Memorial Day/Spring Bank Holiday Roundup

–Historian Niall Ferguson writes about his latest book in the Daily Mail. This is entitled Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe. He opens with the observation that the British have made a habit of laughing in the face of death, offering several examples. He continues:

When the novelist Evelyn Waugh visited the United States in 1947 he was struck by the American tendency to wrap death in euphemisms, a difference that inspired his satirical novel, The Loved One, on the funeral business in Los Angeles. To this day, Americans don’t die — they ‘pass’, a word more usually associated with football here.

And yet the Covid-19 pandemic has been responsible for a serious sense of humour failure in Britain. Footage of wards filled with comatose patients on ventilators and exhausted doctors and nurses struggling to keep them alive at the height of first and second waves were certainly no laughing matter.

What follows is an entertaining disquisition on why and how this failure occurred.

–Hugh Thomson in The Spectator has taken up the previously reported story about the Tate Gallery’s consideration of one of its best known paintings:

In 1926, Rex Whistler was commissioned to paint a mural around the Tate’s basement restaurant. He was only 20 and still a student at the Slade, so a bold choice but one he amply justified. The resulting mural, In Pursuit of Rare Meats, shows a party of epicures travelling across a fantasy rococo landscape dotted with architectural capriccios. Just as with Evelyn Waugh’s first novels written at much the same time, along with the brio of Bright Young Things, Whistler gives us a tart reminder of the horrors of the First World War – we see a gravestone for Whistler’s brother – and of slavery: a young black child is led by a length of string. As with Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, there is a deliberate dissonance in the mural to create asperity.

… the mural has now been outed as culturally insensitive. A guerrilla art group calling themselves White Pube – a name Evelyn Waugh would have enjoyed – launched a Twitter attack pointing out the presence of a young black slave in the mural, as if Whistler was somehow approving the concept of slavery, rather than adding a tart reminder that there were thorns to the roses even in paradise.[…]

But watch this space. We are rapidly moving into territory beyond satire, where it will be easier to send a piece of art to the tumbrils than to argue in its defence.

–BBC Radio 4 has reposted an April 2010 episode of its series The Reunion. This related to the 1981 Granada TV production of Brideshead Revisited. The announcement explains:

In this episode of The Reunion, Sue MacGregor brings together the cast, the producer and the director of the iconic TV drama Brideshead Revisited. Brideshead became one of the most popular TV shows ever made when it first aired on ITV in the autumn of 1981. […]

Based on the best-selling novel by Evelyn Waugh and adapted by John Mortimer initially and then also Derek Granger, it told a poignant story of forbidden love and religious faith set prior to the Second World War. The size and scale of the series was unprecedented. To make eleven fifty minute episodes, shot entirely on film and all on location was a huge undertaking. And no expense was spared with glamorous costumes, vintage cars and exotic locations including Venice, Malta and the QE2. It was one of the most expensive ITV serials ever made and set the benchmark for others to follow, notably Jewel in the Crown in 1985.

Sue is joined around the table by: Jeremy Irons, who played the narrator of the story Charles Ryder; Anthony Andrews, who was Sebastian Flyte; Claire Bloom, who played Sebastian’s mother Lady Marchmain; the series’ director Charles Sturridge; Derek Granger the producer; and Diana Quick who was Lady Julia Flyte, Sebastian’s sister.

You may listen to the 45 minute episode on BBC iPlayer at this link.

The Independent newspaper last week published a list of the 40 best novels to read during lockdown. That seems an odd occasion to inspire such an effort since lockdown is supposed to be ending next month in the UK. One of the novels recommended is Brideshead Revisited:

Evelyn Waugh bottles the intoxicating vapour of a vanished era in this novel about middle-class Charles Ryder, who meets upper-class Sebastian Flyte at Oxford University in the 1920s. Scrap the wartime prologue, and Charles’s entire relationship with Sebastian’s sister Julia (Dear Evelyn, thank you for your latest manuscript, a few suggested cuts…) and you’re looking at one of the most affecting love affairs in the English language. CH

–Finally, the Daily Telegraph carries a story by Catherine Pepinster that explains (or tries to) how Boris Johnson managed to get married in a Roman Catholic Church–the Westminster Cathedral, no less. Here’s the explanation:

…what on earth was going on in Westminster Cathedral on Saturday afternoon when the Prime Minister and Carrie Symonds got married, given his two previous marriages and – it has to be said – a somewhat rackety private life? Surely indissolubility rules out a wedding for Boris Johnson, according to the rites of Holy Mother Church?

According to the complicated world of Catholic canon law, it does not. It decrees a Catholic ceremony can take place if at least one of the parties is a baptised Catholic. That is certainly the case here: Boris, christened Alexander, was baptised, taking the religion of his mother Charlotte. There’s also some speculation that Carrie is a convert.

Then there’s the issue of divorce. You certainly cannot marry in a Catholic church if a previous marriage that ended in divorce was also a Catholic one. It must be annulled. But there’s another get-out clause: if you are Catholic and your previous marriage, or marriages, were not Catholic ceremonies, the Church sees those as invalid. You are free to marry in a religious ceremony. That seems to be what has happened here.[…]

To which the only reply must be, dust off your old Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh novels. These Catholic authors filled their pages with most unlikely individuals enjoying the full embrace of the Church.

This seems to explain why Waugh, a convert and not a “baptised Catholic” as in the case of Boris Johnson, had to wait several years for an annulment before he could marry his second wife, Laura Herbert, also a convert.




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