Autumnal Equinox Roundup

–The Sydney Morning Herald has posted an article by Tony Wright entitled: “In memory of cleft sticks and the frustrations of sending a story.” It opens with this:

There were times in strange places when I longed for a cleft stick or two. The usage of the cleft stick in long-distance news communication was brought to the literary world’s attention by Evelyn Waugh’s novel of 1938, Scoop. It remains the finest farce written about the work of travelling newspaper correspondents. […]

Furnished with a fabulous expense account, the unlikely Boot of the Beast sets off with a small mountain of essential equipment. His kit includes a portable typewriter, six hockey sticks and six polo mallets, a furnished tent, three months’ rations, a collapsible canoe, a Union Jack, a hand-pump and sterilising plant, an astrolabe for calculating latitude, six suits of tropical linen, a sou’-wester, a camp operating table and surgical instruments, a portable humidor, a Christmas hamper complete with Santa Claus costume and mistletoe stand, a cane for whacking snakes, a coil of rope and a sheet of tin for unspecified purposes.

Oh, yes, and a large supply of cleft sticks.

Wright then describes the convoluted and ingenious methods that correspondents used to deliver their stories to distant publishers before the internet took much of the excitement out of the trade. One of the most interesting was this story of an early pre-internet “word processor”:

Technology intervened in the 1980s. A photographer and I travelled around Australia in 1988, sending stories every day for months. I typed on a little word processor that had only eight lines of words visible. Shooting the story to the news desk involved finding a phone – booths sat even in the desert those days – and connecting two rubberised suction caps to the clunky handpiece. A satisfying whooshing sound ensured – the words were converted to electrical sound, and hurtled off to a receiver far away.

I do not recall ever seeing such a device. Waugh would have loved to satirize that machine and its users if he had lived long enough. He had trouble using the telephone and never learned how to type.

–The New Republic has published a profile of TV personality Tucker Carlson. In his early years, before he became (according to Alan Shephard) “the most important right-wing voice in the country”, he was building a success as a journalist:

In these [early] pieces, we see the nucleus of Carlson’s later persona: He cares not one iota for public policy; what gets his blood up is hypocrisy, particularly when it comes from women, people of color, and LGBTQ people. He continued writing for The Weekly Standard but became one of the most sought-after long-form magazine writers in the country publishing pieces for EsquireThe New York Times Magazine, and, later, The New Republic.

In 1999, he profiled George W. Bush for Tina Brown’s Talk magazine. Bush was running as “a compassionate conservative,” a Christian of deep faith, and a moral leader who could lift the country out of the debauched Clinton years. Carlson’s profile was glowing—mostly. But he also caught Bush’s naughty, frat boy side: He quotes the Texas governor saying “fuck,” over and over again, something Bush’s communications director, Karen Hughes, went to great lengths to deny. More chillingly, Carlson also noted Bush mocking Karla Faye Tucker, a recently executed death row inmate in Texas: “‘Please,’ Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, ‘don’t kill me.’”

Carlson “was really a kind of hilarious—at that time—gadfly scamp,” Brown said. “Tucker is a fantastic writer. One of the things I find regrettable in all of this is that Tucker had an almost Evelyn Waugh–ish ability to skewer people and make it really funny. He had such a hilarious touch and truth. I thought he had the makings of a top talent.”

Shephard goes on to describe how, after these early successes, Carlson overcame several setbacks on his road to conservative stardom. Alas, we no longer have The Weekly Standard, but Tucker Carlson is still very much with us.

–The New York Times interviews CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper for its weekly “By the Book” column. Here’s an excerpt from the Q&A:

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

A. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. I’ve watched the mini-series many times and it is still so great, so I thought I should read the book. I loved it.

–Brooke Allen in the New Criterion reviews a new biography of art critic Clive Bell. The review opens with this:

When Charles Ryder, the protagonist of Evelyn Waugh’s semi-autobiographical Brideshead Revisited (1945), arrives as an undergraduate at Oxford in the early 1920s, he fills his bookshelf with volumes by Lytton Strachey, A. E. Housman, Norman Douglas, Compton Mackenzie, and a copy of Clive Bell’s Art (1914), a touchstone of modernist theory. It is a nice detail, indicating not only the boy’s aspirations to intellectual modishness but his cultural insularity, a point that will be underscored later in the novel when, in thrall to the Flyte family, Charles makes an aesthetic conversion to the international Baroque.

For Bell (along with his older comrade-in-arms, Roger Fry—also featured on Ryder’s bookshelf) was modern art’s apostle to the Anglo-Saxons, the island nation’s interpreter of the ideas behind the post-Impressionist revolution taking place across the Channel. Most famously, Bell explicated the concept of “significant form.” […] Bell took the line (followed by the callow, impressionable Charles Ryder) that artistic genius had dimmed since the quattrocento, and he breezily dismissed most of the masterpieces of the High Renaissance and the Baroque. Art had reignited, he said, with the post-Impressionists and Cubists, who far from initiating a radical break with the past had rejoined the European tradition from which mainstream art had long deviated. Giotto, he opined, was perhaps the “greatest painter of all time.”

It is telling that already in 1945 Waugh was presenting Art as a period piece, though Bell was to live into the 1960s. Bell himself, in later life, described the book as a record of “what people like myself were thinking and feeling in the years before [World War I],” and [his biographer Mark] Hussey states that now, in the twenty-first century, it is generally “regarded as solely of historical interest.” …

The review is entitled “Clive Bell’s chimes” and is available here. The book reviewed is entitled Clive Bell and the Making of Modernism by Mark Hussey and is available here.

