Late Winter Roundup

–The Daily Mail has posted some excerpts from the new and unexpurgated edition of the diaries of Chips Channon. Two of these new entries involve comments of Channon about Evelyn Waugh:

Evelyn Waugh – Sunday, December 16, 1934

Lunch was amusing: Evelyn Waugh said that anyone can write a novel given six lessons, pen, paper and no telephone or wife. Perhaps he is right.

Tuesday, August 6, 1935

Evelyn Waugh has just signed on with the Daily Mail for the duration of hostilities between Italy and Abyssinia, and is leaving for Ethiopia on Saturday. He may, as he says, be away for five years, or five months. He pretends to have insured his testicles for £3,000, as Ethiopians had a way of castrating unwelcome individuals.

Richard Davenport-Hines quotes the latter passage more briefly in his review of the diaries in the TLS. He also provides an interesting comparison of this latest edition, which will stretch to three volumes, with the earlier one-volume edition. Much of the text of that earlier version was eliminated by Channon’s boy-friend and literary executor Peter Coats, not by the named editor Robert Rhodes James, whose primary contribution was a forward and some footnotes.  Publication details are available in an earlier post.

–Waugh biographer and EWS member Duncan McLaren is interviewed on the book website Flashbak.com. Here are some excerpts:

Q: What is special about Waugh to you and in comparison to other writers?

DM: It’s in adolescence that we are most open to new art. We then carry this with us through the years, and the constant engagement with it leaves its creators in an unassailable position among our preferences.

Decades after adolescence I read the books of, say, Julian Barnes, and enjoyed them. But I won’t ever be putting Barnes on a par with Waugh in my personal pantheon, because there has been insufficient time to grow with his books and his understanding of the world. Maybe a better example is Irvine Welsh. I was 36 when Trainspotting came out as a novel. I realised straight away it was brilliant, on a different level (of originality, of energy, of ambition) to anything else written in the 20th-Century by a Scot. And I could relate to it in some ways, but not in others. So I never quite committed to it, and though I’ve read other books of his, and been impressed by astonishing qualities, I’ve not read them all, and I’ve not even considered researching his life. It’s like appreciating what my brother got me to listen to of the Smiths. I loved Morrissey’s music, his vibe, but I was from Bowie’s generation, had all the albums and had listened to them hundreds of times. Bowie was embedded in my being. The first cut is the deepest.

Q: When did you decide to write a biography on Waugh? Why did you decide to write it in such a brilliant and original way?

DM: I decided to write about Evelyn Waugh in the way I did because I’d just had great fun, and some success, taking a similar approach to the life of Enid Blyton.

But you say ‘brilliant’, about my writing about Waugh, which is very nice of you, so I’ll address that. It starts with a rigorous chronology and geography (that again, so maybe I didn’t waste the government’s money). Things happen to Evelyn Waugh in a particular place at a particular time. So that has to be pieced together, and in so doing you realise who else was there. The picture builds up, and as you’re making it more three-dimensional, Evelyn and his mates start talking and doing stuff. You hold on for grim life to the authenticity of the scene, never forgetting your sense of humour and your moral compass. Then out pours the original insight. Sometimes I struggle to contain it all in suitable vessels. […]

Q: What can we learn from reading Evelyn Waugh? What life lessons?

DM: The qualities inherent in Waugh that I used to bolster myself with when young (irony, humour, the primacy of art), I’ve tried to distance myself from later in life. Sometimes the best way forward is to live a healthy, well-balanced, straightforward life amongst other people. Waugh was not good at this. He drank too much, always. He became inflexible in his opinions as he got older. His right-wing views, largely ironic when he was younger, solidified and became horribly serious. He professed to believe in God in a way that seems un-nourishing. He began to lose the few friends he had, he was so rude to everyone. He died at the age of 62, having become bored with life and longing for death.

