–Giles Coren writing in The Times surveys the plight of the male novelist in today’s literary market. After describing the difficulties of getting published in a world where publishers and readers are mostly women as well as the lack of sufficient remuneration and recognition, he concludes with this:
Nor is the hope of remembrance after death any sort of enticement to write. Look at Dickens: wife-abuser. Defoe: racist apologist for colonialism. HG Wells: eugenicist. Evelyn Waugh: antisemite. Orwell: Old Etonian poverty tourist. Finished, the lot of them. And if there’s no money in novel writing any more, no power, no respect, no sex and no immortality, well then I say we leave it to the ladies. As long as we’ve got our HGV licences and our jazz mags, we’ll be fine.
–The Daily Telegraph has an article by Harry Mount about a rift in the National Trust that is expected to come to a head at this weekend’s AGM in Harrogate. A group known as Restore Trust wants the National Trust to go back to what it was intended to be–a keeper of estates and houses of national importance. According to Mount, who reveals himself to be a member of Restore Trust:
Why on earth has all this happened? No National Trust member ever asked for the houses to be taken over with illiterate campaigns. This internal cultural revolution was entirely a top-down manoeuvre.
Of course, the Trust must be allowed to make money out of its properties. The problem is that the hospitality industry is basically infantile and the Trust does nothing to rein in the infantilisation, peppering houses and grounds with signs in kiddy language. At Kingston Lacy, Dorset, a tree has a sign saying, “Don’t climb me. I’m old and fragile”. At Dunster Castle, a sign on the pantry door says “Don’t open me”.
A huge organisation like the National Trust, with its five-and-a-half million members, also spawns marketing, HR and strategy departments: full of people who talk gobbledygook and think the only people who matter are under-35s.
The mistakes, clunky prose and agitprop snow down, obscuring the beauty and obliterating the magic of our country houses – Britain’s greatest contribution to Western civilisation, as Evelyn Waugh called them.
Waugh would no doubt enjoy himself satirizing some of the practices described in the Telegraph’s article.
–The website of the religious and public policy journal First Things has posted an article about book collecting written by Steve Ayers who has spent a lot of time doing just that. Near his conclusion, he recalls several items he acquired from the library of literary critic and journalist Julian Jebb:
My favorite item from his library is a remarkable artifact, a record of a hilarious exchange between the 28-year-old Jebb and Evelyn Waugh. In April of 1962 Jebb interviewed Waugh for The Paris Review, one of the few cooperative interviews the often cantankerous writer would ever give. In the letter he wrote in advance, Jebb promised that he wouldn’t bring a tape-recorder, imagining from what Waugh had written in his highly autobiographical novel, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, that he had a phobia of tape-recorders. They met in the lobby of a London hotel, and the first thing Waugh asked was, “Where is your machine?” Jebb explained that he hadn’t brought one. Waugh proceeded to needle him as they headed toward the elevator: “Have you sold it?” Well yes he had, but three years earlier. “Do you have shorthand, then?” Jebb answered no. “Then it was foolhardy of you to sell your machine, wasn’t it?” The interview began after Waugh changed into pajamas, lit up a huge cigar, and got into bed. It turned out to be a brilliant, if short, interview, and it’s clear from Waugh’s letters and subsequent meetings that he was fond of Jebb. He later signed a copy (the copy in my collection) of The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold for Jebb and inscribed it, “You sold your machine because of Gilbert! Too bad! Best wishes, Evelyn Waugh 10/11/63.”
Ayers’ article originally appeared in 2019 on another website sponsored by a religious school organization.
Perhaps my favorite essay in this collection is “Waugh on the Merits,” a review of Philip Eade’s Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited. The enigmatic, curmudgeonly Waugh is captured in all of his literary genius (“He was all but incapable of writing a boring sentence.”) and his misanthropic tendencies (“His satire was subversive, and deliberately so.”) On Waugh’s shocking conversion and fidelity to the Catholic Church, Fr. Mankowski explains,
“Waugh does not deny that the Catholic Church has aesthetic splendor to offer; what he denies is that such splendors provide a reliable basis for accepting the Church’s claims as true…Rather it is the ordinary daily Mass, the opus operatum, performed and assisted at out of duty rather than desire, that points to the objective reality of a universal immutable faith: your preferences have not been considered.”
British novelists excel at capturing the cut and thrust of a newsroom in a genre perhaps best described as the hack picaresque. Evelyn Waugh is its standard-bearer. His novel of 1938, “Scoop”, follows a man of modest means mistaken for a foreign correspondent and sent to a fictional country in east Africa. The tale is an outstanding satire of the media’s mores and its insatiable hunger for titbits and gossip.
“Making Nice”, Ferdinand Mount’s new novel, is clearly indebted to “Scoop” but updates its setting to the modern information age. Here news stories are written about social-media posts. Any middle-aged old-school reporters who aren’t dreaming up clickbait for meagre salaries have been tossed onto the slag heap, along with their obsolete fax machines.
–The Wall Street Journal has posted a review of the new mystery novel by Evelyn Waugh’s grand daughter Daisy Waugh. As noted in previous posts, this is entitled In the Crypt with the Candlestick. As the WSJ describes it:
Winking references to her famous forebear’s works (and those of other authors) are sprinkled through her text: a madcap account of the mishaps and intrigues at Tode Hall, one of England’s grandest homes, in the wake of its 93-year-old owner’s demise…Ms. Waugh’s novel offers plenty of satire, several good laughs and many dark chuckles.