End-of-the-Month Roundup

–The Daily Telegraph is about to bring back its Way of the World column. This was a home of irreverent political satire from 1955 when it was started by Michael Wharton until 2008 when Craig Brown gave it up. In between those two, the column was written by Auberon Waugh. As explained by the new columnist Michael Deacon, Auberon, at 21, first sought to contribute to Wharton’s columns as an apprentice but was politely rejected:

Thirty years later, however, Waugh finally realised his long-cherished dream. For the final decade of his life, he took over Way of the World – and remade it in his own gaily outrageous image.

He was forever proposing bold new policies to make Britain a happier place: for example, the introduction of “National Smack a Child Week”, and the imposition of a nipple tax on the newspapers of Rupert Murdoch. Meanwhile, he railed against what he saw as the most deplorable developments of the 20th century (hamburgers, rambling, the works of AA Milne) and was every bit as scornful about politicians of the Right as those of the Left (“Anybody who went to public school will have recognised Alan Clark as the sort of Old Boy who returns to his old school in some veteran or vintage car to impress the smaller boys”).

Waugh, in turn, was succeeded by Craig Brown, who wrote Way of the World from 2001 until 2008. After that, however, the column fell into abeyance.

Deacon’s column will appear in the Tuesday and Saturday editions of the DT starting this week.

–Alec Marsh was asked by the Guardian to choose the top 10 novels of the 1930s. This was not an easy task. Here’s the one  by Waugh that he selected:

10. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
No one does satire as seriously as the British, and Waugh is more sincere than most. In Vile Bodies(1930) he eviscerated the aristocratic Bright Young Things generation of socialites of interwar Britain, developing the darker side that he’d already touched on in Decline and Fall and broadening the scope of this attack. Few books of the time say quite so much, quite so enjoyably about a certain slice of life in the 1930s – one which, though it didn’t know it, was coming to an end.

He struggled between that and Scoop. Also on the list are Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night and Graham Greene’s Stamboul Train (also a close call, with Brighton Rock an alternative).

The Economist announces a new development in the life of an ancient publication. This is Debrett’s which

… has just gone digital. This is in many ways disappointing. Debrett’s Peerage & Baronetage, a snob’s guide to Britain’s aristocracy, feels as though it ought to be written on vellum and served by butlers, rather than hosted on internet servers. Austen’s “Persuasion” opens with Sir Walter Elliot thumbing the Baronetage’s much-loved pages. Nancy Mitford mocked its chronicles of “ancestors with P.G. Wodehouse names” and “Walter Scott fates”. In Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited”, when Sebastian Flyte is asked about his family, he says crisply: “There are lots of us. Look them up in Debrett.”

–In the German paper Die Welt, they have published an article in their Literature in One Sentence column. This is based on the passage in Brideshead Revisited near the beginning of Book One, Chapter 4 (Penguin, 77-8): “It was thus I remember Sebastian…”

A scene like Proust’s, box hedges instead of hawthorn, England instead of France. And the whole thing takes place a few decades later, just before the Second World War instead of the First World War. The souls and bodies of the survivors and those born after them are damaged, no longer as innocent as they were in the Belle Epoque, even for the superficial observer. The wheelchair symbolizes injuries here. Sebastian, gentle anarchist, witty master of the arts, beloved friend of the narrator, broke his foot, probably due to some recklessness, while he was roaming the enchanted palace.

It literally stands for the picturesque family home of [the Flytes or Marchmains of Brideshead]. Metaphorically meant, however, is also the youth, the most enchanted palace through which one will ever stroll. Sebastian’s life will lead him steadily downhill. The friendship grows cold because he feels suffocated by his family. He starts to drink. Finally, after a bizarre affair with a depraved Nazi, he ends up as the doorkeeper of a monastery in North Africa…

I’m not sure it is altogether fair to describe Kurt as a “depraved Nazi”. He was certainly not a Nazi when Sebastian met him in North Africa and became one only under some duress when the Germans later had him arrested and sent home from Greece. Sebastian later followed and discovered him “dressed as a stormtrooper in a provincial town.” But according to Waugh, the Nazification was “only skin deep with him. Six years of Sebastian had taught him more than a year of Hitler; eventually he chucked it, admitted he hated Germany, and wanted to get out.” (Penguin, 292). But the Germans wouldn’t wear it and put him into a concentration camp, where he eventually hanged himself.

After some discussion of the depiction in the novel of the Bright Young People of the 1920’s and Waugh’s place in it, the article concludes with this:

But if the generation and society portrait even secretly fails [sogar insgeheim scheitert] (as the author contritely admitted in the foreword to a later, heavily revised edition), it fails in beauty. And his fans love it dearly. A wise person once remarked that we never fall in love with the virtues of another, only with the flaws of another.

The article is by Jan KĂĽveler and is translated by Google with a few edits. It is available in the original German at this link.

–Finally, the TV streaming service BritBox has announced that it will make the 1981 Granada TV production of Brideshead Revisited available in 4K definition. This is intended to mark the 40th anniversary of the original ITV broadcast. The new version will apparently begin streaming next month in North America and Britain. I cannot say from experience what kind of improvement in the picture quality one should expect, but the announcement has been widely distributed and seems to be well received. I assume this will not change the aspect ratio based on the smaller TV screens prevalent in the 1980s, but none of the stories mentions that. See this link.

 

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