Midwinter Events

Here are some upcoming events that may be of interest to our readers:

–ITV has started a 3-episode documentary series called “Keeping up with the aristocrats” which began airing yesterday. It will follow the lives of four aristocratic families who are striving to preserve their expansive and expensive homes and estates by marketing bits of both to the public. Among the participants are the residents of Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire, ancestral home of the Sitwells and a favorite venue for Evelyn Waugh’s Country House visits in the days of Osbert Sitwell’s incumbency. Today, Alexandra Sitwell, daughter of Osbert’s brother Sacheverell (also a friend of Waugh), and her husband Rick Hayward live there.

In this episode Alexandra and Rick host their Yorkshire neighbors Lord and Lady Fitzalan-Howard (aka Gerald and Emma) who live at Carlton Towers near Harrogate. They are relatives of the Howards who live at Castle Howard, also in Yorkshire. As noted in a recent post, these Fitzalan-Howards are of a Roman Catholic heritage whereas those at Castle Howard are descended from Protestants. The Fitzalan-Howards are in the process of starting a vineyard and wanted to compare notes on that subject with the Sitwells (or should they be referred to as the Haywards?) who already have one. Waugh would probably find this amusing. The other two subjects are Princess Olga Romanoff (currently single) and Lord Ivar Mountbatten and his husband James.

The Daily Telegraph’s online review of the first episode was written by William Cash, who it turns out supplements his income from journalism by organizing holiday lets on his own estate called Upton Cressett. Here’s the opening of his review:

There is a wonderful 1960s photograph of Evelyn Waugh taken by photographer Mark Gerson in which he is standing in a dogtooth, bookie-style, three-piece suit fiercely between two stone caryatides with armoured breasts who are guarding his small Somerset estate, Combe Florey. His hands are slung deep into his pockets and his frosty expression says: “Do not enter”. In short: public keep out.

The reverse is true today. To keep going, the public — or “guests”, as the former Duke of Devonshire always used to call Chatsworth’s tens of thousands of visitors — are now being courted with an increasingly wacky array of ventures. As seen by the enterprising efforts of the colourful cast of the new reality show, Keeping Up With The Aristocrats, which starts tonight on ITV, long gone are the days when aristos relied on thousands of acres of land and tenant rents to pay for their London houses and school fees.

It’s nothing less than an artisan country house revolution, and my milliner wife, Lady Laura, and myself are proud to be part of it. English country houses have always been stage sets and by reinventing themselves again they are helping to regenerate local economies and become local community hubs as they were in the Victorian and Edwardian (ie Downton) era.

No longer are we talking about the old traditional country house survival model: owner-led guided tours and tea rooms. Thanks in part to the Culture Recovery Fund, which doled out previously unheard of grants to struggling privately owned heritage owners, many faced with near ruin after their visitor businesses were closed due the pandemic, there has been a gold rush of planning applications and projects to turn every disused barn or stable into some innovative new ‘sustainable’ enterprise.

The first episode can be streamed on itvPlayer and subsequent episodes will air on the next two Mondays at 9pm. You will need a UK internet connection.

–Gresham College in London has announced a lecture on “Coincidences in the Novel: Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot to Evelyn Waugh and David Nichols” that may be of interest. Here’s the description:

If, as displeased reviewers and readers sometimes complain, coincidences mar good plots, why do so many novels turn on them? From Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot, to Sebastian Barry and David Nichols, novelists have relied on coincidences. While these can reveal the weaknesses of a novel’s design, they can also be put to creative use: as we will see, novelists, like Charles Dickens, Evelyn Waugh and Muriel Spark, choose to emphasise coincidences, making them entertaining and revealing.

The lecture will be given by literary critic Prof. John Mullan and can be attended online or in person at the Museum of London, 150 London Wall, Barbican EC2 on Wednesday, 2 March at 6-7pm. Registration details are available at this link.

–Finally, the Long Island newspaper Newsday has announced an online discussion of Waugh’s novel Scoop. This will be conducted via Zoom by the Amagansett, NY Library on Monday, 7 February at 130-230pm. Here’s a link for registration.

UPDATE (19 January 2022): Excerpts from William Cash’s review of the ITV “Aristocrats” series were added.

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MLK Birthday Roundup

–In the Daily Telegraph, combining elements of the travel and gardening columns, Matt Collins describes a recent trip to the Atlantic island of Madeira:

Upholding at least six of writer Paul Theroux’s 10 golden rules of travel, I went alone to the island, ignored the smartphone and packed light, taking a map, a notebook and a novel. The novel, Evelyn Waugh’s darkly comic Scoop, felt particularly apt: the hapless provincial English nature diarist of a leading broadsheet, William Boot, finds himself suddenly alone and in a landscape “where huge trees raised their spongy flowers”. Indeed, “Plants & Places” is not so far off the fictional Boot’s “Lush Places”.

