Brideshead Serial Lecture Available Online

The audio version of the lecture delivered last Friday to the British Studies seminar at the University of Texas is now available online. See previous post. It can be accessed at this link.

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Mid-November Roundup

–The Oxford journal Cherwell reviews a current production of Hamlet at the Keble College O’Reilly Theatre. The review opens with a quote from Evelyn Waugh:

“Would you not see a hundred Hamlets pottering about Broad Street?” Evelyn Waugh’s question is pertinent today: of course Oxford’s the best place to put on Hamlet, since where, outside Elsinore and Wittenberg, will you find so many self-questioning, introspective and pretty pretentious students in close proximity? It’s surprising then that Cosmic Arts’ new production at the Keble O’Reilly Theatre is Oxford’s first big one for several years. Maybe it’s because contest over theatre’s best lead role is so fierce: apparently over 100 auditioned to play the Dane.

Waugh occasionally wrote for Cherwell in his student days. But the quote is taken from a 1924 editorial in Isis, another Oxford student publication. Waugh was commenting on a current production of Hamlet by the OUDS. “Wittenberg and Oxford”, CWEW, v. 26, pp. 35-37. It is also reprinted in EAR.

–Another Oxford student publication was quoted recently in The Oldie magazine’s website. This was from an interview of Auberon Waugh by The Oldie’s current editor Harry Mount. Here’s the opening of the article:

Auberon Waugh would have turned 80 on November 17. In 1991, he was interviewed by a 19-year-old Harry Mount for The Word, an Oxford University newspaper.

–The religious weblog Words on Fire has posted an article entitled “On being protected: What I learned from Evelyn Waugh’s Mr. Crouchback.” The discussion in the article relates to the father of Guy Crouchback and his thoughts in the novel Men at War on the departure of his grandson Tony (Guy’s cousin) before his capture during the Fall of France. The article can be viewed at this link.

–Max Saunders, CWEW editor of Men at War and the other novels in Waugh’s war trilogy has posted an article on the OUPblog. This is about a book series published by Kegan Paul in the 1920-30s called To-Day and To-Morrow  in which they:

…published over 100 volumes, […] The books were highly diverse. They covered technological subjects – aviation, wireless, automation, politics, the state, the family and sexuality. Others focused on culture and everyday life topics – theatre, cinema, the press, language, clothes, food, drink, leisure, and sleep.[…]

A publishing sensation until the Depression hit, the series attracted leading writers – Vernon Lee, Robert Graves, Vera Brittain, the scientist J. D. Bernal, Hugh MacDiarmid, critic Bonamy Dobrée, philosopher C. E. M. Joad, novelist and biographer André Maurois – and many more. Other major modernist authors knew them. Joyce read twelve of the books. T. S. Eliot reviewed some, saying: “we are able to peer into the future by means of that brilliant series of little books called To-day and To-morrow.” Virginia Woolf’s husband Leonard reviewed at least eight. Evelyn Waugh tried to write one, called Noah, or the Future of Intoxication, but it was rejected.

Selina Hastings (p. 146) describes the Kegan Paul series as a “collection of light-hearted essays […] of which the most the most notable to date had been Robert Graves’s Lars Porsena, or the Future of Swearing” whose title inspired that proposed by Waugh.

–The Daily Mail runs a story about advice for naming babies:

One of the country’s leading baby clothing firms is encouraging parents-to-be to break with tradition by choosing a gender neutral name for their newborns. JoJo Maman Bébé – which is based in Newport, Wales, and has more than 90 stores across the UK – has come up with 18 gender neutral baby names it thinks would be perfect for infants.

Among the recommended gender neutral names is this:

EVELYN – The name Evelyn started out as a predominantly male name, with the most famous being writer Evelyn Waugh. Despite it being much more common as a female name nowadays, we love the vintage feel of it for either gender. Evelyn is of Old English origin and means ‘desired’, making it perfect for your little one.

