Roundup: Schoolmaster Novelists

–Literary biographer Jeffrey Meyers writing in describes the early 20th Century school teaching careers of four English novelists. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Aspiring writers have often tried their hand at teaching.  They have usually assumed that it would be an undemanding occupation for someone educated in the humanities, and would give them an income and even a place to live.  Between 1902 and 1932 four young English writers — D. H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell — became schoolmasters, with varying degrees of success.

In practice, all four were unsuited to the job. They found the prevailing culture of their schools intolerable and disliked the narrow-minded way they had to teach. They had recalcitrant and comatose students, witnessed bullying and homosexuality, and were still subject to the hazardous authority, rituals and whims of the headmaster.  They particularly hated to administer corporal punishment, then a commonly accepted form of discipline.

Lawrence and Orwell were lively and innovative teachers, Huxley and Waugh hopeless and hostile, but all four were bored with the traditional curriculum, and tired of struggling to maintain order in the classroom.  They loathed the schools that interfered with their writing and left as soon as possible to pursue their literary careers.  They later fictionalised and often satirised their teaching experiences: Lawrence in The Rainbow, Huxley in Antic Hay, Waugh in Decline and Fall and Orwell in A Clergyman’s Daughter

Waugh’s description of his schoolmaster career in his autobiography A Little Learning, aptly named in this regard, might also have been mentioned. This book is duly noted and several times quoted later in Meyers’ text. After a well-written, accurate and entertaining discussion of each writer-schoolmaster’s career and its depiction in their fiction, Meyers concludes with this:

All four writers followed the same pattern of disappointed expectations.  They were inexperienced, mostly unqualified and had no other job possibilities, and had no idea how hard teaching would be.  They were required to cover a wide range of subjects for long hours and low pay, and regress to the harsh regimes of their childhood.  They loathed the snobbish, intellectually stifling atmosphere and the swindles of the greedy proprietors.  Lacking vocation and the right temperament, they became poor teachers who couldn’t control their classes. They got no support from oppressive headmasters and uncongenial colleagues, found it impossible both to discipline and encourage the boys, and hated themselves for beating the children.  Alienated, lonely and with no time to write, they were delighted to escape through incompetence, immorality or illness.  For many years afterward they had nightmares about being trapped in a school.  But they gained valuable experience from their degrading work and used it in their satirical fiction.

The complete article is available at this link.

The American Spectator has posted an article about Waugh’s religious faith, outlining  three lessons that can be drawn from it. This is by S A McCarthy. Here are some excerpts:

…For Waugh, Catholicism represented order, in stark contrast to the political, philosophical, and social chaos of his age. He saw the Catholic Church not as some ideology that happened to align with his own sentiments, but as an institution of spiritual and moral order to which he would have to subject himself. Jesuit Fr. Martin D’Arcy, who oversaw Waugh’s conversion and became his spiritual mentor, wrote, “I have never myself met a convert who so strongly based his assents on truth.”

This is the first lesson we can learn from Waugh: endurance in faith. Like St. Thomas Aquinas some 700 years prior, Waugh believed the Catholic Church to be the ultimate force of logic and reason operative in the world. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Waugh admitted that the Church was, in fact, more reasonable than he, and thus submitted to her doctrines. When asked in an interview, 30 years after his conversion, if he had any doubts about God or the truth of Catholicism, a by-then aged and bloated Waugh bluntly responded, “No.”…

After several other examples of Waugh’s steadfast Roman Catholicism, we come to this:

The second lesson we may learn from Waugh is to never abandon the Church in her time of need. When Waugh converted in 1930, the Tridentine Mass was then the norm in the Church. He fell in love with the order, the majesty, and the symbolism of the Mass, finding there the link between the temporal order and the Kingdom of Heaven. In the 1960s, under Pope St. Paul VI and the “reforms” of the Second Vatican Council, the Tridentine Mass was reconsidered and revised, and Waugh began to fear that the solemn and sacred grandeur of the Mass which brought him to Rome might be diluted, damaged, or altogether discarded…

Again, several examples of Waugh’s problematic relationship to the reforms in the church are discussed. Finally we have this:

The final lesson we might learn from Waugh is to focus our attentions and our energies on that which really matters. Despite his commercial and critical successes and his relatively opulent lifestyle, Waugh’s chief focus was on eternity. …He thus built his treasure not on bookshelves nor in his (rather expansive) wardrobe, but in his family, the souls entrusted to his care.

In the final interview he granted before his death, Waugh was asked if he believed God put him on earth to be a writer. Waugh responded that he believed God had given him a particular talent or penchant for writing, but that writing was not his purpose. Instead, he explained, his literary talents were given to him as a means of supporting his true purpose: “My service is simply to bring up one family.”…

Today, Waugh is best remembered as a talented author, a grouchy reactionary, a vicious wit, and a devout Catholic. Perhaps that is not a bad legacy to leave behind.

The entire article is posted on the internet in written and spoken versions. See this link.

–In the Irish Examiner, TV presenter Olivia O’Leary describes the major cultural influences on her work and career. Among them is this:

I started to read Evelyn Waugh at a young age, including the great novel Scoop — that every journalist knows, the funniest novel ever written satirising the press — and others like his war trilogy. I knew he was probably a horrible person in terms of his general political views and the way he treated his kids, but there was a lot of self-knowledge in the books.

He understood what a reprobate he was, that came through, but he was a wonderful stylist. There’s hardly anybody to touch him. He’s an extraordinarily elegant and funny writer.

–The website has posted a podcast discussion of Waugh’s novel The Loved One. Here’s their description:

In “The Loved One”, Evelyn Waugh tells the story of the British ex-patriot community in Los Angeles. Dennis Barlow, an English funeral worker at a pet crematorium, balances the social demands of his fellow ex-pats and the glitz and glamor of the Hollywood film industry, all the while providing elaborate funeral services for the pets of local Californians.

Special thanks to our readers, Elizabeth Flood & Katie Porcile, our Producer and Sound Designer Noah Foutz, our Engineer Gray Sienna Longfellow, and our executive producers Brigid Coyne and Joan Andrews.

Here’s to hoping you find yourself in a novel conversation!

This is part of a series entitled “Novel Conversations” and is presented by Frank Lavallo. It extends over about 28 minutes.  The podcast is dated from last September, but when it was posted on the internet is not stated. Here’s a link.


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