Evelyn Waugh’s America

There are several articles this week that focus on Waugh’s trips to the USA in the late 1940s:

–The most comprehesive is one by Roman Catholic publisher, educator and author Joshua Hren in the latest issue of the Jesuit journal, America magazine. This is entitled “What Evelyn Waugh saw in America (An Anglo-American romance)”, and in it Hren surveys the major newspaper and magazine articles based on Waugh’s American trips as well as his novella The Loved One. The article opens with this summary of what it will cover:

When Evelyn Waugh first visited the United States in 1947, he anthropomorphized the country as Aimée Thanatogenos, the anti-heroine of his Hollywood novel The Loved One. She is a naïve young beauty who was “dressed and scented in obedience to the advertisements.” A year later, Waugh crossed the Atlantic from England again. Though he remained vexed by the country’s forbidding foreignness, on second glance his ironic distance was lessened. The birthmarks of the United States, he found, were not all blights that demanded excision. Discovering her Catholic side, the smitten Waugh took the country as his loved one.

The article goes on to cite Waugh’s novella and his articles in the Daily Telegraph, Life magazine and The Tablet satirizing the film companies and California burial customs. He returned the next year, but this time he was undertaking an exploration of Roman Catholic America. His two trips in 1948 and 1949 had a dual purpose which Hren does not fully address. They were intended to gather material for a major Life magazine article while also lecturing at Roman Catholic universities. The latter project was suggested to him by the Jesuit president of Loyola College of Maryland, Fr Francis X Talbot after he had organized the award of an honorary degree to Waugh in 1947. Waugh regretted he was unable to come in person to collect the degree due to British travel and currency restrictions, and Fr Talbot suggested a lecture tour of Catholic universities to finance the venture. Waugh then arranged with Life for a major article, and they paid for a preparatory research tour in Nov-Dec 1948, prior to the lectures in Feb-Mar 1949.

Hren conflates the two tours but this is understandable as they took place back-to-back with only a brief interval of less than a month in between. Waugh’s wife accompanied him on the 1949 lecture tour but not the 1948 tour, and it was on the 1948 tour that he stopped to see Thomas Merton in Kentucky, not the lecture tour as Hren has written. The current America article does an excellent job of summarizing Waugh’s published writings about these largely ignored later trips, appearing in Life and The Tablet in slightly different forms in the later months of 1949. His discussions of Waugh’s descriptions of Catholicism in New Orleans and Maryland are of particular interest. These trips are described in greater detail in a three-part article entitled “Something Entirely Unique” appearing in Evelyn Waugh Studies Nos. 43.3, 44.1 and 44.2 (2013-14).

Waugh made one more brief trip to the USA. This was in 1950 in connection with the publication of the Little, Brown edition of his novel Helena. His wife also accompanied him on this trip. Hren closes his article with this:

When Waugh made his final trip to the United States in 1950, he rode the coattails of his diagnoses in Life. Waugh was welcomed, in the words of Pamela Berry, “in a quaint Catholic light” that showed him to be “a noble gentle person who is capable, oh, yes, from time to time of naughty spitefulness, but who is on the whole a saintly, good person, healed and beatified by the Church.”

But Waugh was no saint much of the time. The tormented artist was aware of his hot temper and knew how uncharitable he could be. “How to reconcile this indifference to human beings with the obligation of Charity,” he confided in a friend, “That is my problem.” As George Weigel has noted, in his later years the novelist undertook a purgative “spiritual quest for compassion and contrition. As for many of us, the contrition likely came easier than the compassion.” Selena Hastings says that as a corrective to his misanthropy the Catholic writer “channeled a substantial portion of his income to Catholic charities.”

All of Waugh’s articles quoted in the America article are reproduced in EAR.

–A new biography of Roman Catholic social reformer Dorothy Day is reviewed in the Wall Street Journal. The book is by John Loughery and Blythe Randolph and is entitled Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century. The Journal’s review by Michael O’Donnell is subtitled “Saint, Sinner, Troublemaker”. Day was a difficult person. O’Donnell illustrates this point with the same quote from Waugh as was cited in Joshua Hren’s contemporaneous article in America magazine: Evelyn Waugh, when he visited her New York soup kitchen during his 1948 trip to New York City described her as “an ascetic who wants us all to be poor.”  The book’s authors put it differently: “there is enough in the record of her dramatic life to alienate anyone.”  The review concludes with a description of her by a Chicago contemporary. “The definition of a martyr, he joked, was some one who had to live with a saint.”

–In his latest diary column in The Times, Patrick Kidd also alludes to Waugh’s 1947 trip to America:

Hollywood lesson
Prince Harry is said by his friend Jane Goodall to find his life in Los Angeles “a bit challenging”. The Hollywood mix of ego and informality can be hard for a royal raised on protocol. Harry should take advice from Evelyn Waugh, who had a similar problem in the 1940s and found it best to let the vacuousness wash over him. “They don’t expect you to listen,” Waugh wrote. “It’s the secret of social success. They talk entirely for their own pleasure.”

The quote comes from the opening pages of The Loved One.

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