End of March Roundup

–Alexander Larman writing in The Spectator marks the 75th anniversary of Waugh’s 1947 trip to the USA with the article “Waugh in Hollywood”:

…in early 1947, [Waugh] was forced to confront the modern world and do something out of keeping with his carefully constructed rural idyll. When Brideshead was published in the United States in 1946, it met with enormous commercial success after being picked as the prestigious Book of the Month Club selection in January. Waugh complained to his friend Maimie Lygon that “My book has been a great success in the United States which is upsetting because I thought it in good taste before and now I know it can’t be.” He was always affectionately scathing about Americans, remarking that “the great difference between our manners [and theirs] is that theirs are designed to promote cordiality, ours to protect privacy.” But his own privacy was about to be interrupted.

He goes on to explain Waugh’s negative reaction to New York City, his enjoyment of the train ride to California, and his the unsuccessful negotiations with MGM over film rights for Brideshead. The good news was that the breakdown of those negotiations gave him the opportunity to explore more thoroughly the Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale. Larman notes in this regard Waugh’s meeting with Forest Lawn’s founder Dr Hubert Eaton who, according to the article, was immortalized in the novel as the “evangelical mortician” Mr. Joyboy. I believe Dr Eaton found his immortalization in the character of Dr Kenworthy who founded Whispering Glades. The article concludes with this:

His Hollywood trip may not have resulted in the sale of Brideshead Revisited, but it did lead to something that has proved more valuable to future generations: a final comic masterpiece. The British author and critic Cyril Connolly wrote of it that “in its attitude to death, and to death’s stand-in, failure, Mr Waugh exposes a materialist society at its weakest spot… The Loved One is, in my opinion, one of the most perfect short novels of the past ten years.” Posterity has proved Connolly right. We may not have a sanitized Forties film version of Brideshead Revisited, but we do have an excellent novella. That, most would concede, is a far greater lasting achievement.

–The books blog Bookglow.net includes The Loved One on its list of the 10 “Must-Read” books that are set in Los Angeles. Here is its recommendation:

Following the death of a friend, the poet and pets’ mortician Dennis Barlow finds himself entering the artificial Hollywood paradise of the Whispering Glades Memorial Park. Within its golden gates, death, American-style, is wrapped up and sold like a package holiday–and Dennis gets drawn into a bizarre love triangle with Aimée Thanatogenos, a naïve Californian corpse beautician, and Mr. Joyboy, a master of the embalmer’s art. Waugh’s dark and savage satire depicts a world where reputation, love, and death cost a very great deal.

Others on the list include Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice.

–The website The European Conservative has posted an essay by Harrison Pitt about religious themes in Waugh’s early novels, in particular Vile Bodies and A Handful of Dust. The essay is entitled “The Young Evelyn Waugh: Tragicomic Seeker” and opens with this:

Religious themes and situations are undoubtedly stronger in Evelyn Waugh’s later novels than in his early fiction. After the publication of Brideshead Revisited in 1945,Waugh made it clear that all his books would now have a religious purpose: “to represent man more fully, which to me means only one thing, man in his relation to God.”

Waugh’s writing before Brideshead is regarded as more secular in nature. In these early novels, comic inventiveness is unleashed on the gay decadence of the 1920s. Waugh fashions a capricious universe in which responsibilities are shirked, sexual deviance is commonplace, and virtue, if it appears at all, goes unrewarded. Critics as far back as Aristotle have appreciated the comic possibility of presenting human beings in their least flattering light, and Waugh’s efforts in this vein were highly innovative.

But was there some deeper purpose to his anarchic sense of humour? Early works like Vile Bodies and A Handful of Dust, for example, touch upon religion in ways that do not seem wholly driven by a creative search for comic material. The satirical tendency in Waugh was clearly strong and, as such, it became his mode of literary expression. But despite their undoubtedly comic form and apparent lack of any moral purpose, these youthful, zany novels also voice concern about the pitfalls of nihilism in a world that has abandoned God…

Vogue magazine has posted a selection of several photographs of the Queen that have appeared in its pages. One taken by Cecil Beaton in 1945 includes her with Princess Margaret on a stairway at Buckingham Palace. The accompanying text explains that Beaton was at the time Vogue’s:

… star image-maker. Few could have done more of a service to the monarchy at such a crucial moment. […] This was a fairy-tale Queen, the very image of what monarchy should be for a modern era: glittering and remote but possessing what Evelyn Waugh, in Vogue, would call an “accessible and human” face. The little Princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose, ranged next in line for Beaton. “Who of us is so without romance as not to respond to the appeal of a young Princess?” asked Vogue.

Where and when Waugh may have written that in Vogue is not revealed.

–Finally, the New Yorker has reposted a long essay by its film critic Anthony Lane on Evelyn Waugh’s short stories. This was a review of the complete short story collections published in the US (1999) and the UK (1998). It first appeared in the magazine’s 4 October 1999 issue and was entitled “Waugh in Pieces”. This excerpt is taken from the introductory paragraphs where Lane explains that the new collection is :

…a fresh gathering of primary material: “The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh” (Little, Brown; 29.95). The title is clear, although in the Waugh canon a short story is not easily defined. The unfinished yet gracefully rounded tale “Work Suspended,” for instance, which consumes eighty-four pages of the present book, feels almost a match for “The Loved One,” “Helena,” and “The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold”—the brisk, peppery, death-haunted trio of novellas that Waugh produced in his riper years, and which are available only in individual volumes. He himself was a chronic bibliophile and a connoisseur of typography, who was admired in his youth for his capacity to illustrate rather than compose a text, and his fussing is contagious; as a rule, I am quite happy to read any cruddy old softback with splinters of wood pulp poking out of the pages, yet I treat my early edition of “Vile Bodies,” with its vibrantly woodblocked title page, like a frail and endangered pet. The craving for Waugh can come upon one without warning, especially when the tide of public folly or private slush rises to flood level, but I resent having to slake my need with an emergency Penguin. The new batch of short fiction is a necessary purchase, and you should be able to claim it against tax as an aid to professional sanity, but the I.R.S. might frown at the luridly whimsical dust jacket offered by Little, Brown. The hushed grays of the English edition, published by Everyman, would stand you in better stead.

The article is worth reading and would have made a fine introduction to the American edition which, as I recall, lacked one. Lane also wrote the article on Waugh’s novels that appeared in the Cambridge Companion to English Novelists (2009). The English edition of the complete short stories was nicely introduced by Ann Pasternak Slater who is also listed as editor. She is also editor of the Complete Works editions of short fiction scheduled to appear as volumes 5 (prewar) and 6 (postwar).


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