–Peter Quennell may be having a revival. Duncan McLaren (see previous post) has now been joined by A N Wilson in recounting his career. Wilson in a memoir posted by The Oldie discusses several first hand meetings he had with Quennell over the years as well as some anecdotes he picked up from other sources. The fraught relationship between Quennell and Waugh is one of the subjects he writes about:
Evelyn Waugh hated PQ so much that he once came up to him in White’s and jumped up and down on his feet, the sort of bullying you would expect in a school playground, not at the hands of a distinguished novelist in his fifties in a gentleman’s club. The hatred went back to their young manhood when Q had reviewed Waugh’s first book, a biography of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Q, who had been at Oxford with Waugh, pretended that “Evelyn” was a woman and referred throughout his review to “Miss Waugh”.
Waugh in his journals or letters, I have not found the reference, made the fair point that Fuddy Duddy Fishface, as he called Quennell, was a better writer, technically, than anyone in his generation, but that he had nothing to write about. Although his books are mellifluous and beautifully crafted – volumes on Baudelaire, Byron, Ruskin etc., you never feel he was writing from compulsion. I wonder whether something got sealed off in his youth.
It was not Quennell’s reference to him as a woman that ruffled Waugh. That error was committed by the TLS reviewer (Letters, p. 28). It was rather Quennell’s negative tone from some one he knew personally that offended Waugh and sparked an exchange of letters.
–The trade press of the publishing industry contains another round of stories about the new owners of Waugh’s literary estate (and also includes some clarification of the extent of their ownership interest as it applies to Waugh’s works). Here’s an excerpt from The Hollywood Reporter:
International Literary Properties, the newly former London- and New York-based company that earlier this month acquired the estates of 12 late authors, has signed a first-look deal with BBC Studios, marking its first major production partnership. Under the deal, announced Tuesday, BBC Studios Production, the production arm of BBC Studios, and its portfolio of independent producers can explore the intellectual property owned and managed by ILP. Set up last year, the company currently holds the rights for authors including Georges Simenon, Eric Ambler, Margery Allingham, Edmund Crispin, Dennis Wheatley, Robert Bolt, Richard Hull, George Bellairs, Nicolas Freeling, John Creasey and Michael Innes as well as 20 percent of Evelyn Waugh’s estate.
Twenty percent is not exactly a controlling interest as was was wrongly suggested in the first round of stories about ILP’s acquisition. Just how they will work with the other owners has yet to be explained.
–Alexander Larman writing in The Critic joins several others in celebrating the 75th anniversary of Brideshead Revisited’s publication. After a discussion of the context in which it was written, its mixed initial reception, and its popularization by the 1981 TV serial, Larman concludes:
I read Brideshead Revisited for the first time when I was about 11, a decade or so after the TV series had appeared. I still remember the circumstances in which I encountered it, lying on my bed one summer afternoon. I didn’t understand everything in it, either the language or the situations described, but it made me feel transported, as if I had travelled to a new world that I had previously only dimly perceived the existence of. Like Charles, I thrilled to the description of prelapsarian Oxford; delighted in the straight-faced tomfoolery of Mr Ryder; enjoyed the farce of the worst tutor in literature, Mr Samgrass; and, above all, revelled in the vividly evoked sense of another, richer world. While my peers lost themselves in science fiction and fantasy novels, I, precocious little prig that I was, took my escapism from Evelyn Waugh. […]
Yet three-quarters of a century on, and nearly four decades after Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons made standing around in central Oxford looking wistful with a teddy bear the height of chic, Brideshead Revisited remains one of those quintessentially iconic stories that encapsulates not just aristocratic privilege, but our communal yearning for something glorious yet unattainable. Not for nothing is one of the sections of the book called ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’, nor is there much more Proustian in English literature than Charles’s comment, revisiting Brideshead during WWII, that ‘I had been there before; I knew all about it’. As tourists flock to Christ Church to take photos of the fountain of Mercury in which Anthony Blanche was dunked, and the book continues to sell in its thousands every year, it remains the classic that Waugh hoped it would be, and, in its combination of glacial beauty and lovelorn desperation, speaks to all readers, be they precocious 11-year olds or their older and hopefully wiser selves.
Larman also mentions an artist named Felix Kelly (1914-94) as one of Waugh’s possible inspirations for the character of Charles Ryder. Others have frequently mentioned Rex Whistler in this connection, but this is the first I have seen a reference to this artist. Some additional explanation might have been helpful. For example, according to his Wikipedia entry, Kelly painted, inter alia, many country houses and enjoyed staying in them.
–After his financial success with Brideshead, Waugh considered moving to a home located where less ruinous taxes applied. One of these was Gormanston Castle in Ireland. The Independent newspaper has published a story about the recent development of that property and mentions in passing Waugh’s experience:
After the passing of a series of land acts, the Prestons [then owners] were forced to divide up the estate and sign over land to tenants. By the time Ireland had gained independence, the estate was in a perilous financial state. The writer Evelyn Waugh, author of Brideshead Revisited, had planned to buy Gormanston Castle, but was deterred when he learned of Billy Butlin’s plans to build a holiday resort at the nearby beach at Mosney.
Instead, the Prestons sold the castle and the remaining estate in 1947 to the Franciscan order, which set up an all-boys’ boarding school called Gormanston College in the grounds. The alumni of the college include actor Colin Farrell and former ministers Charlie McCreevy and James Reilly.
In Stamullen, just across the M1 from Gormanston College and its nearby beach, Glenveagh Properties is building a scheme called Silver Banks on land that likely once belonged to the Gormanston estate.
The development of 202 homes near the Co Dublin border is sandwiched between mature housing and St Patrick’s GAA’s playing grounds. The scheme will appeal to families commuting to Dublin or Drogheda by motorway or train and who want to be close to the beach.
Waugh would no doubt have been equally appalled by the middle class housing estate as he was by the prospect of being a neighbor to Butlins. Indeed, it was the postwar encroachment of suburban housing in Dursley as well as UK taxes that had prompted his decision to make an exit from Gloucestershire.
–Finally, the TLS has a review of a collection of obituaries (or brief lives) by Nicholas Barker. The collection is entitled At First, All Went Well…. Although apparently not a subject of one of the essays, Waugh gets a mention:
At First All Went Well… pulls together half a century’s worth of Barker’s pieces, some from the Independent, most from The Book Collector. Taken together, these pieces represent more than simply an anthology of individual lives. Barker paints a picture, an accidental sociology, of the book world in the twentieth century, its dealers and collectors, publishers, printers and scholars. The early obituaries – representing lives that ended in the 1960s and 70s – have the effect of telescoping time, pitching us, at one degree of separation, among the Edwardians and the Bright Young Things of the interwar years. When the bibliographer Graham Pollard was still young enough to travel around Putney by pram, he encountered the aged Swinburne, who poked at him with a stick. (The following day Pollard asked his nanny if they might take a different route on their perambulations.) It was Pollard too who introduced corduroy trousers to the Oxford fast set and defeated Evelyn Waugh in the university’s 10-foot spitting contest.