Elizabeth Jane Howard Centenary: b. 26 March 1923

The Oldie has published a remembrance by Mark McGinness of novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard’s centenary which occurs today. Here’s an excerpt:

Elizabeth Jane Howard would have been 100 on 26 March. Her stepson, Martin Amis, paid tribute to her “penetrating sanity” and pronounced her, with Iris Murdoch, “the most interesting woman writer of her generation. An instinctivist, like Muriel Spark, she has a freakish and poetic eye, and a penetrating sanity.”

Her scholarly champion, Hilary Mantel, wrote of her “she helps us do the necessary thing – open our eyes and our hearts”. The eyes and hearts of the literary firmament were not quite as open and so Elizabeth Jane Howard remains one of the underrated novelists in our post-war history.

As she said herself, late in life, “You have to put writing first. If I was mooning after someone… I wouldn’t be focused. I wasted a lot of my life on men, but I think a lot of women novelists have.” There was certainly a lot of mooning – and lot of bedding but she still managed to leave behind a formidable canon.

Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy and Olivia Manning’s Fortunes of War are seen as wartime classics difficult to match but there is something in the subtlety, astuteness, sense of period and sheer readability of her prose that makes Elizabeth Jane Howard an author of substance…

Howard’s Cazalet Chronicle of novels may not match the war novels of Waugh and Manning (as well as those of Anthony Powell) but come very close. Howard was also involved in literary journalism, as explained by McGinness:

…With [her second husband Kingsley] Amis presiding and Elizabeth Jane providing, they received the literary ton of their time – Somerset Maugham, Bernard Levin, John Betjeman, Anthony and Lady Violet Powell, Iris Murdoch and John Bayley.

When she interviewed Evelyn Waugh for BBC Television in 1964 (see BBC Archives via Facebook) she clearly charmed him. (Apparently, in the intervals he kept asking, “When is Miss Howard going to take off all her clothes?”) [See recent post.] He was certainly kinder to her than he had been when interviewed by John Freeman four years earlier, “Ah, Miss Howard. And have you anything to do with literature?” “Only spasmodically, Mr Waugh,” was her self-effacing and, within a few years, sadly honest reply…

Howard also wrote in her memoirs that Waugh had agreed to appear in the 1964 BBC interview only if he wrote the questions. As described by Howard:

“…The questions were very run-of-the-mill and unlikely to elicit much. I asked some of them and then I decided, when I knew a reel was coming to an end, to put in one of my own…At the end of the second afternoon, I was asked to ‘amuse’ Mr Waugh while they took reaction shots of him. Amuse him! How could I do that? In the end I told him in some detail about my lack of education which he seemed to enjoy, or at any rate remained benign throughout. But the reply that most interested me was when I asked whether he preferred to be anxious or bored. ‘Oh, bored every time is the answer.’… The chief and most arresting feature of Waugh’s face was his beautiful eyes: of a clear blue they  were marvellously alive, seeing eyes that sparkled with intelligence and perception. Even Kingsley, when he did his very funny impersonation of Waugh’s face–even with an apoplectic edge of congested rage–couldn’t manage the eyes…”(E J Howard, Slipstream (2002, pp. 351-3).

The BBC adapted the first two novels in the Cazalet Chronicle for TV in 2001 and all 5 novels for radio in 2012-14. The TV adaptation extends over 5 (PBS) or 6 (BBC) episodes and the radio, over 45 episodes.

A memorial article also appeared in a recent issue of The Times. This is by Susie Goldsborough and opens with this:

Elizabeth Jane Howard was not afraid. She wrote with terrible, icy clarity about sensations that others spend their lives trying to hide from (or failing to capture). Betrayal, guilt and fathomless loneliness. Looking at someone you love and feeling only “frightful, sudden indifference”.

Like Jane Austen, she was a master dramatist of the inner life. Her characters’ emotional epiphanies play out like action sequences: tense, slow-motion, liable to burst out mid-paragraph and catch you by the throat. Someone might look up and intercept a glance across the breakfast table and suddenly feel their hopes disintegrating into the toast crumbs. Her novels are full of silent, unrecognised explosions.

Born 100 years ago next week, Howard is one of our greatest 20th-century novelists. She is also criminally underappreciated. Were it not for The Cazalet Chronicles — her late career, five-book masterpiece about upper-middle-class life in England from the late Thirties to the Fifties — she might be forgotten.

