“Waugh’s Mexico” in the New Criterion

In the latest issue of the New Criterion, Mark Falcoff has written an updated review of Waugh’s 1939 political travel book Robbery Under Law. Falcoff opens with a discussion of the book’s history, noting Waugh’s agreement to write the book in return for a specified fee and trip to Mexico for him and his wife.  Falcoff also describes how Waugh abandoned the book after its publication and never had it reprinted in later editions or excerpts. He might have mentioned in this regard that the Catholic Book Club did issue a UK reprint in 1940, probably in view of Waugh’s extensive defense of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico.

Falcoff (who seems to be quite conversant in Mexican history) goes on to carefully examine the book, which he thinks that Waugh underrated. Aside from the few pages devoted to the oil expropriation, which were part of the fee arrangement, he describes the book as an accurate and often sympathetic description of Mexico’s history and how it got to where is was at the time Waugh made his visit:

…The far larger part of the book, … consists of an astonishingly learned exposition on the history of Mexico, a subject that Waugh must have spent considerable time studying before his trip. He shows a firm grasp of the central themes of the country’s past, particularly the damaging aspect of its wars of independence, its long periods of civil war, the loss of half of its national territory to the United States, and above all the conflict between its Spanish heritage and what might be called the resentments of a half-caste (mestizo) middle and lower-middle class. He is also alert to the purposeful destruction of historic architecture, libraries, churches, and so forth in the attempt to purge the country of any trace of the ancien régime, at the cost of divesting itself of more than three centuries of schools, hospitals, and charitable foundations. The most dangerous aspect of this, Waugh writes, is the Mexican effort “to accept the centuries of Spanish rule as a closed incident and to look to the preconquest elements for the eventual salvation of the country.” This, of course, was the ideology of the regnant Mexican Revolutionary Party and remains so in its present-day incarnation, the Party of Revolutionary Institutions (PRI)…

What follows is a fairly detailed analysis of the book, concluding with this:

…Mexico today, of course, is a very different country than it was when Waugh visited it almost a century ago. He could not foresee the kinds of changes that gave it greater stability and even a measure of prosperity, such as the 49/51 rule, which allowed foreign investment to return by facilitating silent arrangements with local politicians. Nor did Waugh predict the coming of the Second World War, which for a time rendered even the nationalized petroleum industry profitable, nor—in the even longer term—could he see the massive future transfer of populations to the United States, acting as a generous conduit of remittances, particularly to the poorest regions of the country. Neither he nor anyone else could foresee the emergence of a new industry that put oil in the shade: the lucrative traffic in illicit drugs, produced and processed in Mexico and exported to markets in the United States and elsewhere.

What strikes the reader most about Robbery Under Law is not the harsh critical tone but rather Waugh’s underlying affection for the country, what it had been and what it could still be. Waugh harbored a deep admiration for pre-revolutionary Mexico, despite all of its faults and limitations, and could justify his attitude with a serious consideration of its achievements and possibilities. Those who know the country today can read a book written so long ago and recognize many features that have endured, all the while enjoying the precision and elegance of the prose of a true English master.

Falcoff offers what is effectively an updated and favorable review of the book. The copy he reviewed was that included in Nicholas Shakespeare’s 2003 edition in the Everyman’s Library collected travel writings entitled Waugh Abroad.  That may, indeed, have been the first reprint of the book. His literary editor may have let him down a bit here, however, as he seems to have been unaware of the OUP edition of the book issued last year as volume 24 of its Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh. (See review in Evelyn Waugh Studies 54.1.) It would be interesting to read how his own analysis of the book compares with that of OUP’s editor, Michael G Brennan, on several of the points they both discuss at some length. A copy of the New Criterion issue (June 2024) that includes this essay can be purchased at this link.

UPDATE (25 May 2024): Readers interested in the foregoing article may also have an interest in a paper to be offered at the 25th Graham Greene International Festival. This will convene 3-6 October at Berkhamsted, HERTS:

“Traveling the Lawless Roads: Anglophone Writers in Mexico, 1926-1946. Julia G. Young (Catholic University of America) will discuss how writers flocked to Mexico, and, describing the church-state conflict, provided a beautiful but distorted view of the country.”

The paper will be delivered at 0945a on Friday, 4 October 2024 at Town Hall, Berkhamsted. Details are available at this link: https://grahamgreenebt.org/festival/

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Mid-May Roundup

–The Italian language newspaper Il Manifesto has posted an article (“The ivory brush and the tabernacle”) on Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited. This is written by Viola Pagetti. Here are slightly edited extracts translated (by Google) from the opening paragraphs:

Having converted to Catholicism, Evelyn Waugh abandons his brilliant satirical style for a writing that is enjoyable because it is transparent, easy because it is nostalgic, and participates in our dramatic current situation. For him the past is grafted onto the present and one can be read in the other. Thus promises the title of the novel considered his masterpiece Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder which came out in 1945, now elegantly translated by Ottavio Fatica: Ritorno a Brideshead (Feltrinelli «Comete», preface by Alessandro Piperno, pp. 424, €22.00). Charles Ryder, Protestant, bourgeois, narrator of this historical but secretly autobiographical novel, omits the background to the ancient story. November 5, 1605 was the day the first modern act of terrorism, the Gunpowder Plot, was attempted . The Catholics, immediately suspected, planned to blow up the English parliament together with King James I with a strong explosive charge.

