Lost Girls (More)

Waugh biographer Paula Byrne has reviewed DJ Taylor’s new book Lost Girls: Love, War and Literature 1939-1951. This appears in today’s Times newspaper. Byrne stresses that the book is as much or more about Cyril Connolly as it is about the young women he attracted to live and work with him during the life of his literary magazine Horizon. She takes Taylor’s point that Connolly was extraordinarily successful in attracting these women’s attention. She also expresses a reservation, however, in Taylor’s analysis of the source of Connolly’s appeal:

Taylor suggests that Connolly’s attraction lay in his “superabundant charm”, yet gives little evidence to support this claim. The girls were all prepared to put up with his awful behaviour just to be in his orbit and to “luxuriate in the dazzle of his personality”, but the trouble with the book is that we see so little of this dazzle.

It wasn’t just the lost girls but others of Connolly’s colleagues, not least Evelyn Waugh, also found him charming. But his charm must have arisen from his conversation and ability to hold one’s attention in person because his writing is nothing special nor do written descriptions by others of his speech and behavior contribute much to suggest his charm. It seems to be the case that you had to be there to appreciate it. That may be what Anthony Powell is suggesting in a quote from his memoirs that appears as an epigraph to Taylor’s introduction:

What, in short, was the point of Connolly? Why did people put up with the frequent moroseness, gloom, open hostility? Why, if he were about in the neighborhood, did I always take steps to get hold of him? The question is hard to answer. The fact remains that I did…

Byrne concludes her review with this:

…With the exception of Skelton, the Lost Girls come across as upper-class groupies, badly educated, unintellectual and short on female solidarity. […] When Taylor describes Connolly as “a genuine literary powerbroker, a grand panjandrum, a maker and breaker of reputations”, he unwittingly gets to the heart of the mystery of Connolly’s appeal. The women who surrounded him were, like many insecure and unstable groupies, attracted to power.

Taylor finally gets to meet one of the Lost Girls, Woolley, now in her nineties. Her disavowal of his thesis of the Lost Girls seems to come to him as a shock. He asks her if there was any meaning to the term. “No none at all. I think it’s rather silly really.”

Janetta Woolley died last year at the age of 97. See previous post.

Those interested in Taylor’s subject may want to know about two upcoming events. He will appear at the literary festival in Henley-on-Thames on Sunday, 6 October 2019 at 12pm. The topic will be the book reviewed by Paula Byrne. Details available here.

Taylor will also deliver this year’s annual Anthony Powell Lecture sponsored by the Powell Society. The title of the lecture is “Anthony Powell and the Lost Girls”. According to the Society’s announcement, Powell knew most of the lost girls “both at the time of their flourishing in the late 40s and later when they were falling apart.” The lecture will be presented at the Travellers’ Club, 106 Pall Mall in London on Tuesday, 26 November at 7pm. Details available here.

Share
Posted in Biographies, Festivals, Lectures, London, Newspapers | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

80th Anniversary of Nazi/Soviet Non-Aggression Pact Marked

The French news website Contrepoints has reposted a 2014 article by British journalist and politician Daniel Hannan (“The biggest success of the left: to forget the German-Soviet pact”). The article was written on the occasion of the 75th of the signing of the non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and is reprinted to mark the 80th anniversary this week. This pact made possible the Nazi attack on Poland about a week later. But as noted in the article, most people have forgotten that it also made possible a few weeks later still for the Soviets to occupy the rest of Poland as well as the Baltic States and parts of other neighboring countries.

That forgetfulness stems from the 1941 decision of Hitler to break the pact by attacking the Soviet Union, making the Soviets and the British (joined later in the year by the Americans) into allies. As noted in the article, Evelyn Waugh writing in the late 1950s was not one of those who forgot:

The German-Soviet pact lasted 22 months, a third of the duration of the conflict. We remember with pride that we were alone with Hitler. But in reality, the isolation of our fathers, and the heroism at such a height, was even greater than that. I see no more courageous moment in the conflict than when we also prepared, after declaring war on Hitler, to open a new front against Stalin. The British commandos were about to be deployed to defend Finland, while the Cabinet was considering various plans to cut off the oil supplies of the USSR in the Caucasus.