It was through the Cazalets that I encountered Howard as a teenager, staring out of the car window into the rain and half-listening to whatever musty book was being read on Radio 4. Then listening intently. The Cazalet family had sucked me in…



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Daylight Savings (UK) Roundup: Pre-Raphaelites at the Tate Britain

–Tate Britain has mounted a major exhibit of Pre-Raphaelite painting of and by Elizabeth Siddal. This is described in an article by Iona McLaren in the Daily Telegraph:

For modern readers, accustomed to the legend of Siddal as the “meek, unconscious dove” (as Rossetti called her, after Tennyson), it is a jolt to find that this much-fed-upon face could actually talk back – and that, behind the “sweet lips” so fetishised by Rossetti, were pointed teeth. For Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall – as she was born, before she dropped an L for chic – was a painter and a poet, too…

From next month, 17 paintings and drawings by Elizabeth Siddal are to be seen in Tate Britain’s new blockbuster, The Rossettis, which juxtaposes her with Gabriel and Christina. It is the largest showing of the London-born Siddal‘s work since the seminal 1991 revival at the Ruskin Gallery in Sheffield, and her first ever show in a major institution.

The hope is to spring this cutler’s daughter from the trap of the most inextricable of all Pre-Raphaelite legends: Elizabeth Siddal “the exquisite and mysterious virgin” (as Peter Quennell archly put it in his 1949 Ruskin biography), sacrificed on the altar of art. For, of course, she is already one of Tate Britain’s biggest draws, as Millais’ famous 1852 Ophelia in the permanent collection, for which she posed in a tin bath heated by oil lamps. When the flames failed, rather than interrupt Millais, Siddal “kept floating in the cold water till she was quite benumbed”, and contracted such a severe cold that her father threatened to sue: life imitating art – and a macabre prophecy of her own early end. Like Marilyn Monroe playing the dumb blonde, Siddal has got stuck as the doomed maiden. Now Dr Carol Jacobi, curator of the Tate exhibition, wants to “break her free of Ophelia” and “get her out of the bath tub”…

Later, her tiny oeuvre came to be seen as purely derivative of Rossetti’s (or, where admirable, evidence of his own hand). “He had his defects, and she had the deficiencies of those defects,” his brother, William Michael Rossetti, the self-appointed Pre-Raphaelite chronicler, wrote in 1903. The condescension deepened with every passing generation: in 1928, Evelyn Waugh wrote that her art had “so little real artistic merit, and so much of what one’s governess called ‘feeling’; so tentative, so imitative”… [Yellow high-lighting from original.]

Waugh’s biography of Dante Gabriel Rossetti was his debut book, published in 1928. It was recently published as Vol. 16 of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh: Rossetti: His Life and Works and more recently as a Penguin Modern Classic.

The London Magazine has posted an article about the Melville family of Guyana. This is written by John Gimlette. The opening paragraphs explain how they came to settle there:

…Harry Prideaux Colin Melville was born in Jamaica, in 1864, the son of a Presbyterian archdeacon. Unlike his father, however, Harry had never had an appetite for matters spiritual, and preferred the sight of gold. At the age of twenty-seven he decided to extract himself from Scottish Jamaica, and set off in search of ore. His gold-washing brought him to British Guiana. There, in 1891, he plunged into the forest, and was soon cooking up a case of malaria. At the moment of death – the story goes – he was found by some Amerindians. Harry had no wish to die in the dark, and asked for help to reach the light. With either payment or pathos, they agreed, and brought the dying Scot out onto the Rupununi Savannah. There, he liked what he saw and lay down to die.

Death on the savannah had suited Harry well. The next thing he knew, the grass was his home. He acquired two Wapisiana wives and settled down to become a trader in the finest fish hooks and trinkets. It was good business, and – after twenty years – he was the most powerful man on the savannah. Not only was he now the father of ten children, he was also a cattle baron, a district commissioner, and the Laird of Dadanawa. It was the largest ranch in the world, and covered an area about the size of the Lowlands of Scotland…

In the course of the story, Evelyn Waugh makes an appearance:

…[Melville’s] semi-feral children had produced plenty of brats of their own. Evelyn Waugh had met several of these grandchildren, when he walked through the Rupununi Savannah in 1933. Waugh disliked most children but to him the Melvilles were particularly beastly. And he may have been right. By 1969 the same grandchildren were numerous and boisterous enough to start a revolution. They rose in revolt, and declared independence from Guyana. But the Republic of the Rupununi lasted only a day before the Guyanese army appeared, and chased most of the Melvilles off into Venezuela. These days, not much remains of Harry’s world, except a handful of thready descendants, and, of course, the ranch at Dadanawa…

See Ninety-Two Days (CWEW, v.22, p. 14) and related annotations.

