Socialites to Socialists: Inez Holden and Nancy Mitford

Two books in the news were written by or about two of Waugh’s friends and fellow writers: Inez Holden and Nancy Mitford. As explained in reviews of those books, both progressed from upper-class to left-wing political views:

–Novelist and critic D J Taylor has reviewed the book by Waugh’s prewar friend Inez Holden entitled Blitz Writing. The book contains Holden’s novella Night Shift about factory workers and her wartime diaries published in 1943 under the title It Was Different at the Time. Taylor’s article (entitled “Socialite to Socialist”) appears in the current issue of the Literary Review and opens with this:

The best known photograph of Inez Holden (1903-1974) was taken at a Bright Young People ‘Impersonation Party’ in 1927. Here, late at night in a Chelsea garden, half-a-dozen archetypal Twenties figures ostentatiously commingle. Stephen Tennant masquerades as the Queen of Romania; Elizabeth Ponsonby (the original of the Hon. Agatha Runcible in Vile Bodies) takes off Iris Tree; Tallulah Bankhead, Harold Acton and Cecil Beaton are exotically to hand. Seated in their midst, very much of the party and at the same time faintly detached from it, is a small, nervous-looking girl in a matelot’s jersey.

If nothing very much is known about Holden’s deeply mysterious life – there is even doubt over her date of birth – then a glance at the diaries and memoirs of the late 1920s soon establishes the world of the Impersonation Party as her natural milieu. Evelyn Waugh, when briefly employed by the Daily Express, mentions ‘a charming girl called Inez Holden, who works on the paper.’…

Inez Holden was a trainee reporter at the Daily Express at the same time as Waugh, and that was where they met. For more about their friendship and Holden’s book see this link to Evelyn Waugh Studies No 50.1.

–The biography of another novelist lady-friend of Waugh is published for the first time in the USA. This is Life in a Cold Climate and is about Nancy Mitford. It is written by Laura Thompson who also later wrote The Six which was about all of the Mitford sisters. Here’s an excerpt of the review by Christopher Benfey from Sunday’s New York Times:

Drawing on Nancy Mitford’s own poignant childhood memories from her exuberant novel “The Pursuit of Love” (including, notoriously, a “child hunt,” with “four great hounds in full cry after two little girls”), Laura Thompson (author of “The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters”) vividly evokes the swarm of brilliant and beautiful sisters, and their lone brother, growing up carefree in a succession of country houses in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. […]

Nancy’s formal education, according to her close friend Evelyn Waugh, was confined to learning French and horsemanship. She enrolled briefly at the Slade School of Art only to be informed that she “had no talent whatever.” She had better luck with writing; although she had a modest success with her first four novels, “The Pursuit of Love,” published in 1945, was hugely popular. “I sat under a shower of gold,” she remarked…

Thompson’s biography of Nancy Mitford was first published in the UK in 2003 and was followed by The Six (also by Thompson) in 2016 in both the UK and USA. In the UK, the latter book was published as Take Six Girls.

–The Guardian has run a story by Alison Flood about Waugh’s letters to his Oxford friend Richard Plunket Greene. See previous post. The following passage from the Guardian’s story has been widely reprinted. This arises from Waugh’s receipt of a letter from his friend Harold Acton expressing reservations about the draft of Waugh’s first novel. Waugh had sent this to Acton for his opinion, which was rather negative:

In one of the letters [to Plunket-Greene], Waugh describes “feeling a little despondent” and reveals that he had burned the manuscript, adding: “It made so much smoke that the Headmaster [went] out of Chapel to see if his school was on fire.”

Bidding online at the Southeby’s auction continues until tomorrow (10 December).

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Evelyn and Randolph in WWII Yugoslavia

In the new issue of the collected lectures of the British Studies seminar at the Unversity of Texas, there is a lecture entitled “Evelyn Waugh and Randolph Churchill in Yugoslavia”. This is by biographer and literary critic Jeffrey Meyers who has written biographies of writers such as F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell and Edmund Wilson. The lecture was delivered in the Fall Semester 2017 and appears in the collection entitled Serendipitous Adventures with Britannia, edited, as are the previous 10 volumes, by Prof Wm R0ger Louis.