–The French newspaper Présent has posted a review of the recently published translation of Waugh’s war diaries. This is entitled le Journal de guerre. See previous post. The review is behind a paywall but any Francophone reader having access to it is invited to describe it by posting a comment below.

–Finally, an art exhibit will open next week in London that may be of interest to our readers. Here’s an excerpt from the gallery’s announcement:

‘Divine People: The Art of Ambrose McEvoy’ runs 26th November 2019 – 24th January 2020. Philip Mould & Company will be holding a major retrospective of the work of Ambrose McEvoy ARA (1877 -1927) – the effervescent society portraitist whom art history had all but forgotten. this is first major exhibition of the artist’s work in almost fifty years and comprises over 40 works loaned by major public institutions and British private collections. ‘Divine People: The Art of Ambrose McEvoy’ will showcase some of the most daring and progressive portraits from the artist’s pioneering oeuvre. McEvoy’s subjects – often dramatically illuminated by his novel use of coloured light bulbs – have been generally overlooked in the broader history of 20th century British art, his paintings overshadowed by that of his close friend and contemporary at the Slade, Augustus John. Whereas John remains a household name today, McEvoy has been largely forgotten despite having painted such notable figures as Winston Churchill, Lady Diana Cooper, The Hon. Lois Sturt and Prime Minister James Ramsay Macdonald.

Details of the exhibit can be found at this link. There is a brief video within the gallery’s linked announcement in which the owner Philip Mould displays and explains the artist’s 1915 portrait of Diana Cooper, which she had dubbed “Call to Orgy”.

Posted in Academia, Art, Photography & Sculpture, Auberon Waugh, Complete Works, Men at Arms, Newspapers, Oxford | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Niall Tóibín (1929-2019) R. I. P.

Irish actor Niall Tóibín died earlier this week at the age of 89. He is best known in this parish for his portrayal of Fr Mackay in the Granada TV series of Brideshead Revisited. Acording to the obituary in the Irish Times:

Niall Toibin’s career encompassed comedy and straight roles, and over nearly six decades he was lauded for performances from Behan interpretations to touring solo shows. He was also a great raconteur, and often charmed the nation on the Late Late Show. He did a great line in priests, from formidable parish priest Fr Frank MacAnally in Ballykissangel, to psychopathic Fr Geraldo in Rat, to a gentler cleric in Brideshead Revisited.

He appeared only briefly in the final episode of the TV series. Fr Mackay is the Glasgow-Irish priest in Melstead, the nearest Roman Catholic church to Brideshead Castle. He is recalled to Brideshead by Julia Flyte to perform the last rites for Lord Marchmain. An earlier visit resulted in his being summarily dismissed by Lord Marchmain. The scene, as played by Tóibín, replays that described by Waugh in his Diaries at the deathbed of his Oxford friend Hubert Duggan. Duggan was a Roman Catholic from birth through his father, who died when Duggan was a child. Waugh called in a priest (Fr Devas) at Duggan’s request but the Protestant family, like Charles Ryder and Lord Marchmain’s doctor in the novel, are opposed to the ceremony. Fr Devas, the priest called in by Waugh and Fr Mackay in the novel, explain the ceremony in almost identical terms. In the Diary entry Fr Devas is recorded as saying:

‘Look all I shall do is to put oil on his forehead and say a prayer. Look, the oil is in this little box. Nothing to be frightened of.’ (Diaries, p. 553)

In the novel, Fr Mackay says:

…I want to anoint him. It is nothing, a touch of the fingers, just some oil from this little box, look, it is pure oil, nothing to hurt him. (London, 1945, p. 295)

The TV series followed the novel, as in most other cases when it came to dialogue (53:00).

Niall Tóibín, like most actors in the TV serial acted brilliantly in a performance that is easily recalled by anyone who has seen it. This is the case with so many of the secondary parts in the TV series that it makes one wish to watch it yet again. I am thinking of John Gielgud as Ryder’s father, Nikolas Grace as Anthony Blanche, Simon Jones as Bridey, and many others too numerous to mention.

