Roundup: Spike Milligan, Tom Stoppard and More

–Duncan McLaren has had the idea to compare the WWII novels of two British comedians who wrote about it, based on their experiences: Evelyn Waugh and Spike Milligan. Here’s the introduction:

If Evelyn Waugh wrote a series of the most memorable books about the Second World War, then so did Spike Milligan. It can’t be emphasised enough how differently they came at the same subject. Born in 1918, Milligan was fifteen years younger than Waugh. Which goes part of the way to explaining why in 1939, after the declaration of war with Germany, 36-year-old Evelyn Waugh vainly (at first) tried to use his contacts to get taken on as a trainee officer, while 20-year-old Spike Milligan just as vainly tried to ignore the call-up papers that kept being delivered to his parents’ home in London.

The article and illustrations are posted here.

Maggs Brothers, Booksellers, in London have on offer a 1948 post card by Waugh in response to a reader’s query about The Loved One. Here’s the description:

Waugh, contrary to his rather his rather prickly public persona, replies to Mrs Brown Fullerton of Brodick, Isle of Arran, with genuine pleasure having received a letter from her regarding his recent book, The Loved One: “It is most kind of you to take the trouble to write to me about ‘The Loved One.’ What the radio announcer told you is not, in general, true but your letter was a pleasant exception. I have happy memories of Brodick where I spent Christmas 1940 with the commandos.” The Loved One was published a month before this letter, in February 1848.

The Loved One version that appeared in February 1948 was the one in Horizon magazine for that month, so that would have been the  one referred to in the post card. The UK book edition from C&H (with revisions) appeared in November/December 1948. This was to avoid a marketing conflict with Scott King’s Modern Europe that was published in the UK in December 1947. The US book edition of The Loved One was published in June 1948 as there was no marketing conflict in the US  where  SKME was not published until 1949. The post card is on offer for ÂŁ750.

–The New York Times has a long background piece on playwright Tom Stoppard. This is by Maureen Dowd and was written to coincide with the October New York opening of Stoppard’s play Leopoldstadt. This is based on his research into his Jewish roots in late 1930s Czechoslovakia. In the course of that discussion, this appears:

[Stoppard’s] biographer, [Hermione Lee]  noted that Stoppard was particularly influenced while researching “Leopoldstadt” by Alexander Waugh’s book, “The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War,” about the wealthy, sophisticated Viennese family that produced the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and his brother Paul, who continued to be a concert pianist after losing an arm in World War I. The family had been Catholic for two generations, but when Hitler annexed Austria, they were stunned to learn they counted as Jews.

The full article is available here.

–This notice recently appeared in The Daily Beast:

A tidbit from Media Bistro’s Galleycat that warms The Daily Beast’s heart: Sales of Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel Scoop, from whose pages this website takes its name, were up 83 percent for the week ending October 12. With overall book sales still pretty low—Nielsen Bookscan reports 3,000 copies sold since it started tracking in 2001—we won’t yet be demanding royalties.

–In the religious/philosophical journal First Things, Andrew Bacevich recalls his experience with reading Brideshead Revisited and finds it relevant today. One of his teachers in a “small Benedicitine high school in the middle of the prairie” recommended the book to his students in the 1960s:

The result was disappointment. In the grip of a severe Anglophilia, I found Waugh’s savage takedown of British upper-class life utterly discomfiting. Waugh’s principal characters were lost souls. Members of his supporting cast were either preposterously obtuse or shallow, self-indulgent, and habitually drunk. At an age when I wanted to fit myself into whatever I might be reading—preferably in a heroic role—Waugh offered me no one to identify with.

Sixty years later, I decided on a whim to give Brideshead a second chance. Father Allen’s grandiose verdict still strikes me as a stretch. Tagging any novel as “best ever” is akin to identifying the “best ever” left-handed pitcher or carrot cake recipe: necessarily arbitrary.

That said, the novel Waugh dashed off in a matter of months during a break from wartime service unquestionably qualifies as a masterpiece. For perplexed Americans today—especially for perplexed believers—here is a book that invites careful reflection. Nearly eighty years after it first appeared in print, Waugh’s unsparing depiction of a society in an advanced state of decay to which its elites are willfully oblivious (or in which they are unconsciously complicit) captures a major element of our own dilemma. In Brideshead, Waugh previews the nihilism that inundates present-day American life.

The basis for the conclusions is set out in the remainder of the article which is available here.




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