Roundup: Books Listed, Reviewed and Revisited

–The Daily Telegraph has a review of the new book by David Fleming entitled Hellfire: Evelyn Waugh and the Hypocrites Club. This was published in the UK last month as noted in a recent post. The review is by Nikhil Krishnan and begins with this:

Oxford has never been short of drinking clubs. Why does this one so short-lived deserve as lengthy a biography as David Fleming has given them? There is to start with the fact that the club counted as members three novelists of great originality (Evelyn Waugh, Henry Green and Anthony Powell) and one man with a claim to be the 20th century’s greatest travel writer, Robert Byron. There were others–Brian Howard and Harold Acton–who never quite delivered on their early literary promise but did their bit for modern literature by providing Waugh with the inspiration for Anthony Blanche, the memorable camp aesthete from Brideshead Revisited.

But is this enough to justify revisiting much visited literary territory yet again? Fleming proposes that the Hypocrites were special. Although they ran the political gamut from “bone-dry Conservative” (Waugh) to “firmly on the left” (the journalist Claud Cockburn), they had in common a sensibility: independent-minded, rebellious, argumentative and intolerant of cant. […]

After discussing several of the book’s themes and noting that the “editorial apparatus is disappointingly sparse”, Krishnan concludes:

Fleming’s prose is, at best, workmanlike, unflashy and blandly informative. Nearly every quotation has the inevitable effect of making the lack of distinction in his own prose painfully apparent, but that is the occupational hazard of a literary historian.

The book will also be reviewed in an upcoming issue of Evelyn Waugh Studies.

–Emily Temple writing in Literary Hub has made a list of the top 60 “campus novels”. Here’s her definition and selection criteria: keep you company as the cold weather descends, here is a list of the greatest academic satires, campus novels, and boarding school bildungsromans in the modern canon.

I limited my selections to one per author (though I made an extra note here and there, and a set or two may have slipped in) and I excluded anything written for children (or the magic schools would overwhelm), though boarding schools in general are allowed. Finally, my obligatory caveat that not every campus novel that anyone has ever loved is included here, lists and time both being finite and literature being subjective, but please feel free to add on in the comments section.

Her Waugh selection is Decline and Fall:

A novel in which events are set in motion by a trouser theft and subsequent streaking and even subsequenter expulsion? No one does satire like Waugh. See also: Brideshead Revisited, the most famous (and best) campus novel that is actually mostly not a campus novel at all.

Entertainment Weekly has compiled a list of the 25 best Hollywood novels. Waugh’s The Loved One is included:

A little Six Feet Under here, some Golden Age romanticizing there, and you’ve got Evelyn Waugh’s crackling The Loved One. A poet and pet mortician becomes enraptured by the golden gates and paradise aesthetic of Whispering Glades Memorial Park, located in the heart of Los Angeles, where he falls into a bizarre love triangle.

–John Self in The Critic has produced a thoughtful reconsideration of the works of Kurt Vonnegut. As he sees it, Vonnegut is one of several novelists who is best known for the wrong book–in his case Slaughterhouse-Five:

If Mother Night and Cat’s Cradle are the early peaks of Vonnegut’s work, later in the decade he would produce one combining science fiction and war that masquerades as a peak, but is really the beginning of the journey down the other side. Like Evelyn Waugh, Kazuo Ishiguro and Charlotte Brontë (among many others), Vonnegut is famous for the wrong book.

Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) remains his most popular book, and in a way you can see why. It takes a serious subject — war and the bombing of Dresden — and makes it funny, in fact twists it out of shape with a hero who becomes “unstuck in time”, has future flashbacks and travels to a planet called Tralfamadore.

Yet I can only agree with the ur-critic, John Carey, who categorises it among those books “that gain their power from their subjects more than their writing”. The book saw Vonnegut placed as an anti-war satirist alongside Joseph Heller, another member of the famous-for-the-wrong-book club, whose Catch-22 had been published at the beginning of the decade.

In Waugh’s case Self presumably assumes the wrong book is Brideshead Revisited.

–Finally, the New York Times reviews a selection of diaries and photos of the Rome-based, US-born photographer Milton Gendel. This is entitled Just Passing Through. After explaining Gendel’s somewhat eclectic career, the review notes his acquaintanceship with several writers:

More public writers are observed concisely and without mercy, both their work and their personalities. Of Muriel Spark: “She is a bag fumbler.” On “Portnoy’s Complaint,” by Philip Roth: “It is brilliant. But caricatural and pseudo-literary,” with “comic strip characters.” Evelyn Waugh is held to account for his “bitchy right-wingery and his vein of anti-Semitism,” even as Gendel fraternizes with his eldest son, Auberon. Graham Greene is deemed a “brilliant tightrope walker edging between God and his grubby little creatures” but nonetheless compares unfavorably to Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Gendel would have encountered Waugh on one or more of the latter’s several trips to Rome in the 1950-60s where Gendel’s wife was a friend of Diana Cooper. See previous post.



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