—The Times has posted an interview with actor Jack Whitehall in which he discusses his favorite books, films, TV and music. Here’s the opener:
My favourite author or book
Evelyn Waugh. Decline and Fall holds a special place in my heart because I was lucky enough to get to be a part of bringing it to television and it remains one of my favourite books. I also love Scoop, Brideshead Revisited — even lesser-known novels such as The Loved One are fantastic. In his early comic works I can’t get enough of his wicked sense of humour and deranged cast of characters.
The entry is followed by a copy of the Henry Lamb portrait of Waugh.
–Last week, The Spectator posted an article in its Spectator World edition entitled “Why we should venerate Evelyn Waugh” This is by Chilton Williamson and opens with a warning that Waugh should not be viewed as a comic writer such as PG Wodehouse but as a serious writer in whose works comedy often manifests itself. He then briefly surveys Waugh’s entire catalogue:
His preoccupations as a novelist, a travel writer, and a critic are a series of oppositions: order vs chaos and anarchy, civilization vs barbarism, and civility vs incivility, all set in the 20th-century world. Due to his assured grasp on Western history, his extreme sensitivity to contemporary social and intellectual movements and — dominating all — his Catholic faith, Waugh was acutely aware of the fragile nature of civilization, which he saw as a man-made haven threatened by an aggressive encompassing wilderness relentless in its determination to take back its own.
He begins by mentioning two under-appreciated works. Robbery Under Law is
less a travel book than a sophisticated historical disquisition [in which] the concept of civilization under never-ending siege underlies all of his novels, which he succinctly described as ‘the creation of small independent systems of order.’ […]
He achieved many of his finest comic effects by juxtaposing differences (often superficial ones) in customs and manners between Europeans and barbarians. Yet it is not always the Europeans to whom he gives the advantage. Some of the most hilarious parts of Black Mischief, for instance, recount the efforts of Seth, Emperor of the island kingdom of Azania, to ‘modernize’ his country by aping European progressivism…
He then divides Waugh’s novels into two categories: Dionysian and Apollonian. All the early ones except Handful of Dust up to Put Out More Flags are in the former and the rest in the latter. He clearly prefers the former in which the comedy is more pronounced but his favorite is Handful, in a class by itself:
The incomparable achievement of A Handful of Dust results from its success in combining elements of his Dionysian and Apollonian phases. Its pitch-black comedy begins with acutely observed social climbing, continues into a description of an adulterous love affair and tragic death, and concludes with its protagonist captured by a madman who forces him to sit aloud reading the works of Dickens. It remains unique in Waugh’s canon, and in 20th-century English literature, in the readers’ never entirely knowing what their reaction should be to it. It is, and remains, inimitable.
The article concludes with brief considerations of Waugh’s travel books (not among the “finest” of that genre), his anti-American leanings, and his religious inclinations, and ends with this:
Still, the manner of his end became the man. Waugh died after hearing Mass on the afternoon of Easter Sunday, April 10, 1966, locked in the WC and seated on the toilet. His own black humor was never quite so black as that.
The article is attractively headed with a pencil rendering of a very late photograph of Waugh. No subscription seems necessary to open this Spectator World article.
–A new Spanish language novel with a Wavian theme is reviewed. This is Mientras Mi Mirada Te Busque (While my gaze looks for you) by Aranzaza Sumalla:
The narration focuses especially on the Jungman sisters, people belonging to the English gentry, daughters of the Dutch painter Nicolaas Wilhelm Jungmann, who were essential in that free lifestyle of England in the 1920s, that of the Bright Young Things, that era evoked with great fortune by Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited, a Writer who had a great relationship with the Jungman sisters, Zita and Teresa, and is said to have been deeply in love with Teresa […]
Sumalla emphasizes that period well but in reality what fascinated her about the fate of these two sisters is the way of life they chose after the war: they were Catholics, they went to live in Leixlip Castle, in Ireland, far from the madding crowd, both dying after reaching 100 in our XXI century. That is to say that fascination comes to Sumalla from the possibility of leading a way of life radically different from how the eyes of others judged us. In addition, the author may have noticed the Jungmans for certain elective affinities because the same could have been done with the Mitford sisters…
The review appears in nuevatribuna.es and is translated by Google.
—The Lady magazine has posted a list of books recommended for holiday reading. Among those in the classics section is this:
THE SWORD OF HONOUR TRILOGY by Evelyn Waugh (Penguin Classics, £14.99)
This trilogy of novels spanning the Second World War is Waugh’s masterpiece: comedy, irony and tragedy. Look high-brow by the poolside. If you’ve read this, try: A Handful Of Dust
Why this summer reading list is only posted now is not explained.
–Finally, Byline Times, a newspaper for journalists, posts a story by Matthew Gwyther entitled “Journalism is Not a Profession”. Here are the opening paragraphs:
Journalism is not a profession – there are no qualification letters after our names. I’m not even sure if it’s a calling or even a trade. Sure there are many journalists on a mission like a priest preaching the gospel of Xi Jingping, but then so is a dog in search of a bone. One should, anyway, mistrust journalists on a mission – they tend to ignore inconvenient truths that refuse to fit in with their worldview.
The best journalists err towards scepticism rather than zealotry. For those remaining who are entirely economically reliant on journalism, however, it must be more than a pastime. It is what it is: telling stories for a living.
In Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop the hacks aren’t terribly ‘professional’ but a mixed pack of feckless, unprincipled and cunning scribblers, hacks and ink-slingers. It’s a mark of their acknowledged lower standing – but not necessarily low self-esteem – that journalists often quite happily call themselves hacks which is defined as “a writer producing dull, unoriginal work”. Call a lawyer a hack and you’ll see him in court.