Mid-July Roundup

–British author, commentator and journalist Gerald Warner has posted an article entitled “Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell–visions of a vanished Britain.” In this he compares the lives and writings of the two authors who were also friends in real life. Here are the opening paragraphs:

There is an instinct shared by writers, critics and readers to select two authors whose lives and works present an evident congruence and yoke them together in a symbiotic relationship that often becomes permanent in public perception. This tendency extends beyond writers coupled by collaboration, such as Addison and Steele or Somerville and Ross, to authors who worked independently, but whose oeuvre and, sometimes, biographies suggest an affinity. Exceptionally, this association can reach across centuries, languages and cultures, where one author’s work is derivative from another, as in the case of Virgil and Homer.

English literature supplies several instances of the twinning of writers. Keats and Shelley, as paradigms of the Romantic poets, are obvious examples; likewise, to a lesser extent, Dickens and Thackeray, or Disraeli and Bulwer Lytton. In the niche market of pseudo-Catholic kitsch, one might similarly combine Frederick Rolfe, Baron Corvo with Ronald Firbank. George Bernard Shaw took the concept to its ultimate conclusion by merging GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, to confect the pantomime-horse identity of ‘Chesterbelloc’.

The two 20th century authors who offer the most credible prospect for creating a literary symbiosis are Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell. The two men, though distinct in their inspiration and style, had a remarkable amount in common…

The discussions and comparisons of their work are well written, entertaining and accurate. After considering the works of both authors, Warner is inclined to think Waugh’s is the better, based on his incorporation of religious themes into his postwar work, a theme Powell stays well clear of.  One could, as I do, come to exactly the opposite conclusion, so it is a matter on which reasonable minds can differ. But that does not make Warner’s essay any less worthwhile, and it is highly recommended. It is posted on the website Engelsberg Ideas. Here’s the link.

–The journal Foreign Policy strays into literature in its latest issue where it offers a review of the recent State-of-Britain novel Caledonian Road. The novel is written by Andrew O’Hagan and is reviewed by Nicholas Lezard. The review opens with this:

Many years ago, I heard a well-known English novelist refer to Andrew O’Hagan, somewhat disparagingly, as “Andrew O’Tolstoy.” He was making a point about O’Hagan’s seriousness. At the time, O’Hagan was much better known as a critic and nonfiction writer for the London Review of Books. But it popped into my head again when I saw the very first thing in his new novel, Caledonian Road: a cast of characters…

Having just recently finished reading the book, I was immediately hooked because I had noticed the same list and was put on guard that it seemed a very long one even for a book extending over 600 plus pages. Indeed, without that list it is doubtful that I would have fought my way through the book’s description of the dozens of characters who wander through its pages.  Lezard makes several points about the book with which I found myself in agreement. He also inserted this reference to some rather surprising allusions to Evelyn Waugh which I had also noted:

…The Catholicism (there are also Polish Catholics here) reminds me of Evelyn Waugh, the class- and faith-obsessed British author I think it’s meant to, for Waugh is referred to by name and work a couple of times, and the book echoes the frenzied hedonism of Vile Bodies and the stately homes of Brideshead

Lezard’s opinions about the book are thoughtful and well-presented. I am glad to have read the book given its timeliness in the wake of the General Election. Whether or not I enjoyed reading it is another matter but Lezard’s review helps me understand why I it reacted to it  in much the same way he did. Here’s a link.

–The website Bridgeman Images has posted a photograph which may be of interest to Waugh fans. This is described as follows: “Photograph of Alistair Graham naked, kept with his letter to Evelyn Waugh, c.1924 (gelatin silver print).”  The letter and photograph are deposited at the British Library with the remainder of their archive of Waugh’s correspondence.

–The Jesuit journal America has an article by Terrance Klein entitled “A lesson on the Eucharist from ‘Brideshead Revisited‘”. It offers several relevant quotes from Waugh’s novel for the consideration of those attending the Eucharistic Congress convened this month in Indianapolis.

–The Daily Telegraph has a story dated 19 July 2024 entitled: “Why London has the worst traffic in Europe.” This is by Nicholas Boys Smith and opens with an historic review of London traffic. In this he includes a quote from Evelyn Waugh relating to what it was like in the 1930s:

…In early 20th-century London, the horses morphed into motorcars, but the traffic remained. In his 1938 novel, Scoop, Evelyn Waugh satirised Piccadilly’s “stationary” traffic, “continuous and motionless, still as a photograph, unbroken and undisturbed” so “terrible” that the wife of the cabinet minister, Algernon Stitch, was regularly obliged to drive along kerbs in her tiny “baby car” until she was booked and ordered back onto the road by a policeman: “Third time this week,” said Mrs Stitch. “I wish they wouldn’t. It’s such a nuisance for Algy.”…

Posted in Brideshead Revisited, Newspapers, Photographs, Scoop, Vile Bodies | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Roundup: An Election, a Film and a Lost Masterpiece.

The Sunday Times has a story (7 July) in which Will Lloyd considers whether the recent election has brought social mobility back to the the British government and ended the domination of the “posh boys” who were the leaders of the Blair and Cameron regimes. How the posh boys had become established is part of the story, and Evelyn Waugh makes a contribution. Here’e an excerpt:

…Waiting for the Etonians was the title of a book from 2009 by the left-wing columnist Nick Cohen, anticipating the Cameron government. This comeback “was the weirdest thing”, says the historian David Kynaston. “The working assumption everyone had was that the old Etonians would never come back, an assumption compounded by Margaret Thatcher, with her grocer’s daughter from Grantham stuff.”

