Presidents Day Roundup

–An article in the current issue of Prospect Magazine wonders when contemporary writers will learn how to successfully incorporate text messages into fiction narratives. By way of background, the article by Jemma Slingo explains how Evelyn Waugh pioneered the technique of incorporating telephonic conversations:

Twentieth-century authors were fascinated by the way technology affected how we interact. Just think of Evelyn Waugh’s 1934 novel A Handful of Dust in which the telephone looms large, both as a plot devise and as a means of revolutionising literary discourse. In our century, however, digital exchanges are typically consigned to teen-fiction and chick lit. If “serious” writers do include them, they can feel like dutifully inserted add-ons.

This is not the case in all new writing. Sally Rooney embeds online chat in her prose to great effect, as does Ben Lerner in his debut novel Leaving the Atocha Station. Elif Batuman’s The Idiot, set in the mid-90s, spotlights the weirdness of email, and Olivia Laing’s Crudo satirises our newfound obsession with screens. Even these novels, however, reveal—deliberately or otherwise—how difficult it is to integrate text talk in a piece of fiction.

She might have mentioned Vile Bodies where it has been suggested that Waugh may have been the first to use telephone conversations extensively for his narrative.  This is ironic because Waugh himself, at least in later life, abhorred communicating by telephone.

–The Daily Telegraph also cited A Handful of Dust in a St Valentine’s Day column collecting literary examples of love affairs that ended badly. This is intended to keep matters in perspective on a day when couples tend to expect happy endings:

Tony Last, the hapless protagonist of Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, gallantly agrees to protect his unfaithful wife Brenda’s reputation by taking a prostitute called Milly to Brighton for the weekend. This outing, to be witnessed by two hard-bitten detectives, is designed to facilitate his divorce from Brenda. Sadly Milly turns up with her young daughter Winnie in tow, setting “a nasty, respectable note.” The fact that the child shares her mother’s bedroom and Tony prefers to drink with the policemen rather than commit the requisite adultery with Milly ultimately stymies the proposed divorce, and sets up the tragi-comic Dickensian farce of the novel’s ending.

Other examples include scenes from E M Forster’s A Room with a View and Ian McEwen’s On Chesil Beach.

–Journalist Paul French blogging on China Rhyming explains why Waugh’s 1930s travels never got to China, a much-desired exotic destination at that time:

[…] Evelyn Waugh, like so many people at the time, had a fascination with China. I have written about one aspect of this in my recent piece for the South China Morning Post Magazine on Mrs. “Tinko” Pawley. […] See previous post

But why did Waugh never go? Well, he nearly did…in 1930. A busy year for Waugh – his second novel Vile Bodies was published and was a well reviewed bestseller; he separated from his wife (also called Evelyn) and converted to Catholicism. He spent the summer in Ireland at Tullynally Castle (the home of the Pakenham family in County Westmeath) […]. Here Waugh spent his days consulting atlases and the library researching a trip to China and Japan.

However Alastair Graham had been working for the Foreign Office in Cairo where he had met some Abyssinian (Ethiopian) princes. The tales of them, their attire and country fascinated Waugh. When he heard that a new emperor was to be crowned in Addis Ababa that November (Ras Tafari, thence Emperor Haile Sellasie) he immediately dropped all thought of China, got an accreditation from the Times and headed for Africa. His dispatches from Abyssinia are collected in […] Remote People

And so China never got the Waugh treatment…

–An article posted on the weblog Anecdotal Evidence by Patrick Kurp describes the friendship between Evelyn Waugh and Max Beerbohm and their assessments of each other’s work  It opens with this:

Of all the masters of English prose, we have the most to learn from Max Beerbohm and Evelyn Waugh. From Beerbohm we can learn how to nuance irony, not lay it on thick with a putty knife. He can teach us how to be amusing without telling jokes or taking the lazy way and merely being outrageous. Waugh, whose best books are peppered with jokes and outrage, once described Beerbohm’s company as “blissikins.” Waugh was a dedicated craftsman of language, a gift rare even among poets. In his maturity he was no aesthete, but the beauty and hard exactitude of his words never cancelled each other out.

The article goes on to consider and quote from Waugh’s writings about Beerbohm on the occasion of and after his death.

–An article in a recent issue of the Catholic Herald opens with this:

I think it’s an aphorism which originated with Evelyn Waugh, that if you were to leave your umbrella at the back of an Anglican church it would still be there when you returned, but if you left it in a Catholic church it would be gone.

