Roundup: From Addis to Epstein

The Reporter, an Ethiopian English-language journal, has identified the wholesale modernization of the country’s capital Addis Ababa as a matter of cultural concern.  Here are the opening paragraphs:

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s enigmatic capital, is undergoing a makeover that’s as controversial as it is transformative. Historic neighborhoods that breathe life and culture into the city – like Piassa, Legehar, Arada, Postabet and Beherawi – are being bulldozed to pave the way for modern glass and steel structures.

While this redevelopment promises economic gains, it’s also erasing chapters of the city’s artistic and historical narrative. Even as new attractions spring up across Addis, preserving the city’s architectural remnants – irresistible to travelers and historians alike – remains paramount.

Piassa, Addis’ beating heart, is known for its Italian-style buildings remnants of the Fascist occupation. Its medley of European and Ethiopian influences has long epitomized the city’s adaptability and persistence.

The landmark Taitu Hotel, Ethiopia’s first, stands as a tribute to Addis’ rich past, hosting legends like Evelyn Waugh and Emperor Haile Selassie. Demolishing such structures means more than losing buildings; it severs Addis’ connection to the past that shaped its unique identity.

Another target in Addis Ababa’s bulldozer’s sights is Leghar, home to the Franco-Ethiopian Railway, a remnant of Ethiopia’s early flirtation with globalization. The railway station’s distinctive Art Deco style is a tangible tether tying Addis to its international past. Snapping that line risks breaking residents’ collective memory.

Waugh wrote four books which took place largely in Ethiopia and described the environs of Addis in all of them, but most especially Remote People. Although as a Conservative, he might be expected to oppose the sort of radical modernization of Addis that is being described, he was no lover of that city’s decor on his various visits there and might in this case have favored the new cityscapes described in the article over what they replaced.

–The Australian literary journal Quadrant posts an article entitled “At War with Wodehouse.” This is a detailed account by Barry Gillard about how Wodehouse naively ran afoul of British politics while living under the German Occupation during WWII and ended up living in exile in the USA afterwards. Here are the closing paragraphs:

…Of Joy in the Morning, eventually published in 1946, the New York Times Book Review said: “Maybe Wodehouse uses the same plot over and over again. Whatever he does, it’s moderately wonderful, a ray of pale English sunshine in a grey world.” It closed with a comment Wodehouse thought “terrific”:

There is, of course, the question of Mr Wodehouse’s “war guilt”. Upon mature post-war reflection, it turned out to be about equal to the war guilt of the dachshunds which were stoned by super-heated patriots during World War I.

Wodehouse was enough of a writer for T.S. Eliot to confess that he took a stance only “this side of idolatry”. Evelyn Waugh was less restrained: “One has to regard a man as a Master who can produce on average three uniquely brilliant and entirely original similes on each page.” Ludwig Wittgenstein thought Honeysuckle Cottage (1927) the funniest thing he had ever read, and Christopher Hitchens called Wodehouse “the gold standard of English wit”.

Some Wodehouse jokes never found their way into the books, however. He offered a gem in a 1948 letter to fellow writer Guy Bolton. A clergyman is doing a crossword puzzle on a railway journey and is perplexed over his answer to 15 Across. He consults a colleague seated opposite:

“15 Across—‘Appertaining to the female sex’? Something–U–N–T?”


“Ah, yes, of course,” replies the clergyman. “I say, have you an eraser?”

The American Spectator carries a review of a new book of literary criticism by veteran critic Joseph Epstein. This is entitled The Novel, Who Needs It? and it is reviewed by Larry Thornberry who begins by recounting his own literary education:

…I didn’t have the benefit of Joseph Epstein’s fine brief for the beauties, charms, and deep understanding of the human enterprise and its manifold mysteries that can be gained through the careful reading of serious fiction. A level of understanding available, Epstein insists, nowhere else. The well-read Epstein is clearly the man for this job. In The Novel, Who Needs It?, without being preachy or didactic, he makes a convincing case. […]

Nowhere in this compact book — extended essay really — does Epstein give us one of those 50 best lists of writers or of books that have repaid his reading time or added to his insights on human nature and the vanity fair that we call life. But through its chapters Epstein praises the work of [writers such as] Ivan Turgenev, Marcel Proust, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Franz Kafka, Tom Wolfe, Milan Kundera, V.S. Naipaul, Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Evelyn Waugh, P.G. Wodehouse, Anthony Trollope, Barbara Pym, Thomas Mann, Anthony Powell, et al. His book mentions would require a list too long to share here…

I’m sure Epstein knows he’s facing strong headwinds in urging more Americanos to take up serious fiction. Much of the work of the more thoughtful writers is long and requires a major commitment of reading time…Another impediment to reading in anything save the shortest forms is the diminished attention span of our online, digital age, where pixels have replaced pages and the modern mind wanders after more than a few sentences. ..So The Novel, Who Needs It? is unlikely to become a best-seller. And I’m sure Epstein’s expectation of converts is modest. But I’ve never said that lost causes are necessarily bad ones. Epstein does the work of the angels by making the effort, even if the kind of reading Epstein recommends is too much time under the lamp for most. …

–The religion website WordOnFire has an article discussing the importance of Equanimity. The prime example comes from a novel by Evelyn Waugh:

In Evelyn Waugh’s masterpiece, Men at Arms, Mr. Crouchback was a delightful, older, aristocratic widower who earnestly loved his Catholic faith and his storied English family tradition. And yet, when his beloved estate of Broome was lost (“without extravagance or speculation, his inheritance had melted away”), Mr. Crouchback (without affectation) maintained his equanimity. Waugh illustrates equanimity brilliantly:

‘[Mr. Crouchback] was an innocent, affable old man who had somehow preserved good humor—much more than that, a mysterious and tranquil joy—throughout a life which to all outward observation had been overloaded by misfortune. He had like many another been born in full sunlight and lived to see night fall. . . .

Only God and [his son] Guy knew the massive and singular quality of Mr. Crouchback’s family pride. He kept it to himself. That passion, which is often so thorny a growth, bore nothing save roses for Mr. Crouchback. . . .

He had a further natural advantage over Guy; he was fortified by a memory which kept only the good things and rejected the ill. Despite his sorrows, he had a fair share of joys, and these were ever fresh and accessible in Mr. Crouchback’s mind. He never mourned the loss of Broome. He still inhabited it as he had known it in bright boyhood and in early, requited love.

In his actual leaving home there had been no complaining. He attended every day of the sale seated in the marquee on the auctioneer’s platform, munching pheasant sandwiches, drinking port from a flask and watching the bidding with tireless interest, all unlike the ruined squire of Victorian iconography. ‘Who’d have thought those old vases worth 18 pounds? Where did that table come from? Never saw it before in my life. . . . Awful shabby the carpets look when you get them out. . . . What on earth can Mrs. Chadwick want with a stuffed bear?’”

Even after losing his family home at Broome, Mr. Crouchback cheerfully returned once per year to have a requiem Mass sung for his ancestors. His walk down High Street to and from his former estate was punctuated by the warm greetings of old friendly shopkeepers and young passersby. Mr. Crouchback was a picture of equanimity.


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