–In its obituary of Roger Ellis, best known as a Headmaster of Marlborough School where he oversaw the admission of girls, The Times also mentions one of his memories from  college days:

[…] Ellis … won a scholarship to Trinity College, Oxford. There he read history and occupied rooms with a Grinling Gibbons fireplace, though he had to cross two quads to wash. One memorable event was being taken out to tea by Evelyn Waugh, the novelist and godfather of a friend. “I found him terrifying and non-communicative,” Ellis later recalled…

–An African newspaper, The Namibian, reprints a 2007 obituary of William Deedes by William Holden. Here’s an extract:

…[Deedes] became best known as the inspiration for the character William Boot in Evelyn Waugh’s satirical novel ‘Scoop’, which tells of a hapless rural reporter who is sent by mistake to cover a civil war in a fictional African state. Deedes had been sent to Abyssinia in 1935 to cover the invasion ordered by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and arrived with a huge amount of luggage. He admitted this might have given Waugh, who was also covering the war for a rival paper, the idea for the character…

–An article in The Catholic Weekly (Australia) looks forward to Good Friday. This is written by Patrick O’Shea who is anticipating a treat after the religious observances:

Just like Cordelia from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, I look forward to the Good Friday liturgies of the 3pm and Tenebrae—a series of psalms and chants reflecting the church’s sorrow at the death of Our Lord. As I’m starving during both liturgies, my mind drifts between the Lamentations of Jeremiah, the reproaches, and craving hot cross buns. I don’t know if it’s the sweetness of the fruit they put in them, or the cushy dough they use for the bread; I always look forward to them every year. I’m sure Our Lord can forgive my wandering mind during Good Friday.



Posted in Academia, Brideshead Revisited, Catholicism, Newspapers, Ninety-Two Days, Rossetti: His Life and Works, Scoop | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

St Patricks Day Roundup

–The  current issue of The Critic magazine has the latest effort to revive the works of novelist Henry Green. This is in an article entitled “An off-kilter visionary” by Alexander Larman. The article prominently cites Waugh’s on and off relationship with Green and his works. Here’s an excerpt:

…Waugh came across Green when they were Oxford contemporaries. He pronounced his friend “lean, dark and singular”. Both were hard-drinking, clubbable men with literary ambitions, but Waugh — a lifelong parvenu who both admired and detested those wealthier and grander than he was — recognised the presence of an extraordinary talent almost as soon as they met. He was consumed by both jealousy and admiration.

Green — or Henry Yorke, as he had been christened — had been educated in the conventional upper-class fashion. He had been schoolfriends at Eton with Anthony Powell (another lifelong admirer). It was at Eton that he began what would become his first novel, Blindness, a semi-autobiographical study of a young man, John Haye, who is accidentally blinded while attending the prestigious public school Noat. Although slight in comparison to what would come later, it already displayed Green’s effortless facility for combining witty social satire with poetic flair.

It was published in 1926, when Green was 21, and Waugh wrote to him through gritted teeth to say “at the risk of appearing officious, I am impelled to write to you and tell you how very much I like it. It is extraordinary to me that anyone of our generation could have written so fine a book, and at Oxford of all places.”

His praise was not unconditional, however. He sneered at his friend’s nom de plume, saying privately, “From motives inscrutable to his friends, the author of Living chooses to publish his work under a pseudonym of peculiar drabness.”…

Larman goes on to discuss several of Green’s books, including his second, entitled Living,  published in 1929 and reviewed by Waugh in Vogue’s September issue. Waugh praised that one twice, the second time about a year later in The Graphic where he may have become the first literary critic to describe a Green novel as “neglected masterpiece.” In later years, as Green’s books began appearing more regularly in the 1940s, Waugh thought them unreadable and feared Green was losing his mind. They fell out socially as well, due to Green’s alcoholism, according to Larman. The article is worth a look, but it oddly omits a reference to the one book of Green’s which might help attract readership. This is Caught, written and published during the war, in which Green describes his experiences as an ARP warden. It is in my opinion the most readable of Green’s novels, but perhaps for that reason Larman may have considered it unrepresentative. Here’s a link.

–The performance of a Dutch stage adaptation of Brideshead Revisited has been announced for the upcoming Holland Festival. It will be performed at the theatre De Sloot in Amsterdam from 5 June to 1 July. For details see this link.

–A Turkish language edition of Vile Bodies is being promoted in the press.  Here is an edited translation (by Google) of an excerpt:

Adí Bedenler (Vile Bodies) is a novel written by Evelyn Waugh. One of the most extreme gentlemen of 20th century European literature, is the unique Adam Fenwick-Symes, whose memoirs … were seized at the customs and burned by customs officers; he could not marry his fiancee Nina as a result of the tragicomic events that happened to him. …

The book is translated into Turkish by Gözde Poplar. It was published earlier this year by Everest.

