Muggeridge Anniversary

The National Review has posted both print and audio versions of an article in which M D Aeschliman notes the upcoming 30th anniversary of Malcolm Muggeridge’s death. It opens with this:

Malcolm Muggeridge died 30 years ago and had so variegated a career that it is hard to bring into focus and evaluate—acidulous literary wit; journalistic, satirical, and historical writer; influential broadcaster and interviewer; world traveler; editor, memoirist, and the most influential lay Christian apologist since the death of C. S. Lewis in 1963. But his extraordinary life and achievement can best be understood in light of two themes or dimensions. The first was unusual in his time but has subsequently become a common feature of contemporary life: mobility. The second remains painfully problematic: the quest for an authoritative morality in a radically pluralistic, relativistic era.

The article then explores Muggeridge’s “mobility” in the 1930-40s through teaching in England and India, journalism highlighted by a trip to the Soviet Union at the height of the purges, intelligence work in WWII which brought him into contact with Graham Greene and the Cambridge spies. He also wrote several books, some of which attracted notable attention. These included:

a study of Samuel Butler (1936), writing for a magazine edited by Graham Greene, and writing an existential novel, In a Valley of This Restless Mind (1938; highly praised by Evelyn Waugh in The Spectator), and a satirical-documentary history, The Thirties (1940), that was reviewed and praised by George Orwell, who became a good friend for the remainder of his life.

He kept moving after the war as well and expanded into broadcasting, finally gravitating toward “authoritative morality” when he converted to the Roman Catholic church. The article briefly mentions his interface with Evelyn Waugh:

Yet the existential quest for a transcendent morality that would order and evaluate these developments had become increasingly agonizing. Evelyn Waugh had said in 1938 of Muggeridge’s novel In a Valley of This Restless Mind that “its range includes satirical reportage and something very near prophecy.” Many years later the Oxford historian A. J. P. Taylor said that Muggeridge’s novel Winter in Moscow was the best English-language book ever written on Soviet Russia, an evaluation reaffirmed more recently by the historian Norman Stone. In 1940, George Orwell praised Muggeridge’s satirical-documentary chronicle The Thirties, and the two men became such close friends that Orwell asked Muggeridge to write his biography. He never did, but he contributed a powerful essay on him, “A Knight of the Woeful Countenance,” to Miriam Gross’s volume The World of George Orwell (1971). He said of Orwell that “he loved the past, hated the present, and dreaded the future.”

These references leave the impression that Waugh was one of Muggeridge’s admirers. Quite the reverse, it turns out.  Waugh did admire his early novel and his review of that is included in Essays, Articles and Reviews (p. 232). But Waugh was less kind to a post-war novel.  This was Affairs of the Heart reviewed in The Tablet, 4 February 1950 (not reprinted). Muggeridge in his autobiography says that Waugh “spoke of the promise of ‘serious interests’ which had not been fulfilled.” The Infernal Grove (1974), p. 202.

Indeed, Waugh had come to so dislike Muggeridge (perhaps because of his notoriety as an opinionated broadcaster and journalist), that he publicly snubbed him at a Foyle’s 1957 book launch luncheon for The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. Muggeridge was scheduled to say a few supportive words and describes the results in his autobiography. He had intended to offer an:

…homage to a writer and a book I greatly admired [but this] turned into a meandering, facetious discourse while Waugh himself engaged in a pantomime act with an ear-trumpet he then affected.

Waugh was widely reported in the press to have removed the ear-trumpet when Muggeridge rose to speak, noisily place it on the table in front of him and then stare blankly into space as Muggeridge spoke. Waugh did not live to witness Muggeridge’s conversion to Roman Catholicism, which took place in 1982. Whether that would have made any difference is hard to say. Muggeridge died on 14 November 1990.





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