The Spectator offers a review by John Self of the The Penguin Modern Classics Book. Here are some excerpts:

In the world of books, a modern classic is an altogether more slippery thing than a classic: it must walk a line between freshness and durability; reflect the current age but hope to outlast it. For individual publishers, given many 20th-century writers are still in copyright, a modern classics list will necessarily be partial. However, few such partial lists are as complete as Penguin Modern Classics (PMCs), founded in 1961 […]

The outstandingly good reasons were lots of outstandingly good books that weren’t old enough to warrant the status of Penguin Classic but demanded some recognition, or at least some marketing. […] Now Penguin, never shy of raiding its own archives, gives us The Penguin Modern Classics Book by Henry Eliot, a companion to his Penguin Classics Book (2018). It is essentially a gossipy catalogue of the books, a feast of cover designs and fact-nuggets; and contains every book — more than 1,800 — ever published in the series.

Ah yes, those cover designs. From the start, PMCs have sought to present a stylish face to the world, to look, as Penguin publisher Simon Winder puts it, like ‘a series to be enjoyed, rather than something that is good for you’. The books of our youth are no less evocative than the music, and in browsing this volume you will be drawn magnetically to your own era: for me, it’s the 1990s watery-green-spined Penguin 20th-century Classics look, in which I first read Waugh, Woolf and Greene.

Waugh’s contributions to the Modern Classics line are well served in the book. As noted in a recent post, the first of these beginning in 1961 bore covers illustrated by Quentin Blake who had previously illustrated several examples of Waugh’s regular Penguin editions.

–Veteran Washington Post book reviewer Michael Dirda has created a list of the 20th century books he would preserve in a downsized collection:

…it’s all just too much. You decide to chuck the modern world and retreat to a cabin in the woods. […] I’d opt for books that through their prose, ideas or storytelling, trigger in me a deep sense of contentment and well-being. Works that are powerful and disturbing don’t qualify.

Because my beta shortlist ran to more than a hundred titles, what follows limits itself to 20th-century prose by English-language authors, one book apiece. Perhaps I’ll cover poetry and older literature another time. Needless to say, my final list is unapologetically personal and unofficial — no other kind is worth anything. Here, then, are 66 of my favorite books, in no particular order, each described with telegraphic succinctness.

It is not surprising that a book by Waugh makes Dirda’s shortlist, given his frequent references to books by and about Waugh over the years.  But his choice is rather out of the ordinary:

“The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh,” edited by Donat Gallagher. Journalism from the best modern practitioner of classic English prose.

And here’s his choice of a book by the Society’s Honorary President:

“Small World,” by David Lodge. The funniest of all academic comedies.

–The TLS has a review about a history of the Messel family: From Refugees to Royalty by John Hilary. Waugh was acquainted with two of the more recent family members who were his contemporaries: Oliver and Anne, later married as  (1) Anne Armstrong-Jones and later still as (2) Anne Parsons, Countess of Rosse. The review (by Michael Hall) concludes with this:

…the two younger children, Anne and Oliver, both became celebrities, Oliver as a stage and interior designer of charismatic brilliance and Anne as a beauty and socialite. Hilary backs up every anecdote with a reference and so ignores the one attributed to Evelyn Waugh, who claimed that when shown a turf hovel on the Irish estate of her second husband, the Earl of Rosse, Anne turned to its unhappy elderly inhabitant saying, “My dear, don’t change a thing. It’s simply you!”

This apocryphal story was a tease at the expense of Anne’s genuine interest in architectural conservation, which led to her becoming one of the founders of the Victorian Society in 1958. Both her flirtatious charm and the element of cold-hearted toughness it disguised were inherited by her son from her first marriage, Lord Snowdon, qualities that may perhaps provide a clue to how the family has been able to reinvent itself so many times. In his conclusion Hilary laments that the Messel name is in danger of dying out in England, but the fact that it is borne by the furniture designer Thomas Messel (son of Linley) and his son, the silversmith Hal Messel, suggests that the story is far from over.

The Waugh anecdote is recorded in the Diaries (783, UK; 779,US), referring to Anne as “Tugboat Annie Rosse”.

UPDATE (16 January 2022): Thanks to reader Dave Lull for providing the source of the “Tugboat Annie” quote.

Posted in Essays, Articles & Reviews, Evelyn Waugh Society, Newspapers, Scoop, The Loved One, Vile Bodies | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Terry Teachout (1956-2022) R.I.P

American literary, drama and music critic Terry Teachout died earlier this week at the age of 65. It its obituary, the New York Times commented that the conservative Teachout never allowed his political views to influence his artistic judgement:

An acolyte of William F. Buckley Jr. and Norman Podhoretz, he emerged from the scrum of young urban conservatives energized by the Reagan presidency and eager to take it further; he once called for a “Ronald Reagan of culture” who could “present an affirmative vision of America’s common culture.”

But he took care to separate his politics from his criticism, and he derided those who mixed the two. Nor was he a cultural reactionary: He played bass in a high school rock band, loved the TV show “Freaks and Geeks” and welcomed the possibility that film might have replaced the novel as the dominant storytelling medium.

The Times notes at least one example of where his political and artistic judgements worked in tandem. This was in the 1980s, after he had begun living in New York City and writing for, inter alia, Harper’s Magazine, The Daily News and Wall Street Journal. According to the Times:

He fell in with a gaggle of like-minded young conservatives who felt ostracized by the liberal culture around them. He helped start a salon, the Vile Body; its name was taken loosely from a book by the British writer Evelyn Waugh, who was then enjoying a renaissance among young right-wingers.