There followed in the immediate revenge of Guy Fawkes Night the deadly hunt for the priest. Severe sanctions were issued against Protestant and Catholic dissenters who did not take the oath to the new Anglican church, which became the state church. With an Act of Uniformity, non-[conformers]  were deprived of their civil and political rights. “Roman Catholic” was [a name applied] to anyone who did not respect the obligation to abjure the timeless and the spiritual authority of the Pope, and did not deny the dogma of transubstantiation, a fundamental principle of Catholic, sacramental doctrine, linked to non-replaceable gestures.

Various legislative interventions followed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which reiterated the severe restrictions on that minority of nobles, Catholic families affected not in their wealth but in their faith, in the evangelical promise that had nourished English mysticism since the Middle Ages …  Jesuit missionaries dedicated to martyrdom arrived from Rome to fulfill their sacramental duties, and the large Gothic or Baroque villas equipped themselves to hide their priest under the trap door or behind the false wall. The hagiography of the Jesuit, poet and polemicist Edmund Campion, tortured and condemned to death as a traitor, was published by Waugh in 1935. …

From that not forgotten history of the Roman Catholics had arisen a political hatred which was also aesthetic, destined to divide perhaps forever the Church of England from that of Rome. ….

There follows a description of the novel’s story and conclusion. A full text can be viewed and translated here. Whether this is a new translation of the novel isn’t stated. An Italian version of the book has been available for many years.

–The silent film weblog called The Bioscope has reposted a 2008 article on the film The Scarlet Woman which Waugh and his Oxford friend Terrence Greenidge made in 1925. Here’s an excerpt:

The subject of the latest in our series on literary figures and silent film is unusual in that his significant engagement with film preceded his first book publication. Evelyn Waugh was twenty-one, had just come down from Oxford, and was working on a novel, The Temple of Thatch (which was never to be completed), when he became involved in films.

Waugh was both fascinated and repelled by cinema. He professed a lowly opinion of films and commercial film production, but he was a compulsive filmgoer throughout his life (as his diaries reveal), and was fascinated by the narrative qualities of the medium. Such qualities he admired when appropriated in the literary works of others (Ronald Firbank, Graham Greene), and encouraged in other would-be writers, as in this 1921 exhortation to his friend Dudley Carew:

“Try and bring home thoughts by actions and incidents. Don’t make everything said. This is the inestimable value of the Cinema to novelists (don’t scoff at this as a cheap epigram it is really very true). Make things happen. … Whatever the temptation, for God’s sake don’t bring characters on simply to draw their characters and make them talk. Fit them into a design. … It is a damn good idea. Don’t spoil it out of slackness or perversity but do MAKE THINGS HAPPEN. Have a murder in every chapter if you like but do do something. GO TO THE CINEMA and risk the headache.”

Waugh found inspiration in films not for pictorial values as such, but in what he saw films could offer in terms of narrative design and continuity, of montage, propulsion, and changing fields of vision. Moreover, Waugh the satirist was inspired by film’s propensity for exposing falsity through display. …

A full text is available at this link. The 1921 letter to Dudley Carew is reproduced in Letters 1-2. Towards the end, the article mentions the availability of copies of the film from Dr Charles Linck’s publishing venue Cow Hill Press. Alas, since the original post, Dr Linck has passed away and the Cow Hill Press source is probably no longer available. The repost apparently engendered a comment on Reddit.com that the film was currently available to stream free of charge from the British Film Institute (BFI) but only to viewers with a UK internet connection. This was noted in a previous post.

–The following was posted on the weblog The Homebound Symphony:

“From Evelyn Waugh’s biography of Ronald Knox:

For three days he lay in a coma, but once Lady Eldon saw a stir of consciousness and asked whether he would like her to read to him from his own New Testament. He answered very faintly, but distinctly: ‘No’; and then after a long pause in which he seemed to have lapsed again into unconsciousness, there came from the death-bed, just audibly, in the idiom of his youth: ‘Awfully jolly of you to suggest it, though.’

They were his last words.

My favorite story about Knox, about whom there are many many stories, is that when he had a private audience with Pope Pius XII the chief thing that the Holy Father wanted to talk about was the Loch Ness monster. (I guess that’s more of a Pope story than a Knox story, but anyway.)”

