Thanksgiving Roundup

–Iona McLaren writng in the Daily Telegraph considers the problem posed by readers who want to be warned against reading something that might upset them–in this case about books in which animals die. The article opens with this:

The US writer David Sedaris tells the story of his sister Lisa refusing to see a film because she had heard that a dog gets killed in the first 15 minutes. “I reminded her that the main character dies as well, horribly, of Aids, and she pulled into the parking lot, saying, ‘Well, I just hope it wasn’t a REAL dog.'” On behalf of Lisa – and, frankly, most English people – I am pleased that Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner has been given a trigger warning by the University of Greenwich for depicting “animal death” when the mariner admits: “With my crossbow/I shot the albatross.” This is a poem in which many sailors die, some in quite imaginative scenarios, but it takes the betrayal of a seabird to get the eyes stinging. It’s because, as Lisa Sedaris says, “human suffering doesn’t faze us much”. We see ourselves parodied in Dame Mildred Porch and Miss Tin of Evelyn Waugh’s Black Mischief, trying to get 1930s Africa compliant with the RSPCA. As GK Chesterton once put it: “Wherever there is animal worship, there is human sacrifice.” […]

One somehow expected a suggestion of a trigger warning for Black Mischief that included references to avoidance of descriptions of racial prejudice and/or consumption of human flesh. However, after discussing several examples of trigger warnings that involve animals and other matters of readers’ potential concerns, the article concludes:

Of course, it’s good to feel something, sometimes, and the great thing about trigger warnings is they could help. Of Mice and Men, Bambi, and White Fang would all be there in the “WARNING: animal death” section of the library. And me? I’d be amusing myself in the “WARNING: child mortality” section for, as Oscar Wilde said of Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop: “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.”

–The Chelsea Arts Club has announced the presentation next week of a one-man play by actor Bob Kingdom entitled Bloody Brideshead: Both Sides of Evelyn Waugh. In this he explores “the complexities behind Evelyn Waugh.”  The performance will take place on 4 December at the club, 143-5 Old Church Street, SW3. You must be a member of the club or guest of one to attend. See above link for details.

The Times has an article in its “Feedback” column about what was once known as the “fourth leader” on its editorial page:

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned a light-hearted leading article from 1946 celebrating the return of bananas after the war. This prompted Mark Negin to write from Ramsgate. If his memory wasn’t deceiving him, he says, “it was a regular exercise in the English class of my small prep school, evacuated to Wales, to write a precis of the fourth leader. It was always humorous and witty. When and why was the fourth leader dropped?”

Welsh prep school? This sounds like a scene from Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall. My colleague Rob Nash tells me that Times leaders were also deployed at his boarding school, where he had to copy one out if he’d been naughty. It’s nice to know that they’ve had their uses.

Anyway, the banana fourth leader, as Mr Negin suspected, was a classic example of the Times institution kicked off by the paper’s proprietor, Lord Northcliffe, in a telegram to the editor from Paris, dated January 25, 1914: “Humbly beg for light leading article daily till I return — Chief.”

Northcliffe, who also owned the Daily Mail, was determined to get The Times into profit by broadening its readership, and introducing a bit of frivolity on the leader page seemed a good way to start. Whether it worked or not, the light leaders — they might have been the third or the fifth, but were always known as the fourth — continued to appear until 1967, when William Rees-Mogg became editor. Bent on raising the paper’s gravitas, just as Northcliffe had aimed to lighten it up, he axed the fourth leaders on his first day…

–The Spanish language publication La Diaria Cultura based in Uruguay has a brief article on Waugh’s career. After a review of his life and works, the article concludes:

With a long and prolific publishing life in Spanish during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, his work was published copiously by Losada, Alianza, Emecé, Criterio and Sudamericana, with translations written by Guillermo Whitelow, Pedro Lecuona, Floreal Mazía, Clara Diament and Juan Rodolfo Wilcock, among others–, Evelyn Waugh’s work deserves … all that attention, although for the average reader the mere mention of his name signifies a woman (there is a great joke about it in the film Lost in Translation, by Sofia Coppola), if not the comfortable and obtuse reductionism of placing him among the reactionary writers, “from the right”, that stoned seat to which authors such as Knut Hamsun, Curzio Malaparte, Ernst Jünger, Louis-Ferdinad Céline and many others, all apostrophized as conservatives and other epithets as useless as stupid. Of course, Evelyn Waugh himself would not be interested in the praise of his contemporaries or the worship of generations to come, since he knew that the fate of the world is nothing other than decadence. Not in vain in an interview for The Paris Review, from 1962, when asked what period of history he would have liked to live in, he replied: “The 17th century. I think it was the time of the best drama and the best romance. I think he might have been happy in the 13th century, too.”

The translation by Google leaves something to be desired in this particular case. Here’s a link to the original.

–The Guardian has a review of the BBC’s drama series SAS Rogue Heroes. This is by WWII historian Anthony Beevor. The article opens with this:

 I really have to take my hat off to Steven Knight. The writer of Peaky Blinders has adapted Ben Macintyre’s SAS Rogue Heroes, the authorised history of the Special Air Service, and turned it into the best dramatic series the BBC has produced for ages.

After a discussion of the plot and characters, Beevor continues with this:

In the desert, there was little time for snobbery. Right from the start, we see the SAS coming together as an unholy alliance of upper-class thugs, mostly from Guards regiments, along with “pirates” from other backgrounds who are equally violent and determined to fight the advancing Axis forces. In what was almost inevitably a misogynistic environment, men were judged on their courage and stamina. Several of them…may even have been suppressing gay instincts as they fought and drank men from other units into oblivion back in the fleshpots of Cairo’s red-light district. It was Evelyn Waugh, an officer from the Middle East commando unit known as Layforce, who claimed from personal knowledge that most gay men in the armed forces did not conform to popular stereotype. “Buggers were jolly brave in the war,” he wrote later to Lady Diana Cooper.

Randolph Churchill makes an appearance in Episode 5. The series is also discussed in previous posts.

UPDATE (28 November): Randolph referenced re SAS Rogue Heroes and typo corrected.




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