–An article by Dwight Longenecker appears on the religious-philosophical website The Imaginative Conservative. This compares the character Guy Crouchback in Waugh’s Sword of Honour to the prophet Hosea.  Here are the concluding paragraphs:

…Guy Crouchback, like the prophet Hosea, has married a glamorous, but promiscuous woman. Guy’s father “old Crouchback” comments drily, “poor Guy. He married a bad ‘un.” Indeed. Virginia’s various liaisons have proved very dangerous. Her unfaithfulness wrecked both her and Guy’s life. She crouches back to him, and his willingness to have her back despite her dalliances elevates him to the level of heroism that his wartime experiences never granted him. In doing so, he echoes the heroism of Hosea, who pictures God’s own faithfulness to his promiscuous people. The true sword of honor is not military glory, but Guy’s noble action of forgiveness.

The underlying moral plot illuminates the tedium of the rest of Waugh’s story. Guy’s relationship with Virginia runs through the story like a dark thread, and we see what Waugh has been up to. Beneath the outward plot—in this case the Second World War—the plot line of the destiny of human souls is playing out, and the sheer absurdity and futility of the surface plot is emphasized by the intensity and importance of Guy’s affaire de coeur.

“This is what matters,” Waugh is telling us. Whether the allies win the war, whether the British are humiliated, or the Nazis defeated is secondary. Guy’s forgiveness of Virginia and his acceptance of the scoundrel Trimmer’s son as his own is what matters. As Old Crouchback would say, “Quantitative judgements don’t apply.”

–The entertainment industry website The Wrap has reposted a list of notable Peter O’Toole performances that was probably originally published in connection with his death in 2013. Here is one of interest to our readers:

“Bright Young Things” (2003): Stephen Fry‘s brilliantly acrid adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s “Vile Bodies” has no shortage of British eccentrics, but they all take a back seat to O’Toole’s Colonel Blount, who seems to be operating in a dimension entirely his own. Dotty and circumloquacious, the good colonel pops up in only a few scenes of the film, but O’Toole’s wonderfully whacked-out performance stays in the memory.

Thinking back, I would have to agree, since O’Toole’s performance is the only thing I can remember from the film that was released in Waugh’s centenary year.




Posted in Adaptations, Brideshead Revisited, Events, Festivals, Newspapers, Sword of Honour, Theater, Vile Bodies | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Daylight Savings (USA) Roundup

–Duncan McLaren has posted on his weblog a discussion regarding Graham Greene’s possible portrayal of Waugh in his 1940s novel The Heart of the Matter. He was a composite part of the character based primarily on some one Greene had known from Africa.  This was pointed out to Duncan by a Graham Greene enthusiast. The idea took root in Greene’s mind when he was writing a travel book about Africa during the war but for various reasons was unable to use it until later. Duncan tells enough of the story to make it unnecessary to seek out the passages from Greene’s books. Here’s the link.

–Robin Ashenden posts an article on the website Quillette.com about the BBC Radio 4 series Evil Genius hosted by comedian and noted Waugh fan Russell Kane.  Here’s an excerpt:

…Evil Genius, a Radio 4 programme is presented by Essex-born comedian Russell Kane, which first aired in 2018 and continues to this day. The format of the programme is simple: each week a dead artist, politician, or luminary with a stellar reputation is submitted to the scrutiny of Kane and his three guests, who are often fellow comics. After the sketchiest of introductions to the subject’s career, three envelopes—“fact bombs”—are opened to disclose key details from their life. Some are benign but at least one is potentially reputation-destroying. At the end of the programme, the guests are asked to decide whether the subject is “evil” or a “genius.”

Kane can be an astute and thoughtful comedian, but he stewards the show with a desperate Yellow-Coat mateyness, as if he were addressing nine-year-olds at a holiday camp: “The show where we take icons from history and sling so much mud at them that termites could colonise the heap of dirt we finish up with!” Or, “Prepare to have your heroes sprayed with the botty-smears of uncomfortable truth!” At its best, the programme opens up mid-level debate on a wide range of topics—art, race, pornography, the nature of comedy—but this is rare.

Familiarity with a subject’s work is by no means a requirement for serving on the jury. During an episode devoted to Evelyn Waugh (which attempted to skewer the novelist for the mistreatment of his children), a panellist airily declared that he’d never read the man’s work and for a moment seemed to believe Waugh was born in 1966 (the year he died). That did not stop him from pontificating on Waugh’s moral failings (the same happened on a more recent episode about Virginia Woolf). As Waugh was ultimately damned, another guest remarked, “Anyone can write pretty.” Roald Dahl was criticized for his antisemitism (rightly) and his private life (nobody’s business), while his genius for creating a savage, vivid universe for kids was dismissed as a mere talent for a “turn of phrase.”