The salon became a regular haunt for 20- and 30-something conservatives located along the Washington-New York-Cambridge axis, including Bruce Bawer, Richard Brookhiser, David Brooks, Roger Kimball and John Podhoretz.

Teachout rarely missed a chance to mention his admiration of Evelyn Waugh’s writing whenever the opportunity arose. Here is a recent example reposted from the WSJ on his webpage About Last Night:

A Terry Teachout Reader, my self-anthology, came out sixteen years ago. I’ve published hundreds of pieces on various subjects since then, and I have no plans to put together a sequel to the Teachout Reader, so I’ve launched a series of occasional posts drawn from my fugitive essays, articles, and reviews. I hope you like this one, which came from a 2004 review of Bright Young Things, the film version of Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies.

*  *  *

Like so many other novelists of his generation, Waugh was keenly interested in how films “make things happen” on the screen by showing “actions and incidents” instead of allowing characters to explain their motivations at length. In Vile Bodies he translated this essentially visual approach into words on paper, depicting London in the Twenties in a tumbling rush of fragmentary scenes and spare, elliptical dialogue that suggests far more than it states. Nothing could have been so self-consciously modern. Yet the uproariously funny Vile Bodies turns out to be the darkest of “comic” novels, one whose inhabitants are all hurtling gaily toward their doom. It’s anything but surprising to learn that Waugh’s first wife left him while he was writing Vile Bodies, or that he converted to Catholicism eight months after it was published. Every page is scented with the anguish of a disillusioned young man searching for meaning in a world gone grossly wrong.


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Evelyn Waugh’s Centenary at Oxford

This month marks the centenary of Evelyn Waugh’s matriculation at Oxford. He started his Oxford career at Hertford College on 8 January 1922. That was the beginning of Hilary Term in 1922; this year, it begins next Sunday, 16 January 2022. The decision to start in a by-term rather than in the Fall or Michaelmas Term was primarily his father’s and had unhappy consequences later in his Oxford career. As Waugh explains in his autobiography, his father:

… in January 1922 decided to send me at once to Oxford in the by-term. I was eager enough to go and my father was showing his habitual impatience to get a task finished; in this case my education. He was growing weary of routine at Chapman and Hall’s and looked forward to retirement. He believed (a delusion as things turned out) that when I had my degree I should be off his hands and he so much the nearer to leisure or to less exacting work.

The original plan had been that, if I had won a scholarship, [which he did] I should go for nine months to France to get some command of the language. It has been my life-long impediment that I never did this. But I do not regret my premature matriculation. It sent me to university as a lone explorer.

Many men were content to confine their interests and friendships to their colleges. I do not know if I should have been, if I had come up at the normal time. As things were, I had little choice but to be a rover. A Little Learning, p. 135 (CWEW, v. 19).

In his third and final year, he faced final degree exams in the the Trinity Term (April to June). Because he started early, this was his 8th term of the 9 required for a degree. He planned to spend the following Michaelmas term in residence (in a flat to be shared with Hugh Lygon on Magdalen Street) in anticipation of little pressure of course work or exams. Because he passed with a poor third-class, however, he lost his scholarship, and his father refused to pay the costs of that final term. Waugh, therefore, left without a degree. This was not because he failed his exams (as many think) but because he was unable to complete the residency requirements. I have been told by Oxford officials that, under today’s practice, a request for waiver of the residency requirement would be routinely granted to any student who had passed his final exams before completing the 9 terms in residence. I wonder if it has ever occurred to the University that it might be a worthwhile gesture to bestow that degree posthumously.




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Roundup: Parties, T-shirts and Statues

–The Financial Times has an article by Rosa Lyster on “What makes a great fictional party.” This is inspired by the party drought that was only broken only a few months ago:

…As well as people, music and a reason to celebrate, you need at least two or more of the following in combination: a highly anticipated guest, ideally a new person or someone who has been away for a long time; an inner sanctum for smaller groups to conduct private business — it’s best, though not essential, if these groups have only recently been formed; a core group; an intimidating element that must be won over; an enemy, ideally a common one, for purposes of bonding; uneven awareness of a potentially upsetting piece of information; a dedication to making hay in the shadow of gathering storm clouds; pockets of sexual tension; evidence of recruitment from different social universes; a mix of ages; people who need to fall in love with one another; and a collective recognition that it cannot last. Extra points if the party is in an unexpected venue or has involved a long or uncomfortable journey.

Not to be a traditionalist, but in addition to all this, the minor decencies of life must be observed. It’s best if the party takes place in the evening, and while drugs can, maybe even should, be present, they cannot play too central a role. In other words, the party cannot be about drugs, so no monologues from someone on amphetamines, and absolutely no stream of consciousness from someone who is hallucinating. Exceptions can be made for all other proscriptions but these ones are important.

These qualities feature in the set pieces of the great 20th-century party laureates — F Scott Fitzgerald, Evelyn Waugh, Henry Green. Not all of them at once but enough to produce the unpredictable conditions necessary for a party to work, for events to veer off in exhilarating directions, for people to decide they are in love with each other after 10 minutes, for a bomb to go off whose reverberations will be felt throughout the story. They are everywhere, when you know what to look for.

The article continues with a brief discussion of fictional parties from the works of five other authors, the most memorable of which are those in Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty and Edward St Aubyn’s Some Hope. The highly anticipated guests in those were Mrs Thatcher and Princess Margaret, respectively.

–An enterprising online clothing company is offering T-Shirts for men, women and children that display the art work from the US first edition dust jacket of Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited. Here’s the link.

–The saga relating to the production status of the BBC/HBO TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisted continues in the entertainment trade press. This appeared in a recent edition of Variety:

A biopic of iconic actress Audrey Hepburn starring Rooney Mara is in the works at Apple, Variety has confirmed. Oscar-nominated “Call Me by Your Name” director Luca Guadagnino will helm the project, with Mara producing and “The Giver” co-writer Michael Mitnick penning the script.

Mara has been nominated for an Academy Award twice, for her work in 2011’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and 2015’s “Carol.” She most recently starred in Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” alongside Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette and Willem Dafoe. Mara’s upcoming projects include Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking,” a drama centering on eight Mennonite women, which also stars Frances McDormand, Ben Whishaw, Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley.

Guadagnino recently wrapped production on his upcoming romantic horror film “Bones and All,” starring Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet. The Italian filmmaker also co-created, co-wrote and directed the 2021 HBO miniseries “We Are Who We Are.”

Several other trade journals have added comments similar to this one from SlashFilm.com:

Guadagnino and Mara are also tentatively set to collaborate on a BBC miniseries adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel “Brideshead Revisited,” which would further reunite Mara with her “Carol” and “Nightmare Alley” co-star Cate Blanchett (assuming the cast comes together as intended).

–The British Library has posted an illustrated description of one of its holdings that has a Waugh connection. This is a pamphlet containing one of what are known as    T S Eliot’s Ariel poems–“The Journey of the Magi”. The pamphlets were published in 1927 by Faber and contained a total of 6 original Eliot poems published for the first time. There were also poems by other lesser known poets as well as illustrations by several contemporary artists such as Eric Gill, John Nash and Eric Ravilious. The artwork that is the focus of the BL article was by McKnight Kauffer (1890–1954). According to the BL posting, Kauffer:

…was an artist, graphic designer and friend of Eliot’s. His work was commissioned by a number of high-profile clients including the London Underground and British Empire exhibition. It became fashionable to the extent that, in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1945) the fictional Charles Ryder remembers displaying one of Kauffer’s posters in his Oxford college rooms in the early 1920s. According to Eliot himself, Kauffer ‘did something for modern art with the public and something for the public with modern art’. His design on the cover abstracts the Magi into geometric shapes, all the more contemporary for the fact that they appear to be wearing bowler hats; the star which they follow in the story hangs above them in stylized form.

The cover artwork can be viewed in the photo of the pamphlet that accompanies the posting. Here’s a link. Charles Ryder’s poster by Kauffer is mentioned at p. 26 (first UK edition), 36 (rev. edition).

–The Bodleian Library has posted a copy of the detailed contents of a collection of letters received by Arthur Joseph Pollen (1899-1968). He was a sculptor and his connection with Waugh probably arose from the bust of Ronald Knox that Pollen created. The notice includes this:

Evelyn Waugh: 12 letters to Arthur Joseph Lawrence Pollen, 1946-1959. With letter from Mark Amory, Jun 1976; and accompanying notes by Louis Jebb [post 2017].

The correspondence (or at least some of it) is probably in connection with Waugh’s preparation and delivery of an address at the 1959 unveiling of Pollen’s bust of Knox at Trinity College, Oxford. According to Waugh’s Letters, this was entitled “The Quintessence of Oxford”. The text was published in The Tablet but has apparently not been included in any subsequent collection. Nor were any of Waugh’s letters to Pollen included in the 198o collection edited by Mark Amory, even though the Bodleian notice mentions Pollen’s communication with Amory. What may have engendered the Bodleian’s publication of the notice at this particular time is not explained.



Posted in Academia, Adaptations, Art, Photography & Sculpture, Brideshead Revisited, Letters, Newspapers, Ronald Knox, Television | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Times Revisits Castle Howard

Today’s issue of The Times carries an article by Andrew Billen (“Stately homes to spare? TV stardom beckons”) recommending country houses to visit, once they are reopened to the public, based on their setting for TV series and films. This was inspired by an article in yesterday’s edition of the paper by Jake Kanter (“Netflix is lifeline for stately homes”) about how important such settings had become for film producers and how equally important the income from those productions had become for the owners. Here’s the entry from Billen’s article (“TV stardom beckons”) for Castle Howard:

Castle Howard, North Yorkshire (Bridgerton and Brideshead Revisited)
While Bridgerton’s Simon and Daphne played their sex scenes within Wilton Hall, Clyvedon Castle’s exteriors, grounds and entrance hall were all Castle Howard. For millions, however, the Yorkshire castle will always be Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead.

Granada TV’s adaptation of Brideshead Revisited in 1981 introduced cinematic grandeur to TV drama and viewers’ first glimpse of Castle Howard gobsmacked them as surely as it did Charles Ryder on his first visit to Sebastian Flyte’s family home. The association between the two castles proved so indelible that a 2008 film was again filmed at Castle Howard.