Meyers begins by promising new insights into Waugh’s military career from previously unavailable material:

One hundred and twenty pages of unpublished material from the National  Archives and the Public Record Record Office in Kew, England, and from Churchill College, Cambridge University, cast new light on British policy in Yugoslavia, its military contacts with Tito and the contrast between his Communist Partisans and the pro-Nazi Ustashe; on Randolph’s work, constant complaints and offensive behavior as well as his courage under fire; on Waugh and Randolph’s near-fatal air crash, their English comrade Stephen Clissold and Waugh’s support of the Catholic Ustashe in opposition to official policy. This archival material explains why these tragicomic adventurers wound up in wartime Croatia, why they quarreled bitterly in an isolated village and why their important mission was doomed to failure.

What follows is however mostly a retelling of the story of Randolph’s mission, accompanied by Waugh, as it appears in Waugh’s diaries as well as memoirs of Fitzroy Maclean, their commanding officer, and Freddy Birkenhead, who joined them briefly, in addition to biographies of Randolph, Waugh and Maclean. The narrative is well told and accurately reported but adds little to what has already been written in published material.

There are a few nuggets which apparently come from the newly available records. These include reports (pp. 57-58) by British agents from Yugoslavia in the months 0f 1944 before Waugh arrived. They reflect attitudes of the Yugoslavs at the time but do not mention Randolph’s mission or the role of Waugh. There is also a report (p. 60) of Randolph’s actions during and after the German raid on Drvar during May 1944 for which Randolph was awarded an MBE. That may well come from the archives. There is also a quote (p. 66) that may emanate from those records; this is about Randolph’s bad behavior toward a journalist named Robert Murray. Neither of these reports, which relate to Randolph, are cited as implicating Waugh. One problem with determining what previously unknown material is cited from the newly opened records is that the discussion appears in the form of a lecture in which detailed citations to sources are not provided.

The published lecture concludes with this assessment of Waugh’s role in the mission:

The pro-Catholic anticommunist Waugh was supposed to entertain Randolph and support the Partisans but constantly fought with him and made three disastrous mistakes. He openly courted the Ustashe fascists, publicly insulted Tito and endangered his comrades by flaunting his whitecoat during [an] air attack.

While there is ample evidence adduced for the last two errors, it comes not from the newly available public records but from previously published sources. As to Waugh’s open support for the Ustashe, that may well have been the case. But again, there is no new support for this cited from the unpublished public records. Previous commentators have focused on Waugh’s support for the Roman Catholic clergy and believers against their persecution by the Communists. They have, at least so far as I can recall, stopped short of citing any evidence that he openly supported the Ustashe. He did before the war support Mussolini’s Fascists as well as, somewhat less vigorously, those of Franco, but the Ustashe were an altogether nastier piece of work. If the new sources provide evidence of such open support, hopefully Mr Meyers will cite it specifically in his future writings on the subject.

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Labels Reconsidered

A recent issue of the Goldsmiths, University of London literary magazine (GLITS-e-journal) is devoted to “The (Re)Imagined Mediterranean” and contains several articles on that theme. One of them, by post-graduate student Jasmine Bajada from the University of Malta, is entitled: “De/Mythologising the Mediterranean in the Modern Age: Evelyn Waugh’s Labels: A Mediterranean Journal (1930)”.

The article opens with a quote from Waugh’s 1957 novel The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold:

The sea might have been any sea by the look of it, but he knew it was the Mediterranean, that splendid enclosure which held all the world’s history and half the happiest memories of his own life; of work and rest and battle, of aesthetic adventure and of young love.

It goes on to note that

in Labels, Waugh attempts to show how the Mediterranean that English travellers experience is in fact not the Mediterrean itself but a mythologized Mediterranean, that is a Mediterranean fashioned out of the myths that for centuries have been constructing the Mediterranean imaginary. The Mediterranean, especially for people of a Northern origin, is a place where culture, history, vitality, passion, and mystery intersect. Waugh’s aim in Labels is precisely to deconstruct this mythologisation of the Mediterranean in order to depict a Mediterranean that, in Kingsley Amis’s words, is ‘totally free of Mediterranean mystique’. [Introduction to 1974 Duckworth edition.] However, as shall be discussed, Waugh’s travelogue is ironically a construction of the Mediterranean in the interwar period of a ‘modern megalopolitan’ (Labels, p. 11) in search of a ‘Sense of the Past’ (Labels, p. 45) that ultimately is not as free of myths as it purports to be. Counterproductively, Labels reconstructs the Mediterranean from the perception of a Northerner gazing upon the Mediterranean with a colonial eye that reproduces a deeply embedded myth of the Mediterranean, that of Eurocentrism.

