Waugh-Themed Academic Papers

–On Tuesday, 20 April 2021, Yuexi Liu, Assistant Professor of English at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University will make a presentation on the subject: “Narrating Difficult Histories: (Inter)Wartime Border Crossing in Hemingway, Waugh, and Isherwood.”  Here’s a summary from the notice:

The (inter)wartime border crossings in A Farewell to Arms (1929), Vile Bodies (1930), and Down There on a Visit (1962) reveal difficult and often lost histories of deserters, violations of freedom of expression, and persecutions of sexual minorities. Drawing on extensive archival material, including literary manuscripts and historical British Government records, to shed new light on the three novels, this talk demonstrates how border controls in Europe attracted urgent attention in the shadow of war and how customs, at the forefront of national security, were consequently relied upon as an ever crucial institution responsible for protecting the nation states and their citizens from ‘undesirable aliens’. Hemingway, Waugh, and Isherwood criticised the injustice and violence of the border control policies and practices that failed to balance the self-interest of the nation states and humanitarian concerns. Narrating the difficult histories of the shadow and experimenting with comedy and satire to narrate violence, all three writers themselves crossed borders.

Yuexi is a member of the Evelyn Waugh Society and co-editor of its journal Evelyn Waugh Studies. She is completing a monograph entitled Exterior Modernism: Evelyn Waugh and Cinema. The presentation on Tuesday is scheduled at 530-7pm local time at the University (near Shanghai), HS436. Details are available at this link.

–Cornell University Press has recently published a book entitled Dynamic Form: How Intermediality Made Modernism by Cara L Lewis. Chapter 4 is on the subject: “Bad Formalism: Evelyn Waugh’s Film Fictions in the age of Cinemechanics.” Here is the introductory paragraph from that chapter:

Writing in his diary at the age of twenty, in July 1924, Evelyn Waugh guiltily observes the gap since his last entry: “More than a week has passed but I cannot quite remember how. I went out with Adrian one evening and overdrank myself with Terence another and I have been to many cinemas.” At the time, Waugh had just come down from Oxford, and the hazy fog of this entry, in which too much alcohol and too much cinema going blend together, is a characteristic affect of his student years and his early twenties. His diaries from this period are filled with similar notes of debauchery, as when, for instance, he and his friends pooled their efforts in the summer of 1924 in order to make a twenty-minute film called The Scarlet Woman . Their production metamorphoses into reckless consumption: “The week before was hectic with cinema work and extremely expensive. Looking back on it I think the money was ill spent. The film cost us each £6, the hire of the dresses and taxi fares added heavily, and on Saturday night I gave a dinner to Elsa Lanchester which cost £4. [. . .] We were all a little drunk. Terence put on the cinema and I was quite disgusted with the badness of the film. Elsa and I discovered that we were born on the same day and fought all over the floor for a pound note which eventually became destroyed.” [Footnotes omitted.]


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Annual Waugh Lecture: A Housemaster’s Report

Lancing College has announced the details of this year’s annual Evelyn Waugh Lecture to be held by Zoom Webinar on Thursday, 22 April at 1930-2030 London time:

2021 marks the centenary of Evelyn Waugh leaving Lancing and 50 years since tonight’s speaker started teaching English at the College. Jeremy Tomlinson will consider the impact of Lancing on Waugh’s life and writing and how his teachers assessed him. Jeremy became Housemaster of Head’s in 1981 when little had changed since Waugh was in the House and will describe something of what his schooldays were like 60 years before. We look forward to hearing more about the relationship between Lancing and its most famous novelist on Thursday 22 April at 7.30pm, in the 2021 Evelyn Waugh Lecture entitled: ‘Evelyn Waugh, A Housemaster’s Report’.

The announcement explains that the event is by invitation only to members of the Lancing Foundation. In the past they have allowed members of the Evelyn Waugh Society to attend if they apply directly, identify themselves as such and space is available. The registration details and contact information are available at this link.


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Tax Day Roundup

–An article in Lapham’s Quarterly commemorates Tax Day (even though it may have been postponed in the USA this year). This is from the recent book Rebellion, Rascals and Revenue: Tax Follies and Wisdom through the Ages by Michael Keen and Joseph Slemrod. It opens with a quote from Waugh:

In Scoop, Evelyn Waugh drew on his experiences in 1930s Abyssinia to imagine tax collection in fictional Ishmaelia:

“It had been found expedient to merge the functions of national defense and inland revenue in an office then held in the capable hands of General Gollancz Jackson; his forces were in two main companies, the Ishmaelite Mule Tax-gathering Force and the Rifle Excisemen with a small Artillery Death Duties Corps for use against the heirs of powerful noblemen…Towards the end of each financial year the general’s flying columns would lumber out into the surrounding country on the heels of the fugitive population and return in time for budget day laden with the spoils of the less nimble; coffee and hides, silver coinage, slaves, livestock, and firearms.”

