Summer Bank Holiday Roundup

–D J Taylor in the latest issue of Literary Review has written a review of the new biography by Patrick Donovan. This is entitled Arnold Bennett: Last Icon. It was mentioned in a previous post.  Here’s an excerpt from the beginning paragraphs:

Evelyn Waugh gestures at some of the clouds of gossip column glory that hung around [Bennett] in the closing pages of Decline and Fall (1928), where Paul Pennyfeather, now back at Oxford, narrowly avoids being run over by a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce containing the mysterious figure of Philbrick, one-time butler at the north Wales private school at which Paul has previously drudged. ‘Who was your opulent friend?’ Pennyfeather’s chum Stubbs enquires. ‘Arnold Bennett,’ Paul mischievously returns. Waugh, naturally, is having a little fun with an Olympian figure whom he would have regarded as the last word in staidness, but as a piece of cultural positioning the scene is highly convincing. Bennett, it is safe to say, was exactly the kind of writer who would have been seen bowling along Oxford High Street in a Rolls-Royce as the undergraduates scattered before him. Like many another mainstream novelist from the early 20th century, when mass communications and mass literacy combined to expand literary audiences, he made no bones about enjoying the fruits of bestsellerdom. In this lay the seeds of his altogether catastrophic undoing.

–Duncan McLaren has posted a new article that, as he puts it, tells the story of  Unconditional Surrender as related on the book covers published by Penguin. “The 5 covers take you into the books in very different ways.”  Here’s the link: Duncan adds: “As this was Waugh’s last novel, perhaps it is appropriate to read it in conjunction with this earlier piece on Decline and Fall and Penguin which was posted about previously.” Here’s the link to that:

–The long-running  “Londoner’s Diary” of the Evening Standard (also Arnold Bennett’s book reviewing venue) has this story about a more recent member of the Waugh family:

Daisy Waugh becomes a yogi
What would grumpy Brideshead Revisited author Evelyn Waugh make of granddaughter Daisy’s latest career move? Also a novelist, she has now qualified as a yoga teacher. “Yoga’s not aerobics, it’s a way of seeing the world,” she tells The Spectator in an article.

Thanks to Dave Lull for suggesting this.

The Monthly reviews a recent Kate Atkinson novel which has some themes that will resonate with with Waugh readers:

The overture to Shrines of Gaiety (Penguin) plays outside a jail with a release. The finale plays inside the same jail with a hanging. In between, there’s a slippery tale teeming with characters zipping across a fabulous stage: set by Baz Luhrmann, clothes by Liberty, cocktails (and drunks) by Evelyn Waugh, murders by Agatha Christie. It is 1926, just before the General Strike, and the Soho clubs are redefining London nightlife. Kate Atkinson has happily drawn on a real London nightclub owner, Kate Meyrick, for the fictional character Nellie Coker. As Coker does, Meyrick owned a handful of clubs in Soho, each catering for different tastes and classes but attracting the same criminal and constabulary interest. She was imprisoned (with hard labour) for various offences. Her main offence was possibly being a smart and tough woman who made real money.

Meyrick inspired the character of Ma Mayfield in Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited.

–The Daily Telegraph has posted an obituary of Charles Villiers who recently died at the age of 59. His final years were spent researching and writing a biography of his grandmother Lady Mairi Bury, a noted supporter of appeasement in its day. An earlier book was an account of his own 8 year divorce proceeding which had received extensive press coverage. Neither seems to have yet been published. Another incident recounted has a Wavian  element:

After attending the University of Edinburgh, where he read History, he visited the Falkland Islands just as the Falklands War ended. A letter of introduction to Governor Rex Hunt led to a rather comical mix-up. Hunt thought Villiers had been sent from Whitehall, so he presented him to the officers’ mess to acquaint him with the island’s military structure.

To his great surprise, Villiers was sent out to lead an infantry patrol the next day. His only military experience had been in the Officers’ Training Corps at Eton. The gaffe was never discovered, but Villiers compared the experience to events in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop.

–Finally, in a recent Guardian interview of novelist Irvine Welsh, this appeared:

Which novels inspired you?
Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy influenced me a lot; even though the characters had a completely different background to mine, I found the psychology of male schadenfreude and competitiveness really well observed. A background pulse [to wanting to write] came from the big Scottish books that made everyone go, whoa, this is great: William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw, Kelman’s The Busconductor Hines, Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, Janice Galloway’s The Trick Is to Keep Breathing

Welsh’s statement on Sword of Honour is consistent with one he made a few months ago to an Irish paper which was mentioned in a previous post.

UPDATE (27 August 2022):  The Guardian interview of Irvine Welsh was inadvertently omitted and has now been added.



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