Roundup: Anniversaries, Flemings and Nature Writing

–A feature length article in the religious journal Crisis Magazine marks the anniversary of Waugh’s conversion to Roman Catholicism on 29 September 1930. This is written by S A McCarthy and entitled “The Curmudgeonly Catholic: Three Life Lessons from Evelyn Waugh.” Here’s an excerpt from the opening paragraphs:

…Born in Hampstead, England, in 1903 and raised in the Anglican church, Waugh was an aggressive agnostic by the age of fifteen and a full-fledged hedonist by the time he started studying at the University of Oxford. His time there was spent predominantly in drunkenness and homosexual relationships. His studies suffered to the extent that he was forced to leave and take a position as a schoolteacher at a ramshackle school in Wales, which served as the inspiration for his first novel, Decline and Fall, a semi-autobiographical comedy published in 1928.

As a newly-successful writer, Waugh returned to the party scene in Oxford and London, focusing his romantic interests on women now, not on men. His first marriage fell apart when his wife had an affair, rebuffed Waugh’s attempts at reconciliation, and eventually left him. Having attempted suicide once before, Waugh sought refuge this time in the pinnacle of order here on earth: the Catholic Church.

Through his hard-partying early twenties, Waugh had become disillusioned with the modern world and all it had to offer. He saw the decaying of sexual morality in particular as a threat to civilization. Upon his conversion to Catholicism on September 29, 1930, he wrote, “The trouble about the world today is that there’s not enough religion in it. There’s nothing to stop young people doing whatever they feel like doing at the moment.”…

What follows is a well written and entertaining account about how Waugh’s conversion affected his life and writing career. It appears accurate and well researched although I would question this particular assertion: “Even after his first marriage crumbled, Waugh engaged in harmless (mostly humorous) flirtations but never went to bed with a woman until he married Laura in 1937.” (Emphasis supplied.) While there is no proof to the contrary, Waugh formed several close relationships with women during the early thirties (e.g. Pixi Marix, Hazel Lavery, and Joyce Fagan Gill: Hastings, pp. 244-46, 328-331) and may well have gone to bed with some of them. There are also amusing anecdotes which I do not recall seeing before or had forgotten such as his letters to a dog named Grainger and his embarrassment of a guest named Moor.

–A new biography of Ian Fleming has been written by Nicholas Shakespeare. He will be remembered by our readers as the writer-director of BBC Arena’s Waugh Trilogy documentary from the 1980s. Novelist Philip Hensher has reviewed the Fleming biography in The Spectator. He writes:

…Novels thrive during periods of brutal inequality, such as late Victorian Britain, but also when thrown into violent opposition to societies attempting to restrict personal enterprise. One of the most extravagant moments of fiction’s flourishing in our country came about in this mood of opposition after the second world war. With rationing continuing for years, taxation at levels approaching confiscation and a loss of all remembered excesses to a spirit of moral disapproval, the novel entered a glorious phase of opulence. Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited was one of the first; but if you come across a description of central heating in the fiction of this time, or an account of characters stuffing themselves with tournedos Rossini, you can be pretty sure of its appeal to a first readership shivering over a supper of snoek on toast.

Not the least of these marvellous monuments are the James Bond novels of Ian Fleming. Reading them, one has to remember the circumstances that made those gluttonous descriptions of meals and the tossing away of fortunes at the roulette table so agreeable…

This extract from the biography appeared in The Times:

…Some readers identified with Fleming’s hero so closely they fancied themselves to have been his model. Four months after Ian’s death, Ann wrote to Evelyn Waugh: “Nothing on the breakfast tray but people who think they are James Bond or want to be James Bond.”

Fleming was skilful at fanning speculation. “To Pat, who was the model. The Author.” This inscription in Casino Royale was to Iva Patcevitch, who had stayed at Goldeneye. “He said that he thought James Bond was meant to look like me.” Then again, Fleming said the same thing to another visitor, Ann’s friend Lucian Freud, whom he detested. “You’re just like my hero” — which surprised Freud for not being sarcastic, for once.