With its turn towards cuddly, hug-ahoodie, socially liberal conservatism, the ancient British ruling class had reinvented itself for the 21st century. Kynaston, the author of several acclaimed histories of postwar Britain, compares hearing Cameron’s voice on the radio in the 2010s to hearing the voices of upper-class Tories such as Anthony Eden (Eton), Harold Macmillan (Eton) and Douglas-Home (Eton) on the radio when he was a child. He quotes Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, in which one character warns the protagonist Charles Ryder that charm is “the great English blight. It does not exist outside these damp islands. It spots and kills anything it touches.” That, argued Kynaston, was “at the heart of Cameron”.

The posh renaissance of the early 2010s was not confined to politics. The tawdry celeb culture of the Noughties gave way to a near-Edwardian opulence. Millions of people, some probably even descended from big-house servants, enjoyed watching Downton Abbey every Sunday night on ITV. Aspirationally posh, jolly boarding school types, from Nigella Lawson to Clare Balding, Boris Johnson to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, filled our television schedules. Brideshead was revisited once more in a 2008 film adaptation starring the Downton stud Matthew Goode…

The path for this elite comeback was paved by Tony Blair, who declared the class war “over” in 1999. Globalisation, access to university education, and social benefits skimmed from taxes on the City were supposed to result in a classless New Labour Britain. Cameron then sought to convince the country that he was the heir to Blair and ordinary enough to be its leader, deploying bromides such as “it’s where you’re going to, not where you’re from, that counts”. Tory MP Nadine Dorries, however, derided him and Osborne as “posh boys” ? a term she later applied to Rishi Sunak…

The Tatler has a feature length article on the Mitford sisters which opens with a description of a film mentioned in a recent post and based on their own lives rather than on those of the characters they had created in their writings. Here’s the opening:

The article is by Clara Strurick and can be read in full at this link.

–The religious website Aleteia has a discussion of Waugh’s novel Helena. The article is by Suzanne M Wolfe and begins with this:

The 20th-century British novelist and Catholic convert Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) is known primarily for his biting, funny, and profoundly satirical novels. One famous exception, of course, was the romantic saga set between the world wars, Brideshead Revisited (though along with the drama it still contained a share of social satire).

When he published his novel Helena in 1950, however, many of his readers were taken aback. Unlike Brideshead and his satires of modern life, here is a book set in the ancient world. It chronicles the life of St. Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, and discoverer of the True Cross of Christ.

What is it about this relatively obscure Catholic saint that induced Waugh to attempt a very different sort of novel — one that he took great pride in?…

An interesting illustrated discussion follows and can be seen and read here.

The Oldie has posted an article in which art critic and biographer Mirabel Cecil has described what was thought to be Rex Whistler’s lost masterpiece. In the article she goes on to describe the painting “Ulysses’s Farewll to Penelope” and, based on a recent discovery, updates this as well some other matters that appeared in her 2012 book written jointly with her husband Hugh. Waugh and Whistler were friends although not close. She mentions Waugh briefly in the article in the context of her critique of the treatment of Whistler’s works in one of the museums where it is displayed:

…The hang is only part of the problem. The caption is in equally poor taste as well as being pretty useless. Instead of explaining who Rex actually was, his dates, or how this self-portrait has come to be here, it states only that he was the model for the painter Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited. This is not even proven, although the museum’s caption presents it as fact.

The only record we have of Evelyn Waugh on Rex is in a letter Waugh wrote to their mutual friend Lady Diana Cooper:

‘I barely knew Rex Whistler. How I love him for asking, “What has victory to do with it?” It was the question one longed to hear asked in the last years of the war and not hearing it made me morose. It is the theme of my own little trilogy.’ (Waugh refers to his Sword of Honour war trilogy, and not to Brideshead Revisited.)

Waugh wrote this years after the war; but it shows his contemporaries’ admiration for Rex. Waugh, Diana Cooper, Cecil Beaton… they all loved him for who he was. And they respected him for the brave decision he made in giving up his successful career and enlisting in order to fight the Nazi tyranny…

The article is quite interesting and can be read in full at this link.




Posted in Art, Photography & Sculpture, Brideshead Revisited, Film, Helena, Newspapers, Sword of Honour | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Evelyn Waugh Studies 54.3 (Winter 2023) Posted

The latest volume of the Society’s thrice yearly journal Evelyn Waugh Studies,  No. 54.3 (Winter 2023) has been posted. Here is a description of its contents by the Society’s Secretary, Jamie Collinson:

This edition features a brilliant essay by Tim Nau on the names Waugh gave his characters. I think this is an underrated element of Waugh’s comic genius, and Nau – as Canada’s foremost expert on names – is ideally placed to bring it to light.

The edition also features Jeffrey Manley’s review of Modernism and the Aristocracy: Monsters of English Privilege, by Adam Parkes. This well-presented book takes a look at the impact of World War 1 and modernism on the lives of the English aristocracy, so of course features much discussion of Waugh’s work.

The journal is available at this link.

Posted in Articles, Books about Evelyn Waugh, Evelyn Waugh Society, Evelyn Waugh Studies, Journal | Leave a comment

Evelyn Waugh and the Cancel Culture

–Simon Heffer has written a brief but interesting and amusing article about what he fears would be the attitude of today’s “Cancel Culture” to Evelyn Waugh first novel, Decline and Fall. This appeared in a recent issue of the Daily Telegraph and was reposted on other sites. It is entitled “Cancel Evelyn Waugh? We’d censor one of Britain’s sharpest critics”.  Here is the text as reposted:

I try to ignore the so-called culture wars, trusting Telegraph readers to dismiss the censoriousness of those who would prevent us from seeing, or hearing, or reading things they deem offensive. We all know that times, attitudes and language change: even a few decades ago, writers, filmmakers or artists who wished to shock would do so in ways that seem mild today.

