–Writer Antonia Fraser is interviewed in a recent Daily Telegraph article. This is on the occasion of her 90th birthday this month. The interview is by her cousin and bridge partner Harry Mount (also editor of The Oldie). When he asked her about her memories of Evelyn Waugh, she replied that:
…he was a great friend of her father’s [Frank Pakenham]. When Antonia started working for the publisher George Weidenfeld in 1953, it hadn’t been long since one of his previous employees, Clarissa Churchill, had married the future prime minister Anthony Eden.
Waugh later said to Antonia, ‘The last person who had your job married the prime minister. See that you do better.’ Antonia says to me, laughing, ‘The jury’s still out on whether I did.’
Her first husband was politician Hugh Fraser and her second, playwright Harold Pinter.
—The Sunday Times in its latest edition carries the results of its survey of writers and critics to determine what were their favorite novels written since the publication of Ulysses in 1922. This is entitled: “Ranked: The 50 best books of the past 100 years — do you agree?” Their “jury” included 16 panelists, not many of whom could be considered household names (at least in my vicinity)–except for John Carey, Sarah Waters, Sebastian Faulks and Anne Enright, As described in the article:
Between them they have read thousands of books, and their choices reflect this: the oldest book was published in 1924, the most recent in 2009. […] Our process was simple but fair. Each member of the panel wrote a list of their 20 favourite novels, and we totted up the votes. The resulting selection is, we think, a comprehensive introduction to the very best writing in English of the past 100 years. Four of our panel — Anne Enright, Johanna Thomas-Corr, Diana Evans and Peter Kemp — will discuss the list at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, at 3.30pm on October 10.
Some writers (for example, Virginia Woolf and Marilynne Robinson) have two books selected. The most votes seem to have gone to The Great Gatsby, which is, I suppose, no surprise. One of Waugh’s novels was selected:
47. Brideshead Revisited (1945)
So beloved that its title evokes blissful images of punting, picnics and youthful optimism, Brideshead Revisited tells the story of the young Charles Ryder, who is seduced (maybe metaphorically, maybe literally) by his fellow Oxford student Lord Sebastian Flyte. Charles takes refuge in the Flyte family estate, Brideshead, where sensuous ennui is the order of the day. In rich, sumptuous prose, Waugh traces the crumbling of their carefree youth.
Other British writers of Waugh’s generation included George Orwell (1984), Graham Greene (The Power and the Glory), Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), Elizabeth Bowen (The Death of the Heart) and Sylvia Townsend Warner (The Corner that Held Them).
—House and Garden magazine has also compiled a recommended reading list. This focuses on the narrower category of 11 novels that “featured brilliant houses.” Their Waugh choice is also Brideshead:
Perhaps the most famous “big house” story ever, this novel tells the story of middle-class Oxford graduate Charles Ryder and his relationships with the aristocratic inhabitants of Brideshead Castle. Filled with arches and broken pediments, it is thought to have been inspired by Madresfield (featured in the June 2014 issue of House & Garden), though in the subsequent TV adaptation of 1981, Castle Howard in Yorkshire stood in for Brideshead, and did so again when the a film version was released in 2008.
Others on their list include Pride and Prejudice, Gatsby, Rebecca and A Room with a View. I would have thought Howard’s End a more appropriate choice for a Forster novel featuring a brilliant house.
—The American Conservative posts an article entitled “Rethinking Salman Rushdie” which attempts to place his book The Satanic Verses into a more objective perspective than have many of those commenting on his recent attack in New York State:
…most critics of The Satanic Verses don’t think the book should be banned or its author beheaded. They are saying that human beings should be more respectful of each other’s convictions. Religion shouldn’t be treated as something banal. Art shouldn’t be flippant.
These are moral judgements; they are also literary criticisms.
And they’re perfectly fair. If Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited ended with Charles Ryder still mocking the Flyte family’s Catholicism, it would fail as a novel—not because Catholicism is true (though it is), but because mocking other people’s religion is childish. And it’s boring. It doesn’t make for good art.
Rushdie’s defenders obviously don’t care about his literary merits, though. This has nothing to do with art and everything to do with politics. They only care about “free speech.” They reduce The Satanic Verses to a propaganda piece. This does a disservice to Rushdie’s craft. It misses the whole point of literature. It also undermines the cause of free speech.
The article also considers the terrorist attack on the staff of Charlie Hebdo as another example of what might be called free speech martyrdom overreach. The article is thoughtful and well-presented but is unlikely to change many minds of those who have defended Rushdie’s novel.
–This letter regarding post code snobbery appeared in a recent edition of The Times:
POSTCODES OF CHOICE
Sir, Such was his postcode snobbery that Evelyn Waugh apparently walked up the hill from his family home in Hampstead Garden Suburb to post his letters so that they would have an upmarket Hampstead postmark, NW3. As a resident of the south London equivalent to Hampstead, Dulwich (postcode SE21), I decry its relocation to Crystal Palace (SE19) in Bricks & Mortar yesterday.
The Waughs lived in what was called Golders Green when numbers were added to postcodes. It was referred to as North End Road, “London NW” or “Hampstead NW” before then. Their address received the postcode number NW11 in 1919 which was considered inferior to NW3 that applied to neighboring Hampstead. Whether Waugh ever mislabelled his mail or trudged up the hill to Hampstead is more apocryphal than historic. See previous post. The letter’s author doesn’t mention the source of her aversion to Crystal Palace–perhaps she is a Charlton Athletic supporter.