Acedemic Roundup: Spring 2020

–The journal The University Scholar published by the University of Dallas, has included an essay on Waugh in its Fall 2019 issue (v. XX, No. 1, p. 48).  This is entitled “An Animalistic Death Cult: Materialism and Religiosity in Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One ” and is written by Teresa Linn. Here are the opening paragraphs (footnotes omitted.):

French political thinker, Alexis de Tocqueville, upon observing the America of the nineteenth century, noted the great threat of materialism ruling the hearts and minds of Americans: “Democracy favors the taste for material enjoyments. This taste, if it becomes excessive, soon disposes men to believe that all is nothing but matter; and materialism in its turn serves to carry them toward these enjoyments with an insane ardor.” At the time of his observation, he noted that religious practice in America stifled this ever-growing materialism, for “belief in an immaterial and immortal principle, united for a time with matter, is so necessary to the greatness of man.” He foresaw that when the American refuses to acknowledge any transcendent, immaterial power, the material world becomes his god.

In Evelyn Waugh’s novel The Loved One: An Anglo-American Tragedy, Tocqueville’s prophecy of excessive materialism becomes a grotesque reality. Hollywood has fallen prey to empty aestheticism, lacking a religion to turn its gaze to the immaterial. As a society so enraptured with physical beauty and without any familiarity with the immaterial, Waugh’s Hollywood strives to conceal the decay of the flesh through beautification, for the body’s decay shatters the hope of lasting beauty. Man thus takes great pains to hide his physical entropy even after death. Waugh presents Hollywood’s obsession with the preservation of the physical in the form of the spiritually vacuous cemetery of Whispering Glades. ….

–A recent PhD thesis now posted on the internet is based on a consideration of four of Waugh’s novels: Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, A Handful of Dust and Brideshead Revisited. It is written by A. Veeraragavan and was submiitted to Annamalai University in South India. The title is “Male Sufferings in the Novels of Evelyn Waugh.” Here is an excerpt from the Introduction (pp. 19-20):

As a novelist, Evelyn Waugh explores the emotional world and the darker side of life of suffering people and downtrodden. Waugh further examines his protagonists as individuals who find themselves forced into uncongenial environments, fighting against the odds. Then, his writings portray these problems of the tragic tension between the individual and their unfavorable environment acquires the dimensions of existential anguish. Waugh’s characters are self-conscious of the reality around them and they carry a sense of loneliness, alienation and pessimism. He adds the realities of life and plunges the deep-depths of the human psyche to score out its mysteries and chaos in the minds of characters.

Close study of the texture and theme of the novels in relation to the tenets of existentialism justifies the above observation. Waugh’s works deal with the existential anxiety experienced by his suffered protagonists. Thus, the existential themes of solitude, alienation, the futility of human existence and struggle for survival are the major themes of his works. Evelyn Waugh expresses his personal feelings over suffering heroes through his works with existentialism.

The entire thesis is posted on the internet and may be accessed at this link.

–An article has appeared in the journal Philologica Canariensia 25 (2019) by Cristina Zimbroianu who is associated with two universities in Madrid. This is entitled “Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies in Franco’s Spain and Communist Romania.” In this, she examines how the governments of these two countries, when under totalitarian regimes, censored Waugh’s novels. She considers both written critical reception in the controlled press and modifications required by censors prior to publication (or, in one case, banning altogether).

–The British Journal of Religious Education, 04/2020, Volume 42, Issue 2 has published “Religious education and the interwar intellectuals: a secularism case study” by Paul G Chigwidden. Here’s an abstract:

For some time now, the idea of secularism has been the subject of renewed scrutiny. Statistical portraits, representing a simple, if relentless, narrative have been increasingly disparaged by scholars as unhelpful. Statistical secularism, as we may call it, tells a story of decline and little else. It is incapable of telling the real story which is one in which religious experience becomes hyper-fragmented. The memoirs and reminiscences of those English intellectuals who came to maturity in the interwar period have a contribution to make to this discussion. These pieces of life-writing reveal both the march of secularism in action but also the emergence of new religious experiences. At the heart of these radical changes was a widespread dissatisfaction with the way in which they were taught their religious faith. Where the experts of their day cautioned against teaching students doctrine, students like Evelyn Waugh, W. H. Auden and John Betjeman were particularly critical of that very concession. Thus, we get the chance to tease out an attitudinal pattern towards the religious education of the period and its contribution to the growing experience of secularism.

