Waugh’s Ash Wednesday in New Orleans

Blogger Amy Welborn, a free-lance writer of books on religious subjects, posted an interesting article yesterday (Ash Wednesday) about Evelyn Waugh’s trips to America in the 1940s. This is on her weblog “Charlotte was Both.” It begins with a quote from Waugh’s 1949  Life Magazine article about the Catholic Church in America. This consists of a description of Roman Catholic worshippers attending Ash Wednesday services in New Orleans in the wake of the Mardi Gras festival on the preceding days. Here is Ms Welborn’s introduction to the article:

Evelyn Waugh visited the United States a few times. His most extended visit came in 1948, on the dime of Henry Luce’s Life magazine. He traveled through a great deal of the country, giving lectures and meeting with Catholic figures like Merton and Dorothy Day (he had edited The Seven-Storey Mountain for the British market). He wrote an extended essay on the Church in the United States for Life. You can read it here via Google Books. 

There’s much to say about it, but for now, I’ll just post his brief description of what he observed in New Orleans on and around Ash Wednesday.

The Life article entitled “The American Epoch in the Catholic Church” is also collected at EAR, p. 377. Most of the attention to Waugh’s visits to America focuses on the 1947 trip to Los Angeles which resulted in several other Life articles as well as his novel The Loved One. It is therefor much welcome that Ms Welborn has chosen to discuss his largely ignored later visits. But she may have been confused by Waugh’s Catholics in America article into thinking that the Ash Wednesday description referred to events on that day in 1948. In fact, the 1948 visit sponsored by Life took place in November-December of that year. While he did visit New Orleans as well as several other cities on that trip in the course of researching the article for Life, the Ash Wednesday scenes were witnessed in March 1949 on a third visit. This was sponsored not by Life but by various Roman Catholic colleges and universities (including Loyola University in New Orleans) where (as noted in the blog post) Waugh gave lectures. Such confusion is not surprising as Waugh does not provide the details of that 1949 trip in the Life article or elsewhere. Indeed, where, as is the case of New Orleans, he stopped both in 1948 and 1949 tours, he conflates his description of the visits for simplicity. The two trips were back-to-back, with less than 2 months in between, so it is easy to confuse them. More detailed information on these trips, including dates and itineraries, is available in Evelyn Waugh Studies, Nos. 43.3, 44.1 and 44.2 (Winter, Spring and Autumn 2013)

Further confusion arises from another article linked in Ms Welborn’s article. This is from a 1966 issue of Atlantic Monthly magazine and was written by John Osborne who worked for Time-Life in the 1940s. Osborne also encountered Waugh on the 1948 trip at a dinner given by Time-Life in New York and gives an amusing description of that event. But he doesn’t mention the later lecture tour in 1949. This article, which I hadn’t seen before, raises several interesting points that will be considered in a future post.

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