Equally, things that once were considered unshocking – notably concerning minorities, attitudes towards women and ideas of sexuality – are now judged by the self-declared authorities to be too offensive.

I hope this is but a passing phase; if not, all sorts of insights will be lost to us. In the 1970s, an exemplary schoolmaster gave me a copy of Evelyn Waugh’s first novel, Decline and Fall. I was 16 years old, read it in one sitting, and revelled in it: I was just grown-up enough not only to get the jokes, but to admire their darkness, Waugh’s flawless command of English and the mixture of subtlety and brazenness with which he obtained his comic effects. He was 24 when he wrote it and it is a young man’s book – but none the worse for that.

Yet were a 16-year-old, or indeed any student, to be taught the book today, they would doubtless be warned about what one reviewer on Amazon calls “a few dated racist descriptions” – “the N-word” is liberally used – or else the teacher could find themselves in trouble.

The novel still sells in huge numbers and one hopes its readers recognise it as satire. Its target is largely the only people one can safely ridicule today: the overprivileged, white upper-middle classes. The plot concerns a hapless Oxford undergraduate who by accident and through his own naivety ends up in prison, via a Welsh prep school staffed by sadists, paedophiles and charlatans. In the age of the misery memoir, such an establishment can certainly not be considered amusing. Indeed, any reader of Waugh’s contemporary George Orwell will know such places were not works of the imagination. Captain Grimes – the chief molester – was based on a schoolmaster with whom Waugh worked.

Most shocking in 1928, when the novel appeared, would have been a scene in which one boy’s mother arrives for his sports day with an “irreproachably dressed” black man who is not her husband. Today, no one could care less. However, when he meets the abominable Lady Circumference (whose son dies of wounds from an ill-directed starting pistol), he speaks of racial prejudice, remarking that what white people think best for the black man is to “beat him; put him in chains; load him with burdens”.

Waugh notes this provokes a “responsive glitter in Lady Circumference’s eye”. The vicar then says: “The mistake was ever giving them their freedom. They were far happier and better looked-after before.” No one can seriously believe Waugh ever held this view about slavery. It is obvious he is trying to show what a completely ghastly woman Lady Circumference was, and skewer the Church, too. Inevitably, in 2017, when the BBC made a typically unfunny adaptation of the book, these observations were clearly deemed too dangerous to include, in case anyone took them seriously, or thought the vicar was right.

They also omitted what I have always considered the most hilarious passage in the book, a diatribe by the atrocious headmaster of the school, Dr Fagan, against the Welsh. Seldom has there been such a display of English bigotry, or has an Englishman sounded more pompous. He rants: “From the earliest times the Welsh have been looked upon as an unclean people. It is thus that they have preserved their racial integrity. Their sons and daughters rarely mate with human-kind except their own blood relations…[they] are the only nation in the world that has produced no graphic or plastic art, no architecture, no drama. They just sing.” Funniest of all is when he says he has considered publishing on the subject, “but I was afraid it might make me unpopular in the village”.

People are shocking, and many novels reflect this. Waugh was a genius at presenting their horror. He must never be cancelled nor censored, because we need him to confront us with all that is worst in the world.

As I recall, the BBC’s 2017 adaptation of Decline and Fall was deemed to be quite funny and was well received, even if some of the more lurid passages were deleted. The deletions did not change the story. Heffer is to be thanked for reminding us of the deleted passages but so should we also be thankful for the BBC’s adaptation which, as these things go, was quite close to the original. The description of the Welsh still retains its humor but the vicar’s comments on slavery would require a careful bit of script writing and acting to evoke many laughs. It probably is better read than performed. But neither scene should ever be deleted from printed editions, even those intended for educational purposes, which I think is a point Heffer makes very well. Better not to publish “woke” editions at all even if that were to keep the book out of “woke” syllabuses.

Posted in Adaptations, Decline and Fall, Humo(u)r, Newspapers, Television | Tagged , | Leave a comment

General Election Roundup

The Oldie has posted an article by A N Wilson commenting on elections with particular reference to the one scheduled for next week in the UK. Here’s an excerpt where he is reminded of Evelyn Waugh’s position on that subject:

…It’s years since I voted in [a general election]. This is partly because I so much enjoy Evelyn Waugh’s joke answer when he was asked how he would be voting: ‘I do not aspire to advise my sovereign in her choice of servants.’

Joke answer? Well, semi-joke. Waugh probably believed – as I do, more and more – that voting makes very little difference. In so far as it makes a difference, it makes things worse by encouraging the obvious falsehood that government by parties, to which very few people belong, is the most ‘democratic’ form of government.

Most of us loathe the parties, and despise them for drawing up ‘manifestos’ of what they pretend they believe. Such an exercise made sense for Marx and Engels writing The Communist Manifesto, which in its way is a rather splendid document. But this was a dream-aspiration, not a lying blueprint for government…

Here’s a link to the article.

The Oldie has also posted a retrospective essay by Mark McGinness marking the death of Nancy Mitford on 30 June 1973 in Paris. It’s a bit past the anniversary date but worth posting nonetheless. Here are the opening paragraphs:

…[Her death] was a little like The Pursuit of Love after Linda Radlett’s death, “for us at Alconleigh… a light went out, a great deal of joy that never could be replaced.”

