Roundup: Lenten Love and Lots of Books

–In the Church Life Journal published by University of Notre Dame, Patrick Tomassi has written an essay on the themes of love in Brideshead Revisited and their particular relevance to the observance of Lent. Here is a summary:

Sorting out our many possessive, grasping loves, and redirecting them towards God is the objective of Lent asceticism. Charles Ryder, in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, is transformed by becoming friends with Sebastian Flyte. His love for Sebastian opens him up to a joy in life he has never known. Although their love is tinged with a possessiveness that eventually kills it, Charles is permanently changed. Their relationship raises a theological question: what is the nature of eros? Is it ultimately selfish and unworthy of a Christian, or is it the very soil without which grace cannot take root? In Charles’s spiritual journey, an answer is proposed through suffering and renunciation. It is through, and not in spite of his eros for Sebastian, and later for Sebastian’s sister Julia, that Charles is led to agape, self-gift, and so ultimately from agnosticism to the Catholic Church.

The Palestine Chronicle reviews a book about Israeli labor policies toward Palestinian workers. The book is by Andrew Ross and is entitled Stone Men. The review begins with this:

There is a memorable passage from satirist Evelyn Waugh’s perhaps purposively unremembered political masterpiece “Black Mischief” (1932), in which Basil Seal, the chief Anglo architect of a modernization program in the fictional African island nation of Azania, passes a stark sentence on the democratically bereft principals of political modernity:

“You know,” he added reflectively, “we’ve got a much easier job now than we should have had fifty years ago. If we’d had to modernize a country then it would have meant constitutional monarchy, bicameral legislature, proportional representation, women’s suffrage, independent judicature, freedom of the press, referendums…”

“What is all that? ” asked the Emperor.

“Just a few ideas that have ceased to be modern.”

The review goes on to compare Basil’s program to that adopted by Israel.

–The Evening Standard reviews a book entitled History of the Bible: The Book and its Faiths by Oxford scholar John Barton. The review explains that the Bible is:

venerated mostly as English literature as the King James Bible but, as T S Eliot observed, this veneration is testimony to the Bible being moribund in more crucial respects. John Barton, the author of this magisterial account of the book and its history, is funny at the expense of admirers of the Authorised Version, who appear to admire it more than the Greek and Hebrew original texts; it is, after all a translation, though a more wonderful one than any modern equivalent.

Actually, given the nature of some Old Testament narrative — Barton, an Oxford scripture professor, uses the term interchangeably with Hebrew Bible without disrespect to Jews — ignorance may be preferable to that dangerous thing, a little knowledge. It’s hard not to sympathise with the exasperated Randolph Churchill who, bet by Evelyn Waugh that he couldn’t read the Bible cover to cover in a fortnight, kept “slapping his side and chortling: ‘God, isn’t God a shit!’” [Diaries, 591]

–The Daily News, a Sri Lankan newspaper, on April Fool’s Day, published a story entitled “Waugh and Humour”. This poses the question: “There is no doubt about it. In another forty years, one of our grandkids will ask us, ‘What on earth is a newspaper?’ We will probably fumble with our explanation […]”  The article goes on to suggest that the best solution might be to hand them a copy of Waugh’s Scoop, which it then proceeds to summarize, concluding with this:

The story is fictional, yes, but to us journalists, most everything about the novel will seem real, too real. This could be why in my eyes, Waugh who is mostly known for his more ambitious novels: ‘A Handful of Dust’ and ‘Brideshead Revisited’ is at his best in ‘Scoop.’ Besides, he is all laughter, too. Hence the warning: if you read the book in a public place your sudden bursts of laughter might earn you curious looks from passersby.

–The Guardian has a review by DJ Taylor of a book entitled Gilded Youth. This is by James Brooke-Smith and argues that “almost since the moment of their foundation, the country’s elite private schools have been a nursery for dissent and sedition, sometimes to the point of outright insurrection.” Examples of “the dandy aesthetes, whose art world precocity was a direct response to the late 19th century’s fixation on sporting prowess” include Old Etonians Harold Acton and Brian Howard who inspired Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited. Alec Waugh’s writing of Loom of Youth also gets a mention but Taylor thinks him more of a reformer than a rebel. Taylor also thinks Brooke-Smith gets Orwell wrong by claiming that he rebelled against Eton:

This is a serious overstatement. After all, Orwell’s first reaction to the arrival of his adopted son in 1944 was to suggest that he be put down for his alma mater. His diaries reveal him to have been fixated on the Eton-Harrow cricket match, and one of the last reviews he ever wrote was of a book about Eton, where he praises “the tolerant and civilised atmosphere” that gives each boy a chance of developing his own individuality.

–Finally, another book has been published on Oxford in the WWI era. This is Gatsby’s Oxford by Prof. Christopher Snyder of Mississippi State University. In a story about a book signing on Friday in Starkville, the university website explained that:

The book chronicles the experiences of Americans in Oxford through the Great War and the years of recovery to 1929, the end of Prohibition and the beginning of the Great Depression. “This period is interpreted through the pages of ‘The Great Gatsby,’ producing a vivid cultural history,” Snyder said.[…] “Archival material covering the first American Rhodes Scholars who came to Oxford during Trinity Term 1919—when Jay Gatsby claims he studied at Oxford—enables the narrative to illuminate a detailed portrait of what a ‘historical Gatsby’ would have looked like, what he would have experienced at the postwar university, and who he would have encountered around Oxford—an impressive array of artists including Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, Winston Churchill, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis,” Snyder said.


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