Early October Roundup

–In the current issue of TLS, writer Henry Hitchins reviews the two recent collections of the writings of Auberon Waugh. The review, entitled “Like a fine whine”, opens with this:

Looking back over my career to date, and at all the people I have insulted, I am mildly surprised that I am still allowed to exist”, wrote Auberon Waugh in 1980. For the remaining twenty-one years of his life he took pleasure in adding to his list of victims. […] Waugh was born in the same year as John Cleese and Margaret Drabble; he was younger than Jilly Cooper and Vanessa Redgrave, John Prescott and David Dimbleby. Were he still alive, he would not yet be eighty.

Having published his first novel, The Foxglove Saga, at twenty, Waugh continued for more than a decade to dabble in writing fiction, but found his métier in journalism, practising what he called “the vituperative arts”. The objects of his savage riffs included cant, political rhetoric and parliamentarians, as well as other kinds of bossy legislator whose exercise of power was a means to “compensate for their personal inadequacies”. At the same time he stood up for free speech, along with causes with which one wouldn’t immediately link someone of his stripe (the magazine Viz, the European Union, Martin Amis) and several less defensible groups, such as adulterers and drunk drivers. As the child of Evelyn Waugh, he inherited vendettas, mainly among what he considered the literary world’s “great armies of militant atheists, leftists and modernists”, and he was pleased to keep up old antagonisms.

The review concludes that the collected journalism (A Scribbler in Soho) is somewhat narrow in scope but the collected wine articles (Waugh on Wine) are still enjoyable despite their inevitable datedness. See also earlier posts.

–Waugh’s French publisher Robert Laffont is issuing a new edition of the French translation of Black Mischief. The French title is Diablerie. The announcement of the book’s issuance later this month describes it as follows:

“Waugh is a great master of humor, a bit cynical, who deserves to be better known in France.” Benoit Duteurtre.

In this novel we see Basil Seal (probably Waugh’s favorite creation) help his friend Seth, emperor of the island of Azania, establish a new order in this fictional country of Africa where the savagery competes with corruption […] Caricature of the efforts of Haile Selassie I to modernize Abyssinia, Diablerie is the novel which, in 1932, elevated Evelyn Waugh to the rank of master of the satire.

The above link is to the 1994 edition. The new edition will be for sale on 17 October. Translation by Google with edits.

–In his latest Mail on Sunday column, Peter Hitchens reviews the first episode of a new BBC drama series that is set in the beginning days of WWII (marking its 80th anniversary) as experienced by an assortment of characters. This is called World on Fire and started last Sunday, 29 September. Hitchen’s review begins with a complaint:

We have for many years had other soap operas or situation comedies set in this era, which can exploit the simple ‘good versus evil’ contest which WW2 reliably provides. Or they can explore the pleasure and satisfaction to be found in adversity. Or they can exploit the supposedly sexy fashions and music of the time which, I suspect, were a good deal less glamorous and funky than what we tend to see portrayed. And there must have been other tunes apart from Glenn Miller’s’ ‘In the Mood’, surely? Or was it played continuously throughout the later stages of the war, by every band? And we have a number of memoirs and novels, from Evelyn Waugh to Olivia Manning, about the Second World War which could be the basis for heavyweight drama. But it’s all getting a bit tired, as far as I’m concerned. I’m in my late 60s and even I am too young to remember the war, which ended 74 years ago. Is there really no other background for drama?

The war novels of both Waugh and Manning were indeed made into memorable TV series. In Waugh’s case there have been two adaptations of Sword of Honour and the most recent from Channel 4 is available on DVD or streaming. The earlier, and longer BBC version from the 1960s is locked out of TV distribution, probably due to rights restrictions. It is available only at a few BFI venues. Manning’s novels adapted for TV as Fortunes of War are also available. Hitchens’ review continues with some interesting discussions on Oswald Mosley and Danzig (now Gdansk) and their relevance to the events in the drama. .

HBO has announced the broadcast of the 1988 two-hour film adaptation of Waugh’s prewar novel A Handful of Dust. This will be available for streaming in the USA from 27 October. It was produced and directed by the same partnership that resulted n the successful 1981 series Brideshead Revisited: Derek Granger and Charles Sturridge. Those who haven’t seen it should take this opportunity to do so. It is also available on DVD.

–Finally, writing for The Spectator from Australia, Rebecca Weisser reports on the recent Chinese Communist Party’s celebration of the 75th anniversary of its victory over its rivals. She is reminded of a Waugh novel:

And there was a sea of flags. ‘A man getting drunk at a farewell party should strike a musical tone, in order to strengthen his spirit … and a drunk military man should order gallons (of alcohol) and put out more flags in order to increase his military splendour,’ a Chinese sage was quoted as saying by Evelyn Waugh in his brilliant novel about the phony war at the start of the second world war.

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