Visitors can visit Vanbrugh’s Temple of the Four Winds, where in both versions Charles and Sebastian tipsily canoodled, and also the four-poster bed where Lord Marchmain (Laurence Olivier/Michael Gambon) died. The connection between the Flyte family and the Howards is not only cinematic. Like the Flytes, the Howards are one of Britain’s pre-eminent Catholic [sic] families.
Gardens open now

Not so sure they’ve got it right about the religious affiliation of the family at Castle Howard. The Roman Catholic Howards are the branch who live, inter alia, at Arundel Castle in Sussex and hold the title of Dukes of Norfolk. These are called the Fitzalan-Howards. Those at Castle Howard in Yorkshire are, so far as I am aware, Protestants. The two lines are related, but it would take some one well above my genealogical pay grade to explain how. It has something to do with the Earl of Carlisle. If anyone knows how to explain why the Yorkshire Howards became and remain Protestant, they are invited to comment below. It is the sort of thing Evelyn Waugh would have liked to discuss.

A Times reader raised a different point regarding today’s story:

Sir, Further to Andrew Billen’s article “Stately to spare–TV stardom beckons” (Time2, Jan 4) on Castle Howard being used as Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead by Granada TV, the fictional Brideshead was based upon the Gothic Revival Madresfield Court, where Waugh had been a frequent guest, a far cry from the English baroque of Castle Howard.

Professor Peter Fawcett

Department of Architecture, University of Nottingham

In reply to Professor Fawcett another reader wrote this:

Sir, Professor Peter Fawcett (letter, Jan 5) asserts that the English Baroque of Castle Howard was not the primary model for Brideshead. I disagree. The clues in the text are too numerous to ignore: arches, broken pediments, coffered ceilings, “pillared shade” and above all “the high and insolent dome”. On his first visit, Charles Ryder asks: “Is the dome by Inigo Jones too?” and later describes staying at Brideshead as “my conversion to the Baroque”. The confusion arises because Waugh did indeed stay at Madresfield Court but it was his friends, the children of the 7th Earl Beauchamp, particularly the ill-fated Hugh Lygon, who were inspiration for the Flyte family.

However, given all this pedantry it is perhaps fitting to recall Sebastian’s reply to Charles’s question quoted above: “Oh, Charles, don’t be such a tourist. What does it matter when it was built, if it’s pretty?”

Victoria Hooberman London NW1

Anther Times reader added this a few days later:

Castle Howard’s mystery
Sir, The extent to which Castle Howard informed Evelyn Waugh’s thinking is not explicit but there are many affinities between it and Brideshead, not least the great dome (letters, Jan 5 & 6). Waugh visited Castle Howard in 1937, and his approach from the north closely corresponds with the sequence of sights Charles Ryder records on his first visit to Brideshead.

Waugh also enjoyed teasing his readers: the novel contains the caveat “I am not I: thou art not he or she; they are not they”, and one might add the warning “it is not there”. He was writing a novel, not a guidebook. It was the Granada TV production that linked the real house in Yorkshire with the fictional one in Wiltshire. After scouting various possibilities, the producer, Derek Granger, declared Castle Howard “quite the most romantic and atmospheric house I have ever seen — Castle Howard most beautifully fills the bill”.
Christopher Ridgway

Curator, Castle Howard

The author of the last latter Christopher Ridgway recently gave an illustrated and fully researched lecture entitled: “75 Years of Brideshead Revisited: Brideshead & Castle Howard–Fact, Fiction and In-between.” This is posted on YouTube. See also my detailed article on the same subject: “Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead and Castle Howard” in Evelyn Waugh Studies 50.3 (Winter 2019).

UPDATE (8 January 2022); Two additional letters and concluding paragraph were added.

Posted in Adaptations, Brideshead Revisited, Catholicism, Evelyn Waugh Studies, Newspapers, Television | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

New Year’s Roundup

–In a semi-final round of the University Challenge Christmas edition on BBC4, broadcast 29 December 2021, a three-part bonus question was based on the writings of Selina Hastings. The question (at 11:02 minutes) was to identify the subjects of three of her biographies based on the clues provided. The University of Edinburgh team (made up of graduates, rather than students, in this seasonal series) correctly identified the first two as Nancy Mitford and Sybille Bedford. The third subject was described as a satirical novelist about whom the reviewers had commented that his portrayal was sympathetic because, like his biographer, he was a dedicated gossip and was also the most complicated of men. He died in 1966. The team could be heard discussing the possibilities, and at least one of them mentioned  Waugh, but the team captain, TV actor and presenter, Miles Jupp,  answered Noël Coward. Edinburgh went on, nevertheless, to win that round and advance to the finals.

–A military history website has posted an undated entry on the 1941 British raid on Bardia in North Africa. Following the description of the raid, this coda is added:

The author Evelyn Waugh—who took part in the raid—related in an article he wrote for Life Magazine in November 1941, that the Germans “sent a strong detachment of tanks and armoured cars to repel the imagined invasion”. In his diary published in 1976, a very different picture emerged of incompetent execution by the commandos, against virtually no opposition.

The Life magazine article entitled “Commando Raid on Bardia” is reprinted in EAR.

–The Independent newspaper has joined other journals in predicting the presentation of a treat for Waugh fans in the New Year:

Brideshead Revisited on BBC One

Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino is adapting Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel for the small screen, with an army of stars playing the lead roles. Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Ralph Fiennes and Joe Alwyn are just some of the actors who will appear in this story of a young British man who gets entangled with an aristocratic family after visiting their ancestral home.

And this notice appeared in a Vogue magazine listing of movies, shows and books to be enjoyed in the New Year:

“I’m super excited for the new BBC adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (one of my favourite novels!). The cast includes Cate Blanchett, Ralph Fiennes and Rooney Mara and given how much I adored this year’s adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love I imagine this is going to be such a treat. I’m also hanging out for mini-series adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends.” — Annie Brown, contributing editor

Similar notices appear in the websites of Wired and GQ magazines. But there is still no advance, in any of these notices, on previous reports in terms of the number of episodes or scheduling details.

–This week’s guest in the New York Times Book Review interview series “By the Book” is writer Kathryn Schulz. Here’s an excerpt:

Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

A couple of years after we met, my partner and I moved in together and combined our book collections, but the literary merger that’s more striking to me began when we fell in love. Inevitably I wanted to read all the books I’d missed that were important to her, which is how I finally got around to reading, among other things, Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain,” Flannery O’Connor’s “Wise Blood,” Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited” and Jean Toomer’s “Cane.”

–A housing developer or city planner in Charles County, Maryland, has come up with a batch of new street names based on English writers. The developer describes the new housing estate in these terms: “St. Charles is a masterplanned community with townhomes and single-family homes for sale in White Plains, MD.” New listings are appearing on streets such as Evelyn Waugh Court. Here’s a link to a new listing at 11603 on that street. Nearby are houses on Mary Shelley Place, Dorothy Sayers Place, and Charlotte Bronte Lane. These street names are too new to appear on Google maps, but nearby names are filled in for Shakespeare Circle, Thomas Hardy Place, Tolkien Ave, Roald Dahl Place, etc. Nothing yet on a Nancy Mitford Street or Elizabeth Bowen Drive, but those are surely under development. Until the street names appear on an accessible map, we can only guess whether Evelyn Waugh Court may be placed in a neighborhood where the other streets have been named exclusively for British women authors. Of course, once they’ve run out of authors, why not use characters and book titles–Crouchback Crescent has a nice alliterative ring to it and Brideshead Boulevard sounds like a sure winner.

Posted in Adaptations, Biographies, Brideshead Revisited, Essays, Articles & Reviews, Interviews, Newspapers, Television Programs | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

BBC Documentary on Waugh’s Illustrator

The BBC has broadcast a delightful documentary on Quentin Blake, artist and illustrator. This is entitled Quentin Blake: The Drawing of My Life and debuted on Christmas Day on BBC2. It will be repeated on 6 January. Here’s an excerpt from a review in the Financial Times which describes Blake as:

… a small, stubbly 89-year-old, with sticky-up hair and straggly eyebrows who looks remarkably like a Quentin Blake drawing. Directed by Peter Sweasey, this charming one-off documentary finds the British writer and illustrator reflecting on his life while drawing key scenes from it across a 30-ft canvas. It’s a treat to watch the artist at work, and to see him create characters and stories out of the roughest of squiggles, his eyes twinkling all the while. Not for nothing has he described his style as “deceptively slapdash”…

The Guardian also ran a preview of the program. Here’s an excerpt from that:

…A new BBC documentary, Quentin Blake: The Drawing of My Life, allows for a wider appreciation, opening as it does with the 89-year-old illustrator confronted by 30ft of empty canvas and an invitation to fill it with an artwork that tells the story of his creative life. The broad brush of biography is soon filled in: his 1930s upbringing in suburban Sidcup, south-east London, from where Blake first got his work published in Punch while still at school; his decision to read English at Cambridge rather than going to art school; his 60s career as an in-demand illustrator (his Penguin paperback jackets for the likes of Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim have an attractively louche appeal); and as an author himself, most notably A Drink of Water, made with the writer and longtime friend and collaborator, John Yeoman….

Although not mentioned in the TV documentary or in the above reviews, an earlier Guardian article explained how Blake’s work for Penguin brought him into contact with Waugh’s books. This was in a review of a recent book: The Penguin Modern Classics Book by Henry Eliot. See previous post. Starting in 1961, Blake created covers for the six Waugh novels reissued by Penguin in its newly-introduced Modern Classics series: Vile Bodies, Black Mischief, A Handful of Dust, Scoop, Put Out More Flags, and The Loved One. After this fairly ambitious beginning, Blake’s drawings continued to occupy the cover space on additional printings of Waugh’s Penguins throughout the rest of the 1960’s. This extended not only to other books in the Penguin Modern Classics series such as Brideshead Revisited (1962) and Decline and Fall (1964) but to new additions to the Penguin contemporary list. These included Gilbert Pinfold in 1962, Helena in 1963 and each of the three war novels published separately in 1964. By the middle of the 1960s, a Blake drawing appeared on the covers of all Waugh novels then in print under the Penguin label. The earlier Guardian article concluded that “Blake, whose irreverent, scratchy style was already in place, captures Waugh’s mordant wit and keen sense of life’s absurdities…”