Nancy’s anniversary coincides with the announcement that her life and that of her sisters is to be dramatised in a six-part television series entitled Outrageous, written by Sarah Williams, based on Mary Lovell’s biography, The Mitford Girls (2001), and produced by Firebird Productions, a BBC Studio label. Nancy is being played by Bessie Carter, daughter of Dame Imelda Staunton and Jim Carter and (who recently starred – and will again – upstairs and down – as Downton’s Lady Bagshaw and Carson). Debo, Duchess of Devonshire, was a great admirer of Mary Lovell and once described her as “a terrier for research” so one can have high hopes for the script. The sisters’ lives made good copy with more than their share of high drama and tragedy – especially Nancy.

She began to suffer pain in her left leg at the end of 1968 and despite countless consultations, Hodgkin’s disease was not diagnosed until 1972. It was an agonising four years, made worse by an announcement in the Figaro one morning in March 1969, that the love of her life, Gaston Palewski, her Sauveterre and Charles-Edouard du Valhubert, and by then President of the Constitutional Council of France, had married Violette de Talleyrand- Périgord duchesse de Sagan

The full article can be read at this link.

–The Guardian has a review by Rosalind Jana of an exhibit at Chatsworth House where Nancy Mitford’s youngest sister Deborah lived as Duchess of Devonshire. Here’s a description:

This summer, Chatsworth hosts Erdem: Imaginary Conversations, an exhibition exploring the influence of the late Deborah Cavendish, nee Mitford, former inhabitant and muse for the designer’s spring/summer 24 collection. Showcasing deconstructed ballgowns and bejewelled insects, the opening look is the funniest, a fraying tweed skirt-suit alluding to the Duchess’s love of derbyshire redcaps and Scots dumpies. Erdem says he wanted it to look “ravaged by chickens”.

The review goes on to describe how the exhibit reflects the cult of the country house:

…[L]ook closer and Debo emerges as the poster girl for the still-influential interwar fiction of a ruling class on the brink of disappearance; their roofs and cardigans both full of holes, the old world in decline while the heating bills rise. This palatably decaying image, complete with tulle skirts in storage and an endless supply of valuable artwork and tapestries to be sold off in an emergency, lights up a weird nostalgia-synapse in the British psyche. It is the same part tickled by endless Brideshead Revisited and The Pursuit of Love remakes, in which the dream of the big house is counterbalanced by more relatable problems: chilblains, melancholy, emotional distance, the threat of obsolescence. But it’s worth remembering that in Debo’s case, the grand narrative is not one of triumph against the odds or any real threat of hardship, but something more akin to a princess who got to keep the palace…

The article concludes:

…In 1959, Evelyn Waugh wrote in an updated introduction to Brideshead Revisited, published 15 years previously, that it was “a panegyric preached over an empty coffin,” observing that “Brideshead today would be open to trippers, its treasures rearranged by expert hands and the fabric better maintained than it was by Lord Marchmain.”

The “cult of the country house” he identified then remains strong – Chatsworth is still monumentally popular, and Erdem’s exhibition will undoubtedly be a hit – but stronger still is the status of the aristocracy. Debo’s son Peregrine, the current duke of Devonshire, has an estimated net worth of £910m, occupying number 182 on this year’s Sunday Times rich list. This is unsurprising, given that it follows a general trend of extraordinary wealth consolidation among Britain’s peers via land ownership, asset management schemes, investments and more.

We might now be allowed to nose inside their grand halls and even take great pleasure in their frocks, but it is worth remembering that the aristocracy are not mere relics or enjoyably spirited stock characters – but active participants in a vastly unequal landscape.

Here’s a link to the full review.

–OUP has announced the American release of its new edition of The Loved One (CWEW v. 10) on 23 July 2024. It was released three months ago in Europe. The US price is $170, and it is available from Amazon.com at this link. See previous post for details.

UPDATE (2 July 2024; 5 July 2024): Mark McGinness kindly sent the following comment: “The 80th anniversary of the publication of Nancy’s Pursuit in fact falls on 10 December next year – just seven months after Brideshead. We look forward to them both being revived and celebrated.” This was the anniversary to which he referred, not her death in 1973. The text of the article has been modified accordingly. Many thanks.


Posted in Art, Photography & Sculpture, Brideshead Revisited, Complete Works, Newspapers, The Loved One | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

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.



Posted in Auctions, Brideshead Revisited, Interviews, Letters, Men at Arms, Newspapers, Oxford, World War II | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Waugh + Greene = “The Odd Couple”

The Critic magazine has posted a feature length article by literary critic and biographer Jeffrey Meyers. This is entitled “The odd couple: Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene may have been unlike as possible, but they remained the closest of friends for four decades.” The article opens with this:

Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene had one of the great modern literary friendships — comparable to Conrad and Ford, Eliot and Pound, Owen and Sassoon. Strikingly similar in many ways, they were close contemporaries and came from professional middle-class families. Waugh’s father was a publisher, Greene’s father a headmaster.

Both had successful brothers: the older Alec Waugh was a popular novelist; the younger Sir Hugh Greene was Director-General of the BBC. Waugh and Greene went from minor public schools, Lancing and Berkhamsted, to Oxford — Greene to Balliol, Waugh to the less distinguished Hertford College — where they were acquainted but not close since (as Waugh claimed) Greene “looked down on us as childish and ostentatious. He certainly shared in none of our revelry”.

