Roundup: Protests and Summer

–The “Rhodes Must Fall” debate has been revived in Oxford in the context of the Black Lives Matter protests. See previous post. In the Daily Mail, a comment on the matter by Evelyn Waugh is brought to bear:

Oxford will have an easier time finding that coronavirus vaccine than solving this conundrum. So much easier, of course, to fixate on a statue. Cecil Rhodes never saw this stone effigy of himself. It was put up several years after his death by a college thrilled to receive £100,000 of his fortune upon his death in 1902. It’s not a terribly good statue. Rhodes looks like a bank manager on his second-storey alcove, lording it over the two mere King-Emperors standing below – Edward VII and George V.

They all stand on the North Wall of the Rhodes Building, a mock-Jacobean complex built between 1909 and 1911. The ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ lot were by no means the first to seek the dismantling of this unashamedly imperialist façade. Back in 1930, one of Oxford’s most famous literary sons, Evelyn Waugh, wrote: ‘A very small amount of dynamite should be enough to rid us forever of the High Street front of Oriel.’

The quote comes from a satirical comment of Waugh relating to a proposal for preserving Oxford’s “Amenities”. He had jokingly suggested that “judicious destruction” would be preferable to wholesale preservation as a means of improving Oxford. In this regard he by no means singled out the High Street front of Oriel for destruction but included such other sites as “the clock tower at Carfax, the Town Hall […] the Holywell Front of New College and the whole of Hertford.” He also proposed to eliminate through traffic by destroying Folly and Magdalen Bridges but included this reservation: “Magdalen Bridge is a pretty structure and its total destruction is unnecessary; one arch would be enough.” (Letters, p. 49)

–In the Wall Street Journal,  Terry Teachout recommends series novels as an ideal selection for reading in today’s circumstances. The article is entitled “The Staying Inside Guide: Traveling the World Through a Novel–or 20” He recognizes the contribution of the French roman fleuve as written by Proust and Balzac but also sees an English multi-volume tradition dating back to Trollope’s Barchester and Palisser novels. He singles out three contemporary versions of the genre, starting with Patrick O’Brien’s Master and Commander (this is the 20-volume example referred to in Teachout’s title), continuing with Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time (a favorite of Waugh, as Teachout points out), and ending with Waugh’s own Sword of Honour. He recommends the final version as edited by Waugh and published in 1965. He writes that the books:

…are permeated with [Waugh’s] deep-dyed disillusion—he believed that the England of his idealistic youth had been destroyed by the war. Yet their dark account of the coming of modernity is nonetheless full of characteristically riotous touches of satire

Although Teachout suggests that Waugh’s edits were substantial, they do not materially change the story (except perhaps for the ending). Anyone with access to the three individual volumes should be content with reading them.

–The National Review has posted a brief article addressing the decision of HBO to first drop and then, instead, to attach a disclaimer on streamings of Gone With the Wind. The NR thinks both moves to be wrong

We don’t need a disclaimer on Gone with the Wind any more than we need them Mark Twain’s books or movies based on Kipling’s stories. I run across anti-Semitic stereotypes in literature all the time. I don’t need you to repudiate Shakespeare’s or Dickens’ portrayal of Jews, because I get it. I don’t need you to cancel Roald Dahl or Evelyn Waugheven if they occasionally trafficked in bigotry. They’re both dead. Their work isn’t. They were geniuses. We’re adults.

Prospect magazine has gathered quotes written by writers from George Orwell and Virginia Woolf to Evelyn Waugh and Barabara Pym expressing their reactions to a hot summer such as that which seems to be developing in England this year. Here is Waugh’s contribution:

On 12th July [1955], Evelyn Waugh observes in his diary from Piers Court, Gloucestershire: “High summer continues. I shall not go to London until it breaks. This is a pleasant house in the heat. For the first time since I planted it the honeysuckle outside my bedroom window scents the room at night. I don’t sleep naturally. I have tried everything—exercise, cold baths, fasting, feasting, solitude, society. Always I have to take paraldehyde and sodium amytal. My life is really too empty for a diarist.”

The chemical cocktail he mentions for sleeping in the heat was later to bring on the breakdown he describes in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold.

–RTV Slovenia has posted the transcript of a broadcast review by Misha Gams of the recent translation of Scoop into Slovenian. See previous posts. The 5-minute review began with a fairly detailed and accurate description of Waugh’s plot and several of the characters and concluded with this:

The novel Ekskluziva [Scoop] is marked by ironic monologues and witty dialogues, with which the writer Evelyn Waugh shows the whole emotional range of the journalistic profession, taking on new dimensions in the uncertain war situation. At the same time, he points out how slippery and manipulated the truth can be when it comes to the reckoning of major political forces and the desire to maintain a monopoly in the field of media. Waugh without a hair on his tongue confirms that truth is a construct created as a result of invested financial resources of interest groups who want to present war from the perspective of geostrategic imperialism, not from the perspective of the poorest citizens who pay the highest price in conflict.

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