Spring Equinox Roundup

–The religious-philosophical website First Things has posted an article by George Weigel about conspiracy theories from within the Vatican hierarchy. This opens with an allusion to a seldom-mentioned Waugh character who has suddenly become relevant in the present international environment:

One of the minor characters in Evelyn Waugh’s World War II trilogy, Sword of Honor, is the commander of a super-secret military intelligence unit, Colonel Grace-Groundling-Marchpole: a conspiracy theorist constantly connecting dots that no rational person would imagine connecting or even think connectable. The colonel was also possessed by a messiah complex: “Somewhere in the ultimate curlicues of his mind, there was a Plan. Given time, given enough confidential material, he would succeed in knitting the entire quarrelsome world into a single net of conspiracy in which there were no antagonists, merely millions of men working, unknown to one another, for the same end: and there would be no more war.” To Grace-Groundling-Marchpole, the Allies and the Nazis were in fact on the same side; and as soon as that was revealed, all would be well with the world.

One of the tragedies of this Catholic moment is that its Grace-Groundling-Marchpole is Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States. For years now, the archbishop has been issuing “declarations,” increasingly conspiratorial in their analysis of matters ecclesiastical, political, epidemiological, and vaccinal. Archbishop Viganò’s March 6 encyclical, a 10,000-word “Declaration on the Russia-Ukraine Crisis,” took this conspiracy-mania into Grace-Groundling-Marchpole territory.

Weigel goes on in considerable detail to make his case. His article has gone viral on the religious internet and has been translated into several languages. You can read it here in English.

–Waugh biographer Paula Byrne has written a review of the new book on interwar Oxford entitled Not Far from Brideshead. This appeared in The Spectator.  Byrne offers interesting insights on the interwar lives of don’s wives and women undergraduates in Oxford as reflected in the new book. She also notes:

Where Dunn is less effective is as a literary critic, and she makes some errors in her analysis of Waugh and the origins of Brideshead Revisited. She claims that Anthony Blanche is based on chief aesthete Harold Acton, Sebastian Flyte on Alastair Graham and Brideshead itself on Castle Howard, once the home of Lady Mary. In fact, Waugh’s modus operandi was far more cunning. His method was to conflate two characters so that if he were accused by one of his friends, he could simply reply that it was the other. Blanche, he said, was one-third Acton but two-thirds the Etonian Brian Howard, a protégé of Edith Sitwell. Brideshead was a composite of Castle Howard and Madresfield Court. The latter, like Brideshead, had an Arts & Crafts chapel with frescoes painted with the faces of Lord Beauchamp’s children, as in the novel. Madresfield was home to Waugh for a number of years, and he based Sebastian chiefly on Hugh Lygon, a hopeless dipsomaniac (though also using aspects of his love affair with Alastair Graham). When Waugh had finished Brideshead, he sent a copy to his inner circle, begging Nancy Miford to give him the consensus of opinion: ‘It’s the Lygons,’ she replied. Dorothy Lygon, the model for Cordelia Flyte, wrote to Waugh: ‘Sebastian gives me many pangs.’

Dunn overlooks the Lygon family, even though Waugh’s set knew that Julia Flyte was based on the beautiful Mary Lygon, who was slated to marry into the royal family until the scandal of her father’s homosexuality broke and he was exiled to an apartment on the Grand Canal in Venice. Hugh Lygon and Waugh visited Lord Beauchamp there, inspiring the visit to Lord Marchmain in the novel. Graham, Waugh’s Oxford paramour, was not an aristocrat. His home on the edge of Stratford-upon-Avon was a detached but modest house, hardly to be compared with Hugh Lygon’s family seat. The novel in which ‘Waugh would immortalise’ the ‘Roaring Twenties’ was not Decline and Fall, as Dunn says, but Vile Bodies. The Welsh boarding school to which the hero of Waugh’s debut is exiled on being sent down from Oxford is a far cry from the London of the Bright Young Things.

Byrne also makes some interesting points that might have been made in the book if more attention had been paid to “the Oxford novel” as a genre. She notes that this would have been appropriate in a book displaying one in its title. She concludes:

…this is an immensely readable and meticulously researched book, whose title perhaps obscures its intended meaning. Dunn, an Oxford woman herself, is clear-eyed about her alma mater’s ineffable charm and glamour, but she is patently aware of its dark side, epitomised so well by another phrase of Arnold’s: ‘Home of lost causes, and forsaken beliefs, and unpopular names, and impossible loyalties!’

The book will be released later this month. Details on its current availability are linked in previous posts. As some of our readers will recall, the reviewer Paula Byrne made a presentation at the Society’s Downside conference. Her 2009 book on Waugh where she elaborates many of the points noted above is Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead.

–The New Yorker carries a detailed review of a new book entitled Last Call at the Hotel Imperial by Deborah Cohen. This is a history of the creation and growth of the concept of the foreign correspondent in the 20th century. It is written in the form of case studies of several American members of the trade, beginning with John Gunther. The review opens with this:

In 1928, the Soviet Union, then six years old, embarked on its first Five-Year Plan and held its first major political show trial. […] It was in the summer of that year that John Gunther, a twenty-six-year-old, Illinois-born foreign correspondent for the Chicago Daily News, was posted to Moscow. Gunther found it practically impossible to understand the state formed by Vladimir Lenin’s proletarian revolution. But, since he had to file something, he took notes: that there were no outdoor cafés and hardly any street lights, that crowds gathered around loudspeakers to listen to the news, that his hotel chambermaid offered him a cigarette, and that servants now ate alongside the families that they served. After weeks of this, he finally cobbled together a story headlined “animated evenings mark life in russia’s capital.” As he settled into the five-month posting, his dispatches included the likes of “wear blue shirts at moscow opera” and “russia land of many paradoxes.”

It was precisely this type of news-gathering that Evelyn Waugh lampooned in his satirical novel “Scoop,” whose Wenlock Jakes, a swaggering American journalist, is partly based on Gunther. Jakes, we’re told, once overslept and went to the wrong Balkan capital—a peaceful one rather than a war zone—and nevertheless “cabled off a thousand-word story about barricades in the streets, flaming churches, machine guns answering the rattle of his typewriter as he wrote, a dead child, like a broken doll, spreadeagled in the deserted roadway below his window.” Waugh perceived the emergent American style of accreting detail when you don’t have a clue what’s going on.

–The Italian religious website Radio Spada has posted an English-language translation of an article on the support of British Roman Catholics for the Franco regime in Spain during the 1930s. Here is an excerpt:

…The future sister-in-law of Evelyn Waugh, Miss Gabriel Herbert, for her part represented the enthusiasm for Franco’s crusade that infected many young people of the time: she left for Spain and lent her help to the Nationalists who worked as ambulance staff (like Cordelia of Brideshead Revisited). Even the Labor Party, which had many members among Catholic immigrant workers from Ireland, regarded Republicans with suspicion. […] The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Arthur Hinsley, wanted to form another organization to provide humanitarian aid to the Nationalists. On the board, among others, were Lord Fitzalan of Derwent and Lord Howard of Penrith. There was also Evelyn Waugh, although his enthusiasm for Franco was rather limited (the partiality he had shown towards Mussolini had already alienated the sympathies of many of his writer friends; it was useless, therefore, to go too far).

–The recent Gresham College/London lecture “Coincidences in the Novel: Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot to Evelyn Waugh and David Nicholls” by Prof. John Mullan is now available on YouTube and PDF file at this link. The announcement was carried in a previous post.


This entry was posted in Brideshead Revisited, Lectures, Newspapers, Scoop, Sword of Honour and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.