Columbus Day Roundup: 2 Podcasts, a Film and a Seminar

–An interview of Alexander Waugh by writer James Delingpole has been posted on the internet. It is listed as “Delingpod #359” and is available from this link. It was recorded on 1 October 2023. Although the website suggests that a “subscription” is required, I was able to start the 92 minute podcast without registration or payment. The subject is Shakespearian authorship, although toward the end they do seem to be discussing other topics, some of which involve Evelyn Waugh who Alexander describes as a “misfit.”

–Another recently posted podcast features Evelyn Waugh as its main subject. This is part of a series being made by the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in which each of the Ninety-Nine Novels: The Best in English since 1939 that Burgess selected in his 1984 book of that title are discussed. This latest posting involved a discussion between Andrew Biswell of the Burgess Foundation and Barbara Cooke who is one of the senior editors of the CWEW. They discuss Brideshead Revisited which was Burgess’s selection for inclusion on his list. One of the points they discuss is Burgess’s revelation that he thought A Handful of Dust was a better book, but it fell outside the terms of his list. Here is a link to the  podcast which covers 51 minutes and was recorded last November.

–The new film Saltburn is much in the news this week. It was premiered at the London Film Festival on Wednesday. A review by Peter Bradshaw appeared in the Guardian and explains its interest to our readers. Here are some excerpts:

…Saltburn is an English mystery drama of the high-cheekboned upper classes, watchable but sometimes weirdly overheated and grandiose, with some secondhand posh-effect stylings, a movie derived from Evelyn Waugh and Patricia Highsmith, with a bit of Pasolini; it’s supposed to be (mostly) set in 2006, but behaves as if it’s 1932.

Barry Keoghan steps up to his first proper starring role as Oliver Quick, a bright, awkward young lad from Merseyside arriving at Oxford to read English; his haughty private-school college contemporaries sneer at this “scholarship boy” who can hardly bear to talk about his grim family background. From the first, Oliver is dazzled and infatuated by the exquisitely beautiful aristocratic student Felix Catton, played by Jacob Elordi…

Felix holds court to the in-crowd of Oxford’s bright young things, yet on a caprice, he generously befriends timid, lower-class Oliver, who has helped him with his bike; perhaps Oliver is his project or pet or charity case or maybe Felix just feels he can relax around him the way he can’t with other members of the jeunesse dorée. Touched by Oliver’s sad and shocking stories of his home life, Felix invites him for the summer vacation to his father’s palatial estate, Saltburn, a place of real prewar grandeur that has evidently escaped being sold off to the National Trust. To pre-empt the obvious Brideshead comparison, Emerald Fennell [writer/director] has a line about Evelyn Waugh being supposedly obsessed with the house.

And so we meet his standard-issue eccentric blueblood clan, including father Sir James (Richard E Grant) and sexy-damaged sister Venetia (Alison Oliver); the superb Pike is Felix’s gorgeous, distrait ex-model mother Elsbeth, who has a showstopping line, explaining why she abandoned a youthful experiment with lesbianism and turned to heterosexuality. Then there is cousin-slash-houseguest-sponger Farleigh (Archie Madekwe), a mixture of Waugh’s Anthony Blanche and Highsmith’s Freddie Miles, who resents the counter-jumper oik monopolising his best friend, Felix, and shrewdly suspects something slippery about Oliver. Mulligan plays Elsbeth’s morose friend Pamela – the houseguest who will never leave.

Surely cruel, beautiful Felix will tire of his plaything Oliver, who does not belong in this place? But the women of the family variously take a shine to Oliver and things don’t turn out this way. It’s all entertaining enough, although this is a Brideshead-lite, a Brideshead nobility without the Catholicism or the pathos or the wartime regret.

Robbie Collin writes to much the same effect in the Daily Telegraph:

…“All of Waugh’s characters are based on my family, actually,” Felix glidingly explains – which is writer-director Emerald Fennell acknowledging the debt with an outrageous stage wink. Fennell’s uproarious follow-up to her 2020 debut Promising Young Woman, which opened the London Film Festival tonight, is a sort of Brideshead Regurgitated: a macabre class satire that’s so drunk on its own daring, it all but asks you to hold its hair out of its face while it kneels by the toilet.