–Finally the University of Dayton in Ohio has posted a Master’s Degree thesis on the internet. This is entitled “Beyond Sins and Symptoms: Suffering in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited” and is written by Sarah Miller. Here’s the abstract:

This work interrogates the ongoing popularity of Catholic Modern novelist Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 classic Brideshead Revisited as a novel that depicts the modern struggle to find hope and meaning in the midst of suffering after the widespread onset of modernity and decline of Christianity in the wake of World Wars I and II. I argue that Waugh’s characterization of Sebastian Flyte, a lapsed Catholic aristocrat struggling with familial dysfunction and subsequent alcoholism, confounds both traditional models of sin as well as psychological frameworks of diagnosis. Employing close readings from the novel as well as historical and theological context, I demonstrate that Sebastian’s suffering falls into the no-mans-land between modernity and spirituality, highlighting the failures of each to support healing and the importance of embracing suffering with compassion.

The paper (36 pp.) is posted at this link. Thanks to Dave Lull for sending the link.

Posted in Art, Photography & Sculpture, Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh, Newspapers, Scoop | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“Brideshead Regained” Again

The Italian religious webpage Radio Spada has posted a review of the 2003 “sequel” to Brideshead Revisited. This somewhat misbegotten volume was written by Michael Johnston as an intended celebration of Waugh’s centenary. As explained in the article, the book was issued without the permission of the Waugh Estate. After they protested, (Alexander Waugh is quoted as having described the author as “illiterate”), the book was withdrawn from the marketplace except for online sales and a disclaimer was pasted on the dustwrapper. The Italian review by Luca Fumagalli continues:

…Beyond the legal controversy, from an artistic point of view Brideshead Regained is a mediocre book. In fact, if “rewriting” a masterpiece is a fairly widespread practice – there are many illustrious examples, from Shakespeare to Milton -, it is decidedly more difficult to produce something that is up to the original, especially if you are dealing with an author like Waugh, in whose prose, difficult to replicate, mixing seamlessly the serious and humorous, high and low (or sacred and profane, to quote the subtitle of Brideshead Revisited).

Johnston’s novel – divided into two parts that echo the chapter title “Et in Arcadia Ego” of Waugh’s book – follows the story of Charles Ryder, newly promoted “official war artist”, during the Second World War. Charles is first sent to North Africa, where he paints a portrait of De Gaulle, improvises himself as a spy and paints alongside Churchill. In a Tunisian monastery, he also finds Sebastian who, having made peace with his friend, can finally himself die in peace. After the Normandy landings, Charles is transferred to Europe and witnesses the horrors committed in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In the epilogue, set after the war, the funeral of the elderly “Nanny” Hawkins is an opportunity for him to return to Brideshead. There he briefly, and for the last time, meets the Flyte family.

In the course of his adventures, in addition to Cordelia, Julia and historical characters described in a slightly too spooky way, the protagonist’s path crosses some of the figures that made Brideshead Revisited immortal. The first one he encounters is his cousin Jasper, who boasts the dull industriousness useful for making a career in a government ministry, while “Boy” Mulcaster, on the other hand, confirms himself as a bored and spendthrift aristocrat, fundamentally unable to face reality (he gets his lover pregnant and finds no other solution than to borrow money from Charles for a clandestine abortion). Others include Mr. Ryder, cold and aloof as always, the hateful Rex Mottram and Anthony Blanche, the homosexual dandy from Oxford, who is found dying in Bergen-Belsen. In addition, the complicated relationship between Charles, his two children and his ex-wife Celia, to whom he owes a large part of his fortune as an artist, is deepened. In recalling the names and events of   Brideshead Revisited, Johnston allows himself the luxury of even inserting a “cameo” by Waugh himself: at a certain point, it turns out that Charles has a novel by the English writer on his bed and that the latter, according to the most recent news, is busy on a mission in Yugoslavia.

For themes and settings, Brideshead Regained is more than a simple sequel to Brideshead Revisited. It appears to be a mixture between Waugh’s masterpiece and the Sword of Honor trilogy, with its classic Waughian theme of an old and noble England that is unfortunately destined to disappear. On the other hand, there are many similarities between Johnston’s Charles and Guy Crouchback, starting from the desire to finally be engaged on the front line in a war that is becoming more boring and exhausting for them every day.

However, as already mentioned, the overall result is not very satisfactory. There are many shortcomings in the novel, starting from a potentially intriguing structural system – with three distinct temporal planes that alternate – but which in the long run collapses in repetitiveness. In the same way, the style, which also tries to imitate the satirical air of  Brideshead Revisited, is too flat and monotonous, all seasoned with descriptions of a marked sensuality that certainly Waugh would not have tolerated. As for the plot, the impression is that, in the end, very few things happen and even those few are described too hastily, condensed at best into a handful of pages.

The gravest fault of Brideshead Regained however remains that of betraying the apologetic soul of Waugh’s masterpiece which ends – it should be remembered – with Charles’s conversion to Catholicism (“I recited a prayer, an ancient formula, recently learned” ). Instead, Johnston shows the reader a Ryder whose new religious sensibility remains confined to an intimate and private dimension. He does not officially belong to any Christian denomination and, consequently, continues not to approach the sacraments. Moreover, faced with the horror of the Nazi concentration camps, he again seems inclined to deny the existence of God (“Can there be a God? Would even God know?” Are the last words that close the story).

Thus, by depriving the protagonists of  Brideshead Revisited of their spiritual verticality – the same mistake made in Julian Jarrold’s 2008 film adaptation – the story is reduced to a particularly dark and distressing sentimental drama, where, paradoxically, religion  hinders the happiness of men, a happiness which, obviously, according to such a perspective can only be exclusively earthly.

The translation is by Google with edits. The original Italian text is available at this link. And despite the reviewer’s misgivings, the book’s online sales continue.

