Roundup: Events and Architecture

–Waterstones the booksellers have announced a live, in-person interview of Andrew Pettegree on the subject of his latest book entitled “The Book at War”. This will take place on 17 October, 1830-1930p at the Waterstones store in Canterbury, 6-8 Rose Lane. Martin Latham will be the interviewer. Here’s what they will be talking about:

Chairman Mao was a librarian. Stalin was a published poet. Evelyn Waugh served as a commando – before leaving to write Brideshead Revisited. Since the advent of modern warfare, books have all too often found themselves on the frontline. In The Book at War, acclaimed historian Andrew Pettegree traces the surprising ways in which written culture – from travel guides and scientific papers to Biggles and Anne Frank – has shaped, and been shaped, by the conflicts of the modern age. From the American Civil War to the invasion of Ukraine, books, authors and readers have gone to war – and in the process become both deadly weapons and our most persuasive arguments for peace.

Ticketing and other details are available here.

–The University Church in Oxford (St Mary the Virgin, just down the street from Hertford College) has posted this in an announcement of a service this week:

The cross is arguably the most iconic of all icons: an instantly recognisable symbol that is infinitely replicable, and which has spread across the world. We wear it on jewellery; we recreate it on our bodies when we make the sign of the cross; we hang it in our churches and even build our churches in its shape. And yet we rarely think, except perhaps on Good Friday, about the actual, physical cross on which Jesus died.

This is strange, since, as Evelyn Waugh expressed in his novel exploring the life of Empress Helena, ‘what is different about Christianity is that it identifies the mystery of God with a set of prosaic happenings in a specific place.’ God became a human being, at a particular time, in a specific place, and lived a human life, and died a human death. The cross is the ultimate expression of this specificity: a real physical object which not only touched Jesus’ body, but which was an instrument in his death, and therefore in our salvation. Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, is said to have discovered the True Cross when travelling in the Holy Land in the Fourth Century, sparking centuries of veneration of fragments and splinters of wood, as they spread across Europe and the world.

The service was for the feast of the Holy Cross on Sunday, 10 September at St Cross Church. The speaker was the Master of Balliol College, Dame Helen Ghosh.

–A current House and Garden magazine has an article by Fiona McKenzie Johnston discussing architectural and decorating “style tribes”.  She identifies several varieties such as “English Eccentrics” and “Espousers of Quiet Beauty” and concedes that one may comfortably claim membership in more than one tribe. Here’s one she describes one as “Country House Traditionalists.”

Nearly all of us fall into this tribe, or at least overlap with it – for English country house style, as perfected by the great Nancy Lancaster and John Fowler (who co-owned Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler) and immortalised by Nancy Mitford, Evelyn Waugh, and others, is hands down the most enduring decorating style of the last century, and there are several very good reasons why. It looks as glorious in a St. John’s Wood flat as it does in a sprawling Georgian rectory in Hampshire; there’s a high comfort quotient by way of deep squishy sofas and plenty of books to read, and, thanks to colour and pattern and a layering of both eras and rugs, it’s a perfect backdrop for children and dogs (in fact, you might argue that dogs are a vital ingredient)….

–This comment about architectural tastes recently appeared on the weblog of Charles Saumarez Smith:

I have just read the admirable short biography by John Holden, late of Demos, of Ralph Dutton who owned and reconstructed his family’s Victorian house of Hinton Ampner, employing Gerald Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, as its architect, just before the Second World War. It’s a fascinating, but in some ways frustrating, story because although Dutton seems to have had a wide circle of friends, many of them writers, including L.P. Hartley, James Lees-Milne and James Pope-Hennessy, none of them seem to have much to say about him, other than complimenting him on his impeccable taste and enjoying his hospitality. The only alternative glimmer of him appears in a characteristically waspish letter from Evelyn Waugh to Nancy Mitford about a review he had written of Dutton’s book on The Victorian Home‘I took the writer to be a bumptious young puppy. I hear he is an aged and wealthy pansy’. Anyway, it has particularly good information on the taste for what Osbert Lancaster described as ‘Vogue Regency’ and a generation of Old Etonians who ran the arts.

The letters cited appeared in NMEW Letters 355-57 and relate to a review written by Waugh in the Sunday Times, 28 November 1954. This quote from the review appears in a footnote where Waugh describes Dutton’s book as one:

“which cannot be wholeheartedly recommended to any class of reader…The illustrations…are very poorly reproduced. The text is trite and patronizing…the only readers likely to derive enjoyment from it are those who indulge in the badger-digging of literary blood sports, the exposure of error.”

The book is unlikely to be all that bad, as Saumarez Smith cites an edition currently on offer 70 years later from Amazon.co.uk.

–Waugh (or his family) features in yet another architectural taste dispute cited in a Canadian entertainment website:

…Showbiz celebrities such as Emma ThompsonImelda Staunton (The Queen of the latest episode of The Crown) and her husband Jim Carter (Butler Carson from Downton Abbey)…are outraged by a plan to build a glass and aluminum house in West Hampstead, an area on the northern outskirts of London where they live along with many other celebrities.

An American couple wants a new mansion. [They] made money on cryptocurrencies and artificial intelligence and now dream of good retreat in a privileged segment of London. But the English actors are not in the know and have written a letter to the local council to oppose the project: according to them, new home [is] ‘better suited for Malibu’ while it is an eyesore in an area made up of Victorian and Edwardian Art Nouveau residences.

West Hampstead is something of a village in itself, dotted with small restaurants and independent shops: there is no McDonald’s or Zaras here, you’re having an outdoor brunch (weather permitting) or stopping to browse bookstores. It was here that writers such as Evelyn Waugh and Doris Lessing lived. Today it is home to actors such as Stephen Fry and pop stars such as Dua Lipa...

Evelyn Waugh did actually live in West Hampstead briefly, having been born there at 11 Hillfield Road on 28 October 1903. In 1907 the family moved to a house at 145 North End Road. I’m not sure what borough or postcode that was in when they moved, but by the time Waugh was a student, it became Golders Green NW11. It was never in West Hampstead (NW6) or Hampstead village (NW3). It is unlikely that Waugh ever expressed any societal or architectural enthusiasm over the Waugh’s residence on Hillfield Road as he was 4 only years old when they moved. There has been considerable comment, however, on his attitude toward the social position of the house on North End Road, but that’s another story.

–The Guardian concludes a series of articles on emotion in books, with the final topic being ambition (or “those who are determined to succeed”). This is written by Sophie Ratcliffe and concludes with this:

… while we may be struck by memoirs of odds overcome – from Tara Westover to Barack Obama – we are equally drawn to ambition in miniature – the everyday striving, and seemingly ordinary achievements, through which we may glimpse what Larkin terms an “enthralled/ Catching of happiness”.

Such scaled-back ambition is well caught in MetamorphosisRobert Douglas-Fairhurst’s memoir about living with MS. “Always,” he writes at his book’s close, “there is the potential for something new to go wrong, or something old to deteriorate,” but, on waking one morning, he decides to risk it and “go for a walk”. There’s a knowing irony to his chosen route march – “the top of a nearby hill, a little over a mile away” looking over the “lead domes” and “thick fingers of honey-coloured stone” of Oxford – for it is a view that conjures up ambition on a big canvas. Here are the dreaming spires, the “city of aquatint” in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. It would, Douglas-Fairhurst writes, “be an easy stroll for most people, but for me it will be a little voyage into the unknown. I’m not entirely confident that I’ll make it there and back without my legs buckling underneath me, but there’s only one way to find out.” It’s a fitting end to this beautiful, formally ambitious book. Opening his front door, he steps “into the bright morning sunshine”.

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