–This week’s TLS has a review of Inez Holden’s late stories recently published in a collection issued by the Anthony Powell Society. Here’s an excerpt from the review by Lindsay Duguid:
…The stories share an elusive quality, with only the briefest introduction given to a mundane or exotic setting. Some offer subversive glimpses of high society while others reflect the author’s personal experience of working in a factory, a department store or a film company. Bad behaviour, neurosis and getting drunk are rewarding themes in which the influence of Evelyn Waugh can be detected.
As a literary figure Inez Holden (1902–74) is known for her appearance in novels and memoirs, where she is slender, droll and carefree, a friend of H. G. Wells, George Orwell, Stevie Smith, Powell and Waugh. Her life has its own fascination for she rejected her county family and became financially independent, earning her living in London during the war, working as a journalist, lunching at the Gargoyle and moving from flat to flat with her two cats. As Powell ploddingly remarked: “In a strange way it was herself rather than her books that marked her out”. As well as publishing five novels she wrote articles for Harper’s and the Strand and reviewed for the BBC. This collection published by the Anthony Powell Society has a bouncy introduction by Robin Bynoe as well as extracts from personal memoirs by Anthony Powell and Celia Goodman, Holden’s cousin, who is worth a volume of her own.
The Oldie in its July issue carried a story by Lucy Lethbridge about Inez Holden’s revival which mentions both the recent short story collection and other writings reissued previously by Handheld Press. Here’s the opening paragraph:
The writer Inez Holden (1903-74) is one of those people who crops up here and there in the memoirs of mid-twentieth century literary lives but whose work seems to have slid inexorably below the cultural radar. She is the shingled, gamine beauty in the centre of a grainy photograph of bright young 1920s people in fancy dress; the lover of Orwell, the tenant of HG Wells, the acquaintance of Anthony Powell and Evelyn Waugh, the friend for 40 years of the equally uncategorizable Stevie Smith…
A link to The Oldie article is available here.
Notice: your correspondent has a personal (but non-pecuniary) interest in this project as a co-editor of the short story collection Late Stories. It can be purchased at this this link.
–The Times has a story (26 July 2023) about the migration of rock festivals from large farms to stately homes. This is by Helen Rumbelow and is entitled “Stately home raves and what goes on after dark.” It opens with this:
Last August at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, one of England’s finest Palladian houses, the peace of the grand interior included a confused raver who bypassed the velvet ropes and was lying for a disco nap on one of the brocade sofas.
It wasn’t a huge surprise: Houghton Hall now hosts one of dance music’s most popular festivals, known only as “Houghton”. It is a novel twist that brings together two themes: first, the need for modern “capital-rich, cashpoor” aristocrats to harness modern trends that will squeeze the assets of their gargantuan properties. Second, a grand tradition of English debauchery in the warm summer glades of stately homes that reaches from Lord Byron via Evelyn Waugh to Alan Hollinghurst’s novelistic depictions of the hard-partying 1980s.
The very posh are increasingly letting young barbarians in through the ornate gates: for a few hundred quid the 24-hour party people get an upgrade on the normal festival surrounds of cow pat-strewn field or grim municipal park. The lord of the manor gets not just ticket sales but a rare weekend in which the grounds fill with the energy of youth this is a demographic that is diametrically opposite to the silver-haired set that normally arrive for an 11am slice of lemon drizzle and a tour of the ancient clocks. Just watch out for the ha-ha.
The story goes on to describe festival goers wandering from their squalid tents into stately homes and, in one recent more tragic case, to die somewhere on the premises. The events are intended to raise cash quickly to preserve the family estate but no specific preservation efforts are mentioned. One can imagine what Anthony Blanche might have said if Rex Mottram threw open the gates of Brideshead Castle while he was in residence to raise a few quid to cover repairs. The festival might be have been called Flytes of Fancy.
–Writing in The Spectator, Bruce Anderson wanders through desultory discussions with some friends about sports results and dismissal of Anthony Powell’s novels and journals, finally arriving at the more congenial subject of wine. This is inspired by the Powell Society’s publication of a collection of that novelist’s writings on the topic:
Anyway, the washed-out cricket was followed by a treat which washed away the taste of frustration. I have mentioned a rich and secretive Californian friend whom I once steered in the direction of a cellarful of serious Burgundy. He decided that it was time to visit London and inspect his trophies, including a 2002 Chambertin-Clos de Bèze from Armand Rousseau. Though he has no intention of selling any of the treasures, he was delighted with the way they had appreciated in value. Now it was time to check the tasted.
Waugh fans may recognize that Burgundy from Brideshead Revisited as the wine Charles Ryder ordered in Paris to share with Rex Mottram, “a Clos de Bère [sic] 1904″ (pp. 152-54, UK 1945). It is mentioned later (again misspelled) when Rex pronounces the meal “not half bad.” Alas, this bit of wine snobbery was spoiled by a typo that occurred in the book editions of the novel, as Waugh confessed in the 1960 C&H revision (p.10, UK 1960). It was still being misspelled in the 1957 Penguin reprint. Ironically, the wine was correctly spelled in the serial version of the book published in the US by Town and Country magazine in four issues November 1944-February 1945. That version was abridged and published without any editorial supervision by Waugh (and without his knowledge or permission). See EWS 50.2, Autumn 2019, pp. 16-17.
–Australian novelist DBC Pierre (best known for his novel Vernon Little God) is interviewed in the Guardian’s column The books of my life. Here’s an excerpt:
The book that changed me as a teenager
At around 12 I bought a book for its good value; the object itself was beautiful, and a bargain. It turned out to be Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall – and the timing of its appearance, when I finally started reading it, seemed to chime with the orbits of people, the recurrences and rises and falls I was beginning to see all around.
The writer who changed my mind
I can’t find this book, the writers have since been disgraced – but in my 20s a friend gave me a memoir by American televangelists as a joke. They recounted a miracle whereby an expensive mobile home came into their possession after they expressed a wish to their congregation. I found the book mesmeric, not for the contents but for the authors’ utter self-belief and lack of irony. It changed my mind on distinction and taste; we would laud any novelist who could describe these characters, and here they were speaking for themselves. High art.
The book that made me want to be a writer
Not a single book: every one threw a lever of some kind. I can say the one I wished I had written when I read it in my teens was Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, for its ability to snatch the truth from thin air.