Roundup: Autumn in Canberra

–As Summer turns to Fall in the Southern Hemisphere, The Canberra Times is reminded of Evelyn Waugh. This is in an article written by Ian Warden who is not impressed by Autumnal colors:

As an aesthete who cares about the looks of everything, I find the colours of autumn leaves lurid and disgusting. As I write the city’s parks and streetscapes (those cursed with deciduous trees) are approaching peak gaudiness and Canberra fans of this ugliness are reaching peak gush.

His reaction reminds him of a description of nature by Evelyn Waugh:

I was helped out of this nature-is-always-perfect delusion (subconsciously I had always known it was nonsense) many years ago when I came across this liberating passage in Evelyn Waugh’s Labels, a book about his Mediterranean travels.

“I do not think,” he muses, “I shall ever forget the sight of Etna at sunset; the mountain almost invisible in a blur of pastel grey, glowing at the top and then repeating its shape, as though reflected, in a wisp of grey smoke, with the whole horizon radiant with pink light. Nothing I have ever seen in Art or Nature was quite so revolting.”

The first time one reads this passage one is lulled into thinking one is reading yet another gushing account of nature’s unimpeachable loveliness. Then, with that last very Waughian sentence, there is that refreshing Shock of the New, the new (and true) idea that nature can be revoltingly tasteless.

Inspired by Waugh, Warden likens Autumnal Canberra to a city wearing the “cheapest and nastiest Hawaiian shirt.”

–The Daily Mail interviews author and journalist Tanish Carey, who has written widely on childhood and parenting, what book she would take to a desert island. Here’s her answer:

I’d take The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh. I wrote my dissertation on Waugh at university. I’m fascinated by how such a bilious personality must have masked a sensitive soul, considering he wrote a novel as insightful as Brideshead Revisited. He was versatile, too, with books ranging from satire to a description of his own nervous breakdown.

She may have to wait awhile before making the trip since only 5 of the 43 volumes have yet been published.

–A blogger on his website Nigeness has posted his latest review of Auberon Waugh’s novels:

Having read and written about Waugh’s first two novels, I move on, inevitably, to his third, Who Are the Violets Now? Published in 1965, this is, I’d say, just about the best of the three, and the funniest (if you like your comedy dark). Like his father, Waugh was particularly adept at cutting away extraneous connective tissue, and here he exercises that talent to brilliant effect. Who Are the Violets Now? is less ambitious than The Foxglove Saga, and the canvas is less crowded than Path of Dalliance. The result is a structural elegance that, most of the time, matches the characteristic elegance of Waugh’s prose.

Thanks to David Lull for sending this link.

–Harry Mount, editor of The Oldie has contributed an essay to a new online periodical called The Article:

Ever since the start of the year, I’ve been obsessed by two questions, and I keep finding myself asking them everywhere I go. At New Year, a friend asked, “Who, at your school or university, seemed most likely to succeed? And who ended up being the most successful?”

After considering several examples, mostly of seeming successes who ended up failures, he recalls this:

The same cautionary tale runs through Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited in the form of another gilded Oxford undergrad, Lord Sebastian Flyte. So grand, so rich, so good-looking; and with the brand of fatal English charm that Anthony Blanche brilliantly dissects at dinner with Charles Ryder: “Charm is the great English blight. It does not exist outside these damp islands. It spots and kills anything it touches. It kills love; it kills art; I greatly fear, Charles, it has killed you.”

When Waugh was writing Brideshead in 1944, he wrote to Coote Lygon, whose family – and family home, Madresfield Court in Worcestershire – inspired Brideshead Castle. He said: “I am writing a very beautiful book, to bring tears, about very rich, beautiful, high-born people who live in palaces and have no troubles except what they make themselves and those are mainly the demons, sex and drink.”

–In the National Review, Senior Editor Jay Nordlinger writes a column called “Impromptus” in which he jots down seemingly random thoughts which sometimes lead from one to another. In the latest issue, he starts with Hong Kong’s drift away from democratic capitalism and the fire at Notre Dame and, before reaching a longer thought on Tiger Wood’s unlikely comeback, writes this:

• In an Evelyn Waugh novel, Brideshead Revisited, a character peruses the newspaper and sighs, “Another naughty Scoutmaster.” I thought of this when seeing a headline: “Boy Scouts could be hit with more sex abuse claims.” (Article here.) Will it ever end? Apparently not.

• Once, Bill Buckley couldn’t remember Evelyn Waugh’s name. He was just blanking, as we all do. He said to me, with annoyance, “Who is my hero, the author of Brideshead?”

The Brideshead reference comes from Book One, Chapter IV (1960 rev. ed. p. 99) and is something Sebastian found in the News of the World.


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