I have never come across this attribution nor could I locate in a search. I’m not sure I get the point either. Anyone knowing the details is invited to comment below.

Brideshead is cited in connection with an article on British cuisine in the Monterey County Weekly. This relates to finding other uses for malt vinegar, bottles of which stand on thousands of US tables awaiting the the next round of fish & chips but little (if anything) else. One alternative useage is in making pickled walnuts, a dish few of the MCW’s readers will have heard of, prompting this explanation:

Pickled walnuts. And if you’ve never heard of them, you just didn’t read closely during those English literature classes.

How’s this, from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited: “We presently stopped at an inn, which was half farm also, and ate eggs and bacon, pickled walnuts and cheese, and drank our beer in a sunless parlor.”

Or this, from one of Charles Dickens’ books that’s not A Christmas Carol or Oliver Twist: “After they had bled him, the first faint glimmerings of returning animation, were his jumping up in bed, bursting out into a loud laugh, kissing the young woman who held the basin, and demanding a mutton chop and a pickled walnut.”

–The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh at the University of Leceister has posted the report of a volunteer who has been working on the project. This is Isabella Hanger, an undergraduate at the University of Melbourne who chose Evelyn Waugh as the subject of her Honours Thesis. Here’s an excerpt:

I engaged true literary fan-girl mode as I worked with Waugh’s letters to Nancy Mitford. Even in photocopied form, it was fascinating to see Waugh’s handwriting (and then to feel the accomplishment of decoding it!). I made sure that the letters were correctly filed and clearly labelled, both in hard and soft copy, engaging in some detective work to place undated papers. I also set to work on editing against the photocopied letters some very entertaining electronic transcriptions, giggling away as much at the mis-copies as at Waugh’s dry wit. His correspondence is fascinating both as a historical document and a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the author through his social interactions. […]

I ended my mini research expedition to England with my first visit to the British Library at St. Pancras. […] I strode over to the Western Manuscripts room where I collected my pre-ordered volumes of Waugh’s letters. I spent a good few hours poring over the handwriting I had become so familiar with over the past week. Being acutely aware that Waugh had once sat in front of the paper that was now couched in its little bean bag before me, his voice seemed to emit all the more of his characteristic cutting irony, oft-expressed disdain and his wonderfully blunt criticism. It proved a very fitting way to tie up my excursion.

–Finally, The Oldie has published another extract from Auberon Waugh’s “Rage” column. This was written in 1992 during hostilites in the former Yugoslavia:

The current war in the Balkans, about which so many people seem to have such strong feelings, was bound to raise yet again the old question of the sex of Marshal J B Tito, the communist partisan leader who became dictator of Yugoslavia for 35 years after the war. My father, who saw the Marshal in bathing dress on the island of Vis in 1944, always swore it was a woman.

The joke was wearing rather thin by that time (indeed, it was never particularly plump when Evelyn Waugh rather beat it to death).

UPDATE: Reference to Daily Telegraph article added.

 

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Lecture on Tom Burns at LSE

LSE has announced a lecture next Thursday (21 February) on the subject of Tom Burns’ WWII espionage career in Spain. His connection with Evelyn Waugh is mentioned in the announcement:

In 1940, Tom Burns, a young British Catholic publisher and friend of Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, was recruited by the British wartime propaganda Ministry of Information and posted to the British Embassy in Madrid. Under the cover of his official post as press attaché, he used his considerable ingenuity and network of Spanish contacts to help organise and deliver the propaganda and intelligence war against the Nazis. The aim was to keep the Franco regime from siding militarily with Hitler and protect Allied interests in Gibraltar, the Western Mediterranean, and North Africa. In doing so he found himself at the heart of a web of intrigue, grappling not only against the Nazis but also drawn into internecine conflicts with which the secret services were riven. It is a dramatic story which evokes the shadow world of clandestine meetings and agent running, bribery, and betrayal. Among the extraordinary dramatis personae are Soviet spy Kim Philby, then head of MI6’s Iberian section, the pro-German Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the British actor Lesley Howard, and  Burns’ nemesis, the German press attaché Hans Lazar.