–To mark the 40th anniversary of John Betjeman’s death on 18 March 1984, the BBC has put together a collection of Betjeman-related television programs dating back to 1964. These were all presented on BBC Four on Sunday 19 May. They include Monitor: Betjeman and Larkin Down a Country Road (1964), Bird’s Eye View (1969), Metroland (1973), A Passion for Churches (1974), The Queen’s Realm (1977), Reputations: John Betjeman: The Last Laugh (2001), Betjeman and Me: Rick Stein’s Story (2006) and Late Flowering Lust: Comedy-Drama based on JB poems (1994). The programs can be streamed on BBC iPlayer. A UK internet connection is necessary.

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Mothers’ Day (U.S.) Roundup

–An article in this week’s TLS (10 May 2024) marks the centenary of the 1924 novel The Green Hat by Michael Arlen. He was something of a one hit wonder, as the article by Philip Ward explains. Here are some excerpts from the article:

…Written (so the author claimed) in the space of two months at his parents’ home in Southport, The Green Hat is the story of Iris Storm, wearer of the titular headgear, who is depicted as a femme fatale with a “pagan body and a Chislehurst mind”. […] Capitalizing on his success, Arlen adapted The Green Hat as a play, which ran in London (Tallulah Bankhead took the lead role) and, with a different cast, toured the US. Both productions generated spin-off merchandise, with green millinery a must-have item of the season. The book was filmed in 1928 as a vehicle for Greta Garbo (at Garbo’s instigation), though the studio had to change the title (to A Woman of Affairs) and alter the characters’ names and some of the lurid plot details in order to satisfy Hollywood guidelines on morality. […]

Arlen writes with an absolute determination to bring his fantasy world to life. The book is wildly overwritten, but therein lay its luxuriant charm for many readers. In his own first novel, Burmese Days, George Orwell conjured up the stereotypical image: “Elizabeth lay on the sofa in the Lackersteens’ drawing-room, with her feet up and a cushion behind her head”. She is reading Arlen, “her favourite author”. […]

Several parodies appeared in the following years, with titles like The Green Mat and Keep It Under Your Green Hat, and it became a favourite satirical target for Evelyn Waugh. In Vile Bodies Adam Symes, drudging as a bored gossip columnist, invents a fashion for green bowler hats. In Brideshead Revisited Sebastian Flyte arranges a meeting with his sister on Berkeley Square–an appropriately Arlenesque location: “Julia, like most women then, wore a green hat pulled down to her eyes”.

Woolf and Waugh were only two of Arlen’s literary detractors. When Ernest Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises, appeared in 1926, the author was incensed that reviewers saw an influence of The Green Hat, particularly in his character of the aristocratic Englishwoman Brett Ashley. …

The article is well worth reading in full if you have access to it.

–The religious journal Crisis Magazine has an article by Regis Martin about Waugh’s novel Helena. It opens with this:

In an interview with the BBC, Evelyn Waugh, who detested giving them, was asked which of his many books was his favorite. Helena, he shot back. Puzzled, the reporter asked why. Because, he said in effect, it was both the best book he ever wrote, especially given its religious theme, and because it was the one book he took more pains in producing than any other. So fond in fact was he of the book that, according to one of his daughters, it was the only one he would read aloud to his family.

So, why had it failed so spectacularly to catch fire with the reading public? Or that so few of his biographers even bothered mentioning it? Not only had it fallen out of print, despite the brisk sale of nearly everything else he wrote, but it became the least read among even ardent Waugh enthusiasts. Why would that be? …

Martin does an excellent job of explaining Waugh’s favoritism and the book’s failure to achieve popularity with his readers. One point Martin might have raised is that the UK edition of the book enjoyed only one printing whereas in the US the book was published in October 1950 and then reprinted 5 times over the next four months.  This might suggest that the book did achieve a modest popular success in the US where there was a considerably larger Roman Catholic population than in the UK. The full article may be read at this link.

–The Daily Telegraph has a review of what is probably Jeremy Clarke’s last book: Low Life: The Spectator Columns: The Final Years. Clarke had succeeded Jeffrey Bernard as author of the “Low Life” column. According to the Telegraph, Bernard, “was unwell so often Keith Waterhouse wrote a very successful play called ‘Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell’; and Bernard died, very unwell, in 1997 at the age of 65.” As explained by reviewer Nicholas Lezard (who writes a similar column for the New Statesman), Clarke was also a heavy drinker and died at a similarly early age. But despite the heavy drinking Clarke produced entertaining columns and wrote them very well. The review quotes Graham Greene on Evelyn Waugh’s writing to describe Clarke’s prose: “…like the pre-war Mediterranean ‘you could see all the way to the bottom.'” The book (publication date 21 May 2024) is available at this link.

