MLK Weekend Roundup

The Tablet has posted an excerpt from Waugh’s novel Helena in recognition of both the Christmas season and the recent publication of that novel as the latest addition (vol. 11) to the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh. Here’s the introduction and opening of the quoted excerpt:

Helena’s epiphany occurs in the church in Bethlehem, as three bearded monks approach the altar to celebrate Mass, reminding her of the arrival at the stable after much prevarication of three over-dressed and over-educated sages carrying unhelpful gifts. “These are my kind,” she recognised, perhaps speaking for Waugh too – and for us. And the miracle is that they, too, are equally welcome to kneel in the straw beside those who believed without fuss or hesitation. Brendan Walsh

“The low vault was full of lamps and the air close and still. Silver bells announced the coming of the three vested, bearded monks, who like the kings of old now prostrated themselves before the altar. So the long liturgy began.

Helena knew little Greek and her thoughts were not in the words nor anywhere in the immediate scene. She forgot even her quest and was dead to everything except the swaddled child long ago and those three royal sages who had come so far to adore him.”

–The Daily Telegraph has noted the 70th anniversary of George Orwell’s death (21 January) as the day his writings enter the public domain in the UK. Jake Kerridge notes some of the possibilities this opens:

George Orwell died from tuberculosis in January 1950, aged 46. Writers who can combine such originality of thought with such clarity of expression are rare enough that even now it’s difficult not to be grief-struck by his lamentably premature demise.

But taking consolation where we can, we can celebrate the fact that in the month of the anniversary of his death comes the expiry of the copyright on his books – something that won’t happen for decades with the work of such longer-lived contemporaries as Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. It is to be hoped that interest in Orwell will receive a boost – and as we live in a world that sometimes seems to be heading increasingly close to the nightmarish vision of Nineteen Eighty-Four, it couldn’t be timelier.

What difference will it make? Orwell’s executors have not been noticeably strict in comparison with some other literary estates, but there has been the odd kerfuffle. In 2015 the estate asked one company to stop selling beer mugs that bore extensive quotations from Orwell’s works, leading inevitably to accusations of Big Brother-esque censorship. From now on, however, you could market a range of tea towels containing the entire text of Animal Farm and nobody would be able to stop you.

The major consequence, however, is likely to be a rash of Orwellian films, television adaptations and so on, with film-makers now untrammeled by the need to win the estate’s approval – to say nothing of having to pay a copyright fee.

Waugh’s works will not enter the public domain in the UK until April 2037. In an earlier article, the Guardian noted that, under the stricter copyright laws in the USA, Orwell’s works will remain under copyright there until 2030. Not sure how they calculated that or when it will apply to Waugh’s works given that it is complicated by the “Mickey Mouse” extensions enacted in the USA.  But copyright is apparently not dampening plans for yet another adaptation of Brideshead Revisited which the entertainment press has  announced are underway. See previous post.

–The Guardian also included a Waugh character in its recent list of the Top 10 most dislikable characters in fiction. This was compiled by Louise Candish and contained this entry:

5. Lady Brenda Last in A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
I still remember the exact moment when reading Waugh’s classic as a teenager that I twigged that the blithe-spirited Lady Brenda was in fact repugnant. On hearing of the death of John, she assumes it is her lover and is distraught, but on clarification that the John in question is in fact her young son, she responds, “Oh, thank God.” Brenda belongs to a particularly dismaying subset of dislikables that also includes The Great Gatsby’s Daisy Buchanan: only after you’re charmed into submission by their joie de vivre is the true emptiness of their souls revealed.

Among others on the list were Kenneth Widmerpool from Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time (one of Waugh’s favorite characters from that series) and Uriah Heep from Dickens’ David Copperfield.

–Hugo Vickers in The Oldie has written a 100th Birthday appreciation and personal memoir of Clarissa Churchill, wife of the late Anthony Eden. He describes her as:

… surely the last intimate survivor from the world of Winston Churchill, Evelyn Waugh, Lord Berners, Greta Garbo, Cecil Beaton, Jean Cocteau, Nicolas Nabokov, Edith Sitwell and Orson Welles. I could list dozens more. When she was young, she had the exceptional advantages of being beautiful, extremely intelligent and well read. Being a Churchill, by name if not by temperament, and niece to Winston, she grew up surrounded by the most interesting men and women of the day. She studied philosophy in Oxford, was tutored by Isaiah Berlin, A.J. Ayer and Lord David Cecil. She worked for Alexander Korda, and George Weidenfeld in the worlds of film and publishing. […]

There is about her a withdrawn aloofness that just misses being haughty and widely misses being absurd. It is an unmodern quality, and I find it arresting … she demands, I think, a French background, the pillared elegance of the Second Empire, or the lofty saloons of Versailles to frame her to perfection.’

He doesn’t mention that Waugh rather persecuted her as a Roman Catholic because she married the Protestant divorcee Eden. Randolph Churchill, probably a cousin, came to her defense. E.g., Letters, 378-82.

–A post on the weblog of William Carey University provides “Reasons to Read Evelyn Waugh”. Here is one of several arguments put forward:

Within his works, Waugh was brilliant at illustrating bouts of low behavior but always maintaining a sense of both character building and conversational sparkle. Having a father who worked at the prominent publisher Chapman & Hall at least opened the door for Evelyn’s writing (however, it did not help Waugh that his older brother Alec was also a celebrated author). His satirical early writing (1928’s “Decline and Fall” and 1930’s “Vile Bodies”) set the stage for the consistencies in content that would follow while following in the modernist footsteps of T. S. Eliot. His conversion to Catholicism came with the failure of his first marriage and led to the more serious moral questioning in 1934’s “A Handful of Dust.” However, it was his service in World War II that provided the necessary backdrop to tie all of his storytelling together.

William Carey University is a private liberal arts college affiliated with the Southern Baptist Church and located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The article is written by Mik Davis who does not provide his affiliation with that institution.





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