One of those others who performed so memorably, however, should also be mentioned. This is Stephen Moore (1937-2019) who died last month. He played Charles Ryder’s Cousin Jasper in episode 1 of the TV series, also with notable success. According to IMDB: “He was an actor and director, known for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1981), Pirate Radio (2009) and A Bridge Too Far (1977).”




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Waugh Letters to Richard Plunket Greene on Offer

Southeby’s has announced the auction of 10 letters from Evelyn Waugh, written while he was teaching at Arnold House School in North Wales. Here’s the description:

AN EXCEPTIONAL SERIES OF UNPUBLISHED EARLY LETTERS TO A CLOSE FRIEND WRITTEN DURING HIS STINT AS A MASTER AT ARNOLD SCHOOL, combining colourful comic anecdotes, admissions of personal anguish, and discussion of his struggles to write a novel, 16 pages, Arnold House School, Llanddulas, 31 January (“PRID. KAL. FEB.”) to 18 June 1925

A narrative description of the letters is included in the catalogue notes:

These letters were written during the six months Waugh spent teaching at a Welsh prep school, a purgatorial experience that culminated in a half-hearted attempt at suicide by swimming out to sea until jellyfish stung him back to land, but which formed wonderful raw material for Decline and Fall. It is not a well-documented period in Waugh’s life, and the recipient of these revealing and often hilarious letters was, at the time, one of the author’s closest friends. Richard Plunket Greene (1901-78) was an Oxford contemporary “piratical in appearance, sometimes wearing ear-rings […] tinged […] with melancholy, but also infused with a succession of wild, obsessive enthusiasms” (A Little Learning, p.217). After coming down from Oxford Waugh got to know his parents and siblings and by the end of 1924 he had, in his own words, “fallen in love with an entire family”, and in particular with Richard’s sister Olivia. Waugh’s complex relationships with the Plunket Greenes is a major thread running through these letters.
In an early letter, written a week after his arrival at Arnold House, Waugh writes to congratulate Richard on his engagement to Elizabeth Russell and gives a melancholic survey of his new life teaching dull boys (“the older they are the more stupid I find them”) with pitifully meagre evening entertainment: “The Cockney master also has a pipe with a tiny peep-show in it with six view of Dublin but one of these is sadly discoloured and one begins to weary of them after a time.” Matters improve somewhat with the lengthening days of spring: his aversion to cricket brings him more free time, he takes up shooting as well as more unexpected outdoor pleasures (“…yesterday there were sports and I won the masters egg-&-spoon race…”), and summer also brings a brief reference to the fellow teacher who served as the source for Decline and Fall’s Captain Grimes (“…Bathing has started to the intense excitement of the Sodomite master…”). He enjoys a trip to Rhyl, where the barber is an unexpected enthusiast of the Cabala, but the only letter in which Waugh expresses real pleasure in his life is the drunken weekend visit of another Oxford contemporary, Alastair Graham, and his indomitable mother – the original Lady Circumference. A brief unheaded note (possibly a fragment) from the end of May, announces a decision: “Five minutes ago I decided to accept the job at Pisa as secretary to Scott-Moncrieff […] The only real regret I shall have will be leaving friends […] for the most part England means only debt & drunkenness & disapproval”.
Waugh also makes numerous references to his writing in these letters. In February he writes to Richard that “feeling a little despondent” he burnt his manuscript (“it made so much smoke that the Headmaster when out of Chapel to see if his school was on fire”). He then goes on to outline his plan for “a prose epic of Silenus … with all manner of roistering in public houses and brothels”. The Silenus book is mentioned in several of the later letters, for example explaining that “I am putting the first chapter into the form of a film. It has solved many insuperable difficulties. The second chapter is going to be a Platonic dialogue”, asking Elizabeth to read the manuscript, and admitting that one minor character is “an unpleasing but accurate portrait of myself” but promising that no-one else is taken from life. This important series of letters therefore provides important clues about Waugh’s development as a writer, as well as revealing much detail about a key set of friendships, and his life in the school that was to provide the source of one of his most enduring fictions.

