Roundup

–The Irish Times has a story about a visit to Birr Castle in Ireland. This is the home of the Earls of Rosse, and the present Lady Rosse conducts the IT ‘s reporter, Rosita Boland, through the house in a televised tour which is attached to the version posted on the internet. There is also a bit of literary history:

We’ve already been into the room which holds the astonishing family archive; a room which has the only complete Jacobean frieze in Ireland. Once a smoking room, it now holds floor-to-ceiling carefully catalogued archive boxes. My gaze randomly lands on a box labelled “Bright Young Things”. This box, it turns out, is full of letters to Lady Rosse’s father-in-law from his contemporaries at Oxford. There’s a large envelope of letters alone from novelist Evelyn Waugh.

The father-in-law would be Michael, Earl of Rosse (1906-79). He was a friend of Waugh’s at Oxford and is mentioned in several of Waugh’s published letters. There are none published from Waugh to him or his wife, and perhaps we can look for the contents of the “large envelope” in the coming volumes of the Complete Works of Waugh.

–Giles Brandreth writing in the Daily Mail describes a trip to America where he stopped at the New York Public Library for a special visit. NYPL are the custodians of the original stuffed animals from the AA Milne family that inspired the characters of Winnie the Pooh and his friends. Brandreth expresses his annoyance that they were never returned to England after a promotional trip to America in the 1940s. He goes on to explain his interest:

Like practically everyone in Britain, I count Winnie as an important part of my childhood.My parents lived in the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, close to the Milne family home, and though I was a generation younger than Christopher Robin, I imagined I might step outside and bump into them all on their way to the Hundred Acre Wood. I had my own bear, named Growler. I loved Rupert Bear (really a boy with a bear’s head). In short, I was a junior arctophile — the scientific name for a devotee of teddy bears.

When I went up to Oxford, I didn’t take Growler with me, but only because I was afraid people would think I was copying Lord Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited (his bear, as every arctophile knows, was called Aloysius). So I was delighted to then discover that adults were allowed to love teddies too.

The revelation came from a conversation with an old actor named Peter Bull (he appeared in The African Queen and Dr. Strangelove), who looked rather like a bear himself and who had a marvellous collection of Steiffs — the Rolls-Royce of teddy bear makers — and other Teds…

He might have mentioned that it was Peter Bull’s bear who starred in the 1981 TV series as Aloysius. I can’t say whether he also featured in the more recent film adaptation.

–Novelist DBC Pierre was recently interviewed by the Guardian. Waugh came up in one of the answers:

What kind of reader were you as a child?
I was lucky enough to have my parents read to me at bedtime every day, which primes the imagination early on. My father was a very positive man – those bedtime books were things like The Little Engine That Could, which was a tool for later survival. As soon as I could read by myself I devoured the standard kids’ adventures until the age of about 11 when, for unknown reasons, and probably to do with the size of the book (I hated when they ended) I bought a massive hardback of Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall. This was pivotal because it was suddenly about real grownup life, in real grownup language, and was unparalleled exotica compared to The Hardy Boys.

–An article in the religious journal First Things reconsiders the life and career of Ronald Knox. This is by Sohrab Achmari, op-ed editor of the New York Post, who relies heavily on the biography of Knox by Evelyn Waugh. Here’s the opening of the article:

To read the biography of Monsignor Ronald Knox is to risk sinking into despair. The great English Catholic convert, biblical translator, and writer lived such an outstanding life that one can’t but feel the utter inadequacy of one’s own next to its record. […]

His only shortcoming, it seems, was his unfortunate physical appearance and the strange vanity associated with it. As Evelyn Waugh tells us in his gorgeous life of Knox, when the would-be churchman first arrived at Oxford he was “a frail, slightly drooping figure with a prominent nose, a heavy underlip which his pipe accentuated, unobtrusive chin, large eyes.” He was eighteen years old. Yet despite these features, Knox harbored a “whimsical hope that he might be thought of as good-looking.”

As I say, it’s hard to read the biography without envy tinging one’s admiration. Hard for me anyways, knowing, at age thirty-five, that I won’t achieve the ten-year-old Knox’s facility with ancient Italian, no matter how much I apply myself to Mr. Gwynne’s instruction books. Like Knox, I’ve staked out strong positions, but have made oodles of enemies in the process. And I fall far short of the man’s well-attested goodness and holiness…

The Scotsman reviews an exhibition in Edinburgh That may be of interest. The title is Mid-Century Modern: Art & Design from Conran to Quant. Other influential artists of the period are also considered:

Alongside the twin giants of Quant and Conran, other great popularisers are introduced. Food writer Elizabeth David published books (beautifully illustrated by the artist John Minton) which challenged British ideas and expectations about food with wisdom from the continent. The writer Evelyn Waugh said she had his vote as the person most responsible for improving British life in the 20th century.

The exhibit is at the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh and tickets are required. Details are available at this link.

–Finally, conservative journalist and editor Roger Kimball posts a commentary article in Epoch Times asserting that even if Joseph Biden wins the November election, he will not be President. He compares his logic to an incident described in an Evelyn Waugh novel:

Perhaps the best way to explain is to recall the fate of Achon, son of Amrath, in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Black Mischief. The aged Achon, Chief of the Chiefs of Sakuyu, Lord of Wanda and Tyrant of the Seas was in fact the legitimate Emperor of the fictional kingdom of Azania. But he had been safely confined to his cave these past fifty years. After various vicissitudes–appalling to contemplate but amusing to read about in a novel–Achon is set free. Alas his captivity has left him bent and senile. He dies upon coronation.

Eight months sequestered in your basement is not quite the same thing as fifty years shackled to a rock in a sunless cave, but you can take my point. Even if Joe Biden were to win, it will not be he who governs as next president of the United States.

UPDATE (7 August 2020): Roger Kimball recycled his allusion to Back Mischief in an article posted by The Spectator. Here’s the revised version with the added material in bold text:

A few days ago, I compared Joe to Achon in Evelyn Waugh’s Black Mischief (a book that probably could not find a publisher today and which, when the woke weenies catch up to it, will doubtless be canceled and then burned). Poor Achon, though the legitimate Emperor of the African backwater of Azania, has been held captive in a sunless cave, shackled by the ankle to a rock for the last 50 years. When he is finally sprung after a coup, he proceeds in an utterly dazed state to his coronation where he promptly expires. As I noted, eight months sequestered in your basement is not quite the same thing as five decades of captivity, but looking at Joe, you really have to wonder.

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