Burns was employed by Sheed & Ward, London, when they arranged to publish Edmund Campion, but he transferred to Longmans, Green (apparently when Sheed & Ward moved to New York where they published the USA edition). Longmans, Green issued the first UK edition under their imprint. Burns also  arranged publication by Longmans, Green of Waugh in Abyssinia. It was Burns who suggested that title which Waugh didn’t particularly like. He also arranged for Waugh to write a history of the Jesuits but that never came about. The lecture will be given by Burns’ son James at Cowdray House, LSE at 6pm. Details available here.

 

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J B Priestley Revival?

The New Statesman has a feature article this week promoting a revival of novelist and playwright J B Priestley. This is by Michael Henderson who writes that Priestley has fallen out of fashion along with such other formerly popular writers as Kingsley Amis, Iris Murdoch and D H Lawrence:

[…. ] Acclaimed for most of his life as a writer of hugely popular books and plays, which became part of the national imagination, [Priestley] is now best known for that dramatic pot-boiler, An Inspector Calls (1945) and as a founder member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (launched after Priestley wrote an article in this magazine).

To a modern readership his novels are – if they are considered at all – period pieces. Even The Good Companions, his breakout hit of 1929, adapted many times for stage and screen, has fallen by the wayside. There are writers of the recent past who are not particularly well-read, but who are nevertheless well-considered: Patrick Hamilton, for example. Priestley is neither well-read nor fashionable. For many readers, who would consider themselves well-informed, he never existed. In truth, he was never fashionable. […] The Good Companions […] is a rollicking adventure that grips the reader throughout its 600 pages. Thanks to Great Northern Books, which has republished this neglected masterpiece, along with Angel Pavement, Bright Day and Lost Empires, a new generation of readers may acquaint themselves with the qualities that made Priestley so popular.

Evelyn Waugh was ambivalent about Priestley’s work. In 1930 he wrote a review in the Graphic of the newly published Angel Pavement in which he praised that novel and was even more favorable to its popular predecessor The Good Companions (“outstanding qualities of technical precision and felicity […] a book of high literary excellence whose appeal was to a far wider public than that which concerns itself solely with literary qualities”). The praise for Angel Pavement was fainter (“the first two pages of the prologue seem to me to be really fine prose; the conversations and the management of the various gradations of the idiom are incredibly accomplished”) but not to the point of damnation (EAR, p. 91). Some of this might be  blurb material for the new editions.  In 1939 Waugh reviewed in The Spectator (1 September 1939, p. 331) a volume of Priestley’s autobiography Rain Upon Godshill (“not a very good book […] acrimonious, loosely built, trivial, selfish and totally charmless […] nearly as good a novelist as Arnold Bennett […] but cannot fall far short of that standard and remain respectable.”)

After the war Waugh filed a rejoinder to Priestley’s criticism in the New Statesman of Waugh’s novel The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. Priestley attacked the book not in a review but in a political essay (“What Was Wrong with Pinfold?”, reprinted in CH p. 387). Waugh’s counter in The Spectator was entitled “Anything Wrong with Priestley?”  By the 1950s Priestley’s reputation and popularity had already begun to fall, and Waugh gave them a further nudge.  He claimed that what Priestley found offensive in Pinfold is Pinfold’s (and Waugh’s own) attempt to try to combine two incompatible roles, those of the artist and the  Catholic country gentleman.”  He attributes Priestley’s grumpiness to his inability to understand or depict in his books the upper classes and “some sharp disappointments in the last twelve years” (EAR, p. 527). According to Donat Gallagher’s note, The Times in an editorial deplored the row between the two novelists (“Tweedledum and Tweedledee”, 14 September 1957, p. 7).

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Auberon (More)

The Oldie magazine continues its reposting of Auberon Waugh’s “Rage” columns from its early issues. The latest relates to his thoughts on “Yoof” culture of the 1990s.  Here’s a sample:

Nothing will be solved by giving them more money, nor is there anything to be gained by reducing newspapers and television programmes to their level: they have no money to spend, and no prospects of earning any while they remain in their juvenile state. Perhaps the worst thing of all is to set up training colleges, like the one proposed by the 50-year-old teenager Paul McCartney, to teach them how to make rock music. When half-witted advertisers and philanthropists stop throwing money at it, they will realise that the youth culture is as bankrupt of ideas as it is of money.

He would not be happy if he had lived to see BBC3.

