Presidents’ Day Roundup

–The New York Public Library is celebrating its 125th anniversary and has used the occasion to ask its staff to choose the best 125 books for adult reading published during its lifetime. One of those selected is Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1945). Other novels from writers of Waugh’s generation include The Great Gatsby, Grapes of Wrath, The Sun Also Rises and The Quiet American.

–Claire Allfree writing in the Daily Telegraph has an article entitled “We may hate snobs–but they make the best novelists”. She starts with E M Forster and works her way down through Nancy Mitford to Waugh and Wilde:

…I find the vicious social comedy of Evelyn Waugh harder to forgive. In Decline and Fall you can see his misanthropic contempt for what he believed to be the spineless decadence among all classes emerging in English culture after the First World War. And yet later he became ambivalent towards the upper class which he was close to but never quite a part of. Often he reserved his sharpest barbs for characters such as A Handful of Dust’s Lady Brenda and Brideshead Revisited’s Lady Marchmain, but he could also be shamelessly nostalgic (particularly in that latter novel) and forgave the aristocracy their faults simply because he thought they were so entertaining…

–In another Daily Telegraph article, Waugh also surfaces in a profile by Eleanor Halls about Tom Stoppard whose latest play Leopoldstadt has opened in the West End. After telling the story of his family’s move from Czechoslovakia via Singapore and India to England to escape the Nazis, it is explained that he skipped university and started as a journalist in Bristol, reviewing plays and writing columns (including one on motoring). But he dropped journalism, wrote a play (A Walk on the Water) and

…it was only a matter of time before Stoppard moved to London to court the bright lights of the West End. If he were to become a proper playwright, he needed to be in the thick of it, and so in 1962, he rented a grubby little flat in Notting Hill to write full-time.

To cover costs, he applied to the just-launched theatre magazine Scene, and was hired on staff. Critically underfunded, the magazine required Stoppard to fill its pages with reviews and columns written under various pseudonyms, to give the illusion of different writers. His favourite nom-de-plume was William Boot, named after the incompetent journalist who accidentally finds himself covering an African civil war in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop…

When the magazine folded he went back to writing plays and has been there ever since.

–In an Op-Ed article for The Times, Philip Collins comments on Boris Johnson’s recent cabinet reshuffle and is reminded of two Randolph Churchills:

…The reshuffle adds to the suspicion that Mr Johnson is a Wizard of Oz figure. There’s nothing there, really, other than the desire to show off. Apart from Iain Macleod, who died in office, Sajid Javid has become the first chancellor not to deliver a budget since Randolph Churchill in 1880. The squalid mess of this reshuffle calls to mind Evelyn Waugh’s line when Randolph Churchill’s grandson, also Randolph, had a benign tumour removed: “They’ve cut out the only part of Randolph that isn’t malignant.”

–Writing in the Irish Times, Donald Clarke has an article entitled “Why are actors quick to blame everyone else for bad films?” The primary example cited is the reaction to the film adaptation of the musical “Cats” by two of its actors. Clarke goes on to note that other artists, including writers and musicians, have also been known to turn on their works but with a bit more circumspection:

…More honourable are belated reappraisals by authors or musicians. Kraftwerk don’t consider their first three albums worthy of inclusion in the canon. “I re-read Brideshead Revisited and was appalled,” Evelyn Waugh said of his most famous novel. Martin Amis gets uppity if anyone mentions his book Invasion of the Space Invaders. Good for them. Nobody else is being blamed.

Yet there is a qualification worth making here too. All such disavowals are made from a position of strength. “I made an error, but I sorted myself out,” they seem to say. Where are the renunciations from those taking responsibility for continuing failure? “I wrote a bad book, nobody liked it and I remain stranded in deserved obscurity,” one might read…

–The book Hat: Origins, Language, Style by Drake Stutesman is reviewed, overall favorably, in the Spectator. The review is by Stephen Bayley who closes with this:

…Stutesman misses my all-time favourite hat anecdote. On his African travels in the 1930s, Evelyn Waugh came across an isolated tribe whose habit was cheerfully to disport themselves naked at all times — except for the discarded homburg hats which they eagerly adopted. They were not using the hat as Stutesman’s ‘extension of the multi-tasking head’, but as a device which changes your status even more than your style.

Nice that a reverence for the decoration of your head unites Park Avenue ladies who lunch and Waugh’s savanna tribesmen who, behatted, dance. Professor Stutesman? A few quibbles, but on the whole: chapeau! Or, in English, I take my hat off to you.

The reference appears in Waugh’s travel book Remote People (1931). It relates to  a tribe near Kisumu in Kenya (pp. 200-01).

–Finally, the Times and Star (Cumbria) newspaper has a profile of Higham Hall near Cockermouth. It traces the building through several private owners (the last of which was the Fisher family) before it came under public ownership in 1947. While it was still owned by the Fishers, Evelyn Waugh was a guest there:

In 1926 Evelyn Waugh spent two nights at Higham while travelling to Scotland and wrote in his diary of a house “with turrets and castellations and a perfectly lovely view across the lake to a mountain called Skiddaw” and of going on an otter hunt – “a most indisciplined affair”.

Waugh stopped there in the course of a motor trip to Scotland with Alastair Graham and his mother. The Grahams apparently stayed behind in Carlisle with relatives while Waugh visited the Fisher family at Higham (Diaries, 257-58).


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