Roundup: Ethics, Mimics and Graves

–The Minneapolis StarTribune posts a story about ethics in journalism built around a brief description of Waugh’s novel Scoop:

…As serious as the news is, a few laughs can’t hurt. You’re in for a lot of laughs in the 1938 novel “Scoop,” by the English author Evelyn Waugh, satirizing fierce competition among unethical British newspapers to build circulation through sensationalistic coverage of colonial wars in Africa.

One paper, the Daily Beast, finding itself shorthanded, mistakenly enlists as a war correspondent an innocent — William Boot — who lives with zany relatives in the countryside and contributes wispy trifles to the Beast about wildlife.

The process the Beast used to vet Boot was simple. Just one question: “Can he write?” One editor, reading aloud to another, quoted from a piece by Boot: “Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole.” That line was good enough for them, and they dispatched Boot to Africa. […]

Those warring British newspapers operated without an ethics code. Now, in America, the Society of Professional Journalists publishes an ethics code. Editors and reporters learn how to overcome the biases we all have: Detach ourselves from the outcome of the story we are covering; facts are facts, whether we like them or not.

Fact: We are all questing voles, writing for food.

–An article in the San Francisco Chronicle reports a recent visit by their columnist Joe Mathews to the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. The visit was inspired by the author’s realization that the number of graves in Forest Lawn just about equals the projected number of Americans who will have died in the coronavirus pandemic by early next year.  By walking around all areas of the cemetery, the scope of the tragedy can be more easily grasped. Waugh’s assessment of Forest Lawn at the time he visited in 1947 is duly noted. Several of the features which struck a satirical chord with Waugh are also mentioned (e.g. the massive entry gates), and in some cases updated details are supplied. The article also offered this insight that Waugh would have not had the occasion to notice:

Down the hill from the mausoleum is an older, flatter section so filled with light it feels like heaven’s front porch. There I walked amidst many graves from 1918 and 1919. Most of the people buried in them had died in their teens, 20s and 30s, the most common ages of Spanish flu victims.

In an earlier story, the Chronicle considered the lost art of letter writing in today’s electronic age. As examples of the recognition now being given to the importance of this lost art, the article cites the recent letter collections issued by Penguin.  These are entitled Letters of Note and are edited by Shaun Usher. See previous posts. Among them is a volume entitled “Love” in which:

Among the other missives […], there’s this from 33-year-old Evelyn Waugh, who, while waiting impatiently for the annulment of his first marriage, wrote to his soon-to-be ex-wife’s 19-year-old cousin a self-proclaimed “lousy proposition”: “I can’t advise you in my favor because I think it would be beastly for you, but think how nice it would be for me. I am restless & moody & misanthropic & lazy & have no money except what I earn and if I got ill you would starve.” They married, stayed together 30 years, and had seven children.

–Forum Auctions has on offer a “caricature portrait” of Waugh as a child previously owned by the Lord Berners Estate. This was mentioned in earlier posts when it was sold by Christie’s along with other items from that estate. Here’s the description:

Frederick Etchells (1886-1973)
Caricature portrait of Evelyn Waugh as a child, wearing a pale blue coat
Watercolour and bodycolour on card over pencil under-drawing, signed by the artist using an anagram ‘T. Chesell’ in the upper right corner, further inscribed ‘Not to be shown/ Unfinished Rendering of/ Evelyn Waugh at a/ youthful age/ T.C’ in the upper left corner, fine split into image at lower right edge, some minor rubbing and surface abrasions (framed)

Estate of Lord Berners, Faringdon House, Oxfordshire;

Sale. Christie’s, London, Interiors, including property from Faringdon House, Oxfordshire, 12th April 2018 (Lot 19)

⁂ Frederick Etchells, English artist and architect, was a contributor to the Omega Workshops and a breakaway collaborator with Wyndham Lewis setting up The Rebel Art Movement, which was later to transform into the Vorticists. Several of Etchells’ illustrations appeared in the issues of the literary magazine BLAST, but the artist later distanced himself from the group.

The auction is scheduled for 7 December. The estimated price is £1500-2000. Details for participation and a copy of the portrait are available here.

–A blogger on the website Chateau Lloyd has posted an essay comparing the two novel sequences Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford and Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour. The essay compares writing styles and characters in the books as well as their reflection of religious themes. Here’s the conclusion:

Parade’s End is often considered to have four books, but the last one in the series, The Last Post, is very different from the others.  It is essentially an extended experiment in stream of consciousness writing that purports to finish the tale by giving a post-war update to the story.