Literary Review the magazine Auberon founded with the help of Naim Attallah and edited afterwards has reviewed Attallah’s edition of Auberon’s writings–A Scribbler in Soho. The review is by Christopher Hart who writes:

A Scribbler in Soho includes many of his finest ‘From the Pulpit’ pieces, which he wrote as editor of Literary Review, musing on the pitfalls of the writer’s life. He disliked both modern poetry and modern poets: ‘vain, empty, conceited, dishonest, dirty, often flea-ridden and infected by venereal disease, greedy, parasitical, drunken, untruthful, arrogant … all these repulsive qualities, and also irresistibly attractive to women’. Poets were at least banned from the private members’ club he set up, The Academy, the most brilliant and exclusive such institution in London, if not the civilised world.

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Midwinter Roundup

–One of our readers Bruce Gaston contributed this item:

Early every morning on BBC Radio 4 there is a short item called “Tweet  of the Day”, which is actually about birdsong. Today’s bird was the  Great Crested Grebe. The continuity annoucer introduced the programme
and commented “the Great Crested Grebe does not hunt rabbits. Nor does it live in holes in the ground, as far as anyone knows…” No reference was made to Waugh or to Scoop as explanation. Does Radio 4 just assume its readers will spot the allusion?

(Although the programme itself is available online, the links seem to be done only for the live broadcast.)

Perhaps the BBC can make amends the next time they offer a broadcast on the subject of water voles.

–The Pasadena Star-Telegram has a story referring to the recent collection of diary entries about Los Angeles. This is entitled Dear Los Angeles and contains some comments of Evelyn Waugh about the city in his diaries. See earlier post. The Star-Telegram thinks a similar effort could be produced for nearby Pasadena, noting as an example Albert Einstein’s  former residence as a potential reference. Einstein described his enjoyable stay in Pasadena at the CalTech Athenaeum but left when Princeton made him a better offer. Waugh would also make an appearance in such a collection, according to the Star-Telegram. When celebrities arriving at the Coast travelled by train:

…many Hollywood-ish people […]  got off at the Santa Fe station at Raymond and Del Mar, now serving Gold Liners as La Grande Orange, instead of Union Station, to avoid the paparazzi. Evelyn Waugh wrote that day: “Arrived at Pasadena at 9 a.m. and were met by a car from MGM. We drove for a long time down autobahns and boulevards full of vacant lots and filling stations and nondescript buildings and palm trees with a warm hazy light. It was more like Egypt — the suburbs of Cairo or Alexandria — than anything in Europe.” L.A. gets a lot of that from the English novelists. Here’s Aldous Huxley to his brother, Dec. 12, 1939: “You will probably be about six hours each day in a car.”

–An online newsletter for artists called Visual Arts Source makes an interesting comparison between two novels which it says should appeal to today’s young artists:

…Two 20th-century novels are perfect for anyone under 30 living in big cities — or who remember being under 30 and moving to a Big City.

Vile Bodies” (1930) by Evelyn Waugh is all about twenty-somethings living in post-World War I London. Their siblings or fathers were killed in the war and, leaving them plenty of money, they rove from one party to another ending up entertained, but unhappier than ever. This is one of the greatest comic novels ever written in English.

The Golden Spur” (1962) by Dawn Powell, a forgotten author championed by Gore Vidal, takes place in Greenwich Village for the most part, with forays uptown and a fateful weekend in Connecticut. It, like “Vile Bodies,” is about a twentysomething, this one from rural Ohio (like author Powell), who is searching for the father he never knew but who learns about his late mother’s many “famous” suitors left behind after her youthful heyday in the Village. Once in New York, he not only finds his father, but his fortune and love as well.

The article goes on to summarize both novels and explains how the authors included characters based on artists of interwar London and postwar New York.

–The religious weblog Church Life Journal offers another comparison that includes a Waugh novel;

“All my days I have longed equally to travel the right road and to take my own errant path,” confesses Kristin Lavransdatter, a wealthy Norwegian noblewoman and titular character of Nobel Prize-winner Sigrid Undset’s three-part novel. Set in the fourteenth century, the saga follows the life of Kristin, one of the most complex female characters of 20th century literature, from womb to tomb. She wrestles with the weight of sin, her refusal to reconcile her will with God’s, and the suffering that accompanies her wayward decisions.

