Washington’s Birthday Roundup

–Last week’s Sunday Telegraph reviews a new book by Simon Fenwick entitled The Crichel Boys. This is about a post-WWII literary salon established in a house that was formerly the rectory of Long Crichel, Dorset. This was purchased by Eddy Sackville-West, Desmond Shawe-Taylor and Eardley Knollys later joined by Raymond Mortimer. They installed a good cook and her husband served as butler. The guest list as reflected in the review was quite impressive, including James Lees-Milne, Peter Pears, Benjamin Britten, Kenneth Clark, Elizabeth Bowen, Somerset Maugham, Greta Garbo and Graham Greene. Conspicuous by his absence is Evelyn Waugh. He is quoted as referring to Long Crichel:

The Crichel Boys were all members of the establishment […] but none of them was conventional. They were all openly gay (Evelyn Waugh called Long Crichel “the buggery house”)…

Laura Freeman reviews the book in this week’s Sunday Times. She is a bit less inclined to like it:

Here come the usual (or should that be U-sual?) suspects: Nancy Mitford, waspish, wasp-waisted, just back from Paris; Patrick “Paddy” Leigh Fermor, bronzed and handsomely indolent; Lady Ottoline Morrell, splendid, ridiculous, roped in pearls. Sonia Orwell will perch on the fender and there will be cameos by John Betjeman, Cecil Beaton, Cyril Connolly, David “Bunny” Garnett and a glamorous Guinness or three.

Evelyn Waugh will turn up at teatime and be rude about everyone. It will be a bit Bloomsbury, a bit Bright Young Things, a bit BBC and a bit Oxford tweedy. Done well, the genre is enormous fun. Don’t you wish you were there? Guest of honour at a fantasy dinner party, with Paddy on your left and Nancy on your right and Virginia Woolf being wicked and bitchy within eavesdropping distance. Done less well, you feel trapped at an endless country-house weekend listening to minor literary liggers complain about the central heating.

Whether Waugh ever turned up is not stated nor could I find any evidence in his letters or diaries that he did so. His biographers make no mention of Long Crichel or its salon either.

–Flora Watkins writing in The Spectator addresses the frustrations of home teaching by listing (for her own home pupils and others) 10 examples of teachers who are worse than she is (or they are). One is Capt. Grimes from Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall:

Of all the misfits employed as schoolmasters at Llanabba Castle, the drunken deviant Captain Grimes is Primus inter pares. Dishonourably discharged from the army, he’s usually half-cut and perennially “in the soup”. He later makes a bigamous marriage with the headmaster’s daughter. Grimes’s pederasty was removed from the 2017 BBC-TV adaptation–what with boarding school abuse not being so amusing as it was in the 1920’s.

Others on the list include Jim Prideaux of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Wackford Squeers of Nicholas Nickleby; and Muriel Sparks’s Miss Jean Brodie.

–Novelist Louise Candish was interviewed in the Irish paper The Independent. Here is an excerpt:

Q. The writer who shaped you?
A. Margaret Atwood, Tom Wolfe, Patricia Highsmith, Evelyn Waugh, Agatha Christie, and, going back to childhood, Enid Blyton – have all had a strong influence on me. I connect with their unflinching interest in the less heroic motives of humans. Lust and avarice, cowardice and snobbery – the savagery that hovers beneath our civilised facades.

–The Canadian religious website Catholic Insight posts an unsigned review and recommendation of Waugh’s Edmund Campion: Jesuit and Martyr. Here’s an excerpt:

 …Waugh’s biography […] and Campion’s life, speak very much to our own time. Campion was a contrarian, standing against the spiritus mundi. He could have had it all, bright, successful, up-and-coming, but threw all that way to follow Christ. Only a living thing can swim upstream, as another Englishman, G.K. Chesterton wrote, not to follow the entropic and enervating current, but show there is a far better way.

And that Campion did. Waugh’s book, to this writer’s mind, is a masterpiece of hagiography, portraying the saint as he was, in his own time, and even in his own  ‘mind’, insofar as such is possible, the inner turmoil, difficulties and even doubts, as this once-foppish young man joined the most rigorous of Orders, full of their original zeal (the Jesuits were only constituted in 1540, four decades before Campion’s death). How Campion, by grace and training, was formed into an elite soldier for Christ, risking a brutal and grisly death to bring the Faith, the Sacraments, and some solace, to Catholics left bereft in Elizabeth’s increasingly anti-Catholic England.

–An academic journal The Modernist Review has issued a call for papers headed with this reference to Evelyn Waugh:

“[L]et us hide the cocktail-shaker,” Evelyn Waugh wrote in the Daily Express in 1928, for “[c]ocktails are chilly things at the best of times, and during Christmas week they are ‘all wrong.’”

Waugh was perhaps being a little tongue-in-cheek here, but his demand that cocktails—an emblem of modernity—should be cast aside during the festive season raises intriguing questions. How did the modernists (and modernist-adjacents!) feel and write about festivity and parties? How does festivity intersect with modernity, and what effects does this produce? Waugh’s own Vile Bodies follows a gaggle of thoroughly modern Bright Young People from one bizarre festive locale to the next…

–The following abstract of a University of California, Berkeley PhD thesis has been posted. This is entitled “The Comic Bildungsroman: Evelyn Waugh, Samuel Beckett and Philip Roth” by David Seidel:

This dissertation argues that the relationship between comedy and the Bildungsroman is symbiotic rather than subversive, indicative of a fundamental affinity between mode and genre. The Bildungsroman is a genre supremely anxious about the social, professional, and romantic definition its heroes seek, an anxiety that leaves it highly vulnerable to the incursions of comedy. Definition is about limits, ends, bounds, and stability. I argue that comedy attacks all these things mercilessly, and finds in the Bildungsroman’s preoccupation with definition, limits, and bounds a fertile ground for its own forces of indefinition [sic], limitlessness, and boundlessness. Therefore, small, sometimes trivial examples of comic indefinition can be traced back to the larger definitional stakes of the Bildungsroman form. The comic twentieth-century novels I take up, Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall and The Loved One, Samuel Beckett’s Murphy and Company, and Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint and Sabbath’s Theater, feed on the Bildungsroman’s ever-present, latent comedy. Comic Bildungsromans, anti-Bildungsromans, parodic Bildungsromans: a rose is a rose is a rose. Whatever the name, the comic Bildungsroman doesn’t so much distort the image of the Bildungsroman as reflect its truest form.

Here’s a link to the full text of the thesis.

UPDATE (21 February 2021): Dave Lull kindly sent a link to the full text of the UC PhD thesis. It is posted above.

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