Posted in Anniversaries, Brideshead Revisited, Newspapers | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Roundup (Hons and Chips)

–Novelist Amanda Craig writing in a recent Sunday Times article considers an unusual judgment in a recent terrorist case. The defendant was found to have downloaded nearly 70,000 pages of white supremacist material. The judge ordered him to instead spend his time reading literature, suggesting the writings of Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare. Trollope and Hardy. There will be an examination by the judge of the defendant’s compliance.

Craig is not sure that the prescribed sentence will help much. On the other hand it won’t do much harm. At the end she adds this caveat:

Yet in hoping for the best from the repulsive young [defendant], Timothy Spencer QC has shown himself to be as imaginative a judge as any author could wish. Prison is the least redemptive option, and maybe a future in terrorism will be averted through the 21-year-old gaining a deeper understanding of human character and himself. It might, however, have been wise to include Evelyn Waugh’s novel A Handful of Dust in his prescription. The fate of its hero, Tony Last, is to spend the rest of his existence as a captive in the South American jungle, reading aloud the complete works of Dickens to an illiterate psychopath who will never, ever, have mercy on him.

–In the Italian-language religious online journal Radio Spada, their columnist Luca Fumagalli reviews Waugh’s 1933 short story “Out of Depth.” The article begins by explaining the story’s publication in the popular magazine Harper’s Bazaar and its appearance in Italian as “Nell’inconscio“/Into the Unconscious. Inserts of the English magazine cover and Italian collected story cover are also posted. Following a detailed summary of the story, the article concludes:

Although Out of Depth is perfectly in line with Waugh’s satirical style, made up above all of bitter laughter, profusion of grotesque, puns and allusions – Rip Van Winkle, for example, bears the same name as the hero of Washington Irving – is perhaps the first narrative work in which the English writer openly gives himself to religious apologetics, twelve years before Brideshead Revisited. Consequently, the mockery of parlor charlatans and the ridicule of the much-heralded superiority of the white man are themes inevitably destined to take a back seat.

The plot shows more than one point of contact with Park (1932), by canon John Gray, a tale halfway between utopia and dystopia that tells of a priest, Mungo Park, who is suddenly projected into a future where society is governed by the Catholic Church, Latin is the official language and the ruling class is composed solely of blacks (whites live underground and look like rats). It is to be believed that in writing his story Waugh was also inspired by the encounter with Ethiopian society – a singular Christian monarchy in the land of Africa – which took place on the occasion of the coronation of Emperor Haile Selassié in 1930.

Out of Depth , notwithstanding its brevity and all possible imperfections, has the strength of a clear message to deliver to the reader, a message that remains effective despite the use of a not very incisive expedient such as that of the dream. According to Martin Stannard, author of one of Waugh’s most important biographies, “in a sense it is a Christmas story that reaffirms the continuity and validity of Catholic teaching. Rip’s return to the Church from the apathetic sleep of agnosticism signals an unconscious recognition of the link between civilization and Faith”.

–The second volume of the unexpurgated version of the diaries of Henry “Chips” Channon has been published. This covers the years 1938-1943 and is edited by Simon Heffer. The Daily Mail has published excerpts, among which is this:

Saturday, Nov 19

Lord Beauchamp [the inspiration for Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited] died in New York, aged only 66. What a turbulent life. Rank, riches, arrogance, intelligence, achievement, high office, seven children, the god’s gifts at his feet, and he gaspille-ed [squandered] them all for the most sterile of vices — footmen!! There has never been such a scandal in England. King George V remarked ‘I thought those sort of people shot themselves.’

Either Heffer or the Daily Mail have got this wrong. Lord Beauchamp contributed to the character of Lord Marchmain, not Sebastian Flyte, who was his son. Beauchamp’s son, Hugh Lygon, is thought by many to have contributed to the character of Sebastian.

Channon doesn’t seem to have had much to do with Waugh during this period. Their only close mutual friends, according to the book’s introductory material, were Diana Cooper and her husband, Duff (although “friend” may be too mild a term for Waugh’s relationship with the latter). Given Channon’s opposition to Churchill and support for appeasement, his own relations with Duff can’t have been very cozy. Channon was a Conservative MP for Southend-on-Sea.

National Review has devoted the latest episode (#194) of its Great Books Podcast to Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited. This is presented by NR‘s John J Miller who interviews writer (The Grace of Enough) and Roman Catholic convert Haley Stewart. The 30-minute podcast is available at this link  and no subscription is required. The first half is a discussion of the story and the second relates to the religious themes.

–Finally, Vanity Fair has posted a feature-length article about the Mitford sisters (mostly Nancy). This is by Nicole Jones and was inspired by the recent TV adaptation of Nancy’s novel Pursuit of Love discussed in previous posts

…Laura Thompson, the author of The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters and Life in a Cold Climate: Nancy Mitford, noted that Nancy’s “books read like an enchantingly clever woman telling stories down the telephone.” Her friend Evelyn Waugh put it only slightly differently in a letter: “The charm of your writing depends on your refusal to recognize a distinction between girlish chatter and literary language.” Her books manage to pull off the trick all writers dream of doing: inspiring cult fanaticism, whispered about between those who really get it (true Hons!), while also becoming hugely successful.

A comparison of the writings of the various sisters includes this:

In letters between her and Waugh (by some accounts one of her best friends and her one-time flatmate, along with his first wife also named Evelyn), [Nancy] complains that Jessica’s 1960 autobiography, the beloved and enchanting Hons and Rebels, is inspired more by her novels than Jessica’s memory. Between bits of gossip and insults about Jessica’s first husband Esmond Romilly, Nancy wrote to Waugh, “In some respects she has seen the family, quite without knowing it herself, through the eyes of my books.… I haven’t said this to anybody but you as it sounds so conceited. Esmond was the most horrible human being I have ever met.”


