Advent Roundup

–The religious website Thinking Faith has posted an essay by Gerard Kilroy, who is, inter alia, co-editor of the recently published volume of Edmund Campion in the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh. In this essay, Kilroy explains in some detail the history of the writing, publication and critical reception of Waugh’s book. I had not realized until I read this that there were three editions of the book with different contents (1935, 1946, and 1961), not just two as I had previously thought. Here’s an excerpt:

…Waugh tells us, on the book’s last page, that he wrote Edmund Campion between October 1934 and May 1935 at three country houses, ‘Mells – Belton – Newton Ferrers’. Actually, he did much of the writing before Christmas 1934 in his bolthole, the Easton Court Hotel, Chagford (where, ten years later, he wrote Brideshead Revisited). By September 1935 he had sent 50 signed copies of the first edition to friends like Hilaire Belloc, Lady Diana Cooper and Lady Pansy Lamb, and the book was publicly advertised in October for the price of 6s 6d.

It was an immediate success and, by a remarkable concurrence of dates, Evelyn Waugh received the Hawthornden Prize for ‘a work of imaginative literature’ on 24 June 1936 – it was on the same date in 1580, the feast of John the Baptist, that a fair wind enabled Campion to cross the Channel. Two days after this accolade, Waugh attended the official opening of Campion Hall by the Duke of Alba, and two weeks later he received a telegram from Mgr (later Cardinal) Godfrey, sent from Rome, telling him that his annulment [of his first marriage] had finally come through: ‘Decision favourable. Godfrey.’ By the time Waugh married Laura Herbert on 17 April 1937, Edmund Campion had sealed both his friendship with [Martin] D’Arcy and his involvement in the life of the Hall, and established his own inclusion in what Waugh called (in a phrase borrowed from Campion’s scaffold utterance) the ‘Household of the Faith’…[Footnotes omitted]

–The religious journal Catholic Insight posted a related article on 1 December 2023, the date of remembrance of Edmund Campion in the Roman Catholic calendar. Here’s an excerpt:

…Waugh’s book, to this writer’s mind, is a masterpiece of hagiography, portraying the saint as he was, in his own time, and even in his own  ‘mind’, insofar as such is possible, the inner turmoil, difficulties and even doubts, as this once-foppish young man joined the most rigorous of Orders, full of their original zeal (the Jesuits were only constituted in 1540, four decades before Campion’s death). How Campion, by grace and training, was formed into an elite soldier for Christ, risking a brutal and grisly death to bring the Faith, the Sacraments, and some solace, to Catholics left bereft in Elizabeth’s increasingly anti-Catholic England. […]

Waugh’s prose and powers of description – honed in his time as as traveling journalist, through war zones – are a delight and inspiration.

–The New York Review of Books has a review by Nathaniel Rich of the new book by James Heffernan entitled Politics and Literature at the Dawn of World War II. One of the books considered by Professor Heffernan is Waugh’s Put Out More Flags. Here’s what the review has to say about that:

In Put Out More Flags, war is just another racket, the latest opportunity for shameless self-promotion, blackmail, giggles, and social gamesmanship. As one character says, “One takes one’s gas-mask to one’s office but not to one’s club.” Waugh did not write autobiographically: none of his characters is a Waugh stand-in, despite sharing his class and milieu. Waugh, in fact, committed himself to the war effort with much greater seriousness than any member of Basil Seal’s coterie, joining the Royal Marines as a second lieutenant. It would be tempting to say that Put Out More Flags reflected Waugh’s own disillusionment about the honor of war, but as Heffernan points out, he was under no illusions when he enlisted. Waugh’s correspondence from the period reflects a frank expectation of his own violent death and describes the fighting as “tedious & futile & fatiguing.” (In this way Waugh resembles Robert Jordan more than Basil Seal, risking his life for a cause that disgusted as much as inspired him.) In diary entries from the Battle of Crete, during which the Royal Navy suffered a humiliating defeat, Waugh describes starving men reduced to ghosts, crawling out of ditches like lizards. He began writing Put Out More Flags on an ocean liner back home. He would later claim it was the only book he wrote purely for pleasure. John Keegan, the preeminent military historian of the period, called Waugh’s farce of pompous dodgers and profiteers “the greatest English novel of the Second World War.”…

The Times (30 November, p. 39) has an article by Susie Goldsborough inspired by the reading of a Jimmy Carter love letter to his wife at her recent funeral. The article contains several love letters penned by writers rather than politicians:

… it’s more often writers who pen the best love letters. The all-time greatest, to my mind, is fictional — Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne in the closing chapters of Jane Austen’s Persuasion — but [the following] real-life examples are rather lovely too. […]

Evelyn Waugh to Laura Herbert, 1936.  You might think about me a bit & whether you could bear the idea of marrying me. Of course you haven’t got to decide, but think about it. I can’t advise you in my favour because I think it would be beastly for you, but think how nice it would be for me. I am restless & moody & misanthropic & lazy & have no money except what I earn and if I got ill you would starve.

–In today’s issue of The Times, Hugo Rifkind considers what might be called the angst of party going. Among the matters discussed are the ways various writers reacted to party going. Here’s an excerpt:

Evelyn Waugh certainly knew the horror of being left out–“she had heard some one say something about an Independent Labour Party and was furious that she was  not asked,” he wrote–even though his entire body of work rests on the premise that all social gatherings and everybody at them were invariably ghastly.

–The Financial Review (Australia) posted an article in its satire column which professes to show several proposals by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (aka Harry and Megan or “H&M”) for productions on Spotify. All were rejected. Here’s one of them:

Vile Bodies: A modern adaptation of the classic Evelyn Waugh tale in which a group of “bright young things” set about modernising the stuffy, boring old House of Windsor, only to find the monarchy is riddled with the vilest form of racists, sexists and misogynists. In one pivotal scene, an unnamed royal wonders whether two of those bright young things, the gorgeous mixed-race celebrity couple “Hugo and Muriel” who are expecting a child, will have a baby with brown skin or fair skin. The tension mounts unbearably …

Dear H&M, No it doesn’t, actually. Spotify.




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