April Fool’s Day Roundup

–The academic journal Shakespeare has announced the acceptance for publication of an article by Barbara Cooke entitled “Waugh’s green world: Reconceptualising The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold as a transcoded production of King Lear”. Dr Cooke is co-executive editor of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh and edited the recent volume 14 (Pinfold). Here’s an abstract of the article, the full text of which will appear in a future edition of the journal:

This article makes the case for interpreting Evelyn Waugh’s The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957) as a transcoded performance of King Lear, directed and enacted through the hallucinations of the eponymous writer-protagonist. Suffering from writers’ block and bromide poisoning, Pinfold unconsciously re-creates and inhabits the roles of the king, his fool and Cordelia within a green world setting suggested own disordered mind. This exegesis of Waugh’s intricate method of textual adaptation, which encompasses numerous additional hypotexts from The Tempest to Waugh’s own contemporaries, urges Pinfold’s recognition as an exemplar of criticism-through-practice that may be applied across a wide spectrum of symbiotic creative relationships. Reconceptualising Pinfold in this way affords a new understanding of the later text’s notoriously baffling conclusion, which in turn generates a new lens through which to view King Lear. Throughout his ordeal, the embattled Pinfold demonstrates his commitment to the inseparable qualities of modesty and truthfulness that define Cordelia’s character. By ultimately handing Pinfold-as-Cordelia the victory Shakespeare denied her, Waugh announces both his adaptation and adapted text as meditations on the nature of, and need for, personal integrity and the right to emotional privacy.

–Irish novelist Kathleen McMahon has a brief article on the website of RTÉ, the Irish broadcast network, about what she looks for in a short story. Here’s the concluding paragraph:

…Finally, it’s hard to resist a short story that delivers a punch. I love Lionel Shriver’s wickedly good Kilifi Creek, which takes brutal pleasure in the unexpected. Roald Dahl was a master of the dark twist, but my favourite of all is Bella Fleace Gives a Party, by Evelyn Waugh. The pleasure of the Waugh story is in the long, slow draw on the reader’s heart strings, as an eccentric old Anglo-Irish lady plans a party in her crumbling mansion. Like all the best short stories, it offers extremely good value to the reader.

The Spectator has reviewed a recent novel whose main character is a journalist. This is summarized by John Sturgis in the article that opens with this:

A recently published novel, Becky by Sarah May, is the latest in a long tradition of fiction based on journalism – and a good excuse to think again about the great books from that sub-genre. May’s is a curious hybrid of the life story of News UK CEO Rebekah Brooks and a repurposing of Vanity Fair. George Cochrane, reviewing it for The Spectator, called Becky ‘a good novel dwarfed by a great one’.

He was referring to the Thackeray, but he might just as easily have been talking about another classic English novel: Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. That comic masterpiece from 1938 is the book against which all other fictional evocations of journalists and journalism are judged – and is almost invariably the first on any list of the best of such books.

Scoop, a constantly hilarious absurdist send-up of the haplessness of reporters and the chaos of newspaper offices, is worthy of its place at the top of the tree. But there are countless other examples in a field that’s ever expanding – no doubt because there can be few other professions whose members are more likely to write fiction themselves. Here, in order of date of publication, are a dozen recommended books that aren’t Scoop, which feature journalists at work and play.

Among the novels he lists, there are several familiar ones like Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, P G Wodehouse’s Psmith, Journalist, Gissing’s New Grub Street and Malcolm Muggeridge’s Picture Palace. But the one that most closely resembles Scoop is, according to Sturgis, this:

Towards the End of Morning, Michael Frayn (1967)

If any journalism book can give Scoop a run for its money, it’s this – the choice of the cognoscenti in the field. Anyone who has seen Noises Off – currently being revived in the West End yet again – will know what a master of comedy Michel Frayn is, and his touch doesn’t fail him here. Frayn, who worked on the Observer for most of the 1960s, assembles the usual ingredients of hapless hacks, dead-end jobs and pubs and booze but somehow creates something completely fresh.

–Craig Brown writes in the Daily Mail about the upcoming auction of the papers of the novelist W G Sebald and wonders whether the papers will be as gloomy as the books he wrote. He offers examples of novelists’ correspondence and memoirs resembling their writing, first citing E M Forster and Henry James. He then offers this example from Evelyn Waugh and concludes:

The novelist Evelyn Waugh created characters who were notably cruel and self-centred. In his autobiography, his son Auberon wrote of the day in his childhood when bananas arrived for the very first time.

‘Neither I, my sister Teresa nor my sister Margaret had ever eaten a banana throughout the war, when they were unprocurable, but we had heard all about them as the most delicious taste in the world.

‘The great day arrived when my mother came home with three bananas. All three were put on my father’s plate, and before the anguished eyes of his children, he poured on cream, which was almost unprocurable, and sugar, which was heavily rationed, and ate all three.’

Just a year or so before W.G. Sebald died, I went to see him give a talk in Suffolk, and was invited to lunch with him afterwards. I found him charming, and wryly funny.

I had written an anonymous parody of his gloomy writing in Private Eye magazine a few weeks earlier. ‘

The sky appeared blue, but I knew that, somewhere else in the world, yet more clouds, black and bruised, were gathering.’

In my cowardly way, I avoided telling him over lunch that I was the author. But after he died, two of his obituaries said that my parody had made him laugh: further evidence that you should not always judge a writer by his writing.

The Independent newspaper has posted its review of a new biography of Noel Coward. This is by Oliver Soden and is entitled Masquerade: The Lives of Noel Coward. It was published earlier this month in the UK. The review is by Martin Chilton who mentions several of Coward’s friends and acquaintances, including Evelyn Waugh:

Coward was also friends with Evelyn Waugh, that “strange little man”. Coward, an agnostic, was intrigued by Waugh’s Catholicism. “I have always been mystified how anyone as intelligent can accept the dogmas of the RC faith,” he wrote. When he quizzed Waugh, the Brideshead Revisited author admitted to being a “bored and unhappy man”. One of Coward’s most comical collisions was with macho Ernest Hemingway. “Hemingway found Noël’s gossipy conversation unbearable, and fled his company,” writes Soden.


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