Posted in A Handful of Dust, Adaptations, Brideshead Revisited, Newspapers, Short Stories, Television | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Campion Hall Lecture on YouTube

Prof. Gerard Kilroy’s 9 September 2021 lecture on “Edmund Campion and Waugh’s Household of the Faith”at Campion Hall, Oxford is available on YouTube at this link.

The illustrated lecture was presented at Campion Hall, Oxford before a live audience and was transmitted live online. It is the first in a series of events planned to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the founding of Campion Hall. Consistent with that event, Prof Gilroy’s lecture began with the story of Evelyn Waugh’s introduction to Fr Martin D’Arcy in connection with his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1930.

Shortly after that, D’Arcy became master of Campion Hall and began a campaign to build a new college to house it. As part of this effort, Waugh volunteered to write a book, the proceeds of which would go into the building fund. Waugh’s original idea was to write a life of Gregory the Great, but D’Arcy suggested Edmund Campion as a more appropriate subject.

Waugh’s book was published in 1936 and won the Hawthornden Prize for that year. This became something of a Golden Age for Roman Catholicism in England. David Jones and Graham Greene also won Hawthornden Prizes for their books In Parenthesis and The Power and the Glory in the next few years. In addition to D’Arcy, Ronald Knox was at Oxford as Chaplain, and they became close friends.

Prof Kilroy also discussed the critical reception and publishing history of Edmund Campion. It went through 6 editions with substantive changes in a revised edition published first by Little, Brown in 1946.  As Prof Kilroy explains, these revisions are related to the themes Waugh developed when he was writing Brideshead Revisited, as well as to his experiences in Mexico in 1938,  Yugoslavia in 1944-45 and the Nuremberg trials after the war.

He concludes with a description of certain relics relating to Edmund Campion that are held in the collections of Campion Hall. These include two books that previously belonged to Campion and contain his notations, as well as what is described as an Agnus Dei plaque. All of these are illustrated in the accompanying slides.

A brief Q&A session follows the lecture. In the course of that, it was projected that the Complete Works volume 17 containing the text of Edmund Campion and Prof Gilroy’s introduction and notes could be released as early as next Spring. The entire presentation is available on YouTube at the link provided above.

UPDATE (10 September 2021): Brief summary of presentation was added.

Posted in Academia, Complete Works, Edmund Campion | Tagged | Leave a comment

Labo(u)r Day Roundup

–The Catholic Herald has an article by Ken Craycraft in which he reviews the recent biography of Graham Greene (The Unquiet Englishman by Richard Greene). Here is an excerpt:

Critics and biographers are always looking for glimpses of Greene’s own wavering expressions of faith in his characters, a search with which Greene himself had sympathy. “I certainly would not attempt to hide behind the time-old gag that an author can never be identified with his characters,” he wrote to Evelyn Waugh after the publication of A Burnt-Out Case. “Of course in some of Querry’s reactions there are reactions of mine, just as in some of Fowler’s reactions in The Quiet American there are reactions of mine,” he continued. But, Greene insisted, “A parallel must not be drawn all down the line and not necessarily to the conclusion of the line … I wanted to give expression to various states or moods of belief and unbelief.” […]

Evelyn Waugh fretted that Querry was probably Greene’s most biographical character, and that he symbolised Greene’s abandonment of faith. I agree that there is more of Greene in Querry than any other of his characters. I don’t think Waugh was correct to see him as a symbol of Greene’s ultimate apostasy. On the contrary, Querry’s dogmatic insistence that he no longer believed was his own resistance to the incorrigibility of faith. Despite himself, Querry was, as the unsettled believer Fr. Thomas told him, “a good man.”

Graham Greene teaches us something about the complexity of faith, belief, and unbelief. In Greeneland, the utterance from the Gospel of Mark might be turned around, but it is still a legitimate, even if disconcerting, part of the Christian experience: “I don’t believe; help my belief.” Sometimes it’s on the margins that we find the deepest expression of Christian truth. The exploration of those margins—those Greenelands—is perhaps Graham Greene’s most important contribution to Catholic literature and Christian faith.

For a more detailed review of the biography, particularly as it reflects the friendship and interaction of Waugh and Greene see this link.

–The Daily Telegraph has posted an article about the traditions and present status of the English nanny. This is by Rosa Silverman and opens with this:

When Sebastian Flyte takes Charles Ryder to Brideshead for the first time, he introduces him to one of the most central figures in his life. Although ‘Nanny’ Hawkins has long since discharged her duties to the grown-up Marchmain children, she clearly remains a part of the family, now happily retired in the attic.

The scenario penned by Evelyn Waugh may be fiction, but it’s not so far from the reality of many with the means to employ a live-in nanny of their own. In an interview in next month’s issue of Good Housekeeping, BBC presenter Fiona Bruce revealed hers looked after her children for 20 years – a set-up that helped her juggle work and motherhood long into their teens – only leaving when her daughter Mia, now 19, finished her GCSEs. She remains “a firm family friend,” says Bruce.

If 20 years sounds like long service, it’s nothing compared with the stint some nannies put in. Veronica Crook looked after the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg from birth, helping to raise him and his four siblings, before becoming nanny to Rees-Mogg’s own six children. Crook will mark her 56th “nannyversary” with the family this month – an occasion they’ve previously celebrated at The Ritz.

The article continues and recounts several examples of nannies like Nanny Hawkins who remained attached to their charges after they had retired from nannydom. Many retained an emotional tie but none seemed to be living in a country house at the expense of former employers.

