Early March Roundup

–Laura Freeman writing in the Daily Telegraph (27 February) surveys children’s books and discovers that one of her favorites has been rated as having a “really high difficulty level.” This is Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Men series and she sees the difficulty level as a positive. According to Freeman, using the Mr Greedy book as an example:

The genius of the Hargreaves books is their sense of anarchic, irreverent glee. A young reader may stumble over “enormous gigantic colossal sausages”, but they’ll want to read on to find out just how Mr Greedy by name, Greedy by nature plans to tackle this delicious foody feast.

Hargreaves is never predictable. The moral of Mr Greedy isn’t “eat less”, it’s “beware of giants”. If you are weaned on Mr Men, you’ll grow up to love Saki, Evelyn Waugh and Edith Wharton. For who is Paul Pennyfeather if not Mr Muddle? And who Undine Spragg if not Little Miss Trouble?

The books play on our soft spot for stereotypes. Mr Mean is the colleague who never stands his round. Mr Strong is the gym-bro bore. We find Little Miss Shy peering at the bookcase at parties, and Mr Quiet eating nibbles on his own in the kitchen.

[…] What makes Hargreaves’s characters so enduringly popular – more than 100 million copies sold since Mr Tickle was published in 1971 – is that they unashamedly revel in their own bad habits. So what if you’re stubborn, vain, scary, dotty or a bit of a neat freak? That’s all right, chorus the Little Misses, you’re not the only one.

–The Oxford Times has reviewed the recent collection of Auberon Waugh’s writings called A Scribbler in Soho. The Times’ reviewer Christopher Gray makes the same point as several other reviewers that, upon reflection, Auberon’s best work was in his diaries written for Private Eye:

Witty as these monthly sermons [in the Scribbler collection] are, they are nothing in comparison with the hilarious, almost lunatic, style he brought to writing his diary in Private Eye between 1972 and 1985. He thought this his best work, and most readers would agree.[…]

When Margaret Thatcher became Tory leader in 1975, he opined: “I blame Denis Thatcher . . . for not keeping his wife under control. Anybody else whose wife [had ambitions to become prime minister] would shut her in her bedroom on bread and milk for a few days.”

Gray then proves his point by going up to his attic and searching out his collection of Private Eyes stored in plastic bags. The diaries from 1972-1985 were previously collected in two volumes in the UK that are currently selling at inflated prices (ÂŁ50-90) in the secondhand book market. It may be time for a new edition.

–The 1981 Granada TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited has featured in several stories this week:

Literary Hub has named it the number one TV adaptation of a novel in a list of 50:

Controversial when it first aired (too much homoeroticism!), this sumptuous, dreamy 11-part adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s wonderful novel seems tame now, but no less wonderful: the best possible version of the period drama miniseries. More importantly, it’s faithful to the book but also creates and maintains its own lush magic, which makes it the ideal literary adaptation. And honestly, speaking of magic, it doesn’t get much better than young Jeremy Irons. “Perhaps no other television program or film has captured the experience of a place over time with such lyricism and sophistication,” scholar Mark Broughton told The New York Times. “This lyricism is, however, tempered with a sense that the beauty fetishized by the protagonist, Charles Ryder, is a facade. The historical, cultural and personal forces that wear away at Ryder are unveiled at the same time as his self-deception becomes apparent.”

Gay Star News, an online LGBT entertainment journal, has noted that the Granada/ITV adaptation will be among the initial offerings of the new BritBox TV streaming service soon to be available in the UK in a BBC-ITV joint venture. The service is already on offer in the USA and a full range of the ITV Brideshead series is available to American viewers.

Eastern Eye, the weekly British newspaper targeting the UK’s Asian market, has an article citing the diversity contributed to the recent Oscar awards by Olivia Coleman’s Indian ancestry and notes that she is the first of many in this category. Among others mentioned is Diana Quick who made her name playing Julia Flyte in the Granada adaptation. She had an Anglo-Indian grandfather. The Indian connection was hushed up by her family, however, until she  revealed it in her 2009 autobiography A Tug on the Thread.

–Novelist and critic Alan Massie reviews Tessa Hadley’s new novel (Late in the Day) in The Scotsman and notes a connection with Waugh’s A Handful of Dust. He describes Hadley’s book as a “Hampstead novel” and explains:

The characters do indeed live in or around that borough in North London, and they are comfortably off, engaged in the arts, occupied with personal relationships, while their marriages are more fragile than may at first seem likely. Well, all one can say is that such people are just as suitable subjects for fiction as anyone from a more edgy background. Reading this novel recalled two observations about the subject matter of fiction. First,way back in 1936, someone asked the novelist Rose Macaulay if she had read Evelyn Waugh’s new novel, A Handful of Dust. She replied that she hadn’t, remarking “adultery in Mayfair – not a very interesting subject.” Almost immediately she corrected herself: “that was a silly thing to say. The interest of a subject depends entirely on how it is treated.” Second, someone once told Kingsley Amis that the novelist Elizabeth Taylor, whose work Amis had been praising, wasn’t “important.” Kingsley replied: “Importance isn’t important. Good writing is important.”

–Finally, the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project is entertaining applications for a creative writing fellowship at Oxford:

The David Bradshaw Creative Writing Residency, Oxford, will give a writer the opportunity to be based in the city that inspired Evelyn Waugh, and to create a piece of writing evoked by or in response to that city, as experienced in 2019. The resident writer will develop relationships with the local Oxford community through the delivery of a series of creative writing workshops which will allow the writer to share and develop insights into a variety of experiences of the city.

Details are available here.


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