After developing these points, the article concludes with this:

…Waugh’s cruise aboard the Stella Polaris serves him to confirm his Englishness and to subsequently colonise the Mediterranean textually by writing a travelogue that appears to deconstruct previous Northern representations of the Mediterranean but that reimagines the Mediterranean as a region with a Western centre and an Oriental margin. Only years later in hindsight, as Waugh writes in his semi-autobiographical novel The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957), does he realise that the Mediterranean is inclusive and home to many, even to himself: ‘The Mediterranean had always welcomed Mr. Pinfold in the past. His annoyance would be over, he believed, once he was in those hallowed waters.’

Footnotes have been omitted. Page cites to Labels refer to Penguin Classics 2011 edition. A complete copy of the article can be found at this link.

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Adventide Roundup

–There are two comments on similarities between the governmental missteps that lead to the release of a murderous jihadist terrorist and Evelyn Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall. Conservative columnist Charles Moore writes in the Daily Telegraph:

The deaths inside and outside Fishmongers’ Hall last Friday were tragic. Two good people, and one bad one they had tried to help, died. Others were badly injured. Yet when I read the extraordinary details of the events – the fact that the attacks were made at an anniversary celebration of a rehabilitation programme backed by Cambridge University, and that the killer, Usman Khan, was himself a star pupil of that programme; the fact that people who were themselves criminals joined in to disarm the murderer – the memory of a satire niggled at the back of my mind.

Eventually I identified it – it was “the Lucas-Dockery Experiments”. Evelyn Waugh’s first novel, Decline and Fall, is chiefly remembered for its comic scenes of a ghastly prep school and for its depiction of the Oxford University Bullingdon Club (whose later members included Boris Johnson and David Cameron), thinly disguised as the Bollinger Club. But the book also contains a witty dissection of a certain sort of do-goodery. For reasons that need not detain us here, the book’s anti-hero, Paul Pennyfeather, finds himself doing seven years’ penal servitude for traffic in prostitution.

The prison governor, Sir Wilfred Lucas-Dockery, is an enlightened professor of sociology appointed by a Labour home secretary. He strongly disagrees with his conservative predecessor, Colonel MacAdder, who held to the view that “If you make prison bad enough, people’ll take jolly good care to keep out of it”. “So far as is possible,” says Sir Wilfred benignly, “I like the prisoners to carry on with their avocations in civilian life.” He is also keen on a “system of progressive stages” for rehabilitation, such as being allowed after a bit to write and receive letters, aided by “little innovations” such as a “Thought for the Day” which he pins up each morning.

Moore goes on to explain how Lucas-Dockery chooses a red-headed prisoner to prove his theories and gives him a carpentry set to ply his preferred trade while imprisoned. The column (which is headed by a clip from the recent BBC TV adaptation of the novel) continues:

Two days later, the God-intoxicated carpenter uses the saw presented to him by the authorities to cut off the head of the prison chaplain. After that, […] “Sir Wilfred concentrated his attention upon the statistics, and the life of the prison was equitably conducted under the Standing Orders.”

Evelyn Waugh specialised in black comedy – and the London Bridge incident was, as I say, tragedy. But there is a read-across from one to the other which makes the 90-year-old novel worth re-reading…

A UK-based blogger posting on quotes much of the same text and comes to a similar conclusion.

–On the nondenominational religious website First Things, Joshua Hren posts an essay discussing the issues arising from the secularization of society. He illustrates his points with several quotations from Waugh’s 1953 novella Love Among the Ruins. His cites to the novella conclude with this:

Through Waugh’s artfulness, the Nativity has been “made strange” in Love Among the Ruins. […] Although the twenty-first-century West does not yet evince the extreme secularity of the dystopian society in Love Among the Ruins, Waugh helps us perceive how our own world, too, is unreal, and how in our day, too, the God who is Love has been relegated to the category of “historical and cultural preservation.” Waugh pairs Clara’s plastic joy with the tidings of comfort that break from the “machine” beside her. This juxtaposition brings Plastic to retch “unobtrusively” before he exits the surgery ward, baffled.

The novella is included in Waugh’s Complete Stories.

