Pre-Christmas Roundup

The Times reports a recent interview of Nicholas Howard, current resident of Castle Howard in North Yorkshire. The interview, conducted and reported by Helen Rumbelow, opens with a discussion of the shortfall in revenue caused by the recent Covid-related closures in the context of the estate’s large repair and restoration budget as well as the costs of its daily operations. One topic not raised by Rumbelow (or at least not reported) is the recent closure of the estate to visitors for an extended period in September-October this year to accommodate filming by an undisclosed production company. According to previous reports, non-disclosure of the details of that project were part of the agreement between the estate’s owners and the film-makers. See previous posts.

The interview article closes with this:

We leave through what seems like an endless corridor: some claim that its 17th-century architect, John Vanbrugh, invented corridors, which sounds ridiculous until you see them, lit by the low light as if by a Hollywood cinematographer. And the domed roof, a mini St Paul’s Cathedral, now looks spectacular, a must-have accessory if you are to house, as it does now, a 30ft Christmas tree, or hang a vast chandelier made of 1,250 yellow washing-up gloves, as the family did for a “surrealist” 21st birthday party for Howard’s daughter Blanche, which ended with guests in the fountain. In Brideshead Revisited Evelyn Waugh captured the outsider’s reaction to this inordinate beauty: seduced and suspicious.

One image sticks with me: Howard says that when his father rebuilt the dome he forbade anyone to go up there, saying that it was too dangerous. Howard, who scampered around the 145 rooms like a mouse, went up there immediately.

Now Howard can scamper no more. He told me that lockdown money shortages were “absolutely terrifying”. It was also scary for him as a boy staring down at the hall from the inside of the dome. “I can still remember the feeling of standing on the edge. There was no railing between you and that 70ft drop.”

I think that is what it’s like to be a Howard. High up, looking down, scared of falling.

Also mentioned is an upcoming TV documentary relating to Castle Howard: “Nick Knowles: Heritage Rescue” that is to be broadcast in the UK on December 22 at 9pm on something called “Quest”.

–Meanwhile, Time Magazine has announced “The 50 Most Anticipated TV Shows of 2021.”  The BBC/HBO production of Brideshead Revisited, noted but not mentioned by name above, is among the listings:

Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino is adapting Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel of a young British man who falls in with an aristocratic family and gets entangled in their drama. The enviable cast includes Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Ralph Fiennes and Joe Alwyn.

The scheduled broadcast is simply described as “TBA“.

–A one-hour plus podcast has been posted in “The History of Literature” series. This is moderated by Jacke Wilson and features Phil Klay as the presenter. Here’s the description:

…In this episode, Jacke is joined by author Phil Klay to discuss Waugh’s religion, military background, and his novel A Handful of Dust in particular. The two also discuss Klay’s award-winning fiction, his writing process, what it means to be a Catholic writer in Waugh’s time and our own, and the new podcast American Veteran: Unforgettable Stories, which Klay hosts.

PHIL KLAY is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. His short story collection Redeployment won the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction and was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of 2014 by The New York Times. His debut novel, Missionaries, was released in October 2020 with Penguin Press.

–Earlier this week, the Daily Telegraph in an opinion article by Douglas Murray compared the current Conservative Government to a scene at the end of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall:

Professor Silenus, is watching a ride in an amusement park when Paul Pennyfeather comes upon him. Silenus explains the fairground attraction they are watching. For five francs the punters go into a room with tiers of seats, and in the centre is a great revolving floor that spins everyone around quickly.

At first you sit down and watch the others. They are all trying to sit in the wheel, and they keep getting flung off, and that makes them laugh, and you laugh too. “It’s great fun.”

Pennyfeather wonders whether this is much like life.

“Oh, but it is” says Silenus. “You see, the nearer you can get to the hub of the wheel the slower it is moving and the easier it is to stay on.

“There’s generally someone in the centre who stands up and sometimes does a sort of dance. Often he’s paid by the management, though, or, at any rate, he’s allowed in free. Of course at the very centre there’s a point completely at rest, if one could only find it.”

I’m sure I don’t need to extrapolate to readers why this passage has been on my mind. This week has included an especially horrible turn of the wheel. And the fairground attraction of Boris’s Number 10 suddenly seems to have lost all of its amusement value. It can even turn a party into a portion of the horrible, destructive game.

After describing Professor Silenus’s understanding of how the spinning wheel is like the Johnson government, the article concludes:

How that sums up much of Westminster today – MPs and hacks who just enjoy the game and enjoy holding on as others go to the wall. But in the process they forget why anybody would want to get into this game in the first place.

You might say, as Silenus does, that “you needn’t get on it at all, if you don’t want to.” And that, at times, seems like the easier and more attractive option. Yet the ride this country is on is not an amusement.

If our country is to succeed in the coming years we are going to have to build as well as destroy, to develop people as well as fling them off. To find still points as well as the amusement. But nobody seems to want to think of that, so on it goes.

–There are several more articles marking the 10th anniversary of Christopher Hitchens’ death.  One of these by Alexander Larman in the World Edition of The Spectator magazine includes this:

When asked who his favorite writers were, [Hitchens] unhesitatingly listed Kingsley Amis, Evelyn Waugh and PG Wodehouse, none of whom shared his politics or worldview, as well as the more predictable figure of George Orwell.

The Atlantic, where Hitchens wrote literary reviews and essays for several years, has posted all his reviews that appeared in the magazine, including several that relate to Waugh, most notably “The Permanent Adolescent”. The New Statesman has published in its UK edition (its only edition so far as I am aware) the article on Waugh by Ross Douthat mentioned in a previous post.



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