Reading Dickens in the Jungle, et al.

–An article has been posted on entitled “Reading Dickens in the Jungle: A Handful of Dust and Mr Pip.” This is by Alessandro Vescovi, professor of English at the UniversitĂ  degli Studi di Milano (University of Milan). It previously appeared in Jadavpur University Essays and Studies XXVIII-XXIX: The Dickens World: Post Imperial Readings (2014-15). The opening paragraph serves as an introduction:

Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust (1934) and Lloyd Jones’s Mister Pip (2008), either stylistically or thematically, have nothing in common. Indeed, we can hardly imagine two more antipodean novels: one a modernist satire set in the UK in the 1930s, the other a postcolonial political Bildungsroman set on Bougainville–the largest of the Solomon Islands–in the early 1990s. The former deals with the moral decadence of the Interbellum, the latter denounces the atrocities of postcolonial exploitation. Still these novels are particularly interesting for our discussion in that both stage an actual reading of Dickens that takes place in the jungle. This displacement of the Dickensian text is on the one hand paradoxical, but on the other hand it calls for a reflection on the traditional ways of reading Dickens.

–In the Journal of Modern Literature (v. 43, no. 1, Fall 2019) Ashley Maher who is an assistant professor at Groningen University, describes how John Betjeman used his role at an editor of the Architectural Review to encourage novelists to include descriptions of modern architecture in their work and in turn promoted modernist literature in the pages of the magazine. One example was his review of Waugh’s novel A Handful of Dust:

,,,Betjeman’s “Architecture in Fiction” promoted Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, which features a chromium-loving interior designer: “Architecture has only recently “come in for a mention in modern fiction,” Betjeman contends; while Victorian authors largely ignored architecture, Betjeman identifes “re-birth of architectural consciousness in fiction writers” like Huxley and Waugh, who brought “a real understanding of architectural style” (174). “Decline and Fall put jazz-modern [Art Deco] in its right place” (174), and Betjeman hopes others follow Waugh in condemning “benighted architects” and “the extravagances of jazz-modernistic decoration” (175). Literature itself, for Betjeman, represented an avenue for implicit architectural criticism.

The article also emphasizes how Betjeman encouraged Cyril Connolly to include architectural writing in Horizon magazine. The article is entitled: “’Three-Dimensional’ Modernism’: The Language of Architecture and British Literary Periodicals.”  She might also have cited Waugh’s own contribution to the Architectural Review (June 1930) of his article on Gaudi’s architecture in Barcelona, most of which was also incorporated into the text of his travel book Labels.

–In the journal Texas Studies in Literature and Language (v. 56, no. 1, Spring 2014), Marius Hentea, Professor of English at the University of Gothenburg contributes an article entitled “The End of the Party: The Bright Young People in Vile Bodies, Afternoon Men, and Party Going“. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction (footnotes omitted):

…These novels question the sensationalistic legacy of the Bright Young People, this anecdotal retelling of parties and personalities that the recent work by Frears and Taylor reinforces. Yet critics have read these novels as timeless tracts, disconnected from their subject matter: Michael Gorra states that Vile Bodies presents “mere soulless things” and Martin Stannard calls it “a manifesto of disillusionment”; Neil Brennan sees Afternoon Men’s great theme as “the apparent lack of meaning in life,” and John Russell considers Party Going a “living death.” There is even doubt that they are centered on the Bright Young People, with Humphrey Carpenter arguing that Vile Bodies was interested in them “only as yet another helpless group of people tossed in the modern storm.” Carpenter overlooks the fact that while Waugh was composing it he refused to attend a party thrown by Bryan and Diana Guinness (to whom the novel was eventually dedicated) because he doubted that “there would be anyone who wouldn’t be too much like the characters in my new book.” For most Green critics, the starting assumption is that his fiction is “autonomous, non-representational”; he sought, it is stated, “to create a prose so pure as to be abstracted from history itself.” In the most recent book-length study of Green, for instance, Patrick MacDermott recognizes the “specific [Mayfair] sub-culture” depicted in Party Going but does not explain further.

The latter two articles are available on JSTOR and Project Muse that can be accessed through many public and university libraries.



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