Roundup: From MoI to Antifa

–University of London has posted a history of Senate House, a large modern building on its campus near the British Museum. It housed the Ministry of Information (“MoI”) during WWII. Waugh features in the discussion:

Literary descriptions of Senate House while the Ministry was in situ are less than flattering, with Evelyn Waugh’s character in Put Out More Flags finding it difficult to enter the building, thinking that ‘all the secrets of all the services might have been hidden in that gross mass of masonry.’ Graham Greene described ‘the Ministry’ as a ‘high heartless building… where the windows were always open for fear of blast and the cold winds whistled in’ (Penguin New Writing).

George Orwell, whose wife worked in the building in the later years of the war, also used Senate House as the model for his Ministry of Truth in 1984.

— Jake Kerridge writing in the Daily Telegraph discusses changes novelist Ben Okri recently made to his 2007 novel The Last Gift of the Master Artists. The article begins with this:

A novel is not always finished when it’s finished: books can worry away at their authors for years after publication. Evelyn Waugh revised Brideshead Revisited (1945) in 1959, shearing it of some of the lush, ornate prose that had been a reaction against wartime privations. Jeffrey Archer rewrote his 1979 debut Kane and Abel in 2009 to give it the benefit of three decades’ experience as an author, removing many candidates for The Oxford Book of Terrible Sentences….

Revisions to Brideshead were implemented from its very beginning. Waugh made substantial changes to the page proof which he nevertheless distributed without the revisions as Christmas presents in 1944. Less substantial changes were also made in later UK editions before the 1959 rewrite. In the US, his 1944 corrections were included in the 1946 trade and book club editions, but there were no further changes I am aware of until after his death–i.e., the 1959 revisions probably did not appear in US editions (such as numerous Dell paperback reprints) until the 2000s.

The Spectator writes about the recent turmoil in Sri Lanka and opens the discussion with this quote from a Waugh novel:

In Evelyn Waugh’s classic satire Black Mischief, the fictional African country of Azania welcomes an English delegation from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, at a gala dinner. In the after-dinner speech, given by the Azanian Minister for the Interior, it becomes clear that there is a slight misunderstanding about the Society’s objectives:

‘It is my privilege and delight this evening to welcome with open arms of brotherly love to our city Dame Mildred Porch and Miss Tin, two ladies renowned throughout the famous country of Europe for their great cruelty to animals. We Azanians are a proud and ancient nation, but we have much to learn from the white people of the West and North. We too, in our small way, are cruel to our animals…’At this point, Waugh explains that the Minister ‘digressed at some length to recount with hideous detail what he had himself once done with a woodman’s axe to a wild boar’.

I sometimes think that the mess that countries like Sri Lanka get themselves in is perhaps due to a similar ‘lost in translation’ phenomenon…

–Novelist Julian Barnes recently gave a talk about his book collecting experiences. This was in connection with Christies’ charity auction (“First Editions, Second Thoughts”) in aid of English PEN (which is, I assume, an affiliate of PEN International). Here’s an excerpt that involved some of Waugh’s books:

I had always assumed that those who loved books were high-minded and honest, rather in the way that I’d always assumed that gardeners were high-minded and honest. Then I discovered that some of the latter would carry concealed secateurs and have poachers’ pockets sewn into the inside of their coats for the contraband they would pick as they made their way round rare and famous gardens. I was at the Lilies [a large upscale British secondhand book store] and spotted a book I had sought for a very long time: a first edition of Evelyn Waugh’s second novel, Vile Bodies. In matters of Evelyn Waugh, I was, and still remain, a completist – for instance, I own a copy of the first Belgian edition, with pages uncut and original wraparound band, of Waugh’s Scoop, published under the title Sensation! (Do I hear a sharp intake of envious breath? Perhaps not.) I took the copy of Vile Bodies from the shelf, opened it, observed the very reasonable price, and realised that it was in fact a second impression. Well, I didn’t want that. Then I read the pencilled name of the original owner:  John Hayward, the editor, bibliophile and close friend of T. S. Eliot. And beneath it was a note in his hand reading ‘left on my shelves in place of my own first edition.’ I was deeply, genuinely shocked. I imagined the thief laying his plans, coming fully prepared with his copy of the second edition in the equivalent of a poacher’s pocket, and quickly, surreptitiously, swapping them over.

Thanks to Dave Lull for sending a link. A complete copy of Barnes’ presentation can be viewed at this link.

–The religious journal Crisis magazine has an article on the origin of the term “anti-fascist” and the newer form “antifa”. It opens with this quote from a Waugh short story:

One way to shed light on the term antifa is to look back to 1949, when the Anglo-Catholic writer Evelyn Waugh published his quasi-autobiographical short story “Compassion,” set in rural Yugoslavia during World War II. Depicting a well-meaning albeit hapless British liaison officer forced to work with some obnoxiously pushy Communist partisans, Waugh contrasts the down-to-earth if naive mindset of a middle-class Englishman with the narrow-minded ideology informing socialist guerilla cells. At one point, for instance, the Communists invite Major Gordon to a celebration:

“The Anti-Fascist Theater Group was organizing a Liberation Concert and had politely asked him to supply words and music of English anti-fascist songs, so that all the allies would be suitably represented. Major Gordon had to explain that his country had no anti-fascist songs and no patriotic songs that anyone cared to sing. The Commissar noted this further evidence of Western decadence with grim satisfaction. For once there was no need to elaborate. The Commissar understood. It was just as he had been told years before in Moscow.”

The “anti-fascist theatre group” is also mentioned in Waugh’s novel Unconditional Surrender (p. 296) in which much of the text of “Compassion” was used, with Guy Crouchback standing in for Major Gordon. In the novel an “anti-fascist choir” also performed.


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