Both men had an unhappy marriage. Greene left his wife and children in 1939 but remained married, which allowed him the freedom to have many affairs without the risk of a permanent connection. (His long-time lovers, Catherine Walston and Yvonne Cloetta, were also married.) Betrayed by his first wife whom he divorced, Waugh had seven children with his second wife and was a severe and distant père de famille. Both men travelled widely and were temperamentally pugnacious.

Both men were Catholic converts in the late 1920s, but for different reasons. Greene converted in order to marry a devout Catholic. Waugh sought solace in the Church after being deeply wounded by his first wife’s adultery. A religious conservative and political reactionary, Waugh supported the Italian invasion of Ethiopia and Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War. Greene, resolutely left-wing, befriended the revolutionary dictators Fidel Castro and Omar Torrijos of Panama…

After then describing several ways in which they differ, Meyers engages in a fascinating and detailed discussion of their relations with each other as writers and friends from the mid 1930s until Waugh’s death in 1966. Included are extended public and private debates of their works, especially in the case of two of Greene’s novels–The End of the Affair and The Heart of the Matter. Meyer’s essay appears to be an attempt at producing the definitive written consideration of this relationship. From what I know, it appears to be successful. It is accurate, fully supported with relevant quotes and reads well. After an extended discussion of their different approaches to the Roman Catholic Church, the article concludes with this:

…Waugh called Greene “the greatest novelist of the century”. When Waugh died in April 1966, Greene told his widow, “As a writer I admired him more than any other living novelist, & as a man I loved him. He was a very loyal & patient friend to me.” In Ways of Escape, he mourned “the death not only of a writer whom I had admired ever since the twenties, but of a friend” and noted his literary and religious qualities: “There was always in Evelyn a conflict between the satirist and the romantic … He had too great expectations even of his Church.” Despite Waugh’s reputation for rudeness and cruelty, Greene thought he was privately generous and physically courageous in war.

Waugh envied his friend’s good looks, glamorous lover, considerable wealth, freedom from domestic ties and connection to powerful leaders; Greene tolerated Waugh’s doctrinaire criticism and bad behaviour. Their friendship was sustained by their deep emotional affinity; worldly experience, common interests and stimulating talks; respect for each other’s intelligence, perception and judgement; understanding of their struggles and admiration for their books. Their bond was strong enough to survive their political and religious crevasse, and their extraordinary friendship survived without a serious quarrel to the very end.

Waugh had similar long lasting professional/personal friendships with, for example, writers Anthony Powell and Nancy Mitford, as well as friendships and correspondences with socially and intellectually prominent women Diana Cooper and Ann Fleming. That does not seem to have been the case with Greene but is perhaps beyond the scope of Meyers’ essay.  The Critic has posted both a full text with illustrations and a 24-minute audio version. Here’s a link. Enjoy.



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Rex Whistler Anniversary Commemorated

Next month will mark the 80th anniversary of the death of Rex Whistler on 18 July 1944. He died in France as part of the invasion force following D-Day. The Salisbury Museum has mounted a special exhibition of his work for the occasion which will continue through 29 September. Here’s a link to their announcement.

Simon Heffer in today’s Daily Telegraph also mentions the exhibit in connection with his comments on the Tate Britain controversy arising from Whistler’s wall painting in their basement restaurant:

One used to lunch in the restaurant at Tate Britain and study the remarkable 1927 mural by Rex Whistler, The ­Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats. Whistler was barely out of the Slade, and just 21, when he began this fantasy, showing people about the same age as the artist going through an imaginary ­landscape looking for food. Part of the ­mural’s delight is its sheer ­romanticism, at odds with the modernism of the time when it was painted.

However, it is now contended that to admire it is racist. In 2020, an outcry orchestrated by two women charmingly calling themselves The White Pube drew attention to a kidnapped black child being pulled along on a string by a young woman, while his mother watches from a tree, and to caricatures of Chinese people.

No one seemed – or wanted – to know about the artist’s motivations. Whistler was no racist, but was known for his mordant wit. He was acutely conscious of the shocking inequalities that stood below the mindless high society of the 1920s, and is clearly satirising them in his painting, much as Evelyn Waugh would soon do in his novels.

Whistler’s art was insulted to the point where, in 2022, the Tate closed the room so the public could not see it. The gallery is a Grade I-listed building and, whether it likes it or not, it could not remove this component of that structure. However, in March it sought to “contextualise” the mural by complementing it with a film that claims to explore “the social and political context of 1920s Britain”.

All this is typical of how creative people from the past are put in the dock of a court set in a land they do not know and tried for “offences” that at the time were nothing of the sort. It makes some today feel better, but it is entirely unhistorical. Incidentally, in reporting the making of the new film, the BBC described the mural as “offensive”, though, unlike me, it did not put that adjective in quotation marks: it had made up its own mind and discarded any shred of objectivity.

The BBC comments on the contextualization film were written by Bonnie McLaren and are available at this link.  It is a bit unfair to say that the BBC itself adopted the epithet “offensive” as their own description of the painting. As is clearly evident from the text (if not the headline), they were clearly quoting the position of officials at the Tate Britain in that regard. Heffer’s article continues:

Next month, on July 18, falls the 80th anniversary of Whistler’s death, killed in action, in Normandy. Despite being in his mid-30s when war broke out, he was commissioned into the Guards Armoured Division, so determined was he to fight the racists who were then conquering most of Europe. He was killed having left his tank to go to the aid of other men in his unit; apparently, The Times received more letters about his death than for that of any other war casualty. That either shows the extent of support for a racist, or just what a greatly admired artist he was.