Here is a quote from one of the letters:

“…we went to Conway for luncheon and then for an enormous drive round the country past an Eisteddfod where everyone was drunk except a little girl with a very red nose dressed as a Druidess, and some aluminium works where a man was trying to burgle the dynamite store and a horrible town called Llanrwst where everyone was sober and some harlots giggled at us on a bridge & Mrs G[raham], who had been asleep since luncheon, suddenly woke up and delivered a furious speech against the Welsh & the lower middle class, to a place called Betws-y-Coed where Mrs G made us hunt for ferns in the rain…”

A photograph affording a partial view of the first pages of the letters is attached to the notice in the Southeby’s catalogue. None of these letters was included in the 1980 collection edited by Mark Amory and presumably were not available to him at the time. The sale wll take place 3-10 December 2019 at Southeby’s in London. For details see this link.

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Brideshead Anniversary Lecture in Austin

The British Studies Seminar of the University of Texas at Austin will host a lecture on Friday, 15 November on the subject of the serial version of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited. The publication of that version took place 75 years ago this month. The speaker will be your correspondent. Here is a description of the lecture:

Brideshead Revisited is Evelyn Waugh’s most popular novel, although opinions vary on whether it is his best. This lecture will discuss the unusual wartime situation in which it was conceived and thematically written. How can it be explained that it was published first in the United States more than half a year before it appeared as a book? How did it happen that it was published in the form of a serial in Town & Country magazine, without Waugh’s approval and contrary to his wishes? What of its critical reception?

The British Studies Seminar meets on Fridays (at 245p for 3pm) in the Tom Lea Rooms of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center on the UT campus. An audio recording of the lecture will be posted on the internet next week. For more details see this link.

UPDATE (14 November 2019): The post was updated to reflect information on the British Studies website.

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The Elections and the Waughs

Writing in the Daily Mail, Craig Brown looks back 60 years to the UK election of 1959 which he says is the first one influenced by television. For the first time, the majority of voters had television sets:

So keen was the Daily Mirror to stop its readers being tempted away from voting Labour that on the big day it only listed those programmes that began after 9pm, when the polls had closed.

These days, novelists and playwrights regularly voice their political views on Newsnight or Question Time. In 1959 they were less in evidence, perhaps because they had fewer platforms.  Of those who were asked their views, some refused to give them. Evelyn Waugh declared that he had no intention of voting: ‘I do not aspire to advise my Sovereign on her choice of servants.’

Waugh’s statement appeared in a symposium of election comments printed in the Spectator, 2 October 1959, reprinted EAR, p. 537 (“Aspirations of a Mugwump”). While he did choose not to vote, he did not decline to take sides. The article opened: “I hope to see the Conservative Party return with a substantial majority.”

In this year’s elections it looked as though Evelyn Waugh’s grandson would depart from this tradition, as did his father Auberon before him, but yesterday Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party, took action to assure that this was not to be, when he stood down the party’s candidates in constituencies where Conservatives won seats in the last election. Here is the report from yesterday’s Somerset County Gazette:

Alexander Waugh was set to be the Brexit Party candidate for Bridgwater and West Somerset, while Penny Rawson had put her name forward in Taunton Deane. Mr Waugh said he had already seen lots of support on his campaign trial, but he was somewhat relieved because he doesn’t consider himself a politician.

“I was very much geared up,” he said. “I was getting a lot of support. I think now I will go to help other candidates like Ann Widdecombe with her campaigning. I know a lot of people will be very disappointed. I won’t be surprised if there are a lot of spoiled votes with people writing the Brexit Party on their ballots. I can’t deny in some ways I am quite relieved because I am not a politician. I just thought sitting in my armchair complaining wasn’t very good. I am a man of action. The main problem is we simply cannot trust Boris Johnson.”

It may have occurred to Alexander to file his registration papers on Thursday as a candidate for the party founded by his father. This was called “The Dog Lovers Party” and would surely have found support in West Somerset. But if it did occur to him, he has thought better of it.