It is not an easy read and there is reason to believe that Ford himself was unhappy with the result.  When Graham Greene commissioned a reprint after Ford’s death, he purposefully omitted the final volume and declared the work to properly be a trilogy.

The first book in the series is the longest, and it is very difficult at times because it dives deep into social commentary and digs into a number of minor characters.  The next two are shorter and more focused.

Of the three, No More Parades is arguably the best, being a pure wartime story of Teitjens’ life at the front.

Though written over a much longer span of time, Sword of Honour works well as a cohesive whole and reads quickly.  As one would expect, the tone darkens as the war drags on and England suffers from hunger and bombing, but this is offset by Guy’s spiritual journey and also Waugh’s amusing take on how people ‘make out’ during the war.

There is no question that Waugh’s is the superior work, but the first three books of Parade’s End provide valuable insight into the Edwardian mentality and wartime Britain.

Anyone who has read both series or seen the TV adaptations will enjoy reading this thoughtful and well written essay. And those not familiar with one or the other may well be encouraged to fill in that gap.

–Novelist Joseph Connolly has written a short memoir of Kingsley Amis whom he met while running a book shop on Flask Walk in Hampstead in the 1970s. This appears as “Very Amis, very Hampstead” in a recent issue of The Critic. Amis had moved into the neighborhood shortly before their meeting and became a customer and friend. During one period when Amis was reviewing restaurants for Tatler, Connolly enjoyed accompanying him, not just for the food but for the entertainment value as well:

Although I very much enjoyed those lunchtime drinks — during which he would sometimes treat me to an edited selection of quite uproarious impersonations of such as Malcolm Muggeridge (his Evelyn Waugh, during which it looked as if he might burst a blood vessel, was one of the funniest things I have ever seen or heard) — still I had to gently explain that the bookshop was very much a one-man band, and that I couldn’t actually afford to close in the middle of the day. And his response to that quite astounded me: “I envy you,” he said. Was he being satirical? This most eminent novelist envied a bloke in a shop?

Joseph Connolly’s latest novel is entitled This is 64.

Posted in Items for Sale, Letters, Newspapers, Portraits, Scoop, Sword of Honour | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pinfold’s Voices

Yuexi Liu has written an essay on Waugh’s 1957 novel The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. This is included in the latest issue of Modernist Cultures (No. 15/2, 2020) published by the Edinburgh University Press. Here is the abstract:

Waugh’s last comic novel The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957) takes ‘exterior modernism’ to a new height, no longer avoiding interiority – as in his interwar fiction – but exteriorising the interior through dissociation. ‘The Box’, to which the writer-protagonist attributes the source of the tormenting voices, may well be his own mind, an extended – albeit unhealthy – mind that works as a radio: he transmits his thoughts and then receives them as external signals in order to communicate with them. Pinfold’s auditory hallucinations are caused by the breakdown of communication. Interestingly, writing is also a dissociative activity. Concerned with the writer’s block, the novel reflects on the creative process and illuminates the relationship between madness and creativity. If dissociation, or the splitting of the mind, is a defence against trauma, the traumatic experience Pinfold attempts to suppress is the Second World War. The unusual state of mind accentuates the contingency of Waugh’s radio writing; his preferred medium is cinema.

Dr Liu is Assistant Professor of English Literature and Programme Director for BA in Applied English at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Shanghai.  She is also a member of the Evelyn Waugh Society and Co-Editor of the Society’s journal Evelyn Waugh Studies.

Pinfold also figures in a recent booksblog. This article is posted by blogger “Kat” after a recent re-reading of the novel. It is available on Thornfield Hall. Here’s an excerpt:

Pinfold is Waugh’s saddest comedy, though I saw nothing sad about it the first time. And it turns out that this autobiographical novel is a record of Waugh’s own nervous breakdown, which took place in 1954 on a cruise to Ceylon when he was 50. He suffered from insomnia, and treated it by mixing alcohol and narcotics. Needless to say, this was ill-advised. And so he spent weeks hallucinating and hearing abusive voices. A fellow passenger sympathetically remembered his speaking to the toast racks and the little lamps on the tables.