— Mark Zunac has written an essay entitled “‘There was something gentlemanly about your painting’: Art and Beauty’s Truth in Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited“. This appears in Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature, 03/2019, Volume 71, Issue 2. Here the abstract:

By composing a work that, according to the author, records “the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters,” Waugh committed the inexpiable literary sins of humanizing the upper classes and upholding Christian doctrine to boot. […] while the Catholic theme has overwhelmed criticism of it, one must not overlook Bridesheaďs place within a considerable oeuvre celebrating the receipt and preservation of the humanistic inheritance, underwritten by an unfaltering adherence to sober judgment, discriminating taste, exemplary moral virtue, and the belief that unrelenting secularization invariably coincides with the rise of the State and the loss of individual freedom. Yet the author defended not just the foundation of that life but also its yield, most notably those visual reminders of divine grace and human potential. […] while they are conditioned upon the primacy of the Christian tradition, it remains true that Brideshead itself, along with Charles Ryder’s vocation as a painter and his love for the Flyte family, all coalesce and are informed by the broader concept of worldly beauty and its moral imperative to sustain culture as the taproot of civilization. Critics have begun to dismantle the notion that Waugh’s interests were strictly material, arguing that both the war-framed narrative and Charles’s duality as character and narrator reveal a deep anxiety over the historical ruptures that ushered in the post-war Welfare State.2 Laura Coffey’s illuminating study of memory and history within Brideshead makes the case that following the war, efforts to preserve the country estate focused on the physical structure of the buildings rather than the social conventions that they had nurtured. […] says Coffey, the traditions and values that for Waugh constituted a stable and coherent social order had been democratized and detached from the collective memory, prompting certain novelists to “remember and preserve the social function of the country house in their writing, uniting past, present, and future in this potent image” (62).

–An article by Stephen Bayley entitled “Rise, Fall and Reinvention: The Architect’s Shifting Identity” appears in Architectural Design, 11/2019, Volume 89, Issue 6. Here’s the abstract:

Taking stock of architects’ hubris in actuality and fiction, London‐based design critic and curator Stephen Bayley asks why, recently, the architect has ceased to be a clown or hero in the eyes of popular culture. He posits that the reinvention of the architect is necessary to reclaim this lost prominence, good or bad, in the eyes of the public.

The article is behind a paywall and there is no explanation of Waugh’s relevance in the available abstract. It may relate to Waugh’s most well-known architect  character: Otto Silenus in Decline and Fall.

–Finally, Scott J Roniger’s essay “Platonic Eros and Catholic Faith in Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited” has appeared in Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, 2019, Volume 22, Issue 4. Here is an excerpt from the opening pages:

…Just as we should see that the structure of a novel is not dissociated from its style but rather is the most fundamental dimension of it, so too we must see that an author’s style, including the structures he achieves, is not unrelated to the themes (or content) of the work. To be an artist is to be able to create structures that mirror the content the artist wishes to display in the work itself, so the style and structure of a great novel unify the work as a whole in order to manifest the nature of that which is discussed in the novel. There is an important distinction between what is said and how it is said, but the manner of the saying assists the listener in understanding what is manifested in the saying of it. In the hands of a great artist, the structures themselves of the art assist in displaying the themes to be discussed. According to Waugh, the themes explored in Brideshead are “the workings of the divine purpose” and “the operation of divine grace,”5 and I wish to claim that his style and the structure he achieves in Bridesheadare correlated to and disclosive of these themes.


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