Mothers’ Day (U.S.) Roundup

–An article in this week’s TLS (10 May 2024) marks the centenary of the 1924 novel The Green Hat by Michael Arlen. He was something of a one hit wonder, as the article by Philip Ward explains. Here are some excerpts from the article:

…Written (so the author claimed) in the space of two months at his parents’ home in Southport, The Green Hat is the story of Iris Storm, wearer of the titular headgear, who is depicted as a femme fatale with a “pagan body and a Chislehurst mind”. […] Capitalizing on his success, Arlen adapted The Green Hat as a play, which ran in London (Tallulah Bankhead took the lead role) and, with a different cast, toured the US. Both productions generated spin-off merchandise, with green millinery a must-have item of the season. The book was filmed in 1928 as a vehicle for Greta Garbo (at Garbo’s instigation), though the studio had to change the title (to A Woman of Affairs) and alter the characters’ names and some of the lurid plot details in order to satisfy Hollywood guidelines on morality. […]

Arlen writes with an absolute determination to bring his fantasy world to life. The book is wildly overwritten, but therein lay its luxuriant charm for many readers. In his own first novel, Burmese Days, George Orwell conjured up the stereotypical image: “Elizabeth lay on the sofa in the Lackersteens’ drawing-room, with her feet up and a cushion behind her head”. She is reading Arlen, “her favourite author”. […]

Several parodies appeared in the following years, with titles like The Green Mat and Keep It Under Your Green Hat, and it became a favourite satirical target for Evelyn Waugh. In Vile Bodies Adam Symes, drudging as a bored gossip columnist, invents a fashion for green bowler hats. In Brideshead Revisited Sebastian Flyte arranges a meeting with his sister on Berkeley Square–an appropriately Arlenesque location: “Julia, like most women then, wore a green hat pulled down to her eyes”.

Woolf and Waugh were only two of Arlen’s literary detractors. When Ernest Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises, appeared in 1926, the author was incensed that reviewers saw an influence of The Green Hat, particularly in his character of the aristocratic Englishwoman Brett Ashley. …

The article is well worth reading in full if you have access to it.

–The religious journal Crisis Magazine has an article by Regis Martin about Waugh’s novel Helena. It opens with this:

In an interview with the BBC, Evelyn Waugh, who detested giving them, was asked which of his many books was his favorite. Helena, he shot back. Puzzled, the reporter asked why. Because, he said in effect, it was both the best book he ever wrote, especially given its religious theme, and because it was the one book he took more pains in producing than any other. So fond in fact was he of the book that, according to one of his daughters, it was the only one he would read aloud to his family.

So, why had it failed so spectacularly to catch fire with the reading public? Or that so few of his biographers even bothered mentioning it? Not only had it fallen out of print, despite the brisk sale of nearly everything else he wrote, but it became the least read among even ardent Waugh enthusiasts. Why would that be? …

Martin does an excellent job of explaining Waugh’s favoritism and the book’s failure to achieve popularity with his readers. One point Martin might have raised is that the UK edition of the book enjoyed only one printing whereas in the US the book was published in October 1950 and then reprinted 5 times over the next four months.  This might suggest that the book did achieve a modest popular success in the US where there was a considerably larger Roman Catholic population than in the UK. The full article may be read at this link.

–The Daily Telegraph has a review of what is probably Jeremy Clarke’s last book: Low Life: The Spectator Columns: The Final Years. Clarke had succeeded Jeffrey Bernard as author of the “Low Life” column. According to the Telegraph, Bernard, “was unwell so often Keith Waterhouse wrote a very successful play called ‘Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell’; and Bernard died, very unwell, in 1997 at the age of 65.” As explained by reviewer Nicholas Lezard (who writes a similar column for the New Statesman), Clarke was also a heavy drinker and died at a similarly early age. But despite the heavy drinking Clarke produced entertaining columns and wrote them very well. The review quotes Graham Greene on Evelyn Waugh’s writing to describe Clarke’s prose: “…like the pre-war Mediterranean ‘you could see all the way to the bottom.'” The book (publication date 21 May 2024) is available at this link.



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