A virtual book launch was convened yesterday for the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh edition of his novel Helena. The executive editors of CWEW both participated, with Barbara Cooke introducing and presiding over the proceedings and Martin Stannard providing an update on the publication progress. In particular, he announced that in addition to the two travels books already set for publication early next year (Tourist in Africa and Ninety-Two Days), several others were nearing completion (not necessarily in this order or in time for publication in 2021): Brideshead Revisited, Robbery Under Law, Short Fiction v.1, Decline and Fall, Edmund Campion, Handful of Dust, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, Essays, Articles and Reviews 1935-1945, and Personal Writings 1922-1929.
Alexander Waugh, the project’s General Editor, spoke about Helena. He noted that he thought the book much under-rated and that it was entitled to more favorable attention than it had received. It was also pointed out that his grandfather spent more time writing this book than any other and thought it his best work. Unlike the other works Waugh thought were masterpieces when published, he never recanted his judgment about Helena’s pre-eminent standing in his oeuvre.
The primary presentation was by Sara Haslam who spoke about her experience in writing and editing the new edition of Helena. She and other participants also addressed matters such as the book’s greater popularity in the USA than in England, which may be down to the fact that there were more Roman Catholic readers in the USA. Sara also discussed with other CWEW editors the connections between Helena and the books they were editing as well as what distinguished Helena from the others. These discussions included Patrick Query (Tourist in Africa), Simon James (Decline and Fall) and Gerard Kilroy (Edmund Campion). Sara concluded with a reminiscence of her opportunity to discuss Waugh’s work with his daughter Harriet and how deeply that had affected her. She also read from the book as did Evelyn Waugh himself, who appeared in an audio recording on the Verve record label.
There were, so far as I was able to determine, approximately 40 participants, including several members of the Evelyn Waugh Society. Among these was our chairman Chip Long who is also editor of the Ronald Knox volume. It made for an interesting and informative 2 hours, The CWEW has posted a recording on the internet for those who missed the live presentation. It is available at this link.
UPDATE (17 November 2020): A link had been provided to the recording of the book launch.