Waugh and the Cancel Culture

Simon Heffer writing in the Daily Telegraph discusses the cancel culture’s attack on Philip Larkin. He suggests the proper area of debate should be limited to Larkin the man and not his poetry. In the course of the article he also notes:

The question of whether an artist’s personal views should affect our appreciation of his or her art goes far beyond Larkin. His fellow Hull poet, Andrew Marvell, devoted much of his prose writing to vilifying Roman Catholics. How long will he last? Shakespeare has already necessitated “trigger warnings” for those university students incapable of putting language in its historical context. Charles Dickens had quite poisonous views on women, and the first draft of Oliver Twist makes his later treatment of Fagin look benign in its anti-Semitism. Saki drips anti-Semitism too, as did several writers of his class and generation. It is astonishing that Evelyn Waugh’s treatment of black people in Decline and Fall, Black Mischief and Scoop has so far escaped scrutiny.

I don’t know Mr Heffer’s age but since the 1960s when I began reading Waugh I can’t think of any period when critics were ready to give him a pass on his attitude toward black people whenever the opportunity arose. Unlike Larkin, who has a statue in Hull that is now at some risk, no monuments have ever been erected for Evelyn Waugh and perhaps we should be thankful for that.

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