Armistice Day Roundup

The Spectator carries an article revealing renewed interest in the works of innovative novelist Ronald Firbank. This is by contemporary novelist Alan Hollinghurst and is inspired by the recent erection of a Blue Plaque commemorating Firbank’s residence at 33 Curzon Street in Mayfair. Hollinghurst also explains how Evelyn Waugh was amongst those who first realized Firbank’s influence on his generation:

[Firbank’s novel] Vainglory came out in April 1915 – not a good moment for such an adventure, and it seemed to set a pattern for the ignoring and deploring of Firbank’s subsequent fiction. But if sales were tiny in his lifetime, the effect of his work on writers of the next generation was revelatory. Evelyn Waugh wrote the first serious critical essay on Firbank in 1929, and his acute understanding of Firbank’s method bore fruit in the novel he was starting at the time, Vile Bodies, the first part of which reads like a direct transfusion of master to pupil. The fragmentary design the older writer had pioneered proved prophetically apt for the depiction of a disoriented post-war world. The setting of Henry Green’s Living, a Birmingham factory, could hardly be less Firbankian, but an envious Waugh saw that he had organised his plot in ‘exactly the way Firbank managed his’…

Waugh’s article appeared in Life and Letters (March 1929) and is reprinted in Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh, v. 26, p. 176.

The Guardian has a feature length article on the career of author’s agent Andrew Wiley. This is by Alex Blasdel and is headed with this:

Days of The Jackal: how Andrew Wylie turned serious literature into big business
Andrew Wylie is agent to an extraordinary number of the planet’s biggest authors. His knack for making highbrow writers very rich helped to define a literary era – but is his reign now coming to an end?

Here’s an excerpt:

…Wylie was always thinking globally. In the 2000s and 2010s, he made two serious attempts to enter the Spanish language market directly by opening up an office in Madrid and buying a renowned agency in Barcelona (both failed). He attempted to sign up many of the most important American historians (a success) and to sell their books abroad (a failure). He attempted to force the major publishing houses to give authors a greater share of royalties for digital rights by setting up his own ebook company (also, in most respects, a failure). He began recruiting African writers who won the continent’s prestigious Caine prize (seven successes to date).He went after the estates of JG Ballard, Raymond Carver, Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike and Evelyn Waugh (success, success, success, success, success)…

–A recent issue of TLS carried an article marking the centenary of novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard. This is by Norma Clarke and is entitled “Required reading: Elizabeth Jane Howard is much more than a guilty pleasure.” The article is a refreshing and concise description of Howard’s work and reputation. Here’s an excerpt:

…I’ll confess it was a luxury to be allowed to celebrate her achievement in this the centenary year of her birth, to be given permission to read and re-read. For so many readers, Jane Howard is like Jane Austen, the go-to writer for re-reading when immersion, distraction, comfort is called for. As well as Slipstream there is a biography, Elizabeth Jane Howard: A dangerous innocence by Artemis Cooper (2016; I’ll come to that sub-heading later) and audio recordings of her being interviewed and interviewing. On YouTube you can see her interviewing Evelyn Waugh, two immensely posh people pretending not to be uncomfortable with each other. (Waugh was a famously difficult interviewee; Howard managed to soften him up a little.) She was often on the radio, including twice on Desert Island Discs. Her fans, up to and including Queen Camilla, who would take The Cazalet Chronicles to her desert island, are multitudinous and vocal. There’s a slew of blogs, posts, responses, opinions, considerations and judgements. What there isn’t is the sort of scholarly critical appraisal that might be expected, given how significant a figure Howard was in London literary life.

The YouTube BBC Monitor interview has been edited, but a complete copy is available in CWEW v. 19 A Little Learning, App. F. For some earlier comments on Howard’s centenary, see previous post.

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