In Brideshead Revisited, British novelist Evelyn Waugh brings another multi-layered female character to life: Lady Julia Flyte, a wealthy heiress living decadently in 20th century England. Each woman is raised in a devout Catholic home and yet is caught between her own passions and her love for God. Separated not only by geography and several centuries, Kristin and Julia’s lives are very different. Kristin is a mother of many and she lives to become a grandmother. Julia is childless. But Kristin Lavransdatter and Brideshead Revisited share the same themes …

Waugh met Sigrid Undset in Oslo during his 1947 trip to Norway. In his diaries he mentions the meeting, which was arranged by his Norwegian publisher, but Undset made no positive impression.  Perhaps Waugh hadn’t read her novels.

–Another reader, Dave Lull, sends this excerpt from a book review by James K A Smith in the Los Angeles Review of Books. The book is by Timothy Larsen and is about John Stuart Mill:

TO BOTH HIS progressivist heirs and his conservative critics, John Stuart Mill is a secular saint, a priest of the triumphant modern moral order. Whether he is being celebrated or vilified, the 19th-century philosopher is portrayed as a paragon of rational enlightenment who, paradoxically, inspires ardent devotion to the sacred autonomy of the individual.[. . .]

Mill’s story, in that case, foreshadows the plot of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited: Harriet [Taylor] is the forerunner of a devotion in Mill that his own contemporaries described as “mystic.” Charles Ryder’s musing in Brideshead seems relevant: “[P]erhaps all our loves are merely hints and symbols; a hill of many invisible crests; doors that open as in a dream to reveal only a further stretch of carpet and another door.” Perhaps love is the beginning of knowledge.

 

–Finally, in another reference to Scoop, a Chinese news report from Hong Kong mentions a scandal in which a TV network got caught manufacturing news. They used actors to portray illegal immigrants purportedly living in Hong Kong public housing. ‘The reporter Zeng Guoping in the Hong Kong Chinese language free circulation  newspaper AM730 comments:

…Just happened to read the English novelist Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop”, the background is in the 1930s, reporters from all over the world went to an African country to report the civil war, each of them made a small thing into a stunt. The protagonist who participated in a misunderstanding did not receive the “journalist training”. He did not deliver the goods to the boss, who asked him to “create” some of the news. The media made a big fraud. It was nothing new, but the media today. Diversified only. […]

“Exclusive News” has a message “News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read”; it is too hot. The news still has to be seen. In the face of the risk of making a big mistake, the correct attitude is not to just watch the news, let alone look at the reports of a certain media in a certain place. More reading, more observation, more thinking, independent of individual media, the proportion of information noise will rise, in addition to reducing their chances of doing something wrong (including investment), it can also alleviate the populist tendencies in society, the government’s stupid policies will be less One.

The quoted language defining “news” is also from Scoop (if memory serves). The translation is by Google. For original Chinese text see this link.

UPDATE: The entry from the LARB was added after the initial posting. Thanks to both Bruce Gaston and Dave Lull for their contributions.

UPDATE 2 (9 February 2019): References to AM730 are corrected to reflect that it is a newspaper, not a radio station.

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Waugh’s “Hungry Novels” in TLS

Literary journalist and critic Laura Freeman writes in this week’s TLS of a subgenre she defines as the “hungry novels” which flourished in the 1940s-50s. Her essay opens with an extended reference to the scene in Brideshead Revisited where Waugh described the lavish pre-war feast in a Paris restaurant engineered by Charles Ryder to be bankrolled by Rex Mottram. Indeed, it was so over the top with luxurious items not available in 1944 when the book was written that Waugh felt obliged to apologize for the excess in a revised edition written in the late 1950s.

She identifies the genre in the following paragraph as encompassing a:

…guilty kind of gluttony. The spam-and-soya-bean period of English literature is full of Hungry Novels. Sometimes the tone is wistful, sometimes resentful. The characters in a Hungry Novel will suffer the indignities of bully beef, spaghetti bits and powdered egg, while dreaming of richer meat. Under the barrage of bombs, the wail of air raid sirens, the crackle of the wireless, an unmistakable base note: the complaining rumble of the author’s stomach. In the fiction of Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell, Graham Greene, Wyndham Lewis, Rosamond Lehmann, Barbara Pym, Muriel Spark and others, written during the war and in the years of rationing that followed, there is a marked stomach sensibility, an obsessive detail of food.