–Several websites have mentioned an incident involving Waugh and his hat. The earliest seems to have been on

Evelyn Waugh once collected his hat from a cloakroom and found a note inside it, written by the attendant to identify the hat’s owner. It consisted of one word: “florid”.

The reference comes from Waugh’s 1962 short story “Basil Seal Rides Again”. Here’s the context:

A week or two ago [Basil] had had a disconcerting experience in this very hotel. It was a place he had frequented all his life, particularly in later years, and he was on cordial terms with the man who took the men’s hats in a den by the Piccadilly entrance. Basil was never given a numbered ticket and assumed he was known by name. Then a day came when he sat longer than usual over luncheon and found the man off duty. Lifting the counter he had penetrated the rows of pegs and retrieved his bowler and umbrella. In the ribbon of the hat he found a label, put there for identification. It bore the single pencilled word “Florid”…

The story is contained in Waugh’s Complete Stories and was the last fiction that he wrote. Whether it was based on an actual experience described elsewhere isn’t stated. The editor of the stories (Ann Pasternak Slater) notes, however, that Basil “is a delightful and wholly frivolous portrait of [Waugh] himself.”

–Andrew McGowan has posted on his weblog a response he made at a recent conference of the Society of Biblical Literature relating to reading at the table in Biblical times:

In Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited the narrator Charles Ryder describes a deeply unpleasant vacation period during his Oxford studies spent at home with his father, who had a habit – clearly an uncivil one in this setting – of reading at the table, silently of course. This habit was part of the father’s usual solitary life, and he persists in it as a sort of passive-aggressive response to his son’s presence. He reads, but not aloud; and Charles takes up a conflict of sorts by bringing his own book to dinner, to underline or contest his father’s rudeness.

“The dinner table was our battlefield. On the second evening I took my book with me to the dining-room. His mild and wandering eye fastened on it with sudden attention, and as we passed through the hall he surreptitiously left his own on a side table. When we sat down, he said plaintively: ‘I do think, Charles, you might talk to me. I’ve had a very exhausting day. I was looking forward to a little conversation.’”

With wry humor Waugh presents the modern view; reading is an alternative to sociability, not a form of it…

–Finally, the Sydney Morning Herald, contains this description of the 2008 film adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, to be broadcast this Saturday (7 December) on the SBS Movies channel in Australia:

Evelyn Waugh’s anti-morality tale stands the test of time in this 2008 film version of the 1981 series of the 1945 book. This story of hedonism and homosexuality would barely raise an eyebrow today, but it’s easy to see how it caused such a fuss at the time – and informed generations of queer culture. Matthew Goode, Emma Thompson and Ben Whishaw star in this lavish retelling of the sexual awakening of a young artist.


Posted in Basil Seal Rides Again, Brideshead Revisited, Decline and Fall, Love Among The Ruins, Newspapers | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

La Prensa Article Marks Brideshead Anniversary

The Buenos Aires newspaper La Prensa has published an article marking the 75th anniversary of the completion of Brideshead Revisited in 1944. This is entitled “Bajo el hechizo del recuerdo” (“Under the spell of remembrance”) and is written by Guillermo Belcore who opens with this:

It could be said, dear reader, that the great news of spring has not been the disturbing return of Peronism or the escape of Evo Morales, but the decision of  Tusquets to liquidate inventories in Buenos Aires. Today, one can discover gems in Buenos Aires bookstores at the price of a shortbread. You will find, for example, one of the best novels of the twentieth century: Retorno a Brideshead, the masterpiece of Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), “English writer considered by many to be the brightest satirical novelist of his day” (according to Encyclopedia Britannica).

Seventy-five years ago, Waugh concluded the book, taking advantage of the fact that an indulgent military commander extended his medical leave. In 1944, the writer served in the Royal Marines and joined a British mission to prop up Yugoslav partisans, but – he explains in the prologue – he had the good fortune of suffering an unimportant wound that provided him with a rest season. He broke the piggy bank of his personal experiences to compose a sublime exercise of nostalgia that portrays a tiny sector of the British aristocracy – Catholic landowners, twenty families apart from any ascent – and that reflects on love, desire and religious convictions ( in 1930 Waugh had been received in the Catholic Church).