The Salisbury Museum in Wiltshire has recently opened an exhibition entitled Rex Whistler: The Artist and His Patrons, which runs until September 29. It takes a more nuanced and less hysterical view of the mural. “We should be wary of censoring or destroying art that does not fit with our twenty-first century values,” says the museum’s director, Adrian Green – and of course he is right. Others who love exhibiting only their self-righteousness should stop showing off.

The Salisbury Museum also mentions a new book about Whistler. This is by Nikki Frater and is entitled Rex Whistler: The Artist and His Patrons. It is available at Amazon.com from 20 July 2024 at this link. Here’s the description:

Focusing on the British virtuoso Rex Whistler (1905–44), who was linked to many of the most illustrious figures of the interwar period, this book explores an exceptional case of artistic patronage in the twentieth century. In weaving together social and art history, this beautifully illustrated volume reveals as much about the artist as it does about his patrons. It accompanies a major exhibition at the Salisbury Museum, which holds the Rex Whistler Archive.

Whistler’s cast of patrons includes the art collector and poet Edward James, avid diarist and socialite Sir Henry “Chips” Channon, Lord and Lady Louis Mountbatten, Cecil Beaton, Duff and Diana Cooper, author and poet Lady Dorothy Wellesley, and many others for whom Whistler worked on a diverse range of commissions. The exchange with his patrons, the book argues, allowed Whistler to explore a rich variety of subjects, materials, and techniques. Whistler’s commissioning circle was both diverse and privileged, with many embracing the sexual fluidity of the time, and the book deepens our understanding of how the elite were protected by their wealth and position from the strict societal mores of the 1920s and 30s.

Nikki Frater, an expert on Whistler’s work, draws on extensive archival research and newly available material to present a fresh interpretation of the relationship between the artist and his milieu. Frater’s behind-the-scenes approach illuminates Whistler’s creative methods and techniques and includes many previously unseen drawings and sketches. The book paints a nuanced portrait of his oeuvre and the artist himself as he tries to combine his challenging career with a complicated romantic life.


Posted in Anniversaries, Art, Photography & Sculpture, Exhibits, Newspapers, World War II | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Roundup: Shopping Lists, Inheritance and a Lecture

–The auction house Bonham’s has on offer an unusual example of Wavian memorabilia. Here’s their description:

Collection of 24 autograph postcards (from Piers Court), and 3 letters signed by Waugh (22 “E.W.”, 2 “Evelyn Waugh”, 3 unsigned) to Mrs. [Sylvia] Barker, of 6 St. John’s Avenue, Putney, SW15 on one occasion requesting she “get six seats front row dress circle for Peter Pan… also six seats on the previous or subsequent day for the Circus”, on 27 April 1951 asking if she could “be very kind & go, or send another Aunt” to the lost property office “I left a cigar case in a taxi between Hyde Park Hotel & Eaton Terrace. It is new pig skin, double-backed containing one cigar”, but the others almost exclusively discussing the acquisition, or merits of various pieces of furnishing (candle sticks, curtains, a side-board as a wedding gift for Randolph Churchill, a shooting stick for his wife’s birthday, etc.) the letters 1 page, 2 on “White’s” paper; the postcards (all but 3 with integral address, and date stamped), 2 with small ink illustrations of curtain rails, one with a piece of fabric attached with a pin, 8vo, Piers Court, Nr. Dursley, Glos., 17 July 1948-14 November 1951 (27)
‘I WANT A GREAT LEATHER ARM CHAIR, VERY COMFORTABLE, VERY HANDSOME, SUITABLE FOR SLEEPING IN. WHAT YOU FIND IN CLUBS… RED’ – Waugh writes to a Mrs. Barker of Putney in regards to her acquiring for him items of furniture, decorative items and curtains, displaying a keen interest on the detail. Amongst items discussed are a pair of steel dogs (‘not ornate enough’); wanting as ‘a wedding present for Randolph Churchill a side-board… Something cheap & showy. Must be in perfect condition. Not modern of course’ (4 months later noting that ‘I saw Randolph C’s sideboard for the the first time last week and I thought a good buy. He is delighted with it’); ‘I need carpets. The only man I know is in Vigo Street & madly expensive… I need a lot of electric lamps & shades. Where do i go for them?’; ‘Do you have anyone who wants a contemporary oil painting (full length but would cut down) of George III’s queen? I have one to get rid of… I was in Paris lately – hated it’; suggesting an amusing way in which to chose a chair suitable for himself, ‘get a fat little man, fill him with port, put him in the chair. If he goes to sleep and wakes up without cramp, buy it…’.

Provenance: Sylvia Marvell Barker (1906-1992), Great Aunt of the present owner.

The auction closes on 20 June (Thursday) at 12:00 BST. Click here for details, including copies of several examples on some of which Waugh includes drawings to explain his potential purchases.

The Times reports a complex change in inheritance procedures at Castle Howard, the setting for both film and TV adaptations of Brideshead Revisited. Here are excerpts from the story:

For eight generations the stewardship of Castle Howard the stately home recognisable from the television dramas Bridgerton and Brideshead Revisited has passed from father to son. Evelyn Waugh could not have envisaged the most remarkable plot twist in the 300-year history of the estate.