 

 

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Roundup: A Florentine Dinner Party, Some Interviews and a Pub

–The latest issue of Catholic Herald includes an article about Evelyn Waugh. This is written by Mark Roberts and is taken from his recent book noted below. In it, he describes an unpleasant dinner party in Florence that Waugh attended while on his first of several postwar visits to Harold Acton in that city. The party took place in 1950 at the Florentine house occupied by American novelist Sinclair (“Red”) Lewis on an extended visit. Acton took Waugh to a restaurant where Lewis was also present. Lewis recognized Waugh and came bounding over to their table to chat up his “his dear old pal.”  This took Waugh by surprise but then he and Acton were soon re-connected with Lewis when the latter invited them to a dinner party at his house. The dinner party did not go well at least from Waugh’s perspective. Here’s an excerpt:

The guests were offered tiny glasses of weak vermouth and a poor dinner of tepid spaghetti, veal and sweet whipped cream cake with watered wine – watered by the secretary because Lewis was apt to drink too much of it! These horrid catering arrangements evidently did not improve the mood of the guests. Their host did not touch his food and burped loudly and long several times during dinner.

Waugh’s face was a study, as he flinched and sat back in his chair. Some of the halting and awkward conversation is reproduced in Acton’s More Memoirs of an Aesthete, published in 1970:

“Evelyn flinched in his chair on the host’s right with an expression of growing alarm. ‘What is that frightful noise?’, he kept asking me. Red’s speech was incoherent but at length he noticed that Evelyn was fasting and he urged him to taste the veal, the spécialité de la maison.

“Evelyn answered severely: ‘It’s Friday.’ Diverted by this, Red prompted his companion, who had been an army captain serving in Trieste, to entertain us with the saga of his war exploits. … According to Acton’s memoirs, Lewis was provoked by what he took to be Evelyn Waugh’s standoffishness, and “delivered a panegyric upon the vigour, the splendour, the creative genius of America, which was moving in the circumstances despite its platitudes…Red’s bloodshot eyes bulged, his fingers trembled clutching the chair, as he wound up with a denunciation of contemporary English literature…Evelyn reddened more with embarrassment than resentment, but he endured it all most patiently and politely. I suspect he was aware of the pathos underlying this…defiant monologue.

“‘I can’t think what got into him,’ said Lady Troubridge when we escorted her home. ‘I’m afraid poor old Red is off colour. He doesn’t usually behave like that, I assure you.’ ‘I rather enjoyed the latter part of it,’ said Evelyn. ‘I was only afraid he might burst a blood vessel.’”

A year later Lewis was dead. The Catholic Herald’s article concludes with this:

Evelyn Waugh is one of over a hundred writers discussed in Mark Roberts’ new book ‘Florence Has Won my Heart: Literary Visitors to the Tuscan Capital, 1750-1950’.

The Catholic Herald’s article is available here. The book is on offer from Amazon.com at this link.

–The book about Florence is reviewed in a recent issue of the Daily Telegraph (4 May 2024). The review by Christopher Howse is entitled : “Sacred Mysteries: Florence and the worst dinner party ever.” Here are the opening paragraphs:

Have the English missed the point of Florence? “Over tea and crumpets,” observed that sharp and readable satirist Aldous Huxley, “they talk, if they are too old for love themselves, of their lascivious juniors; but they also make sketches in watercolour and read the Little Flowers of St Francis.”

It’s enjoyable to consider that question while reading Florence has won my Heart by Mark Roberts. Published this week, it gives sketches of 100 English-speaking visitors to the city between 1750 and 1950. The author has lived there for 50 years and there his five children were born, like Florence Nightingale, though she never went again.

The title is from Samuel Rogers (1763-1855), who decided that “in Florence I should wish to live, beyond all the cities of the world”. He returned at intervals, staying at its most expensive hotel amid “perpetual bustle, and never-ending odour of soup”…

The review concludes with a brief description of the Sinclair Lewis dinner party discussed above.

–This week’s “By the Book” literary interview in the New York Times has a Q&A involving Evelyn Waugh. The writer interviewed is Robert Kagan:

Q. What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

A. That Evelyn Waugh blamed the evils of the modern industrial world on Protestantism in almost the same words as Patrick Deneen blames the evils of the modern world on liberalism. Discuss among yourselves.

Another, more extensive interview has been reprinted on the American Enterprise Institute’s website. In this one, Christopher Scalia discusses several of Waugh’s novels and notes their particular interest to Roman Catholic readers. Here’s the link.

–The TLS reviews a new novel entitled Henry, Henry. According to the opening paragraphs, there are Bridesheadian connections:

Allen Bratton’s debut novel, Henry Henry, is notionally a reimagining of Shakespeare’s Henriad, with the setting transferred to 2014. This is a world of grand houses, gilded youths and guarded secrets. There are also more than a few hat tips to Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, not least in the courtesy title given to the protagonist, Hal, the Earl of Hertford, which refers to Waugh’s Oxford college.