It was from simple plundering of much this kind that today’s often mind-numbingly complicated tax systems evolved. Taxation may be one of the few things in our lives that our ancestors would recognize from theirs.

Something recognizable as taxation doubtless began as simple plunder in the mold of General Jackson, long before Ptolemaic Egypt or even ancient Sumer. Elements of plunder continued over the centuries. [,,,]

–Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Simon Heffer, reviews Selina Hastings’ career as a biographer. This is on the occasion of the recent publication of her biography of novelist Sybille Bedford. See previous posts. Heffer notes that several of Hastings’ subjects, including Bedford, have been relative monsters (with particular reference to Evelyn Waugh and Somerset Maugham) and yet she has managed to describe them and their work in relatively moderate terms. He posits three reasons for her success:

…First, she can write. A remarkable number of biographers cant. Hastings’s style is clear, precise and uncluttered. Second, her scholarship is exemplary; she reconnoitres her ground before she writes, not merely combing the papers of her subjects and their networks but also interviewing those who knew them. […] But third, what distinguishes her biographies is their tone. Most of her subjects were outright monsters; to handle such people without alienating the reader requires immense skill.

Hastings sticks to the facts; she does not engage in amateur, posthumous psychoanalysis; she simply presents the story. Both Waugh and Maugham were monuments in selfishness, and in later life made themselves (Maugham especially) notably loathsome. Their biographer examines their lives–particularly Waugh’s inability to relate successfully to women, and Maugham’s sexual ambiguity and manipulativeness –and tries to see the best in them, while never denying their social and moral atrocities. […]

He goes on to describe Hastings’s treatment of Bedford, often described as arrogant, and concludes that Hastings “persuades us to accept her at a high valuation.” Since in Waugh’s case several of his closest friends and confidantes are women, his point on Hastings’s treatment of his “inability to relate successfully to women” may be a bit oversimplified.

–A BBC website posts a review by John Self of a book by Musa Okwonga (One of Them) about the latter’s schooldays at Eton College. In a discussion of how the school has been described by other writers (Ian Fleming, George Orwell and John Le Carré), Self writes:

… take the case of Evelyn Waugh, the envious outside chronicler of the upper class, who probably wished he’d gone to Eton instead of the humbler Lancing College. And in a typical act of one-up-manship, he sent his character Sebastian Flyte there in his most nostalgic novel Brideshead Revisited. “Thank God I went to Eton,” sighs Sebastian during an obscure philosophical argument between family and friends. Sebastian, significantly, starts the book as the epitome of glamour but undergoes a decline as the story proceeds. (Waugh’s mixed feelings about Eton may also have been coloured by the fact that his first wife, also called Evelyn, had an affair with an old Etonian.)

Waugh actually wished he had gone to Sherborne School where his father and brother Alec had been students. Evelyn was barred from entry there after his brother wrote a novel (Loom of Youth) depicting homosexuality at a fictional public school.

–The website Aeon.co has posted an essay by Rachel Hope Cleves that may be an excerpt from her latest book: Unspeakable: A Life Beyond Sexual Morality. It deals with the subject of how the attitude toward pederasty has changed since the prewar days of the 20th Century. The excerpt opens with this:

The British writer Norman Douglas was so famous during his lifetime (1868-1952) that he frequently turned up as a character in fiction. D H Lawrence, Aldous Huxley and Richard Aldington all put him in their novels, while Douglas’s own bestselling novel South Wind (1917) appeared on the shelves of characters in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1945) and Vladimir Nabokov’s The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941). Bombarded by fans who sought him out in Florence, his home base during the 1920s and ’30s, Douglas had his mail sent to the local Thomas Cook travel bureau to keep his address secret.

Among the typically laid back views of Douglas in his lifetime held by upper class Britons are these expressed by Waugh’s friend Harold Acton:

Harold Acton, the Florence aesthete, [remarked] wistfully that ‘such a schoolmaster [Douglas] would have been ideal, and I regret that I met him too late, when I was more or less crystallised.’ Acton, who witnessed many of Douglas’s intergenerational affairs in Florence, including the final episode that led to his flight from the city, was under no illusion about the nature of Douglas’s relationships with children. He simply didn’t condemn Douglas for his sexual behaviour.

