Roundup: Wavian Humour When it is Sorely Needed

–Duncan McLaren has posted a new article in a section of his weblog denominated “Waugh Bites” where one can find miscellaneous articles about various unconnected topics. The new posting is entitled “The Legs Have It”. This posits that two leg injuries–one in his post Oxford years when he fell during an escape from an Oxford hotel to avoid an unwanted engagement and the other in wartime after a parachute jump–contributed to mobility problems experienced later in life. These problems are described in the memoirs of Waugh’s friends Harold Acton and Anthony Powell. Whether or not there is any medical support for Duncan’s supposition, the post makes interesting light reading relating to Waugh personal life spread out from the beginning to the end of his working life.  It also makes the point that had not previously occurred to me that these injuries contributed to the composition of two of Waugh’s works–the first to “The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood” and the second to Brideshead Revisited. Here’s a link. Enjoy.

–Roger Lewis in the Daily Telegraph chooses “10 funny books to keep you laughing through coronavirus quarantine.” Among these is this one:

The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh. Some people are easier to get on with on paper than in the actual flesh, where they’d be brutal and quarrelsome. Such were Nancy and Evelyn, her in Paris, him in the West Country, both of them hating the modern world (Picasso, television, socialism) and united in converting spleen and snobbery into high comic art. Every page contains an outrageous observation: “I went to a circus entirely run by half-witted boys. Such a good idea. They get on far better with the animals than sane people.” “For 150 years or more the only great French men and women have been found in convents.” There is plenty of gossip about Honks, Boots, Baby, Fruity and Boofy, helpfully identified in Charlotte Mosley’s footnotes. Boofy, for example, was the 8th Earl of Arran, who introduced the Sexual Offences Bill and the Badger Protection Bill in the House of Lords. In this book we also discover that, in John Betjeman’s Wantage rectory, “a horse sleeps in the kitchen,” and that when Graham Greene is taken to hospital his ailment may be caused by “five diseases two of which are not immediately fatal, the others are”. Though Waugh “fell into an extremity of rage” most days, he was profoundly moved by his correspondent: “Try not to die. It is the strong ones who go under easiest.”

The Irish Times also has an article recommending funny books to help get through the Coronavirus epidemic. This includes “Evelyn Waugh’s first five novels [which] are Wodehouse with a slice of sarcasm and bitter irony on the side.”

–An earlier issue of the DT had an article by Chris Leadbetter entitled “How to have a holiday in Venice without leaving home”. This recommended various TV and film adaptations to view for this purpose. The list included the Granada series of Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited “which still sparkles in the imagination (almost) four decades after it was first broadcast (in 1981).”

–The novelist Hannah Rothschild whose recent novel The House of Trelawney was was compared in several reviews to Brideshead Revisited (see previous post) was recently interviewed on an Israeli podcast called “Desert Island Books”. The Q&A includes this exchange:

Q. The first book you have selected is Scoop by Evelyn Waugh, written in 1938. Tell us why you selected that book.

A. For many reasons. First, I think it’s one of the funniest books ever written. Basically a man who is a correspondent for a newspaper writing about nature is mistakenly sent to a warzone. He shares the name Boot with their War correspondent. I think Evelyn Waugh is one of our greatest British novelists. He’s funny, he’s acerbic. He turns plots inside out and upside down. If I could write like anyone, I’d want to write like him.

Here’s a transcript from Jewish News.

The Times has a review by Robbie Millen of the book by Robin Muir published in connection with his curatorship of the National Portrait Gallery’s Cecil Beaton exhibit. The review opens with this:

In July 1927 Evelyn Waugh confided to his diary: “I went to another party the other night in Brook Street. I don’t know who the host was. Everyone was dressed up and for the most part looking rather ridiculous. Olivia Plunket Greene had had her hair dyed and curled and was dressed to look like [the leading socialite] Brenda Dean Paul. She seemed so unhappy.”

The host was a Captain Neil McEacharn and the evening that Waugh so ill-enjoyed was an Impersonation Party, or Living Celebrity Party. Everyone was there, darling. […]

It was this party that caused the Daily Express to ask: “Who, then, are the Bright Young Things?” The answer to that question is contained in this upmarket coffee table book, which was published to go alongside a (now mothballed) National Portrait Gallery exhibition. Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things is a collection of the society photographer’s work from the 1920s and 1930s.

It’s a gorgeous affair. There are numerous silvery portraits of Phoebe Waller-Bridge lookalikes, interwar beauties and socialites, all bobs, cheekbones and elbows; the men are prettier and poutier still — they look as if they have escaped from a Marc Almond album cover. […]

Robin Muir, the exhibition’s curator, does a neat job of introducing the rich, famous and posh characters whom the young Beaton photographed, and their world of parties, pageants, charity matinees, evenings of tableaux vivants. Waugh satirised this empty-headed, glitzy scene in his novel, Vile Bodies (1930). I often, though, thought the names he conjured up for that satire were rather silly, the characters too preposterous. This book makes you rethink that, especially because of the preponderance of absurd nicknames — “Eggie”, “Buffles”, “Pempie”, “Dadie”.

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