Posted in Alexander Waugh, Auberon Waugh, Essays, Articles & Reviews, Evelyn Waugh, Newspapers, Television | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Armistice Day Roundup

— Fr John Hunwicke posting on his website addresses literary works related to the commemoration of Armistice Day (Remembrance Sunday in the UK):

As far as WW2 is concerned, I often think about the contrast between two great fictional literary products of that war, both written by combatants; both overtly semi-autobiographical. [Nicholas] Monsarrat’s The Cruel Sea is written by an ideologically and morally rudderless lapsed Marxist; as a memorial to the men who fought the war of the Atlantic convoys. I find it full of venom; venom against adulterous wives back home; against tall blond German submarine captains; against bullying Australians; against the Irish who denied Cork Harbour and Bantry Bay to the Royal Navy.

Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy is quite different. At its beginning, Waugh’s character, a traditionalist Catholic gentleman burdened with ethical Rights and Wrongs, saw the conflict as a chivalrous crusade on behalf of Christian civilisation against Nazi barbarism and its atheist allies in Moskow. When the war was ending, with Uncle Jo a genial ally and sitting in triumph on half of Europe, Waugh had come to perceive it as a sweaty tug of war between two teams of scarcely distinguishable louts. Waugh discerns the ironies and hypocrisies as embodied in the Sword of Stalingrad – a gift from the Christian King of England; a symbol of chivalry to congratulate Marshal Stalin; a triumph of craftsmanship … and with the symbols on its scabbard upside down. Waugh’s hero sees, as Waugh himself had seen, the vicious post-War savaging of Christian Europe in Tito’s Jugoslavia.

–The New York Times in this week’s Book Review interviews TV presenter Seth Meyers:

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

“Scoop,” by Evelyn Waugh. Its timeliness is both hilarious and depressing. Also “Blood Meridian,” by Cormac McCarthy. The Judge now holds first position for “Fictional Character Who Has Given Me the Worst Nightmares.”

–John O’Brien reviews a new production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado by the English National Opera. This is posted on the website

Part farce, part romantic comedy it is totally captivating. It takes you out of yourself and transports you to a world of fantasy and comic joy. It’s like reading Evelyn Waugh’s “Decline and Fall for the first time. It’s silly, funny, hilarious and jolly. Like a soufflé it rises miraculously and somehow stays upright. When it ends you just want more. It’s a wonderful cornucopia of delights. And Jonathan Miller’s masterstroke of setting it in a 1930s English hotel is pure genius. This production is like a Marx Brothers film, a PG Woodhouse novel and an episode of Fawlty Towers all rolled into one irresistible box of chocolates. Everything that’s jolly and fun is here. Its magnificent, magnetic and majestic.

–The current issue of the New Yorker magazine has an article by Issac Chotiner entitled “From Little Englanders to Brexiteers”. In this he considers a book by Fintan O’Toole entitled The Politics of Pain: Postwar England and the Power of Nationalism. Here’s an extract:

Britain emerged from the Second World War at once victorious and shrunken, the image of plucky heroism and imperial twilight. “The power of Brexit,” O’Toole writes, “is that it promised to end at last all this tantalizing uncertainty by fusing these contradictory moods into a single emotion—the pleasurable self-pity in which one can feel at once horribly hard done by and exceptionally grand. Its promise is, at heart, a liberation, not from Europe, but from the torment of an eternally unresolved conflict between superiority and inferiority.

Or, as Evelyn Waugh wrote in his California-based satire of Anglo-Americanism, “The Loved One” (1948), “You never find an Englishman among the underdogs—except in England of course.” India achieved independence in 1947, Jamaica in 1962; the great majority of the Empire’s “subjects” won their freedom in that fifteen-year interval. By the time the Suez crisis concluded in humiliating fashion, in 1956—when President Eisenhower forced an abrupt end to the Anglo-French-Israeli military operation to regain control of the canal—American primacy, however resented, could no longer be denied.