The novel concerns a triad of Henrys, with Hal at the centre. He is gay, in his early twenties and a classic wastrel. In contrast to him are his devout Catholic father, the repressed Henry, Duke of Lancaster, whose family has long been beset by scandals (sexual and financial), and Harry Percy, do-gooding scion of a neighbouring gentry family and the very model of a Gap Year Guardianista, who loftily informs Hal that “Jesus was an immigrant”…

Tatler has a review of a new sculpture exhibition at Castle Howard. This displays the work of Tony Cragg. Tatler’s reviewer (Harriet Kean) notes what she sees as the relevance of some of the works to Brideshead Revisited, both adaptations of which were filmed at Castle Howard.

BristolLive.co.uk, the website of the Bristol Post, has an article that provides an update on the status of a Combe Florey landmark that is “one of the best pubs in Somerset.” This is:

…the Farmers Arms, at Combe Florey… The small village down in the vale on the Taunton-to-Minehead road is where Evelyn Waugh lived in the 1950s. He regularly frequented the Farmers Arms with various members of the London literati, as did his writer son, Auberon.

The charming thatched pub dates back to the 15th century, but there have been times when it almost became a footnote in history, thanks to that thatch. The place has gone up in flames more than once – most recently in 2017 when it was almost completely destroyed. Owners Tim and Jane had the place rebuilt to a very high standard and it really is now an excellent venue for a drink or a meal. Partly thanks to fire, ironically enough. The Farmers Arms is one of the few pubs I know with a charcoal-fired Jasper oven, a fact which tends to lift anything that’s grilled into another realm.

This area, that lies between the Quantocks and the Brendon Hills to the west, is special. A famous agronomist during the Second World War described it as “Dingly Dell Land” – and it is just that. A rather mysterious, highly wooded area of tiny hamlet and myriad lanes – one that’s hardly ever visited by tourists…

The article is available here.

 

 

 

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Oxford Seminar of Pinfoldian Interest

Oxford University has announced a seminar that may be of interest to Waugh scholars. It is open to current members of the university and is entitled “Laura Marcus Workshop: Autobiographical Fiction and the 1950s Telepathy Wave.” It will be led by Professor Marina Mackay (St. Peter’s College) and is scheduled for 10 May 2024, 10:30 (Friday, 3rd week, Trinity 2024). Here are the details:

Britain in the 1950s saw a widespread popular interest in the possibility of psychic communication across distance: from the 20-million-strong audiences for radio telepaths ‘The Piddingtons’ at the start of the decade to the widely publicised and puzzlingly inconclusive trial at the decade’s end of George de la Warr’s pseudo-scientific radionic box. Instructively, one of the best archives of this now-forgotten cultural phenomenon is the avowedly autobiographical fiction of an and about the period. In major 1950s novels by (for example) Rebecca West, Antonia White, Muriel Spark, and Evelyn Waugh, these half-believed-in, half-disbelieved psychic technologies of remote communication are used not merely as (sometimes comic, sometimes emphatically not) features of their plots, but also as means to reflect on the problem of transmitting one’s own experience across historical distances—distances that, for us as readers now, are only accentuated by the obvious ephemerality of such cultural-historical phenomena.

Please note that this event is ONLY open to current members of the University of Oxford. Workshop places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis with priority given to members of the English Faculty. Places will be confirmed one week before the event.

Tea/coffee and cake will be served during the workshop.

This event will take place in the St Cross building on Manor Road. Attendees are advised to wear face coverings while indoors and to use an LFT prior to the event.

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May Day Roundup

–In a recent report of the results of a football match between Manchester City and Real Madrid, the Guardian’s reporter Barney Ronay brings an Evelyn Waugh character into the discussion. Here’s the opening:

It turns out Pep Guardiola was right after all. Manchester City’s pursuit of the double-treble will now remain “a hypothetical dream”.  This was Pep’s own excellent phrase before [last] Wednesday’s second leg against Real Madrid, a formulation that suggests even Guardiola’s dreams are full of theory, algebra, hypotheticals, like a footballing version of Evelyn Waugh’s professor Silenus, the modernist architect who doesn’t sleep but instead lies in the dark for eight hours with his eyes shut doing high-speed calculations, before rising at dawn to design another machine-age masterpiece…

City lost in the second round of penalty shootouts. If you need more details, here’s a link.

