4th of July Roundup

–The website LitHub.com has a story about a proposal by the former royal couple Harry and Meghan to Netflix for what sounds like a prequel to Great Expectations. Should that fail to be commissioned, the LitHub reporter Janet Manley has some other proposals she thinks the couple should consider, including this:

…An adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Black Mischief transposed to Montecito, in which an Englishman arrives with ideas of modernizing the agrarian society of talk show hosts, gardeners and nannies. Hijinks ensue when the Englishman turns out not to understand the ways of the Californians…

–The auction house Tennants recently listed:

…a ‘Portrait of George Waugh’ by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) offered with an estimate of £2,000-3,000. The sitter was the brother of the artist’s first wife, Fanny. The lawyer lived with his parents in Bayswater, but sadly died at 34 having accidentally drowned in the sea off Devon. It seems that the portrait was executed after his death, with the likeness taken from a photograph prior to 1874, when the arts cut off contact with his family-in-law. The portrait was once owned by writer Evelyn Waugh.

You can view a reproduction of the portrait and more details of Evelyn Waugh’s ownership on the firm’s website. It is listed in lot 1171 in a sale scheduled for 15 July.

–Books blogger Nigeness reports that he is reading Waugh’s novel Helena. Here is his first reaction:

I am reading what is probably Evelyn Waugh’s least characteristic and most nearly forgotten novel, Helena (1950), his sole excursion into the genre of historical fiction – and, oddly, the novel Waugh regarded as his best work. So far, I’ve found that the most striking thing about it is how un-Wavian it seems: apart from the author’s pugnacious Preface, it could have been written by almost any good historical novelist of the time, and I should think very few, reading it ‘blind’, would guess that it was Waugh…

Thanks to Dave Lull for sending this.

–Another blogger (novelist Daniel McInerny) on a weblog entitled The Comic Muse discusses what he calls Waugh’s “minimalist” prose style as applied in Vile Bodies. Here’s the introduction:

Here Waugh puts on display what has been called his “minimalist” technique, a technique which he utilized throughout his career, but which especially characterizes his first five novels: Decline and Fall (1928), Vile Bodies (1930), Black Mischief (1932), A Handful of Dust (1934), and Scoop (1938).

In a 1930 review of W.R. Burnett’s boxing novel Iron Man, Waugh himself describes the technique in the following way:

‘There are practically no descriptive passages except purely technical ones. The character, narrative, and atmosphere are all built up and implicit in the dialogue, which is written in a vivid slang, with numerous recurring phrases running through as a refrain. Ronald Firbank began to discover this technique, but his eccentricity and a certain dead, ‘ninetyish’ fatuity frustrated him. I made some experiments in this direction in the telephone conversations in Vile Bodies. Mr. Ernest Hemingway used it brilliantly in The Sun Also Rises. It has not yet been perfected but I think it is going to develop into an important method.’ (from “The Books You Read,” pp. 300-01 in the 2018 Oxford University Press edition of Waugh’s Essays, Articles, and Reviews: 1922-1934).

In fact, I believe Waugh—along with Hemingway—brings the technique to a great height of perfection. (You can also find minimalism employed, for example, by Joan Didion, Muriel Spark, Raymond Carver, and the late Cormac McCarthy in The Road.)…

–Finally, Fiona Reynolds in Country Life magazine describes her recent explorations around Madresfield Court and explains its connections to Waugh’s writings:

…It was the inspiration for Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust (where it was doomed Tony Last’s ancestral home, Hetton Abbey) and, more famously, Brideshead Revisited, drawing on the Lygons to create the intriguing Flyte family, Sebastian at its heart. The elegiac novel was filmed for the ITV series at Castle Howard, but its description matches Madresfield, which Waugh often visited in the 1920s…

Commenters often confuse the sources of Waugh’s inspirations but Reynolds has it right. Mardesfield the house inspired the structure in A Handful of Dust and the occupants of the house (the Lygons) inspired the Flytes in Brideshead.

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