–The New York Public Library has announced the details of its exhibit about the life and works of novelist J D Salinger. This was mentioned in a previous post:

The exhibition is organized by Salinger’s son Matt Salinger and widow Colleen Salinger with Declan Kiely, Director of Special Collections and Exhibitions at The New York Public Library. The free exhibition coincides with the centennial of J.D. Salinger’s birth and will be on display October 18, 2019 through January 19, 2020 in the Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Gallery at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

For more details see this link.

Posted in Anniversaries, Decline and Fall, Events, Newspapers, Scoop, Sword of Honour, The Loved One | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

BBC’s 100 Novels that Shaped Our World

The BBC has announced its list of 100 novels that shaped our world in advance of Friday’s public panel discussion at the British Library. See previous post. The panel of 7 were asked “to choose 100 genre-busting novels that have had an impact on their lives.” This event kicks off an extended celebration of the 300th anniversary of the English novel but is heavily skewed to the most recent 40-50 years.

There is nothing on the list by Evelyn Waugh, nor are F Scott Fitzgerald, Anthony Powell, D H Lawrence, William Faulkner, E M Forster or James Joyce represented. From Waugh’s generation, there are novels by Ernest Hemingway (For Whom the Bell Tolls), Graham Greene (The Quiet American), Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), George Orwell (Nineteen Eighty Four), Virginia Woolf (Orlando), Patrick Hamilton (Slaves of Solitude) and P G Wodehouse (Psmith, Journalist) on the list. Apparently, only one book per author could be listed. creating anomalies such as Herman Melville’s being represented by Bartleby, the Scrivener and not Moby Dick.

The Daily Telegraph dismisses the selection as “a short-sighted list that will please nobody.” The Guardian’s story (entitled “Discworld dishes Moby Dick”) carries these remarks by one of the panel members, author Juno Dawson:

As this panel of judges, we’re not qualified to say this is the definitive list, but we are qualified to say these are our favourites. We knew right from the beginning that the role of these lists, almost, is for people to disagree with them … and we could only pick 100 books.[…] I hope people look at the list and recognise how we have allowed the emotions behind a novel to factor into our choices, not how many copies it’s sold, or if it’s considered a work of great literature,…

The Guardian’s report also contains this statement from a BBC spokesperson:

BBC Arts director Jonty Claypole said the list took “months of enthusiastic debate” to put together. “There are neglected masterpieces, irresistible romps as well as much-loved classics. It is a more diverse list than any I have seen before, recognising the extent to which the English-language novel is an art form embraced way beyond British shores,” he said.


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Early November Roundup

–The Daily Mail reprints extracts from the gossipy personal diaries of journalist and biographer Kenneth Rose. These are from the second volume entitled Who Wins, Who Loses? covering the period 1979-2014:

March 29, 1982. Geoffrey Warnock [Oxford vice-chancellor] tells me that so loathed was [novelist] Evelyn Waugh at Hertford that when he died, the college passed a resolution that it should not be represented at his funeral.

Warnock was a scholarship student at New College from c. 1945-49, well after Waugh’s Oxford days. He was Principal of Hertford College in the period 1971-1988 but was a tutor at Magdalen College at the time Waugh died in 1966.  This quote suggests that Warnock somehow influenced a decision at Hertford at a time he was not present there. It seems more likely that he became aware of the incident (if indeed his memory is accurate) after the fact. Waugh’s descriptions of his visits to Hertford College after the war indicate that he and the college were on relatively amicable terms by that time. In some other literary gossip, Rose mentions two of Waugh’s friends:

June 17, 1980. Story about Maurice Bowra [former vice-chancellor of Oxford University]. At a wedding, when asked if he was ‘bride’ or ‘bridegroom’, he replied: ‘I don’t know. I have slept with both.’

September 22, 1983Lunch at the Beefsteak [London men-only club]. Bevis Hillier [art historian and author], who is writing [former poet laureate] John Betjeman’s life, tells me that not even in his cups will John Sparrow [Warden of All Souls, Oxford] part with his letters from Betjeman; probably because they shared a salacious interest in little boys’ muddy football shorts.

–A recent issue of the Washington Post reviews a book entitled Hate Inc. by journalist Matt Taibbi. (Yes, the Post still reviews books even though it eliminated its Sunday book magazine insert several years ago.) The review opens with this reference to Waugh’s Scoop:

There’s a scene in Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop,” the irreverent 1938 sendup subtitled “A Novel About Journalists,” where hapless protagonist William Boot wonders why so many reporters file divergent accounts of the same events.

“But isn’t it very confusing if we all send different news,” he asks a veteran correspondent.

“It gives them a choice,” the colleague says of British editors. “They all have different policies so of course they have to give different news.”

I was reminded of “give different news” while reading Matt Taibbi’s “Hate Inc.,” which is also a book about journalists but with a much darker subtitle: “Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another.” Taibbi, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone, writes that “Scoop” is one of a handful of books he carries whenever he travels, and traces of its comic cynicism animate his prose. But where Waugh brilliantly satirized, Taibbi aims a cannon, blasting an American media industry he accuses of taking sides and manipulating the audience for profit — “different news” elevated to a business model.

–The quarterly literary journal Raritan, published by Rutgers University, has announced that its next issue will contain an article on Evelyn Waugh. This is written by Andrew Bacevich, retired professor of history at Boston University and, before that, retired officer from the US Army. His Wikipedia entry shows no previous literary writing but a good many books and articles devoted to US foreign policy, particularly with respect to the Middle East. He also describes himself as a “Catholic conservative” so that may be a clue.

The Times newspaper has a story in which John O’Connell takes another look at the book-reading habits of the late singer-songwriter David Bowie. He reports how Bowie’s penchant for book reading surfaced during a US film shoot in the 1970s:

He had, rather ambitiously, promised not to use drugs for the duration of the shoot, so when he wasn’t needed he would take himself off to his trailer and indulge in an altogether less harmful pastime: reading books. Luckily, he had plenty to choose from. As a location report explained: “Bowie hates aircraft so he mostly travels across the States by train, carrying his mobile bibliothèque in special trunks, which open out with all his books neatly displayed on shelves.” This portable library stored 1,500 titles. 

Fast-forward to March 2013. The Victoria & Albert Museum’s exhibition “David Bowie Is” has opened in London to rave reviews. To coincide with its subsequent launch in Ontario, the V&A issued a list of the 100 books Bowie considered the most important and influential – not his “favourite books” as such – out of the thousands he had read during his life. The mobile-library story shows how Bowie’s reading had calcified into a compulsion by the time he was world famous. He went about it the way he went about everything, with a kind of manic fervour.

As has been previously reported on this site, one of the books on Bowie’s top 100 list was Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies. The Times’s article includes Bowie’s Top 100 list, with specific comments on some of the choices but not, alas, for Vile Bodies. They might have mentioned that Waugh’s book also influenced some of the songs on Bowie’s album Alladin Sane

The Daily Drone, a weblog for former Daily Express reporters and other admirers of that journal in its more successful days has posted this brief notice:

EXPRESSMAN Geoffrey Mather, writing on his website about Brideshead Revisited, recalled an amusing anecdote about the book’s author Evelyn Waugh.

Quoting Waugh’s biographer Philip Eade he wrote: “Waugh spent several weeks ‘working’ at the Daily Express. Having been fired in 1927 he gave advice to budding reporters.

“When assigned a story, ‘the correct procedure is to jump to your feet, seize your hat and umbrella, and dart out of the office with every appearance of haste to the nearest cinema’.

“At the cinema the probationer was advised to sit and smoke a pipe and imagine what any relevant witnesses might say.”

We on the Drone reckon this was an excellent policy which was followed 50 years later by eager Expressmen, although at that time pubs were more de rigueur than cinemas.

And the moral? Never take work too seriously.