Traditional inheritance has been replaced by a formal interview. The heir has apparently been asked to resign from the estate’s board and told he will have to compete against his half-sister and their four cousins if he wants to succeed his father. George Howard, 38, had been a director since 2012 and it was assumed that he was being groomed to replace his father, Nicholas, 72. George is the only child of Nicholas with his first wife, Amanda, a daughter of the actor Derek Nimmo….

“When looking at the structures in place there was one anomaly there, which was that George, my son, was a director, which gives him an unfair advantage over his cousins,” he said. “In discussions with him he agreed he would resign so there is now a level playing field for the next generation.”

George must compete against his half-sister, Blanche, 29, his uncle Simon’s twins, Merlin and Octavia, 22, and his uncle Anthony’s daughters Arabella, 38, and Grania, 35. “I think George initially found it quite a difficult conversation, but he came to understand how important it is that there is no sense one person is simply preferred over anyone else,” Nicholas said. “There is no plot or conspiracy.”

The estate’s articles of association were amended recently by Nicholas to allow him to remove a director, but he insists that George resigned voluntarily. When Nicholas retires, all six cousins will have the opportunity to be interviewed for the job running the estate, initially for a ten-year period.

Nicholas said: “I have seen in my own lifetime places that have been in the same ownership of the same family for many, many generations passed on to the oldest son, because that is just the way they do it, and have seen those places driven into the ground.”…

The story goes on to describe the irony of the present owner’s position on the inheritance procedures, given his own reliance, at least in part, upon primogeniture to acquire the estate from his younger brother:

Nicholas initially gave up the chance of running Castle Howard to focus on an attempt to become a pop star. After the death of their father, Lord Howard of Henderskelfe, a former BBC chairman, in 1984, the estate was handed to Nicholas’s younger brother, Simon. Nicholas evicted Simon from the stately home in 2014 after his marriage to Victoria Barnsley, a former chief executive of the publishing giant Harper- Collins, who was installed as chatelaine. …

Nicholas has not set a date for his retirement. “Continuity is so important in these ownerships and there has been a bit of disruption in the past, a bit of turbulence, and it is very important to me that we settle the ship on a steady course,” he said. “I was brought up at Castle Howard. It is a wonderful place and I have increasingly felt as I have gone through my life that I would do anything to make sure it survives, not necessarily anything to ensure that the Howard family survives in it.”

The full story, entitled “Castle Howard succession battle puts family members in competition”, appears in the 15 June 2024 issue of The Times and is written by David Brown.

–Lancing College has reported the 2024 delivery of their annual Evelyn Waugh Lecture:

We were honoured to welcome Sir Gregory Doran as our guest for the 2024 Evelyn Waugh Lecture. Sir Greg, the Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre at the University of Oxford, was knighted in the 2024 New Year’s Honours for services to the Arts. An outstanding Shakespearian with an illustrious career, he was Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company from 2012 to 2022. He was with the RSC for 36 years, starting his career as an actor before becoming a director. He became the company’s associate director in 1996 and worked closely with the RSC’s previous artistic director, the late Sir Michael Boyd:

“Shakespeare has been a passport through my life, and I have been privileged to be able to spend so much of my career working with the very greatest company dedicated to his work, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and sharing his genius with as many as possible around the world.”

Sir Greg’s wonderfully engaging lecture took the audience behind the scenes of his challenges and successes of staging Shakespeare’s most famous plays. He also read vignettes from his new book, My Shakespeare: A Director’s Journey through the First Folio, which included stories from his 2009 stage production of Hamlet with David Tennant and Anthony and Cleopatra at The Swan with Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walker in 2006. Everyone then made their way to the beautifully illuminated Dining Hall for supper, where Sir Greg also graciously signed copies of his book.

The Evelyn Waugh Lecture and Dinner is an ‘invitation only’ annual event to thank our donors and volunteers who support the Lancing Foundationers Campaign.

Posted in Adaptations, Brideshead Revisited, Items for Sale, Lancing, Lectures, Letters | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Roundup: 80th D-Day Anniversary

–The BBC posted an article on WWII parachute training in connection with its observance last week of the 80th anniversary of the 1944 D-Day landings. Here’s an excerpt:

…All the British paratroopers who landed in the early hours [of the D-Day invasion] had one thing in common. They were all trained in Cheshire. Specifically, the men of the Sixth Airborne Division were trained in the grounds of the country house at Tatton Park, near Knutsford, and the small airport in the Ringway parish of the county – which would later become the Manchester Airport known today. The role of the stately home, and the wider east Cheshire countryside in the preparations for Operation Overlord, is not widely known…The [Tatton Park training] jumps were made from barrage balloons whose mooring points can still be seen in the park to this day, and then later from Whitley bombers and Dakota transport planes. In total, 46 men were killed during the training, and many others were injured.

Evelyn Waugh, who was a captain in the Special Operations Executive (SOE), broke his leg on his second jump, which rendered him unfit for active duty. He spent much of the rest of the war at a desk, during which he penned the novel Brideshead Revisited. Tatton Hall is said to have been an inspiration for descriptions of the fictional stately home that gives that book its name…

Waugh was probably still technically unfit for active duty on D-Day, but by then he had arranged with the Army to have an extended leave that would enable him to write the novel that became Brideshead Revisited. Given Waugh’s general inability to adjust himself to the discipline of military life, his superior officers were only too happy to oblige.  After his leave ran out, he was assigned to Randolph Churchill’s liaison mission to Yugoslavia which departed a few weeks after D-Day. This was shortly after he had handed in the manuscript of the novel. He was “behind a desk” only for the first months of 1944, although the desk was not in the Army but in one of his writing venues. The stately home in his novel was inspired mainly by Madresfield Court in Worcestershire, not Tatton Hall, which I don’t think he ever mentions. Here’s a link to the article.

