Roundup: Great Writers and Happy Danes

–A Korean language paper Seoul Ilbo recently published a background article on Denmark, explaining its reputation as the happiest country in the world. This appeared among its sources for the article:

Also, unlike other Nordics, Danes are known for being relatively sociable, friendly, and optimistic. In particular, the British novelist ‘Evelyn Waugh’ (1903-1966), [as he wrote] about the capital Copenhagen, rated Danes as the most cheerful people in Northern Europe.

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Waugh’s assessment probably comes from his 1947 Daily Telegraph article “The Scandinavian Capitals: Contrasted Post-War Moods” although the English word he used for the Danes was “exhilarating” (EAR, p. 341). The translation of the Korean language article is by Google.

–The Jesuit magazine America posts a review of a new novel by a Roman Catholic writer that opens with this:

Who is the greatest Catholic novelist in the English language? Is it Flannery O’Connor? Graham Greene? Walker Percy? Muriel Spark? Evelyn Waugh? Caroline Gordon? A quick survey of 112 years of America content shows that this magazine has spilled a trillion gallons of ink on the question, even though the obvious answer was and is and always will be J. F. Powers.

But what about in the generation after that? That question, too, has been asked every few years since the glory days of the early 1960s, when J. F. Powers won the 1962 National Book Award for Morte D’Urban, Edwin O’Connor the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Edge of Sadness and Walker Percy the 1963 National Book Award for The Moviegoer. Who in recent decades has joined those ranks as a great Catholic novelist? Mary Gordon? Ron Hansen? Alice McDermott? Jon Hassler? Toni Morrison?…

The article continues with a consideration of whether the book under review is written by a novelist who has recently joined the ranks of those aforementioned “Great Catholic Novelists”. This is Sally Rooney whose new book is entitled Beautiful World, Where Are You?

–A notice has been posted about an Oxford reading group on a related topic:

“The Golden Age”: English Catholic Authors of the 20th Century: With the aim of introducing participants to five outstanding Catholic writers: GK Chesterton, Ronald Knox, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Green and JRR Tolkien. Each author will be treated in a stand-alone session and the assignment for each week will consist of a characteristic example of the author’s work.

This week:
Our author this week is Monsignor Ronald Knox, one of the first Catholic chaplains to be based at the Old Palace and a leading figure in English Catholic life from the 1920s to the 1950s. We will be looking at some of his conferences to Oxford students on theological questions. As these are not available online you will need a photocopy of the material if you want to do some reading in advance. Contact Fr William [Pearsall, SJ]. Or just come along to the session – there will be plenty of opportunity to learn!

The first meeting in this Wednesday, 27 October 2021, 2-3pm at the Oxford University Catholic Chaplaincy, Rose Street. Details are available at this link.

–Penguin Books has posted an interview of British chef and TV presenter Rick Stein on its promotional website Still Life. Stein was asked to discuss his own favorite books:

…I first discovered Brideshead Revisited in my early 20s when I was at Oxford University. It seems silly to say now, but I went there as a “mature” undergraduate – 22 or 23. I’d spent time travelling the world before that, getting involved in all kinds of bits and bobs, whereas everyone else was straight out of school. That made me feel rather inferior. It was so intensely competitive, intellectually, and I didn’t really fit into that. I spent a lot of time at parties not doing the right things, then took a bit of a dive after I left.

One of the reasons Evelyn Waugh was such an inspiration to me is that he didn’t fit at Oxford in some ways either; I left Oxford with quite a bad third-class degree, as indeed he did. I loved his early books, which are so funny and irreverent, but Brideshead was later on and much more thoughtful. He was very keen on being a converted Catholic. I liked all that thinking he did about religion…

–Finally, the New Republic has posted an article about a podcast by Lili Anolik relating to life at Bennington College in the 1980s. One of the students from those days was novelist Donna Tartt, and Anolik sees influence on her novel The Secret History from both college life and Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited:

…At the time at Bennington, there was a notable association between avant-gardism, gay men, and particular styles of dressing that had a lot to do with the success of the television series of Evelyn Waugh’s novelBrideshead Revisited, which aired on PBS in 1982 and also explains a lot of the particular cultural motifs that flow through The Secret History. […]  Struck by [Waugh’s] vision of campus life, men all over the Bennington campus—but a group of students, particularly students of Greek, […]—began dressing in an approximation of Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews in the series, with long scarves and flannel trousers. […]

Anolik sees the influence of Evelyn Waugh as unlocking some hitherto unarticulated aspect of Donna Tartt’s art. “Costuming is a romantic way of giving shape to something previously inchoate inside you,” Anolik says, quoting Mary Gaitskill. Anolik told Page Six that her intention in the podcast was to show that “Donna Tartt wrote the American version of Brideshead Revisited, i.e., The Secret History, because she was living the American version of Brideshead Revisited.” In Tartt’s novel, a young man named Richard Papen goes off to college and falls under the spell of a glamorous group of Greek students, all more sophisticated than he—a tight group he joins before it ultimately dissolves amid acts of violence. Although the plot is very different  from Brideshead’s, both novels are narrated much later by the older, jaded version of the naïve young man at the heart of its story. Both novels engage with the ways that ostensibly academic conversations, like the riverside chats that stud Brideshead or the Greek classes with Julian in The Secret History, can hold erotic subtexts whose meaning might elude the unenlightened eavesdropper…


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