In the course of events, these plans were overwhelmed by history. There remains an unsurpassed moment of pure and bloody bravery, magnificently captured by the reaction of Evelyn Waugh’s fictional hero, Guy Crouchback: “The enemy at last was plain in view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast off. It was the Modern Age in arms.”  (Men at War, Penguin, 1976, p. 12)

In his Diaries for 22 August 1939 Waugh wrote  “Russia and Germany have agreed to neutrality pact so there seems no reason why war should be delayed.”

Much of the story in Contrepoints is devoted to how leftists managed to forget about the alliance by the two major dictatorships after it fell apart. Again, Waugh was not one of those, as indicated by Guy Crouchback’s reaction in the novel:

So why have we repressed, if not denied, these events in a corner of our mind? In his trilogy Sword of Honor, Evelyn Waugh explains often in half-words [half-heartedly?] how Soviet sympathizers in the West used the alliance with the USSR to rehabilitate their beliefs (explique souvent à demi-mots comment des sympathisants soviétiques en Occident utilisèrent l’alliance avec l’URSS pour réhabiliter ses doctrines).

Guy’s reaction to the end of the non-aggression pact was stated in Officers and Gentlemen after his recovery from the evacuation of Crete in an open fishing boat (not quoted in the article):

Now that hallucination [of what had appeared to be a period of “light and reason”] was dissolved like the whales and turtles on his voyage from Crete, and he was back after less than two years’ pilgrimage in a Holy Land of illusion in the old ambiguous world where […] his country was led blundering into dishonour. (Officers and Gentlemen, Penguin. 1977, p. 240)

The translation is by Google with a few edits and could use a little help in explaining what is meant by “demi-mots” in the second quoted passage. Hannan speaks French fluently, according to his Wikipedia entry, and apparently wrote this article in that language as no English version is cited.

Share
Posted in Anniversaries, Men at Arms, Newspapers, Officers and Gentlemen, Sword of Honour, World War II | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Dog Days Roundup

–Musician Johnny Greenwood, composer and lead guitarist of the veteran rockband Radiohead, was recently interviewed by the Times newspaper. In answer to their request to identify his favorite writer he again named Evelyn Waugh and declared Sword of Honour as his favorite book:

Q. My favourite author or book

A. Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy. The sardonic humour feels very truthful: Captain Crouchback is passed over for promotion, but it’s OK because he’s “a good loser — or, at any rate, an experienced one”. But to mention someone different, how about Stefan Zweig’s Beware of Pity?

That is the same answer he gave over four years ago to the Guardian and more recently to Rolling Stone. See previous posts. He also remains a fan of poet and critic Clive James who is responsible for introducing him to Waugh’s works:

Q. The book I’m reading

A. I’m finishing an orchestral commission, so reading isn’t something I have time for. If I read it at all, it’s familiar essays by Clive James. […] He ties a lot of my cultural life together, […] illuminating things I already enjoy or leading me to new interests.

–Candace Bushnell, author of, inter alia, Sex and the City, was recently interviewed by the website Shelf-Awareness. She named Evelyn Waugh as one of her five favorite authors, along with Thomas Mann and Leo Tolstoy.

The Times has also noticed a new book by Stephen Hoare. This is reviewed by Roger Lewis and is entitled Palaces of Power: The Birth and Evolution of London’s Clubland. Lewis opens by noting that where there were once over 400 such institututions, the number today has dropped to about 50.

A decline set in after the First World War, however, when a generation of members or potential members was slaughtered. Between the wars clubland went further out of favour as Edward, Prince of Wales, led the fashion for nightclubs, jazz and dancing to gramophone records. Also, as we see in the antics of Evelyn Waugh’s characters, the sexes wanted to mix.

During the Second World War, however, clubs were a cheaper option than hotels, and rooms were booked up months in advance by overseas delegations, Whitehall politicians and military personnel. […] If they have survived it is because, Hoare argues, they are “a symbol of good taste” and “kept faith with the past” by retaining a hint of Edwardian formality…

Waugh was at one time or another a member of the Savile, St James’s, White’s and Pratt’s clubs.