Was there an original? Bond was a fictional compound of the agents and commando types he had met during the Second World War, a medley of himself and what he had asked others to do or heard they had done. “It’s my experience in naval intelligence and what I learnt about secret operations of one sort or another, that finally led me to write about them — in a highly bowdlerised way — with James Bond as the central figure.” He had reached out and gathered in all those he had known, all the “shenanigans” they were involved in, some of which he personally had “got mixed up in”, and reconfigured them into a single protagonist who had contours like Ian’s in his bachelor heyday, when he was at the centre of things and not, as he now felt, on the margin.

Add to that the lesion of Fleming’s unacknowledged war record. As his friend and naval intelligence colleague Robert Harling said, “I think he was a little piqued that he got no decoration at the end of it.”…

The book is entitled Ian Fleming: The Complete Man and will be available next week in the UK and next March in the USA.

–Meanwhile, The Times has recently published in its “Rereading” column an article by James Owen entitled “Brazilian Adventure by Peter Fleming–Here’s the real inspiration for James Bond.” That book by Ian’s brother also influenced Evelyn Waugh to make the trip to British Guiana and Brazil described in his 1934 travel book Ninety-Two Days. This is discussed in the introduction to the CWEW edition of that book.

In the Times article, Owen explains the connection between Peter Fleming’s travel writing and that of Waugh:

Like Evelyn Waugh, … Fleming came of a generation that instinctively rejected the values that had led Britain into a war in which his father had been killed. Where Ian’s hero would respond to a changing world by doubling down as the English gentleman, Peter looked to send up his code of behaviour in scintillating comic writing.

–Christie’s has announced the results of Part I of their auction of Charlie Watts’s book collection. One of Waugh’s books broke the auction record:

“The results so far for this landmark collection – celebrating the life and legacy of Charlie Watts – are a true testament to the erudite and passionate eye of Charlie, the epitome of an informed and inspired collector. Don’t miss further opportunities to secure remarkable Literature and Jazz lots in Part II which remains open for bidding until midday on 29 September, when it will begin to close sequentially. We look forward to sharing the final results.”

Evelyn Waugh’s classic Brideshead Revisited, inscribed to his World War II Commander, also made a new auction record, achieving £60,480.

Here’s a link to the full results.

–The Financial Times has an article by Katie Tobin explaining how the film and TV adaptations of Brideshead Revisited powerfully influenced her domestic tastes. Here’s how it opens:

The early months of my first year at university were filled with an ennui I attributed to my living situation at the time. Our flat didn’t have a communal dining area, so meals were an even more solitary affair than most students had to contend with. The only consolation was that my halls of residence nestled on the edge of the South Downs, a view of rolling hills and dense woodlands gracing my window.

I started to devour campus fiction as a kind of literary refuge: Vladimir Nabokov, Jeffrey Eugenides, Donna Tartt, Elif Batuman, and perhaps most resonantly, Evelyn Waugh. The aggressive brutalism of my undergraduate campus bore little resemblance to Waugh’s Oxford, but a Brideshead Castle-esque manor house lay only a short distance from my room. When we finished our lectures for the day, my friends and I would often walk around the grounds, musing over how we would decorate our own homes in the future. For me, Brideshead — as brought to life in Julian Jarrold’s 2008 film — always sprang to mind.

–The Sydney Morning Herald has a brief article about the status of nature writing in a world where the natural environment is radically changing. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Evelyn Waugh did a splendid send-up of nature writing in his novel Scoop. His hero William Boot writes a newspaper column called Lush Places. A typical column begins “Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole …“

How times have changed. Thanks to global warming, the lush places are either too lush or have dried up and the vole might have ceased questing for evermore. Now a branch of literature that in the past has often seemed a bit leisurely and indulgent has taken on a new urgency. Maybe getting people galvanised about nature will stem the tide of climate change. But how do we galvanise readers?…

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