Late Winter Roundup

–The Daily Telegraph has an article by Bernard Richards in which he considers how difficult it can be to translate idiomatic English words and phrases into French. He also notes Evelyn Waugh had struggled with the same problem:

…English idioms are often very picturesque, and although French has picturesque idioms it doesn’t have as many as English, and this becomes apparent once one attempts translation. French versions are often a bit of a mouthful, so it is hardly surprising that “information fallacieuse” makes heavy weather (temps lourd?) against “fake news”. Trying to speak French, one finds it difficult to come up with the alliterative vividness of “dead as a doornail”, “dead as a dodo”, “down the drain”, “fit as a fiddle”, “down in the dumps”, “dilly dally” and “not on your nelly”. Just the other day on Good Morning Britain, Richard Madeley wondered what “private eye”, might be in French – but it’s not “oeil privĂ©“, just the more humdrum “dĂ©tective privĂ©“.

It’s not a new problem. Back in the 1870s, in Henry James’s The American, the character Christopher Newman has just arrived in Paris, and wants to learn French from Monsieur Nioche: “Let’s begin! The coffee’s ripping hot. How do you say that in French?” It was obvious to James’s readers that “dĂ©chirant” simply would not do. Another example: Evelyn Waugh explaining to Nancy Mitford a difficulty in translating the English of Vile Bodies into French: “When I couldn’t cope with shy-making he lost interest”. It was rendered as “intimidant” – but that’s clearly inadequate. In a letter to Mitford of Aug 5 1955, Waugh translated the English phrase “hard cheese” as “dur parmesan“. He must have known that was not remotely French. Incidentally, he has “hard cheese” in Vile Bodies. It’s probably safest to stay away from any attempt to translate “gets on my wick”. You can imagine David Suchet’s Poirot saying, “Hastings, what is this wick that is being got on?”…

–Dominic Green writing in the Wall Street Journal reviews a current exhibit at the British Museum that may be of interest. This is called “Legion: Life in the Roman Army.” Green describes it as depicting Roman military service through a soldier’s eyes as he wrote home about it. Green manages to find a link to Evelyn Waugh in the exhibit. One of the military bases the Roman soldier describes in his letters is Alexandria where, as Green recalls, Evelyn Waugh was stationed in WWII. This was described in Waugh’s novel Sword of Honour. And like the Roman soldier, Waugh noted that securing assignments to such interesting billets often depended on family and connections. The exhibit continues until 23 June. Information is available at this link.

–In another issue of the Wall Street Journal  Lance Morrow has an opinion article entitled “How We Think About Hell”. The first example is the Pope’s view that “hell is empty.” He moves on to Evelyn Waugh who described hell in his novel A Handful of Dust. This was a remote region of Brazil where Tony Last was condemned to reread Dickens endlessly to an illiterate madman.

The Times has an interview of Sir Nicholas Mostyn, a recently retired senior judge. This was conducted  by Catherine Baski. After a discussion of his legal career where he became one of the leading experts on family law, Sir Nicholas described his childhood:

…Born in 1957 in Hitchin in Hertfordshire — not Lagos, as Wikipedia suggests — Mostyn was taken to Nigeria at the age of four, following the postings of his father who worked for British American Tobacco. His father’s career also took him to Venezuela and El Salvador, but the future judge went to prep school in Suffolk, where he suggests the mistreatment of children would be prosecuted today. “It was quite the worst school imaginable,” says Mostyn, adding that it makes the establishment in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall look “positively civilised”…

–Recent internet reports suggest that the BBC’s 2017 adaptation of Waugh’s first novel Decline and Fall can now be streamed on Netflix. Some of these are attributed to actor Jack Whitehall:

Jack Whitehall has taken to social media to tell fans that one of his old BBC shows Decline and Fall is available to stream on Netflix. While Jack Whitehall is best known for his role as teacher Alfie Wickers in Bad Education, he has also starred as an expelled Oxford student in a comedy series that might be considered an underrated gem. Originally airing in 2017, the series follows Jack’s character Paul Pennyfeather, who is unjustly expelled from Oxford University and is sent to teach at a public school. It is based on the 1928 novel of the same name by Evelyn Waugh. What’s more, it holds a 91% approval rating on aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, with the critic consensus reading: “Funny, smart, and well-acted across the board, Decline and Fall brings its classic source material’s key themes to life while subtly updating the story for modern viewers.”

Our reader Dave Lull and I checked TV streaming schedules of Netflix in the US and could find no offering of the series (although it is available on other US streaming services such as Acorn and Amazon Prime). We have concluded that Whitehall must be referring to the availability of the series on the UK version of Netflix which we were unable to access from the US. Thanks to Dave for his contribution.

This entry was posted in A Handful of Dust, Adaptations, Brideshead Revisited, Decline and Fall, Internet, Newspapers, Sword of Honour, Television, Vile Bodies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.