Roundup: Two Letters and a Vase

The Spectator has an article by Dot Wordsworth that features a misattribution to Evelyn Waugh. Here’s the opening:

‘Evelyn Waugh,’ said my husband when I asked who came up with the analogy of carrying a Ming vase. He was, in a way, right, but wrong too.

Every political commentator, it seems, has been talking of Sir Keir Starmer’s Ming vase strategy in approaching the election. In April 2021 Decca Aitkenhead was reminded of Roy Jenkins’s observation that before the 1997 election: ‘Tony Blair took such care not to make any mistakes, he resembled “a man carrying a priceless Ming vase across a highly polished floor”.’ Indeed, Ben Macintyre had cited Jenkins on 4 July 1996 – 28 years exactly before Keir Day…

After several other examples of the “Ming vase” analogy, the article concludes with this:

…This leads back to my husband’s misremembered remark by Evelyn Waugh. In 1951, Waugh reviewed Stephen Spender’s World Within World and said: ‘To see him fumbling with our rich and delicate language is to experience all the horror of seeing a Sèvres vase in the hands of a chimpanzee.’

The Guardian has posted an interview of novelist Irvine Welsh that includes this:

The book that made me want to be a writer
Men at Arms by Evelyn Waugh, or all of what has come to be known as “the Guy Crouchback Trilogy”. Waugh writes beautifully about the rivalry and loyalty between men. I remember being on a long flight with Auberon Waugh to Australia, telling him about his father’s influence on my work. It probably wasn’t what he wanted to hear – come to think of it, he died shortly after this.

–Sotheby’s has announced the upcoming auction of two letters of Evelyn Waugh from  October and November 1939 in which he requests consideration of an appointment to the Navy or Royal Marines. One is addressed to Winston Churchill (as First Lord of the Admiralty) and the other has no addressee. Here’s their description:

Two autograph letters signed:

i) To Winston Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, asking if “you have any use for me in the Navy, in intelligence, public relations, or any other department?”, 1 page, 8vo, headed stationery of Pixton Park, Dulverton, 10 October [1939], punch holes and pin holes

ii) To “Dear Sir”, asking for his support in Waugh’s request for a commission in the Royal Marines, explaining that Churchill has “strongly recommended” him, and outlining his credentials, 2 pages, 4to, “as from Pixton Park, Dulverton”, 7 November [1939], punch hole and pin holes

“…I was 36 a few days ago and can honestly say that I am fitter physically than I was ten years ago. I am a writer by profession but most of my leisure has been spent in travel, most of it of a strenuous kind. I have equipped & led small caravans in Abyssinia & South America and have been on a sledging expedition in Spitzbergen. I had an undistinguished career in the OTC at Lancing, ending as a lance corporal. After that I went to Hartford, [sic] Oxford and took a third in history. I have been a newspaper correspondent in various parts of the world. My knowledge of foreign languages is, alas, negligible…”

Evelyn Waugh was determined to serve his country following the outbreak of war with Nazi Germany in September 1939. His initial approaches to the War Office, naval intelligence, and the Welsh Guards were, however, rejected. Both Churchill and Brendan Bracken supported his request for a commission in the Royal Marines, which he received in November 1939. He found military service frustrating and dispiriting, but it provided the raw material for the Sword of Honour trilogy.

Aside from announcing that the auction opens on 26 June 2024, the details require registration to access. There is no indication of the origin of the  letters or who may have been the previous owner(s). The internet listing includes a partial copy of the originals of both letters. I think it unlikely that Waugh mispelled the name of his college at Oxford, but that portion of the letter is not visible.  Here’s a link.

–The New York Times has a review of a novel by Rosiland Brown entitled Practice. Here are the opening paragraphs:

A novel that is mostly about the deskbound drama of study: The heart quickens, no? Not for all readers, I suppose. In search of larger stakes, novels of student life have generally scanted the slow labor of scholarship as such, or the reckless midnight dash to the term-paper deadline.

Instead, as in Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited,” university may involve champagne, plovers’ eggs and the “low door in the wall” to gilded love and disappointment. Or more sober lessons about sex and capital — as in the novels of Sally Rooney. “We read in order to come to life,” says the narrator of Claire-Louise Bennett’s “Checkout 19.” It is hard to think, however, of a novel that describes as precisely as Rosalind Brown’s “Practice” does what happens when an ardent young person sits down to read and learn and write…

The review is by Brian Dillon. Here’s a link.



This entry was posted in Auctions, Brideshead Revisited, Interviews, Letters, Men at Arms, Newspapers, Oxford, World War II and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *