Roundup: Sash Windows and Sitwells

–Eleanor Doughty writing in Country Life considers whether sash windows should be repaired or replaced. She opens the story with this:

There is something about a sash window, isn’t there? The gentle squeak and heave as you lift it up, the rush of air that greets you. ‘For some reason, houses with them feel like a proper home,’ says a friend, a keen sash-window enthusiast. And it’s true — until the bleak midwinter arrives and you’re drawing the curtains at 3pm, cursing silently every time you look at the windows, which, let’s be honest, probably sold you the house in the first place. This is the curse of the sash. It’s beautiful, but damned — both a reason to buy and not to buy a house.

Doughty is also a literary critic and Evelyn Waugh fan. This is reflected as the article nears its conclusion:

… exhaust all other options before you replace. After all, says Andrew Cronan, senior associate director of Strutt & Parker’s country department, ‘windows are the eyes of the house’, so they’ve got to be bang on. Sometimes, double-glazing is the answer. He gives the example of Combe Florey House in Somerset, the former home of Evelyn Waugh, which is on the market for £5.5 million, ‘where all the original windows have been replaced with high-quality double-glazed sashes, bringing the house into the 21st century’. The upgrade work done at Combe Florey is consistent with wider window restoration trends. Richard Dollar set up The Sash Window Workshop 28 years ago and explains that, until recently, ‘we did a lot of draught-sealing work. That market has almost disappeared — most of the work we do now is double-glazing’.

–A new novel in which Nancy Mitford is the leading character may be of interest. This is entitled The Bookseller’s Secret and is written by Michelle Gable. The author is interviewed by her hometown newspaper the San Diego Union Tribune where she explains:

The story follows Mitford’s adventures as a London bookstore manager during World War II — complete with spies, infamous sisters and romance. Interwoven within is a modern-day narrative seeking Mitford’s lost wartime manuscript.

Here’s an excerpt from the Q&A:

Q: What character or real-life person did you have the most fun writing?

A: This is by far the hardest question! Nancy had a rich cast of characters in her life, from family members to fellow writers and friends. The hypochondriac Edwin “Hellbags” Sackville-West was great fun. This was a man who viewed his body as a swarming hive of malevolent bees. “Hellbags” was a real person, but there’s not much written about him, so I enjoyed filling in the sketch of what is known.

If I had to pick one person, it’d be the insufferable, hilarious Evelyn Waugh. He was such an ass, and it was a blast making up snide remarks, or sharing horrible comments he really did say. He could be downright cruel to Nancy, such as saying she wrote half of a good book, yet there was a deep and profound bond between them. Evelyn’s voice was so clear to me; I could practically hear him sneering at me from the other side of the room.

The Economist reviews a new book on Public Schools. This is by Richard Beard and is entitled Sad Little Men: Private Schools and the Ruin of England. Here’s an excerpt:

As its subtitle promises, this book is an uncompromising denunciation of Britain’s private schools. They offer their charges a Faustian bargain, says Richard Beard: the tools of success (principally fluency and self-confidence) in return for emotional impoverishment. He knows whereof he speaks: in 1975 he was sent from home to a new life sleeping in dormitories and climbing hierarchies, much like David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

This argument is far from original; lambasting public schools for tormenting their inmates and ruining the country is one of Britain’s oldest traditions. […] In the 20th century Evelyn Waugh quipped that “anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison.” Goronwy Rees, a journalist, wrote of the public-school boys he encountered at Oxford that they “were all well-taught at school and what they understood they understood very well; what they did not understand included almost everything which would change the world in their lifetime”.

Updating these criticisms, Mr Beard makes some striking points about the way “total institutions” (a phrase he borrows from the sociologist Erving Goffman) can reconstruct the human personality. The aim of public schools is to make people fit in effortlessly with the changing rules and rituals of the tribe. They do this by removing children from their natural environments, then forcing them to play a succession of different roles. […] Thus Alexander Johnson became Boris, Eric Blair became George Orwell, and Philby, Burgess and Maclean became Soviet agents.

The Oldie’s latest “Country Mouse” column opens with this:

In the late 1920s, Evelyn Waugh was staying with the Sitwells at Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire. Standing on the terrace, Sir George Sitwell stood silently, gazing out across the valley. Eventually, he turned and spoke to Evelyn ‘in the wistful, nostalgic tones of a castaway, yet of a castaway who was reconciled to his own company. Ignoring the settlement in the mining valley nearby, its streets packed with terraced housing, Sir George declared, “There is no one between us and the Locker-lampsons.” ’

The story used to resonate, not only with snobs who found themselves ‘marooned’ in the country, but also with artsy former Londoners who were desperate for intellectual communion with others on their wavelengths. And for these former Londoners too, even in the Home Counties, there was invariably no one between them and a single soul mate 30 miles away.

Yet country life has changed since Giles Wood – my husband and the customary occupant of this page – and I swapped stimulation for space, fresh air and lower outgoings 30 years ago.

Columnist Mary Killen goes on to explain how the Covid 19 pandemic has brought so many metropolitan residents to her rural retreat at Marlborough that she now feels like George Sitwell.

It should also be noted that several papers have announced a major auction of Sitwell family artifacts and memorabilia (including a substantial library from Weston Hall in Northamptonshire). See previous post. This will take place on 16 November in Newbury, Berks. Details may be seen at this link.

–The Catholic Herald in the debut column of American religious journalist Kenneth Craycraft focuses on a letter by Waugh published by the CH in its 7 August 1964 issue about the ongoing Second Vatican Council. Craycraft’s column opens with the assertion that Waugh’s letter:

… raised issues as fresh as this summer’s headlines. […] The letter is a timely proxy for the broad range of theological, philosophical and moral matters that are especially – but not solely – of concern to the peculiar way that American Catholics think about faith and public life. […]

Addressing the relationship of Catholicism to popular culture, the importance of liturgical integrity, and the problem of dogmatic commitment to “diversity”, Waugh’s letter spoke to matters that are still at the forefront of Catholic argument and concern.

In it, he complained about the condescension of some Council enthusiasts towards those who, like Waugh, did not object to the Council but anticipated that it might be an opportunity to subordinate the faith delivered once and for all to the spirit of the times. That is, he complained about those who celebrated the Council as a victory of “progressives” over “conservatives”. Waugh saw this as a capitulation of theological principle to cultural exigency…

The letter is not included in the 1980 Mark Amory collection but is quoted and cited at length in the balance of the CH article.

–Finally, the death was announced earlier this week of Charlie Watts, longtime drummer for the Rolling Stones. He was also, inter alia, a book collector. The Independent newspaper includes this quote in their obituary notice:

His work with the group had earnt Watts an estimated £70m. As befitted such an aesthete, he spent a portion of his time and money seeking out appropriate rare artefacts. These included one of Kenny Clarke’s drum kits, as well as one once played by Big Sid Catlett – “one of the great Thirties swing drummers”. He also collected signed first editions of 20th-century writers: “Agatha Christie: I’ve got every book she wrote in paperback. Graham Greene, I have all of them. Evelyn Waugh, he’s another one. Wodehouse: everything he wrote.”

According to The Independent, Watts was born in London, 2 June 1941; married 1964 to Shirley Ann Watts (one daughter); died 24 August 2021. He was 80 when he died.

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