Waugh apparently gloried in writing this quirky novel. Gilbert Pinfold is Waugh’s alter ego, a writer who has a breakdown on the cruise. Most of the novel takes the form of a conversation with his invisible abusers. Honestly, the Soviet satirists are tame compared with Waugh!

The pain is evident in every exchange. But I did not notice that the first time, and I am pretty sure that was not his intention. He was trying to make sense of what had happened, trying to make it funny. And comedy is often the best cure.

Posted in Academia, Evelyn Waugh Society, Newspapers, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

“Helena” Memoir in The Tablet

The current issue of The Tablet has what is essentially a memoir by Sara Haslam of her experiences in editing Waugh’s novel Helena. The book was published earlier this month in the UK and will be published in early January in North America.  It is volume 11 in the OUP’s Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh series. Advance orders are being taken by

Haslam’s memoir, which may also contain some excerpts from the book, begins with a description of Waugh’s initial inspiration for the book in some December 1935 letters to his friend (and fellow convert to Roman Catholicism) Katharine Asquith. She goes on to explain how she was inspired in her writing and research for the book at the University of Texas:

My own turning point came not in Jerusalem, but in Texas, at Easter in 2018. I had been at work […] editing Helena for Oxford University Press’ “The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh”. Courtesy of an Arts and Humanities Research Council grant, I was about to embark on a fortnight in the Waugh archives at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin. I would be able to focus, properly, on the novel. (I didn’t yet know about the giant local bat colony, a fascinating natural science distraction for anyone new in town, or how excellent the live music scene would be.) I was looking forward to it hugely.

During the flight from London I highlighted on a hard copy of my draft the 900 remaining “illegibles”, the Waugh project’s term for words or phrases I had been unable to decipher in the digital version of his handwritten manuscript. The majority of my research had been spent in very close study of that document, tracing the variants between it and the published versions of the novel, and creating a narrative about Waugh’s authorial journey between the two.

The work had been laborious – detailed, difficult, frustrating. What had happened to the missing typescript that might explain parts of that journey I could not plot? Where had the pages cut out at the margin of the hard-bound copy been stored? Why did Waugh scribble over his deletions so furiously? And perhaps of particular interest to my readers here, did the early section published in the 22 December 1945 issue of The Tablet have his oversight (“St Helena Meets Constantius: A Legend Re-Told”, which, revised, became chapters 1-3 of the novel)? These were the vital questions acting as my guides but, at home in my study, they offered limited inspiration. Texas changed all that. […]

Re-discovering Helena’s humour was the perfect bridge to renewed engagement with the text, and I found myself listening for it, struck by its effectiveness. When her pilgrimage to Jerusalem begins, Helena has concerns about the commodification of any material remains that she might discover. But, in keeping with a level-headed assessment of her faithful task, she does not mock or judge Constantine when he superstitiously forges relics from her horde into a bridle for his horse. She giggles, rather, and quietly so, bringing her audience directly alongside in her understanding of what she has found and what it means…

After some additional descriptions of insights gained from her research in Texas, Haslam closes with a recollection of a conversation with Waugh’s daughter Harriet, recalling how her father had read this book to her and her sister and mother as a child, something he hadn’t done with his other books.

Posted in Academia, Complete Works, Helena, Newspapers, Waugh Family | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Link to Virtual Book Launch of Helena

The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project has posted a recording of the virtual book launch last week for their edition of Helena.  For those who missed the live version, here’s the link:

For a summary, see earlier post.


Posted in Academia, Complete Works, Helena | Leave a comment

Remembrance Sunday/Armistice Day Roundup

–In another article about the proposed new Brideshead TV series, Alexander Larman wonders whether there might not be more deserving works of Waugh for adaptation. This is published in the latest issue of The Critic. After noting that it will be hard to improve upon the 1981 adaptation and hoping that they can find an alternative for Castle Howard as the setting (it having already been used twice), Larman goes on to recall Waugh’s reluctance to allow film makers to modify his stories and his bitter disappointment with the 1960s Hollywood production of The Loved One;

Subsequent adaptations of Waugh’s work, the behemoth of Brideshead aside, have been variable. His first and arguably funniest novel Decline and Fall was poorly adapted as 1968’s Decline and Fall…of a Birdwatcher, and Brideshead director Charles Sturridge’s 1988 film of Waugh’s masterpiece A Handful of Dust was far too polite and prosaic to capture the almost surreal horror that ensues in its tale of upper-class adultery and its consequences. Thankfully, the books have been served better in the past decades. William Boyd’s adaptation of his Sword of Honour trilogy captured much of its hilarity and savagery, Stephen Fry’s Bright Young Things introduced a fine range of bright young actors to the cinema (including James McAvoy, David Tennant and Fenella Woolgar) and a far superior TV version of Decline and Fall was made in 2017, thanks to Rev creator James Wood’s excellent adaptationThe comedian Jack Whitehall made a suitably bewildered Paul Pennyfeather, the modern-day Candide sent down from university after an accidental moment of gross indecency and compelled to take a job teaching at the worst school in Wales.