–The Evening Standard has an article by Mary Lussiana about a wine tour through southern France. This is entitled “A FOODIE ROAD TRIP FROM SOUTHERN PORTUGAL TO FRANCE’S JURA MOUNTAINS.” Here’s an excerpt about a stop in Bordeaux:

…Rain followed us most of the way on our nine-hour journey to our next stop in Bordeaux. But as we drove in under the stone gateway to Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, […] the sun cast its evening light onto the ancient mellow stone. Parts of the Château date back to the 13th century, and vines have been grown there since 1618. They had a cameo role in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, when Sebastian Flyte arrives to the Oxford college rooms of Charles Ryder saying, “I’ve got a motor car and a basket of strawberries and a bottle of Château Peyraguey….It’s heaven with strawberries.”…

–The film website FamousFix.com has a published a list of the film/TV adaptations of Waugh’s novels. This is part of a series on British novel adaptations. This is fairly comprehensive and contains brief lists of characters, plot summaries and other production details. It is fairly complete and offers examples of both versions in some instances where there have been two, e.g., of Brideshead and Decline and Fall but misses in two other cases of multiple adaptations: Sword of Honour and Scoop. Oddly, no one has ever done a film/TV adaptation of Black Mischief, Put Out More Flags, Helena or The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. Or if there were attempts at adapting these novels, they seem to have disappeared without a trace.

–In another posting with a TV connection, veteran TV presenter Alan Titchmarsh is asked to name his favorite musical compositions. Here’s his number 1 choice:

Geoffrey Burgon – Theme from Brideshead Revisited
This BAFTA-nominated score from John Mortimer’s 1981 TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel is a breathtakingly elegant piece. Wistful oboe and trumpet match with regal horns, conjuring up the pomp of Brideshead alongside the demise of Lord Marchmain and his family.

“A reminder of that dazzling original TV series, rich in mood and atmosphere,” Alan says. “I can still feel the agonies of unrequited love!”

For the complete list, see this link to the website classicfm.com.

–Finally, the Jesuit magazine America has reposted a 2013 article by Jon M Sweeney entitled “Waugh’s Head Revisited: A writer who deserves to be remembered.” Here are the opening paragraphs:

Evelyn Waugh (1903-66) published 14 novels between 1928 and 1961. Another went unpublished and is counted among his juvenilia, and yet another was released only in a limited edition of several hundred copies. Of the 14, several were widely acclaimed bestsellers in their day, including Brideshead Revisited (1945), Scoop (1938) and A Handful of Dust (1934). He also wrote three volumes of biography (on Rossetti, Campion and Knox, all lesser figures today), eight mostly forgettable books of travel writing even by Waugh’s estimation, one volume of memoir (A Little Learning), short stories, diaries and letters and various essays and journalism, much of it written originally for the London Spectator.

Seventy-five years ago Waugh was one of the world’s most popular writers of fiction. A convert to Catholicism like his friend Graham Greene, Waugh had less aversion to the label “Catholic writer.” For Waugh, joining the church was the result of an investigation into truth; it also came immediately after his first marriage ended. For Greene, it was always more of a matter of coming to terms with evil and sin, his own and others, and originated in his desire to marry a Catholic woman as a young man. Waugh couldn’t sound less like Greene, for instance, when he writes to a friend in Sept. 1964: “Do you believe in the Incarnation & Redemption in the full historical sense in which you believe in the battle of El Alamein? That’s important. Faith is not a mood.”

Waugh’s longtime publishers on both sides of the Atlantic—including Little, Brown and Company here in the United States in December 2012—have spent the last two years rereleasing much of his oeuvre in hopes that interest in his writing will revive. Will it? I wonder. Does anyone read Evelyn Waugh anymore?

The historical books are not great history, and the travel books do not work well as travelogues. No matter, as these are not part of the reintroduction plan of Waugh’s U.S. publishers. Only the novels are still read today…

Here’s a link to the complete article.

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2023 Academic Papers

The following academic papers with Evelyn Waugh in their titles appeared during calendar 2023. Abstracts have been included where available:

–Victoria Fernandez Ruiz, “Metaphorical value in the metaphor of conversion: The sacred and profane memories of Capt. Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh,” Church, communication and culture, 2023-10, Vol.8 (2), pp.167-183:

“Ordinary language has difficulty transmitting certain spiritual experiences, such as mystical ecstasy or the process of conversion. These experiences, which cannot be expressed in words, and which involve both the spiritual and the corporeal, are called ineffable. But the literary tradition is full of examples in which these incommunicable truths are expressed linguistically: from St. Augustine to C.S. Lewis, from St. John of the Cross to John Henry Newman, many authors have expressed their mystical or conversion experiences through metaphor. Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited presents the action of divine grace on the characters, as seen through the eyes of the narrator as he undergoes his conversion. The intention of this article is to discover how the use of metaphor succeeds in expressing the action of divine grace in a conversion, providing important insights into the way poetic language can communicate the ineffable experience of the intimate encounter with divinity. To this end, the article analyses three metaphors of novel, (the twitch upon the thread, the balking horse and the hut collapsing under the avalanche) taking into consideration literary theory and what it says about metaphor.”

