Waugh Appears in Danish Trilogy

The current issue of The Spectator contains a review of  translations of a Danish writer who describes a meeting with Waugh in Copenhagen in the 1940s. This is Tove Ditlevsen and the books are entitled The Copenhagen Trilogy: Childhood, Youth, Dependency. The Spectator review by Boyd Tonkin opens with this:

Pick up a Penguin Classic from a cult Danish author who ‘struggled with alcohol and drug abuse’ and took her own life aged 58, and you may have one or two prior expectations. They will probably not include a flirtatious dinner with an enthralled Evelyn Waugh (‘so attentive and kind’) in a Copenhagen restaurant so quiet that ‘we could hear the thumping of ships’ motors far out on the water’. Tove Ditlevsen and the ‘vibrant, youthful’ Waugh have their evening spoiled when her third husband — a crazy, drug-pushing medic — turns up in his motorcycle leathers to drag Tove away for her bedtime injection, plus a bout of rougher than usual sex that leaves her spaced-out, ‘limp and blissful’.The author of Vile Bodies himself might have composed this scene from the late 1940s, when Ditlevsen (born 1917) had already published several acclaimed volumes of poetry and fiction.

The books were previously reviewed by John Self in the New Statesman:

Naming an autobiographical trilogy is a telling business. Tolstoy went straight down the line with Childhood; Boyhood; Youth. JM Coetzee started with Boyhood and Youth, but finished with Summertime, a pastoral title savagely ironic for its unflattering portrayal of the author’s late middle age. Tove Ditlevsen, one of Denmark’s most celebrated writers, was more subversive still. After Childhood and Youth, her final memoir was titled Gift, which in Danish means both married and poison. In English this has been rendered as Dependency; either way we have a title to make the reader wonder what lies beneath. The trilogy is now publish-ed in English in full for the first time, translated by Tiina Nunnally and Michael Favala Goldman.

To get it out of the way: they are the best books I have read this year. These very slim volumes slip in like a stiletto and do their work once inside. Each has its own distinct tone, which just about justifies Penguin’s money-chasing decision to issue the trilogy (around 350 pages in total) as three separate books.

In a review that appeared in the Daily Telegraph, Lucy Scholes declared that:

Dependency is the tour de force of the trilogy, not to mention the only book that could satisfyingly be read as a stand-alone volume, just about vindicating Penguin’s decision to print them separately rather than as a collected work. It’s also worth noting that the translator changes here too, Tiina Nunnally’s excellent work swapped for the less declarative but no less nimble prose of Michael Favala Goldman. As a sign of the author’s transition from immaturity to adulthood, this slight shift in tone works well. The episodic feel of the early volumes – like memories that bloom then burst – is replaced by a narrative, the cumulative power of which relies on a stricter chronological approach.

The Waugh reference probably appears in the third volume and likely relates to his visit to Copenhagen in 1947 described in a recent article in Evelyn Waugh Studies no 50.1. Meetings with several Danish writers were arranged during that visit. An earlier memoir in EWS 38.1 (Spring 2007) by Godfred Hartman, Waugh’s Danish publisher, mentions Tove Ditlevsen as having been present at a meeting of the local PEN club which Waugh attended.

This entry was posted in Books about Evelyn Waugh, Evelyn Waugh Studies, Newspapers, Vile Bodies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.