May Day Roundup

–The Daily Telegraph has a preview of the upcoming BBC adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love. See previous post:

THE Mitford sisters would doubtless approve. Emily Mortimer, the daughter of the novelist John Mortimer [credited with screenplay for the 1980’s Granada TV Brideshead Revisited series], has admitted she channelled her inner “punk” to make the raciest version yet of Nancy Mitford’s classic novel The Pursuit of Love. […] The three-part serial, which begins screening on Sunday [9 May] in the slot vacated by Line of Duty, takes the much loved novel and sexes it up considerably. Mortimer, who wrote the screenplay, directed it and also stars, has confessed to inserting a scene in which Linda Radlett, the heroine played by Lily James, tells her best friend and cousin Fanny Logan, played by Emily Beecham, that she has become sexually aroused by a small painting of Lady Jane Grey.

No such scene exists in the novel although Nancy Mitford did once make such an admission in a letter to Evelyn Waugh. The confession was too good for Mortimer to ignore who decided to write it into her screenplay.

The letter from Mitford to Waugh is dated 21 May 1948 and is reproduced in the NM/EW Letters, p. 100:

…I used to masturbate whenever I thought about Lady Jane Grey, so I thought about her continually & even conceived a fine water colour of her on the scaffold, which my mother still has, framed, & in which Lady Jane & her ladies in waiting all wear watches hanging from enamel boxes as my mother did at the time. The sublimation of sex might be recommended to Harriet, except that I don’t think it changed anything & I still get excited when I think of Lady Jane Grey (less and less ofter though as the years roll on)…

According to a footnote, the letter to Mitford from Waugh that inspired this response “has not survived”.  As noted in the comment posted below, “Harriet” probably refers to Waugh’s third and youngest daughter who was Nancy Mitford’s god-daughter.

–Alexander Larman writing in The Spectator has made a list of short books suitable for reading on daily commutes that are about to resume as coronavirus restrictions phase out. One of these is by Evelyn Waugh”

The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh
Few of Evelyn Waugh’s brilliant satirical novels are especially long, but his fantasia on Hollywood and ‘the American way of death’ comes in at a snappy 160 pages. Published after Brideshead Revisited, it is everything that that (admittedly seminal) book is not: irreverent, blackly comic and jaw-droppingly scabrous. It tells the story of failed poet Dennis Barlow and his excursions into the Whispering Glades Memorial Park, an upmarket Californian mortuary, where death is viewed less as an end and more as a particularly bizarre beginning. It features all of the rich characterisation and distinctly un-PC one-liners that Waugh is associated with, and is probably the last of his fleet-footed satires. Thereafter, his work became graver and more pointed, arguably to its detriment.

Other conveniently commutable books on the list are Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending. 

–In another Spectator article, Jeremy Clarke continues his reports of life in the South of France with the story of a delayed visit to a hospital in Marseille:

Amid the angry chaos of the Marseille traffic jam, I remained reasonably tranquil for a stationary hour, absorbed by sound recordings of interviews with famous English writers, published by the British Library. It felt faintly incredible to be listening to these famous authors’ clipped English voices while stuck in honking French traffic. Ian Fleming was suave; J.B. Priestley petulant; Graham Greene slippery; William Golding mystical; Daphne du Maurier blithe; C.P. Snow diffident; Rudyard Kipling shamanistic; and Evelyn Waugh funny. Interviewer: ‘You are in favor of capital punishment?’ Waugh: ‘For an enormous number of offenses, yes.’ Interviewer: ‘And you yourself would be prepared to carry it out?’ Waugh: ‘Do you mean actually do the hangman’s work?’ Interviewer: ‘Yes.’ Waugh: ‘I should think it very odd for them to choose a novelist for such a task.’

–Evelyn Waugh’s grand daughter Daisy Waugh recently posted this on The Oldie’s weblog:

The battle for a Woke Wide World grows more toxic every day… And the Wokies are winning. They believe in male menstruation and eternal victimhood, and in the hatefulness of anyone who dares to disagree. The rest of us – secretly or not so secretly – believe the Wokies are stupid; also dangerous; also slightly insane. What both sides desperately need (as I said to my agent, not long ago) is an injection of good-natured humour to bridge the hostility gap.

Daisy explains that she decided to write a book filling this gap: Guy Woakes’ Word Diary:

It’s a short novel and I wrote it, in a burst of energy and mirth, at around the time the good people of Wuhan were experimenting with their laboratory window latches and/or adding more stock to their stew. Since when, we’ve been locked into our houses, alone with our social media: opinions have become still more polarised, and tempers still more strained. In arts and media, politics and corporate life, Wokeness rules the day.

The book is also mentioned in previous posts. Thanks to Dave Lull for the link.

–Novelist John Banville writing in The Nation reviews the recent biography of Graham Greene. This is written by Richard Greene and is mentioned in a previous post. Banville’s review (more an essay on Greene’s life and work based on the biography as well as his own reading) is entitled “A Cold Heaven: Graham Greene’s God”. It opens with this:

Evelyn Waugh liked to tease Graham Greene by remarking that it was a good thing God exists, because otherwise Greene would be a Laurel without a Hardy. It is a mark in Greene’s favor that he recounts the jibe in a tribute to Waugh written shortly after his friend’s death in 1966. […] It is not insignificant that Waugh’s squib does not work the other way round, even though Waugh was far more firmly, if not indeed fanatically, committed to his faith than Greene ever was; in the course of a private audience at the Vatican, Pope John xxiii is said to have interrupted a tirade by Waugh against the reformist spirit sweeping through the church by observing gently, “But Mr. Waugh, I too am a Catholic.” Ironically, while Greene was known universally, and to his irritation, as the world’s preeminent “Catholic novelist,” Waugh was what Greene wished to be accepted as: a novelist who happened to be a Catholic. Both men were converts, but while Waugh pledged himself absolutely to Rome and never wavered, Greene was always ambiguous in his religious commitment.

Banville continues his discussion of Greene’s attitude toward religion throughout the essay/review and comes back to his comparison with Waugh briefly toward the end. Greene,”unlike Waugh, was never to be a rule-bound Catholic; religion for him had a strain of magic.” The Greene biography will be reviewed in a future issue of Evelyn Waugh Studies.

UPDATE (9 May 2021): The reference to “Harriet” in the letter of Nancy Mitford quoted above was explained by Mark McGinness in the comment posted below.




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