New Years Roundup

–The website has posted a review of the Folio Society editions of Black Mischief of which there have been three. Here’s the text:

[Black Mischief] is a quite politically incorrect farce set in 1930 in the mythical country of Azania which occupies a large island in the Indian ocean off the coast of Somalia and Kenya. Waugh portrays this African kingdom as being run by incompetent and corrupt Negro natives, the European residents are depicted as being arrogant and inept, the Indians are incorrigible traders in stolen goods and the Arabs watch on while smoking their hookahs in a hashish haze. Every characteristic of these races is exaggerated to make everyone look ridiculous and you can just imagine some individuals at the extremes of their depiction actually acting in these ways.

It is an amusing 206 page book that has 19 pen and ink sketches by Quentin Blake integrated into the text. It has a rather long (for a small book) nine page introduction by William Deedes. The book is bound in black cloth with a double medallion design of an Azanian medal in gold by Blake on the cover while the gilt spine title runs from bottom to top. The yellow endleaves are printed in black with a map of Azania, the page tops are stained yellow and the pale brown textured slipcase measures 23.1×14.5cm.

The Folio Society published two subsequent editions of this book. In 1999 it was one of a set of six comedies by Waugh, and in 2016 another edition was published in a different binding as one of the short-lived Folio Society Collectable editions. Both these editions had the same content as the 1980 edition reviewed here.

Attached to the post are photos of all three editions followed by photo copies of several pages from the 2008 edition showing the drawings of Quentin Blake, who also drew the covers for the original Penguin Modern Classics editions from the 1960s. Here is a link to the posting.

–The film Saltburn (discussed in several recent posts) is now available for streaming on Amazon Prime. I watched it on and assume it is available to subscribers in the UK and other English-speaking countries on their various Amazon websites. The film’s reviewers may have oversold the film’s connections to Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited. The early scenes in Oxford certainly do seem to have been inspired by Waugh’s novel. There is obviously some connection between the novel’s  characters Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte and the film’s Oliver and Felix. There is also a character in the film called Fairleigh who seems to share some elements with the novel’s Anthony Blanche, in my opinion one of Waugh’s finest creations.

In case you may miss it, that debt to Waugh’s novel is explicitly mentioned by the film’s characters near the end of the Oxford segment. But one shouldn’t expect many more Brideshead themes to crop up once the film moves to the country house of Felix’s family. One that I did notice was a fleeting mention of the teddy bear that had belonged to Felix’s father. But the relationships between Oliver, on the one hand, and Felix and his family, on the other, as well as those between the family members themselves and between them and the house bear little or no resemblance to Waugh’s novel.

–Max Hastings in Saturday’s issue of The Times recalls the political career of William Joynson-Hicks (“Jix” for short) who had a habit of making himself the most conservative voice in the room:

…In 1924, when reactionaries were stricken with disgust at the perceived extravagance of the Roaring Twenties, postwar immorality and the jazz age, Stanley Baldwin made the preposterous Joynson-Hicks home secretary. Jix (the nickname by which much of Britain mocked him) was thrilled. He had been presented with a truncheon; a chance to wind back the clock and reassert decent morality.

He embarked on a war against foreigners– “undesirable aliens”. He denounced perceived pornography and modern art; secured the banning of Radclyffe Hall’s lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness. Evelyn Waugh satirised him in Vile Bodies. When a customs officer at Dover confiscates the manuscript of aspiring author Adam Fenwick-Symes, he says: “Particularly against books the home secretary is. If we can’t stamp out literature in this country, we can at least stop its being brought in from outside.” …

–A recent issue of The Guardian has an article about the continuing success of “cosy crime” writings as a British literary genre. Here’s an excerpt:

…[Agatha Christie] wrote laughs aplenty, especially when it came to Poirot; her contemporary and fellow queen of crime, Ngaio Marsh, excelled at badinage. GK Chesterton’s Father Brown stories, written in the early 20th century, have a profound and gentle humour – or not so gentle in the barbed parody The Absence of Mr Glass, which pokes fun at Sherlock Holmes. Arthur Conan Doyle also made space for jokes amid the pea-soupers and arch villainy, not just in surreal escapades such as The Red-Headed League, but in the everyday interactions of Holmes and Watson. And there are links between the generations: as a producer on Radio 4’s classic adaptation of Dorothy L Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey series, Brett revisited the pinnacle of comic crime from the 1920s and 30s.

In Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited, the aristocratic Catholic family at its centre turns in times of crisis, not to sermons, but to Father Brown stories. Read aloud by the matriarch, the scene is at once absurd, touching and completely understandable. Part of the solace stems from the benign humour of the tales, and that explains why comic crime is resurgent today – amid planetary and economic crises, that promise of escapism is more beguiling than ever. Especially at this time of year. From Hercule Poirot’s Christmas to PD James’s Mistletoe Murders, authors as well as readers have been drawn to fatal festivities…

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