–Writer Frederic Raphael is also in the news thanks to the BBC. This undated report of an interview in The Jewish Chronicle explains why:

…[In Raphael’s] books The Glittering Prizes, and its sequel, Fame and Fortune, the semi-autobiographical protagonist, Adam Morris, morphed from Cambridge graduate to successful middle-aged writer. But success in Thatcher’s Britain did not dampen Morris’s suspicion that “Jewboy” cracks were being bandied just out of earshot, and at 78 Raphael still rails about the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment of the Britsh media…

Morris, now a pensioner, reappears in the last book of the trilogy, Final Demands. Not that a trilogy was conceived when he wrote The Glittering Prizes, explains Raphael, who is still furious that the hit TV adaptation of 1976 which won him a Royal Television Society Writer of the Year award has never been repeated by the BBC. “At least not on TV — it was done for radio a few years ago. That’s when I was asked by the producer if I thought I could revisit those same characters 30 years on,” he says.

“I could, because I had taken on board what Evelyn Waugh said: ‘Never kill people off in your books, because you never know when you might need them again’.”

This week [sic] sees the simultaneous publication and BBC radio serialisation (with Tom Conti) of Final Demands. But it is almost certainly these particular Glitteratis’ last hurrah: “With Adam Morris past 70, I can’t see a fourth book set in a nursing home!”

I can still recall The Glittering Prizes and its sequel as an outstanding example of TV adaptations. It is a pity BBC has not rebroadcast it in connection with the new adaptation, even if that is relegated to radio. The schedule of the radio serial seems to be unavailable but the episode guide is posted. It is possible that the BBC’s adaptation was broadcast earlier in connection with the book publication of the same title in 2010 and that the Jewish Chronicle has chosen to repost it.

The American Conservative has a review of a new history of the Jesuit order. This was written by Markus Friedrich and published in German. It has now been translated into English. Here is the opening section of the review by Michael Warren Davis:

In Evelyn Waugh’s masterpiece Brideshead Revisited, a Canadian bounder named Rex Mottram converts to Catholicism in order to marry the novel’s leading lady, Julia Flyte. As part of his conversion, Rex is catechized by the Flyte family’s priest, Father Mackey. In one oft-quoted scene, Father Mackey recounts the previous day’s lesson to Julia:

“Yesterday I asked him whether Our Lord had more than one nature. He said: ‘Just as many as you say, Father.’ Then again I asked him: ‘Supposing the Pope looked up and saw a cloud and said ‘It’s going to rain,’ would that be bound to happen?’ ‘Oh, yes, Father’ ‘But supposing it didn’t?’ He thought a moment and said, ‘I suppose it would be sort of raining spiritually, only we were too sinful to see it.’”

Waugh himself was a convert to Catholicism. He used Rex as a mouthpiece for the Anglo-American stereotype of Catholics. Rex doesn’t care about religion one way or the other. He’s only interested in the beautiful Julia—and her family’s fortune. The Flytes are a family of recusants: English Catholics who refused to convert to Anglicanism during the Reformation. The Flytes themselves represent Waugh’s preferred brand of Catholicism. Unlike Rex, they have culture and breeding. They were all educated by Jesuits, the brainiest religious order in the Catholic Church.

What’s funny is that the Jesuits—the Society of Jesus—were founded on solid Mottramist principles. In his book Spiritual Exercises, the order’s founder, St. Ignatius Loyola, declares: “To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it.”,,,

–A brief review of Sword of Honour appears on the website of the Online Library of Liberty (OLL). This is by Nathaniel Birzer and is entitled “Crouchbackus Contritus: Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honor Trilogy as a Chivalric Romance.” Here’s the opening:

Several far-better known and experienced reviewers than I have written on Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honor Trilogy, noting the resemblance of its major romantic sub-plot to the prophet Hosea while at the same time generally consigning the majority of the military misadventures, the bulk of the story, to the waste bin as, at most, an amusing distraction from the Hosea plot and, at worst, a frustrating slog of boredom. However, these reviewers are overlooking a key aspect of the novel, and an often overlooked yet once vital genre of the Western Literary tradition. They see the story in terms of “THE CATHOLIC NOVEL,” a sanctified version of the many early twentieth century works, such as The Sun also Rises or The Great Gatsby, revolving around bitterness and disaster in love. In this they are making the grave error of assuming this is just another Brideshead Revisited, but set more directly in the Second World War. In fact, the story is accomplishing something completely different. It is attempting to be not a novel but a Chivalric Romance…

The full article is available here.

–The Daily Telegraph has a story by Christopher Wilson which misattributes a quote to Evelyn Waugh. The article (dateline 10 June 2024) relates to the recent release of several love letters of Prince George, Duke of Kent. In identifying some of those mentioned in the letters, the name of Myrtle Farquharson is noted. Waugh is quoted as commenting, “People one knew [socially] were never killed in raids–except Myrtle.” She was indeed killed in an air raid (1941), but the mention of that fact was in a letter written by Nancy Mitford to Waugh (22 October 1961) with respect to his description of the death of Virginia Troy in his novel Unconditional Surrender. So the quote should have been attributed to Mitford, not to Waugh. Letters, p. 577; NMEW, p. 440.


Posted in Adaptations, Anniversaries, Brideshead Revisited, Internet, Newspapers, Sword of Honour, World War II | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment