Late Winter Roundup

–The Daily Mail has posted some excerpts from the new and unexpurgated edition of the diaries of Chips Channon. Two of these new entries involve comments of Channon about Evelyn Waugh:

Evelyn Waugh – Sunday, December 16, 1934

Lunch was amusing: Evelyn Waugh said that anyone can write a novel given six lessons, pen, paper and no telephone or wife. Perhaps he is right.

Tuesday, August 6, 1935

Evelyn Waugh has just signed on with the Daily Mail for the duration of hostilities between Italy and Abyssinia, and is leaving for Ethiopia on Saturday. He may, as he says, be away for five years, or five months. He pretends to have insured his testicles for £3,000, as Ethiopians had a way of castrating unwelcome individuals.

Richard Davenport-Hines quotes the latter passage more briefly in his review of the diaries in the TLS. He also provides an interesting comparison of this latest edition, which will stretch to three volumes, with the earlier one-volume edition. Much of the text of that earlier version was eliminated by Channon’s boy-friend and literary executor Peter Coats, not by the named editor Robert Rhodes James, whose primary contribution was a forward and some footnotes.  Publication details are available in an earlier post.

–Waugh biographer and EWS member Duncan McLaren is interviewed on the book website Here are some excerpts:

Q: What is special about Waugh to you and in comparison to other writers?

DM: It’s in adolescence that we are most open to new art. We then carry this with us through the years, and the constant engagement with it leaves its creators in an unassailable position among our preferences.

Decades after adolescence I read the books of, say, Julian Barnes, and enjoyed them. But I won’t ever be putting Barnes on a par with Waugh in my personal pantheon, because there has been insufficient time to grow with his books and his understanding of the world. Maybe a better example is Irvine Welsh. I was 36 when Trainspotting came out as a novel. I realised straight away it was brilliant, on a different level (of originality, of energy, of ambition) to anything else written in the 20th-Century by a Scot. And I could relate to it in some ways, but not in others. So I never quite committed to it, and though I’ve read other books of his, and been impressed by astonishing qualities, I’ve not read them all, and I’ve not even considered researching his life. It’s like appreciating what my brother got me to listen to of the Smiths. I loved Morrissey’s music, his vibe, but I was from Bowie’s generation, had all the albums and had listened to them hundreds of times. Bowie was embedded in my being. The first cut is the deepest.

Q: When did you decide to write a biography on Waugh? Why did you decide to write it in such a brilliant and original way?

DM: I decided to write about Evelyn Waugh in the way I did because I’d just had great fun, and some success, taking a similar approach to the life of Enid Blyton.

But you say ‘brilliant’, about my writing about Waugh, which is very nice of you, so I’ll address that. It starts with a rigorous chronology and geography (that again, so maybe I didn’t waste the government’s money). Things happen to Evelyn Waugh in a particular place at a particular time. So that has to be pieced together, and in so doing you realise who else was there. The picture builds up, and as you’re making it more three-dimensional, Evelyn and his mates start talking and doing stuff. You hold on for grim life to the authenticity of the scene, never forgetting your sense of humour and your moral compass. Then out pours the original insight. Sometimes I struggle to contain it all in suitable vessels. […]

Q: What can we learn from reading Evelyn Waugh? What life lessons?

DM: The qualities inherent in Waugh that I used to bolster myself with when young (irony, humour, the primacy of art), I’ve tried to distance myself from later in life. Sometimes the best way forward is to live a healthy, well-balanced, straightforward life amongst other people. Waugh was not good at this. He drank too much, always. He became inflexible in his opinions as he got older. His right-wing views, largely ironic when he was younger, solidified and became horribly serious. He professed to believe in God in a way that seems un-nourishing. He began to lose the few friends he had, he was so rude to everyone. He died at the age of 62, having become bored with life and longing for death.

At 63-year-old, I’m having to tend poor Evelyn’s grave, diverting readers’ attention to his earlier years and books, when he was funny, sweet and full of joie de vivre. […]

–Another interview, this one focused on Brideshead Revisited, has been posted on YouTube. This appears in a series called Plotlines.  The interview is conducted by a college student named Connor  who is otherwise unidentified. The interviewee is Joseph Pearce, who frequently writes on Waugh’s religion. If the first 10 minutes is any guide, that will also make up most of what will be discussed in this 45-minute session.

–The Guardian has announced the death of the actress Nicola Pagett at the age of 75. She first made her name in TV serials such as Upstairs Downstairs but went on to stage and film appearances. Her career was interrupted by bouts of mental illness but she resumed acting after her recovery. The Guardian mentions one role she played that I had forgotten:

In Scoop (1987), a two-hour film scripted by William Boyd, based on Evelyn Waugh’s great 1938 novel, she was Julia Stitch alongside Michael Maloney as the hapless war reporter William Boot and Denholm Elliott as the chaotic newspaper editor.

–American literary critic Terry Teachout reviews the new biography of Graham Greene in the National Review. Details of the book may be seen in an earlier post. Teachout begins his review with this:

Sixty years ago, Graham Greene was widely regarded as an important novelist, perhaps even a great one, both in England and in America. His critical admirers included V. S. Pritchett, John Updike, and his close friend Evelyn Waugh, who called him a writer of “the highest imaginative power.” He was also very popular, in part because several of his books, most notably Brighton Rock (1938), The Third Man (1949), and Our Man in Havana (1958), were turned into successful films, often with his direct involvement (he was one of the first writers of stature to take a close interest in the screen). […]

But Greene, who died in 1991, is no longer as popular or admired in this country as he used to be, and if I had to guess, I’d say the reason is that his major novels are permeated with more or less explicitly Catholic themes and symbolism. Time was when Catholic novelists such as Greene and Waugh were well regarded, even fashionable, but religious faith has long since been shunted into a cultural siding, and today’s Catholic artists are treated contemptuously by most modern-day tastemakers. Even the radically idiosyncratic version of Catholicism espoused by Greene, who called himself a “Catholic-agnostic” and made a priest in Brighton Rock speak of “the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God,” is too often greeted nowadays with not-our-kind-dearie sniffishness…

He doesn’t mention why Waugh’s reputation has not been subject to these problems, or at least has been less affected by them than has Greene’s.

–John Self writing in The Critic magazine addresses the importance of money to a professional writer’s career. He compares Evelyn Waugh to another writer of their generation:

Evelyn Waugh never stopped wanting a richer start in life, and as a child would walk far enough from Golders Green to ensure that his letters were postmarked Hampstead. In 1928 he asked his agent A. D. Peters to “please fix up anything that will earn me anything, even cricket criticism or mothers’ welfare notes”. By the early 1930s he was earning around £2,000 a year, a third of which was from journalism; this was around the time that “five hundred a year” was declared to be the income required to distance a writer from money worries (by Virginia Woolf, who had none), though Waugh still felt himself to be permanently “starving” until the success of Brideshead Revisited in 1945.

But no writer of that era was quite so desperate as the gilded father of the Jazz Age, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Like Waugh, he resented not being higher-born, “distrusting the rich, yet working for money with which to share their mobility and the grace that some of them brought into their lives”. Like Jay Gatsby, for a time he spent his way into this lifestyle. But by the 1930s, his literary stock was low and he was writing to fund what Arnold Gingrich, his editor at Esquire, called “the fantastically expensive treatments for mental illness” undergone by his wife Zelda…

–Finally, the online magazine FarOut has reprinted the late Tom Wolfe’s 2007 list of his 10 favorite novels. One of these was by Evelyn Waugh:

10. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (1930). This careening novel follows a group of shallow, well-off Brits to motor races and antic parties. Joining in on the Bright Young Things’ mad doings are a writer named Adam Fenwick-Symes and his on-again, off-again fiancée. War looms, but Waugh’s style —dry and bubbly as the novel’s flowing champagne —keeps us laughing, even as characters descend into madness or head for the battlefield.

Posted in Biographies, Brideshead Revisited, Diaries, Interviews, Newspapers, Scoop, Vile Bodies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Travel Book Launch

The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project last week conducted a virtual book launch for the next two books to be published in the series: Ninety-Two Days and A Tourist in Africa. The meeting was conducted by Barbara Cooke, a CWEW Executive Editor, and the presenters were Douglas Patey and Patrick Query who edited these two volumes.

Patrick Query, who teaches at West Point and is the former secretary of the Evelyn Waugh Society and past Co-editor of its journal Evelyn Waugh Studies, opened with a discussion of A Tourist in Africa (1960). He first explained how Waugh came to write this book, the last of his six travel books. He needed a trip to break away from the strain and tedium of his family duties, the Christmas Holidays and the British winter. As it turned out, his agent had already learned somehow that the Union Castle steamship line were looking for some one to write a book that would promote their services to Africa. This was an ideal destination for Waugh who was quite familiar with the territory. His agent noted that the project had been turned by Laurens van der Post, a well-known and popular writer at the time. Waugh agreed to the project so long as he was free to write and have it published as he wished, subject to the understanding that he it would be intended to promote the services of Union Castle.  Patrick made the observation that, unknown to most readers, van der Post was rather a nasty piece of work on several levels, leading Patrick to wonder what the book might have looked like if van der Post had agreed to write it.

Patrick noted that the two outstanding passages of the book in which Waugh was fully engaged with the subject were at the beginning where he visited the Campo Santo cemetery in Genoa with Diana Cooper and toward the end when he visited the Serima Mission in Zimbabwe. These were new experiences, whereas many of the other points he visited were places he had stopped on his earlier travels. Patrick went on to explain that the manuscript development was not as challenging as for other books except in the later passages where wholesale textual rearrangements in the published book were difficult to track from the available manuscripts because no typescripts were available. Waugh, as usual, avoided political comment, and Patrick made the interesting point that, in view of the turbulent political situation in Africa at the time, the book might have been better for it if Waugh had departed from his usual practice and injected his political opinions. But even as it is, the book represents a useful view of Africa in the period just before everything changed.

Douglas Patey, who teaches at Smith College, has written a biography of Waugh, and is a long-standing member of the EWS, presented his edition of Ninety-Two Days (1934). He began by contrasting the genuine danger and adventure involved in a trip to British Guiana and Northern Brazil as compared to Waugh’s other travel destinations. He also discussed why Waugh may have chosen that area for his trip as opposed to less adventurous zones. He then noted what he thought would be the difficulty faced in researching the textual development of a book for which there were no manuscripts, typescripts or corrected proofs available. Waugh had given the manuscript to Diana Cooper in thanks for the use of her cottage on the South Coast to write the book, but it appeared to have gone missing.  As it turned out, however, Jeffrey Heath possessed a photo copy Diana had allowed him to make when he wrote his book about Waugh, and a copy of the original later surfaced at the Huntington Library. Loren Rothschild had donated it after he acquired it through dealers to whom Diana’s descendants had passed it on.

Doug then continued his presentation with a comparison of several passages describing scenes that appeared in various newspaper and magazine articles that preceded book publication. Copies of these had been distributed to attendees before the conference to facilitate discussion. This was probably the most interesting part of his presentation because you could see and hear from Doug’s reading just how Waugh had improved both the vocabulary and grammar as well  modulating and polishing the subject matter as he moved from journalism to literature. He closed by mentioning something I had never realized. Long after Ninety-Two Days was published, the writer Pauline Melville wrote a novelized version of the story based on the visit of a British academic to Guyana researching the details of Waugh’s trip. This is entitled The Ventriloquist’s Tale (1997) and contains not only places and events that made up Ninety-Two Days but characters as well, including one based on Waugh himself.

There followed a Q&A session, addressing subjects such as the changing descriptions of racialism and the British Empire in literature, the difference between Waugh’s writing as reflected in travel books and fiction, and the photographs he took for Ninety-Two Days. The books will be published in the UK the last week of March and in the USA the last week of April. They may currently be ordered from either OUP or Amazon.


Posted in A Tourist in Africa, Academia, Complete Works, Evelyn Waugh Society, Ninety-Two Days | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Brideshead 2008 Film Adaptation on BBC2

The Times has posted in its TV listings the following notice about the broadcast of the 2008 film adaptation of Brideshead Revisited. This will take place today (Sa 27 Feb 2021) at 225 GMT:

BBC2, 2.25pm
The reaction to Julian Jarrold’s elegant, restrained adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel was rather muted at the time of its release. Certainly it’s long and rather ponderously paced. But this tale of the unstable love triangle between middle-class Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode), gorgeous heiress Julia Flyte (Hayley Atwell) and her erratic brother Sebastian (Ben Whishaw) is lovely to look at and gently absorbing. The high point is any scene that features Emma Thompson, suitably frosty and patrician as Sebastian and Julia’s mother, Lady Marchmain. Abandoned by her husband (Michael Gambon), who has left her for another woman, Lady Marchmain is as brittle as a dagger made of ice. At her insistence, Charles accompanies her children to Venice to visit their father and his mistress. (133min) Wendy Ide

The BBC co-produced the film with Ecosse Films and Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax. The film will be available on BBC iPlayer to stream on the internet after its transmission.

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Chips Channon Diaries Booklaunch

The Heywood Hill Bookshop in Mayfair London has organized a webinar in connection with the upcoming publication of the unexpurgated diaries of politician and gossip “Chips” Channon. Here are the details from The Oldie magazine:

Henry ‘Chips’ Channon: The Diaries 1918-38, edited by Simon Heffer

Heywood Hill’s bookshop have organised a zoom webinar at 6.30pm on 4 March 2021 to mark the long awaited unexpurgated publication of Chips Channon’s diaries. Professor Simon Heffer, the book’s editor, will be in conversation with Rt Hon Michael Gove MP. Register for the zoom here. Purchase your copy from Heywood Hill by 31 March 2021 and you will qualify for entry into a Prize Draw to win a post-pandemic literary treat: High Tea at Heywood Hill, an hour’s browsing in the legendary bookshop, with tea, cake or something stronger and £50 spending money.

Here is some additional information from the bookstore’s website:

The discussion will be followed by a Q&A hosted by Heywood Hill’s Nicky Dunne.

Born in Chicago in 1897, ‘Chips’ Channon settled in England after World War I, married into the immensely wealthy Guinness family, and served as Conservative MP for Southend-on-Sea from 1935 until his death in 1958. Channon’s career was unremarkable but his diaries are quite the opposite. Elegant, gossipy and catty by turns, they are the unfettered observations of a man who went everywhere and who knew everybody. They will surely be considered by future generations as the one of the most entertaining and important British historical documents of the 20th century.

The first 300 copies sold by Heywood Hill will be signed by Professor Heffer. Heywood Hill will begin sending out pre-ordered copies on March 3. All purchases of this book from Heywood Hill completed by March 31, 2021 will also qualify for entry into a Prize Draw to win a post-pandemic literary treat: High Tea at Heywood Hill.

A single volume edition of the diaries was published in 1967 and edited by Robert Rhodes James. A paperback edition of that version was issued by Weidenfield and Nicolson in 1993. Waugh was mentioned twice in that volume; neither of those was particularly flattering: “…He looks like a ventriloquist’s doll, with his shiny nose…” (16 December 1934). The new edition will appear in three volumes, the first of which is to be published next month. The editor of this volume, Simon Heffer, is a professorial research fellow at University of Buckingham and columnist for the Sunday Telegraph.

UPDATE: 7 March 2021  Last paragraph amended to reflect publication of new edition in three volumes.

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Washington’s Birthday Roundup

–Last week’s Sunday Telegraph reviews a new book by Simon Fenwick entitled The Crichel Boys. This is about a post-WWII literary salon established in a house that was formerly the rectory of Long Crichel, Dorset. This was purchased by Eddy Sackville-West, Desmond Shawe-Taylor and Eardley Knollys later joined by Raymond Mortimer. They installed a good cook and her husband served as butler. The guest list as reflected in the review was quite impressive, including James Lees-Milne, Peter Pears, Benjamin Britten, Kenneth Clark, Elizabeth Bowen, Somerset Maugham, Greta Garbo and Graham Greene. Conspicuous by his absence is Evelyn Waugh. He is quoted as referring to Long Crichel:

The Crichel Boys were all members of the establishment […] but none of them was conventional. They were all openly gay (Evelyn Waugh called Long Crichel “the buggery house”)…

Laura Freeman reviews the book in this week’s Sunday Times. She is a bit less inclined to like it:

Here come the usual (or should that be U-sual?) suspects: Nancy Mitford, waspish, wasp-waisted, just back from Paris; Patrick “Paddy” Leigh Fermor, bronzed and handsomely indolent; Lady Ottoline Morrell, splendid, ridiculous, roped in pearls. Sonia Orwell will perch on the fender and there will be cameos by John Betjeman, Cecil Beaton, Cyril Connolly, David “Bunny” Garnett and a glamorous Guinness or three.

Evelyn Waugh will turn up at teatime and be rude about everyone. It will be a bit Bloomsbury, a bit Bright Young Things, a bit BBC and a bit Oxford tweedy. Done well, the genre is enormous fun. Don’t you wish you were there? Guest of honour at a fantasy dinner party, with Paddy on your left and Nancy on your right and Virginia Woolf being wicked and bitchy within eavesdropping distance. Done less well, you feel trapped at an endless country-house weekend listening to minor literary liggers complain about the central heating.

Whether Waugh ever turned up is not stated nor could I find any evidence in his letters or diaries that he did so. His biographers make no mention of Long Crichel or its salon either.

–Flora Watkins writing in The Spectator addresses the frustrations of home teaching by listing (for her own home pupils and others) 10 examples of teachers who are worse than she is (or they are). One is Capt. Grimes from Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall:

Of all the misfits employed as schoolmasters at Llanabba Castle, the drunken deviant Captain Grimes is Primus inter pares. Dishonourably discharged from the army, he’s usually half-cut and perennially “in the soup”. He later makes a bigamous marriage with the headmaster’s daughter. Grimes’s pederasty was removed from the 2017 BBC-TV adaptation–what with boarding school abuse not being so amusing as it was in the 1920’s.

Others on the list include Jim Prideaux of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Wackford Squeers of Nicholas Nickleby; and Muriel Sparks’s Miss Jean Brodie.

–Novelist Louise Candish was interviewed in the Irish paper The Independent. Here is an excerpt:

Q. The writer who shaped you?
A. Margaret Atwood, Tom Wolfe, Patricia Highsmith, Evelyn Waugh, Agatha Christie, and, going back to childhood, Enid Blyton – have all had a strong influence on me. I connect with their unflinching interest in the less heroic motives of humans. Lust and avarice, cowardice and snobbery – the savagery that hovers beneath our civilised facades.

–The Canadian religious website Catholic Insight posts an unsigned review and recommendation of Waugh’s Edmund Campion: Jesuit and Martyr. Here’s an excerpt:

 …Waugh’s biography […] and Campion’s life, speak very much to our own time. Campion was a contrarian, standing against the spiritus mundi. He could have had it all, bright, successful, up-and-coming, but threw all that way to follow Christ. Only a living thing can swim upstream, as another Englishman, G.K. Chesterton wrote, not to follow the entropic and enervating current, but show there is a far better way.

And that Campion did. Waugh’s book, to this writer’s mind, is a masterpiece of hagiography, portraying the saint as he was, in his own time, and even in his own  ‘mind’, insofar as such is possible, the inner turmoil, difficulties and even doubts, as this once-foppish young man joined the most rigorous of Orders, full of their original zeal (the Jesuits were only constituted in 1540, four decades before Campion’s death). How Campion, by grace and training, was formed into an elite soldier for Christ, risking a brutal and grisly death to bring the Faith, the Sacraments, and some solace, to Catholics left bereft in Elizabeth’s increasingly anti-Catholic England.

–An academic journal The Modernist Review has issued a call for papers headed with this reference to Evelyn Waugh:

“[L]et us hide the cocktail-shaker,” Evelyn Waugh wrote in the Daily Express in 1928, for “[c]ocktails are chilly things at the best of times, and during Christmas week they are ‘all wrong.’”

Waugh was perhaps being a little tongue-in-cheek here, but his demand that cocktails—an emblem of modernity—should be cast aside during the festive season raises intriguing questions. How did the modernists (and modernist-adjacents!) feel and write about festivity and parties? How does festivity intersect with modernity, and what effects does this produce? Waugh’s own Vile Bodies follows a gaggle of thoroughly modern Bright Young People from one bizarre festive locale to the next…

–The following abstract of a University of California, Berkeley PhD thesis has been posted. This is entitled “The Comic Bildungsroman: Evelyn Waugh, Samuel Beckett and Philip Roth” by David Seidel:

This dissertation argues that the relationship between comedy and the Bildungsroman is symbiotic rather than subversive, indicative of a fundamental affinity between mode and genre. The Bildungsroman is a genre supremely anxious about the social, professional, and romantic definition its heroes seek, an anxiety that leaves it highly vulnerable to the incursions of comedy. Definition is about limits, ends, bounds, and stability. I argue that comedy attacks all these things mercilessly, and finds in the Bildungsroman’s preoccupation with definition, limits, and bounds a fertile ground for its own forces of indefinition [sic], limitlessness, and boundlessness. Therefore, small, sometimes trivial examples of comic indefinition can be traced back to the larger definitional stakes of the Bildungsroman form. The comic twentieth-century novels I take up, Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall and The Loved One, Samuel Beckett’s Murphy and Company, and Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint and Sabbath’s Theater, feed on the Bildungsroman’s ever-present, latent comedy. Comic Bildungsromans, anti-Bildungsromans, parodic Bildungsromans: a rose is a rose is a rose. Whatever the name, the comic Bildungsroman doesn’t so much distort the image of the Bildungsroman as reflect its truest form.

Here’s a link to the full text of the thesis.

UPDATE (21 February 2021): Dave Lull kindly sent a link to the full text of the UC PhD thesis. It is posted above.

Posted in Academia, Decline and Fall, Newspapers, The Loved One, Vile Bodies | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wilfred Thesiger Profiled in “The Article”

Biographer Jeffrey Meyers has written a profile of pre-eminent British travel writer Wilfred Thesiger. This is posted in the online literary journal The Article. Meyers begins by recalling his 1979 interview of Thesiger in the latter’s London apartment. He notes Thesiger’s birth in Addis Ababa, education at Eton and Oxford and early life of wandering in pursuit of exotic people and cultures:

His travel writing was not an occasional interlude from ordinary life, but a continuous record from the inside of lost and disappearing cultures. He believed other races were entitled to their own moral standards and disliked missionaries who disrupted ancestral customs. …

The early chapters of the article cover Thesiger’s admiration of Lawrence of Arabia and books about Arabian lands and peoples. Given his experience of early life in Abyssinia and admiration for its culture and leader Haile Selassie, Thesiger was bound to come up against Waugh’s satirical writings about that country. Meyers provides a fairly comprehensive description of Thesiger’s and Waugh’s different points of view:

…In 1930 he attended the coronation of his father’s old friend, Emperor Haile Selassie, to whom he was fiercely loyal. In Addis Ababa he met Evelyn Waugh, who later enraged him by mocking the Abyssinians in Black Mischief and praising the Italian invasion of their country. He condemned Waugh’s superficiality and foppish dress, and disliked him on sight: “He struck me as flaccid and petulant.” Waugh wanted to join Thesiger’s expedition to a fierce tribe, but he adamantly refused his request and menacingly remarked: “Had he come, I suspect only one of us would have returned.”

Thesiger dedicated his autobiography “To the memory of His late Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie” and his portrayal of Selassie was completely opposed to Waugh’s. He praised the Emperor’s “sensitive and finely moulded face,” his dignity and kindness, “his inflexible will, his intense patience, his courage, his horror of cruelty, his dedication to his country and his deep religious faith”. Waugh claimed that Selassie had “fled precipitately”; Thesiger showed that Selassie had commanded his army against the Italians at Qoram. He was forced to admit that as Selassie “acquired power he became increasingly autocratic”. […]

Thesiger forcefully contradicted Waugh’s biased views of the hopelessly unequal war against the Italians, of General Rodolfo Graziani, of the barbaric methods of the invaders and — in defiance of the Geneva Convention — their horrific use of poison gas. He described the “bitter fighting, largely swords, spears and shields against rifles, bayonets and hand grenades, that lasted until nightfall.” In a striking sentence he noted, “to meet a modern army, the Abyssinians lacked everything but courage.” […]

After 425 deacons and monks were shot in Debra Lebanos, which Evelyn Waugh had visited in 1930, the furious Thesiger quoted Waugh’s justification of the Italian terror and extermination. Waugh declared that the Italian “civilising mission” was “attended by a spread of order and decency, education and medicine, in a disgraceful place.” Thesiger was also outraged by Waugh’s attempt to cover up the use of mustard gas, a toxic chemical that burned exposed skin and lungs and formed large blisters oozing yellow pus. The soft tissue of the eyes were especially vulnerable. In his New Year Letter (1940), WH Auden wrote of “The Abyssinian, blistered, blind.” Thesiger vividly concluded that “anyone who was splashed with the fluid or who breathed its fumes writhed and screamed in agony.”

At least one of Waugh’s biographers mentions Thesiger’s critical attitude toward Waugh’s views of Abyssinia. This is Selina Hastings who also interviewed Thesiger for her book (Hastings, p. 236). Whether Waugh himself commented on his encounters with Thesiger is not known to me, nor do Hastings and Meyers mention any. Thanks to reader Milena Borden for sending a link.

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Waugh-Themed Radio Drama Posted

The 2003 radio broadcast of an audio-play entitled “Saint Graham and Saint Evelyn, Pray for Us” was posted on the internet earlier this month. This was written by literary critic and radio-TV presenter Mark Lawson. It was originally broadcast in Waugh’s centenary year, apparently on the BBC, and may have had some connection with that observance. According to a message posted on Reddit:

“In this literary comedy the Vatican decides to canonise either Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene. As priests explore the two writers (who were opposites in everything except friendship) their very different attitudes towards life, sex and Catholicism emerge.”

Much of the performance is devoted to discussions between the two writers, often based on written correspondence between them or on their other writings. The 43 minute broadcast is available on the Internet Archive, a non-profit organization dedicated to preservation of print, audio and visual media. Here’s a link:

The cast credits are also posted:

Graham Greene – John Sessions, Evelyn Waugh – Simon Day, Catherine Greene – Clare Corbett, Cardinal Coppa – Peter Wickham, Monsignor Hale – Daniel Evans, Monsignor Crutwell – Kerry Shale

The director of the 2003 broadcast performance was Robin Reed.

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Italian Version of A Little Learning

Evelyn Waugh’s autobiography A Little Learning will come out in an Italian edition next week. This is entitled  Autobiografia di un perdigiorno (Autobiography of an Idler).  Here is a translated excerpt of a review in Il Giornali by Stenio Solinas

Once he turned sixty, Evelyn Waugh began to notice that boredom was taking over his life. Not that until then he hadn’t been bored, far from it, and traveling as getting drunk, writing as getting married, even enlisting and being parachuted across the Channel had been the many ways in which life had fought and boredom defeated, all battles of a war that proved nevertheless interminable, a bit like the wars of succession, of religion, of thirty years. It was an old friend who alarmed him, warning him that in the eyes of many he had become boring  […]

The reviewer writes that Waugh knew autobiography was tricky. There was the danger of repetition of a life already described in his own fiction and by others; there was a risk of it being, not to put too fine a point upon it, boring.

Be that as it may, Waugh finally figured it out. A Little Learning came out in 1964, the first of a planned three-volume series, a sign that its author had taken a liking to it. Death decided otherwise. Unpublished in Italy, it is now published with a more understandable and captivating title, Autobiography of a perdigiorno [loafer] (Bompiani, 364 pages, 28 euros), chosen by Mario Fortunato who is also its excellent translator, as well as being the editorial editor of the work by Waugh […]

Set over a period of time that, from birth, reaches the age of twenty-five, except for a first chapter with a vaguely heraldic-genealogical flavor, The Ancestors [Heredity] , Autobiography of an idler re-proposes what had been the curse together with the blessing of English literature written in the early twentieth century, that is the school, from college to university, as a sort of eternally regretted Eden. […] In short, it is a sort of “theory of permanent adolescence”, according to the definition of Cyril Connolly, another of Waugh’s friends-companions-acquaintances, to hover in the book, youth as a racket, a gang apart and even a profession, the young man as an “eternal promise,” Always, and finally, not surprisingly, Autobiography of a loafer ends with the twenty-five-year-old Waugh who, faced with the existential failure to which his attempt to make ends meet as a teacher in a provincial school certainly leads him, contemplates suicide by drowning. He even left a farewell note, where he reported in Greek a verse by Euripides: “The sea heals all the ills of men.” The one in which he is swimming towards his end will turn out to be full of jellyfish. […]

Fortunato correctly writes that one of the keys of the book is reticence, which if it is the rhetorical figure par excellence of the twentieth-century novel is however the tombstone of any autobiography worthy of the name. Waugh is so aware of this reticence “that he denies almost to the last page of his autobiographical story his incoercible [incoercibile] vocation as a writer”. In its place is the aspiring painter, the designer of covers and bookplates who replaces the “presumptuous, heartless and certainly malevolent” adolescent who was, a concentrate, as appears from his school diaries, “of notable ignoble ». The end result is the founder of the Corpse Club, the member of the Hypocrites Club and the Oxford Railway Club, places he frequented and encountered a high rate of nicotine and alcohol,  with sexual preferences more homo- than heterosexual, over which Waugh spreads a modest veil, which help better define those mid-twenties years that he himself renamed an Indian Summer. […] What populates this Indian summer is a human type “who is unable to sever the cord that binds him to the university and continues to be possessed by it for years to come.” It is in some ways the creation of another social class that Waugh recounts in these pages, a communion of souls linked by a jargon, a behavioral code, a way of dressing, minority, but in its own way impregnable and destined, however, to unconditional surrender because the enemy is not external, it is internal: it is youth that goes away and cannot be turned back. It has passed, and they have not had time to notice it. It won’t be the [production] of an autobiography that will bring it back to life, and Waugh knows this very well. This is also why novels are written.

The translation is by Google with some edits. Most retranslations of Waugh quotes from Italian back into English have been omitted except where that was not possible without losing the context. No attempt has been made to substitute Waugh’s original language for the retranslation. There are also some quotes which seem to be from from the biographer’s Italian text (perhaps an introduction), but those are not always distinguishable. The Italian title is sometimes translated Autobiography of an “Idler” but at other times, “Loafer” or “Sloth”. The Italian incoercibile is translated by Google as incoercible but, in context, “inevitable” might be better.



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Pre-Valentine Roundup

–The Spanish newspaper El Periodico announces the issuance of a Catalan translation of Brideshead Revisited;

Sebastian and Charles burst into the kitchen, in love like penguins, to share in the bombshell news that Viena Edicions has just published in Catalan the mythical novel by Evelyn Waugh, in a new translation by Xavier Pàmies. The boys, of course, wanted to celebrate with strawberries freshly picked from the garden and Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey white wine, because the idle and novelty classes are a bunch of ‘ snobs ‘ . What difference does it make? After all, dear reader , the best thing in life is a youthful summer trapped in the amber of memory. ‘Et in Arcadia ego’.

How is it possible to feel nostalgic for a time that was never lived, for a landscape never trodden on? That is what the witchcraft of good literature does. ‘Brideshead Revisited’ [Retorno a Brideshead] highlights the love between men, the love between men and women, the centrality of beauty in the existence of troubled humans. Is there something else? ‘ ‘ What else ‘ ‘ ?, As they say in the coffee ad.

Translated by Google. The name of the wine looks a bit peculiar.  Perhaps it’s just the context.

The Spectator offers a list of “Books to Cheer Your Up” or in other words “purely entertaining books” to help divert minds during the extended pandemic. This is compiled by Alexander Larman and contains this one by Evelyn Waugh:

Fans of Evelyn Waugh’s unique, uproarious worldview – and I would definitely count myself as one – might find no purer expression of his talent than in his first novel, Decline and Fall, written and published while he was still in his twenties. Following the adventures of the hapless young Paul Pennyfeather, from university to teaching to white slavery to prison, and beyond, it is a novel without a shred of sentiment, but all the funnier for it. As with many novels on this list, it features an indelible cast of supporting characters, from the long-suffering headmaster Dr Fagan to the all-knowing butler Philbrick, but the greatest of them all is the deeply unsavoury schoolmaster Captain Grimes, forever finding himself ‘in the soup’ for some misdemeanour or other, and relishing the amoral freedom that ‘not being a gentleman’ gives him.

