Midsummer Roundup

The Article has a detailed review of the recent CWEW edition of A Handful of Dust. This is by literary biographer and critic Jeffrey Meyers who has written several articles about Waugh in the last few years. Meyers opens his review with this comment on the book’s production and content:

…This £95 book is nicely designed and printed but does not lie flat when opened.  Excellently edited by H.R. Woudhuysen, it has a detailed 12-page chronology of Waugh’s life, a perceptive 61-page Introduction, a helpful 43 pages of explanatory notes and a deadly 68 pages of textual variants that only a few fanatics will read.  That makes 184 editorial pages to 188 pages by Waugh…

He then proceeds to raise several additional points that he believes the editor could have made about the book. The most interesting are perhaps these comments relating to Eliot’s poem The Waste Land and other writings :

…The title and epigraph of the novel come from TS Eliot’s The Waste Land: “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”  But the key word originates in “The Burial of the Dead” in The Book of Common Prayer (1549): “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”  This recalls Genesis 3:19: “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”, which accounts for the custom at funerals of throwing a handful of earth on the grave of the deceased.  In his story “Youth,” (1898), Joseph Conrad recalls: “I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back . . . the heat of life in a handful of dust.”

More significant in The Waste Land is “The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring / Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.”  Waugh posed for a well-known 1926 photo on his motorbike, and Eliot’s “horns and motors” unite the hunting horns that attract Tony’s son, John Andrew, and the motor’s backfire that startles the horses and causes his fatal accident.  Waugh’s “horns that sounded in the heart of the wood” echoes the mournful mood and location of Alfred de Vigny’s “Le Cor” (1826): “Le son du cor est triste au fond du bois” (“The sound of the horn is sad in the depth of the wood”).

Waugh observed that “Man without religion will seek after strange and false gods (fortune-telling, psychoanalysis, economics, lost cities)”, as well as bone-setters and chromium plating.  His statement alludes to Deuteronomy 31:16: “this people will rise up, and go whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land.”  Eliot used After Strange Gods (also 1934) as the title of the bigoted book he later suppressed.  After the Brazilian Indians steal all Dr Messinger’s goods and disappear, he exclaims, “The situation is grave.  But not desperate,” which echoes the notorious speech of the German Minister of Foreign Affairs in July 1914, one month before the outbreak of World War One…

How much Meyers may be adding to what the editor wrote on these and other topics discussed in the review is hard to say without having seen the CWEW edition of the book.

The final section, and by far the longest, is essentially Meyers’ review of Waugh’s text and story rather than the editorial content and production standards of the new edition. Again, he may be elaborating on points made by Woudhuysen or discussing points Woudhuysen may not have raised. For example, this comment appears near the end of this final section:

…A Handful of Dust was a great critical and commercial success.  Edmund Wilson and Frank Kermode, two of the best modern critics, called it Waugh’s masterpiece.  Recalling the epigraph, Wilson observed the “sense of fear that permeates the novel”—the fear of loss, treachery, imprisonment and death…

It is not clear from this whether Meyers is relying on Woudhuysen’s text for these cites or is criticizing him for not including them.

The article is very interesting and well-written and is well worth reading whether or not one has any interest in the  critical apparatus added by the Complete Works edition. Here is a link.

–Lucy Scholes has added a book to her column “The Booker Revisited” on Lit Hub. This is a 1977 novella entitled Great Granny Webster written by Caroline Blackwood. She wrote several books, of which Scholes finds only three still in print. One of those is Granny Webster that was nominated for the 1977 Booker. Here’s a brief summary from the Lit Hub article:

…Initially, the chapters have the flavor of three distinct vignettes. The narrator’s account of her sojourn with Great Granny Webster reads as though it could have been written by Barbara Comyns, whose tales of young women in uncannily perilous domestic settings have a similarly gruesome, gothic allure. Aunt Lavinia’s chapter, meanwhile, takes us into territory that feels closer to that of an Evelyn Waugh novel; a world in which tragedy and excess sit side-by-side, but everyone’s very matter-of-fact about it all and no one makes a fuss. The visit the narrator pays her aunt—her account of which gives the chapter its shape—takes place on the day Aunt Lavinia is discharged from a psychiatric hospital, in which she’d been briefly interned following a failed suicide attempt. Now, back ensconced in her white lily-bedecked boudoir, sat at her dressing table and painting her nails, the whole episode was simply “infuriating” she tells her niece. And to make matters worse, she’s now in the most “frightful dilemma”—should she dismiss the poor maid who found her? The “indignity” of being discovered “stark naked in a blood-drenched bath” by one’s employee is really too much to bear…

