Roundup (Hons and Chips)

–Novelist Amanda Craig writing in a recent Sunday Times article considers an unusual judgment in a recent terrorist case. The defendant was found to have downloaded nearly 70,000 pages of white supremacist material. The judge ordered him to instead spend his time reading literature, suggesting the writings of Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare. Trollope and Hardy. There will be an examination by the judge of the defendant’s compliance.

Craig is not sure that the prescribed sentence will help much. On the other hand it won’t do much harm. At the end she adds this caveat:

Yet in hoping for the best from the repulsive young [defendant], Timothy Spencer QC has shown himself to be as imaginative a judge as any author could wish. Prison is the least redemptive option, and maybe a future in terrorism will be averted through the 21-year-old gaining a deeper understanding of human character and himself. It might, however, have been wise to include Evelyn Waugh’s novel A Handful of Dust in his prescription. The fate of its hero, Tony Last, is to spend the rest of his existence as a captive in the South American jungle, reading aloud the complete works of Dickens to an illiterate psychopath who will never, ever, have mercy on him.

–In the Italian-language religious online journal Radio Spada, their columnist Luca Fumagalli reviews Waugh’s 1933 short story “Out of Depth.” The article begins by explaining the story’s publication in the popular magazine Harper’s Bazaar and its appearance in Italian as “Nell’inconscio“/Into the Unconscious. Inserts of the English magazine cover and Italian collected story cover are also posted. Following a detailed summary of the story, the article concludes:

Although Out of Depth is perfectly in line with Waugh’s satirical style, made up above all of bitter laughter, profusion of grotesque, puns and allusions – Rip Van Winkle, for example, bears the same name as the hero of Washington Irving – is perhaps the first narrative work in which the English writer openly gives himself to religious apologetics, twelve years before Brideshead Revisited. Consequently, the mockery of parlor charlatans and the ridicule of the much-heralded superiority of the white man are themes inevitably destined to take a back seat.

The plot shows more than one point of contact with Park (1932), by canon John Gray, a tale halfway between utopia and dystopia that tells of a priest, Mungo Park, who is suddenly projected into a future where society is governed by the Catholic Church, Latin is the official language and the ruling class is composed solely of blacks (whites live underground and look like rats). It is to be believed that in writing his story Waugh was also inspired by the encounter with Ethiopian society – a singular Christian monarchy in the land of Africa – which took place on the occasion of the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassié in 1930.

Out of Depth , notwithstanding its brevity and all possible imperfections, has the strength of a clear message to deliver to the reader, a message that remains effective despite the use of a not very incisive expedient such as that of the dream. According to Martin Stannard, author of one of Waugh’s most important biographies, “in a sense it is a Christmas story that reaffirms the continuity and validity of Catholic teaching. Rip’s return to the Church from the apathetic sleep of agnosticism signals an unconscious recognition of the link between civilization and Faith”.

–The second volume of the unexpurgated version of the diaries of Henry “Chips” Channon has been published. This covers the years 1938-1943 and is edited by Simon Heffer. The Daily Mail has published excerpts, among which is this:

Saturday, Nov 19

Lord Beauchamp [the inspiration for Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited] died in New York, aged only 66. What a turbulent life. Rank, riches, arrogance, intelligence, achievement, high office, seven children, the god’s gifts at his feet, and he gaspille-ed [squandered] them all for the most sterile of vices — footmen!! There has never been such a scandal in England. King George V remarked ‘I thought those sort of people shot themselves.’

Either Heffer or the Daily Mail have got this wrong. Lord Beauchamp contributed to the character of Lord Marchmain, not Sebastian Flyte, who was his son. Beauchamp’s son, Hugh Lygon, is thought by many to have contributed to the character of Sebastian.

Channon doesn’t seem to have had much to do with Waugh during this period. Their only close mutual friends, according to the book’s introductory material, were Diana Cooper and her husband, Duff (although “friend” may be too mild a term for Waugh’s relationship with the latter). Given Channon’s opposition to Churchill and support for appeasement, his own relations with Duff can’t have been very cozy. Channon was a Conservative MP for Southend-on-Sea.

National Review has devoted the latest episode (#194) of its Great Books Podcast to Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited. This is presented by NR‘s John J Miller who interviews writer (The Grace of Enough) and Roman Catholic convert Haley Stewart. The 30-minute podcast is available at this link  and no subscription is required. The first half is a discussion of the story and the second relates to the religious themes.

–Finally, Vanity Fair has posted a feature-length article about the Mitford sisters (mostly Nancy). This is by Nicole Jones and was inspired by the recent TV adaptation of Nancy’s novel Pursuit of Love discussed in previous posts

…Laura Thompson, the author of The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters and Life in a Cold Climate: Nancy Mitford, noted that Nancy’s “books read like an enchantingly clever woman telling stories down the telephone.” Her friend Evelyn Waugh put it only slightly differently in a letter: “The charm of your writing depends on your refusal to recognize a distinction between girlish chatter and literary language.” Her books manage to pull off the trick all writers dream of doing: inspiring cult fanaticism, whispered about between those who really get it (true Hons!), while also becoming hugely successful.

A comparison of the writings of the various sisters includes this:

In letters between her and Waugh (by some accounts one of her best friends and her one-time flatmate, along with his first wife also named Evelyn), [Nancy] complains that Jessica’s 1960 autobiography, the beloved and enchanting Hons and Rebels, is inspired more by her novels than Jessica’s memory. Between bits of gossip and insults about Jessica’s first husband Esmond Romilly, Nancy wrote to Waugh, “In some respects she has seen the family, quite without knowing it herself, through the eyes of my books.… I haven’t said this to anybody but you as it sounds so conceited. Esmond was the most horrible human being I have ever met.”


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