Cyril in Fiction: Roundup

–In his latest posting, Duncan Mclaren discusses yet another of Waugh’s friends. This time it is Cyril Connolly’s turn. McLaren looks at Cyril’s appearances in several of Waugh’s novels, at first obliquely as a name assigned to an unrelated character and finally in Waugh’s last novel (Unconditional Surrender) as the thinly disguised portrait of the character named Everard Spruce. This character was editor of the magazine Survival and accepted for publication the aphorisms of another character Ludovic entitled Pensées. These were the equally thinly disguised parodies of Cyril’s Horizon magazine and his own aphoristic collection published as The Unquiet Grave. Those connections have been mentioned before, most recently in D J Taylor’s book Lost Girls which is prominently discussed in Duncan’s article and is reviewed in a recent issue of Evelyn Waugh Studies.

The most interesting and original feature of McLaren’s post is his identification of Cyrillic elements in the character of Mr Joyboy in Waugh’s novella The Loved One. McLaren develops this connection very carefully and sees a linkage with a visit by Cyril to Piers Court with his then girlfriend Lys Lubbock that was contemporaneous with Waugh’s writing of the book. There may be elements of the Aimée Thanatogenos/Joyboy relationship and that between Cyril and Lys. Here’s a link to Duncan’s article. Additional connections include a copy of Horizon discussed by the characters and a drawing of the cover that appears in one of the illustrations. Moreover, Cyril devoted an entire issue of the magazine to publication of the novella.

–New Zealand blogger Bob Jones has compared the recent governmental policies adopted in response to the Wuhan Coronavirus epidemic to a similar example of bungling described by Evelyn Waugh in his late travel book Tourist in Africa:

The coming economic collapse is totally a man-made disaster. When the dust is settled we need an independent enquiry or even a Royal Commission, to study the idiotic decisions made in order to prevent a future reoccurrence. For make no mistake. Such epidemics will strike again. An enquiry will hopefully produce a better way of handling them.

As the brilliant Evelyn Waugh wrote in 1959, describing the ill-thought and enormously costly Kenyan groundnut fiasco by the post-war Labour government, “the fault was pride; the hubris which leads elected persons to believe that a majority at the polls endues them with inordinate abilities”! Ring a bell?

Waugh’s discussion of the groundnut scandal–which took place in Tanganyika, not Kenya– appears at pp. 84 ff. of his travel book which was published in 1960.

TV Guide has posted a review of the adaptation of Waugh’s novel A Handful of Dust. It has recently been streamed in the USA on HBO2 and is available on Amazon Prime:

This film version of what many consider Evelyn Waugh’s finest novel is the handiwork of Derek Granger and Charles Sturridge, the producer-director team responsible for “Brideshead Revisited,” the popular TV adaptation of another Waugh novel. […] Many devotees of the novel have been disappointed by Sturridge’s film, finding it fails to capture Waugh’s biting satire. While retaining much of Waugh’s dialog and keeping much of the story intact, Sturridge has, nevertheless, altered the tone of the proceedings. Though something is lost in the transition form novel to movie, A HANDFUL OF DUST is still a tale of horrible selfishness and cruelty. The period production design is excellent, and the photography is beautiful, both in its misty English country scenes and in its lush South American jungle settings. The costumes received an Oscar nomination.

Tatler magazine has published a list of what it considers the six best TV series dealing with High Society. At the top of the list is the Granger/Sturridge adaptation of Brideshead:

The best version of Evelyn Waugh’s most famous tale is undoubtedly the 1980s television series starring Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews and Diana Quick, which is loved for its stylish cinematography and even more stylish costumes. […] The series has stood the test of time, and is held in higher regard than any film adaptation.

–The New York Review of Books has published a retrospectve review of the books of satirical novelist Nell Zink. The review, entitled  “Getting Away With It” by Andrew Martin, opens with this brief summary of Zink’s books starting with her first two The Wallcreeper and Mislaid. Martin writes that Zink:

…has a habit of killing off interesting characters sooner than seems wise, though the cheerful revenge of the bacchantes in her books rarely takes the form of physical violence. Her novels, famously written quickly (three weeks is usually cited as the time it took to draft each of her first three books), do, at times, read as though they wrote themselves; their startling combinations of registers and breakneck plots sometimes give the impression that they sprang directly from the author’s unconscious, if a more rigorously structured one than that of, say, the Beats. Though Dickens is often invoked as a point of comparison for writers of wildly varying styles and quality, Zink may be the contemporary writer who most deserves the comparison. She has a Dickensian gift for caricature and set pieces, as well as his nagging, theatrical tendency to wrap all the story’s loose ends in a bow. There are hints of early Penelope Fitzgerald in her embrace of misfits (as well as in her late start to publishing), and a healthy dose of the English novelist Barbara Trapido, whose Brother of the More Famous Jack shares Zink’s zest for bad literary manners.

As Martin nears the end, he discusses her latest book Doxology  and makes a comparison of its place in the oeuvre with one of Waugh’s novels:

…The result is a book that doesn’t quite justify its deployment of the trappings of the “novel of our times.” Caught somewhere between satirizing that genre and earnestly attempting it, Zink lands in an uncertain middle ground. It may be the case that her strengths as a writer are fundamentally those of the disrupter and the caricaturist rather than the nuanced social chronicler, but the madness of the current moment calls as much for disruption as it does for breadth and grace. Doxology may prove to be a transitional book in her career, like, say, Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, the work of a committed spitballer creeping toward a more sober reckoning with the world, then bailing out when things get too real.


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