Roundup: Letter, Exhibit and Two Recommendations

–A letter from Evelyn Waugh is on offer on the internet. The description and text appear in this posting by the seller Rooke Books:

An autographed signed letter from Evelyn Waugh to Eileen Mayo, in the original envelope.

Envelope is postmarked the 30th March 1936, addressed to ‘Miss Eileen Mayo, 8 Eton Road, London N.W.3’.

Letter reads as, ‘Dear Miss Mayo, thank you so much for your letter. I love your picture – but alas I am not allowing myself the luxury of keeping it. I have bought it as a present for my young god-son, Jonathan Guinness. I think it is so important for him to have really good + unaffected pictures round him. Yours sincerely, Evelyn Waugh’.

Dame Eileen Mayo was an artist and designer who worked in many mediums, including tapestry, woodcuts, lithographs, and silk screening. She studied at the Slade School, and designed a platypus stamp for Australia, and six stamps of moths and fish for New Zealand.

The godson Waugh refers to in this letter is Jonathan Bryan Guinness, the 3rd Baron Moyne, who was born in 1930. He was the son of Bryan Guinness and Diana Mitford; this letter was written just seven months before Diana married Oswald Mosley. Waugh had been infatuated with Diana, dedicating his novel ‘Vile Bodies’ to her, and claiming that her beauty “ran through the room like a peal of bells”. The pair were fast friends, moving in the same literary circles, with Waugh living with the Guinnessess for extending periods in 1929 and 1930; however, there was a rupture in their friendship in 1930, with the pair becoming more distant and meeting infrequently. Waugh was likewise a good friend of Nancy.

Letter is written on letter headed paper from the Queen Hotel, Chester. The Chester Queen Hotel opened in 1860, and also saw Charles Dickens and Cecil Rhodes among its guests.

Here’s a link to the post which includes sales details and a photo of the letter and envelope.

–Novelist Philip Hensher writing in The Spectator reviews the catalogue of a new exhibit at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. The exhibit is called Write, Cut, Rewrite. Hensher’s article opens with this:

The early stages of a literary work are often of immense interest. It is perhaps a rather tawdry kind of interest, like paparazzi shots of a Hollywood starlet taking the bins out before she’s put her make-up on. Of course it’s extraordinary to think that some of the most famous characters, events and lines in literature weren’t as we now know them but had to be struggled towards. Sometimes these efforts have the anachronistic but unavoidable sense of somebody getting it wrong.

Textual bibliographers have carefully classified the different steps a work takes from manuscript to first edition and subsequent versions. Perhaps we could go further in search of a writer’s progress. There are the inchoate thoughts, remote from any conscious intention – perhaps a sound, a mood, a phrase, a voice, a movement. Then some words that might merit being written down, even though no coherence is discernible. (But writers work in such different ways that none of this is universal.) Soon we start to have more consecutive writing – a few lines, or even a scene. A draft follows, which could be modified in any number of ways. At some point, eyes other than the author’s fall on the manuscript. Suggestions are made, changes might even be enforced, and agreement is reached on a final manuscript, which is sent to the printer and out to an audience.

Some or none of these stages may be preserved for the curious investigator. Occasionally we have everything, from the first jottings to the last authorised text. In many cases, however, writers have destroyed all other versions apart from the one first published, either by conscious decision or just custom. Sometimes even in these instances we still have signs of the author’s thoughts and decisions, because the work appeared in a subsequent rethought form. The differences between the first and second versions of The Dunciad and Brideshead Revisited tell us an enormous amount about the way Alexander Pope and Evelyn Waugh thought and worked…

Whether any of Waugh’s draft versions are displayed in the exhibit is not discussed in Hensher’s article or in the Bodleian’s announcement:

…The exhibition offers a peek behind the scenes into the writers’ workshops, drawing upon the Bodleian Libraries’ unparalleled collection of modern manuscripts from the 18th century to today, to reveal little-known literary revelations. It features abandoned works, such as Jane Austen’s The Watsons, and cases of censorship, such as Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It also touches on the revisions and rewritings of famous books, offering a unique chance to look over the shoulder of literary greats at the moment of creation.

Highlights include discarded ideas, fundamental changes, deletions, additions, notes and scribbles from great authors such as Mary and Percy Shelley, Jane Austen, James Joyce, Raymond Chandler, Ian Fleming, Samuel Beckett, and John le Carré.

I am not aware of any Bodleian holdings of Waugh’s drafts or edits unless there may be some edited texts from his very early efforts as a student journalist.

The Times newspaper has complied a list of the best “luxury films” to provide what its columnist Chiara Brown calls “Ultimate Escapism”. One of these is the 2008 film of Brideshead Revisited (not on everyone best film list):

Based on the 1945 novel by Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited stars a very young (and very attractive) Matthew Goode. Goode plays Charles Ryder, an army officer in the Second World War awaiting his battle orders at a temporary camp at the Brideshead estate. But this isn’t the first time he has been to Brideshead. Cue misty reveries about his first visit, before the war, as a guest of the wealthy Flyte family, who own the estate. Ryder had been invited to stay by his Oxford chum, Sebastian (Ben Whishaw). Sexual, class and religious tensions abound. There is much lolling on lawns and many longing gazes across the crystal.
Watch the trailer here

Others on the list include the 1956 film High Society and the 2023 partial remake of Brideshead called Saltburn. The Times “recommend[s] watching this one with anyone but your parents.”

The Catholic Times includes a Waugh novel among its lenten reading recommendations:

In Evelyn Waugh’s experimental novel, Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine sometimes talks like a flapper in 1920s London, while her father (King Cole) anticipates the brilliantly crusty Leo McKern in Rumpole of the Bailey. Beneath the Wavian  humor, however, is another literary reflection on the drama of vocation: the life-long project of discerning what God is asking of us now, and then configuring our lives to that summons. The final sections paint a striking portrait of fourth-century Jerusalem.

I do not recall previously seeing that novel described as “experimental”.

 

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