–Several papers have published stories on the occasion of the reopening of schools. The Times for example had a feature length article on a school in Wales that has proved an attractive choice for European royalty seeking university preparatory education for their children. This is UWC Atlantic College. The Times also posts a background story about its article that opens with this:

Welsh boarding schools conjure dour images of grey clouds, drizzle and windswept playing fields of the sort depicted in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall (Cameron Charters and Arthi Nachiappan write). But UWC Atlantic bears no resemblance to the ramshackle Llanabba Castle, where Waugh’s hapless protagonist Paul Pennyfeather finds himself after been sent down from Oxford.

Known as the “hippies’ Hogwarts”, the private sixth-form college in the Vale of Glamorgan boasts royal alumni including King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and Princess Elisabeth of Belgium.

Popular with parents who are diplomats, because of its international curriculum, the school is based at the 12th-century St Donat’s Castle, set in 122 acres of woodland and farmland on the southcoast. Its dining room was featured in the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

The castle was bought by William Randolph Hearst, the American newspaper publisher, in 1925. after he saw a feature on it in Country Life magazine. He renovated the 60 hectare estate and held parties with guests including Charlie Chaplin, John F Kennedy and George Bernard Shaw.

A few days later, Tatler weighed in with another story about the education of the Belgian Princess, also with a Waugh connection:

The glamorous daughter of King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium, Princess Elisabeth, will follow in the footsteps of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Hugh Grant and Benazir Bhutto. How so? For it has been announced that she will be heading to Oxford University in the autumn of this year. She’ll more specifically be pursuing the exact steps of the Chancellor Rishi Sunak, John le Carré and Dr Seuss in her decision to to take up a place at the prestigious Lincoln College.[…]

Belgian newspaper Le Soir reported that the princess completed a written entrance exam ‘anonymously’ so that her position in Belgian society wouldn’t unfairly sway her result. Being offered a place is certainly worthy of celebration given Oxford’s small acceptance rate against the large volume of applications. Its popularity no doubt helped by its reputation as the ‘city of dreaming spires’ and depiction in the TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

–The Daily Mail has published extracts from a new book entitled Seasons at Highclere. It will be published in the UK later this month. The author is Lady Carnarvon who is resident at that estate which was the setting for the TV series Downton Abbey. Here is a sample:

As the weather gets warmer, our thoughts turn to cocktails in the gardens with friends. Alec Waugh, the older brother of novelist Evelyn, claimed that he invented the cocktail party – and since Evelyn married not one but two of my husband’s relatives (nieces of the 5th Earl), I expect there were some memorable Waugh parties here. In fact, when something was especially good, Evelyn would describe it as ‘very Highclere’.

I do not recall Evelyn Waugh ever mentioning having attended any parties at Highclere with either of his wives. He once spent some time at the house of his first wife’s older sister. This was Oare House at Marlborough where her sister Alathea lived with her husband Geoffrey Fry. They invited the Waughs to stay there in October 1928 during his wife’s convalescence. And he was a frequent visitor at the family seat of his second wife, Pixton Park in west Somerset. But I don’t think he mentions having spent any time at that family’s other residences, such as Highclere.

–Finally, in another Daily Mail posting, Craig Brown reviews a new book by historian David Kynaston. He is best known for his three volumes of British history covering the post-war years up to 1962.  Brown’s review of this latest volume entitled On the Cusp: Days of ’62 opens with this:

In this short book – an interlude in his vast, ongoing history of post-war Britain – David Kynaston offers a snapshot of Britain in the summer and autumn of 1962, a time when the nation was, as the title has it, on the cusp, ‘a country where doors and windows were about to be pushed open a little wider’.

Old ways were set to be pushed aside to make way for a more egalitarian, more mechanised, less traditional society. With his eagle eye, Kynaston selects details and incidents that serve as emblems of larger shifts in the zeitgeist.

After considering several of the subjects Kynaston covers, Brown ends his review with this:

On The Cusp is peppered with sightings of the great and the good in their youth, before they became famous. Towards the end, an almost biblical litany of names, spread across four pages, charts what the young comets were up to way back then: Joe Cocker, 18, was working as a fitter for the East Midlands Gas Board; Sandra Goodrich, 15 (the future Sandie Shaw), was working at Ford’s in Dagenham; John Ravenscroft, 23 (the future John Peel), was selling crop-hail insurance to farmers in Texas.

The book ends on October 5, 1962 with the release of The Beatles’ first single and the premiere of the first James Bond film, Dr No, which Evelyn Waugh found ‘fatuous and tedious, not even erotic’.

At The Woodstock pub in North Cheam, only two people could be bothered to pay to see The Rolling Stones perform live, with a further four people outside listening for free. But whether the British people like it or not, a new age was about to dawn.


Posted in Academia, Brideshead Revisited, Catholicism, Decline and Fall, Newspapers, Oxford, Wales | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Smoke Signals from Waugh

Duncan McLaren has posted a lavishly illustrated photographic essay showing Waugh posing with pipe and cigar. Here’s a link. The pipe smoking photos seem to be post Oxford in the 1920s and the cigar smoking, post war. This leaves a 15 year gap with no photo illustrating either form of tobacco consumption. The essay opens with this:

In later life, every time Evelyn Waugh was asked to be photographed, he reached for a cigar. But when did this start? Did Evelyn smoke at Oxford? The first image of him smoking may have been taken when he was a teacher at Aston Clinton. On 22 February 1926, the 22-year-old mentioned that proofs had been sent to him by a photographer from Tring. He wrote that they were amusing, in particular the ones in ‘ordinary clothes’ in which he looked like a ‘popular preacher’.

At the end of the pipe smoker phase, about 1930, Duncan notes:

He’s square-on to the photographer by this time in his career. Very sure of himself. So sure of himself that he no longer needs to be pictured with the tools of his trade. It was in 1930 that Evelyn Waugh changed his signature, as detailed on another page on this site. It may also have been around this time that he switched from pipe to cigar, never to return.