–An article on the alcoholism of Waugh’s character Sebastian Flyte is posted on the website The Daily Eudemon: Catholic Cultural Commentary on Everything that Matters:

The early pages of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited describe the drunken antics of students Lord Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder (the narrator). Ryder makes the later observation that he “got drunk often, but through an excess of high spirits, in the love of the moment, and the wish to prolong and enhance it; Sebastian drank to escape.” […]

As alcohol works through a person’s system, the drinker loses his sense of suffocating self-regard and its accompanying worries, with the result that he decreasingly sees existence through the distorting prism of self-regard. As the prism breaks apart, he becomes re-acquainted with the fact that earthly life is a gift—a good gift that is the gift of God, Who is Full Goodness. After enough drinks, everything seems good. Rather, everything is good (for all is created by God), and the drinker becomes acutely aware of this. This awareness gives him a joy that he has difficulty finding in the everyday world as he walks about with his constant sense of self-regard.

After a discussion of Sebastian’s alcoholism as it is described in Waugh’s novel, the article concludes with this:

Sebastian was fit for neither the secular world nor the religious world. He was still pulled in two opposite directions and pathetic by both worlds’ standards. But Waugh leaves us with the impression that Sebastian obtained a good life—all ambition thrown aside, still drinking, but at least ashamed of it. He became a man whose vice was permanently affixed to his back, but a man who was becoming holy by carrying it as nobly as possible.

Thanks to Dave Lull for a link to this article.


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Hetton Abbey Revisited

An article in The American Conservative magazine takes a new look at Waugh’s novel A Handful of Dust. This is by Peter Tonguette who explains his motivation in the opening paragraph:

During the last 12 months, countless old movies, books, and plays have been remembered or reinterpreted to help us make sense of the pandemic and its miseries. Few works from the past evoke the cognitive dissonance of our moment, the sense that we are watching society go to pieces from the comfort of a picture window, better than Evelyn Waugh’s 1934 novel A Handful of Dust, a masterpiece that was judged one of the last century’s 100 best books by the Modern Library.

He sees in Tony Last a hero whose “character […] mirrors our own […] a life in retreat from a hostile, declining society.” What follows is an interesting and entertaining review of the story, updated as needed to show its relevance to the world created by the coronavirus pandemic. When he arrives at the ending, Tonguette is reminded of the conclusions of an earlier reader:

…In a 1977 piece in The New York Times, the critic Anatole Broyard suggested that Tony’s fate was not one worse than death. “I wonder, as we leave Tony there, whether he will not eventually be happier with Mr. Todd and Dickens than if he were to make his way back to England,” wrote Broyard, whose favorite Waugh novel this was. “With American life going on as it has been, I sometimes feel like holing up with the complete works of Evelyn Waugh.”

The impulse to hole up, to withdraw, to retire to a grand country estate, to lose oneself in the literature of long ago: are these not widely shared as we look around us today? As with the French revolutionaries and Marie Antoinette, the vanguard—even if only in the form of alimony-seeking unfaithful spouses—did come for Tony Last, but he found, in his role as a literary vassal to Mr. Todd, a new warren to burrow into.

What, finally, makes A Handful of Dust so sad? Maybe it’s not that Tony Last is lost in the jungle, but because, this year, it sometimes feels as though we are right there with him.

The article is entitled “Watching the World from Hetton” and can be read in its entirety at this link. Tonguette doesn’t mention the alternate ending to the novel in which Tony does not travel to South America but appears to emerge a bit from the hole into which he has dug himself at Hetton. Perhaps it is just as well to ignore that alternative since it was written not because Waugh thought it an improvement but because it avoided a copyright conflict in connection with the American serial version of the story.


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Waugh Biographer Takes Up Another Author

Paula Byrne who wrote the “partial biography”, as she described it, entitled Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead (2009) has now written a full-on biography of another satirical English novelist. This is entitled The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym and will be released in the UK next week by William Collins.

The book has already been reviewed quite favorably in several papers. Writing in last Saturday’s edition of The Times, Ysenda Maxtone Graham noted:

Pym the novelist is particularly good on the unmarried older woman at Christmas, in her bedsit, heating up a meal to share in front of the television with the other lonely resident from across the stairwell. From that moment of yuletide desolation her bleak poetry sprang.

Prepare yourself for a long read. Byrne presents Pym’s life story in the picaresque style of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones: 124 chapters with titles such as “In which our Heroine sees Friedbert for the Last Time” and “In which Miss Pym leaves Pimlico for Barnes”. Byrne justifies this comic-epic format by suggesting that Pym “spent a lot of time in love” and “on the road”. […]

The chapters are enticingly short, and I romped through them. Each adds a vital piece of the jigsaw, explaining the provenance of her fictional characters and building up our understanding of the state of mind of the person who wrote the late masterpieces Quartet in Autumn (1977) and The Sweet Dove Died (1978).