 

–Allan Kilner-Johnson, “Intermodernism and Ethics of Lateness in Evelyn Waugh and Harold Acton”, English Studies, 2023-01, v. 104 (1), pp.120-33.

“Evelyn Waugh and Harold Acton had a deeply ambivalent relationship to the narrative of modernism, and their attempts to negotiate their position within the literary milieu of their own time clearly registers the tensions inherent in much of late modernist writing. Early modernism and high modernism were concerned with the nature of the ‘firstness’, of innovation and change, but as this article argues, intermodernism is best seen as an ethical mode that saw itself as increasingly removed from the organising attitudes of literary revolution. In their mid- and late-period writing, Acton and Waugh were concerned with structures of age-old history and prestige-notably Catholicism (Waugh) and China (Acton)-that they felt outweighed the innovations of modernism and made the modern aesthetic spirit seem clumsy, if not painfully late.”

–Marina Chiselita-Bimbirica, “Erasure of the Self: Evelyn Waugh’s New Man,” Romanian journal of artistic creativity, 2023-03, Vol.11 (1), p.97-116:

“The article addresses aspects of an individual’s identity molded by the State in a dystopian society in which conformity creates absurdities such as mass sterilization and mass euthanasia advertised as entertainment or as an antidote to boredom. Like its real counterpart, the totalitarian system imagined by Evelyn Waugh in Love Among the Ruins (1953) aims at reversing a democratic and common-sensical set of values. The State imposes a New World disconnected completely from the perennial and moral old one to make room for the social mighty project of the New Man.”

 

–Edward Short, “Evelyn Waugh’s Displaced Persons,” The Human Life Review, 2023-01, v 49(1), pp. 72-85:

This is an essay in what appears to be a series entitled “Abortion in Literature.” It explores Waugh’s description in his novel Sword of Honour of the efforts of Guy Crouchback’s wife Virginia to secure an abortion of her child with the unpleasant character Trimmer and the results of that effort. The article considers Virginia’s experiences and Guy’s reactions to them in the context of  Waugh’s understandings of the beliefs of the Roman Catholic church as they related to these matters. There is no abstract for this article but it may be viewed at this link.

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Roundup: Schoolmaster Novelists

–Literary biographer Jeffrey Meyers writing in TheArticle.com 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 evergreenpodcasts.com 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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Tax Day (U.S.) Roundup

–A review of the recent Netflix film entitled Scoop appears in The Hollywood Reporter and several other papers. It is written by Gillian Anderson and Rufus Sewell and opens with this:

Scoop is a dramatized feature about the BBC’s Newsnight team scoring a sensationally revealing 2019 interview with Prince Andrew about his relationship with millionaire sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. For a film about a journalistic exclusive, it has the most generic title possible. There are already at least four other movies out there called Scoop, including a rubbishy 2006 Woody Allen film and a 1987 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s peerless 1938 satirical novel, a twofer satire of both the press and the British aristocracy.

Sadly, this latest Scoop has none of Waugh’s acid wit or alkaline intelligence. Although serviceable as a retread of the events that led up to the royal interview conducted by Newsnight anchor Emily Maitlis … , an interview recreated for big chunks of the running time, it doesn’t significantly deepen or enrich our understanding of the personalities involved — let alone journalism, privilege, sexual exploitation or the price of fish.

The Oldie has a review of a new book by Charles Spencer (Princess Diana’s brother) discussing his dramatically unhappy prep school experiences. This is entitled A Very Private School. Here’s an excerpt of the description of interview conducted by Hugo Vickers:

…Spencer gives us a devastating portrait of ‘Jack’ Porch (1926-2022), the headmaster, who presented one face to the parents, another to the boys. He was not only a sadist, but also a paedophile. According to an old boy of the school known to me, he was ‘a good educationalist’ and he certainly wrote sympathetic and perceptive school reports to the parents. […]

There was something sinister about those schoolmasters. If you seek horrific reminders of the type, Google ‘Nevill Holt School’, a similar institution, which was closed down in 1998, following rafts of accusations.

Evelyn Waugh said it all in Decline and Fall when young Paul Pennyfeather is unfairly sent down. He hands back his key to his porter who comments: ‘Very sorry I am to hear about it. I expect you’ll be becoming a schoolmaster, sir. That’s what most of the gentlemen does, sir, that gets sent down for indecent behaviour.’ Many of the masters in Spencer’s day would have been damaged by the war, or by their avoidance of it. Today, many would be in prison.

–A list of 10 recommended biographies of “captivating writers” appears on the website Early Bird Books. This is compiled by Orrin Grey and includes this entry for the 2016 biography of Evelyn Waugh by Philip Eade:

Graham Greene once called Evelyn Waugh “the greatest novelist of my generation,” and yet this troubled and fractious figure has been veiled in enigma and scandal for decades. In this gripping new biography, drawn from a variety of first-hand sources, author Philip Eade aims to “re-examine some of the distortions and misconceptions that have come to surround this famously complex and much mythologized character.”

