Valentine’s Day Roundup

–David Mills writing in The Times takes another look at the novels of post-Waugh English satirist Simon Raven. He considers the 1969 novel The Rich Pay Late, the first of 10 in Ravens’s Alms for Oblivion series:

…Raven is astoundingly snobbish, despising any connection with business and adhering to values that were out of date by the 1860s. “Clean” money can only come “from wide and prudently managed acres”. Salinger [a character from The Rich Pay Late] is condescended to because he has bought his stately home himself, mixes with stockbrokers and holds the lavish ball to celebrate his wedding on a Saturday night, “typical of a parvenu”.

Such baroquely elaborate snobbery combined with a propensity for the sudden, heartless dispatch of characters to a grisly end often when least expected (“Miss Beatty was found in her flat this morning. Or rather, most of her was”) might seem reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh, except Waugh’s novels always have a moral core, either Catholic or a passive innocence adrift in a wicked world.

There is no innocence in Raven. Everyone is self-interested and duplicitous, with a diverting sexual perversion to boot. The one possible exception in The Rich Pay Late is Peter Morrison, an MP out of the pages of Trollope, “a man of conscience and goodwill, a wealthy, landed young man who conceived it his duty to take part in a public life”. Yet even he, in sidestepping a wrong, turns it to his own advantage with surprising political calculation…

–Duncan McLaren has added a new discussion to his website. This is an analysis of Evelyn Waugh’s admiration for the writings of P G Wodehouse. It was inspired by Duncan’s receipt of an email from a Wodehouse fan who may play an equivalent role in Wodehouse studies as that of Duncan in the world of Waugh. One surprising revelation (to me at least) is that Wodehouse had a more critical opinion of Waugh’s writing than Waugh had of Wodehouse’s. Here’s a link.

–The website digital journal Literary Hub has an article entitled “An Unequal Partnership: On the Marriage of Kingsley Amis and Jane Howard”.  This is by Carmela Ciuraru who makes this interesting observation at the beginning of the article:

…Jane was well acquainted with men behaving badly, especially as she tried to assert her position among London’s male-dominated literary set. Once, while conducting what would be Evelyn Waugh’s final broadcast interview—for the BBC, in 1964—Jane endured his belittling comments (“Ah, Miss Howard—and have you had anything to do with literature?”) and dotty remarks to the camera crew: “When is Miss Howard going to take off all her clothes?” She was fond enough of men to overlook their more beastly moments, and for Kingsley she seemed to retain an infinite store of patience and forgiveness…

–John Self writing in the latest issue of The Critic reviews the career of American novelist Bret Easton Ellis. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning:

…Ellis was launched into the dazzle of immediate success with his novel Less Than Zero (1985), which he began writing when still at school. Its opening line — “People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles” — didn’t just introduce three of his recurring motifs (LA, cars, fear) but perfected out of the box his affectless style, even if Joan Didion had pioneered it 15 years earlier with Play It As It Lays. […]

Less Than Zero was received with the combination of admiration and horror that a good publicist can only dream of. “Mr Ellis clearly possesses talent, and the drive to do something with his gifts,” wrote the New York Times, adding that the book was “one of the most disturbing novels I’ve read in a long time.”

The book was frightening because it showed the world its author knew, and the blankness of the style meant its satirical intent wasn’t immediately clear. (The New York Times reviewer “read it with the worrying sense that it might all be true”.) Still, there’s no doubt that Ellis, like Evelyn Waugh before him, was half in love, or at least half-obsessed, with the world he was simultaneously mocking…

–An article in Public Discourse  the journal of the Witherspoon Institute considers a recent essay by a Roman Catholic clergyman on the Church’s inclusiveness (or lack thereof). The article is by Professor Christopher Tollefsen from the University of South Carolina and opens with this:

I was thinking about Julia Flyte as I read the recent essay by Cardinal Robert McElroy in America. Lady Julia is a central character in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited. Married to a divorcé, and living out of wedlock with Charles Ryder, she has a near breakdown late in the novel when her callous brother explains why he cannot bring his fiancée Beryl to Julia’s house: “It is a matter of indifference whether you choose to live in sin with Rex or Charles or both—I have always avoided enquiry into the details of your ménage—but in no case would Beryl consent to be your guest.”

Julia’s response is powerful for expressing her awareness that, as much of an ass as Bridey might be, “He’s quite right. . . . He means just what it says in black and white. Living in sin, with sin, by sin, for sin, every hour, every day, year in, year out. Waking up with sin in the morning, seeing the curtains drawn on sin, bathing in it, dressing it, clipping diamonds to it, feeding it, showing it around, giving it a good time, putting it to sleep at night with a tablet of Dial if it’s fretful.”

This confession anticipates her final conversion of heart as her father is dying, a conversion that Charles could see coming “all this year,” and portending the end of his relationship with Julia…

After several additional references to the novel as well as to Waugh’s 1947 memo to the MGM movie studio regarding its possible film adaptation, the article closes with this:

…Too often the Church has been Bridey, insensitive and cloddish in its pastoral care of sinners; Cardinal McElroy is correct to note the failures. But it has also failed, and now no less than in other times, to speak truthfully while resting assured, again quoting Waugh’s memo, in “how the Grace of God turns everything in the end to good.”

The Chattanoogan a local digital news site includes the following in a list of things to see in Los Angeles:

Forest Lawn Museum in Glendale is one of the leading cemeteries that have made L.A. a destination for those who want to visit the final resting places of the stars (after being given a tour, English novelist Evelyn Waugh wrote the bestselling novel The Loved One, a satire of the local funeral industry, which was turned into a classic film). Among those who called it their eternal home were Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, W.C. Fields, and the Marx Brothers (staff won’t point out where they are, so check online sources). Founder Hubert Eaton made it essentially a vast museum of art celebrating religion and history, placing original statues and paintings, as well as reproductions of major works, around the grounds and in its churches and mausoleums (ask for the map). The largest is the painting “The Crucifixion” by Joan Styka, whose curtains measure 440’x50′. The Forest Lawn Museum itself has many notable works, including Frederic Remington’s bronze “The Bronco Buster,” Fletcher Ransom’s oil on canvas “Lincoln at Gettysburg,” and even a small head from Easter Island. The biggest surprise is the exhibit on Bob Barker’s Marionette Theater, which in 1963 began putting on legendary shows with puppets controlled by string …

It is gratifying to see this recommendation, since Forest Lawn has fallen quite far from its status as a leading tourist destination in 1947 when Waugh made his visits.


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