The Guardian’s reviewer Kathryn Hughes earlier this week wrote to much the same effect:

Although Pym’s archive has already been well picked over by scholars and fans, Byrne’s book is the first to integrate its revelations into a cradle-to-grave biography. She gives a seamless timeline of Pym’s life as a provincial solicitor’s daughter, Oxford undergraduate, wartime Wren and diligent employee of the International African Society. Byrne doesn’t dodge the uncomfortable implication that Pym’s phase as a Nazi sympathiser (she even had a swastika pin that she wore around Oxford) went on longer than most middle-class Britons in the 1930s, but she is clear too how completely it was bound up with Pym’s feelings for prewar Germany as a land of music, mountains and philosophy and, above all, as a crucial bulwark against the terrifying threat of communism from Russia. It perhaps says something about Pym’s blind spot on the subject that she had to be badgered by her friend and first reader Jock Liddell into excising Nazis from the typescript of Some Tame Gazelle.

An excerpt from Byrne’s book appears in today’s Daily Telegraph: “Barbara Pym’s secret sexual awakening.” BBC Radio 4 will also be broadcasting excerpts from the book starting on Tuesday, 13 April at 0030. There will be additional 15 minute episodes daily through Saturday. [NOTE: This is change of time from original schedule due to pre-emption by programming relating to the death of Prince Philip. Check BBC Radio 4 website for scheduling of later episodes.] The episodes will be posted on the internet after each broadcast and will available worldwide  on BBC iPlayer.

Sion College in London has announced an online seminar in which Byrne will discuss the book. This will take place on 10 May. Details on booking are available here. Registration fee will include a copy of the book which will be shipped before the seminar convenes. Amazon.com has not yet posted a schedule for the book’s availability in the USA, but North American readers can easily purchase a print edition from Amazon.co.uk and pay in dollars using a credit card or other digital payment.

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Combe Florey Sale Coincides with Waugh Anniversary

In an article in today’s Times newspaper, Patrick Kidd writes:

On Easter morning 55 years ago tomorrow [Saturday, 10 April 2021] Evelyn Waugh said his last Deo gratias. After assisting his priest at a Latin mass in the Somerset town of Wiveliscombe, Waugh returned to his home in Combe Florey, seven miles away, for a family lunch in a rare jolly mood. At some point before the lamb was served, he went to his library and was never seen alive again.

The greatest novelist of his generation, as Graham Greene described him in The Times — or “the nastiest-tempered man in England” according to the architectural historian James Lees-Milne — was found dead in the downstairs toilet. Biffed while on the thunder-box, as Brigadier Ben Ritchie-Hook, the one-eyed maverick in his Sword of Honour trilogy, would have put it.

Waugh is buried near by. The location, in a former ha-ha on the edge of the 35-acre estate where he spent his last decade and the adjacent churchyard, chimes with his personality of awkwardly refusing to fit in anywhere.

The article goes on to explain how Waugh relied on his carpentry skills to oversee redecoration of the house and how, after he died, it came to belong to Auberon and his family. This was not down to primogeniture inheritance but to the fact that Auberon and his wife Teresa bought it from Evelyn’s widow Laura after she had been living there alone in relative squalor (as described by Auberon) for about 5 years. When Auberon’s family moved in, Laura then lived in one wing of the house.

The article in the Times then describes how the present owners, who bought the property from Auberon’s widow Teresa Waugh about 10 years ago, have upgraded the house. This includes addition of an orangery, a heated pool and a caretaker’s cottage. Several of these features are described in the article. Other details and more photographs are available in the online listing by the realtors Strutt & Parker on their website.

Some of this may be a bit oversimplified. Here, for example, is Patrick Kidd’s description of the disposition of Evelyn Waugh’s Combe Florey library:

Disappointingly, nothing survives of Waugh’s library, where he wrote his autobiography and Unconditional Surrender, the final volume of Sword of Honour. The room remains a library with glass doors over new shelves, but you would never know that a literary great ever used it. Blame his widow, who sold the contents, shelves and all, to a Texan in 1968. Alexander suggests that in doing so she had “effectively extinguished the spirit of Evelyn’s personality”; his father, the journalist Auberon Waugh, believed she did it to annoy her children.