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300th Anniversary of English Novel to be Marked

This year is the 300th anniversary of the English novel–at least if one will accept Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe to be the first example, as seems to generally be the case. It was published on 25 April 1719. Other contenders are the same author’s Moll Flanders (1722) or looking the other direction John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) and Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko (1688). Earlier this year, plans to celebrate this milestone were announced by the BBC as well as the British Library and other literary institutions. Details are now available in a nationwide literary festival denominated  “Novels That Shaped Our World.”

The first event will be at the British Library next Friday at 1300-1415p. This will convene a panel of 7 in the BL’s Knowledge Centre on Euston Road, WC2. Participating will be:

…Stig Abell, Syima Aslam, Juno Dawson, Mariella Frostrup, Alexander McCall Smith, Kit de Waal and Jo Whiley. […] This panel of writers, journalists and thinkers have selected 100 novels that have shaped their world. Chaired by BBC Radio 2’s Jo Whiley, writers Alexander McCall Smith, Kit de Waal and Juno Dawson along with broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, editor of the TLS Stig Abell and Bradford Literature Festival Director Syima Aslam reveal their choices. This event will be live streamed via BBC iPlayer and local libraries via the Living Knowledge Network.

For more details on booking and broadcast as well as other participating libraries see this link.

The next day (Saturday, 9 November, at 2145p) BBC Two will begin the broadcast of a TV series that will consist of three weekly one-hour episodes:

The series looks at how the novel changed the world. Using three unique and surprising perspectives – empire, women’s voices and class experience – these films reveal how, across 300 years, the novel has been at the heart of debate about society, and has often spearheaded social change. Novels That Shaped Our World will reflect on how the power of the novel in English effected change here and abroad through the 19th and 20th centuries. With key moments from novels brought to life with dramatic performances and readings, British and International novelists will talk about the novels that have meant most to them, as the series follows the story of how the novel has reflected our historic social struggles and been instrumental in effecting change.

The first episode (“Women’s Voices”) is also described in the same notice:

Episode one discusses the story of women and the novel – both as characters and authors. With Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale capturing global audiences, the programme will show how the plight of women is a theme that reaches right back to the earliest novels. From Richardson’s Pamela to Austen, the Brontës through to Mary Shelley and Virginia Woolf, and to the post-war publishing boom where a new generation of global writers such as Toni Morrison and Alice Walker have continued to speak out for women to a new generation of readers.

For more details see this link.

Meanwhile, BBC History Magazine has somewhat stolen a march on these proceedings by announcing its own choices of “6 novels that captured life in Britain.” Here is their explanation: “As a BBC Two series marks the 300th birthday of the English language novel, we ask six leading authors and academics to pick the works of fiction they feel have best captured life in Britain and its empire since 1719.”

One of the six novels selected by the History Magazine panel is Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. This was the choice by panel member and author James Holland who explained his selection in this month’s issue of the magazine:

Although only part of Evelyn Waugh’s novel is set during the Second World War, it was written between December 1943 and June 1944, while the author was recovering from a parachute accident. Waugh served in the army during the conflict, including a stint with the Commandos, with whom he saw action at the battle of Crete in 1941.

Despite his reputation as a brilliant comic novelist, Brideshead is a wistful and rather mournful piece, narrated by Charles Ryder, an artist. One night during the war, Ryder arrives at a new army camp, only to discover that he has come to the grounds of a country house he knows very well: Brideshead, the home of the aristocratic Flyte family. This prompts him to reflect on his relationship with the family – first with Sebastian, the eccentric and tragic son; then Sebastian’s sister Julia, with whom Charles had an intense affair in the years leading up to the war.

Waugh’s recovery from the parachute accident required only two weeks at the beginning of the period indicated. The the period from February to June was covered by leave granted by the Army for the specific purpose of writing the book. Other novels on the magazine’s list (spread roughly over the 300 years of the English novel’s existence) are Tom Jones (1749) by Henry Fielding, Mary Barton (1848) by Elizabeth Gaskell, Kim (1901) by Rudyard Kipling, Mr Britling Sees it Through (1916) by H G Wells and The Lowlife (1963) by Alexander Baron.

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