Roundup: Boris Johnson, Arcadia and a Feghoot

–The New Statesman mentions Waugh twice in separate articles recounting the last days of Boris Johnson’s premiership. The first is by Jason Cowley and is entitled “In 2019 Boris Johnson had everything he wanted. But the gods were waiting for him”. Here’s an excerpt:

Like Churchill, Johnson is a writer. He is celebrated for his flamboyant witticisms and arcane vocabulary, part Bertie Wooster, part early Evelyn Waugh. But as prime minister he never found an authentic voice – or tone or register – to speak to and for the British people, especially during the traumatic first year of the pandemic. For whatever reason – a reluctance to deliver bad news, a fear of the wrath of the libertarian right in his party, a failure of empathy – he could not, as the New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote of Donald Trump’s response to the pandemic, step outside his political role and reveal “himself uncloaked and humbled, as someone who can draw on his own pains and simply be present with others as one sufferer among a common sea of sufferers”.

The second is by Simon Kuper and is entitled: “The final act in the Gove-Johnson psychodrama: The pair’s unlikely political alliance began at Oxford, was cemented by Brexit and ended with one last strike of revenge“. The story begins with Gove acting as campaign manager in Johnson’s second (and successful) run for president of the Oxford Union. The article continues through their years as MPs and partnership in securing Brexit (without which Kuper thinks the referendum would have lost). Along the way, and before the Brexit episode, Gove had formed an alliance with David Cameron. This is where Waugh comes in:

The Goves holidayed with the Camerons, their children. practically grew up together […] but Gove remained in awe of Cameron. Tim Shipman’s book about the Brexit referendum, All Out War, compares the men’s relationship to that between the upper-middle-class Charles Ryder and the golden Etonian Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.  Gove was probably the most gifted right-wing politician, brighter and more articulate than the Etonians, but he accepted that in the Conservative Party, intelligence was not the decisive attribute. It could even be a handicap: Britain was not France.

The article goes on to describe how both Gove and Johnson ditched their former colleague Cameron over Brexit and then re-united when Johnson became premier in 2019 only to fall out again as Johnson was cratering.

–In his Spectator column, Jeremy Clarke describes several means by which he has tried to relieve his mid-summer malaise:

As of now I have two things left up my sleeve to try to get myself out of this slough. One is magic mushrooms. […] The other is a silent contemplation and prayer in a closed religious community. […] The nunnery is huge, old and remote and the seven gentle, smiling nuns – Argentinian –are like nothing on Earth. Now and again I read in the paper about the gradual suppression of Latin in the Catholic Church. I know nothing of the theological debate. All I do know is that it was a contributory cause of Evelyn Waugh’s early death. The poor man should have fled down here. Here the nuns sing and chant away in Latin as though unaware of any theological controversy more recent than the Council of Trent. Like Peter Cook, I never ’ad the Latin. But I do enjoy the ring of a Latin expression. For example, Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus – false in one thing, false in everything.

–The TLS reviews a two-volume book entitled A History of Arcadia in Art and Literature. The author is Paul Holberton, and it is reviewed by Jonathan Bate. This appears near the beginning:

…the abiding influence of the name [Arcadia] owes more to Roman history. Though it was the supposed home of Pan and the birthplace of the huntress Atalanta, Arcadia as the place where humankind lives in harmony with nature is an idea rooted in the literary and artistic traditions of pastoral. Yet in the first eclogue of Theocritus, father of the genre, Pan is asked to leave the mountainous land of the Arcadian king Lycaon and relocate to Sicily. Arcadia itself is not named. It was only with Virgil’s Latin imitations of Theocritus, the sequence of poems he called his Bucolics, that Arcadia became the locus amoenus (pleasant place) where shepherds sing in the shade of their various loves and losses.

The review eventually gets around to the section of Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited entitled “Et in Arcadia Ego”. That is behind a paywall, but an examination of the book’s contents would suggest that it is probably discussed in volume 2, Chapter 16, entitled “Et in Arcadia Ego”.  This deals with paintings on that topic by, inter alia, Guercino and Poussin, as well as writings by Milton (“L’Allegro”), Marvell (green thought”) and Grey’s Elegy.

–The Washington Post has been posting a series of columns where readers are invited to send in passages which include a pun as well as clues to what phrase is being punned. It seems to be called a feghoot. This is defined in Wikipedia: “also known as a story pun or poetic story joke [a feghoot] is a humorous short story or vignette ending in a pun (typically a play on a well-known phrase)”. Here’s one in which Evelyn Waugh appears. The solution is added in parenthesis at the end:

Having given chef the night off, Evelyn Waugh decided to make Christmas dinner himself. Waugh was a bit prickly, and got infuriated by little things — like recalcitrant salsa or dribbling Worcestershire. And so, as the carol tells us, “Cooking when the sauce oozed out often cheesed off Evelyn.” (I credit the Royal Consort for discerning “Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen.”)

The Royal Consort seems to be the columnist’s partner.



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