It was not an individual Texan, but a Texas institution that purchased the library. This was the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas which acquired the library, preserved and expanded it and made it readily accessible to scholars. What particularly annoyed the family perhaps was not so much that their mother sold the books but also all the furnishings, decorations and paintings from the library. They later sought to have those accoutrements returned in exchange for Waugh’s correspondence archive. While the Ransom Center’s staff would have reportedly been happy to oblige, the State of Texas couldn’t come up with the necessary finding that the archive was equal in market value to the furnishings. So they languish in the Ransom Center’s basement storage and the correspondence archive went to the British Library.

Another online property website posts a listing for Waugh’s earlier residence at Piers Court. This appears on TheSpaces.com. This may, however, be a reposting from a 2018 listing that appeared a few years ago as was described in a previous post. The realtor in that transaction posted that that the property was sold.

UPDATE (10 April 2021). The last paragraph was amended to reflect sale of Piers Court pursuant to 2018 listing.

Posted in Academia, Anniversaries, Combe Florey, Letters, Newspapers, Sword of Honour, Waugh Family | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Easter Roundup

–Edward St Aubyn has written a new novel: Double Blind. The Sydney Morning Herald explains why it may (or may not) appeal to Waugh readers:

St Aubyn’s early prose can be almost unbearably sharp, mordant and bitterly ironic. The fictional world of ossified Anglo-American wealth, privilege and clever cruelty depicted in his books feels like a kind of depraved Evelyn Waugh, taking the reader to dark places where Waugh and his generation of high-society novelists would never have ventured. Dark, certainly, though often very funny. […]

St Aubyn’s characters are no longer cultivating aristocratic detachment but seeking engagement with the world’s problems, albeit while remaining safely within their exclusive social circle.
These post-Melrose characters are just as privileged, attractive and damaged as their more decadent predecessors, and anyone can be made to look frivolous under St Aubyn’s witheringly satirical gaze. His worldview is not exactly heartless, but there is no place for sentiment. There is the possibility of redemption, even if it is almost impossible to attain in this life. […]

The great preoccupation of St Aubyn’s fiction is inheritance in all its aspects, and to that extent Double Blind is of a piece with the Melrose novels. This may not be the author’s best book, but this upscale social comedy-drama is entertaining as well as companionable.

The Guardian’s reviewer came to much the same conclusion:

…What defined Edward St Aubyn’s quintet of Patrick Melrose novels was their bitter comedy and sadistic wit, and though his two subsequent novels (one a satire on literary prizes, the other a reworking of King Lear) were attempts to alter the template, their tone remained much the same. Double Blind opens in unfamiliar territory, as an earnest, unworldly young botanist called Francis wanders through a country estate, Howorth, where he lives off-grid and is employed as part of a wilding project. Seemingly purged of irony, the tone is more DH Lawrence than Evelyn Waugh and almost rapturous in its pantheism (“He felt the life around him and the life inside him flowing into each other”). […]

–Daisy Waugh, Evelyn’s grand daughter and Auberon’s daughter, has just written and self published a new book called Guy Woake’s WordDiary. Here is a brief description from her website:

GUY WOAKE is a straight, white, cis male born into a racist, heteronormative, transphobic, patriarchal world. But all these things offend him and he’s trying his best to be better.

He’s 18 years old, a lonely fresher, studying Waste Water Recyclement at the Uni of Lakeside, Brighton. He misses his family. He misses his dog. He’s outraged by the state of the world, and he’s bored with recycling water.

“If you want to change stuff,” he tells himself, “you have to DO stuff.”

So he starts a blog, which he posts unflaggingly, to deafening silence … until the campus bullies catch sight of it, and for better and worse, Guy’s uneventful life is turned upside down.

She mentions this book in a recent interview on YouTube. See previous post. Thanks to Dave Lull for sending a link.

–The Daily Mail has a feature length story by Jessica Fellowes (who interviewed Daisy Waugh in the YouTube program mentioned above). Fellowes compares the origins the Bright Young People of the “Roaring Twenties” following the disaster of WWI and the Spanish Flu to what she foresees as what may be a similar generation in the 2020s following the recent upheavals of Brexit and the Covid 19 pandemic. Here’s her conclusion:

…This was the birth of Art Deco and social-climbing women who called themselves interior designers. Evelyn Waugh, who shone a brilliant satirical light on this era with his novels Vile Bodies and A Handful of Dust, describes entire walls of mirrors being installed in the drawing rooms of great houses, but it wasn’t too much of a fantastical stretch. Take a look at Eltham Palace, fabulously rebuilt in 1933 by Stephen Courtauld and his wife using the best of the new Art Deco ideas.

