Mother’s Day Roundup

–Nicholas Lezard writing in the New Statesman calls on Basil Seal to explain why asparagus (now coming into season in northerly climates) is the most sexy vegetable:

… like all things sexy, it trembles on the edge of exploitation. In Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags, we know Basil Seal is a wrong ’un before we get to his incestuous relationship with his sister because of these lines: “He rejoiced, always, in the spectacle of women at a disadvantage: thus he would watch, in the asparagus season, a dribble of melted butter on a woman’s chin, marring her beauty and making her ridiculous, while she would still talk and smile and turn her head, not knowing how she appeared to him.” That’s awful, but you can see where he’s coming from. The spectacle is almost pornographic, and I’m not sure about that “almost”.

[…] There’s no way round it: asparagus is posh, and as the makers of Downton Abbey, and indeed Evelyn Waugh before them, know, posh is sexy. Asparagus also makes your pee smell funny, as celebrated by Derek and Clive in one of their crueller songs. It becomes intimately involved with the body in a way nothing else does. (OK, beetroot too, but beetroot is yuck. Rhubarb also has its season, and is something this country does better than anyone else, but rhubarb is also yuck. Don’t write in.)

–Bloomsbury Academic has announced the publication of a new book later this year that may be of interest. This is entitled Politics and Literature at the Dawn of World War II. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Mining the borderlands where history meets literature in Britain and Europe as well as America, this book shows how the imminence and outbreak of World War II ignited the imaginations of writers ranging from Ernest Hemingway, W.H. Auden, and James Joyce to Bertolt Brecht, Evelyn Waugh, Henry Green, and Irène Némirovsky.

Taking its cue from Percy Shelley’s dictum that great writers are to some extent created by the age in which they live, this book shows how much the politics and warfare of the years from 1939 to 1941 drove the literature of this period. Its novels, poems, and plays differ radically from histories of World War II because-besides being works of imagination– they are largely products of a particular stage in the author’s life as well as of a time at which no one knew how the war would end.

This is the first comprehensive study of the impact of the outbreak of the Second World War on the literary work of American, English, and European writers during its first years.

The book is written by Prof. Emeritus James A W Heffernan of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The chapters likely to be of most interest to our readers are these:

W.H. Auden, “September 1, 1939”
The Nazification of Romania in Olivia Manning’s The Balkan Trilogy
The Joke War in Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags
War, Fire, and Sex in Henry Green’s Caught

As to how comprehensive it may be, that remains to be seen. Conspicuous by their absence from any mention in the announcement are writers such as Anthony Powell (The Valley of Bones, v.7 in Dance to the Music of Time), Graham Greene  (Ministry of Fear) and Cyril Connolly (Horizon magazine) and apparently there is nothing by any Russian writer.

TLS has a review of the book by Daisy Dunn, Not Far from Brideshead.  The book is mentioned in several previous posts. The TLS review is by David Butterfield and concludes with this:

… And what of Brideshead Revisited in the book? We glimpse it occasionally. Murray married into the family who called Castle Howard their own. Bowra was contorted into the hapless Mr Samgrass of the novel. And there’s a vignette of John Betjeman clutching his teddy Archie (who sired Sebastian’s Aloysius). But Waugh himself rarely fell in with senior academics and sympathized little with the dynamic forces that make this book really hum. Perhaps the Wavian narrative now proves more restrictive than elucidatory – not just for Dunn but for most of us?

Bowra is perhaps the only “senior academic” with whom Waugh can be said to have fallen in. Waugh was a fairly frequent visitor at the Warden’s residence of Wadham College, and Bowra is noted in several visits to the Waugh homesteads.

The New Statesman and The Oxford Student also review the book, noting the  references to Brideshead in greater detail. The review in the New Statesman is by Leo Robson and is entitled: “Gilbert Murray: the Oxford don who made Greek chic: Daisy Dunn’s charismatic interwar history of Oxford illuminates the wide influence of the celebrated classicist and his circle.” Here’s a link. The review in The Oxford Student (a bimonthly print and daily online student paper) is by Kian Moghaddas and is available here.

— An article in Crisis Magazine, a religious journal, reconsiders Waugh’s 1962 Spectator article “Same Again, Please” in which he warned about a likely outcome of the Second Vatican Council. This is by retired professor of Gettysburg College, Robert Garnett, who writes:

Though Oxford educated and a distinguished man of letters, Waugh pretended to no particular knowledge of or expertise in the more abstruse items on the Council’s agenda. Liturgy, though—especially the Mass—was something every churchgoing Catholic knew something about. The argument of “The Same Again, Please” is populist, Waugh presenting himself as an ordinary parishioner in the pews, just as the essay’s title echoes a common phrase in English pubs. “I believe I am typical of that middle rank of the Church,” he confessed, “far from the leaders, much further from the saints.”

Most parishioners, Waugh suspected, had little interest in liturgical reform or greater involvement in the Mass. The clamor for reform and the vernacular came from the Catholic chattering class, not from the pews. “I think it highly doubtful whether the average churchgoer either needs or desires to have complete intellectual, verbal comprehension of all that is said,” Waugh observed. “He has come to worship, often dumbly and effectively. . . . When young theologians talk, as they do, of Holy Communion as “a social meal” they find little response in the hearts or minds of their less sophisticated brothers.”

After noting several aspects of liturgical reform addressed by Waugh, the Crisis article concludes:

…although Vatican II’s liturgical changes remain controversial, there can be no doubting their upshot. American (and British) Catholics have voted with their feet, leaving empty pews behind them [citing a recent study]…Unlike many, Waugh did not leave the Church, but neither did he live—nor would he have wanted to live—to see the full flowering of the Council’s reforms. On Easter Day 1966, after attending a nearby Latin Mass, he died suddenly at Combe Florey, his Somerset home. A Requiem Mass was celebrated in London’s Westminster Cathedral. It too, as Waugh would appreciate, was in Latin.

Waugh’s article is reprinted in EAR (p. 602).

–There is an offer on the internet of what may be a new translation of A Handful of Dust. This is a Greek version (Μια χούφτα σκόνη) translated by Palmyra Ismiridou. The publication date is not provided in the internet listing but it is not yet listed on WorldCat which would suggest that it may be new.

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