Duncan invites readers to comment on Waugh’s smoking habits, as well as when and why he changed them. During the war he could hardly have smoked fine cigars very often, but cigarettes may have been plentiful–at least that is what I always heard from US war vets. Yet, I do not recall ever seeing him in a photograph smoking a cigarette. Comments can be sent via Duncan’s internet site that is linked above or you may comment as provided below and I will see to it that they reach him as well as our readers.



Posted in Evelyn Waugh, Photographs | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Little More Learning

Sophia Waugh, Evelyn’s grand daughter and Auberon’s daughter, writes this week in the Catholic Herald about the current state of Roman Catholic schools in the UK. The article opens with a brief review of the differing attitudes of various members of her family toward education of their children:

My father did not choose to send his four children to a Catholic school, or even a boarding school. While our cousins trotted off to Ampleforth or St Mary’s Ascot or Shaftesbury, I was sent to grammar school and my siblings were public school-educated. My father and one of his brothers went to Downside, the other went to Stonyhurst and his sisters went to St Mary’s Ascot (until one of them was expelled for turning the statues of saints to the wall and the others walked out with her in protest).

As a child, I did not think very deeply about his reasons; I suppose I was obscurely flattered, naively thinking that it meant he loved us more than his siblings loved my cousins. I knew that he was rebellious and hated his boarding school; my knowledge of boarding schools stemmed from my parents’ tales of misery and books by Angela Brazil and Enid Blyton. Then I read more advanced books such as Frost in May and Jane Eyre, and Helen Burns’s death put the kibosh on any lingering yearning to be sent away to school.

My children went to a Catholic primary school, chosen more for its educational qualities than for its religion, although I was delighted by the priest attached to the school, the regular Masses for children and parents, and the ethos that came with its religious base. Until, that is, I learned that a dinner lady insisted that the children ate in silence and when they did not, she punished them by making them pray. To be fair, she was shown the door when the head found out.

The remainder of the article is a discussion of the strides made by Roman Catholic schools in putting behind them the days of sex scandals and coverups. She also notes that monasteries have been separated from administration and teaching in adjacent schools and that a high percentage of the teaching staff and students are now non-Catholics. Despite its recent problems, Downside has filled its classes for the coming term. As befitting a Waugh, she concludes her article with a story:

This year, as last year, celebrations for school leavers have been much curtailed. The leaving balls are proms have in many cases had to be cancelled, causing angst among the young the length and breadth of the country.

This, from Harriet Langdale at Ampleforth, gives a lovely flavour of what a Catholic education meant to the leavers this year: “To give an indication of what Mass in the Abbey Church means to the pupils, all of last year, because of Covid, Mass was only in houses, and often outside which was wonderful. The leaving upper sixth made a special request that they be allowed to have Mass again in the Abbey Church before they left. They didn’t have a leavers’ ball and all the other usual leaving rites of passage, but the one thing they couldn’t bear to miss was Mass in the Abbey Church. This was their absolute highlight at the end of their term.”

It appears there is still an argument for a Catholic education – and it is coming from the students themselves.

Sophia writes the “School Days” column for The Oldie and teaches at a secondary school.

Posted in Catholicism, Newspapers, Waugh Family | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Roundup: Sash Windows and Sitwells

–Eleanor Doughty writing in Country Life considers whether sash windows should be repaired or replaced. She opens the story with this:

There is something about a sash window, isn’t there? The gentle squeak and heave as you lift it up, the rush of air that greets you. ‘For some reason, houses with them feel like a proper home,’ says a friend, a keen sash-window enthusiast. And it’s true — until the bleak midwinter arrives and you’re drawing the curtains at 3pm, cursing silently every time you look at the windows, which, let’s be honest, probably sold you the house in the first place. This is the curse of the sash. It’s beautiful, but damned — both a reason to buy and not to buy a house.

Doughty is also a literary critic and Evelyn Waugh fan. This is reflected as the article nears its conclusion:

… exhaust all other options before you replace. After all, says Andrew Cronan, senior associate director of Strutt & Parker’s country department, ‘windows are the eyes of the house’, so they’ve got to be bang on. Sometimes, double-glazing is the answer. He gives the example of Combe Florey House in Somerset, the former home of Evelyn Waugh, which is on the market for £5.5 million, ‘where all the original windows have been replaced with high-quality double-glazed sashes, bringing the house into the 21st century’. The upgrade work done at Combe Florey is consistent with wider window restoration trends. Richard Dollar set up The Sash Window Workshop 28 years ago and explains that, until recently, ‘we did a lot of draught-sealing work. That market has almost disappeared — most of the work we do now is double-glazing’.

–A new novel in which Nancy Mitford is the leading character may be of interest. This is entitled The Bookseller’s Secret and is written by Michelle Gable. The author is interviewed by her hometown newspaper the San Diego Union Tribune where she explains:

The story follows Mitford’s adventures as a London bookstore manager during World War II — complete with spies, infamous sisters and romance. Interwoven within is a modern-day narrative seeking Mitford’s lost wartime manuscript.

Here’s an excerpt from the Q&A:

Q: What character or real-life person did you have the most fun writing?

A: This is by far the hardest question! Nancy had a rich cast of characters in her life, from family members to fellow writers and friends. The hypochondriac Edwin “Hellbags” Sackville-West was great fun. This was a man who viewed his body as a swarming hive of malevolent bees. “Hellbags” was a real person, but there’s not much written about him, so I enjoyed filling in the sketch of what is known.

If I had to pick one person, it’d be the insufferable, hilarious Evelyn Waugh. He was such an ass, and it was a blast making up snide remarks, or sharing horrible comments he really did say. He could be downright cruel to Nancy, such as saying she wrote half of a good book, yet there was a deep and profound bond between them. Evelyn’s voice was so clear to me; I could practically hear him sneering at me from the other side of the room.

