Roundup: Waugh Venues and School Envy

–The American print media have finally discovered the news about the sale of Piers Court. A brief article appears in the New Yorker entitled “For Sale: Evelyn Waugh’s Manor House, 8 BR/24 Acres/1 Waugh-Obsessed Tenant”. This begins with a summary of the reports on the auction of the house still occupied by uncooperative tenants. The reporter Parker Harvey was apparently sufficiently interested to make a post-auction recon of Dursley and the premises. The article concludes with the report of that effort:

Among residents of Dursley—J. K. Rowling named Harry Potter’s odious adoptive family after the town—impressions of the tenants are mixed. “They are going through an absolute poo-fest,” a local shopkeeper said. “They are absolutely lovely people. Helen is great for a good chat.” A waitress said that Lawton had asked her to work as staff at one of her parties: “She told me she’s a real party animal.” She added, “They hang around with, like, rich people, not the likes of me.”

What of the tenants? Had they pulled a Harry and Meghan and left town? Or were they still defiantly partying? The gates to Piers Court, which are in mild decay, were open on a recent day. A long driveway led to a house of almost comic grandeur. Madi [one of the tenants] answered the door dressed all in gray. Lawton [the other tenant] remained upstairs. Boo [their dog] was nowhere to be seen. “We are extremely private people and do not like the media attention,” Madi said. “We are caught up in our friend’s problems. And it is a real bummer. The news makes it out like we only pay two hundred and fifty pounds per year. But the garden alone costs a hundred thousand pounds a year to maintain, which, believe me, we are paying!” He went on to complain about the plumbing.

Piers Courts is where Waugh lived when he wrote “Brideshead Revisited,” a novel about nostalgia for the golden age of the English aristocracy. [sic]  Madi said he hadn’t read it: “I am not a literary person.”

The house technically already had new owners—an anonymous bidder had paid 3.1 million pounds. Madi vowed to stay. “Although theoretically the house has been auctioned, we think it is reversible,” he said. “If the sale goes through, the new owners will get an order to evict us.” He gave a thumbs-up and smiled: “We’re fighters!”

–Another Waugh venue also recently got some press coverage. Condé Nast Traveller has an article entitled “5 secret, pretty places to visit in Somerset.” Here is the entry for number 2:

Combe Florey

Combe Florey, one of the most quintessentially pretty and bucolic places to visit in Somerset, had a brief period of infamy in the early 19th century due to the behaviour of the resident cleric Sydney Smith.

Known to be “the greatest master of ridicule since Jonathan Swift” according to Thomas Babington Macaulay (author of the masterful History Of England From The Ascension of James II), Smith was a passionate social reformer and critic of slavery, poaching and even the Church itself; he referred to Anglican bishops as being “not always the wisest of men; not always preferred for eminent virtues and talents, nor for any good reason known to the public.”

His majestic invective may have been a reason why Evelyn Waugh chose to live here though the Brideshead Revisited author may also have been attracted to the local pinkish-red sandstone from which almost every house in Combe Florey is constructed.

I don’t recall Waugh ever mentioning Sydney Smith’s connection to Combe Florey although it is noted on signage in the local Anglican church where Smith served.  Given his religious preferences, Waugh is unlikely to have ever encountered that message.

–Alec Russell, editor of FT Weekend and former foreign correspondent for that paper, was recently interviewed by Oxford Blue. Here’s one of the Q&A’s:

What has been your biggest scoop?

‘The biggest story I covered was the siege of Dubrovnik in the Yugoslav wars of the early 90s. I was trapped in the coastal city for nearly a month when it was under bombardment. Apparently my front page stories were read out to the furious generals of the Yugoslav forces who were laying siege.

My biggest scoop at the FT was a story of how China was making a massive investment in South Africa. I stumbled on the story rather like the character William Boot in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. I was reminded that even when times are quiet you should keep talking to people.’

The Article prints a long review by literary biographer Jeffrey Meyers of the recent collected letters of John Le Carré. This mostly recounts his own correspondence with Le Carré over the years about Meyers’ proposal to write Le Carré’s biography. The on and off scheme went through several iterations which are amusingly recounted by Meyers. Graham Greene comes into the discussions and Waugh gets a brief mention in connection with Meyers’ biography pf George Orwell:

…I asked him what George Orwell meant to him as a writer and included his perceptive response in my biography, published in 2000.  On September 27, 1998, [Le Carré] observed that Orwell’s life and works were fused into a noble ideal:

“Orwell meant and means a great deal to me. . . . Burmese Days still stands as a splendid cameo of colonial corruption.  Orwell’s commitment to the hard life is a lesson to all of us.  I taught at Eton.  It always amused me that Blair-Orwell, who had been to Eton, took great pains to disown the place, while Evelyn Waugh, who hadn’t been to Eton, took similar pains to pretend he had.  Orwell’s hatred of greed, cant and the “me” society is as much needed today as it was in his own time—probably more so.  He remains an ideal for me—of clarity, anger and perfectly aimed irony.”…

Le Carre’s remarks about Waugh’s school envy are somewhat ironic since it was Sherborne, not Eton that Waugh was most immediately sorry to have not attended. Le Carré himself was a student at Sherborne, and his biography by Adam Sisman recounts some of the adventures he had there when his father’s shady financial schemes sometimes interfered with his ability to pay the school fees.

The Article also has a discussion by David Herman of the trend toward self publication of books that are well worth reading. Here’s one mentioned in previous postings:

Some of the best books I have read in the last couple of years have been self-published. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this is the range of subjects, from 1920s Oxford to Jewish refugees during the Second World War… David Fleming has just published his first book, Hellfire: Evelyn Waugh and the Hypocrites Club (The History Press, 2022), a fascinating and well-told account of an extraordinary group of figures in interwar Oxford, including Waugh, Anthony Powell and the political journalist Claud Cockburn.

The book will be reviewed in an upcoming issue of Evelyn Waugh Studies.


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