Tusquets is the Spanish language publishing house that has been offering the Spanish version of Brideshead since the 1980s, probably taking it up in the wake of the Granada TV series. Why they are liquidating their Buenos Aires inventory is not explained. It should be noted that Waugh wrote Brideshead during a leave from the military premised on his specific request for three months to write the novel. He was not on medical leave during the period February-June 1944 when the novel was written in Chagford, Devon. The author of the article may have been misled by Waugh’s introduction to the 1960 edition which does not fully explain this.

After an extended and lively description of the plot of the novel, the La Prensa article concludes with this:

[Robert Lewis] Stevenson said that there is a virtue without which all others are useless; That virtue is charm. Brideshead Revisited is pure charm. The characters are lovely, particularly the young people of the idle classes who can live comfortably from a grant from their elders and need to be shocked. The refined conversations, the long and majestic comparisons (undoubtedly Waugh had talent for metaphor), the plot twists are also lovely. Social criticism is also exquisite: behind a lord there is usually rot, snobbery and stupidity, as in any other human being.

But the author on page three hundred and twenty-two rebels against artifice and even against the intense need of the English to be educated. [He] wrote: “Charm is the great English blight. It does not exist outside these damp islands. It spots and kills anything it touches. It kills love. It kills art.” And in the prologue -dated 1959- he confesses that, “now with a full stomach”, he finds the “rhetorical and ornamental language” in bad taste. Ignore it, it must have been a concession to a time when socialism gained ground in the form of that calamity called political correctness.

The truth is that, even today, the novel catches both the aesthetic power of the form and the depth of the content. Identification is easy. Who has not lost any paradise in his life, real or imaginary? What person of faith does not ever suffer a problem of conscience? By the way, for the writer faith is basically two things: accept the supernatural as real and open the door of the spirit to religion.  Brideshead Revisited is, in short, one of those great novels in which you simply have to abandon yourself to the enjoyment of reading. Let’s say it with the words of Evelyn Waugh: literature “brought a moment of joy, such as strikes deep to the heart on the river’s bank when the kingfisher suddenly flares across the water.”

The translation is by Google with a few edits. The original text as written in English by Waugh and quoted from the novel has been substituted for the retranslation quoted from the Spanish version.

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Cartoons: Devlin Waugh and Mr Joshua

Two cartoons with connections to Evelyn Waugh have recently come to our attention. The first is a character named “Devlin Waugh” that has appeared in various British cartoon anthologies dating back to 1992. That was when the character was invented, according to Wikipedia, by writer John Smith and artist Sean Phillips. “Devlin Waugh” has been described variously as a “homosexual vampire” or a “camp homosexual exorcist priest” who lives 122 years in the future. His creators provide this description which has a few attributes that might, with some imagination, apply to his namesake:

Smith describes Waugh as a hedonist, “a languorous upper-class misfit, a fop, an ex-public schoolboy with a neat line in sarcasm. A lounge lizard. Imagine Noël Coward as played by Arnold Schwarzenegger”. Phillips visualised him missing a tooth like Terry-Thomas.

This is quoted from the Wikipedia site devoted to “Devlin Waugh” which, according to the current iteration, is being considered for deletion from the website. The Wikipedia entry also contains several references to those comics and paperback reprints where the character has appeared as well as a history of authorship which has changed over the years. For our purposes, the most interesting of the publications devoted to the character would appear to be the collections of articles featuring Devlin Waugh taken from various sources. A new collection has been announced for release next year and is being offered for sale on Amazon. This is entitled Devlin Waugh: Blood Debt and will be published next July. Earlier collections include Devlin Waugh: Swimming in Blood and Devlin Waugh: Red Tide.

Duncan McLaren introduces the other cartoon character with a Waugh connection. This is on his website where he has recently added a page tracking Waugh’s post war years at Piers Court, much taken up with his children. The new post (entitled “Evelyn’s Pants”) includes several cartoon drawings from an artist known as “@Pants” and his character “Mr. Joshua”. According to McLaren:

He is a cartoonist, based in New York (I think), and certain aspects of his creation, Mr Joshua, strongly remind me of Mr Evelyn Waugh in his Piers Court years.   […] The Mr. Joshua masthead reminds us that Evelyn liked to wear a collar and tie (usually) and to comb his receding hair (usually) and go to the cinema in Dursley four times a week to take his mind off the ticking of his life’s clock. […] By the late 40s, Evelyn had several children. And so did Mr Joshua.

The posting continues through several references by Waugh to postwar life at Piers Court with his brood, together with actual photographs of the household in that period. These are interspersed with drawings from the Mr. Joshua posts which often bear a resemblance to Waugh and his family descriptions.

