–As the observance of the 75th anniversary of V-E Day approaches, the Daily Mail has posted in a slide show a collection of 1945 events that seemed to presage a return to a social system where class status was again recognized:
As the whole country celebrated VE Day with joy and relief, the upper classes seemed to carry on as if Hitler had never existed. The lights were now blazing and the curtains left undrawn at London’s Savoy Hotel, while evening dress again became obligatory at its restaurant. Glittering balls were held once more as they always had been at the great stately homes, and before long Princess Elizabeth would marry Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, while a group of eligible aristocrats would form around her vivacious younger sister Margaret. In a world where over £1m could be fluttered on a summer’s day out at the first post-war running of the Derby, all seemed well with the world –bar the prospect of even tighter rationing and a few rats…
Among the stories noted in the article is this one involving Evelyn Waugh whose photo is included in the Mail’s slide show:
Evelyn’s in the waughs: One of the last rocket-bombs to fall on London landed near Marble Arch on 25 March. The blast blew out the window of the Hyde Park Hotel suite occupied by Evelyn Waugh (pictured), recently returned from serving with the British Military Mission in Yugoslavia. At the end of May, his new novel Brideshead Revisited sent ripples of excitement through high society. It is widely believed the story was based on the family of the late Earl Beauchamp and their home Madresfield Court, near Malvern.
Waugh’s book was anything but optimistic about a return to class system as Englishmen knew it between the wars.
–An article by Tom McGrath in the Oxford journal Cherwell relates to nostalgia brought on by the Wuhan coronavirus lockdown and also makes a reference to Waugh’s novel:
Nostalgia is often a dark force in literary works. In Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, Sebastian Flyte is said to be ‘in love with his own childhood’, the personification of nostalgia. This was not meant as a compliment. Sebastian, walking around Oxford clutching his teddy bear, finds himself incapable of living successfully as an adult, years of indulgence turning to substance abuse. Charles Ryder looks back with nostalgia at 1920s England from the ‘40s, and is trapped by longing for the past, until the workings of divine grace help him escape at the end of the book.
—Tatler has put together a list of “High Society” films that you might like to watch during lockdown: “Immerse yourselves in the lives of the super glamorous and super rich, as class, money, reputation and romance all intermingle in these smart, stylish films. It’s what Tatler would watch on a rainy afternoon…” One of these film adaptations is based on a Waugh novel but perhaps not the one you would expect:
A Handful of Dust
Another Evelyn Waugh classic brought to the big screen (he was, after all, the expert on class), the 1988 adaptation of A Handful of Dust stars Kristin Scott Thomas as an unhappily married chatelaine, who embarks on an affair with John Beaver, who unknown to her is using her for her social status. When her husband refuses to divorce her because it means losing his family seat, Beaver leaves her, while her husband goes on a disastrous journey to find a lost city in Brazil. Suffice to say all is not well that ends well in A Handful of Dust, which emphasises how possession really means nothing.
–Duncan McLaren has posted another article about Waugh’s friends gathering at Castle Howard. This involves an imagined discussion between Patrick Balfour and Robert Byron about the books they had written relating to their 1930s travels where their paths crossed in Persia. Patrick’s book was entitled Grand Tour: Diary of an Eastward Journey and Robert’s The Road to Oxiana. While they were making their trips, Waugh had been traveling in the even more remote and uncomfortable country of British Guiana which he was to write about in Ninety Two Days. Here’s an excerpt from Duncan’s article:
…In November of 1932, Evelyn had travelled to British Guiana in South America. Why had he done that? Not in search of an alternative civilisation, as had been the inspiration for Robert Byron’s journey. But on a whim, really. […]
Patrick had learned about this at Chagford, near Exeter, where they often independently went to write their books. Patrick could put what he’d found out about both writers in the following way. Evelyn Waugh, like Robert Byron, found it very hard to travel from place to place in foreign lands. Both individuals were rugged, determined, and pushed themselves through intense privation: hunger, pain and fear. They got themselves into situations – and experienced emotions – that simply demanded to be written up as books…
Those interested in Robert Byron’s book which has become a classic and is still in print will enjoy Duncan’s article about the discussion which puts Patrick’s less ambitious effort into perspective.