Midwinter Roundup

–Charles Moore writing in his miscellany column for The Spectator marks the upcoming 70th anniversary of the death of George VI:

King George VI died in his sleep 70 years ago next week, after a day at Sandringham shooting hares and pigeons (the pheasant season having just ended). ‘I hope,’ said Winston Churchill to his doctor, ‘you will arrange something like that for me. But don’t do it till I tell you.’ He then broadcast to the nation. His phrase about the King having ‘walked with death’ was much admired. Evelyn Waugh was unimpressed. ‘Do your foreign set know that our King is dead?’ he wrote to Nancy Mitford in Paris. ‘Mr Churchill made a dreadful speech on the TSF [Telégraphie sans fil, i.e. wireless]. Triteness enlivened only by gross blunders… George VI’s reign will go into history as the most disastrous my unhappy country has known since Matilda and Stephen.’ ‘All the newspapers,’ he raged, ‘are full of the glorification of Elizabeth Tudor [because the new Queen was Elizabeth II], the vilest of her sex.’ He added that ‘The King died at the moment when Princess Elizabeth [in Kenya] first put on a pair of “slacks”… The Duke of Windsor lost his throne much more by his beret than by his adultery.’

The letter is dated 28 January 1952 (NMEW, 264). The Spectator quote omits an interesting passage about Queen Elizabeth I in which Waugh disagreed with Winston Churchill’s assessment of her reign:

His [Churchill’s] most inept historical parallel: comparing our present Queen with Elizabeth Tudor: ‘Neither grew up in the expectation of the crown.’ Elizabeth Tudor had been formally bastardized & declared ineligible by Henry VIII and all three estates of the realm. She survived alive because of the high Christian principles of Mary Tudor, when in any other royal family, she would have been executed. She was jockeyed into place by a gang of party bosses and executed the rightful heir Mary Stuart.

–A posting on the weblog of the University of Texas–Permian Basin (in Odessa) includes an excerpt from a new book by one of its faculty, Antonio Moreno, Professor of Spanish. This is entitled Burnished Mahogany Between Two Mirrors: Mexico and Scandinavia and will be published next month:

Travel narratives are not a minor undertaking nor an easy task. They force us to implement a range of techniques and a variety of devices to describe the landscape and to both make immediate and transcendent that specific moment when the traveler connects profoundly with the place and the people. [..] To transcend said bond [between place and people], one must practice searching, negotiating, interacting, crossing… and must be open to barter. A text narrating a voyage is completely questionable if rooted in stereotype, prejudice, and an underestimation of the visited culture.

There are many examples, from both sides of the spectrum.

Let’s take, for instance, Mexico: An Object Lesson (1939), by British writer Evelyn Waugh. Its pages reveal that the reasons for the 1938 trip described by Waugh had nothing to do with pleasure, aesthetics, or gastronomy; they were political. The translation of the title into Spanish speaks volumes: México: robo al amparo de la ley (2009) / Mexico: Theft Sanctioned by Law. The translator’s interpretation of the title confirms that Waugh was traveling as a correspondent both for the British Crown and for the British oil companies – very much the same way employees of the famous East India Company did a century prior. The British author was not a traveler with a desire to learn lessons from a vast country he knew nothing about. His views on Mexico provoke indignation. He maintains that it is a country in ruins, plunged into chaos, dependent on the rich nations, and—as if that were not enough—a country lacking Enlightenment-fueled ideas. Waugh aims to impose his ideological point of view, one of an English conservative and colonialist (though one who, at least, writes devilishly well) as he assesses the effects of the oil appropriation that President Lazaro Cardenas had set in motion, thereby impacting Great Britain’s investments and interests on Mexican soil.

The Guardian has posted an interview of writer Edmund White. Here is one of his responses:

The book I could never read again
I have a book group of two with the novelist Yiyun Li. I suggested we read Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies, which I’d read as a student and thought was terminally sophisticated. When we tried it a year ago I thought it was antisemitic (Father Rothschild!), heavy-handed and unfunny.

–The Italian religious website Radio Spada has posted an English-language version of an article by Luca Fumagalli. This is entitled “Chesterton and Waugh: resounding, unforgettable laughter”.  Here are the opening paragraphs:

With the exception of being converts to Catholicism G. K. Chesterton and Evelyn Waugh seem to have nothing in common: in addition to being born in different periods, each had a unique and unmistakable style.

Yet a profound bond exists between the two, starting with some shared biographical details such as a passion for drawing and the journey towards religion undertaken only after having toyed with the idea of suicide.

Chesterton and Waugh are, so to speak, the alpha and omega of the first period of English Catholic literature of the twentieth century, the one that draws heavily from the theological-cultural tradition of Newman and Manning, and that ends with Vatican II (harshly criticized by Waugh) and with a new generation of more progressive Catholic authors.

–The website The Data Lounge has opened a discussion thread to consider this question:

Watching [the 1981 Granada adaptation of Brideshead Revisited] I couldn’t help but think, would anyone in 2021 be able to sit through a single episode of this? It’s far too literate for people weaned on recent period pieces like Downton Abbey and The Gilded Age etc.

Is it even possible for something to be both popular and sophisticated like this anymore?

There are several interesting responses, and I believe the thread may still be open. Here’s the link.

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