Larman then hands his narrative over to William Boyd from a previous interview.  Boyd was involved in two earlier Waugh adaptations (an underrated Scoop as well as Sword of Honour):

…As Boyd said, ‘The trouble with Waugh is that he’s too well known and everybody has an opinion (snob, fascist, comic genius, Catholic stalwart etc).  So, the criticism is ephemeral and people can make up their own minds once the brouhaha of a release has died down.  He’s no harder to adapt than any novelist of serious talent. You just have to judge the adaptations as films – and not as versions of the novels. If you enjoyed the films then the adaptation has succeeded.”

Boyd, who has expressed a desire to adapt Waugh’s weird and perennially underrated autobiographical “crack-up” novella The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, also believes that Brideshead could be adapted in a more exciting way than either the 1981 or 2008 versions managed to. “I think it would be far more interesting to look at the undercurrents of the novel rather than its ‘English Heritage’ virtues; Brideshead deserves to be outed.”

Certainly, the choice of Guadagino as writer and director of the new TV version means that these undercurrents will almost certainly be exploited and explored. Time will tell whether this particular revisitation will succeed admirably or fail dismally, but its makers can be assured of one thing. Waugh would probably have loathed it, on principle.

–The Daily Telegraph also weighs in with an article anticipating problems for the new Brideshead adaptation. The DT’s reporter Ben Lawrence fears that the:

…reason why it is likely to fail is that, like Andrew Davies’s cinematic dogs’ dinner from 2005, it won’t do justice to one of the novel’s most charged themes: Catholicism.

The Catholic faith informs almost every corner of Waugh’s novel and without it, it loses much of its meaning. Most importantly, there is its redemptive power: the adulterous Lord Marchmain is reconciled with the church on his deathbed; for his daughter Julia, scarred by a marriage that is regarded as invalid by the church and sinful in her affair with Charles, she sees it as something she must return to, to make her sin “nameless and dead like the baby they took away” (she is also stricken by the grief of a stillbirth).

Don’t get me wrong: I suspect the Catholicism will still be in there, but as a subject of mockery, or something more sinister. We may well get Catholicism as something cranky (the youngest sibling, Cordelia, turned into a zealot rather than someone who is unapologetically, uncompromisingly guided by her faith) or cosmetic (her elder brother Sebastian’s woeful end in service to a monastery after a life ruined by alcohol) or corruptive, a beastly burden which turns its adherents mad. But as a source of salvation and profound consolation – as the Mortimer adaptation did indeed manage? I doubt this very much…


—In the Sydney Morning Herald there is the report of an interview with David Hare about his recent BBC TV series Roadkill. This tells the story of the rise and rise of a Conservative Prime Minister played by Hugh Laurie. The SMH’s reporter, Ginny Dougary, opens with  an indirect Waugh allusion I had missed:

In the first episode, the girlfriend […] tells Laurence [Laurie’s role] that she has been offered an important job in Texas at “one of the greatest libraries in the world”.

This prompted a little jolt of recognition, having only recently read that Hare had donated his life’s work in 1993 to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin. How intriguing to see a reference to the creator’s life seeping into one of his characters.

It takes Hare a moment to connect and then he beams: “Oh, my goodness, me! Yes! Of course! I wanted her to be offered a job in one of the best libraries in the world, so I chose one which had my papers in it.” He loves this place with its amazing collection of words — “you can handle Graham Greene’s love letters. The first editions of Evelyn Waugh’s novels. Samuel Beckett’s plays are there, and Arthur Miller’s — it has the greatest James Joyce collection in the world. It’s an incredibly moving institution; I really admire their care and love for the history of literature. “

–The Guardian has run a story about Jonathan Coe’s latest novel in which the real life film director Billy Wilder plays a major role. The novel is entitled Mr Wilder and Me. Here’s an excerpt:

As always, Coe buries cross-references to earlier works by himself (the Foley clan have been recurring characters) and others, not impeding the progress or pleasure of readers who miss them, but adding another level for those in the know. Among Wilder’s movies was The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes; he jokes to Calista about the Holmes story “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter”, with which Coe also has other fun. There are allusions to Wilder’s films The Apartment and Ace in the Hole, and, as both Sunset Boulevard and Fedora feature forgotten cinematic superstars, the novel is affectingly underscored by the apprehension of Wilder and Diamond that a new type of Hollywood represented by “that shark film” (Steven Spielberg’s Jaws) may mean the end for them in the way that the talkies finished the protagonist of Sunset Boulevard.

One hopes that Coe was able to work in a reference to Wilder’s proposal to film Waugh’s novel The Loved One in the 1950’s. When that project was rejected, Wilder proceeded to make what is probably his best film Sunset Boulevard which contains some references to The Loved One which we have discussed in earlier posts.

–The New Criterion has posted an article by Timothy Jacobson about the short-lived London-based attempt to remake the New Yorker. This was Night and Day which was edited by Graham Greene and for which Waugh wrote a regular book review column. Here’s an excerpt from the opening section:

Night and Day—and all of those kindred journalistic lights that flickered and went out all too quickly down the years (one thinks of New England Monthly, The Southern Magazine, and Chicago Times)—offered something valuable: a fixed picture of a cultural moment, which compelled the founders enough to try to document it. All were business ventures, with not only readers to attract and retain, but advertisers and anxious investors to satisfy as well.



Posted in Adaptations, Brideshead Revisited, Decline and Fall, Film, Newspapers, Sword of Honour, Television, The Loved One, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Helena Book Launch

A virtual book launch was convened yesterday for the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh edition of his novel Helena. The executive editors of CWEW both participated, with Barbara Cooke introducing and presiding over the proceedings and Martin Stannard providing an update on the publication progress. In particular, he announced that in addition to the two travels books already set for publication early next year (Tourist in Africa and Ninety-Two Days), several others were nearing completion (not necessarily in this order or in time for publication in 2021): Brideshead Revisited, Robbery Under Law, Short Fiction v.1, Decline and Fall, Edmund Campion, Handful of Dust, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, Essays, Articles and Reviews 1935-1945, and Personal Writings 1922-1929.

Alexander Waugh, the project’s General Editor, spoke about Helena. He noted that he thought the book much under-rated and that it was entitled to more favorable attention than it had received. It was also pointed out that his grandfather spent more time writing this book than any other and thought it his best work. Unlike the other works Waugh thought were masterpieces when published, he never recanted his judgment about Helena’s pre-eminent standing in his oeuvre.

The primary presentation was by Sara Haslam who spoke about her experience in writing and editing the new edition of Helena. She and other participants also addressed matters such as the book’s greater popularity in the USA than in England, which may be down to the fact that there were more Roman Catholic readers in the USA. Sara also discussed with other CWEW editors the connections between Helena and the books they were editing as well as what distinguished Helena from the others. These discussions included Patrick Query (Tourist in Africa), Simon James (Decline and Fall) and Gerard Kilroy (Edmund Campion). Sara concluded with a reminiscence of her opportunity to discuss Waugh’s work with his daughter Harriet and how deeply that had affected her. She also read from the book as did Evelyn Waugh himself, who appeared in an audio recording on the Verve record label.

There were, so far as I was able to determine, approximately 40 participants, including several members of the Evelyn Waugh Society. Among these was our chairman Chip Long who is also editor of the Ronald Knox volume. It made for an interesting and informative 2 hours, The CWEW has posted a recording on the internet for those who missed the live presentation. It is available at this link.

UPDATE (17 November 2020): A link had been provided to the recording of the book launch.

