There have been several lists of recommended books or TV adaptations published in the last week as the Wuhan coronavirus lockdown continues. A number of these have included works by Evelyn Waugh:
–The Daily Telegraph published two “Top 100” lists early in the week. The first was a list of British TV programs compiled by its identified staff writers. This included Brideshead Revisited in its 1981 Granada TV adaptation:
This sumptuous adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel was obsessively faithful to its source material and it showed. Leisurely and literary, this examination of the aristocratic Marchmain family seen through the eyes of Charles Ryder (Jeremy Irons, pictured right, with co-star Anthony Andrews) remains the benchmark for costume dramas.
A few days later, a list of the Top 100 novels appeared. It was described as extending “from Tolkien to Proust”. This was compiled by unidentified DT reporters and included translations as well as English language works. At #18 on the list is:
Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938). Waugh based the hapless junior reporter hero of this journalistic farce on former Telegraph editor Bill Deedes.
–Perhaps the most ambitious of the postings (more a catalogue than a list) is that in Sight & Sound magazine prepared by its contributors and entitled “Flick lit! 100 great novels about cinema”. The selection of Waugh’s contribution is no surprise:
50. The Loved One. Evelyn Waugh, 1948
Fitfully a film fan – his diaries of the 1920s are flecked with references to silent comedies by Harold Lloyd and the like – Evelyn Waugh first travelled to Hollywood in 1947 to work on a screen adaptation of his smash novel Brideshead Revisited for MGM. The movie was never made, but Waugh went home with bile enough to fill this slender, scabrous volume, subtitled “An Anglo-American Tragedy” in what seems a jibe at Henry James. In its pages Dennis Barlow, a minor poet, comes to southern California from England to work for the Megalopolitan film studio, only to find himself in the employ of a posh pet cemetery, the Happier Hunting Ground, and drawn in by the idiot allure of Aimée Thanatogenos, cosmetician for the dead at Whispering Glades, a spoof of state-of-the-art Forest Lawn cemetery. A biting burlesque of the death industry in the capital of screen immortality as later exposed in The American Way of Death, a muckraking nonfiction work by Jessica Mitford, who Waugh had known as a little girl in his Bright Young Things days. Tony Richardson drew on both Waugh and Mitford’s works for his film of The Loved One, released in 1965, and excoriated in a series of transatlantic cablegrams by Waugh, who after a sudden heart attack went to his own reward the following year, administered conditional absolution by the attending priest, though denied the much-desired active participation in last rites.
— Nick Pinkerton
The article is posted on BFI’s website.
—Harper’s Bazaar devoted its #BazaarBookClub column to “the classic novels you now have a chance to read”. At the #3 slot was:
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
All of Evelyn Waugh’s novels are brilliant – and devastating – but a good place to start is his most famous, Brideshead Revisited. Charles Ryder recalls his relationship with the charismatic aristocrat Sebastian Flyte and his troubled family. The two meet at Oxford after a drunken Flyte is sick through the window into Ryder’s ground-floor room; as an apology Flyte fills Ryder’s room with flowers and invites him to a breakfast of quail’s eggs. This gilded opening, already tinged with longing and regret, is increasingly overshadowed by family secrets, damaged lives and broken relationships: it is at once elegiac and richly funny.
Harper’s Bazaar was an early venue for Waugh’s writings, most notably for the serial version of his 1934 novel A Handful of Dust. This version was shortened to exclude the ending based on “The Man Who Liked Dickens” due to copyright issues and was retitled in the magazine “A Flat in London”. The serial appeared in both the New York and London editions of the magazine.
–The New York Public Library has published a list of recommended reading by satirist and comedian Andy Borowitz. His list is entitled “Six Comic Novels To Lift Your Spirits” and the first book mentioned is:
Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
An exuberant comedy of mistaken identity and brilliantly irreverent satire of the hectic pursuit of hot news.
— Forbes magazine in a book review that recommends the recent republication of what it considers a sensible guide to drinking habits is reminded of an earlier satirization by Waugh of more pretentious examples of the genre:
Waugh, in fact, sent up such drivel long ago when he had his effete characters in Brideshead Revisited describe wine thus:
‘…It is a little, shy wine like a gazelle.’
‘Like a leprechaun.’
‘Dappled, in a tapestry meadow.’
‘Like a flute by still water.’
‘…And this is a wise old wine.”A prophet in a cave.’
‘…And this is a necklace of pearls on a white neck.’
‘Like a swan.’
‘Like the last unicorn.’
So it is always good to find a new book on the shelves that regards wine with both pleasure and common sense, including a good deal about manners and drunkenness. How to Drink: A Classical Guide to the Art of Drinking (Princeton U. Press; $16.95) was written by a garrulous fellow named Vincent Obsopoeus, who did so in reaction to the barbarous drunken behavior demonstrated by the Germans of his day, who were consuming 120 liters of wine per person per year. His day was the 16th century. [See previous post.]
–Finally, Quadrant magazine, the Australian literature journal, has posted an obituary of Alexander Thynn, the 7th Marquess of Bath. They may be the only mainstream paper to cite Waugh’s mention of his chance meeting of Alexander as a young man. See previous post. Quadrant’s article, written by Waugh admirer Mark McGinness also cites an interesting anecdote about a visit by James Lees-Milne to the 5th Marquess regarding a possible National Trust takeover of the Longleat Estate. The visit did not go well for the NT as Lees-Milne recounts in his diaries, as quoted in the Quadrant:
“Old Lord Bath, the most distinguished and courteous of patricians, received me a in a frockcoat. At the conclusion of a fruitless interview he rang the bell and ordered that my motor-car be brought round. He insisted on accompanying me to the front door. The steps to the drive were flanked on either side by a row of footmen in livery. In place of my uniformed chauffeur an extra footman wheeled my bicycle to the front of the steps. I shook my host’s hand, descended the perron and mounted. At the end of a straight stretch of drive ….. I looked back for a last view of the glorious façade. Lord Bath, attended by a posse of open-mouthed and doubtless disdainful servitors, was in the old world manner of true hospitality still standing at the top of the steps until his guest was out of sight.”