Pre-Valentine Roundup

–Duncan McLaren has added a new Waugh chum in his descriptions of “visitors” to the Castle Howard Brideshead Festival. This is Patrick Balfour who was a friend of Waugh from his Oxford days. They remained friends until Waugh’s death. Balfour contributed heavily to the character of Ian Kilbannock in Sword of Honour as well as to some characters in earlier works. In Duncan’s posting he is staying in a visitor cottage on or near the Castle Howard grounds and musing over his long friendship with Waugh. Here’s Patrick’s first thought about what he is about to describe as he reviews his friendship:

I couldn’t believe that no-one had written about it before. The striking similarities between Evelyn Waugh’s life and my own. We met at Oxford, worked side by side at Chagford, partied with the Lygon girls at Madresfield, paired up in Abyssinia as reporters, married in the same year. We each had a good war, in our own way, and then spent our post-war years writing the books we wanted to write. How about that? And there’s more.

As usual, the posting is illustrated with photos of Patrick (many of a very high quality and not seen before), as well as his works (some of which aren’t so easy to find). In addition there are more familiar photos where he is shown with Waugh.

–The Daily Telegraph reports on the upcoming election in Guyana where the winner will preside overs the distribution of the considerable new wealth that will soon be flowing from offshore oil development. The balance of power between evenly divided immigrant ethnic parties is held by indigenous groups living in the south of the country:

The area is separated from the coastal capital, Georgetown, by 500 kilometres of pristine rainforest populated by giant anteaters, 40-stone anacondas and monkey-eating harpy eagles. The region is famously remote. When a bruised and penitent Evelyn Waugh visited in 1932 while escaping a collapsing marriage, he used the savannah and region and surrounding jungles as the setting for the nightmarish ending of A Handful of Dust. In his notes he described the local parish of St Ignatius “as lonely an outpost of religion as you could find anywhere.”

–The Oxford Mail has a review by columnist Chris Gray of a new memoir of Oxford:

…Tim Holman’s memoir of student life, An Oxford Diary – Three Surprising Years at Trinity College 1977-1980 (Janus Publishing, £13.95). Hailing it “a minor masterpiece” – correctly, as I discovered – the [Oldie] magazine’s diarist, The Old ‘Un, clearly enjoyed the convincing ordinariness of the chronicle.

More Adrian Mole Goes to Oxford, it was said, than the high-society antics of Brideshead Revisited, (which was being filmed for television elsewhere in Oxford – with me reporting from the set – during Tim’s student days). Indeed so, with the charm of the book best revealed in quotation from it.

Gray and Holman were contemporaries at Oxford and several of their joint activities are described, including this:

In “a posh restaurant overlooking High Street” – I guess it was probably Burlington Bertie’s – he joined Cherwell colleagues for a ‘works do’ on March 10, 1978. “Apart from magnificent food, the waiters kept coming round and filling up our glasses with wine and by 10 when we left we were pretty pissed. Then we split into various pub-crawling groups . . . Finally eased myself into bed . . . totally smashed out of my skull.” The tone is reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh’s diary entries on nights out in Oxford. Like Tim, he sometimes boozed in The Nag’s Head, in Hythe Bridge Street […]

–Richard Ingrams writing in Catholic Herald sets out the importance of learning Latin (or not, as the case may be). After a description of his own education in the subject (for which he expresses gratitude to his father) he mentions this:

My father had been taught classics at Shrewsbury by Fr Ronald Knox, a distinguished classical scholar and at the time an Anglican priest who had, according to his biographer Evelyn Waugh, “no specialised knowledge of anthropology, astronomy, biology, chemistry and physiology, history, physics and chemistry or psychology”. But in Waugh’s view this did not render him incapable of writing on such subjects, rather furnishing proof of “the old claim that a mind properly schooled in Literae Humaniores [Classics] can turn itself effectively to any subject connected with man”.

Written in 1959, Waugh’s conclusion would have been read with approval by the prime minister of the day, Harold Macmillan, another pupil, as it happened, of Ronald Knox, and a former classical scholar at Eton who liked to air his fascination with the war between Athens and Sparta (though even Waugh might later have had to admit that it was of little help to the prime minister when faced with such 20th century events as the Profumo affair).

Some people may like to think that all this is truly ancient history. Yet the extraordinary thing is that, once again, in 2020 we have an Old Etonian classical scholar in Number 10 – Boris Johnson, just as keen as Macmillan to proclaim his love of Homer and his admiration for the heathen Romans. We can only hope that he doesn’t take his lead from Waugh and convince himself that his classical education equips him to understand and pontificate on all sorts of subjects about which he knows as little as I do.

The Spectator has a review of a book by Sophy Roberts entitled The Lost Pianos of Siberia. She hopes that:

… on her journey she will find a decent instrument — or one with a provenance so intriguing that she can overlook the cracked soundboard and mouldy hammers — buy it and bring it back to Odgerel Sampilnorov, a Mongolian pianist whom she has met and who has cast a spell. ‘What if I could track down a Bechstein in a cabin far out in the wilds?’ she writes (though chances are a cat would be living in it). […]

Alas, there are too few marvels, too many monsters for my taste. […] By Roberts’s admission, she doesn’t play the piano. This needn’t be a problem — Evelyn Waugh probably knew little about the politics of Abyssinia before turning up there in 1935 to cover the country’s unexpected war with Italy, producing a gripping if wayward colonialist-meets-native narrative — yet it quickly becomes one. The first decades of the 19th century were vital in the development of the modern pianoforte, as Roberts writes, yet the concert halls throughout Europe in which she places them in these same years were largely not yet built; the explosion in middle-class consumption (and performance) of pianoforte music belonged more readily to the 1840s and later.

Waugh knew more about Abyssinia than the average reporter when he returned there in 1935 after covering the coronation of Haile Selassie in 1930-31 and writing two books about it.

–Critic Terry Teachout  in the Wall Street Journal reviews a play performed by the Hunter College Theater Project. This is called “Mac Beth” and is, according to Teachout:

Freely inspired by by a 2014 crime in which two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls stabbed a companion to death. “Mac Beth” takes place in what looks like the backyard of a condemned house on the wrong side of the tracks. Enter seven giggly, selfie-snapping school girls [… looking like] they’re acting out Macbeth for their own pleasure, and at first they do so withingenuity,  charm and what Evelyn Waugh described in Brideshead Revisited as “a thin bat’s squeak of sexuality.”


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