At 63-year-old, I’m having to tend poor Evelyn’s grave, diverting readers’ attention to his earlier years and books, when he was funny, sweet and full of joie de vivre. […]

–Another interview, this one focused on Brideshead Revisited, has been posted on YouTube. This appears in a series called Plotlines.  The interview is conducted by a college student named Connor  who is otherwise unidentified. The interviewee is Joseph Pearce, who frequently writes on Waugh’s religion. If the first 10 minutes is any guide, that will also make up most of what will be discussed in this 45-minute session.

–The Guardian has announced the death of the actress Nicola Pagett at the age of 75. She first made her name in TV serials such as Upstairs Downstairs but went on to stage and film appearances. Her career was interrupted by bouts of mental illness but she resumed acting after her recovery. The Guardian mentions one role she played that I had forgotten:

In Scoop (1987), a two-hour film scripted by William Boyd, based on Evelyn Waugh’s great 1938 novel, she was Julia Stitch alongside Michael Maloney as the hapless war reporter William Boot and Denholm Elliott as the chaotic newspaper editor.

–American literary critic Terry Teachout reviews the new biography of Graham Greene in the National Review. Details of the book may be seen in an earlier post. Teachout begins his review with this:

Sixty years ago, Graham Greene was widely regarded as an important novelist, perhaps even a great one, both in England and in America. His critical admirers included V. S. Pritchett, John Updike, and his close friend Evelyn Waugh, who called him a writer of “the highest imaginative power.” He was also very popular, in part because several of his books, most notably Brighton Rock (1938), The Third Man (1949), and Our Man in Havana (1958), were turned into successful films, often with his direct involvement (he was one of the first writers of stature to take a close interest in the screen). […]

But Greene, who died in 1991, is no longer as popular or admired in this country as he used to be, and if I had to guess, I’d say the reason is that his major novels are permeated with more or less explicitly Catholic themes and symbolism. Time was when Catholic novelists such as Greene and Waugh were well regarded, even fashionable, but religious faith has long since been shunted into a cultural siding, and today’s Catholic artists are treated contemptuously by most modern-day tastemakers. Even the radically idiosyncratic version of Catholicism espoused by Greene, who called himself a “Catholic-agnostic” and made a priest in Brighton Rock speak of “the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God,” is too often greeted nowadays with not-our-kind-dearie sniffishness…

He doesn’t mention why Waugh’s reputation has not been subject to these problems, or at least has been less affected by them than has Greene’s.

–John Self writing in The Critic magazine addresses the importance of money to a professional writer’s career. He compares Evelyn Waugh to another writer of their generation:

Evelyn Waugh never stopped wanting a richer start in life, and as a child would walk far enough from Golders Green to ensure that his letters were postmarked Hampstead. In 1928 he asked his agent A. D. Peters to “please fix up anything that will earn me anything, even cricket criticism or mothers’ welfare notes”. By the early 1930s he was earning around £2,000 a year, a third of which was from journalism; this was around the time that “five hundred a year” was declared to be the income required to distance a writer from money worries (by Virginia Woolf, who had none), though Waugh still felt himself to be permanently “starving” until the success of Brideshead Revisited in 1945.

But no writer of that era was quite so desperate as the gilded father of the Jazz Age, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Like Waugh, he resented not being higher-born, “distrusting the rich, yet working for money with which to share their mobility and the grace that some of them brought into their lives”. Like Jay Gatsby, for a time he spent his way into this lifestyle. But by the 1930s, his literary stock was low and he was writing to fund what Arnold Gingrich, his editor at Esquire, called “the fantastically expensive treatments for mental illness” undergone by his wife Zelda…

–Finally, the online magazine FarOut has reprinted the late Tom Wolfe’s 2007 list of his 10 favorite novels. One of these was by Evelyn Waugh:

10. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (1930). This careening novel follows a group of shallow, well-off Brits to motor races and antic parties. Joining in on the Bright Young Things’ mad doings are a writer named Adam Fenwick-Symes and his on-again, off-again fiancée. War looms, but Waugh’s style —dry and bubbly as the novel’s flowing champagne —keeps us laughing, even as characters descend into madness or head for the battlefield.

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