Waugh Things First

The religion and public policy journal First Things has posted two articles with discussions of works written by Evelyn Waugh:

–The first is a review of a novel by Randy Boyagoda entitled Original Prin that has been described as a satirical comedy about a suicide bomber living in Canada. Reviewer Gregory Wolfe in the current print edition of the journal notes this connection to a satirical novel by Waugh:

In [Original Prin’s] opening it’s hard not to hear an echo of Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, the first words of which are: “Was anyone hurt?” Indeed, Waugh is the modern master in whose steps Boyagoda follows. In the typical Waugh satire, you have a passive protagonist—more acted upon than acting—combined with a detached narrative voice that delivers its zingers in absolute deadpan. A classic example would be the passage from Waugh’s Decline and Fall describing a university club: “There is tradition behind the Bollinger; it numbers reigning kings among its past members. At the last dinner, three years ago, a fox had been brought in in a cage and stoned to death with champagne bottles. What an evening that had been!”

Original Prin owes more than a stylistic debt to Waugh, since ­Boyagoda shares his mentor’s Catholic faith and mordant attitude toward contemporary political cant and moral disarray. …

To understand how this all works out, one needs to read the review (or perhaps even better, the novel).

–An article on the First Things website considers the 1947 short story “The Trouble” by J F Powers. This relates to a race riot in the American Midwest and how it affected both white and African-American Roman Catholics. Joshua Hren writes:

…The First Commandment of Fiction has mutated from “write what you know” to “stay in your lane.” But this rule is at odds with the essence of good fiction. […] In his short story “The Trouble,” the American Catholic writer J. F. Powers (1917–1999) doesn’t observe the new First Commandment of Fiction. Rather, he weaves between black and white lanes. By imagining the particularities of a Catholic African-American family, he thereby makes tangible the universality of the faith. […]

Powers was mentored by Waugh in his early years (beginning after “The Trouble” was written), and Hren mentions how Waugh himself wrote about his own impression of the African-American Roman Catholics in his 1949 essay on the Catholic Church in America:

As Powers’s friend Evelyn Waugh wrote, in America black Catholics faced “sharper tests” than their white co-religionists, for the source of their persecution was not only Protestant prejudice but also “fellow-members in the Household of the Faith.” In “The American Epoch in the Catholic Church,” Waugh lauds the African-American faithful whose supernatural knowledge of their creed surpassed that of their hypocritical clergy: “Honour must never be neglected to those thousands of coloured Catholics who so accurately traced their Master’s roads amidst insults and injury.”

Waugh’s essay was published in Life magazine and is reproduced in EAR. The original magazine version is also available to read online. Hren goes on in his article to explain how Powers got into his own “trouble” in working out what happens when the two conflicting races share the same faith in the American Catholic church.

–The Spectator’s Australian edition finds an example of a Waugh character from another of his 1930s novels in today’s news:

…the World Health Organisation […] has played an extraordinary role in attempting to whitewash China’s appalling mismanagement of the [Wuhan virus] outbreak — but its Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, seems to have stepped straight off the pages of Evelyn Waugh’s Black Mischief. Like Seth, ‘Emperor of Azania, Chief of the Chiefs of Sakuyu, Lord of Wanda and Tyrant of the Seas, Bachelor of the Arts of Oxford University,’ Tedros was educated in England and set about modernising Ethiopia after joining the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and becoming health and foreign minister. […] Tedros was enthusiastically backed by China for the top job at WHO. He set the tone for his tenure by making Robert Mugabe a Goodwill Ambassador in recognition of his contribution to Zimbabwe’s healthcare.

–Another character from Black Mischief is mentioned in an article on the tax avoidance consequences of the British policy of what is called “Acceptance in Lieu” (or “AiL”). Under this scheme, death duties may be avoided or mitigated when artwork or property from the deceased’s estate is donated to the state or a qualifying charity. The article posted on the arts website artzy.net uses a Waugh quote to explain a result of this policy:

The English author Evelyn Waugh, in Basil Seal Rides Again, or The Rake’s Regress (1963), colorfully lamented the decline of the great country houses that had fallen into the hands the National Trust, the public body responsible for looking after donated houses: “You know what [the country house is] like as well as I do. Oh the hell of the National Trust…all the rooms still full of oilcloth promenades and rope barriers and Aunt Barbara in the flat over the stables and those ridiculous Sothills in the bachelors’ wing.”

The story details a historical moment when, due to high inheritance duties, many large houses were being donated to the nation to avoid crippling tax bills. Thousands of aristocrats were forced to leave their houses, or reside in closed-off annexes, while their great halls were opened to tourists. This change in circumstances for the upper classes was accelerated by the AiL.

Waugh’s short story, originally published as a limited edition book, is available in his Collected Stories.



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