★ ★ ★ ★

Nostalgia can be dangerous – a denial of present pain. But reflection is good and I would encourage us to take inspiration from the perspective of the past, to see how the resilience and daring, even the glorious decadence, of the people who lived before us led them to create a brighter future. One that is out there for us, too. Most of all, let’s remember how to have fun in the Roaring 20s Mark II.

The Tablet has posted an article by Allan Mallinson about his experience as the new military obituarist of The Times newspaper. One of his first subjects was:

…Major-General Jeremy Phipps, cavalryman and SAS officer. His mother was Veronica Fraser, daughter of the 14th Lord Lovat, Chief of Clan Fraser, Jacobite Catholics. Phipps went to Ampleforth, where his housemaster, Father Walter Maxwell-Stuart, was secretary of the Ampleforth College Beagles. Phipps, he said, hadn’t learnt much history, but did cast “a very pretty dry fly”. I was minded of Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy. Indeed, Waugh would have made much of the material I gathered.

His article concludes with this:

…it’s time I re-read the Sword of Honour trilogy (it’s all of five years since last time): all life is there, as they say; the humour is “wicked”, and the Catholicism comforting. I also know that, with the centenary of Irish Independence approaching and with it the unresolved issue of Nationalism and the IRA, I really must steel myself to read Anna Burns’s [Booker prizewinning Milkman] and see what if anything I failed to grasp in the 1970s and 1980s about Ardoyne and the other “Green” areas. Only then perhaps will it be time for personal “Indemnity and Oblivion”.

–Finally, the New York Times in yesterday’s Book Review published a full-page illustrated memorial to the bowler hat in literature. Prominently mentioned are appearances in Becket’s Waiting for Godot, as a favorite apparel article of P G Wodehouse’s Jeeves and, perhaps most memorably, as the deadly weapon of Oddjob in Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger. It is a pity they missed the opportunity to include a photo of Evelyn Waugh wearing one.



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Waugh’s Hoax on April Fools Day

The Economist in recognition of the importance of April Fools Day has published a list of famous hoaxes. These were not necessarily perpetrated on the day itself. One category was art hoaxes. These included the Nat Tate wheeze concocted by novelist William Boyd in 1998 as well as a Turner look-alike (“Fighting Temeraire”) by painter and decorator Tom Keating. Both of those hoaxes were actually sold at auction as such even after their bogosity was well known. Waugh also gets a mention in this category:

…Before all of these came a canonical hoax: Bruno Hat’s “Still Life with Pears” (1929), auctioned at Sotheby’s in 2009. Hat, his sponsors claimed, was a largely self-taught painter born on Germany’s Baltic coast and discovered working in a village shop in Clymping, West Sussex. It was hard to obtain more details. The moustached artist who rolled by wheelchair into his first London show, in the summer of 1929, spoke very little English. (Mainly because he was actually the socialite Tom Mitford, who spoke very little German.)

The show was a stunt by a sniggering coalition of Bright Young Things. Evelyn Waugh wrote the catalogue notes. (“Bruno Hat may lead the way in this century’s European painting from Discovery to Tradition.”) Brian Howard, a model for Sebastian Flyte in “Brideshead Revisited”, was the chief curator. (He and the artist John Banting supplied the work.) Their successful joke haunted Howard: his contemporaries saw it as the principal achievement of a wasted life. But the war redeemed him. At the end of 1940, MI5 assigned Howard to spy on his own class. He toured West End grill rooms and English country houses, hunting for genuine Quislings. Only the truly gifted can make a career out of deception.

Perhaps as part of the joke, the article attributes Brian Howard’s role as a character model in Brideshead Revisited to the creation of Sebastian Flyte. Howard is usually recognized as having actually inspired the character of Anthony Blanche, with a little help from Harold Acton.

Posted in Art, Photography & Sculpture, Auctions, Brideshead Revisited, Humo(u)r, Newspapers | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Waugh’s Travel Writing

Biographer Jeffrey Meyers has written another in his series of articles about British travel writers in The Article, an online magazine. Waugh was prominently mentioned in two previous articles–those dealing with Robert Byron and Wilfred Thesiger. These are described in previous posts. This latest one is devoted to Waugh’s own travel writing, at least as that was represented in the first four volumes of that genre published in the 1930s. Meyer’s essay opens with this:

Following the inspiring example of DH Lawrence, Evelyn Waugh shifts the centre of travel-writing from the external world to his own complex character. His books — Labels (1930) on the Mediterranean, Ninety-Two Days (1934) on British Guiana, Remote People (1931) and Waugh in Abyssinia (1936) on Africa — contain spontaneous revelations of his own feelings and thoughts. He has no desire to live in the Mediterranean, and is horrified by Guiana and Abyssinia. But he gets both emotional and intellectual satisfaction from his travels and suffers vicariously for his readers. He defines himself in relation to the landscape and people, and shows the response of an extraordinary personality to the spirit of the place.