This uniform cover art must have been a successful marketing tool for Penguin because they repeated it in the 1970s with another artist. This was Peter Bentley and his partnership Bentley/Farrell/Burnett with their art deco/psychedelic covers. These included an even larger range of books than the Blake-illustrated Modern Classics line, as Work Suspended and When the Going Was Good were added. Unfortunately, Henry Eliot’s recent book, noted previously, does not extend to the Bentley covers, since they were issued outside of the Penguin Modern Classics series. As time went on, Waugh’s books changed covers fairly frequently and re-entered the Modern Classics line.  Some appeared in other Penguin uniform series such as the Penguin Travel Library in the 1980s, and occasionally they were issued independently of series as, for example, in the case of TV or film tie-ins.

In 2011, Penguin, reportedly piqued that the assignment for the Complete Works series went to OUP, published all of Waugh’s books issued in his lifetime (fiction and non-fiction) in a handsome hardback series denominated “Penguin Classics”. These had uniform, light blue dust wrappers in a minimalist, tombstone design that was reminiscent of Penguin’s early orange covers. They were apparently not reprinted, as some volumes (e.g., Brideshead) quickly sold out and became collectibles and others appeared on the remainder shelves. Brideshead seems to be an exception, however, since it has reappeared in a separate hardbound edition for a new “Penguin Clothbound Classics” series as well as a new paperback edition in the Penguin Modern Classics series.

The Quentin Blake documentary will be repeated on BBC2 on Thursday, 6 January 2022 at 0:45a and can be streamed on the internet for the next 11 months on the BBC iPlayer at this link. A UK internet connection is required.

UPDATE (29 December 2021): Relevant information from and a link to a recent posting was added.

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Boxing Day Roundup

–Penguin have announced the issuance of a new edition of Waugh’s first book Rossetti: His Life and Work. This will be in the Penguin Modern Classics series and will be issued in the UK in April 2022. It will be the first Penguin paperback edition of this book. The only previous Penguin edition was in the 2011 Penguin hardback series. Here is a copy of the announcement:

Evelyn Waugh’s first book, Rossetti, is an intimate account of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s tragic and mysterious life: the story behind some of the greatest poetry and painting of the nineteenth century. Shot through with Waugh’s charm and dry wit, and illuminated by his sense of kinship with the Pre-Raphaelite artist, Rossetti is at once a brilliant reevaluation of Rossetti’s work and legacy, as well as a bold gesture of defiance against the art establishment of the 1920s.

A copy of the full announcement, including a photo of the cover, is available here.

–The Los Angeles Review of Books reviews a new book about the history of censorship in Britain. This is entitled A Matter of Obscenity and is written by Christopher Hilliard. The review by Thomas Sojka opens with a reference to Vile Bodies:

ON HIS RETURN to England from Paris, Adam Fenwick-Symes faced the inquisition of the customs officer. Fenwick-Symes had in his luggage a veritable library: books on architecture and history, a dictionary, an economics text, and a copy of Dante’s Purgatorio. Of these, the last two were confiscated pending investigation and dubbed by the witless official to be, respectively, “Subversive Propaganda” and “French, […] pretty dirty, too.” Perhaps most tragically for Fenwick-Symes’s livelihood, the manuscript of his autobiography, due at his publisher — deemed “downright dirt” by the official — was to be burned. Despite his protestations, the official was unmoved, saying, “Particularly against books the Home Secretary is. If we can’t stamp out literature in the country, we can at least stop its being brought in from outside.”

Though this account is invented by Evelyn Waugh for his 1930 novel, Vile Bodies, it is illustrative of the culture surrounding obscenity in early 20th-century Britain. The unnamed Home Secretary was a clear stand-in for the real William Joynson-Hicks, who served in the role from 1924 to 1929. The popular press portrayed “Jix” as a moral crusader, launching a war against nightclubs and the bright young things who frequented them and also against obscene literature (particularly Continental imports).

[…] It is this struggle among campaigners against obscenity, reformers, publishers, authors, and booksellers that Christopher Hilliard’s new book so brilliantly illuminates. A Matter of Obscenity: The Politics of Censorship in Modern England refashions developments in the law into a lucid and engaging cultural history, outlining debates around censorship (particularly literary, but also film, magazines, and pulp fiction) in Britain from 1857 to 1979. […]  It is unsurprising that the trial over Lady Chatterley’s Lover takes up an entire chapter — indeed, it serves as a kind of fulcrum. And the compression of the Victorian period and its immediate aftermath into one chapter at the start both grounds subsequent sections and gets some important details out of the way…

–In the Catholic Herald, its editor William Cash recounts a recent visit to the Worth School in Sussex, a Roman Catholic independent school that is an off-shoot of his alma mater Downside:

…In August 1964, in the midst of the Second Vatican Council, five years after Worth separated from Downside in 1959 and became an independent school, the Catholic Herald published a letter from Evelyn Waugh – two years before he died on Easter Friday in the lavatory after receiving communion. In his letter, he lamented over those who celebrated Vatican II as a victory of “progressives” over “conservatives”. Waugh saw it as the defeat of theological principle to cultural fashion.

