General Election Roundup

The Oldie has posted an article by A N Wilson commenting on elections with particular reference to the one scheduled for next week in the UK. Here’s an excerpt where he is reminded of Evelyn Waugh’s position on that subject:

…It’s years since I voted in [a general election]. This is partly because I so much enjoy Evelyn Waugh’s joke answer when he was asked how he would be voting: ‘I do not aspire to advise my sovereign in her choice of servants.’

Joke answer? Well, semi-joke. Waugh probably believed – as I do, more and more – that voting makes very little difference. In so far as it makes a difference, it makes things worse by encouraging the obvious falsehood that government by parties, to which very few people belong, is the most ‘democratic’ form of government.

Most of us loathe the parties, and despise them for drawing up ‘manifestos’ of what they pretend they believe. Such an exercise made sense for Marx and Engels writing The Communist Manifesto, which in its way is a rather splendid document. But this was a dream-aspiration, not a lying blueprint for government…

Here’s a link to the article.

The Oldie has also posted a retrospective essay by Mark McGinness marking the death of Nancy Mitford on 30 June 1973 in Paris. It’s a bit past the anniversary date but worth posting nonetheless. Here are the opening paragraphs:

…[Her death] was a little like The Pursuit of Love after Linda Radlett’s death, “for us at Alconleigh… a light went out, a great deal of joy that never could be replaced.”

Nancy’s anniversary coincides with the announcement that her life and that of her sisters is to be dramatised in a six-part television series entitled Outrageous, written by Sarah Williams, based on Mary Lovell’s biography, The Mitford Girls (2001), and produced by Firebird Productions, a BBC Studio label. Nancy is being played by Bessie Carter, daughter of Dame Imelda Staunton and Jim Carter and (who recently starred – and will again – upstairs and down – as Downton’s Lady Bagshaw and Carson). Debo, Duchess of Devonshire, was a great admirer of Mary Lovell and once described her as “a terrier for research” so one can have high hopes for the script. The sisters’ lives made good copy with more than their share of high drama and tragedy – especially Nancy.

She began to suffer pain in her left leg at the end of 1968 and despite countless consultations, Hodgkin’s disease was not diagnosed until 1972. It was an agonising four years, made worse by an announcement in the Figaro one morning in March 1969, that the love of her life, Gaston Palewski, her Sauveterre and Charles-Edouard du Valhubert, and by then President of the Constitutional Council of France, had married Violette de Talleyrand- Périgord duchesse de Sagan

The full article can be read at this link.

–The Guardian has a review by Rosalind Jana of an exhibit at Chatsworth House where Nancy Mitford’s youngest sister Deborah lived as Duchess of Devonshire. Here’s a description:

This summer, Chatsworth hosts Erdem: Imaginary Conversations, an exhibition exploring the influence of the late Deborah Cavendish, nee Mitford, former inhabitant and muse for the designer’s spring/summer 24 collection. Showcasing deconstructed ballgowns and bejewelled insects, the opening look is the funniest, a fraying tweed skirt-suit alluding to the Duchess’s love of derbyshire redcaps and Scots dumpies. Erdem says he wanted it to look “ravaged by chickens”.

The review goes on to describe how the exhibit reflects the cult of the country house:

…[L]ook closer and Debo emerges as the poster girl for the still-influential interwar fiction of a ruling class on the brink of disappearance; their roofs and cardigans both full of holes, the old world in decline while the heating bills rise. This palatably decaying image, complete with tulle skirts in storage and an endless supply of valuable artwork and tapestries to be sold off in an emergency, lights up a weird nostalgia-synapse in the British psyche. It is the same part tickled by endless Brideshead Revisited and The Pursuit of Love remakes, in which the dream of the big house is counterbalanced by more relatable problems: chilblains, melancholy, emotional distance, the threat of obsolescence. But it’s worth remembering that in Debo’s case, the grand narrative is not one of triumph against the odds or any real threat of hardship, but something more akin to a princess who got to keep the palace…

The article concludes:

…In 1959, Evelyn Waugh wrote in an updated introduction to Brideshead Revisited, published 15 years previously, that it was “a panegyric preached over an empty coffin,” observing that “Brideshead today would be open to trippers, its treasures rearranged by expert hands and the fabric better maintained than it was by Lord Marchmain.”

The “cult of the country house” he identified then remains strong – Chatsworth is still monumentally popular, and Erdem’s exhibition will undoubtedly be a hit – but stronger still is the status of the aristocracy. Debo’s son Peregrine, the current duke of Devonshire, has an estimated net worth of £910m, occupying number 182 on this year’s Sunday Times rich list. This is unsurprising, given that it follows a general trend of extraordinary wealth consolidation among Britain’s peers via land ownership, asset management schemes, investments and more.

We might now be allowed to nose inside their grand halls and even take great pleasure in their frocks, but it is worth remembering that the aristocracy are not mere relics or enjoyably spirited stock characters – but active participants in a vastly unequal landscape.

Here’s a link to the full review.

–OUP has announced the American release of its new edition of The Loved One (CWEW v. 10) on 23 July 2024. It was released three months ago in Europe. The US price is $170, and it is available from at this link. See previous post for details.

UPDATE (2 July 2024; 5 July 2024): Mark McGinness kindly sent the following comment: “The 80th anniversary of the publication of Nancy’s Pursuit in fact falls on 10 December next year – just seven months after Brideshead. We look forward to them both being revived and celebrated.” This was the anniversary to which he referred, not her death in 1973. The text of the article has been modified accordingly. Many thanks.


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