Others on the list include Lucky Jim, Pursuit of Love and Patrick Hamilton’s Slaves of Solitude.

–The Daily Telegraph includes a novel by Evelyn Waugh on its recommended reading for Valentine’s Day. This is A Handful of Dust. This seems an odd choice but here’s the explanation written by Telegraph reporter Iona McLaren:

It’s a truism that love can drive you mad, but few vignettes bring this home with such a bleak punch as the famous scene in Waugh’s 1934 novel when Lady Brenda Last, who is having a supposedly casual fling with John Beaver, a younger man she knows to be second-rate, hears over the telephone that “John” has died in an accident. When she realises that it’s her infant son, not Beaver, who has died, Brenda says: “John… John Andrew… I… Oh, thank God.” Love conquers all, but here it’s not a good thing. 

Another satirical novel  recommended is Kingsley Amis’s The Old Devils. Its proponent is Orlando Bird who agrees that it:

might sound like a surefire V-Day downer. But look beyond the (admittedly hilarious) gripes about Welsh signage and the grotesqueries of ageing and you’ll find a deeply tender novel that celebrates love in its least glamorous forms – and blows Amis’s cover. He was an old romantic after all. 

–The Irish Examiner asked TV political news presenter Katie Hannon from RTÉ to list her “cultural touchstones”. These are mostly TV productions but there is also this by Evelyn Waugh:

Scoop and the news cycle

Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop is fantastic.

It was written in the 1930s. It’s about an insignificant journalist who writes the nature notes for a newspaper.

He gets mistaken for a more famous cousin who is a writer and he gets dispatched to cover a war in Africa.

It’s the account of how this works out. He accidentally has a major scoop.

It’s very clever about how these things are done, how wars are covered, the madness of it all. It’s a great book. If you ever find it in a second-hand bookshop, pick it up.

–Columnist Nicholas Lezard writing in the New Statesman is also reminded of Waugh’s novel about journalists. His column is entitled “A reader accuses me of banality”:

The word that arrested me in my online fisticuffs was “banal”. “Crap” I can kind of live with, as it is pretty much implied by the word “banal”. Now, although I am reasonably confident that my critic never actually read past the headline, the word “banal” stung. I prefer “mundane”, as its etymological roots are from the Latin mundus (the world, and also “clean, elegant”); but then, in the end, everything is banal. In Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, the writer John Courteney Boot meets a precocious child who keeps using the word:

“You seem to find everything banal.”

“It is a new word whose correct use I have only lately learnt,” said Josephine with dignity. “I find it applies to nearly everything.”

UPDATE (12 February 2021): Additional information is added from the Daily Telegraph.


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Naim Attallah: 1931-2021 R I P

The publisher and author Naim Attallah died in London earlier this week.  His obituary was posted today by the Daily Telegraph:

Naim Attallah, who has died aged 89, was a Palestinian-born entrepreneur who enjoyed a lucrative business career, notably with the luxury jeweller Asprey of Bond Street, but was better-known for his rather less financially rewarding role as proprietor of Quartet Books – a publishing company that he boasted had “employed more pretty girls than MGM and 20th Century Fox put together. […]

Attallah made little enough money from his publishing imprints, but some of his other ventures were so unremunerative as to be purely philanthropic. In 1981 he purchased the magazine Literary Review, installing Auberon Waugh as editor in 1986, and sank some £2 million into it with no hope of return, while Waugh drew a minimal salary and often paid contributors out of his own pocket.

The two men fiercely admired each other’s commitment to producing a first-class magazine (although it was too unpretentious ever to become fashionable) and in 2019, nearly two decades after Waugh’s death, Attallah edited A Scribbler in Soho, a tribute volume.

In 1992 he became the proprietor of another fledgling magazine, which aimed for a similar combination of intelligence and lack of stuffiness – The Oldie. It was edited by his old foe Richard Ingrams, and they too became friends, Ingrams describing him as “the first rich person I’ve met whom I like”. But by the time The Oldie finally began to flourish in the new millennium, Attallah had sold it on to John Paul Getty for a minimal profit.

Quartet Books also reprinted Auberon’s book Waugh on Wine in 2019.

At the time Attallah was born in 1931, Palestine was governed under a British mandate. According to the Daily Mail:

Attallah came to the UK in 1949 to study.[…] He was often to be found dining at his favourite restaurant in Shepherd Market, was happily married. He said he enjoyed flirting with women but never had affairs with them. ‘Darling, you’re pretty, come work for me,’ was his usual chat-up line. and it worked. […] His stable of employees — all fiercely loyal — included novelist Daisy Waugh, biographer Anna Pasternak and Emma Soames.

Thanks to Dave Lull for sending these links.

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