MLK Day Roundup

–The German-language paper Der Standart based in Austria has posted an article about Waugh’s book collecting. This is mostly devoted to a book previously discussed. Here is a translation of the text:

You may know the British novelist Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) as the author of the novel Brideshead Revisited, Memoirs of Captain Charles Ryder ,  or through the 2008 film adaptation starring Emma Thompson. But Waugh was not only a novelist, he was also avid collector with a fondness for Victorian decorative objects and furniture. Glass showcases with fossils, butterflies stretched out with needles, even a stuffed monkey were part of the inventory of his domicile.

In later years he turned increasingly to collecting books, his estate comprised around 3,500 volumes. The books were taken over by the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas after his death.

Upon perusing the collection, one book that was made entirely of oddly spooky collages immediately stood out. Entitled “Durenstein”, it contains 45 collages designed by John Bingley Garland. Because blood plays a major role in many of these illustrations, the book was soon dubbed the “Victorian Blood Book”.

John Bingley Garland (1791 to 1875) was a distinguished English merchant and politician. He spent a few years in Newfoundland and then returned to England, where he ran the family business – trading fish – until his death.

Owned by Evelyn Waugh and designed by Garland, the book is a stunning collection of collaged images that arguably grew out of the Victorian love of decoupage. Garland was thus a forerunner of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, who around 1910 invented the new art form of collage from newspaper clippings, wallpaper and other materials.

For his paintings, Garland used reproductions of European masterpieces, especially religious art, as well as colourful, cheaply produced prints of fruit, flowers, insects, snakes and birds, which he meticulously cut out and processed into these amazing, visionary collages. The space between the images is filled with tiny handwritten writing, the words seem like a choppy sermon:  “One! yet has larger bounties! to bestow! Joys! Powers! untasted! In a World like this, Powers!”   In addition, there are inscriptions of religious texts, Egyptian hieroglyphs, representations of ruins and of course the characteristic drops of blood.

The book’s reputation rests on these crimson drops in red ink hanging from many of the pictorial elements. Blood drips from grape plates and tree branches, statues and skeletons. Blood runs down from crosses, angels dangle from bloody sashes. A bouquet of white chrysanthemums is sprinkled. Today this orgy of red color is interpreted as the blood of Christ.

The Blood Book of Waugh bears an inscription by John Bingley Garland to his daughter Amy, dated September 1, 1854: “A legacy left in his lifetime for her future examination by her affectionate father.”). The album was probably intended as a wedding present.

A small reference to Austria is not missing either: the first page of the book contains a table of contents with the heading “Durenstein!”, a reference to Dürnstein, the Lower Austrian castle where Richard the Lionheart, returning from the Third Crusade, was imprisoned. The subject of some panels is the struggles that Christians have to endure on the way to salvation.

The article is also illustrated with several pages from the book and is available at this link.

–Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the London Review of Books has an extended and detailed review of all three volumes of “Chips” Channon’s complete diaries. Here’s an excerpt in which Evelyn Waugh is quoted on Channon’s marital life:

…Two years after their wedding, the Channons’ only child, Paul, was born, but eighteen months later ‘we broke off conjugal relations, never in our case particularly successful.’ By then Honor was increasingly absent on supposed skiing holidays – one of them in July – and Channon eventually realised that she was having an affair with a skiing instructor, then another with a Hungarian nobleman. Finally she left him, and went off with ‘a dark horse-coper named Woodman’. Evelyn Waugh heard a fictional echo – ‘Lady Chatterley in every detail’ – although Channon thought it more Far from the Madding Crowd: ‘She is Bathsheba, Sergeant Frank Troy, Mr Woodman.’…

Where the quote is taken from or in what context is not revealed. It seems to come from a letter to Randolph Churchill in September 1941: “Honor [Guinness] has left Chips [Channon] for the bailiff–like Lady Chatterley in every respect.” Letters, p. 154. Nor is it clear whether the credit for finding it goes to Mr Wheatcroft or Simon Heffer, the editor.

–An article entitled “The Game of Laughter” by Simon Evans appears in The Critic. This considers whether comedy (or at the least stand-up variety) should be considered an art form:

What, apart from its survival, is it that defines art? Art is that which is either “collected” — financialised, by scoundrels — or requires a subsidy. Sometimes both. The artier it is, the heartier the portion of the public’s largesse it demands — with, I imagine, Wagner’s vision of Opera as the supreme art well endorsed by this reckoning.

Not comedy. Not stand-up. Among its proudest boasts, in my book, has been comedy’s refusal to attempt to pry a penny of the taxpayers hard-earned to fortify its precarious presence on the stage. No furlough for us.

Not that all entertainment has such a short half-life of course, of course. Some entertainment survives its creator. Graham Greene notoriously divided his work into novels (art) and entertainments. No prize for guessing which now seem the most datedly — miserably contorted by Greene’s sterile struggles with his faith — and which played more productively with the foibles of human nature and the quirks of fate. Much the same could be said of Evelyn Waugh’s early, light-touch genius in Scoop and Vile Bodies not being much improved by the introduction of “bigger themes” in the Sword of Honour trilogy.

–Paul Perry, in the Independent (Ireland), reviews a new biography of American novelist Norman Mailer  to be issued later this month. This is entitled Tough Guy and is written by Richard Bradford. The review opens with this:

Evelyn Waugh has one of the most prescient summations of Norman Mailer in Richard Bradford’s compellingly readable and engrossing new biography of the US writer, which is due out this week in advance of the centenary of Mailer’s birth.

It is 1966 [sic], and Mailer has yet to win his two Pulitzer Prizes, for The Armies of the Night (1969) and for The Executioner’s Song (1980), but he has courted success and fame with his debut The Naked and The Dead (1948), a novel which recounts his experiences as a rifleman in World War II.

Mailer is in England with his latest lover, Jeanne Campbell, and they are at the Somerset country house of Janet Kidd for a ball. The ball is preceded by a gymkhana. Waugh describes the event in a letter to a friend. He reports how a horse “bit an American pornographer who tried to give it vodka”. Waugh goes on to describe Mailer as a “swarthy gangster straight out of a mad house where he had been sent after his attempt to cut his wife’s throat”.

It may seem like outrageous hyperbole, but Bradford own’s description of Mailer as a character straight out of a Hemingway novel is accurate. Mailer famously head butts Gore Vidal before one television appearance and is lucky to have got away with stabbing his wife.

Here’s a quote from the letter which was sent to Ann Fleming on 23 September [1961], not 1966, by which time Waugh would have been dead for several months:

He might have stepped straight from your salon–a swarthy gangster just out of a madhouse where he had been sent after the attempt to cut his wife’s throat. It is his first tour to England. His tour is Janet Kidd, Randolph, Ian Argyll. He will be able to write a revealing pornogram of English life. Letters (pp. 572-3)

From the context it appears that Jeanne Campbell brought Mailer to Combe Florey to visit Waugh. The editor of the Letters (Mark Amory) apparently gave Mailer a chance to respond. Mailer commented (n. 7). “The horse did bite me but I was not feeding him vodka, just patting his nose…I did not cut my wife’s throat…Jean Campbell asked me what I thought of him [Waugh] and I said ‘Lots of fun. Much sweeter than I expected.'” This would probably have been in the late 1970s.

 

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