The Economist reviews a new book on Public Schools. This is by Richard Beard and is entitled Sad Little Men: Private Schools and the Ruin of England. Here’s an excerpt:

As its subtitle promises, this book is an uncompromising denunciation of Britain’s private schools. They offer their charges a Faustian bargain, says Richard Beard: the tools of success (principally fluency and self-confidence) in return for emotional impoverishment. He knows whereof he speaks: in 1975 he was sent from home to a new life sleeping in dormitories and climbing hierarchies, much like David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

This argument is far from original; lambasting public schools for tormenting their inmates and ruining the country is one of Britain’s oldest traditions. […] In the 20th century Evelyn Waugh quipped that “anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison.” Goronwy Rees, a journalist, wrote of the public-school boys he encountered at Oxford that they “were all well-taught at school and what they understood they understood very well; what they did not understand included almost everything which would change the world in their lifetime”.

Updating these criticisms, Mr Beard makes some striking points about the way “total institutions” (a phrase he borrows from the sociologist Erving Goffman) can reconstruct the human personality. The aim of public schools is to make people fit in effortlessly with the changing rules and rituals of the tribe. They do this by removing children from their natural environments, then forcing them to play a succession of different roles. […] Thus Alexander Johnson became Boris, Eric Blair became George Orwell, and Philby, Burgess and Maclean became Soviet agents.

The Oldie’s latest “Country Mouse” column opens with this:

In the late 1920s, Evelyn Waugh was staying with the Sitwells at Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire. Standing on the terrace, Sir George Sitwell stood silently, gazing out across the valley. Eventually, he turned and spoke to Evelyn ‘in the wistful, nostalgic tones of a castaway, yet of a castaway who was reconciled to his own company. Ignoring the settlement in the mining valley nearby, its streets packed with terraced housing, Sir George declared, “There is no one between us and the Locker-lampsons.” ’

The story used to resonate, not only with snobs who found themselves ‘marooned’ in the country, but also with artsy former Londoners who were desperate for intellectual communion with others on their wavelengths. And for these former Londoners too, even in the Home Counties, there was invariably no one between them and a single soul mate 30 miles away.

Yet country life has changed since Giles Wood – my husband and the customary occupant of this page – and I swapped stimulation for space, fresh air and lower outgoings 30 years ago.

Columnist Mary Killen goes on to explain how the Covid 19 pandemic has brought so many metropolitan residents to her rural retreat at Marlborough that she now feels like George Sitwell.

It should also be noted that several papers have announced a major auction of Sitwell family artifacts and memorabilia (including a substantial library from Weston Hall in Northamptonshire). See previous post. This will take place on 16 November in Newbury, Berks. Details may be seen at this link.

–The Catholic Herald in the debut column of American religious journalist Kenneth Craycraft focuses on a letter by Waugh published by the CH in its 7 August 1964 issue about the ongoing Second Vatican Council. Craycraft’s column opens with the assertion that Waugh’s letter:

… raised issues as fresh as this summer’s headlines. […] The letter is a timely proxy for the broad range of theological, philosophical and moral matters that are especially – but not solely – of concern to the peculiar way that American Catholics think about faith and public life. […]

Addressing the relationship of Catholicism to popular culture, the importance of liturgical integrity, and the problem of dogmatic commitment to “diversity”, Waugh’s letter spoke to matters that are still at the forefront of Catholic argument and concern.

In it, he complained about the condescension of some Council enthusiasts towards those who, like Waugh, did not object to the Council but anticipated that it might be an opportunity to subordinate the faith delivered once and for all to the spirit of the times. That is, he complained about those who celebrated the Council as a victory of “progressives” over “conservatives”. Waugh saw this as a capitulation of theological principle to cultural exigency…

The letter is not included in the 1980 Mark Amory collection but is quoted and cited at length in the balance of the CH article.

–Finally, the death was announced earlier this week of Charlie Watts, longtime drummer for the Rolling Stones. He was also, inter alia, a book collector. The Independent newspaper includes this quote in their obituary notice:

His work with the group had earnt Watts an estimated £70m. As befitted such an aesthete, he spent a portion of his time and money seeking out appropriate rare artefacts. These included one of Kenny Clarke’s drum kits, as well as one once played by Big Sid Catlett – “one of the great Thirties swing drummers”. He also collected signed first editions of 20th-century writers: “Agatha Christie: I’ve got every book she wrote in paperback. Graham Greene, I have all of them. Evelyn Waugh, he’s another one. Wodehouse: everything he wrote.”

According to The Independent, Watts was born in London, 2 June 1941; married 1964 to Shirley Ann Watts (one daughter); died 24 August 2021. He was 80 when he died.

Posted in Auctions, Catholicism, Combe Florey, Interviews, Letters, Newspapers | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Adaptations Abound

–In a recent issue of The Spectator, Chilton Williamson, Jr considers the success of the 1950s Perry Mason CBS TV series in light of today’s alternatives. Here’s the opening of the article:

I was well into my thirties when my parents acquired a television set, for no good reason that I could discern after they’d gone so many years without one without obvious damage to their health or intellects. Growing up in the Fifties and Sixties, my sister and I were permitted to watch two television shows while visiting with relatives. One was Topper. The other was Perry Mason, which they occasionally joined us for: a small family grouping that was the closest thing the Williamsons ever came to resembling a painting by Norman Rockwell.