Waugh’s Hungry Novels outnumber the others on the list, beginning with Put Out More Flags, written when rationing had just begun, through Brideshead, to all three novels of the war trilogy, written in the relative prosperity of the 1950s:

Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy follows both Guy Crouchback’s faltering progress through the war and the deteriorating food situation on the home front. When Guy joins the Royal Corps of Halberdiers in Men at Arms (1952), he arrives at one training camp to a mess dinner of “margarine, sliced bread, huge bluish potatoes and a kind of drab galantine which Guy seemed to remember, but without relish, from his school-days during the First World War”. In Officers and Gentlemen (1955), an army adjutant tells Guy: “Austerity is the order now”. A doctor is called in to teach recruits how to survive on seaweed and limpets: “Every bit as agreeable as oysters and much safer”. It is the era of no butter, last legs of chicken and food parcels from America. Guy’s father is sent a packet of Yumcrunch (cereal), a tin of Brisko (cooking fat) and a jar of cocktail onions. A popular joke on the wireless in 1947 had a comedian declare that he has just proposed to a girl: “She’s not at all pretty but she has some friends in the States who send her parcels”. In Unconditional Surrender (1961), Waugh introduces Ruben’s, a wish-fulfilment restaurant that serves Colchester oysters, Scotch salmon, lobsters, prawns, gulls’ eggs, caviar and cheeses from France, “collected by intrepid parachutists and conveyed home by submarine”.

The closest rival to Waugh’s output of the genre seem to be Barbara Pym with three or four examples, and the essay closes with some references to Anthony Powell’s war trilogy. Access to the essay is free and is available here.

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Waugh and the Black Madonna

The website of Campion Hall, Oxford has posted an article by art historian Jane Stevenson about an Ethiopian icon of the Madonna hanging in its collections. She also explains the difference between Ethiopian Christian depictions of the subject and those in the Eastern and Western (Greco-Roman) traditions. The icon at Campion Hall was a gift of Evelyn Waugh, as she also explains:

Evelyn Waugh first visited Addis Ababa to report Emperor Haile Selassie’s coronation in 1930. Five years later, he returned to the country when he was appointed the Daily Mail’s Addis Ababa correspondent in 1935 to cover the Italo-Ethiopian war of 1935-6, a conflict which attracted worldwide attention since many feared that it would be the  prelude to another world war. […] It was during this conflict that he sent the image back to Fr. D’Arcy at Campion Hall, which was then still at Middleton Hall in St Giles’.[…] It is unsurprising, given [Waugh’s friendship with Fr D’Arcy], that Waugh should have thought to pick up a piece of Ethiopian Christian art as a gift to Campion Hall while he was stuck in Addis Ababa with nothing to do.

It seems most probable, given its excellent condition, that the image dates from the first half of the twentieth century, though if so, it seems a little archaic; from the mid-eighteenth century onwards, Ethiopian religious painters typically began to model faces and limbs with shading to create an illusion of volume, which is completely absent in this image, though on the other hand, the large eyes suggest a relatively late date. The ground of the image is probably vellum, and the medium powdered natural pigments bound with animal-skin glue, which creates a tough yet flexible surface. Traditional painters used indigo for blue, and a mixture of indigo and orpiment for the green which is a striking feature of this image. Red was made from cinnabar, yellow from orpiment, and while browns were either earth colours, or a mixture of cinnabar, gypsum and charcoal.

The article includes a photo image of the icon donated by Waugh as well as another Ethiopian icon of the Holy Trinity from an earlier period in the Campion Hall collection, along with comparable icons of the same subjects from other collections. Stevenson is the author of several books on art history, most recently Baroque Between the Wars. See previous post.

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New German Edition of Remote People Reviewed

A review of the 2018 German edition of Waugh’s Remote People is published in this month’s online issue of literaturkritik.de. The German title is Expeditionen eines englischen Gentleman, literally “Expeditions of an English Gentleman”. This review  is by Sylvia Heudecker who begins with with a summary of the book and then offers a few comments on the translation by Matthias Fienbork. She goes on to provide an explanation of how this second German edition by Diogenes Verlag in Zurich came to have a different title from the English and original German edition:

Even before getting into the text, the decision for the German translation [to be retitled] is itself of some interest. The current edition of Diogenes takes as its title the subtitle of the [earlier German edition also in Fienbork’s translation].  The limited first edition of Eichborn-Verlag was published in German in 2007 under the title  Strange Peoples, Strange Mores – expeditions of a British gentleman [Befremdliche Völker, seltsame Sitten – Expeditionen eines britischen Gentleman] and thus focused mainly on the indigenous people of Abyssinia and the vast, often unexplored continent traveled by Waugh. What is described is far away: thousands of kilometers, deep inside the black continent. And although the achievements of civilization – such as the railway, European architecture or the Coronation Carriage of Wilhelm II – have already made it there, obviously the spirit and essence of European civilization are missing and make the observations seem like a perverted variant of the absurd wonderland of Lewis Carroll. The cautious approach to the choice of the [new] title is understandable: The renunciation of the title Strange people, strange customs avoids those responsible being criticized from the outset of political incorrectness. But on the other hand, the title of the new release, Expeditions of an English gentleman, misleads the reader, because it suppresses an essential aspect [of the book]. Waugh’s observations reveal more than just the traditional chauvinist attitude of an imperial Briton who encounters backward tribes in remote regions of Africa. Far beyond the borders of his motherland, Waugh looks very closely at those people (“people”) of the West who have settled “far” in their home country (“remote”) in Africa. [Jenseits der Grenzen seines Mutterlandes sieht Waugh mit scharfem Blick sehr genau auch auf jene Menschen („people“) des Westens, die sich „fern“ ihrer Heimat („remote“) in Afrika niedergelassen haben.] Among them are [individuals living] ludicrous, dumb, quirky, self-righteous, egocentric and even failed existences.Thus, the distance not only proves to be a miraculous place of adventure, but also an observation point for how dubious the success of such cultural exporters must remain because they themselves are doubtful.

Translation by Google with a few edits. The explanation may well make more sense in the German original, but the translation gives some idea of the motivations for the title change.

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Folio Society Profiles Waugh Illustrators

On its website, the Folio Society has profiled the illustrators of four Waugh novels. These are newly issued or reissued in special Folio Society editions and are all currently available for sale through links in the article:

Vile Bodies is illustrated by Kate Baylay, “working with a combination of pencil, watercolour and digital media. The alluring illustrations and fashionable style call on Aubrey Beardsley to perfectly depict the decadence behind the Bright Young Things’ frivolous nature.”

The Loved One is the reissue of an earlier Folio Society edition. Illustrations consist of eight paintings commissioned from well-known British artist Beryl Cook (1926-2008). “Her interpretation of the novel is inspired – whether depicting the ‘gorgeous little casket’ of a deceased pet parrot or Mrs Joyboy’s ‘positively insulting clothes.’” This is the most striking of the illustrations, one of which is included for each book in the Folio Society’s article. It depicts Mrs Joyboy in the foreground sitting next to her parrot, with her son and apparently Aimee Thanatogenos in the background. The portrait of Mrs Joyboy is wholly consistent with Waugh’s description, but Aimee is more Beryl Cook than Waugh.

Black Mischief is illustrated with line drawings by Quentin Blake. “With a keen eye for the absurd, Blake’s restless pen wittily captures the denizens and the details of Azania.”

Brideshead Revisited is the most recently published of this selection. It was illustrated by wood engraver Harry Brockway. “Here, he has created two-colour stylised scenes that take us straight back to Brideshead and its characters’ devil-may-care lives.”

Two of the editions have introductions commissioned by the Folio Society: Vile Bodies by David Lodge, President of the Evelyn Waugh Society, and Brideshead Revisited by novelist and critic A N Wilson. The Loved One has an introduction adapted from Christopher Sykes’s biography of Evelyn Waugh.

 

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Groundhog Day Roundup

–Columnist John Derbyshire has posted a story in his “Derb’s January Diary” column on the anti-immigrant website Vdare that may start another debate like U/Non-U pronunciation or George and Ira Gershwin’s line “You say tomato, and I say tomahto”. Derbyshire, who grew up and was educated in England, pronounces Celtic with a hard “C” as is common, although not universal, in England. In trying to determine when this  practice started, he goes back to his Latin class and that of Evelyn Waugh earlier in the century:

…at least where Britain is concerned. I’ve been hearing “Celt” with a hard “C” for as long as I can remember—about sixty years. I started school Latin in 1956. We were taught to use the “German” pronunciation (that’s what I heard it called, I think because it had been worked out by 19th-century German scholars) when reading Latin texts aloud in class: hard “c,” “v” as “w,” and so on. I don’t know when that style of teaching Latin was taken up in England. Evelyn Waugh wrote in A Little Learning that he and his schoolfellows were making fun of it circa (or kirka) 1916, so that was probably soon after the changeover from soft-“c” “medieval” pronunciation in Latin teaching.[…]

Derbyshire goes on to consider sources other than Latin teachers and concludes with this:

The actual Celts are still numerous in the British Isles, and they seem to be the strongest partisans of the hard “C” in “Celt.” Perhaps it’s been that working its influence on the rest of the Brits.

