–Duncan McLaren has posted on his weblog a discussion regarding Graham Greene’s possible portrayal of Waugh in his 1940s novel The Heart of the Matter. He was a composite part of the character based primarily on some one Greene had known from Africa. This was pointed out to Duncan by a Graham Greene enthusiast. The idea took root in Greene’s mind when he was writing a travel book about Africa during the war but for various reasons was unable to use it until later. Duncan tells enough of the story to make it unnecessary to seek out the passages from Greene’s books. Here’s the link.
–Robin Ashenden posts an article on the website Quillette.com about the BBC Radio 4 series Evil Genius hosted by comedian and noted Waugh fan Russell Kane. Here’s an excerpt:
…Evil Genius, a Radio 4 programme is presented by Essex-born comedian Russell Kane, which first aired in 2018 and continues to this day. The format of the programme is simple: each week a dead artist, politician, or luminary with a stellar reputation is submitted to the scrutiny of Kane and his three guests, who are often fellow comics. After the sketchiest of introductions to the subject’s career, three envelopes—“fact bombs”—are opened to disclose key details from their life. Some are benign but at least one is potentially reputation-destroying. At the end of the programme, the guests are asked to decide whether the subject is “evil” or a “genius.”
Kane can be an astute and thoughtful comedian, but he stewards the show with a desperate Yellow-Coat mateyness, as if he were addressing nine-year-olds at a holiday camp: “The show where we take icons from history and sling so much mud at them that termites could colonise the heap of dirt we finish up with!” Or, “Prepare to have your heroes sprayed with the botty-smears of uncomfortable truth!” At its best, the programme opens up mid-level debate on a wide range of topics—art, race, pornography, the nature of comedy—but this is rare.
Familiarity with a subject’s work is by no means a requirement for serving on the jury. During an episode devoted to Evelyn Waugh (which attempted to skewer the novelist for the mistreatment of his children), a panellist airily declared that he’d never read the man’s work and for a moment seemed to believe Waugh was born in 1966 (the year he died). That did not stop him from pontificating on Waugh’s moral failings (the same happened on a more recent episode about Virginia Woolf). As Waugh was ultimately damned, another guest remarked, “Anyone can write pretty.” Roald Dahl was criticized for his antisemitism (rightly) and his private life (nobody’s business), while his genius for creating a savage, vivid universe for kids was dismissed as a mere talent for a “turn of phrase.”
The whole programme operates on the assumption—contentious and often demonstrably untrue—that the modern West has reached an apex of enlightenment from which it can condemn the past. As its guests routinely question the existence of genius at all, you’re forced to wonder: must the Great and Good be cut down to size simply because the arbitrariness with which talent is distributed contravenes our modern egalitarian Holy Trinity of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity? […]
As journalist Jemima Lewis has pointed out, it is instructive to compare Kane’s Evil Genius episode on Evelyn Waugh and the Great Lives episode he did on the same author with Matthew Parris. Kane is brilliant on Great Lives—clear-eyed but respectful of Waugh’s talent, insightful, passionate, and often even reverent. Yet when he describes Evelyn Waugh’s ability to move between classes as “socially bilingual,” he’s capturing something of himself as well. The Kane of Great Lives and that of Evil Genius are speaking, fluently, in different languages. But which is his native tongue? [Links in quote are from original]
–Ashenden also has an article in The Spectator on a similar topic implicating Waugh:
With the recent news that Kindle and other e-readers are automatically updating Roald Dahl’s books to sanitised versions, an entire era has come to an end for readers like me. Who in future will feel safe buying an electronic copy of anything?
Publishers’ plans here may be modest, but the point about the puritan is that their work is never done. Martin Amis, Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford, George Orwell, Charles Dickens – any one of them feels vulnerable now. If in copyright, the author and their estate can be strong-armed by the publishers; if out of copyright, laying your hands on the right edition will be a minefield. Nor does it seem clear that publishers’ revisions are being done by skilled writers. In a ‘sensitive’ update of Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die, the original description of a Harlem strip club, ‘Bond could hear the audience panting and grunting like pigs at the trough’ becomes ‘Bond could sense the electric tension in the room’ – not necessarily a cliche that would have passed muster with Fleming, or should with us. So goodbye, Kindle. Buying my first was in any case a betrayal of my earliest, analogue dreams…
–A recent memoir by a noted journalist is reviewed on the website of The Jewish Voice:
If there was a golden age of American journalism it probably spanned the peak years of the career of Lance Morrow, a prolific magazine writer and essayist whose work appeared principally in Time magazine for more than three decades from the mid-1960s until the beginning of the current century […]
The book contains delicious anecdotes about some of the characters who dominated this period of American writing. We are given vivid portraits of people like Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Carl Bernstein, and Robert Caro. Morrow has mostly warm words for Abe Rosenthal, executive editor of the New York Times from 1977 to 1986, a man who in striving at least for a quality of objective journalism for that paper in many ways embodies the decline of American journalism over the last 50 years. But he also captures what he describes as Rosenthal’s occasional “Lord Copper” moments—named for the proprietor of the Daily Beast in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, who never had a full grasp of cultural and political matters.
He recounts one episode in which Rosenthal had ordered Michiko Kakutani, a Japanese-American reporter who went on to become the paper’s leading book critic, to report to his office one afternoon, without giving an explanation. Kakutani was terrified about what the summons could mean, fearing she had breached some reporting rule and would be disciplined or even fired. But when the appointed hour came the editor greeted her and told her:
“Michi, my wife Shirley and I have decided to grow bonsai trees and I’d like to ask your advice on how”…
The memoir is entitled The Noise of Typewriters.
–Finally, Kate Kellaway writing in the Guardian considers a growing problem of inflated film and book lengths. Here’s an excerpt:
…the dangers of valuing length in and of itself could not be clearer. We seem to be coming adrift from the trim advice that dominated a generation of early and mid-20th-century writers. EM Forster championed brevity, once remarking, “One always tends to overpraise a long book, because one has got through it.” Ernest Hemingway advised: “To be successful in writing, use short sentences.” George Orwell was more ruthless still: “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” For here is the curious truth: length is easier than brevity. Length can be an indulgence, a rummaging for clarity and, at its worst, an affront to a reader. Most of us will have had the experience of leaving a cinema feeling that the film could have painlessly had half an hour lopped off and been the better for it. It is easier to let a story run on than to polish it until it shines. Editing must not become an endangered art. The novelist Toni Morrison spoke out about the importance of what is not said, the reading between the lines. It is best to leave some of the work to us.
Evelyn Waugh once said there was nothing, no matter how momentous, that you couldn’t fit onto the back of a postcard. He would have loved Dorothy Parker’s joke of a poem, entitled Two-Volume Novel:
The sun’s gone dim, and
The moon’s turned black;
For I loved him, and
He didn’t love back.
Shakespeare’s compulsive talker Polonius declared “Brevity is the soul of wit”, but his garrulous inability to embody his own wisdom indirectly killed him. To remind ourselves why “less is more”, we have compiled 30 of the best short feature films (of around 90 minutes or under) and novels (under roughly 200 pages); further below, we list 10 works we consider to have earned their right to length. Now is the moment to revel in concision, to defend the satisfactions of travelling light, the pleasures of feeling that not a word, image or minute is being wasted, of not allowing form to smother content, while registering that it will always remain a personal matter for artist and audience to determine what constitutes the perfect length. Here’s to knowing when to stop…
Conspicuous by its absence from the selections in the short book category is Waugh’s The Loved One.