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Clive James (1939-2019) R. I. P.

The critic and poet Clive James has died at the age of 80, after a long fight with cancer. He was born in Australia and moved to England in the early 1960s where he finished his education at Cambridge University. James began his journalism career in the late 1960s and soon found his niche as a TV reviewer for the Observer in the 1970s. He also reviewed books throughout his career and appeared as a TV presenter in the 1980-90s. As noted in the Daily Telegraph obituary by Michael Deacon, for Clive James

…a review should never just be a review. It should be a form of entertainment: one to rival, or surpass, the form of entertainment it was judging. As I later confirmed, by reading his reviews of programs that I had actually seen, Clive James was funnier than the comedies he wrote about,  and more illuminating than the documentaries he wrote about. Almost always, his reviews gave me more pleasure than their subjects had.

James wrote at least two essays devoted to Waugh. The more notable is his 1980 review of Waugh’s collected letters. This is entitled “Waugh’s Last Stand” and appeared in the New York Review of Books (reprinted in As of this Writing). The review is more a consideration of Waugh’s career than it is an analysis of his letter writing. James opens with a discussion of Waugh’s anti-semitism, which he considers to have been largely misunderstood by his critics. He then writes this:

Behaving as if recent history wasn’t actually happening was one of Waugh’s abiding characteristics. It is the main reason why his books always seem so fresh. Since he never fell for any transient political belief, he never dates. In the 1930s, far from not having been a communist, he wasn’t even a democrat. He believed in a stratified social order and a universal Church, the one nourishing the other. The stratified social order was already crumbling before he was born and the universal Church had disappeared during the reign of Henry VIII. His ideal was largely a fantasy. But it was a rich fantasy, traditionally based. Sustained by it, he could see modern life not just sharply but in perspective. When people say that Waugh was more than just a satirist, they really mean that his satire was coherent. It takes detachment to be so comprehensive.

James concludes his essay with this paragraph in which he foresees the restoration of Waugh’s reputation a few years in advance of its actual occurrence:

While academic studies have gone on being preoccupied with the relative and absolute merits of Joyce and Lawrence, Waugh’s characters have inexorably established themselves among the enduring fictions to which his countrymen traditionally refer as if they were living beings. In this respect Waugh is in a dircct line with Shakespeare and Dickens. Since he was public property from the beginning, a critical consensus, when it arrives, can only endorse popular opinion. The consensus has been delayed because many critics were rightly proud of the Welfare State and regarded Waugh’s hatred of it as mean-minded. He was paid out for his rancour by is own unhappiness. For the happiness he can still give us it is difficult to know how to reward him, beyond saying that he has helped to make tolerable the modern worlds that he abominated.

After this article was written, James’s predictions were fulfilled. The successful 1981 TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited revived Waugh’s popularity. That series set the cultural tone for the Thatcher Years in which Waugh’s views no longer told against him.

One comment on the 1980 article appears in the Herald Sun newspaper published in Melbourne. James Campbell in the paper’s obituary notice makes reference to James’s flirtation with social climbing:

…he penned a toe-curlingly embarrassing “comic” poem — Charles Charming’s Challenges On The Pathway To The Throne — in what some suspected was an attempt to get himself invited to Charles’s 1981 wedding to Diana. It was unsuccessful.“Such a blunder helps to demonstrate that if he calculated, he did not calculate very well,” he once observed of Evelyn Waugh’s failure to accept a proffered honour, though he might have been speaking of himself, going on to add a possibly hard-won piece of wisdom: “In this he differed from the true climber, whose whole ability is never to put a foot wrong.”

If he had stayed home [in Australia], would he have had such an obsession with climbing the greasy pole and that boastful insecurity that marks the outsider? Probably not. Would he have achieved what he did? Obviously not.

The other essay was included among several published as Cultural Amnesia in 2007. The book is subtitiled “Necessary Memories from History and the Arts” and described as: “Forty years in the making, a new cultural canon that celebrates truth over hypocrisy, literature over totalitarianism.” James begins the essay on Waugh by describing him as “the supreme writer of English prose in the twentieth century, even though so many of the wrong people said so.” But once Waugh’s reputation as a master prose stylist is secured, James launches into a detailed discussion of  a sentence in Waugh’s autobiography, A Little Learning, that contains a grammatical error: “A little later, very hard up and seeking a commission to write a book, it was Tony [Powell] who introduced me to my first publisher.” This involves a dangled participle which James immensely enjoys deconstructing over several paragraphs.

James mentioned Waugh in several other contexts and was obviously an admirer of his work and promoter of his reputation.

UPDATE (29 November 2019): A reference to the obituary of Clive James appearing in the Melbourne Herald Sun newspaper has been added.

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Brideshead 75th Anniversary Festival Announced

Castle Howard has announced the dates of its festival next summer to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the publication of Brideshead Revisited. This will be held at the Castle Howard estate in North Yorkshire from Friday 26th June to Monday 29th June. Here is the text of the announcement:

As Evelyn Waugh’s seminal novel turns 75, we invite you to magnificent Castle Howard, for a celebration of this masterpiece of 20th century fiction and screen.
Waugh’s novel, an unforgettable exploration of youth, nostalgia, religion and class, set among the spires of Oxford and the immaculate lawns of one of England’s great country houses, is a classic of English literature.

Granada’s sumptuous 11 part adaptation takes its place among the greatest moments of TV history, shaped the fashion of the 1980’s, and transformed its stars – among them Jeremy Irons – into icons.

Featuring a stellar line up of writers, biographers, leading actors and crew, and including screenings, discussion panels, performances and exclusive tours, The Brideshead Festival will explore the ‘magic power’ and enduring nature of Brideshead Revisited. What makes the book a classic? Why have its adaptations captured the hearts, and imaginations of generations of viewers? Whatever happened to Aloysius?

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Pre-Thanksgiving Roundup

–Writing in the Guardian, columnist Marina Hyde looks at the recent debacle arising from Prince Andrew’s BBC Newsnight interview. Her story is entitled “How badly must you do your job for your own mother to fire you?” After several comparisons, she lands up with this one:

It wasn’t simply bad. It was the Heaven’s Gate of royal interviews, basically killing the entire genre. Nobody ever made westerns like they used to after Heaven’s Gate, and nobody in the royal family is going to be giving carte blanche to a BBC interviewer again in a hurry.

But the more famous thing about Heaven’s Gate, of course, wasn’t that it ended westerns – but that it ended its studio. Michael Cimino’s monster flop effectively collapsed the entire studio that produced it, United Artists – and the question after Andrew’s interview is how dangerous his monster flop is to the royal family that produced him. In the warp and weft of the UK’s royal story, people are always looking for the incident about which they will end up saying: “Well, in retrospect, that was the moment …” Some royal historians are already judging Andrew’s interview as seismically as Edward VIII’s abdication.

Maybe. Either way, it should always be remembered that the abdication crisis was hugely enjoyed by the public. As Evelyn Waugh remarked in a 1936 diary entry: “The Simpson crisis has been a great delight to everyone. At Maidie’s nursing home they report a pronounced turn for the better in all adult patients. There can seldom have been an event that has caused so much general delight and so little pain.” [Diaries, 8 Dec. 1936, p. 415].

Maidie refers to Maidie Hollis. wife of Waugh’s Oxford friend Christopher Hollis. She had been in a nursing home in Bristol since September after a miscarriage (Ibid. pp. 407-08). Waugh goes on to mention that “Conrad [Russell] lunched with me on Sunday, very happy with the crisis. Perry [Brownlow] is out with Simpson in Cannes. If it had not been for Simpson this would have been a very bitter week.” Waugh’s friend Perry Brownlow was Lord-in-Waiting to Edward VIII.

–Another comment on this topic also cites Waugh. This is by Charles Moore in his regular Spectator column:

Staying with a relation [in Scotland], I picked up from beside my bed Evelyn Waugh’s When The Going Was Good, a collection mainly of travel pieces written in 1930-31. In it, he describes discussions with tribal elders in Aden which centre on the King-Emperor and how pretty Princess Elizabeth is. Has it ever happened before in human history that one living person’s face and character have been known and loved right across the world for more than 90 years? This snippet helped put the Duke of York business in perspective.

The travel pieces collected cover the years 1929-35. Chapter Three (“Globe Trotting 1930-31”) is excerpted from Remote People and relates, inter alia, to the stop in Aden

–The monthly Mexican magazine Este País has a review of the book Letras sobre un dios mineral: El petróleo mexicano en la narrativa (“Letters about a mineral god: Mexican oil in written narratives”) by Edith Negrín. Waugh’s 1939 book Robbery Under Law is one of those about the Mexican petroleum industry that is considered and compared by Negrín to other works. According to the review:

The report on the expropriation, Robbery Under Law, by the English writer Evelyn Waugh, written on request against Lázaro Cárdenas, may  be “the most racist and derogatory pages ever written about us.”

The review is written in Spanish by Pável Granados who is apparently quoting from the book by Negrín. The translation is by Google with a few edits.

–A new biography of David Ben-Gurion, founder of the modern state of Israel is reviewed in the journal The American Interest. The book is by Tom Segev and the review, by Ben Judah. The review opens with this:

A new biography about Israel’s founder shows that the idea of one political Jewish people is a myth, an illusion.

Posted in Brideshead Revisited, Newspapers, Robbery Under Law, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, When the Going Was Good | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pinfold, Waugh, and Vivien Leigh

Waugh Society member and frequent contributor Melina Borden has posted on the British Library’s Weblog a brief article based on the BL’s archives of Waugh’s correspondence. The item of primary interest is a telegram Vivien Leigh sent Waugh in advance of the 1957 luncheon convened at Foyle’s bookstore in connection with the publication of The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold:


Borden goes on to discuss how Leigh’s own ordeals with mental illness may account for her fascination with Waugh’s book:

…Inevitably one wonders what did [Leigh], who suffered from a bipolar disorder from around the age of 25, find funny or not so funny in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold – a semi-biographical account of a deeply disturbed human being based on Waugh’s own experience with psychosis.

Gilbert is a carefully constructed character underpinned by a single and powerful belief, which is also a hallucination, that he is persecuted; because he is a German and a Jew; a Roman Catholic and a fascist; a communist homosexual and a suicidal drunk. Gilbert is more or less the same as Waugh. His hallucinatory conversations with imaginary enemies are full of distinctly autobiographical features.  Like Waugh, Gilbert is somebody who “abhorred plastics, Picasso, sunbathing and jazz”, a member of the S.O.E. during the Second World War and a fake aristocrat who allegedly sympathized with Hitler, Mussolini and Franco.

Medically inclined readers of The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold often find Waugh’s self-parodying style unconvincing as a description of a clinical psychosis or delusion, although they recognize that there might be an element of alcohol induced hallucinatory experience in it. Alexandra Pitman argues that the novel illustrates “the difficulty in distinguishing alcoholic hallucinations from psychotic illness” but proves that in the case of the former if one stopped drinking the problem would resolve quickly, as in the case of Gilbert.

Maybe Leigh could laugh and cry with laughter at the fictionalized telescopic look Waugh took towards his own character because it had very little in common with her own highly volatile life, which behind the scenes was dominated by  battles with mental illness. Ten days after the Foyle’s event Leigh discovered that Olivier was having a affair and slashed him across the eyes with a wet face cloth while hitting her head on a marble bedside table. Her depressive and aggressive drinking habit drove her professionalism but also aggravated her illness and eventually killed her at the age of 53. She would die ten years later, a victim of her illness, at her flat at 54 Eaton Square, the very same place from which she’d sent the breezy telegraph to Waugh. What the actress Maxine Audley said about Leigh could probably be said about Waugh too: “When she was good, she was very good, but when she was bad, she was awful!”

The article goes on to discuss two other items in the archive. One is a three page letter from 1955 thanking Waugh for a review of a performance of Titus Andronicus in which she appeared and inviting him to attend a later production of Macbeth in which she would also perform. There is also a brief 1957 telegram congratulating him on the move to Combe Florey signed jointly with her husband Lawrence Olivier.

The article concludes with this brief assessment of these communications:

constrained as they are by form and function — [they] can only gesture towards the deeper friendships between those that wrote them. Nevertheless, if we’re willing to look at them more closely, certain currents become more visible; of shared troubles and triumphs; laughter and tears.

Waugh must have responded to these communications. As Auberon Waugh (I believe it was) once noted, Evelyn shared with Arthur Waugh the habit of being incapable of leaving a friendly message, no matter how brief, unanswered. These responses to Leigh are apparently not housed at the BL which holds the archives of Waugh’s incoming correspondence. A copy of Pinfold inscribed to her was recently sold (perhaps this was the one she was reading when she sent the telegram). This is mentioned in a previous post.

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