Meyers has interesting things to say about all four books but is at his best in describing Ninety-Two Days, which he may have preferred to the other three:

Waugh was fascinated by “distant and barbarous places, particularly in the borderlands of conflicting cultures and states of development.” He went to South America because he knew so little about the countries […] Though there is nothing much to see and he is often bored, his trip becomes a dangerous adventure and test of endurance. Though Waugh describes himself as a victim in the tropics, he turns out to be much tougher than the pampered aesthete of Oxford and the spoiled visitor to fashionable country estates. […]

Meyers is especially good on the visit Waugh makes to Boa Vista in Brazil:

…the natives are suspicious and contemptuous, and “only their listlessness prevented active insult.” Accustomed to bountiful hospitality he inquires, “where do strangers stay?” and is told, “strangers do not come to Boa Vista.”

The town is depressing, even inimical. The main street “was very broad, composed of hard, uneven mud, cracked into wide fissures in all directions and scored by several dry gullies. On either side was a row of single-storeyed, whitewashed mud houses with tiled roofs; at each doorstep sat one or more of the citizens staring at [him] with eyes that were insolent, hostile and apathetic; a few naked children rolled about at their feet. The remains of an overhead electric cable hung loose from a row of crazy posts, or lay in coils and loops about the gutter.” In this comatose village only the coiled children show any sign of life.

When he asks if the next boat to Manaus will be a question of days or weeks, he is shocked to hear that it will be “a question of weeks or months.” Time here, as in Mann’s The Magic Mountain, has lost its usual meaning. After only a few hours the Boa Vista of his imagination has been shattered by crude reality. No wonder that the inhabitants look ill and discontented. […]

Waugh has the extraordinary ability to interest the reader in this boring episode, which affords the opportunity to fantasise about European luxury and culture while rotting away in a barbaric outpost. Since neither pleas nor bribes gain passage on the overcrowded boat to Manaus, he concentrates on escaping in any direction from Boa Vista and reluctantly decides to retreat to British Guiana….

Meyers mentions briefly his own trip up the Amazon in which he managed to attain Waugh’s goal of Manaus only to find it “modernized and squalid”.  He continues on to Iquitos in Peru which he describes as “truly primitive” and seems to remind him of Waugh’s Boa Vista.  It would have been nice to have had more of this comparison and one suspects that Meyers may be planning to put these essays together in book form where he may have more room to expand and compare his own travel adventures as a lecturer on cruise tours. If Meyers does intend further publication of the article, he might also want to note that it was Tom Burns, the publisher of Waugh in Abyssinia, who insisted on the book’s punnish title, not Waugh, who tried to persuade them to adopt an alternative: The Disappointing War (Stannard I, p. 431).

Meyers may have been unaware that the publication of his article would coincide with the publication of Douglas Patey’s annotated edition of Ninety-Two Days in the OUP’s Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh. Perhaps we can look forward to a review of that edition by Meyers.


Posted in Complete Works, Newspapers, Ninety-Two Days, Waugh in Abyssinia | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Spring Equinox Roundup

–A new book about Evelyn Waugh’s friend Randolph Churchill has been published. This is entitled Churchill and Son and is written by Josh Ireland.  It apparently deals mainly with Randolph’s rocky relationship with his father but may touch on his equally rocky relationship with Waugh. The TLS in a review by Sarah Curtis notes that:

Randolph, always supremely self-confident, took any leg-ups as a right. He was quickly addicted to high living and spending money, of which he never had enough. He was objectionably rude to others, especially when drunk, as he frequently was, though he also charmed many, quarrelling and making up with equally irascible contemporaries like Evelyn Waugh. The American diplomat Averell Harriman found him during the Second World War “a most delightful and stimulating travelling companion”. This book shows that Winston was aware of his son’s offensive traits but could never manage to induce him to moderate them…

–The Daily Mail has published an excerpt from the book that focuses on the break-up of Randolph’s marriage with his first wife, Pamela. Randolph blamed this on his father for having encouraged her affair with Harriman:

Pamela sought solace in the company of the Harrimans; Randolph at the bar at gentlemen’s club White’s, where he heard hints about Pamela’s adultery. He reacted furiously, drinking too much then spreading ‘malicious inventions’ about his wife. He told friends that his father had not just condoned her affair, he had encouraged it because of Harriman’s importance to Britain. He confronted his father but Winston denied knowing about the affair and accused Randolph of mistreating the mother of his son. Neither man could stop himself from saying words they knew would wound the other grievously. Randolph vowed never to speak to his father again. Not long afterwards, he walked out on Pamela.[…]

Randolph later parachuted into Yugoslavia to make contact with Tito’s partisans at their secret headquarters and was again injured. But his undoubted courage did nothing to build bridges with his father.

