End-of-July Roundup

The Economist magazine’s 1843 section has an article by Catherine Nixey entitled: “The death of nostalgia”. It is subtitled: “People used to pine for a simpler life. Now they’ve got it – and it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.” This starts by comparing Virginia Woolf’s diary reciting the hardships of wartime London with today’s difficulties during the quarantine lockdown. Other writings from wartime are also considered, including this one relating to Evelyn Waugh:

In war, as now, we yearned for better times. The second world war spawned a literary genre that Laura Freeman, a critic, has called “hungry novels”, with a “marked stomach sensibility, an obsessive detail of food”. Think of Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited”, a novel of Oxford, champagne and summer picnics with friends in the blue shade of elms. Reading Brideshead now evokes a powerful nostalgia less for the cooking than the closeness. Imagine lolling on a blanket, mere millimetres from a friend, rather than a socially chaste metre or so apart. Consider dipping your hand into a bowl of strawberries with such carelessness, your fingers where another’s fingers had been, liberated from the covid calculus as to whether the red juice might kill the virus or preserve it.

If the second world war spawned the hungry novel, it seems likely that the self-isolation of covid-19 may spawn the lonely one, a spate of books in which face masks are all returned to the operating theatre and characters greet each other not with elbow bumps but eager embraces, shout at football matches, sing in church or swig from the same wine bottle with louche abandon, the now-unthinkable act of putting your lips where someone else’s have been so recently.

–In Tatler magazine, an article by Delilah Khomo describes the conversion of the house of Patrick Leigh Fermor in rural Greece into a hotel. It is being promoted as a former celebrity venue based on the guests entertained there by Leigh Fermor:

A war hero, self-made scholar and the greatest travel writer of his generation, [Leigh Fermor] journeyed on foot to Constantinople, lived and travelled in the Balkans and the Greek Archipelago. There he acquired a deep interest in languages and remote places – tales of which he would regale his favourite pen pal, the Duchess of Devonshire, with. Seduced by Greece’s elemental beauty, after two decades searching for the perfect spot, he found the idyllic coastal town of Kardamy in the Peloponnese. It was here in the olive-tree-studded countryside that Fermor ended up living with his wife Joan in a charming stone house he built himself, where the great and the good of High Society would spend summers, including Nancy Mitford, Freya Stark, Evelyn Waugh and Bruce Chatwin.

The other named and many more post-war literary and cultural celebrities certainly visited Leigh Fermor at his Grecian house. But Evelyn Waugh was surely not among them. They were both close friends of Nancy Mitford, Diana Cooper and Ann Fleming but not so much of each other. Moreover, Leigh Fermor only started building his house in 1965-66 and, while he did entertain several guests before its completion in 1969, Waugh was not in a fit state of health by that time to make a visit to a partially completed structure in a remote Grecian village. His last recorded foreign trip was to Spain with Laura in October 1964. The trip was sponsored by Venture magazine for which he wrote an article appearing in its February 1965 issue: “Evelyn Waugh’s Impressions of Spain”.

–In the religious journal First Things, Professor Hadley Arkes of Amherst College takes issue with Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch’s majority opinion in the recent transgender rights decision. The article concludes with a reference to an Evelyn Waugh novel:

At the end of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, Charles Ryder directs a contingent of World War II soldiers in making use of the vast Brideshead estate and its chapel. There is the majestic house and sumptuous grounds owned by a Catholic family in which he had once been enmeshed. The soldiers, playing soccer, have damaged some of the statuary, and the elegant fountain has become a receptacle for cigarette butts. Ryder’s young aide, the hapless Hooper, finds the spectacle almost unintelligible. “‘It doesn’t seem to make any sense—one family in a place this size. What’s the use of it?’”

“‘Well, I suppose,’” says Ryder, “‘Brigade are finding it useful.’”

The simple Hooper moves to the simplest truth: “‘But that’s not what it was built for, is it?’”

“‘No,’” says Ryder, “‘not what it was built for.’” This political order, shaped by the Founders, was […] surely never meant to house the denial of that nature that distinguishes mothers from fathers, brothers from sisters, and secures the ground of all of the rights that flow from nature. That is not what the Constitution, and this American regime, were made for.

–Blogger Harry Mottram, who publishes/edits/writes the occasional online journal Rapscallion Magazine, recently posted a review of Waugh’s first WWII novel Put Out More Flags. Here’s an excerpt:

For an insight into wartime Britain Put out more Flags by Evelyn Waugh is a good read. Written in 1941 and published a year later it tells the stories of a collection of mainly middle class men and women who are in part idol [sic] in nature, flippant about politics and eventually spurred into action by the war effort. Or at least some of them are. Others seek a life as far away from the front line as possible.[…]

We’ve been reared on years of Home front heroics of Dad’s Army and Land Girls and Mrs Miniver but here are people who don’t fit the usual narrative. Basil Seal writes right wing leaders for the Daily Beast believing Liberia should be annexed lecturing two retired officers on the subject who believe Russia will join Germany in attacking Britain. Such is their wisdom and presumably the thoughts of many at the time who believed Italy and Japan could still become allies. It’s vintage Waugh if a little uneven as the events taking place inevitably affect the novel divided into the four seasons. […]

–Finally, a recent issue of The Spectator carries a story by Richard Bratby entitled “Model villages aren’t just for kids.” He takes as his prime example the model village of Bekonscot. This was originally erected in the 1920s in the Metroland town of Beaconsfield and is now being updated (not for the first time). Among its structures are these:

Bekonscot isn’t immune to progress. For years, it moved with the times — there were office blocks and a mini-Concorde. Then, in the 1990s, it was rebooted back to a semi-rural 1930s. ‘ […T]hey’ve added a New Town: an architectural capriccio on Metroland modernism, featuring skewed but recognisable interpretations of the Hoover Building and Arnos Grove Tube station. A pair of chic socialites stand outside a replica of High and Over, the Corbusier-style mansion in Amersham — for all the world like Evelyn Waugh’s Margot Beste-Chetwynde and Professor Silenus.

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