Roundup: Waugh’s Highclere Moments

Tatler magazine has a story about Lady Carnarvon, resident of the country house that has been the setting for the TV series and films of Downton Abbey. Another of these is being produced. Here are the opening paragraphs of the article:

When writer Evelyn Waugh arrived in Georgetown, British Guyana, he was probably in need of a break. The journey overland had been exhausting, and the recently divorced writer was probably still languishing in the throes of unrequited love for socialite Teresa Jungman. This 700-mile psychomachia in the Amazonian rainforest would go on to inspire A Handful of Dust, one of Waugh’s most sinister novels. Clearly, though, between scorpion-ridden mattress, soporific rum swizzles and vampire bats, Waugh found himself in suitable comfort to employ one of his most exclusive of adjectives. ‘Darling Blondy and Poll,’ he wrote in a letter to Lady Mary Lygon, the niece of the Duke of Westminster on whom Waugh would base Julia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited, ‘I am back in Georgetown and all the world is Highclere.’

So enamoured by Highclere Castle was this most caustic of high-society cartographers that Waugh would employ the name of the seat of the Earls of Carnarvon to describe any country house or weekend of partying that he deemed to be sufficiently luxurious. Almost a century later, its Jacobean towers and Capability Brown gardens attract thousands of visitors, who make the pilgrimage from climes as far flung as Tennessee to spend a day at the ‘real Downton Abbey’…

The article (linked here) might have gone on to explain that Waugh’s seeming fascination with Highclere Castle was inspired by the estate’s ownership by the family of both his wives. It’s a complicated connection, and that might be why it isn’t mentioned. He was seldom, if ever, invited to visit that estate. So there is considerable irony in his seeming adulation.

–An academic article on Waugh’s first novel has appeared in the Journal of European Studies (v. 54,  no. 2).  This is by Wukai Lin and Taohua Wang (both of Sun Yat-sen University in China) and is entitled: “‘Fruitless circularity’ or moral growth ?: Re-interpreting the circular mobility in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall.” Here’s the abstract:

Evelyn Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall features a circular narrative structure, with the unjust expulsion of Paul from Oxford University at the beginning and his enigmatic return at the end. Existing interpretations of this circularity, typically labelled as ‘fruitless’ or ‘futile’, have largely neglected the underlying tension between capitalist ideology and Paul’s moral subjectivity, which governs his movements through various spaces in the novel. Drawing upon Gilles Deleuze and FĂ©lix Guattari’s conceptual framework of ‘territory’ and Henri Lefebvre’s notion of ‘social space’, this article proposes an alternative understanding of Paul’s three-part adventure as a process of ‘territorialization’, ‘deterritorialization’ and ‘reterritorialization’. These stages correspond to Paul’s moral development: moral decline, moral awakening and further moral growth. With his return to Oxford, Paul’s adventure constitutes, instead of an apparent ‘fruitless circularity’, a tortuous process of moral growth. Waugh thereby depicts the early twentieth-century British capitalist social space as a ‘vanity fair’ and explores the possibilities for individual growth within a territory of general moral decline.

Details of how to secure a copy of the entire article are posted here.

–The Daily Mail has a story (repeated in several other papers) ostensibly on the occasion of the marriage next month of Hugh, the 7th Duke of Westminster, godson of King Charles and close friend of Prince William. Most of the article is devoted to the sordid and unpleasant story of Hugh’s great-uncle, the 2nd Duke. It opens with this:

…Such was his sense of entitlement that [the 2nd Duke] was ready to divorce his wife at the drop of a coronet – just because she read a book.  And he conspired to have his brother-in-law, the Liberal politician Earl Beauchamp, thrown out of Britain because he was secretly gay.  The distraught Earl, who had been a key part of King George V‘s inner circle, was driven to the brink of suicide.  Beauchamp’s flight from Britain inspired Evelyn Waugh to write his iconic novel Brideshead Revisited….

The Mail correspondent may be pushing things to claim that Earl Beauchamp’s story “inspired” the novel, but he did contribute to the character of Lord Marchmain.  His family the Lygons and their country estate Madresfield contributed to other elements of the novel, as is noted later in the article. See also reference above to Mary Lygon in the Tatler article. She was a daughter of Earl Beauchamp.

–The Hoover Institution of Stanford University has reposted a 2016 notice relating to Waugh’s war trilogy Sword of Honour. This is written by Max Boot and opens with this:

Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy—comprising Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen, and The End of the Battle [originally published in England as Unconditional Surrender]—was published between 1952 and 1961. It deserves to be known as the finest work of fiction to come out of World War II. Certainly it is far superior to juvenile novels such as Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead or even Joseph Heller’s absurdist Catch-22

It was also posted on our website in 2016 but is worth posting again. The full notice is available here.

— BBC Radio 4 has scheduled a rebroadcast of its 2 episode, 2 hour adaptation of Decline and Fall. It was debuted in 2015. Here is their programme description:

Paul Pennyfeather, a quiet, earnest, scholarly young student at Oxford knows nothing of 1920’s high-life until one night he encounters The Bollinger Club …

Evelyn’s Waugh’s fast paced roller-coaster is set in the early jazz age, peopled by larger than life characters and a few grotesques

A real gem in the canon of British comic fiction dramatised by Jeremy Front.

The first episode will be transmitted on Tuesday, 25 June at 15:00 and the second episode the following day. More details available at this link.

This entry was posted in A Handful of Dust, Academia, Brideshead Revisited, Decline and Fall, Newspapers, Radio Programs, Sword of Honour and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

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