Cinco de Mayo Roundup

Today is Cinco de Mayo which celebrates the victory of Mexico over the French Empire in 1862 at the Battle of Puebla. The Mexicans lost to the French about a year later but still mark this victory of their smaller army over the larger French forces. According to Wikipedia, the day is more celebrated in the United States, where it commemorates US-Mexican cultural connections, than in Mexico where the remembrance is more solemn and official.

–The conservative website (formerly newspaper) has posted an article by William Voegeli exploring what may be left of traditional (if that’s the right word) conservatism after Donald Trump’s Presidency. This considers several gradations of conservatism requiring specialized knowledge way above your correspondent’s pay grade. At one point, however, he does bring Evelyn Waugh into the analysis, citing a quote from 1964 written shortly before Waugh’s death in 1966:

The conservative is far less sanguine [than John Stuart Mill’s liberal] about progress being irreversible. Instead, he considers civilization to be something “laboriously achieved” but only “precariously defended,” as novelist Evelyn Waugh wrote in 1964. (Twenty-five years earlier Waugh had warned that barbarism “is never finally defeated,” which means that civilization “is under constant assault,” requiring “most of the energies of civilized man to keep going at all.”) The result of these ineradicable dangers, and liberalism’s blithe complacency about them, is that the conservative considers liberals “gullible and feeble,” in Waugh’s account, “believing in the easy perfectibility of man and ready to abandon the work of centuries for sentimental qualms.” Georges Clemenceau said that war is too important to be left to the generals; conservatives think liberty too important to be entrusted to liberals.

Appropriately for today’s roundup, the quote from 1939 can be found in Robbery Under Law, Waugh’s book about Mexico and his only truly political work; the 1964 statements come from a Sunday Times book review entitled “The Light that Did Not Entirely Fail” relating to two books about Rudyard Kipling. EAR, p. 625.

–Political commentator, Simon Heffer, in today’s Sunday Telegraph brings Waugh into his assessment of the Conservative Party, which he claims is “conservative ” in name only. Heffer harks back to the days of Margaret Thatcher:

who said that her brand of Conservatism “would best be described as ‘liberal’ in the old fashioned sense. And I mean the liberalism of Mr Gladstone, and not of the latter day collectivists.” It is a pity that Evelyn Waugh who once complained that “The Conservative Party have not put the clock back by a single second” did not live to see Gladstonian liberalism resurrected, with its belief in the individual, its distrust of the state, its confidence in Great Britain and (perhaps above all) its respect for the tenets of the British constitution. But today an almost socialist belief in the state, in its paternalistic and regulatory functions, is resurgent…

I’m not sure whether Evelyn Waugh ever expressed much confidence in the British constitution, as such, but he would probably be comfortable with the rest of the Gladstonian package.

–The JSTOR digital archive for academic articles published a notice regarding a review of Patrick Query’s book entitled Ritual and Idea of Europe in Interwar Writing. This appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Religion and Literature and was written by Paul Robichaud. Why the notice is posted now is not explained.  The third section of the book describes how three British Roman Catholic converts (Waugh, Graham Greene and David Jones) used that church’s ritual in their texts. In Waugh’s case the text analyzed is Robbery Under Law in which, according to the review, Query writes that:

Waugh mounted a spitited defense of the institutional church [in Mexico] as a safeguard of Indian rights against a rapacious state […] Query notes that Waugh’s position is that of the more, conservative, orthodox wing of the Church [and that] Catholic ritual acts as a bearer not only of Christianity, but also of European cultural particularity; this aspect of Catholic ritual is, for Waugh, a civilizing influence…

The other books discussed are Greene’s The Lawless Roads and The Power and the Glory (both of which also have Mexican settings) and Jones’s In Parenthesis.  JSTOR urges readers to access its site and read the review free of charge. I used a subscription from my public library but, despite linking through the JSTOR notice, I was still required to start a new search for the book review. There was however an unexpected bonus. By browsing the Spring 2015 Religion and Literature issue, I found that it also contained a review by the late John Howard Wilson of a book by Michael G. Brennan: Evelyn Waugh: Fiction, Faith and Family. Both Patrick Query and John Howard Wilson were editors of Evelyn Waugh Studies and officers of the Evelyn Waugh Society, of which John Wilson was the founder.

