–According to a report in The Times, the Tate Britain is considering the future of Rex Whistler’s well-known mural that decorates the walls of its restaurant:
A mural in Tate Britain’s restaurant depicting two enslaved black children has been described as offensive by its ethics committee, raising doubts that the artwork will be seen by the public again. The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats was painted by Rex Whistler in the 1920s for the restaurant named after him. After the White Pube critics’ group drew attention to the mural this year, and with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Tate said it had been “transparent about the deeply problematic racist imagery in the mural”.
Its ethics committee commissioned a discussion paper by the artist John Akomfrah and academic David Dibosa. In September Dame Moya Greene, the chairwoman, told the Tate board the members were “unequivocal that the imagery of the work is offensive” and the “offence is compounded by the use of the room as a restaurant”. Tate said yesterday that the restaurant and its fine dining counterpart at Tate Modern would remain closed until at least next autumn because of uncertainties over visitor numbers. A spokesman said that it was “taking this time to consult on the future of the room and the mural”.
Surely they aren’t considering closing the painting to public access or eliminating the dining room for which the mural (with its theme of food) was commissioned. The offensive portion is a tiny section of the painting. An explanation in the museum’s catalogues and wall descriptions of why it is now considered potentially offensive should be sufficient. Even that may be overkill by drawing more attention to a small portion of the painting that most museum goers will have overlooked.
–BBC TV presenter Jeremy Paxman has issued a list of “the books that built him” in the Gentleman’s Journal magazine. After listing Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time which he concedes is really 12 books and a bit of a cheat in a relatively short list, he lists 2 (or 4) of Waugh’s novels:
Sword of Honour. Evelyn Waugh’s trilogy is also a cheat, for obvious reasons. I have a special place in my heart for Apthorpe and his ‘thunderbox’, which for some reason reminds me of Boris and his successive failures with Covid.
Scoop. Like all journalists, I adore this book, and I often wonder why the only novel to rival it, Michael Frayn’s Towards the End of The Morning was published over 50 years ago. Something comic has vanished from life in the media.
The Penguin cover selected to illustrate this choice is from their edition of 1965 recension of the the three war novels. Since the text differs slightly from the individual volumes, it could fairly be considered as a single volume. There were reports about a year ago that Paxman was being considered for the post of Principal of Hertford College, Waugh’s alma mater. The position of Principal reportedly went to Tom Fletcher, diplomat and author, who is also an old Hertfordian. As of this week Paxman is still presenting University Challenge on the BBC, one of the few predictably bright spots in the schedule.
—The Guardian last week ran an article about Hollywood script writer and novelist Arthur Calder-Marshall. It relates to a novel Calder-Marshall wrote in the 1930s based on his extensive travels in Latin America. The film rights to this were acquired by Orson Welles who botched the adaptation that was never made. The book was published as:
The Way to Santiago (1941) [and] is a heady hybrid of spy thriller, murder mystery, gun-toting adventure and sleek noir, playing out against the dusty landscapes of South America in the immediate aftermath of the Spanish civil war and the start of the second world war. It follows the hapless agency writer, Englishman Jimmy Lamson, as he attempts to find the murderer of a fellow press man, hoping to find his own journalistic integrity along the way. The novel rattles through a kaleidoscopic array of Latin American vistas – sinister cantinas, crude railside shacks, glitzy palaces and dirt roads – all populated with characters you might find congregating on a Hollywood backlot: sad, red-lipped beauties, itchy-fingered assassins and clipped English gentlemen.
The article was inspired by this week’s release of the Netflix film Mank in which another Welles film project (Citizen Kane) is the main subject and in which Calder-Marshall’s grandson Tom Burke plays the role of Welles. Calder-Marshall also had a Waugh connection:
It was Calder-Marshall who Alec Waugh contacted to keep an eye on his difficult younger brother Evelyn during his visit to Mexico in 1940. It was Calder-Marshall who Julian Maclaren-Ross contacted while looking for work after the war. And it was Calder-Marshall who was sourced by MGM, alongside his glamorous Garboesque wife Ara, to write golden hits for Hollywood greats, until both the monotony of Los Angeles and the war forced the elegant couple to flee the town “where people looked as beautiful as the food but proved as tasteless”.
Evelyn in 1937, before his trip to Mexico, had reviewed two of Calder-Marshall’s books (a nonfiction political study he panned and a short-story collection he praised) in back-to-back issues of Night and Day. He also mentioned briefly encounters with him during the war, but does not seem to have made contact with him in connection with the Mexican trip. Calder-Marshall is not mentioned in the index of Robbery Under Law; Waugh kept no diary during the Mexico trip and wrote no letters home since Laura accompanied him.
–Writing on the literary website The Millions, Matt Seidell composes a list of books of
Autofiction and its attendant criticism [that have] perhaps reached a saturation point, I decided to map out new avenues for autofiction writers to explore and new variants for autofiction critics to classify: a handy manual that doubles as my year in reading.
After discussion of autoerotic, autochthonous and other “auto” novels, Seidell comes to item no 11:
11. Otto Fiction: Ideally this category would include historical novels about Otto von Bismarck’s youthful Prussian romps—maybe he appears in the Flashman series?—but for now I’ll include a long-overdue rereading of Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall, in which the architect Otto Silenus, a ridiculous parody of Walter Gropius, nonetheless enjoys a perspective unavailable to the madcap novel’s other careless characters.
–In a Times op-ed article, Quentin Letts described UK Health Minister Tony Hancock’s announcement of the Covid 19 vaccine approval:
Throughout the purse-lipped illiberalism of this pandemic, Hancock’s soundbites have made many of us want to box our own ears. At this moment of merciful news he was no less annoying. His silhouette tilted to the horizon. He sucked his molars and paused just long enough to suggest a statesman reaching into his gubbins for an extempore pearl. It was, aw-shucks, “a day to remember, frankly, in a year to forget”. That “frankly”: pure Blair.
Readers, your roasted Christmas goose, after prolonged basting in melted butter, will not glisten or swell to the extent that little Hancock did. Brian Blessed, playing Ophelia in a gender-blind Hamlet, could not have wrung greater juice from the moment. We had “fruits of endeavour”, “precious”, “side by side” and “resolve”. Hancock was in colossus mode. He spoke of our “loved ones”, that term Evelyn Waugh thought sufficiently dreadful to take for the title of a satirical novel, yet now all officialdom uses. And there was no end of “rolling out”. Ruddy rolling out. What happened to “dispense”?