Waugh’s Journalism

The Literary Review in its latest newsletter has reposted Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s 1984 review of Donat Gallagher’s collection of Waugh’s journalism, Essays, Articles and Reviews. The publication of that collection and Wheatcroft’s review were contemporaneous with Martin Stannard’s Critical Heritage and there was no opportunity to include the review in that volume. This is a pity because the review contains many thoughtful and original insights into Waugh’s career as a journalist as well as praise for Prof Gallagher’s collection, and its republication by LR is a welcome gesture.

Wheatcroft’s review is essentially an essay about Waugh’s journalism that focuses on examples included in Prof Gallagher’s collection to prove Wheatcroft’s points, on most of which he is in agreement with Prof Gallagher. Wheatcroft begins with a fairly wide-ranging consideration of the relative importance of journalism to the Waugh family income. In Waugh’s family it was necessary “to work to keep alive”:

 …After his comical adventures as a private schoolmaster [Waugh] lived all his life by his pen. He enjoyed precocious success with his first novel Decline and Fall (‘welcomed and over-rewarded early’ was Mr Pinfold) but although his five pre-war novels were admired and widely read they did not keep him in the style to which he was becoming accustomed, and they were inadequate to support a large family living in a large house. In 1945 he hit the jackpot with Brideshead Revisited. His subsequent books were what’s called well received (not highly praised enough in the case of the war trilogy, the greatest English fiction of the last generation) but they were surprisingly, as Mr Gallagher tells us in one of his linking introductions, a declining asset.

Meanwhile Waugh’s life had become still more expensive. There is a hair-raising passage in the Diaries which suggests that he was spending £18,000 a year in the mid-Fifties. Maybe that was in an aberrant year but it represents – what? – the best part of £200,000 in today’s money. That is the economic background to this fascinating and desirable book. For much of his life Waugh was continually looking for journalistic work to supplement his income. Mr Gallagher mentions fees paid, but could have given more detail still: money is the neglected but ever-interesting side of any writer’s life.

In the 1930s Waugh might expect to receive £20 or 30 guineas for a 2000-word piece in a glossy magazine, as they then weren’t called, which was handsome pay. On the other hand, reviewing books for the Spectator or the Tablet can scarcely have paid many bills. After the success of Brideshead he could command any sum he liked from American magazines but by a bitter irony penal taxation then made it barely worth his while. He was eager only for pieces which allowed him the luxury – privilege indeed under the Attlee Terror – of foreign travel. […]

After a discussion of the range of topics covered by Waugh’s journalism and Prof Gallagher’s success in producing relevant examples, Wheatcroft comes to this interesting insight on Waugh’s views of the Irish among the Roman Catholic clergy:

Perceptively also, [Prof Gallagher] points out that in certain telling respects Waugh was as much a ‘liberal’ as a ‘conservative’ Catholic. To be sure, he had no exaggerated personal respect for the clergy, as opposed to reverence for their sacred office. Part of that may be put down to – let’s call it ethnic disdain. It is possible to acquit Waugh, without excessive casuistry, of most of the usual charges of racial prejudice. But not of another. There is a bravura passage in his long essay ’The American Epoch in the Catholic Church’. […]

Instead of finding their destiny as the Catholic kingdom of the British Isles the Irish have crossed the Atlantic “where they have settled in their millions bringing with them all their grudges and the melancholy of the bogs … They have learnt some of the superficial habits of ‘good citizenship’ but at heart remain the same adroit and joyless race that broke the heart of all who ever tried to help them … It is one of the functions of an upper class to see that the clergy do not get above themselves … one can understand why there is a distinct whiff of anti-clericalism where Irish priests are in power … they have lost their peasant simplicity without acquiring a modest carriage of their modest learning.

The last sentences were altered in the originally published form and here seen as Waugh first wrote them; it would be interesting to see this book reviewed in the Irish Press or the Maynooth Review….

In this instance Wheatcroft brings to light an example of Prof Gallagher’s scholarship. Where two published versions of an article exist, he compares the two and offers comments. In the bolded portion of the quoted text, Waugh’s language was evidently changed by or at the request of the Life magazine editors and carried forward, without apparent intervention by Waugh, in the UK version published in The Tablet. Prof Gallgher cited this in a footnote, and Wheatcroft restores the quoted text to reflect Waugh’s original version. There are other cases in which Waugh did intervene to restore material in a UK version that had been edited or omitted in the US.

Wheatcroft also addresses the issue of there being two versions of Prof Gallagher’s collection and jokingly professes some frustration at having been put to the expense of buying the original and much smaller collection published in 1977 as A Little Order. He claims in his conclusion that having shelled out for the original version “is one reason why I have reviewed this book, but the highest compliment is to say that I should have bought it anyway.”

In this regard, Prof Gallagher once explained to me that he originally hoped to publish a book the size of the final version in an edition uniform with the 1976 publication of Waugh’s Diaries. But Waugh’s reputation was at such a low ebb at the time that the publishers were unwilling to risk it. As I recall, the Diaries, at least in the USA, were fairly quickly remaindered. But with the success enjoyed by the Collected Letters published in 1980, and boosted by the popularity of the 1981 Granada TV series, the question of a larger edition was re-examined, and Prof Gallagher’s original concept was published in 1983 in the format reviewed in the LR. It should perhaps also be noted that the original and smaller collection remains in print in the UK as a Penguin paperback version under the title A Little Order; whereas, the 1983 version Essays, Article and Reviews is out of print.

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