Mid-July Roundup

–Novelist, critic and literary biographer DJ Taylor in this month’s Literary Review writes about literary biographies. His own most recent efforts in this field are a revision and expansion of his biography of George Orwell originally published in 2003 and his Lost Girls: Love and Literature in Wartime England (2019). The latter was reviewed in EWS 50.3 (Winter 2019). The Literary Review article opens with this:

The first literary biography I ever read, back in 1977, was Christopher Sykes’s life of Evelyn Waugh. Even at the age of sixteen, I seem to remember, I had my doubts, impressed, on the one hand, by what the book clearly gained from the author’s friendship with his subject, yet puzzled, on the other, by the emollience of the tone and the reluctance to confront one or two of the, shall we say, more challenging aspects of Waugh’s personality…

–In the religious journal OurSundayVisitor, Kenneth Craycraft has another look at Graham Greene’s novel The Heart of the Matter. The review opens with this:

In July of 1948 Evelyn Waugh reviewed Graham Greene’s new novel, “The Heart of the Matter” for “Commonweal” magazine. Waugh used the opportunity not merely to review the book, but to discuss the purpose of the Catholic artist. “There are … Catholics … who think it the function of the Catholic writer to produce only advertising brochures setting out in attractive terms the advantages of Church membership,” Waugh observed.

“To them this profoundly reverent book will seem a scandal,” he continued, “for it not only betrays Catholics as unlikeable human beings but shows them tortured by their faith.” Waugh predicted that “The Heart of the Matter” would “be the object of controversy and perhaps even of condemnation.” I hope I can be forgiven for saying that Waugh’s review truly gets to the heart of the matter, both with regard to Greene’s book and its argument that good Catholic art may portray Catholics as disagreeable and haunted by their faith.

Waugh’s own greatest novel, “Brideshead Revisited,” can be described in precisely this way. The most (relatively) sympathetic character in “Brideshead” — its protagonist and narrator, Charles Ryder — is an adulterer who abandoned his wife and children before his conversion to Catholicism, and is churlish and rude after. And I know of no character in Catholic literature more tortured by his faith than Sebastian Flyte, the novel’s other central character, who can neither accept nor reject God’s grace…

–Gareth Roberts in The Spectator takes on what he calls the “The Saintly Reading Cult” in which reviewers look for moral reasons not to read a book. Here’s an excerpt:

…And then we have Goodreads, the source of much of this madness. Many of the reviews are written in the grand ‘I’ve been so enriched’ tone of Hyacinth Bouquet wanting to be seen chatting to the vicar. It was the Abigail Proctors of Goodreads who descended on Kate Clanchy, who panicked Elizabeth Gilbert into retracting her latest novel merely because it was set in Russia. Goodreads is where you will find all the worst excesses of the Saintly Reading Cult.

I confess I’ve got hooked checking on Goodreads after I’ve finished reading a book I suspect they won’t like. There is something very funny about people who read a book not for fun but to rate it against their tick list of the progressive opinion suite c.2023. My favourite was the contributor who compared reading Evelyn Waugh’s Black Mischief to being trapped in a lift with Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, which is doing both of them an enormous and undeserved compliment. I’ve been tempted to write inappropriate Goodreads reviews just to liven the place up. Of Human Bondage – ‘well done Somerset, another winner’. On The Wretchedness Of The Human Condition – ‘bit gloomy for a beach read, one star’…

–A film blog called Movieweb has produced a list of underrated 1960s films which it thinks should be considered cult classics. Here’s one of the choices:

The Loved One is a black satirical comedy starring a who’s who of 1960s Hollywood, based on the satirical novel The Loved One: An Anglo-American Tragedy by Evelyn Waugh. The film follows Dennis Barlow, played by Robert Morse, who joins the funeral industry after his uncle commits suicide. He falls for Aimee, who is the spiritual funeral home stylist, but stumbles on a wicked plan schemed by the cemetery owner. The film was divisive at the time for challenging the limits of dark comedy, where some of its satirical elements threw the audience off their guard. Nevertheless, the film is known for its outrageous humour and a special cameo by the musical prodigy, Liberace.

–Several papers have stories based on the recently announced sale of the book collection of the late Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts. Here’s an excerpt from a BBC announcement:

…The signed copy of Gatsby leads the auction, with an estimated price of £200,000-300,000. Fitzgerald dedicated the book to MGM Screenwriter Harold Goldman, with whom he worked on the 1938 Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh comedy A Yank In Oxford.

The inscription reads: “For Harold Goldman, the original ‘Gatsby’ of this story, with thanks for letting me reveal these secrets of his past”.

Also for sale is a proof copy of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, which the author sent to friends for their comments in 1944. Waugh later made several changes to the novel, including rewriting the ending and changing some names…

The auction will take place in two parts, a live sale at Christie’s headquarters in London on 28 September, and an online sale that runs from 15 to 29 September.

Highlights will be put on display in Los Angeles from 25 to 29 July, New York from 5 to 8 September, and London from 20 to 27 September.




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