Dog Days Roundup: 18 August 2020

–Writing in a recent issue of the Daily Telegraph, literary journalist Jane Shilling bemoans the early reaction of the publishing industry to the coronavirus lockdown. In a period when reading and cooking were two of the activities the “lockdownees” could enjoyably turn to, publishers began making wholesale postponements of their scheduled release dates. Shilling looked back to the books in her collection for precedents in previous stressful times and found this:

Among the many books I own are some published during the Second World War, including a 1942 edition of Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags. The paperstock is little better than newsprint, the design perfunctory, but the effect on morale must have been tremendous. As I was beginning to compare the response of publishers then and now, the literary agent Jonny Geller had harsh words for the “narrow” approach of publishers, who put “everything in the deep freeze”, while other branches of the arts continued to produce new content, arguably in more difficult conditions.

Now the moment for the great defrosting has come. On September 3, almost 600 new titles will be published. For weeks now, proofs of forthcoming books have been arriving on my doormat, with press releases eloquently arguing their case.

–Several Roman Catholic papers have published another commemoration of Brideshead Revisited’s 75th anniversary. This is by Russell Shaw who concludes that there are two reasons for the book’s continuing popularity:

One is its nostalgia for happier times, especially strong in the story’s first section, which paints an idealized picture of undergraduate life at Oxford in the early ’20s. Several of the themes and characters introduced here take on darker hues as the story progresses, but the early days, as Waugh depicts them, are cloudless and golden. Although precious few people attended Oxford in the 1920s or any other time, Waugh’s idyllic version offers readers who ever went to any school any place a vicarious experience of carefree youth as they’d have liked it to be.

The second source of the book’s enduring popularity is, I think, its triumphalistic treatment of Catholicism. Waugh, a convert, makes being Catholic sound not just interesting but fashionable, delivering the message that the cleverest, most attractive and ultimately most serious people are Catholics. It’s all summed up in the book’s great deathbed scene in which even the agnostic Charles Ryder, the story’s narrator, falls to his knees to pray for a sign of final repentance by the imperious, adulterous lapsed Catholic Lord Marchmain.

A full copy can be viewed at this link and in several other papers.

Country Life takes another look at the writings of Gilbert White, most well known for his writing about nature. In the assessment by Toby Keel of why White’s writings (especially The Natural History & Antiquities of Selborne) have survived, he makes a reference to Waugh’s own nature writings and asks:

…why has The Natural History proved so damnably readable across the churn and change of the centuries? Well, because it is English Literature, capital L, to rank alongside Austen, the King James Bible, Chaucer and Orwell. Literariness in Nature writing is a dangerous thing, too often rotting purple, the stuff so deliciously burlesqued by Evelyn Waugh in Scoop. ‘Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole,’ penned poor Boot. White, very much a practising naturalist, always keeps the quill in check. His are the words that are poetic, but precise. He is the lovable, learned friend by one’s side, his only wish to show you his parish’s splendours.

–A weblog devoted to the life and work of actor Errol Flynn has posted an article about his connections to Waugh’s novel The Loved One. The article is headed by a large photo of Flynn lying in bed and reading a copy of the Penguin edition of the book. It also mentions that Flynn was buried at Forest Lawn (the model for Whispering Glades) against his wishes. After a summary of the plot and a mention of the 1960s film, there is a link to the song Forest Lawn written and performed by Tom Paxton. This is worth a listen. Here’s one of the verses:

To find a simple resting place is my desire.
To lay me down with a smiling face comes a little bit higher.
My likeness done in brass, will stand in plastic grass,
And weights and hidden springs tip it’s hat to the mourners filing past.

The song was probably written about 1970 when both Paxton and John Denver recorded versions of it. The lyrics are available here.

–Finally, this week’s Observer carries a story by Nick Hillman about the upheaval in British university admissions caused by the disruption of the examination process in the coronavirus quarantine and the government’s inconsistent interventions:

In moments of doubt, new students should recall that higher education generally works out, with graduates tending to earn more and live longer. But the journey is not always smooth, so institutions are putting in place more online and face-to-face support for those who need extra help or have second thoughts – and accessing this should be recognised as the act of bravery it is, rather than evidence of being a snowflake.

Before anyone does drop out, they should remember that, even if their initial year of university life is disrupted, it is the least important one, academically and socially. As Evelyn Waugh put in Brideshead Revisited, you may even “find you spend half your second year shaking off the undesirable friends you made in your first”.

The full article is posted on The Guardian’s website.

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