Posted in Academia, Alexander Waugh, Complete Works, Discussions, Evelyn Waugh Society, Helena | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Memoir of “The Loot”

David Platzer has written a memoir of his acquaintanceship with Stuart Preston who was well known during his military service days among Waugh and his friends in WWII London. The memoir, entitled “A Sergeant Abroad”, appears in the latest issue of New Criterion and opens with this:

Stuart Preston was one of the more curious figures of London during the Second World War, the U.S. Army Sergeant who […] inspired “the Loot,” Lieutenant Padfield, in Evelyn Waugh’s Unconditional Surrender (retitled The End of the Battle in America), the last and best volume of Waugh’s war trilogy. Until leaving in July 1944 to take part in the liberation of France, Stuart lived in the U.S. Army Headquarters, conveniently located in North Audley Street, only minutes away from Heywood Hill’s bookshop on Curzon Street, where Nancy Mitford and Bridget Parsons were holding the fort, and the Dorchester, where Emerald Cunard continued to host parties. An eager, well-informed American, he was enraptured with everything Edwardian. […]  The “ample leisure” mentioned by Waugh with regard to the Loot may have had something to do Preston’s possible position in counter-intelligence, directed by Eisenhower himself. One wonders if many of the Sergeant’s admirers suspected that the charming GI might be reporting overheard gossip to his superiors.

Notwithstanding her professed distaste for Americans, Nancy Mitford had a soft spot for the “Serge,” who dismissed Nancy’s anti-Americanism as “part of the image.” “You are horrid about that good old Serge & I’m afraid he’ll mind. So naughty making him talk American,” Mitford wrote to Waugh. Indeed, the Loot’s clumsy jargon, reminiscent of Nancy’s own Hector Dexter in The Blessing, is most unlike Stuart. Damningly, Waugh paints the Loot as a social climber: “Now some days back I was at a Catholic Requiem in Somerset county. It was the live people there I found significant. There were a lot of them.” Waugh’s Loot is no linguist, something untrue about Stuart, who read as much, if not more, French than English—though he spoke it with an American accent—and knew German and Italian, too. Waugh’s description of the Loot’s ubiquitous social success is closer to the mark:

“He was in every picture gallery, every bookshop, every club, every hotel. He was also in every inaccessible castle in Scotland, at the sick bed of every veteran artist and politician, in the dressing-room of every leading actress and in every university common-room.”

What follows is Plazter’s own memoir of Preston whom he met while they were both living in Paris in 1990. This was after Preston had decamped to Paris from New York in 1976 (possibly via a disappointing stay in London) after a career as a cultural journalist in the post-war years. This included a stint as art critic for the New York Times from 1949-65. During that time “the pre-Pop Andy Warhol made a portrait of him in 1958, capturing him as a haunted, bald Casper the Ghost, painfully sensitive and tentative.” He also met Waugh in 1950 during Waugh’s last visit to the USA. At that time Waugh commented that he “suspected that the aging Dorian Gray, now bald, had taken to drink.”

Platzer’s memoir makes it clear that Preston never ceased to search out interesting new friends and collected them right up until his death in 2005. This was in the hope, according to Platzer, that his new acquaintances would “open new doors” to him, but he was more and more disappointed as time went on to discover that they were more interested in hearing him talk about his own illustrious past. This is an interesting memoir for Waugh readers because it follows a Waugh character into his post-Waugh years when he continued to meet some of the friends they had in common in wartime London. The memoir is headed on the New Criterion website with a copy of the Andy Warhol drawing mentioned above. That doesn’t appear in the library subscription copies.



Posted in Newspapers, Unconditional Surrender/The End of the Battle, World War II | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Biography and A Portrait

–Waugh scholar and EW Society member Ann Pasternak Slater has written a new book relating to a writer Waugh admired but knew only slightly. This is a biography of T S Eliot’s wife Vivien. The book is reviewed by Brian Appleyard in the Sunday Times. He begins by describing Pasternak Slater’s dismissal of the treatment of Vivien Eliot by Eliot’s biographers which is largely unsympathetic but shallow; they are collectively dismissed by Pasternak Slater  as “fabulists.”  According to Appleyard, Pasternak Slater’s book:

… is an assessment based on Vivien’s own archive, Eliot’s published letters and many other sources. It is likely to be definitive. Slater is fair to a fault. Vivien, she shows, was talented and highly intelligent; her love for Eliot was genuine and intense and, in many ways, she made him the poet he was. He even accepted her improvements to some lines in his greatest work, The Waste Land, without question. “Vivien,” she writes, “certainly gained a moral and literary education from Tom. Her vivacious, affectionate and independent spirit also had its impact on him.”

She was a nightmare, though. A full list of her afflictions intestinal, dietary, mental, neurological would fill the rest of this review. One doctor after another failed to make sense of her suffering. Slater, however, notes that many of her worst illnesses were timed to follow significant events in Eliot’s life. She concludes, convincingly, that the cause was Munchausen syndrome, in which the sufferer seeks attention or sympathy through illness.

