There’s a hilarious sort of squawking Greek chorus running through the book, in the shape of Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford’s gleeful letters to each other commenting on the life and love affairs of the circle. After Taylor’s painstaking examinations of his characters’ changes of mind and heart, it’s pleasing to have these goings-on witheringly summed up, and belittled, by Waugh and Mitford, who saw the absurdity in everything and everyone. Here’s Waugh’s description of the Horizon office: ‘horrible pictures collected by Watson [Peter Watson, financial backer of Horizon] & Lys & Miss Brownell working away with a dictionary translating some rot from the French’. Here’s his summing up of Sonia marrying Orwell (Waugh and Mitford’s nickname for Connolly was ‘Boots’, short for ‘Smartiboots’): ‘Boots’s boule de Suif what was her name? Sonia something is engaged to marry the dying Orwell and is leaving Horizon so there will not be many more numbers to puzzle us.’ He was right. Horizon closed down in January 1950, bringing these bombastic words from Connolly: ‘It is closing time in the gardens of the West and from now on an artist will be judged only by the resonance of his solitude and the quality of his despair.’ Taylor calls those words ‘horribly disingenuous’: it was really Connolly’s own laziness that brought the magazine to a close. Waugh was not all cynicism: he did say (later) that Horizon was ‘the outstanding publication of its decade’.
Taylor’s book was published last September in the UK and will be released next February in the USA. It will be reviewed in a future issue of Evelyn Waugh Studies.
–The online magazine Mental Floss has posted an article called “12 Surprising Things About Evelyn Waugh.” Many of them will not particularly surprise our readers, although this one contains information not much discussed:
3. EVELYN WAUGH WAS INCREDIBLY OLD-FASHIONED.
According to NBC producer Edwin Newman, who filmed a TV interview with Waugh in 1956, the novelist wished he had been born 200 or 300 years earlier. He loathed the modern world and its technology; he refused to fly in a plane or learn to how to drive a car. He resisted using the telephone in favor of writing letters, which he did with an old-fashioned pen dipped in ink. His quirky eccentricity informed his conservative political leanings and his opposition to reforms in the Catholic Church, of which he was a devout convert.
The references come from Edwin Newman’s book Strictly Speaking where he recalls a visit by him and an NBC TV crew to Waugh’s home at Piers Court. This took place in late June 1955, not 1956 as Newman remembered. The pretext for the timing of the interview was the forthcoming publication of Waugh’s novel Officers and Gentlemen. Waugh noted it in his Diaries and was not particularly happy about it. The filming and recording sessions took all day and the results appeared in two parts on later NBC programs:
“Today” show on July 12, 1955 he was interviewed at his home.
“People” show September 25, 1955 presented film profile sketches of interesting people. He talks of his life and his work as a novelist.
Further details relating to the content of these programs are not known.
–On the booksblog The Millions, Jedediah Britton-Purdy posts a description of his recent reading. After a discussion of his completion of all 12 volumes of Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time, with which he sometimes struggled, he mentions this:
It was in that headspace that I found myself reading Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited—looking for a sort of light Powell when I couldn’t take the denser stuff, like turning to Pullman from Milton. I didn’t know Waugh when we came across his first novel, Decline and Fall, in a tiny cache of English-language books in Greece last year, and his spare-nobody satire and perfect sentences made ideal beach reading. Brideshead is a strange book, like a religious interlude in the midst of one of Powell’s lives, as coruscating and deft as any of the satires, but walking a drunken path to some kind of mystical Catholicism. Whatever Waugh thought of this book, to me it read like the work of someone perfectly in command of his tools but overwhelmed by his themes, like a master costume-jewel whose workshop has been lifted by a tsunami.
–Finally, the London information website Londontopia posts an article relating to the history of the northwestern suburbs that came to be known as Metroland based on the services of the Metropolitan Railroad along which they stretched. In the literary section, their debt to the attentions of John Betjeman are mentioned but Evelyn Waugh is also credited with a contribution:
As Metroland began to take root in the public consciousness, the developments worked their way into media as early as the end of World War I. It was about that time that George Sims penned the line “I know a land where the wildflowers grow/Near, near at hand if by train you go,/Metroland, Metroland!” into one of his songs. By the 1930s, Evelyn Waugh was using the term in his novels Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, and A Handful of Dust. More songs soon followed such as “My Little Metro-land Home” all the way up to “Queensbury Station” by The Magoo Brothers in 1988, which makes many references to the area.
Waugh’s contribution took the form primarily of his naming of a character Margot Metroland who appeared in several of his novels.