Presidents Day Roundup

–An article in the current issue of Prospect Magazine wonders when contemporary writers will learn how to successfully incorporate text messages into fiction narratives. By way of background, the article by Jemma Slingo explains how Evelyn Waugh pioneered the technique of incorporating telephonic conversations:

Twentieth-century authors were fascinated by the way technology affected how we interact. Just think of Evelyn Waugh’s 1934 novel A Handful of Dust in which the telephone looms large, both as a plot devise and as a means of revolutionising literary discourse. In our century, however, digital exchanges are typically consigned to teen-fiction and chick lit. If “serious” writers do include them, they can feel like dutifully inserted add-ons.

This is not the case in all new writing. Sally Rooney embeds online chat in her prose to great effect, as does Ben Lerner in his debut novel Leaving the Atocha Station. Elif Batuman’s The Idiot, set in the mid-90s, spotlights the weirdness of email, and Olivia Laing’s Crudo satirises our newfound obsession with screens. Even these novels, however, reveal—deliberately or otherwise—how difficult it is to integrate text talk in a piece of fiction.

She might have mentioned Vile Bodies where it has been suggested that Waugh may have been the first to use telephone conversations extensively for his narrative.  This is ironic because Waugh himself, at least in later life, abhorred communicating by telephone.

–The Daily Telegraph also cited A Handful of Dust in a St Valentine’s Day column collecting literary examples of love affairs that ended badly. This is intended to keep matters in perspective on a day when couples tend to expect happy endings:

Tony Last, the hapless protagonist of Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, gallantly agrees to protect his unfaithful wife Brenda’s reputation by taking a prostitute called Milly to Brighton for the weekend. This outing, to be witnessed by two hard-bitten detectives, is designed to facilitate his divorce from Brenda. Sadly Milly turns up with her young daughter Winnie in tow, setting “a nasty, respectable note.” The fact that the child shares her mother’s bedroom and Tony prefers to drink with the policemen rather than commit the requisite adultery with Milly ultimately stymies the proposed divorce, and sets up the tragi-comic Dickensian farce of the novel’s ending.

Other examples include scenes from E M Forster’s A Room with a View and Ian McEwen’s On Chesil Beach.

–Journalist Paul French blogging on China Rhyming explains why Waugh’s 1930s travels never got to China, a much-desired exotic destination at that time:

[…] Evelyn Waugh, like so many people at the time, had a fascination with China. I have written about one aspect of this in my recent piece for the South China Morning Post Magazine on Mrs. “Tinko” Pawley. […] See previous post

But why did Waugh never go? Well, he nearly did…in 1930. A busy year for Waugh – his second novel Vile Bodies was published and was a well reviewed bestseller; he separated from his wife (also called Evelyn) and converted to Catholicism. He spent the summer in Ireland at Tullynally Castle (the home of the Pakenham family in County Westmeath) […]. Here Waugh spent his days consulting atlases and the library researching a trip to China and Japan.

However Alastair Graham had been working for the Foreign Office in Cairo where he had met some Abyssinian (Ethiopian) princes. The tales of them, their attire and country fascinated Waugh. When he heard that a new emperor was to be crowned in Addis Ababa that November (Ras Tafari, thence Emperor Haile Sellasie) he immediately dropped all thought of China, got an accreditation from the Times and headed for Africa. His dispatches from Abyssinia are collected in […] Remote People

And so China never got the Waugh treatment…

–An article posted on the weblog Anecdotal Evidence by Patrick Kurp describes the friendship between Evelyn Waugh and Max Beerbohm and their assessments of each other’s work  It opens with this:

Of all the masters of English prose, we have the most to learn from Max Beerbohm and Evelyn Waugh. From Beerbohm we can learn how to nuance irony, not lay it on thick with a putty knife. He can teach us how to be amusing without telling jokes or taking the lazy way and merely being outrageous. Waugh, whose best books are peppered with jokes and outrage, once described Beerbohm’s company as “blissikins.” Waugh was a dedicated craftsman of language, a gift rare even among poets. In his maturity he was no aesthete, but the beauty and hard exactitude of his words never cancelled each other out.

The article goes on to consider and quote from Waugh’s writings about Beerbohm on the occasion of and after his death.

–An article in a recent issue of the Catholic Herald opens with this:

I think it’s an aphorism which originated with Evelyn Waugh, that if you were to leave your umbrella at the back of an Anglican church it would still be there when you returned, but if you left it in a Catholic church it would be gone.

I have never come across this attribution nor could I locate in a search. I’m not sure I get the point either. Anyone knowing the details is invited to comment below.

Brideshead is cited in connection with an article on British cuisine in the Monterey County Weekly. This relates to finding other uses for malt vinegar, bottles of which stand on thousands of US tables awaiting the the next round of fish & chips but little (if anything) else. One alternative useage is in making pickled walnuts, a dish few of the MCW’s readers will have heard of, prompting this explanation:

Pickled walnuts. And if you’ve never heard of them, you just didn’t read closely during those English literature classes.

How’s this, from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited: “We presently stopped at an inn, which was half farm also, and ate eggs and bacon, pickled walnuts and cheese, and drank our beer in a sunless parlor.”

Or this, from one of Charles Dickens’ books that’s not A Christmas Carol or Oliver Twist: “After they had bled him, the first faint glimmerings of returning animation, were his jumping up in bed, bursting out into a loud laugh, kissing the young woman who held the basin, and demanding a mutton chop and a pickled walnut.”

–The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh at the University of Leceister has posted the report of a volunteer who has been working on the project. This is Isabella Hanger, an undergraduate at the University of Melbourne who chose Evelyn Waugh as the subject of her Honours Thesis. Here’s an excerpt:

I engaged true literary fan-girl mode as I worked with Waugh’s letters to Nancy Mitford. Even in photocopied form, it was fascinating to see Waugh’s handwriting (and then to feel the accomplishment of decoding it!). I made sure that the letters were correctly filed and clearly labelled, both in hard and soft copy, engaging in some detective work to place undated papers. I also set to work on editing against the photocopied letters some very entertaining electronic transcriptions, giggling away as much at the mis-copies as at Waugh’s dry wit. His correspondence is fascinating both as a historical document and a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the author through his social interactions. […]

I ended my mini research expedition to England with my first visit to the British Library at St. Pancras. […] I strode over to the Western Manuscripts room where I collected my pre-ordered volumes of Waugh’s letters. I spent a good few hours poring over the handwriting I had become so familiar with over the past week. Being acutely aware that Waugh had once sat in front of the paper that was now couched in its little bean bag before me, his voice seemed to emit all the more of his characteristic cutting irony, oft-expressed disdain and his wonderfully blunt criticism. It proved a very fitting way to tie up my excursion.

–Finally, The Oldie has published another extract from Auberon Waugh’s “Rage” column. This was written in 1992 during hostilites in the former Yugoslavia:

The current war in the Balkans, about which so many people seem to have such strong feelings, was bound to raise yet again the old question of the sex of Marshal J B Tito, the communist partisan leader who became dictator of Yugoslavia for 35 years after the war. My father, who saw the Marshal in bathing dress on the island of Vis in 1944, always swore it was a woman.

The joke was wearing rather thin by that time (indeed, it was never particularly plump when Evelyn Waugh rather beat it to death).

UPDATE: Reference to Daily Telegraph article added.


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