Over the past year and a half, I have been re-watching episodes of the original show […] As with so many good things, I found that they had improved with age — not only theirs but my own as well. Several months ago, the discovery that Evelyn Waugh had been a great admirer of Erle Stanley Gardner’s novels, from which the series was adapted, further increased my appreciation and respect for the films. […]

See previous post re Waugh’s admiration of Erle Stanley Gardner. After discussing why the original series was so successful, Williamson continues:

The formal elegance and compactness of the stories, based for the most part on Gardner’s own, are carried over from the novels, thus preserving the craftsmanship, professionalism and structural balance that doubtless explains Evelyn Waugh’s appreciation of the novels; the soundtrack and musical scoring are as discreetly suited to the whole as are the other elements.

Williamson then looks at a 1980s remake on NBC and determines why it did not succeed. Among other things, it seemed out of its time in the 1980s: too much had changed during the turbulent 1960s. And the setting was moved away from Los Angeles to Denver, which was not what Erle Stanley Gardner had in mind. The article concludes  with this:

I am no TV critic, and my rather philistine taste in film runs chiefly to foreign detective shows, Lewis, the Poirot movies (with David Suchet, of course), Il Commissario Montalbano, Le Sagne du Vigne, Maigret (with Bruno Cremer), Muertres, and so forth. Nevertheless I feel confident in judging the first Perry Mason series to be a true work of art, probably the best thing ever accomplished by the American television industry. I doubt Evelyn Waugh ever watched an episode. That is a pity. He would have loved everything about it.

Williamson doesn’t mention the recent HBO Perry Mason series (nor do I recall any discussion of its critical reception.) It was more of a prequel and moved the setting to the 1930s with Perry Mason transformed into a private detective rather than a defense attorney.  It must have been successful, as HBO has commissioned a second series.

Waugh has not left much information about his TV preferences (if, indeed, he had any). But it is hard to imagine that some one who was as keen an admirer of Gardner’s work as he was could have resisted the temptation at least to sample the original TV series (if, that is, it was ever broadcast on British television during his lifetime). On the other hand, he had his own sad experience with adaptations of his work (e.g. The Loved One) and may for that reason not have been so keen as I have suggested to see what the result was for the works of an author he so much admired such as Gardner.

–Another article on adaptations of books into TV and film appears in a recent issue of The Critic. This is by Alexander Larman and he turned to the subject when he read the announcement that The English Patient was about to be made into a TV series. He does not foresee this as a necessarily good development since he recalls Anthony Minghella’s previous theatrical film adaptation as something that would be hard to improve upon. He explains his own views as follows:

The debate has raged on for some time as to whether cinema or television is a “superior’ medium, ever since the arrival of streaming services and the increasingly accepted idea of ‘box set binging’. […] It’s simply easier to watch an hour or two of television on Netflix or Amazon Prime than to schlep out to the multiplex or arthouse, with all the attendant costs and fuss that that involves.

As someone who has traditionally regarded the act of going to the cinema in much the same way that a religious man treats going to church, it has been a source of great sadness to me that it seems to be rapidly declining as an art form. […] Mid-budgeted literate films aimed at adults, such as The English Patient, are no longer being made. Instead, their natural home is television.

Yet even here there is compromise and disappointment. The Netflix drama Bridgerton attracted vast viewing figures, as well as some controversy for its anachronistically diverse and woke presentation of the Georgian era. Yet the chances of, say, Evelyn Waugh or EM Forster’s novels being similarly adapted for Netflix or a rival seem remote. There is a vast amount of money being spent on television, but most of it is being spent in an uninspiring and unexciting fashion. And the BBC has hardly covered itself in glory lately, either, not least with its catastrophic decision to allow Emily Mortimer to ruin The Pursuit of Love  and thereby destroying any chance of a faithful, enjoyable adaptation of Love in a Cold Climate. [Emphasis supplied.]

–Larman doesn’t mention the possibility of a TV serial remake of Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited; this was mooted late last year and was said to have been commissioned by BBC and HBO. It was to be directed and adapted by Luca Guadagnino. See previous post.

Not much has been reported about this project since November 2020, but there was a recent announcement by Castle Howard in Yorkshire that may be relevant. This stated that Castle Howard would be closed to the public for late summer-early fall:

We have confirmed a filming contract that will take place at Castle Howard, which will mean a period of closure of the visitor attraction. We hope you will understand that the decision to take on the filming project has not been taken lightly and we have considered options very carefully. […] The essential income that filming provides goes directly into the restoration of our historic buildings and landscape.

The filming itself will take place between 9th September and 9th October and for this period the House and Gardens will close entirely to the public. The House itself will close for a further period in order for the set up and de-rig of the project, from 16th August […]

The Castle Howard team have signed a non disclosure confidentiality agreement and all we are permitted to say about the project is:‘Castle Howard will be closed due to filming. We are not permitted to say anything about this project other than it being a television filming project’

Castle Howard as many of you know was the setting for Brideshead Castle in both the 1981 TV and 2008 film versions of Waugh’s novel.

Posted in Adaptations, Brideshead Revisited, The Loved One | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Waugh Podcasts

Podcasts relating to books by two Waughs have recently been posted.

–The first is on the Bowie Book Club website. This is loosely related to singer-songwriter David Bowie’s list of 100 favorite books that included Waugh’s Vile Bodies. That is the subject of this 26 July 2021 podcast. This information about the podcast has been posted on the website:

Welcome to another episode of the Bowie Book Club, where wild speculation and grasping for straws about Bowie’s favorite books has reigned supreme since 2016. This time we read Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, a careening comic novel of doomed romance, never ending parties, and rotating gossip columnists. […]


Here’s the link.

–The recent book by Waugh’s grand daughter Daisy Waugh Phone for the Fish Knives is also discussed on a Tessa Williams podcast. Here’s the link to that one for which we thank our reader David Lull.

Posted in Interviews, Vile Bodies, Waugh Family | Tagged , | Leave a comment