One thing I have learnt since becoming editor of the Herald is that as we head towards the 60th anniversary of Vatican II, the battle lines that will define the future history of the Church are now well drawn. The next few decades will be a critical time for informed Catholic journalism. Waugh was concerned about the decline of faith and tradition and the relationship of Catholicism to secular populist culture….

–The website for “the b/o/i” (“The Battle of Ideas”) has posted a talk from its current “Academy” series. The podcast takes about 1/2 hour and is described here:

Ideas Matter: ‘Brideshead Revisited: World wars and the end of the old elite’
December 22, 2021
From the series ‘The elite: old and new’, theme of the boi charity’s event The Academy, held online in November 2021.

Published in the weeks after VE day in 1945, just as British voters swept a Labour Government into power, Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited was a surprise bestseller in both the UK and America, and captured the imagination of generations of readers. The story follows the life of Captain Charles Ryder and his fateful obsession with the aristocratic Flyte family as they slowly fall from grace and fortune during the interwar years. So how does Waugh make sense of the decline of the British establishment? Is the destruction of the old order, as one character has it, ‘all on account of the war’? What drove Waugh’s attacks on modernism? And what can the decline of the old elite tell us about the elite of today?

Lecture by Helen Searls, chief operating officer, Feature Story News (FSN); founder, Washington Hyenas’ Book Club

THE ACADEMY ONLINE IV: The elite: old and new
To view the full programme and some suggested background reading to the talks, please visit https://theboi.co.uk/academy-online-iv

You can also listen to the talk at this link.

–A book blogger, writing as “astrofella.wordpress.com”, has posted on a website called “Books & Boots” a detailed summary and assessment of Waugh’s postwar novella Scott-King’s Modern Europe. The blogger has similarly surveyed most of Waugh’s books that preceded publication of SKME in order of publication, and those are posted on the same site. The exceptions are the biographies and two of the travel books. Here’s the introduction to the SKME entry:

Scott-King’s Modern Europe is a short, boisterous, high spirited, at times farcically crude satire on the state of the world just after the Second World War. I found it humorous and enjoyable all the way through and, as so often with Waugh, also packed with fascinating social and political history.


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Joan Didion (1934-2021) R. I. P.

American novelist, essayist and journalist Joan Didion (1934-2021) died earlier this week in New York City at the age of 87. A memorial column in the National Review remembers her as an early contributor to their pages in what was the early stage of her own career. One of her contributions was a review of Waugh’s war trilogy which she wrote on the occasion of the issuance of the final volume (The End of the Battle) that was published in 1962. The title was Unconditional Surrender in the UK. Part of that review was quoted in one of the memorials posted by the National Review (linked above). Here is a longer version of that excerpt where Didion tries to explain why many Americans do not fully appreciate Waugh’s writing–treating him as a humorist rather than a novelist:

…Every real American story begins in innocence and never stops mourning the loss of it: the banishment from Eden is our one great tale, lovingly told and retold, adapted, disguised and told again, passed down from Hester Prynne to Temple Drake, from Natty Bumppo to Holden Caulfield; it is the single stunning fact in our literature, in our folklore, in our history, and in the lyrics of our popular songs. Because hardness of mind is antithetical to innocence, it is not only alien to us but generally misapprehended. What we take it for, warily, is something we sometimes call cynicism, sometimes call wit, sometimes (if we are given to this kind of analysis) disapprove as “a cheap effect,” and almost invariably hold at arm’s length, the way Eve should have held that snake.

It is precisely this hardness of mind which creates a gulf between Evelyn Waugh and most American readers. There is a fine edge on, and a perfect balance to, his every perception, and although he is scarcely what you could call unread in the United States, neither is he what you could call understood. When he is not being passed off as “anachronistic” or “reactionary” (an adjective employed by Gore Vidal and others to indicate their suspicion that Waugh harbors certain lingering sympathies with the central tenets of Western civilization), he is being feted as a kind of trans-Atlantic Peter DeVries, a devastating spoofer who will probably turn out really to be another pseudonym for Patrick Dennis.

The review entitled “Gentleman in Battle” appeared in the 27 March 1962 issue of the National Review and reportedly has not been included in previous collections. It can be viewed at this link.  De Vries and Dennis had careers as comic novelists in the mid 20th century. Dennis’s best know works were Auntie Mame and Little Me, the only of his 16 comic novels written between 1953-1972 that are still in print. De Vries published 37 comic novels between 1940-1986, four of which, including the best known– Tunnel of Love and The Blood of the Lamb–remain in print.

The obituary notice in the National Review lists what are probably Didion’s best known works:

Didion, an acclaimed essayist, novelist, and screenwriter, was known for works including Play It As It Lays [novel and film], The White Album [essay collection], and her best-selling memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, for which she won the 2005 National Book Award for Nonfiction.

She reportedly stopped writing in 2011, but a new collection of her essays (Let Me Tell You What I Mean) was published earlier this year and will soon be issued in paperback. This included essays not previously collected that were written between the late 1960s and the year 2000. A more detailed obituary appears in the New York Times. An earlier discussion about Didion’s career at the National Review appeared in a previous posting.

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