Auberon Waugh (More)

Additional reviews of the new collection of Auberon Waugh’s writings (A Scribbler in Soho) are becoming available. The book was released earlier this week. Prof John Carey writing in the latest edition of the Sunday Times describes the contents as follows:

The anthology […] contains extracts from Waugh’s Private Eye diaries, and a longer selection of his editorials from the Literary Review. Between the two, [editor Naim Attallah] supplies an account of his friendship with Waugh, in which he curiously uses the third person, referring to himself as “Naim” to Waugh’s “Bron”.

Prof Carey complains the the book contains too much homophobia and anti-feminist material.

Attallah might justifiably reply that his duty was to give an accurate account of his friend, and that prejudice was part of his make-up, which is true. Prejudices were, in effect, Waugh’s substitute for thought. Thinking did not come easily to him. What, then, is there to celebrate? The answer is courage. […] He worked almost to the day of his death with prodigious energy, writing each week for several periodical [and] treated subordinates with courtesy and consideration, as their testimonies, printed by Attallah, bear out. The writer was detestable, but the man was not, and Attallah rightly celebrates him.

Roger Lewis, a former friend of Auberon, reviews the book in today’s issue of The Times. He agrees with Prof Carey that Auberon will be little known to today’s generation because journalists have a relatively short shelf life (“Who today has heard of Bernard Levin?” he asks).

Like his father, Evelyn Waugh, Bron lived in a state of permanent frustration — which is what happens once you have worked out that the universe is a silly and reprehensible joke, that to pretend otherwise is a falsehood, and that most people are pretty terrible. He failed to graduate from Oxford because he was “reluctant to believe anything he was taught”, and his scepticism and his considered animosities never abated. […] Indeed, as Naim Attallah says in this wonderful anthology, Waugh felt he had a bounden duty to “sharpen his focus on everything and everybody he found ridiculous and pretentious”. If I have a disagreement, it’s with the notion that Bron was a Soho scribbler. This demeans him. Easily his father’s equal as a prose master, Waugh as a satirist belongs with Swift and Sterne, and as a comedian he was like WC Fields — a dangerous curmudgeon.

After a discussion of Auberon’s writing career, Lewis concludes:

Evelyn Waugh did not envisage greatness for his son, whom he described in his diary as “a 15-year-old drunk being taken off a train and put in a police cell”. Attallah’s assessment is fairer: “When I look around, I see no one who comes close to possessing his gift with the pen . . . No contrarian spirit has arisen to match or replace him on the British literary scene.” […] The greatest paradox is that despite the imbecilities he witnessed, he always remained bright and cheerful, his prose growing in strength and character.

UPDATE (18 January 2019): says Auberon’s book was published on 15 January 2019 and is now for sale.

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