–A recent post in the website Beforeitsnews.com announces that the Holy Stairs in Rome have recently been reopened after an extended period of restoration. The story cites Evelyn Waugh’s Helena for background:
The great Catholic novelist Evelyn Waugh had a special devotion to St Helena, and in his fictionalized account of her life, gives a very funny explanation of how the Holy Stairs might have come to Rome in the first place. When St Helena arrives in Jerusalem, she is taken on a tour of the local governor’s palace, which he refers to, in the language of British Imperial administration, as “Government House.” (The book is filled with clever anachronisms of this sort.)
“Helena, alighting, seemed to regard the place critically. The major-domo … tried to put a good face on it by remarking that this was originally Pilate’s Praetorium. It might have been. No one was quite sure. On the whole most people thought that it was, though certainly much altered. Helena was plainly impressed. The major-domo went further. These marble steps, he explained, were the identical stairway which Our Lord had descended on his way to death. The effect was beyond his expectation. The aged empress knelt down, there and then in her travelling cloak, and painfully and prayerfully climbed the twenty-eight steps on her knees. … Next day she ordered her private cohort of sappers to take the whole staircase to pieces, number them, crate them and pack them on wagons. ‘I am sending it to Pope Sylvester,’ she said. ‘A thing like this ought to be in the Lateran. You clearly do not attach proper importance to it here.’
–Irish novelist Colm Tóibín has written a journal describing his recent cancer treatment. This appears in the current issue of the London Review of Books. Toward the end, as he awaits release from the hospital after his latest treatment, he writes:
A rumour spread in the hospital that a doctor who knew about blood clots would visit me later in the day. Only he could decide whether I went home or not. He had the same name as a character in Wallace Stevens’s Notes towards a Supreme Fiction, who was also referred to as ‘major man’. By this time I was confronting the fact that I was slowly going mad, and that this wasn’t helped by the steroids and the lack of sleep and the general excitement about going home and seeing my boyfriend. In bed, I began to whisper ‘major man’ as Catholics in a similar state might call out the name of Jesus or his mother. I also prepared a joke to tell this doctor so that he might accept my urge to go home. Preparation was important, as I can’t really tell jokes. I just don’t know how. I can try to tell them, but they come out skewed and flat and somewhat sad.
When the doctor arrived, I worried, at first, that I had begun the joke too quickly. It was about Randolph Churchill having a tumour removed and the tumour turning out to be benign and Evelyn Waugh saying that they had removed the only part of Randolph that wasn’t malignant. The doctor laughed. He seemed like a good-humoured guy. He checked that I would be able to inject myself in the stomach every night with some blood-thinning agent. He told me not to take any long-haul flights for the moment. He suggested I see him before Christmas. And then he told me I could go home.
–Interviewed in the New Statesman, veteran conservative political commentator Roger Scruton alludes to another well-worn Waugh quotation:
Evelyn Waugh once lamented that the Conservative Party had “never put the clock back a single second”. Does Scruton agree? “I think that’s his romanticism, of course it’s true. But it’s not entirely true. What the word conservative means is not putting things back but conserving them. There are things that are threatened and you love them, so you want to keep them.”
–Literary journalist Lucy Freeman comments in her Gulf News column about the recent extension of the Brexit deadline. Noting that she generally opposes such postponements, she quotes Evelyn Waugh as an example of the importance of maintaining a schedule to work against:
On May 7, 1936, [sic] Evelyn Waugh, English writer of novels, biographies and travel books, and a prolific journalist, wrote in his diary: “Children have all returned to school. The weather is delicious, the house is silent, there is no reason for me not to work. I will try one day soon.” Eventually, he knuckles down. What quiet triumph there is in the line: “I did a little work.”
The correct date is May 7, 1956 (Diaries, p. 760).. In 1936 Waugh was unmarried and childless.
–Finally, in a publisher’s announcement of the reissue in paperback of Juan Tazón’s The Life and Times of Thomas Stukeley, Waugh’s characterization of the subject in his Edmund Campion is quoted:
Described variously as picturesque, quixotic, cloudy minded, remarkable, and (by Evelyn Waugh) as a “preposterous and richly comic figure”, Stukeley remains a flamboyant and fascinating character in the imagination of succeeding generations.
Waugh goes on to explain that it was the discovery of Stukeley’s reckless offer to the King of Spain to seize Ireland for that country that required Campion to become a fugitive.