Waugh’s Birthday Roundup

Evelyn Waugh was born on this date in 1903. This is the 116th anniversary of that event.

–The Oxford English Dictionary has declared today’s Word of the Day to be “Brideshead, adj.” While they do not mention the birthday anniversary specifically in their notice, it cannot be a coincidence that this date was chosen for that word. Here’s the OED etymology:

[‘Reminiscent of the style, characters, plot, etc., of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited (1945), which depicts the lives of an aristocratic English family in the early 20th century; (more generally) of or relating to the world of the decadent English upper classes of this period.’]
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈbrʌɪdzhɛd/, U.S. /ˈbraɪdzˌ(h)ɛd/
Origin: From a proper name. Etymon: proper name Brideshead.
Etymology: < Brideshead, the name of a fictional castle in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited (1945), which was the basis of a popular television adaptation in 1981.
Reminiscent of the style, characters, plot, etc., of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited (1945), which depicts the lives of an aristocratic English family in the early 20th century; (more generally) of or relating to the world of the decadent English upper classes of this period.
1961 Financial Times 12 June 18/2 A simple anecdotal narrative, yet it bears the Brideshead stamp clearly enough.
1978 Daily Mail 13 June 19 A mis-spent year at Christ Church, Oxford, spent roistering in ‘Brideshead’ style.
1986 Guardian(Nexis) 8 Aug. The elitism, the class-based superiority, the seductive image of Brideshead decadence beloved of the media.
2018 New European(Nexis) 14 Mar. 21 As a student at Oxford University I had a brief flirtation with the romantic Brideshead myth of ‘Englishness’.

Thanks to reader Dave Lull for sending this link.

–Another reader, Bruce Gaston, who teaches at the University of Heidelberg in Germany has sent a link to his 2016 article entitled “‘But that’s not what it was built for’: The use of architecture in Evelyn Waugh’s work” which is now available online. The article first appeared in the journal AAA: Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik, Vol. 41, No. 2 (2016), pp. 23-48, published in Tübingen. Here’s the abstract:

Architecture is everywhere in Evelyn Waugh’s works, but critical analysis has concentrated on his depictions of country houses, which it usually views from an antiquarian and aesthetic perspective. Although this approach is understandable in an age when sightseers troop around stately homes, it is both anachronistic and limiting. In fact, a desire to preserve buildings just because they are old is a modern phenomenon. Starting from an investigation of Waugh’s use of the term architecture, this article offers an alternative way of reading not only the canonical texts such as Brideshead Revisited but also less well-known parts of Waugh’s oeuvre. It shows how Waugh’s views of architecture were formed and informed by the classical architectural theories which underpinned Palladianism and specifically by the Roman architect and writer Vitruvius’s trinity of values: durability, utility and beauty. Taken together, these criteria enable Waugh to explore the experience of architecture in its totality. One should stress the term experience, for if any definite verdict on architectural value is possible, then it is not a building’s artistic merit that matters but its suitability for fulfilling its original function.

The article is now posted on JSTOR at this link. You may require a subscription to read the full text but many public libraries now provide access. Thanks to Bruce for sending the link.

–Novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux was recently interviewed about his new book.  This is entitled On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican journey. One of the questions asked him to compare his description of Mexico to those of Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh:

Q. Loads of journey writers and top-shelf novelists have frolicked in Mexico. However in much of this writing, in Graham Greene or Evelyn Waugh, it looks like they go there to be contemptuous of it. Is that one thing you needed to contrast?

A. Precisely. Graham Greene was there for less than six weeks. And he hated it. He wrote an excellent novel about it, The Power and the Glory. However his journey book is ridiculous. Evelyn Waugh’s? Identical. […] You write to amuse, to mock the natives. I used to spend a lot of time trying to destroy that stereotype. The more I’ve travelled, the more I’ve realized how small I am, how huge the world is and how I am unimportant. A journey book needs to be about different folks and their tales. My tales don’t matter.

This article appears to have been translated from a non-English publication. For example, Graham Greene’s novel noted in the above quote was entitled “The Energy and the Glory“). Some edits have therefore been added where the posted version was obviously garbled. The article is posted on a website called Fooshya.com. It may have originated in the Toronto Globe and Mail but is not cited to that source. That interview is behind a paywall, however. Anyone having access to the Globe and Mail interview is invited to comment below as to the comparison of their article to the one in Fooshya.com.

–Finally, a news website called Truthdig.com has posted a recent review of Philip Eade’s biography of Evelyn Waugh that was published in 2016. This is written by Art Barra and begins with a reference to Waugh’s reputation:

… In a famous 1944 piece, Edmund Wilson, who surely despised every social value that Waugh stood for, called him “The only first-rate comic genius that has appeared in English since Bernard Shaw.” Jean-Paul Sartre, of all people, praised Waugh as one of the progenitors of “the anti-novel.” Clive James, the greatest critic of our own time, thinks him “the supreme writer of English prose in the 20th century”—even though “so many of the wrong people said so,” by which, presumably, he meant cultural conservatives who thought that Waugh’s politics kept him from winning the Nobel Prize. Perhaps, but Waugh has continued to be read while the work of many a Nobel Prize winner has faded into the twilight realm of the praised but unread.

Barra then summarizes Eade’s book, adding some some comments and observations of his own. Some of these are quite interesting but they occasionally go astray. He suggests at one point that Waugh went to Eton but in the next line quotes some references to his time at Lancing, noting the school correctly. In another example he misscites a source :

If you want to cut Waugh some slack for getting good reviews as a parent from some of his children, you must counter it with a comment by Arthur Waugh in a letter to Evelyn’s brother, Alec, after Evelyn and his wife, Laura, lost a baby girl shortly after the child’s birth: “She wasn’t wanted and she did not stay.”

According to Eade’s account (p. 225) that remark was made in a letter Arthur wrote to Joan Waugh (Alec’s wife). This was quite similar to the message Evelyn himself wrote to his own wife on the occasion of the child’s death, as quoted in Eade’s text just below the quote from Arthur’s letter. Why quote Arthur to make this point when one could have quoted Evelyn directly?

The review concludes with this:

Eade writes, “This is not a ‘critical’ biography in the sense that it does not seek to reassess Evelyn Waugh’s achievements as a writer. …” That’s a shame. I could have done with fewer stories of Lady Pansy Pakenham, Pixie Marix and Godfrey Wildman-Lushington. The anecdotes are amusing, but would count for nothing if Waugh hadn’t been a great writer. I still long for more insights into his work, especially “A Handful of Dust and Scoop.” Luckily for Waugh, his novels will probably outlive his biographies.

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