Roundup: Mostly Books

–In the current issue of Literary Review there is the review of a new book about a subject familiar to Waugh readers. This is Will Loxley’s Writing in the Dark: Bloomsbury, the Blitz and Horizon Magazine. The review by Daisy Dunn opens with this:

Virginia Woolf likened the sound of bombs falling in the war to ‘the sawing of a branch overhead’. At Rodmell in East Sussex, in Bloomsbury, Bow and beyond, the air scintillated with the aftermath of explosions or floated ‘thick as Hell’ above the trees. Lamplighters – ‘the silent brigade of the gloaming, like folkloric guardians of dreams’, as Will Loxley describes them – extinguished every last flicker on the streets below, leaving those brave enough to remain out after dusk as vulnerable to hazards on the ground as to what fell from the sky. ‘All the gossip is of traffic casualties,’ wrote Evelyn Waugh in his diary in October 1939. ‘Cyril Connolly’s mistress lamed for life and Cyril obliged to return to his wife.’

Connolly, at that time courting Diana Witherby, was preparing to push against the darkness, as well as the precept of his friend Logan Pearsall Smith that there were ‘three illusions’ everyone experienced: ‘falling in love, starting a magazine and thinking they could make money out of keeping chickens’. As the bookshops emptied, publishers postponed the release of new titles, T S Eliot wound up The Criterion and the final copies of London Mercury rolled off the press, Connolly’s Horizon arrived to illuminate ‘young writers-at-arms’.

The book is not yet available in America but can be purchased in the UK at the link above.

The Scotsman reviews a new book entitled Honour and the Sword: The Culture of Dueling.  The book is by Joseph Farrell and is reviewed by Allan Massie. The review begins with a quote from Waugh’s novel Sword of Honour:

“Guy,” says Ivor Claire in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Officers and Gentlemen, “what would you do if you were challenged to a duel”. “Laugh,” Guy replies.[…]

Joseph Farrell quotes this exchange early in his fascinating examination of the Culture of Duelling, and it is very much to the point. The two characters, Ivor and Guy, recognise that 150 years ago their understanding of Honour would have compelled them to accept a challenge to a duel, even in certain circumstances to offer one. Guy, a Roman Catholic (like Waugh himself) remarks that “moral theologians were never able to stop duelling – it took democracy to do that.”

The quotation is characteristically well-chosen, Waugh being one of the comparatively few 20th-century British novelists to have concerned himself with the question of honour. According to the duelling code, it was dishonourable to accept an insult unchallenged; honour required you to accept when challenged to a duel. Shakespeare has Falstaff dismiss honour as a mere word and say he’ll have none of it, but Falstaff was a man ahead of his time.

After a discussion of the book’s primary themes, Massie concludes with another reference to Waugh’s novel:

Professor Farrell, erudite, intellectually curious author of several admirable books about Italy and Stevenson in Samoa, ranges widely – there is even a chapter on duels fought by women. Democracy, as Waugh’s Guy Crouchback says, killed the practice; we are all with Falstaff now. But what has become of the idea of Honour? Dryden called it “an empty bubble”. Are we better now for its pricking? This splendid book, rich in examples of courage and folly, provokes thought. Read it once for pleasure. Then ponder its significance in our time of false news and slanderous speech.

The book is also without a US publisher but is available in the UK at the link above.

–The website has published excerpts from a book by Gary Ginsburg entitled First Friends: The Powerful, Unsung (And Unelected) People Who Shaped Our Presidents. One of these is the “unsung” friendship of John F Kennedy with Englishman David Ormsby-Gore. This began in the late 1930s when Kennedy’s sister Kathleen (“Kick”) met him in London during the period their father Joe Kennedy was US Ambassador. According to the book:

When David met Kick that spring evening, whatever unease each may have felt vanished almost instantly. By the end of the weekend, Kick had found the squad that would sustain her in Britain for the following decade. With her older brother Jack due to arrive in London any day, Kick couldn’t wait to show them off. And by the time he left three months later, Jack, like Kick, would have his own London social circle, with David Ormsby-Gore at its center.

Precisely how, when, and where Kennedy first met Ormsby-Gore remains lost to history. Several accounts suggest they linked at a dinner party at the ambassador’s residence or at the Epsom horse races. The novelist Evelyn Waugh had a different recollection, saying they met “over supine bodies in a squalid basement bottle-party.” What is certain is that once Kick sparked their connection during the early summer of 1938, Jack’s attraction to Ormsby-Gore and his fellow Brits would prove as strong for him as it had been for her.

My own recollection is that Ormsby-Gore’s personal friendship with both John Kennedy and his wife Jackie was much sung about in the American press both during his term in office and afterwards. But perhaps it is not typical of the other brief lives that form the book’s theme.

–Finally, our reader David Lull has sent this poem by Jeffrey Burghauser that recently appeared in the New English Review:

On Alexander Waugh
Whose YouTube channel is devoted to the proposition that Edward de Vere wrote the works attributed to William Shakespeare
Exhausted by the weight of heresies
I can’t but feel reveal the Truth,
(How they have multiplied since youth!)
I now must find the space in which to squeeze
     Another one. It brings me no delight
     That Alexander Waugh is likely right.

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