Roundup: Mostly Books and a Makeover in North Wales

The Spectator reviews a book by journalist and author Simon Winchester entitled Knowing What We Know: The Transmission of Knowledge from Ancient Wisdom to Modern MagicReviewer Dennis Duncan mentions that there is a discussion of Waugh’s Scoop in the book:

…Each of its six chapters is divided into a dozen or so numbered sections which read like standalone pieces. Winchester is clearly at his most comfortable when he’s telling a story rather than building an argument. Here are half a dozen pages on the Encyclopaedia Britannica; a paean to the London Library; the plot of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop; a reminiscence about how Winchester got into Oxford…

The book’s index is posted on the internet and indicates a two-page discussion of Scoop. There is also this reference in the book’s Glossary section:

Waugh, Evelyn: The wildly comic author of such novels as Scoop and Decline and Fall. Waugh, due to his social and political views, has been rather cast out of fashion today, though the elegance of his imagination may yet allow him an enduring following.

The book’s publication is scheduled for later this week in both the US and UK.

–A book about Franco’s Spain is reviewed in the website This is by Paul Preston and is entitled Architects of Terror: Conspiracy and Anti-Semitism in Franco’s Spain. The review by Gustav Jönssen opens with this:

Every so often I’ll look up what certain twentieth-century intellectuals said of Francisco Franco. I’m always struck by how many of them were fooled by him: they swooned, like innocent debutantes, when the blue-shirted Falange marched past. To my mind, this “Franco test” is for the political right what the Stalinist show trials were for the Left — it is hard to really admire those who failed it…

After noting that Alexander Solzhenitsyn was one of them, he writes this:

Evelyn Waugh came out firmly in favor of the nationalist side: had he been Spanish, he said, he’d be fighting for General Franco. Taking a retrospective view, William F. Buckley said that Franco had stayed on too long, but he celebrated his skill in keeping Spain outside World War II. Buckley called him “an authentic national hero” who had saved “the Spanish soul” from a grotesque regime of “visionaries, ideologues, Marxists, and nihilists.” Such statements can still be heard on the religious right, though now usually muttered rather than exclaimed…

The book was published in February in the UK (link here) and is scheduled for US release in August (link above).

–The website Literary Potpourri has a regular weekly feature called “Shelf Control.” In this readers are asked to look at their “TBR” (To Be Read) piles and choose one to describe for the website. A recent posting (#224) was devoted to The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. After a brief description of Waugh’s career, it concludes:

 The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold is described as ‘one of his most remarkable and self-revealing books’ based on an experience he himself had when in poor health. Gilbert Pinfold is a successful middle-aged novelist with ‘bad nerves’ who is travelling to Ceylon. Almost as soon as the journey starts, he begins to hear all sorts of sounds emanating from the roof of his cabin–jazz bands, barking dogs, revival meetings. He thinks a public address system is allowing him to hear all that’s going on aboard the ship, but then suddenly the sounds change–they become voices, and ones that are talking about him!

This sounds a fun novel in which Waugh seems to be (and I confirmed this from a friend’s review) poking fun at himself. Though Waugh did ‘do’ humour and satire, this still sounds very different from his usual line of writings, especially in the personal element coming through strongly. So this is one that is definitely staying on my TBR and one I would very much like to read.

There follow several comments from readers who are now considering whether to read the book. Whether the author of the notice will ultimately post an assessment is not explained.

–The book entitled Adam and Eve After the Pill, Revisited by Mary Eberstadt is reviewed in the National Catholic Register. This considers the impact of the “sexual revolution” following the introduction of birth control pills has had on various institutions. Waugh finds his way into the review’s conclusion (as well as the book’s title):

So is the sexual revolution an inevitable and irreversible process in history?  To this question, Eberstadt responds with an emphatic, “No.” Noting that ever since the 1960s, liberationists have anchored their successes to the supposed “inevitability of history,” she suggests that the sociopolitical changes spawned by the sexual revolution “could be subject like any other social phenomenon to scrutiny and revision.”

In fact, Eberstadt writes, “The revolution’s toxic legacy itself amounts to tacit vindication of [the Church’s] long-standing teaching concerning sex and marriage — whether or not that vindication is widely understood.”

In her epilogue titled, “What Are Believers to Do? The Cross Amid the Chaos,” Eberstadt quotes Evelyn Waugh, who, in a 1930 newspaper interview, revealed why he had converted to Catholicism. He said, “In the present phase of European history, the essential issue is no longer between Catholicism, on the one side, and Protestantism, on the other, but between Christianity and Chaos.” Eberstadt sees the same choice before us in America today.

The book is available in the US at the link above and in the UK at this link.

–The Daily Mail has a story about a couple who invested £320,000 and 7 years of their time on a rundown building in North Wales  and turned it into two semi-detached properties selling for over £1 million. The properties were formerly a dorm at Arnold House, the school where Waugh was a teacher in the 1920s and which he used as a setting for his first novel Decline and Fall. The Mail’s story explains Waugh’s connection in some detail:

…Waugh was a teacher at the school after studying at Oxford, but it wasn’t a happy time for the struggling young writer. While at Arnold House, he sent a few chapters of another manuscript, The Temple at Thatch to his friend Harold Acton, who thought little of it, and the disappointment, combined with missing out on another job, sent Waugh down to the beach, determined to drown himself. But on being stung by a jellyfish, he changed his mind and headed back to shore.

‘Decline and Fall’, was based on the boarding school (fictionalised as Llannaba) and others where he worked. It was televised a few years ago, starring Jack Whitehall and Eva Longoria, though the drama was filmed elsewhere in Wales. Waugh was paid £160-a-year teaching history, Latin and Greek to the boys. He wrote in his diary: ‘Apparently, the school is so far away from any sort of place of entertainment that it is quite impossible to spend any money at all there.’ He would take a break from the gloomy environs of Arnold House in the Fair View Inn nearby, known as ‘Mrs Roberts’ pub’ in Decline and Fall. On March 16, 1925, said recorded in his diary that he went to the Fair View where a eunuch taught him a toast in Welsh. He wrote it down on an envelope which he later lost.

Waugh later recalled in an interview: ‘It was pretty terrible in that school from a teacher’s point of view. It was in a private school near Llandudno. We used to take the boys on picnics to Snowdon and Cadair Idris.’…



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