The result is a book that should delight both fans of Waugh’s many classic novels and newcomers to the author who are looking to learn more about one of literature’s most complicated figures.

–Michael Dirda has written in the Washington Post a thoughtful and entertaining review of Nicholas Shakespeare’s new biography of Ian Fleming. The review is entitled: “How did Ian Fleming create James Bond? He looked in the mirror.”  Here’s an excerpt:

…Again and again, Shakespeare’s biography reminds us of what a tight little island Britain could be for those of its privileged class. If you’ve read any of the books about the Brideshead generation, you’ll find many of the same people cropping up in Fleming’s life, including the critic Cyril Connolly, a former Eton classmate, and Evelyn Waugh, whose novels Fleming would like to have written more than his own. He even counted the multitalented showman Noel Coward as a confidant and once shared a wealthy girlfriend with Roald Dahl, to whom he gave the idea for a famous story, “Lamb to the Slaughter.”

Then there was the socialite Ann O’Neill (nee Charteris), whose Etonian husband was killed in World War II while she was having an intense affair with the newspaper magnate Esmond Rothermere, whom she eventually married. Soon thereafter, Ann broke Rothermere’s heart by sleeping with their friend Ian Fleming. Against the advice of almost everyone he knew, Ian married Ann in 1952, having kept his mind off the upcoming nuptials by writing “Casino Royale.” It took him just a month. A son was soon born, but the new Mrs. Fleming loved dinner parties and house guests, while her new husband was at his happiest snorkeling and playing golf. Neither was faithful to the other.

As with his excellent biography of the travel writer Bruce Chatwin, Shakespeare has produced one of those books you can happily live in for weeks. It will deservedly become the standard life of Ian Fleming, replacing a fine one by Andrew Lycett that appeared almost 30 years ago. Bond devotees, however, should be aware that there are no close analyses of the novels, and the only films discussed are the early ones with which Fleming was involved. … [Links in original.]

Whether Shakespeare discusses to any meaningful extent Waugh’s long-standing  friendship and correspondence with Ann Fleming and, to a certain extent, her husband, isn’t mentioned. But given Shakespeare’s own connection to Waugh scholarship through his direction of the three-episode 1980s BBC Arena production that has come to be known as The Waugh Trilogy, it seems likely that he would have more to say about Waugh than is suggested by this review. For the record, Cyril Connolly is more likely to have been the Eton classmate of Ian’s older brother Peter than he would have been of Ian. Here’s a link to the review.

 

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Mark McGinness Notes Anniversary of Evelyn Waugh’s Death

The Australian literary critic Mark McGinness has published an article in The Oldie that commemorates the 58th anniversary of Evelyn Waugh’s death on 10 April 1966. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Twenty years ago, Alexander Waugh wrote a brilliant collective life of his family, Fathers and Sons (Hodder). So what better time to recall a remarkable literary dynasty than the anniversary of his grandfather Evelyn’s death on 10 April 1966? It was Easter Day and Evelyn, that master of prose, monstresacre, and devoted Catholic, had just attended Mass in the ancient Latin rite said by his favourite Jesuit, Fr Philip Caraman, SJ, and walked home, in a mood of contentment, with his family to Combe Florey, his Somerset seat. As his friend and first biographer, Christopher Sykes, delicately put it: He retired to the back part of the house. He was found dead a few hours later. He had had a heart attack. He was only 62. How sad – yet ironic – that he would meet his Maker on the most sacred day in the Christian calendar but on the lavatory – such a profane spot – just like Apthorpe who met his death when the thunder box exploded in Men In Arms. How much more tranquil had Waugh expired in his sanctuary, among his books in the library?

But back to Alexander. The old Oxford English Dictionary apparently defines Waugh, when an adjective, as “tasteless and insipid” and when a noun as “an exclamation indicating grief, indignation or the like. Now chiefly attributed to N. American Indians and other savages.” Alexander claims that JRR Tolkein told his father Auberon that ‘waugh’ was the singular of Wales and effectively meant a single Welsh person. “Papa gleefully told this story to Diana, Princess of Wales, but to his dismay she didn’t appear to understand it.”…

The full article is available on The Oldie’s weblog and can be viewed at this link. Just for the record, I think Apthorpe met his maker not in his thunder box but in his sickbed in a West Africa military hospital after Guy Crouchback unwisely gave him the present of a bottle of whiskey while he was recuperating from some jungle fever acquired while on leave “up country.” The explosion in the thunder box may well have contributed to his early demise, however (Men at Arms, London, 1952, pp. 305-06).

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