A contemporary review in the Sunday Telegraph points out that, in later stages of Vivien’s decline, matters were made worse by her increasing drug abuse. According to that review by Tristram Fane Saunders: “Slater’s most significant achievement is fingering the main culprit: chloral hydrate, a drug taken by DG Rossetti, Evelyn Waugh and a young Oliver Sachs.”

After describing the Eliots’ breakup and fraught post marital relations, the Sunday Times review concludes:

This is a monumental work. The inclusion of Vivien’s own work reveals a talent that, though fragile and unformed, is worthy of this resurrection. The title is from a line in Hamlet “There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” Vivien is the sparrow, and her special providence was to have played a significant part in the production of some of the most beautiful poetry in the English language.

The most beautiful of all, The Waste Land, reflects the ambiguity of the way she played that part. Her improved lines show a sharp critical eye, but the immense cloud that hangs over the poem “I can connect/ Nothing with nothing” reflects the confusion and anguish Eliot felt about his life at the time. Great art is hard, but a sparrow’s life harder still…

The book was published by Faber & Faber last week in both the UK and USA and is entitled The Fall of a Sparrow. The T S Eliot Society has kindly sent a comment posted below in which it provides links to the two reviews discussed herein and details of future anticipated reviews.

–Another Society member, Duncan McLaren has posted on his internet page a new pencil drawing of Evelyn Waugh. This is by novelist Edward Carey, who illustrates his own books. After an exchange of messages with the artist, McLaren explains the derivation of the portrait on his website:

Carey has principally used a photograph that was used in the Sunday Times, of Waugh sitting at his desk in the library of Piers Court in 1950. But he’s straightened up his body and given Waugh a less garish check suit.

McLaren also uses a list attached to Carey’s novel Observatory Mansions to develop a discussion of listed items which might relate to Waugh. This segues into this remark comparing Carey’s novel with Brideshead Revisited:

Both Brideshead Revisited and Observatory Mansions are books about love, about the intimate relations between people who find these intimacies a problem. But they are also about the relations between a person and the world and everything in it. That’s what’s impressive about these books. In the end, they strike us as being about life in the totality of its lived moments.

McLaren also refers to Carey’s latest novel entitled The Swallowed Man which was published last week. Carey lives in Austin, Texas and teaches creative writing at the University of Texas. An excellent copy of the pencil portrait is posted on Duncan McLaren’s website at this link.

UPDATE: The source of the review of The Fall of a Sparrow was originally cited to the Sunday Telegraph. The review initially quoted actually appeared in the Sunday Times. The Telegraph review was by Tristram Fane Saunders and was unavailable when I searched. Thanks to reader Dave Lull for pointing out the error. Dave also sent a copy of the Telegraph review. Reference to that review as well as a comment from the T S Eliot Society have been added to the text.

UPDATE 2 (9 November 2020): Amazon has corrected its listing for Ann Pasternak Slater’s book to reflect November 2020 publication dates in both the UK and USA. The text has been modified accordingly.

Posted in Biographies, Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh Society, Newspapers, Portraits | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rosalind Morrison (More)

The Australian literary magazine Quadrant has posted a story by Mark McGinness which provides more details about the life of Rosalind Morrison who died recently at the age of 74. See previous post. He explains among other things her connection to the Lygon children who were friends of Evelyn Waugh. She was the daughter of the youngest of the seven Lygon children–i.e., the youngest brother of Hugh, Mary and Dorothy. This was Richard who was taken from Madresfield by his mother when Lord Beauchamp was forced into exile in 1931. According to McGinness:

The unhappy youngest son, Dickie, married Patricia Norman, a vicar’s daughter, in 1939. Rosalind was born on 13 October 1946 and grew up on another Lygon property, Pyndar House in Worcestershire, with her elder sister, another Lettice. […] In 1989, ten years after death of Elmley [the oldest Lygon child who had inherited Madresfield] and the extinction of the earldom, Mona Beauchamp [Elmley’s wife], died aged 94 and Rosalind unexpectedly inherited Mad. There could have been echoes of the endless Jennens court case, which touched the Lygon family, and was taken up by Dickens as ‘Jarndyce v. Jarndyce’ in Bleak House. But handing the estate to the last of the Lygons avoided all that

Although Rosalind Morrison had no known connection to Evelyn Waugh (or at least not that I am aware of) and none is mentioned by McGinness, he does take the opportunity to explain Waugh’s connection to the other Lygons and to Madresfield:

Waugh fell in love with the family and spent much time there in the early thirties between his novels, travels and two marriages. In fact, he wrote much of Black Mischief there and dedicated it to Dorothy (Coote) and Maimie. In the absence of an older generation, Madresfield became a centre of jokes and fun. They called home ‘Mad’. Mad also inspired Hetton Abbey, the setting for A Handful of Dust (1934), which Waugh later wrote, should have been dedicated to Hugh, Beauchamp’s second son and favourite child.