For readers uncertain as to whether this qualifies as a recommendation, take it from someone who spent half of the film barking with laughter and the other half watching through his fingers: it is. Set in the mid-noughties, and with the glorious pop soundtrack to prove it, Saltburn is both a riveting cuckoo-in-the-nest psychological thriller and a laser-accurate send-up of the modern English gentry’s crumbly plight…

Saltburn is stowed with terrific performances, from Keoghan’s skin-pricklingly enigmatic lead turn to Elordi’s note-perfect guileless toff, to the chokingly funny-slash-sad supporting turns from Rosamund Pike and Richard E Grant as Felix’s parents. It’s also needlingly perceptive on identity: particularly that inbuilt young-adult resistance to defining oneself by one’s roots. And the details of its ultra-specific milieu are musically precise, from Pike’s throwaway reference to her teenage daughter’s bulimia as “you know…fingers for pudding” to Grant’s perusal of the News of the World over Sunday breakfast.

The film’s secret ingredient, though, is its sheer, nude-bungee-jumping-level fearlessness. British cinema hasn’t been this badly behaved since the days of Nic Roeg and Ken Russell, and was frankly in need of the shake-up. Fennell has a sharp eye for outrage, and an even sharper one for hotness, crafting any number of scenarios and images here that may elicit sotto voce phwoars against your better judgement. In the final stretch, Saltburn overplays its hand: the (unavoidable) tying up of loose ends takes a while, and it’s a pity that so much juicy ambiguity is shooed away via flashback. But it rallies with a final sequence that left my jaw rattling round my knees: this is cinema as mischief, with a raw saline bite.

The film opens in UK cinemas on 17 November.

Pembroke College/Oxford has announced a series of seminars that may be of interest:

These weekly open seminars are run by our Chaplain, The Revd Dr Andrew Teal, and will take place every Thursday [starting 12 October] during term-time from 13:05 to 13:55. All students of any subject are welcome, as well as any interested participants from local faith communities and the wider city.

Whilst there is a particular relevance for theologians (by providing unusual primary material and broad discussion), this is an opportunity for honest discussion, dialogue, and exploration, in which members of the wider community are warmly invited to participate.

Water will be provided, but please feel free to bring your own lunch as well.

A Handbook of material and bibliographical references will be available electronically. Please do not hesitate to contact the Chaplain for further information.

Please find exact dates and topics listed below:

Theology in Dialogues (1): Through Poetry & Literature

Week 1, October 12th (Eccles Room): Evelyn Waugh, A Handful of Dust

Subsequent seminars will be devoted, inter alia, to Waugh’s contemporaries John Betjeman (2 Nov) and Graham Greene: The Power and the Glory (30 Nov).

–An essay on Thomas Merton’s book The Seven Story Mountain appears in the current issue of the Jesuit review America. This is by Gregory Hillis who mostly discusses how Merton’s book came to be written and what it has meant to  him. Toward the end he writes this:

The Seven Story Mountain is not perfect. It is overly wordy and needed more thorough editing. (The great English Catholic novelist, Evelyn Waugh, liked the book, but was so taken aback by the writing that he sent Merton a book on how to write more effectively). In his early writings, Merton depicts Catholicism in a triumphalist manner that doesn’t reflect his later theological depth of understanding. But these imperfections hardly registered for me when I read it for the first time. Much more important to me was the way in which his experiences spoke to my own—decades after Merton recorded them.

The author of the article may not be aware that Waugh also edited the UK edition of the book to reduce the wordiness about which he complains. This was published in the UK in 1949 as Elected Silence. Waugh also visited Merton in Kentucky during his late 1948 visit to the United States to research an article about Roman Catholicism in America that Waugh wrote for Life Magazine. Waugh’s edits were among the topics discussed during that visit.

This entry was posted in A Handful of Dust, Alexander Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, Film, Newspapers, Oxford, Podcast and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.