The following tale is told of both Richard Harris, who was Irish, and also of Richard Burton, who was Welsh. Harris version: He had little time for fools. One apocryphal story has an American wittering on to Harris about his own third-generation Irish heritage or some such, but using a soft “c,” pronouncing celt “selt”: “I’m a celt just like you,” says the American. “No sir, you are a sunt,” replies Harris.
[Burton version differs only slightly, with same punchline.]

I note in passing that there is no soft “c” in either written Irish or written Welsh. Perhaps that has something to do with it.

The soft “C” in the name of the Glasgow soccer team remains to be explained. My guess would be that it’s part of the 1,500-year campaign by the Scots to try to make the rest of us forget they are really just Irish colonists with a better class of whiskey (or “whisky” if you’re Scottish).

There may be other explanations for all this confusion. If there are, though, I have to ask, as Kee-keh-ro might have: Ubi sunt?

–Singer/songwriter and, more recently, author, Tracey Thorn has written a column on the subject  “My Culture Fix”  in today’s issue of The Times. The column opens with this:

My favourite book
Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh. It’s a book I return to, a kind of comfort read, although there’s nothing especially comforting about it. Dreadful things happen to people and are narrated in a detached, almost throwaway manner. It’s brisk and pacy, filled with memorable characters and the writing is pared to the bone. Not one word more than is needed. And it’s hilariously funny.

Thorn got her start as the female half of the singing duo “Everything But the Girl”. More recently, she has performed solo and branched into writing. Her first book was a memoir Bedsit Disco Queen (2013) to which she has recently added a sequel (or perhaps it’s a prequel) called Another Planet: A Teenager in Suburbia. She grew up in Hatfield, just beyond the reach of the London Underground.

–Jonathan Meades, writer and TV presenter (and one might add, satirist) on the subjects of culture, architecture and food has written a feature-length article in Standpoint magazine.on the subject of “Taste” (not the food variety). This ranges from good taste to bad, to none at all. He takes as his opening example the career and reputation of Cecil Beaton. As usual when there is a discussion of Beaton in all his manifestations, Waugh comes into the story. And so it is the case here:

…Waspish observations on Taste — mostly other people’s, mostly found wanting — fill [Beaton’s]  diaries.  The “crass Bad Taste” of Elizabeth Taylor (“vulgar”) and Richard Burton (“butch and coarse”) was an aesthetic offence. But then so was what John Betjeman called “ghastly Good Taste”. Yet neither was as distressing as — oh, be prepared to blench — No Taste. No Taste was far beyond offensive. No Taste was a sort of disability that afflicts the majority, the multitudinous flocks of the misled and easily led. And to avoid it, Beaton’s life, self-creation and very core were larded with devices designed to make him stand out from the vulgo, to shout that he had Taste. Wittingly or not, he followed Nietzsche: “Blessed are those who have Taste — even if it is Bad Taste.”

Polonius’s sartorial advice to Laertes, “not expressed in fancy; rich not gaudy”, could not have fallen on deafer ears. Evelyn Waugh routinely anointed him with the faintest praise. Noel Coward reproached him for his “conspicuously exaggerated” clothes and his countless affectations. His friend and neighbour Lady Juliet Duff was precise. He was “like a very successful Parisian madame who had decided to give it all up, moved to the English countryside, and took all her bordello belongings with her”.

Meades moves from Beaton’s taste to how his own hometown of Salisbury (where Beaton also lived in the nearby countryside) might remake itself after the public relations disaster of the Putin poisonings. He then segues into what is perhaps his favorite subject of architectural tastes and styles. He slips between deadpan irony and serious criticism, and it can become difficult to follow him, particularly on the subject of architecture where he seems to possess more knowledge on the subject than the average reader of Standpoint magazine. But even the layman can enjoy this discussion, if only for its humorous presentation.

 

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