The Spectator has an article in its Coffee House section about Alexander Waugh’s decision to stand for parliament as a Brexit party candidate. This is by William Cook who is also the editor of a collection of Auberon Waugh’s writings, Kiss Me Chudleigh. He describes Alexander as the party’s “most illustrious candidate.” In addition to information already noted elsewhere, Cook offers the following analysis of how Alexander’s candidacy might fare:

Does Alexander stand any chance of winning? Stranger things have happened, and with four parties competing head-to-head the next election promises to be uniquely unpredictable. However the arithmetic is against him. The sitting Conservative MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger, is defending a 15,448 majority, and his record on Brexit hardly gives Alexander much traction. He backed Leave in the 2016 Referendum – no Remoaner, he. At the last election, Labour came a distant second, the Liberal Democrats a poor third and Ukip lost its deposit. Could Alexander split the Brexit vote, and let in a Remainer? With the national polls split four ways, anything seems possible.

If that unintended consequence came to pass, Alexander’s father would surely be spinning in his grave – with laughter. It would excite his sense of humour, his love of the absurd. A rebel in a tweed suit, Auberon was gloriously unpredictable, and one of the opinions which continues to surprise so many of his admirers was his unstinting support for the EU…

–The Financial Times has article about outdoor dining in style. This is by Luke Edward Hall and opens with this:

Is there any such thing as a stylish picnic?
“Charles! You’re to come away at once. I’ve got a basket of strawberries and a bottle of Château Peyraguey, which isn’t a wine you’ve ever tasted so don’t pretend.”

I have always loved this Brideshead Revisited line, and the picnic scene from the 1980s television series, adapted from Evelyn Waugh’s novel, has long given me aesthetic inspiration. There is nothing more delicious on a summer’s afternoon than gathering essentials, packing provisions, travelling to meet friends or family at some special place then whiling the hours away eating, drinking, napping, reading and swimming (if you’re lucky) on repeat.

–Yesterday (18 August) was St Helen’s Day in the western Christian Church. This is marked on the Weblog of Amy Welborn by the reposting of an article first published last year on this date. In it she explains how her religious publishing house was able to issue an edition of Waugh’s novel Helena, which he claimed was his favorite of all his novels, when the book fell out of print in the USA. She also posts a long excerpt of the introduction by George Weigel for that edition. See previous post.

Share
Posted in Alexander Waugh, Auberon Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, Helena, London, Newspapers, Sword of Honour | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

New Study of Wartime Literary London Reviewed

The Sunday Times reviews the new book about Wartime and Postwar London by D J Taylor. This is entitled Lost Girls and will be issued in London early next month. A January 2020 publication date in the USA is planned. See previous post. The book is reviewed by retired professor John Carey who describes it as:

An inspired study of mid-20th-century literary life through love and sex, […]  an exploratory and sometimes eye-popping slice of social history. It follows the fortunes of a group of not very well-known young women in London during the Second World War. He calls them Lost Girls, and explains that they were lost in the sense that,  for various reasons, they lacked parental guidance, so had to fend for themselves — which they did with some success.

The review identifies the lost girls as Barbara Skelton, Janetta Parlade, Sonia Brownell and Lys Lubbock but says that only the first two really fit into Taylor’s definition. Prof Carey goes on to claim that the book is really about Cyril Connolly who gathered these girls as well as others around him in the period when he was editor of the cultural magazine Horizon. According to the review, Connolly is

remembered now as the author of a single wonderfully funny novel, The Rock Pool (1936), and a sharp-eyed assessment of modernist literature, Enemies of Promise (1938). [He] was at prep school and Eton with Orwell, and he is Falstaff to Orwell’s Prince Hal. Falstaff notoriously divides critics. For some he is gluttonous, cowardly, dishonest, criminally exploitative and soggy with self-pity. For others he is the very spirit of comedy in rebellion against joyless puritanism. It was the same with Connolly. For some, such as Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford, he was a joke. But the lost girls swarmed around him.

Waugh may have treated Connolly as a joke in his correspondence with Mitford, but he also recognized his importance as a literary figure and was more than a bit jealous of him. Waugh allowed Connolly to publish The Loved One in its entirety, taking up a complete issue of the magazine in February 1948. He did this in return for the price of his yearly subscription at a time the magazine was struggling financially.

Prof Carey concludes his review with this:

Taylor is a strikingly versatile writer — novelist, critic, historian, author of the standard biography of Orwell, and the acerbic wit behind Private Eye’s What You Didn’t Miss column. He starts this book with a brilliant snatch of spoof history in which a guileless young woman from Shepperton finds herself, by mistake, at a party among an alarming gathering of 1930s Bloomsbury intellectuals. He ends it with an account of a real-life interview that Janetta, aged 94, granted him in 2016, in which she pooh-poohs his whole idea of Lost Girls (“I think it’s rather silly really”). […]  If you have even a passing interest in human relationships and the imagination, you should not deny yourself the pleasure of reading it.

Share
Posted in Newspapers, The Loved One | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

War Novels Revival

William Boyd writing in the Daily Telegraph reviews the first four books in a new series published by the Imperial War Museum. These are notable novels from WWII that have been relatively neglected. See previous post. Boyd opens his review with an interesting observation that the great literature of WWI was mostly by poets (he can think of only one novel worth considering: Her Privates We by Frederic Manning). In WWII, on the other hand, he can think of only one great poet–Keith Douglas–whereas there have been several great novels. The best of these were, according to Boyd, written by Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Elizabeth Bowen and Anthony Powell; he might in all fairness have included Olivia Manning. Boyd explains this phenomenon by the fact that during the period of WWI poetry was the most popular and accessible of writing forms whereas after modernism took hold in the 1920s (especially The Waste Land) poetry became more difficult and therefore less accessible to the average reader and writer. The novel was more able to absorb elements of modernism without distancing itself from the reader.

The IWM’s remit is to republish novels written about the war by those who experienced it. Boyd describes all four IWM books as realistic novels: Alexander Baron’s From the City, From the Plough is about a soldier preparing for D-Day; the book by actor Anthony Quayle, Eight Hours from England, is an autobiographical account of clandestine work in Albania; and Kathleen Hewitt’s Plenty Under the Counter is a home-front mystery. Boyd gives his highest praise to David Piper’s Trial by Battle which relates to the fall of Singapore:

What elevates Piper’s novel is the fastidious elegance of his prose. The writing is very fine and acutely observed. […] The other feature of Piper’s novel, and indeed all four, is an unsentimental realism. These are not gung ho, patriotic celebrations of British pluck and derring-do.  On the contrary the world-view is more often cynical and jaundiced. […] The jingoistic songs and doggerel of the First World War–pack up your troubles in an old kit bag–would be impossible to reproduce in the Second. What the First World War taught the fighting men was that “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” was a cruel lie. By the time the Second War War came around, the soldiers and civilians had wised up. […] Warfare was never going to be the same again and the men and women who endured it were going to tell the truth this time. Paradoxically, the best place to tell the truth was through fiction. Scales had fallen away from everybody’s eyes and these four novels are excellent testimonials to our hard won maturity.

While not mentioned by Boyd in the review, he adapted Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy for TV. This featured Daniel Craig as Guy Crouchback and was broadcast by UK Channel 4. It is still available on the internet as well as DVD. Boyd also wrote and directed a film about WWI: The Trench (1997). His TV adaptation of Scoop was broadcast in 1987 and gets less attention than is its due, if only for the performances of Denholm Elliott as Mr Salter and Michael Hordern as Uncle Theodore.

UPDATE (18 August 2019): The full text of William Boyd’s review is now available on the internet and the notice has been modified to reflect it.

 

 

 

 

Share
Posted in Fiction, Newspapers, World War II | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Waugh in the North

Three country houses in the north of England, all with Waugh connections, are about to hold events that may be of interest:

–This weekend at Stonyhurst College, a Jesuit boarding school in Lancashire, there will be a Festival of Literature and Film. While none of the speakers promises anything relating to Waugh, there is the possibility of a display of materials from the school’s library that may be of interest. Waugh made frequent visits there in the 1930s when he had no fixed abode. He stayed with his Oxford friend Christopher Hollis and his wife. Hollis was a schoolmaster there at the time. At the end of Black Mischief, Waugh appends the following venue information: “Stonyhurst-Chagford-Madresfield. Sept. 1931-May 1932.” Waugh sent at least one of his sons there (James), and it was also the school of the Earl of Brideshead (“Bridey”) in the novel.

–On Wednesday 21 August, Lytham Hall, also in Lancashire, will host an outdoor screening of the 2008 film adaptation of Brideshead Revisited. The announcement explains the house’s Waugh connection:

Lytham Hall is proud to present a showing of the 2008 version of the classic Evelyn Waugh novel – “Brideshead Revisited”. Legend has it that Harry Clifton and Evelyn Waugh were University friends, with Waugh visiting Lytham Hall on a few occasions. He described the Clifton’s as “quite mad” and when his novel Brideshead Revisited was published, it ruffled a few feathers.

As noted in a previous post, the connection between Waugh and Lytham Hall is rather tenuous:

Harry Clifton was an erstwhile film producer in the 1930s who ran through his entire inheritance including Lytham Hall. He was four years younger than Waugh and, if they knew each other at Oxford, no one among their contemporaries or Waugh’s biographers seems to have noticed. The Wikipedia entry for Harry Clifton a/k/a Henry Talbot de Vere Clifton (1907-1979) mentions the connection with Waugh and Sebastian Flyte, citing only an internet site maintained by the Lytham Town Trust which promotes visits to Lytham Hall. That site offers no support for their statement. Waugh mentions having visited Lytham Hall once in 1935 and was hosted by Violet Clifton, who was Harry’s mother. There were several other of her children present, and Waugh’s letter to Katharine Asquith mentions them each specifically by name, but not Harry. Waugh was impressed by the house and notes: “Five hideous Catholic churches on estate.” A footnote by Mark Amory asserts: “An elder brother, Harry, knew Waugh at Oxford.” Again, no evidence is cited (Letters, p. 95). The family were apparently Roman Catholic, as witnessed by the numerous chapels and the fact that Harry’s parents were married in the Brompton Oratory, so that may lend some credibility to the Brideshead connection.

–Not to be left out, Castle Howard, the setting for both the TV and film adaptations of Brideshead Revisited, will host a BBC production team from today through Sunday, 15-18 August. According to the BBC News announcement:

Thousands of people are expected to descend on a North Yorkshire stately home today as it plays host to Countryfile Live. About 15,000 are predicted to visit Castle Howard over the next four days to see presenters of the BBC show, including John Craven, Ellie Harrison and Matt Baker. The arena at Castle Howard, widely recognised from the TV adaption of the Evelyn Waugh novel Brideshead Revisited, has taken three weeks to build. Organisers are advising people to arrive early to avoid traffic delays They say: “The show opens from 08:30. We have a dedicated traffic management plan for when you leave the A64, so please follow the AA signs.”

Whether there will be any specific mention of the Brideshead productions isn’t stated. But with regular weekly episodes to fill, it seems inevitable the subject will come up. Tbe BBC did not participate in the 1981 TV production but did help produce the 2008 Miramax film. If there is a schedule for the viewing of any TV episodes to be based on this 4-day visit, I was unable to find it.

 

Share
Posted in Adaptations, Black Mischief, Brideshead Revisited, Festivals, Film, Television | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

William Boyd’s Library Tour

The Southbank Centre, which hosts numerous cultural events in London–mostly music and art but also including sponsorship of the London Literature Festival, are posting short videos of various writers offering tours of their libraries. The first of these involves novelist and critic William Boyd:

In William Boyd’s Book Club the author talks us through some of the ‘over 10,000’ books that occupy the shelves of his London home, from the miniscule Victorian Thumb Dictionary, to the more contemporary novels of David Szalay and Evie Wyld. ” I think there must be over 10,000 books, but you can’t just chuck them out if you don’t want them, so they just sort of pile up” says Boyd.

Boyd proudly displays a pamphlet-sized first edition of Philip Larkin’s XX Poems (1951) of which he says only a few dozen copies remain and his complete set of Edmund Wilson’s notebooks and diaries by decade, describing Wilson as probably the leading critic of his generation. When he comes to Evelyn Waugh, Boyd mentions his admiration of Waugh’s writing and then pulls out a book in a slipcase. He explains that this is Brideshead Revisited but not the first edition of 1945. Rather, what he is most proud of is the first edition of the 1960 revised version, presented with an inscription from Waugh to Christopher Sykes “from whom every character in this romance was assiduously drawn by his affectionate friend.” Here’s a link to the video which is approximately 5 minutes long.

Share
Posted in Bibliophilia, Brideshead Revisited, Collections | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Homage from Catalonia

An article in the Barcelona newspaper El País (“Existió otro mundo“/ “The series of my life”) pays homage to the 1981 Granada TV series of Brideshead Revisited. The article is written by Carles Geli who recalls seeing the Spanish TV broadcast of the series over the period 31 January-8 February 1983, so it must have been back-to-back episodes. Whether it was dubbed into Spanish or subtitled isn’t mentioned. At the time, he was in his early university days. The Google translation from Spanish is a bit wonky but a few lightly edited excerpts may give some idea:

It was one morning in June 1923 when Charles Ryder first entered Brideshead, the family mansion of his friend Sebastian, and could not help but throw his hands to his head: there, a Titian; Sèvres porcelain as far as you can see, after the greeting of the nth butler; a Canaletto; Helen of Troy emerging from a tapestry of William Morris … He was on the edge of Stendhal syndrome. And I also. But I was protected by lying with my head on the right ear [?] of the sofa and my legs hanging from the left armrest: I never saw TV better or felt so far from the world.

After describing what he thought to be the highlights of the production, Geli concludes:

The effect of the 11 chapters was prolonged: I bought the novel I read at any time and place, painfully happy to be in a world of the elect when I challenged the rest of the subway car. […]  Today, when dynamiting the most elementary social conventions is cool, I miss them like never before. His     [Waugh’s ?] world has vanished. Let’s not talk on television anymore: recurring voiceover (Charles’s seducer, a Jeremy Irons who consecrated himself here), literary phrases, prolonged monologues, seven-minute scenes, not a shout, a single bed scene … Unrepeatable. “I would like to bury something in the places where I have been happy; and as an old man, dig it up, remember it and be happy again”, Sebastian confesses. I have just done it.

 

Share
Posted in Adaptations, Brideshead Revisited, Newspapers, Television | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Roundup: Waugh on Wine and More

–Literary critic and novelist A N Wilson writing in the Daily Mail has reviewed the recent reprint of Auberon Waugh’s book Waugh on Wine. According to Wilson:

Celebrated author and journalist Auberon Waugh was an iconoclast, a political maverick and wine connoisseur. When he died prematurely at 61 in 2001, he left a set of nine expensively stocked cellars at Combe Florey, the family home in Somerset — and a full-bodied collection of wine columns. Almost every one was distinguished by an impertinent, robust nose — and a decidedly acidic finish. […]

Waugh, whose father, the novelist Evelyn Waugh, started the family cellar, wrote about wine for Tatler, The Spectator and Harpers & Queen. An anthology of his most pungent columns, Waugh On Wine, published in the Eighties, soon became a classic among wine buffs. The book has just been republished to introduce a new audience to Waugh’s vigorous passion for the grape — and much else.

The story continues with several excerpts from the book containing just the sort of wine assessments Wilson describes in his article.

Wine Spectator also welcomes the reprint of Auberon’s book. After describing Auberon’s career, the Wine Spectator’s reporter concludes:

Some of Waugh’s wine wisdom is dated, of course—the original volume was published in 1987 and Waugh died in 2001—but he was ahead of his time on the wine and weed trend, advising that kabinett and spätlese Rieslings are “the only wines I have discovered which go well with pot, having a soothing and fragrant influence.” In the new intro, [publisher Naim] Attallah praises his chum’s “unsnobbish approach to wine” and remembers Waugh’s reaction when he gifted him a 1947 Cheval-Blanc on his birthday: “The joy on his face as he held the bottle in his hand … is still etched in my memory.” Some classics can please even the greatest contrarians.

–The Boston Globe previews a new HBO documentary on innovative ways of coping with death. This is called Alternative Endlings: Six New Ways to Die In America. The Globe’s assessment of it opens with this:

In one of the wackier gags in the 1965 film adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s “The Loved One” a funeral ends with the dear departed blasting off in a missile bound for outer space. Today that’s just one of the latest funeral possibilities seen in Perri Peltz and Matthew O’Neill’s lightheartedly morbid and often poignant documentary.

Given the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, the missile option has special appeal. In a service provided by Celestis Memorial Spaceflights, the ashes of the deceased — here a beloved dad and husband with a love of the extraterrestrial — joins several other cremated fellow passengers as extra baggage, “a secondary payload,” on a NASA flight. Loved ones gather at a safe distance and cheer at the familiar but always stirring spectacle of a successful blast-off. They cheer again minutes later when a loudspeaker announces that the missile has entered outer space for a voyage which, depending on what you want to spend, can be suborbital, orbital, lunar, or infinite.

The idea from the film that has now been realized was not Waugh’s but the scriptwriters’ Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood (more likely Southern since it seems a bit too “wacky” for Isherwood).  Waugh himself was appalled at the wholesale changes wrought in the script.

Other new ideas in the documentary include converting the deceased’s remains into a cement ball so that it can be made part of a coral reef and holding a “living wake” to which a dying loved one invites  friends and family. The HBO documentary airs in the USA next  14 August 2019 and will be available for streaming on HBO Go. A different schedule may apply in the UK.

–Patrick Maxwell on a Lib-Dem website reckons that Boris Johnson’s premiership will be one of the shortest-lived in history. After offering several reasons, he concludes with this:

Johnson’s weakness is the perfect chance for Lib Dems. Behind the impressive visage lies a childlike desire to be liked, and in the surroundings of No10 such amiability will soon wear off. To interpret Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited,

“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; I greatly fear, my dear Boris, it has killed you.”

–Finally, blogger Patrick Kurp on his weblog Anecdotal Evidence offers a reconsideration of a memoir of Waugh by one of his Gloucestershire neighbors. The posting contains several excerpts and opens with this:

Evelyn Waugh is the most brilliant and infuriating of writers, the envy of anyone who sweats his prose and an object lesson in how not to treat other people. We need him now more than ever. Imagine Waugh on Twitter. I might be tempted to open an account just to retweet his barbs.Frances Donaldson in her memoir Evelyn Waugh: Portrait of a Country Neighbour (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1967), published a year after Waugh’s death, gives a nuanced look at Waugh’s sometimes exasperating behavior, neither condemning nor excusing him. Her goal is understanding…

 

Share
Posted in Adaptations, Auberon Waugh, Books about Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, Documentaries, Newspapers, The Loved One | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Biography of a Poem: W H Auden’s “September 1, 1939”

The Times has a review of a new book by Ian Sansom in its “Book of the Week” column. This is a “biography” of W H Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939” soon to celebrate its 80th birthday. The review by James Marriott describes the book as:

… the 20th century’s greatest political poem, and I sometimes wonder if it might not be its greatest poem full stop. Written days after the Second World War broke out (September 1 was the date of the Nazi invasion of Poland), it begins, famously, with the poet sitting “in one of the dives/ On Fifty-second Street” and opens out into a panoramic survey of a “low dishonest decade” and a culture on the brink of destruction: from Thucydides, to Hitler, to crowds of “dense commuters” emerging from dark subways, to the “blind” New York skyscrapers that “proclaim/ The strength of Collective Man”.

The review also has a summarized history of both Auden and the poem. This includes an interlude that attracted Waugh’s attention:

In 1939 there was political and romantic change. Auden sailed to America with Isherwood, his friend and sometimes lover. […] In New York he met 18-year-old Chester Kallman, “slender [with] gray-blue eyes, pale flawless skin, a Norse skull, Latin lips and straight narrow nose”. He was the love of Auden’s life.

The review closes  with this:

There’s lots to love about Auden: a generous, eccentric, shambling genius. I could read trivia about him all day. I wish there was rather more of it in Sansom’s rambling book, which combines impressive gleams of insight and anecdote with baffling digressions into the Burj Khalifa, an Ed Sheeran concert and the author’s working habits. Some will be frustrated, others charmed. It’s a style that might have appealed to Auden, who once turned an attempt to review a biography of Evelyn Waugh into a rant about overpopulation. That creased face would find a sympathetic smile for his discursive disciple.

It’s hard to know what “biography” of Waugh that Auden was attempting to review. He died in 1973 and the first comprehensive biography was that by Christopher Sykes published in 1975. The reference is more likely to Auden’s review (“As it Seemed to Us”, New Yorker, 3 April 1965, pp. 157-92) of Waugh’s autobiography A Little Learning. This is collected in Auden’s Complete Works (Volume 5, p. 134). See previous post. Auden also compared his own biographical details with those of Waugh as well as Leonard Woolf, a volume of whose autobiography was also reviewed, and overpopulation may also have been touched on in what out turned to be a 35-page New Yorker article.

The move to America was parodied by Waugh in Put Out More Flags with the characters Parsnip and Pimpernell: one was Auden and the other Isherwood. They later reappeared in Love Among the Ruins. Waugh actually met Auden for the first time on his visit to New York in 1948. This was at a reception in the apartment of Ann Fremantle. He wrote to his wife that he rather liked Auden.

UPDATE (10 August 2019): Additional details regarding Auden’s review of A Little Learning and the minor corrections were added.

Share
Posted in Anniversaries, Biographies, Love Among The Ruins, Newspapers, Put Out More Flags | Tagged , | Leave a comment