Both Dorothy and Waugh’s brother, Alec, agreed that it was the Lygons’ situation rather than their characters which he absorbed when writing Brideshead Revisited a decade later. Like Lord Marchmain, Lord Beauchamp spent most of the rest of his life abroad, returning to Madresfield, like Marchmain to Brideshead, for only the last two years of his life. He had time to throw a bust of his countess into the moat and to whitewash her image from the chapel walls. But unlike Lord Marchmain, he made no deathbed reconciliation. Instead, his last words were apparently “Must we dine with the Elmleys tonight?”

Sebastian Flyte was thought to be an amalgam of Alastair Graham, for Waugh “the friend of his heart” at Oxford, and Hugh Lygon. Mamie Lygon (“a flawless Florentine quattrocento beauty”) clearly contributed to the portrait of Julia Flyte, her plain but enchanting sister Dorothy is a near match for Cordelia, and Elmley bears a striking and not altogether complimentary resemblance to Lord Brideshead. Lord Marchmain’s disgrace and exile (“the last, historic, authentic case of someone being hounded out of society”, as Anthony Blanche puts it) is based on that of Lord Beauchamp, though made heterosexual. Lady Marchmain’s fervour and froideur owe something to the Countess.

She died in July 1936, aged 59, and poor, alcoholic Hugh three weeks later, after falling out of a car in Germany. A distraught Beauchamp returned quietly to Madresfield for Hugh’s funeral and died two years later (in New York). Sibell, Maimie and Coote left the house as Elmley became the 8th and last Earl, and he and his older, widowed Danish wife, Mona (but glamorous; No Mrs Muspratt she), took over Madresfield.

The article is entitled “Brideshead’s Bricks-and-Flesh Inspiration”, is well written, nicely illustrated and can be read at this link.


Posted in A Handful of Dust, Black Mischief, Brideshead Revisited, Newspapers | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Deal on New Brideshead Series Reported Imminent

It has been reported in the Daily Mail, Radio Times and Deadline that a deal on a new Brideshead Revisited TV series by the BBC and HBO is imminent. Here’s the story as reported in Tatler:

2020 marks the 75th anniversary of Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh’s great novel. Castle Howard, Sir John Vanbrugh’s Baroque masterpiece, was cast as the titular character and setting for both the 1981 TV adaptation – starring Jeremy Irons – as well as the subsequent feature film. The dome-topped stately home had plans for a Brideshead festival this year to mark the anniversary, which was sadly unable to go ahead as a result of the pandemic.

Today it has been reported that a new television series is in the works, that will be adapted and directed by Luca Guadagnino, of Call Me By Your Name glory. The Italian filmmaker won a screenplay Oscar for the film as well as a best director nomination at the Baftas.

As reported by Baz Bamigboye in the Daily Mail, the drama is for the BBC and HBO – the newspaper has also leaked the casting. They say that Andrew Garfield, who starred in Marianne Elliot’s critically acclaimed production of Angels in America at the National Theatre, will take up the role of artist Charles Ryder (the role first played by Jeremy Irons).

Sebastian Flyte, the glamorous, aristocratic – and teddy-bear loving – character Ryder befriends while at Oxford University will be played by Joe Alwyn, who the viewing public warmed to in The Favourite, alongside Emma Stone. Sebastian’s sister, Lady Julia Flyte, who becomes the object of Charles’ desire, will be played by Rooney Mara.

Ralph Fiennes, who Guadagnino recently worked with in A Bigger Splash (also starring Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson) will reportedly play the patriarch of the Flyte family, Lord Marchmain, and Cate Blanchett is said to be in negotiations to play their pious mother, Lady Marchmain.

Other roles are still in the process of being cast – the question remains, will Castle Howard be used as a location for a third time? They will reportedly start filming in the UK and Venice next year.

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