Scholes goes on to describe how the 1977 Booker prize process eliminated Granny Webster from contention. This is:

…understood to have been down to the caprices of the chair of that year’s judges, Philip Larkin, who—in an episode that’s so dramatic it could have been lifted straight out of Blackwood’s novel—famously threatened to jump out of the window if the prize wasn’t awarded to Staying On, Paul Scott’s sequel to his acclaimed Raj Quartet. Whether his fellow judges agreed with him, or if they just wanted to shut him up, Larkin got what he wanted. He also wasn’t shy about airing his opinion that Great Granny Webster was autobiography and not fiction, so shouldn’t really have been a contender for the prize at all.

Blackwood is also remembered as an heir to the Guinness fortune and as wife of poet Robert Lowell. Great  Granny Webster is still available in both the US and UK as a New York Review Books Classic. Here’s a link to AmazonUS.

–The Catholic World Report has posted a review of the collection of articles by Cardinal Newman scholar Edward Short entitled What the Bells Sang. Among these is an essay on Evelyn Waugh. Here’s an excerpt from the CWR review:

In his survey of Novelists, Short gives a brief reflection on “The Catholic Apologist in Evelyn Waugh.” He notes that “After converting to Rome in 1930, Waugh spent the rest of his days trying to see himself and the world sub specie aeternitatis.” Contrary to the later animadversions of his grandson, Alexander Waugh, “there was nothing make-believe about his Catholic faith.” For, according to Waugh, his life after conversion was

“an endless delighted tour of discovery in the huge territory of which I was made free. I have heard it said that some converts in later life look back rather wistfully to the fervour of their first months of faith. With me it is quite the opposite. I look back aghast at the presumption with which I thought myself suitable for reception and with wonder at the trust of the priest who saw the possibility of growth in such a dry soul.”

Waugh unabashedly addressed Catholicism in his both his non-fiction and his journalism, but above all in his novels such as Brideshead RevisitedHelena, and The Sword of Honour, all of which were “studies of grace,” according to Short:

“Waugh shows how the life of faith actually takes root in a world hostile to but transformed by grace, the supernatural being always present in the natural world. Sebastian Flyte, Helena and Guy Crouchback all find themselves in a world radically fallen, and yet it is their persevering, grace-endowed faith that sustains them.”

Here’s a link to Short’s book.

–Religion journalist Joseph Pearce has posted an article entitled “Evelyn Waugh and the Traditional Mass” on a new subscription-only website called Inner Sanctum. No other information is available.

–A website called Academic Accelerator (looks like a cram sheet for high school and college students) has posted anonymous background notes for Waugh’s first novel Decline and Fall. There are four sections: A biographical introduction, a plot summary, a critical reception and a discussion of “other media” (i.e., adaptations). Here’s a copy of the of the critical reception paragraph:

In 1928, The Guardian called the book “The Great Lark. The author has a pleasant sense of comedy and character, a talent for writing smart and persuasive dialogue, and his paintings are very much in the spirit of the story.” It’s harmonious,” he praised. . The paper also compared the novel’s superficial presentation to that employed by P.G. Wodehouse. Arnold Bennett hailed it as “an uncompromising and gloriously malicious satire”, while writer John Mortimer called it “the most perfect novel of all … a plot that is as ruthlessly comic” as Waugh’s is. Journalist Christopher Sykes recalls in his biography of Waugh, “I was in a nursing home when Decline and Fall was published, and Tom Driberg came to visit me and I [sic] brought a copy and he started reading some of his favorite passages and I literally couldn’t read them.” In a 2009 episode of Desert Island Discs, British actor and comedian David Mitchell said: He named Decline and Fall as a book to take to a deserted island, calling it “‘the funniest book I’ve ever read’ and ‘exactly the kind of novel I’ve always wanted to write’.”

Whether there are similar background entries for Waugh’s other works and why only this particular entry came up in a search, I couldn’t say.


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