–The University of Texas (a region once part of Mexico and still located next door) this week issued the final version of its selection of 150 Highly Recommended Books. This began with a “Non-required Reading List” for undergraduates in the 1980s and has been under study by various committees since that time.  It includes books in all genres and in all languages (translated into English). Among the selections is Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited:

England of the 1920s recalled from the vantage point of the post-World War II era. The novel tracks the fortunes of an aristocratic Catholic family, but is famous above all for its description of an effete yet extravagant decadence among students at Oxford in the interwar years.

The balance of the entry describes Sword of Honour and mentions that novel’s debt to Ford Maddox Ford’s Parade’s End. Other books by Waugh’s generation include Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter, Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Ernest Heimngway’s The Sun Also Rises. The booklet describing the list is available from the University of Texas, College of Liberal Arts.

–The food and travel website posts an article about how Britain coped with the banana drought during WWII. In addition to rationing (indeed blocking shipments of bananas altogether), they developed recipes for mock bananas and banana substitutes which sound pretty awful. Inevitably, they include Auberon Waugh’s now apocryphal story of the first postwar banana shipment:

After the war, the first shipment of bananas called for a grand parade. Footage from the Ministry of Food shows five million bananas being lifted out of the ship’s hold, in 1945, by large conveyors at the Avonmouth dock. […] That first lot of bananas was meant only as a wartime treat for children. But the Ministry evidently underestimated the adult yearning for bananas. Auberon Waugh, son of the famed British author Evelyn Waugh, describes in his memoir, Will This Do?, how his father confiscated the first postwar bananas obtained for each of the Waugh children. “They were put on my father’s plate, and before the anguished eyes of his children, he poured on cream, which was almost unprocurable, and sugar, which was heavily rationed, and ate all three,” wrote Waugh. “[H]e was permanently marked down in my estimation from that moment.”

–In the Guardian’s column “Book Clinic”, columnist Andrew Martin is asked to recommend books that will make a reader laugh out loud. Here’s one if his recommendations:

Evelyn Waugh is extremely funny (particularly in the first half of Decline and Fall), as are Nancy Mitford and Alan Bennett, but this is quite common knowledge.

He also recommends Martin Amis’s The Rachel Papers but could have also included several of the early novels of Martin’s father Kingsley, such as Lucky Jim and That Uncertain Feeling.

–Speaking of whom, Samuel Hux has written an article for the May issue of the New English Review mainly devoted to a reconsideration of Kingsley Amis’s little-read alternate history novel The Alteration. After considering that and several other related works  as well as digressing to some extent, Hux brings his article to a close with this:

And there’s another reason to remember and even to honor (?) Kingsley Amis, although perhaps this gets a little too personal and taste-dependent. I have a kind of ironic affection (perhaps this should be confessed rather shamefully) for the writer you would not want your sister or daughter to marry: let me call him the charming son of a bitch, although not charming in the princely sense but in the sense that unless you’re a stuffed shirt or strict in your liberal opinions you smile at the offensive.

Perhaps the champion CSOB was Evelyn Waugh. I doubt there’s an anthology of Waugh’s remarks but I wish there were one. The most famous is probably his answer to someone who asked how a professed Christian could be so nasty to other people—that without divine intervention he’d be absolutely impossible. My favorite, however, is not a confession of shortcomings, at which he was clever, but an insult of another, at which he was expert. When Randolph Churchill had a luckily benign tumor removed, Waugh called it a doubtful achievement of medical science to discover the one part of Randolph Churchill that was not malignant and to remove it.

There is indeed an anthology of Waugh’s memorable statements. This is The Sayings of Evelyn Waugh, edited by Donat Gallagher. The reference to Randolph is there (p. 45) but the one about nastiness and religion is probably not. I recall it coming from a restatement of Waugh’s remark by Nancy Mitford in a letter she wrote to some one else, but I believe it may have been reported elsewhere as well. See previous post.

–Finally, American anti-immigrant crusader Steve Sailer has posted a comment in The Unz Review on news stories about the population explosion in Nigeria:

It’s almost as if sub-Saharan Africa has a very different culture when it comes to fertility than the rest of the world, and we need more research and discussion of those differences. Evelyn Waugh vividly outlined how different were European and sub-Saharan attitudes regarding fertility limitation in his 1932 novel Black Mischief, but this diversity in outlook is almost forgotten in Western academic discourse today.


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