Back in London, Randolph arrived drunk at Downing Street for dinner and bellowed at his parents, his sister Sarah and the chiefs of staff that his wife was a whore, naming her lovers. There is no record of how comprehensive Randolph’s list was. Her many conquests included the journalist Ed Murrow and Major General Fred Anderson, the American air force commander. Randolph turned on his parents and when Sarah – ‘the only member of his family who ever liked him’, according to Evelyn Waugh – protested, he hit her in the face.

Winston went deathly white and Clementine thought he was on the brink of a heart attack. When Winston could talk once more, he summoned the Marines to eject his son. The violence of the encounter left the family stunned. It became the talk of the Carlton Grill, the bar of White’s and the Commons smoking room. It had long been known that Winston had spoiled his son. Now, they said, he was afraid of him.

On what occasion Waugh may have described Sarah’s loyalty to Randolph isn’t stated. He surely was not present at the family confrontation.

The Times has published a profile of the Devonshire village of Chagford that was one of Evelyn Waugh’s favorite writing venues:

It’s a remarkable town; beautiful, arty and very community minded.[…] The music festival Chagstock returns in July after a Covid-related fallow year, with Seasick Steve and Scouting for Girls due to headline. With any luck, sister festivals Chagfilm (movies) and Chagword (books) will be up and running again soon. There are artists and art galleries everywhere, taking inspiration from the landscape and a longstanding tradition of creativity: Walter Sickert painted in Chagford; and Evelyn Waugh wrote Brideshead Revisited here.

Chagford has all the basics too — great pubs, allotments, a primary school and an impressive collection of local shops, including a greengrocer, a newsagent, a chemist, a superior wine shop, a convenience store and Blacks Delicatessen, whose homemade ready meals (venison and red wine casserole, £6.50) and sweet treats (halva and tahini brownies, £2) have been keeping the town fed during the pandemic…

–The new Mitford Murder book by Jessica Fellowes is reviewed in the California-based online newspaper Kings River Life. This is entitled The Mitford Trial and is summarized by reviewer Sandra Murphy as follows:

Louisa Cannon has been a lady’s maid to the Mitford family since she first went into service at age nineteen. Now she’s taking classes to be a court reporter and is getting married. She won’t be on equal footing with the wealthy Mitfords, but she’ll no longer be at their beck and call.

At least that was the plan. Diana, married to Bryan but unhappy about it, has taken a lover—Oswald Mosley, a political troublemaker. Younger sister Unity is fascinated by Germany’s new leader—Hitler. She feels the German people are not smart enough to decide what’s best for them. In the midst of Diana’s divorce, it’s decided the two sisters will travel with their mother, partly by train and then on a ship. It will serve the purpose of getting Diana away from potential gossip, prevent her from being seen with another man during the divorce, and keep Unity properly chaperoned—by Louisa.

In the interview, Fellowes describes her writing career and in the course of that discussion mentions her favorite reading:

I love reading about and listening to other writers. There’s no magic bullet to writing a novel – you have to sit down and write – but I can’t get enough of hearing about other people’s processes, their writing spaces, their disciplines and tips. But to read: Anne Tyler, Charlotte Brontë, Evelyn Waugh, Bernadine Evaristo, Sally Rooney, Anne Patchett… there’s a long list!

Whether Waugh makes an appearance as a character is this book as he did in her last, Fellowes doesn’t say. She recently interviewed Waugh’s grand daughter Daisy Waugh about her latest writing. See previous post.

–A weblog recently posted a passage from Waugh’s Put Out More Flags that reminded the blogger of current events relating to the British Government’s response to Covid-19:

The passage that caught my eye concerns the government’s requisitioning of a big house to turn it into a hospital for air-raid victims. The result seems to me to parallel exactly the idiocy of the UK government during this pandemic, focussing solely on those with the current virus, forgetting the care they owe to those with other ailments:

“So there was the house … and the government moving in to make it a hospital … It’s full of beds and nurses and doctors waiting for air-raid victims and a woman in the village got appendicitis and she had to be taken 40 miles to be operated on because she wasn’t an air-raid victim and she died on the way.”

Thanks to Dave Lull for passing this one along.


Posted in Brideshead Revisited, Newspapers, Put Out More Flags, World War II | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment