantic convoys. I find it full of venom; venom against adulterous wives back home; against tall blond German submarine captains; against bullying Australians; against the Irish who denied Cork Harbour and Bantry Bay to the Royal Navy.

Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy is quite different. At its beginning, Waugh’s character, a traditionalist Catholic gentleman burdened with ethical Rights and Wrongs, saw the conflict as a chivalrous crusade on behalf of Christian civilisation against Nazi barbarism and its atheist allies in Moskow. When the war was ending, with Uncle Jo a genial ally and sitting in triumph on half of Europe, Waugh had come to perceive it as a sweaty tug of war between two teams of scarcely distinguishable louts. Waugh discerns the ironies and hypocrisies as embodied in the Sword of Stalingrad – a gift from the Christian King of England; a symbol of chivalry to congratulate Marshal Stalin; a triumph of craftsmanship … and with the symbols on its scabbard upside down. Waugh’s hero sees, as Waugh himself had seen, the vicious post-War savaging of Christian Europe in Tito’s Jugoslavia.

–The New York Times in this week’s Book Review interviews TV presenter Seth Meyers:

Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

“Scoop,” by Evelyn Waugh. Its timeliness is both hilarious and depressing. Also “Blood Meridian,” by Cormac McCarthy. The Judge now holds first position for “Fictional Character Who Has Given Me the Worst Nightmares.”

–John O’Brien reviews a new production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado by the English National Opera. This is posted on the website

Part farce, part romantic comedy it is totally captivating. It takes you out of yourself and transports you to a world of fantasy and comic joy. It’s like reading Evelyn Waugh’s “Decline and Fall for the first time. It’s silly, funny, hilarious and jolly. Like a soufflé it rises miraculously and somehow stays upright. When it ends you just want more. It’s a wonderful cornucopia of delights. And Jonathan Miller’s masterstroke of setting it in a 1930s English hotel is pure genius. This production is like a Marx Brothers film, a PG Woodhouse novel and an episode of Fawlty Towers all rolled into one irresistible box of chocolates. Everything that’s jolly and fun is here. Its magnificent, magnetic and majestic.

–The current issue of the New Yorker magazine has an article by Issac Chotiner entitled “From Little Englanders to Brexiteers”. In this he considers a book by Fintan O’Toole entitled The Politics of Pain: Postwar England and the Power of Nationalism. Here’s an extract:

Britain emerged from the Second World War at once victorious and shrunken, the image of plucky heroism and imperial twilight. “The power of Brexit,” O’Toole writes, “is that it promised to end at last all this tantalizing uncertainty by fusing these contradictory moods into a single emotion—the pleasurable self-pity in which one can feel at once horribly hard done by and exceptionally grand. Its promise is, at heart, a liberation, not from Europe, but from the torment of an eternally unresolved conflict between superiority and inferiority.

Or, as Evelyn Waugh wrote in his California-based satire of Anglo-Americanism, “The Loved One” (1948), “You never find an Englishman among the underdogs—except in England of course.” India achieved independence in 1947, Jamaica in 1962; the great majority of the Empire’s “subjects” won their freedom in that fifteen-year interval. By the time the Suez crisis concluded in humiliating fashion, in 1956—when President Eisenhower forced an abrupt end to the Anglo-French-Israeli military operation to regain control of the canal—American primacy, however resented, could no longer be denied.

–The New York Public Library has announced the details of its exhibit about the life and works of novelist J D Salinger. This was mentioned in a previous post:

The exhibition is organized by Salinger’s son Matt Salinger and widow Colleen Salinger with Declan Kiely, Director of Special Collections and Exhibitions at The New York Public Library. The free exhibition coincides with the centennial of J.D. Salinger’s birth and will be on display October 18, 2019 through January 19, 2020 in the Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Gallery at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

For more details see this link.

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