Early August Roundup

–In The Timesauthor Lynne Truss (best known for Eats, Shoots and Leaves) has found it useful in the present unrestful circumstances to turn to comic novels as a way to reduce stress. She recommends 5 examples. Here is a quote:

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh (1928)
The influence of Jane Austen on Gibbons and Waugh is obvious, so I should probably have chosen Pride and Prejudice, but there you are; I can’t change it all now. Decline and Fall is one of the funniest books, the tale of the hapless Paul Pennyfeather, innocently dragged into disgrace and ignominy by the worldly and profane. Astonishingly, the recent BBC dramatisation did it credit, and is really worth watching. Favourite moment: at the school sports, when a drunken Mr Prendergast shoots little Lord Tangent in the foot with his starting pistol (later, the foot has to be amputated).”

Others include Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbon and The Code of the Woosters by P G Wodehouse.

–The Daily Telegraph asked several of its writers who are recent university graduates what advice they would give today to their younger selves if they were just starting out. Here’s what Sasha Slater: Oxford 1990-94 would offer:

Dear younger me,

“‘You’ll find you spend half your second year shaking off the undesirable friends you made in your first.’ That’s the warning Charles Ryder gets from his horrible cousin Jasper in Brideshead Revisited. Not true. In fact, the people you meet in the first week could be your best friends for the rest of your life. One of them’s your husband now. So, nurture those friendships and look after those people.

On the other hand, that doesn’t mean you should spend time having fun to the exclusion of practically everything else. A tiny bit more concentration on your studies wouldn’t hurt. And nor would squeezing a few more activities besides booze into your schedule. So, do get out of bed a little bit earlier – it really won’t kill you. And try to make it to the odd lecture. Just the odd one will do. Don’t be knocked back if you aren’t made editor of the student mag – write for it instead. And so what if you don’t win the starring role in the college play? You could do the lighting or props and still learn something and enjoy yourself.”

The Daily Beast has published an article by Michael Weiss which explains that Boris Johnson can best be understood as an “Anglo-American farce”, considering he was born in the USA. The article concludes with a comparison of the character named Barlow and based on himself in Johnson’s novel Seventy Two Virgins with a similarly named character in Evelyn Waugh’s 1948 novel The Loved One:

Dennis Barlow is Evelyn Waugh’s has-been English poet and transplant to the United States—well, Los Angeles, anyway—in The Loved One. He fails to make it as a screenwriter in Hollywood and becomes a minor embarrassment to a close-knit and tightly self-regulated coterie of fellow exiles, all of them witting self-parodies of stiff-upper-lipped Englishmen. 

“We limeys have a peculiar position to keep up, you know, Barlow,” says Sir Ambrose Abercrombie, who routinely traipses through Bel Air in a cape and deer-stalker cap because it’s what the yanks expect of him. “They may laugh at us a bit—the way we talk and the way we dress; our monocles—they may think us cliquey and stand-offish, but, by God, they respect us.” […]

The [Cricket Club] raises the money to send Barlow home where he at least can live out his life in discreet disgrace and not ruin things for the rest of the monocled castaways on the coast. This result, one senses, was what Barlow was searching for all through his steady descent into personal and national ruin: a free ride. That certainly sounds familiar, as does Waugh’s subtitle for The Loved One: “an Anglo-American tragedy.”

–The Amman, Jordan-based website MENAFN.com (Middle East North Africa Financial News) has posted a column explaining how the rise in popularity of margarine became a signifier of social class as reflected in literature of the 1930s. Examples from two Orwell novels, D H Lawrence and Dorothy Sayers as well as this excerpt from an essay by Evelyn Waugh are offered:

In a column penned by Evelyn Waugh for The Spectator in 1929 , margarine represents a general post-war lack of good taste. During the war, writes Waugh, ‘[e]verything was a ‘substitute’ for something else’, the upshot being ‘a generation of whom nine hundred and fifty in every thousand are totally lacking in any sense of qualitative value’ as a consequence of ‘being nurtured on margarine and ‘honey sugar’.’ Such a diet, according to Waugh, makes them ‘turn instinctively to the second rate in art and life’.

The article concludes with this:

Margarine functions as an extended metaphor for the tawdry world of fakes and counterfeits. At the same time that Sayers’ novel pokes fun at the consumer products of modernity, it dishes out scorn at the snootiness which ranks butter eaters as superior to those who choose margarine.

Margarine stands for the novel and the innovative. It stands for technology and progress. But margarine also embodies anxieties about the prevalence of mass culture and the fear surrounding the dissolution of boundaries between the high and the low, the real and the fake. Margarine is so threatening a symbol as it represents the potential contamination of society with what the early 20th-century elites might have seen as infectious mediocrity.

–Playwright David Hare was recently interviewed in the Financial Times. Here are some excerpts:

Q. Private school or state school? University or straight into work?  

A. I was a scholarship boy, at Lancing College, then Cambridge. My parents would not have been able to afford that education. I had great teachers at Lancing, in Harry Guest, who taught us modern languages, and Donald Bancroft, head of English. […]

Q. Ambition or talent: which matters more to success? 

A. Neither. There’s a quote from VS Naipaul: “A writer is in the end not his books but his myth.” What he means is that Virginia Woolf doesn’t matter because she wrote Mrs Dalloway, she matters because she was a great feminist. Evelyn Waugh doesn’t matter because he wrote Brideshead Revisited, he matters because he is the greatest stylist of the 20th century. You have no control over your myth.

Hare’s adaptation of Peter Gynt is currently playing at the Edinburgh International Festival through 10 August and will open at the National Theatre on 8 October.





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