Summer Solstice Roundup

–In the current issue of Commentary magazine, essayist Joseph Epstein has an article entitled “Good Grief.” This is a fairly light discussion of the heavy subjects of grieving and bereavement. In the course of the discussion, this appears:

With Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death six decades ago, we learned how grief was exploited by funeral homes throughout the country. Evelyn Waugh’s novel The Loved One features a cruelly comic account of grief sentimentalized. Grief counseling has become a substantial part of the psychotherapy industry.

It may be the case that Jessica Mitford’s interest in the funeral industry was piqued by Waugh’s novella, although some sources suggest that it was her husband who encouraged her to investigate the subject. She was living in Oakland, California at the time. Waugh’s novel appeared in 1948 and her book followed in 1963. She devotes a section of her book to Waugh’s contribution to the subject.

–London booksellers Perter Harrington have listed an interesting association copy of Waugh’s novel A Handful of Dust:

First edition, first impression, in the scarce jacket, this an excellent association copy, from the library of Waugh’s friend Louis Auchincloss, with his bookplate and blindstamp on the front free endpaper. Waugh and Auchincloss were both acerbic critics of the high society that was their subject matter and milieux: this title, a social satire “written in bile” (McDonnell), is apt to unite them.

Waugh was an admirer of Auchincloss, who made a name for himself as a chronicler of Manhattan’s old-money elite. He praised Auchincloss’s early literary endeavours: “the conception of every story is stunningly mature and most skilfully achieved. It is hard to believe they are the work of a beginner” (quoted in Gelderman, p. 110), and compared him to Lieutenant Padfield in Unconditional Surrender (1961): he is “very much like what I conceive my character ‘the Loot’ to be” (26 February 1961, Letters, p. 561). Auchincloss’s Wall Street office contained “a handsome glass cabinet that displayed not law books but first editions – the complete Edith Wharton, the first poems of Emily Dickinson, an early novel of Evelyn Waugh, a mint copy of Swann’s Way” – it is possible that this is the copy referenced (Gelderman, p. 152).

A Handful of Dust is “widely regarded as his masterpiece, a satire on the collapse of civilized values, concentrating on the barbarism of contemporary sexual mores and divorce” (ODNB). Harold Acton has noted the biographical allusions in this title, the “black humour and vein of cruelty, sharpened by the failure of his early marriage. A Handful of Dust was written in his blood” (quoted in McDonnell, p. 68).

The price is £9750. Here’s a link to the listing. There are several detailed photos.

–Penguin Books in its latest catalogue is offering the following: “Beautifully designed new hardback editions  of Evelyn Waugh’s six greatest novels.” The new “Penguin Classic” hardbacks will include Decline & Fall, Vile Bodies, Scoop, A Handful of Dust, Brideshead Revisited and Sword of Honour.  How these hardbacks will differ from existing Penguin hardbacks of Handful (2018) and Brideshead (2016) is not explained. The prices vary from £14.99 to £18.99. They will be issued in the UK on 6 October.  See Penguin catalogue (p. 58) at this link.

–The Italian language newspaper La Repubblica reviews the recently translated Italian edition of Waugh’s book The Holy Places. The review by Daria Galateria opens with this:

Evelyn Waugh , the caustic writer ( The Loved One, Brideshead Revisited ) in 1951 went to the Holy Places : not on pilgrimage, but on the “generous” assignment of Life magazine to make one of his brilliant travel reports. If they counted on his conversion to Catholicism, they were deluding themselves; the writer’s “wild” sense of humor scoffs at everything, including religious themes (Mario Fortunato, the critic, writes ).

The translation is by Google.

–An article in the Washington Examiner reviews the descriptions of wine from a selective Napa Valley source called “Martha’s Vineyard”. This is by Eric Felten. In the course of describing these wines he offers several comments on the descriptions themselves, including this one:

An article on wine-tasting from the University of Cambridge journal Natural Language Engineering noted that “experts use more source descriptions (e.g., red fruit, vanilla) for describing the smell and flavor of wine than novices, whereas novices used more evaluative terms (e.g., nice, lovely).” The linguists found that “experts use more specific, concrete words; for example, they say blackberry instead of fruit.”

But that doesn’t mean the expert can really specify that he’s onto blackberries, just that being specific suggests expertise.

Why don’t we adopt an entirely different approach, the one suggested by Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited? Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder try their hands at wine-tasting. Bored with the serious sort of descriptors, they reach for the fanciful. One glass is “a shy little wine like a gazelle.” Another is “a wise old wine,” a “prophet in a cave.” Among the offbeat metaphors they entertain is to say of one wine that it is “like the last unicorn.”


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