The whole programme operates on the assumption—contentious and often demonstrably untrue—that the modern West has reached an apex of enlightenment from which it can condemn the past. As its guests routinely question the existence of genius at all, you’re forced to wonder: must the Great and Good be cut down to size simply because the arbitrariness with which talent is distributed contravenes our modern egalitarian Holy Trinity of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity? […]

As journalist Jemima Lewis has pointed out, it is instructive to compare Kane’s Evil Genius episode on Evelyn Waugh and the Great Lives episode he did on the same author with Matthew Parris. Kane is brilliant on Great Lives—clear-eyed but respectful of Waugh’s talent, insightful, passionate, and often even reverent. Yet when he describes Evelyn Waugh’s ability to move between classes as “socially bilingual,” he’s capturing something of himself as well. The Kane of Great Lives and that of Evil Genius are speaking, fluently, in different languages. But which is his native tongue? [Links in quote are from original]

–Ashenden also has an article in The Spectator on a similar topic implicating Waugh:

With the recent news that Kindle and other e-readers are automatically updating Roald Dahl’s books to sanitised versions, an entire era has come to an end for readers like me. Who in future will feel safe buying an electronic copy of anything?

Publishers’ plans here may be modest, but the point about the puritan is that their work is never done. Martin Amis, Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford, George Orwell, Charles Dickens – any one of them feels vulnerable now. If in copyright, the author and their estate can be strong-armed by the publishers; if out of copyright, laying your hands on the right edition will be a minefield. Nor does it seem clear that publishers’ revisions are being done by skilled writers. In a ‘sensitive’ update of Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die, the original description of a Harlem strip club, ‘Bond could hear the audience panting and grunting like pigs at the trough’ becomes ‘Bond could sense the electric tension in the room’ – not necessarily a cliche that would have passed muster with Fleming, or should with us. So goodbye, Kindle. Buying my first was in any case a betrayal of my earliest, analogue dreams…

–A recent memoir by a noted journalist is reviewed on the website of The Jewish Voice:

If there was a golden age of American journalism it probably spanned the peak years of the career of Lance Morrow, a prolific magazine writer and essayist whose work appeared principally in Time magazine for more than three decades from the mid-1960s until the beginning of the current century […]

The book contains delicious anecdotes about some of the characters who dominated this period of American writing. We are given vivid portraits of people like Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Carl Bernstein, and Robert Caro. Morrow has mostly warm words for Abe Rosenthal, executive editor of the New York Times from 1977 to 1986, a man who in striving at least for a quality of objective journalism for that paper in many ways embodies the decline of American journalism over the last 50 years. But he also captures what he describes as Rosenthal’s occasional “Lord Copper” moments—named for the proprietor of the Daily Beast in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, who never had a full grasp of cultural and political matters.

He recounts one episode in which Rosenthal had ordered Michiko Kakutani, a Japanese-American reporter who went on to become the paper’s leading book critic, to report to his office one afternoon, without giving an explanation. Kakutani was terrified about what the summons could mean, fearing she had breached some reporting rule and would be disciplined or even fired. But when the appointed hour came the editor greeted her and told her:

“Michi, my wife Shirley and I have decided to grow bonsai trees and I’d like to ask your advice on how”…

The memoir is entitled The Noise of Typewriters.

–Finally, Kate Kellaway writing in the Guardian considers a growing problem of inflated film and book lengths. Here’s an excerpt:

…the dangers of valuing length in and of itself could not be clearer. We seem to be coming adrift from the trim advice that dominated a generation of early and mid-20th-century writers. EM Forster championed brevity, once remarking, “One always tends to overpraise a long book, because one has got through it.” Ernest Hemingway advised: “To be successful in writing, use short sentences.” George Orwell was more ruthless still: “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.” For here is the curious truth: length is easier than brevity. Length can be an indulgence, a rummaging for clarity and, at its worst, an affront to a reader. Most of us will have had the experience of leaving a cinema feeling that the film could have painlessly had half an hour lopped off and been the better for it. It is easier to let a story run on than to polish it until it shines. Editing must not become an endangered art. The novelist Toni Morrison spoke out about the importance of what is not said, the reading between the lines. It is best to leave some of the work to us.

Evelyn Waugh once said there was nothing, no matter how momentous, that you couldn’t fit onto the back of a postcard. He would have loved Dorothy Parker’s joke of a poem, entitled Two-Volume Novel:

The sun’s gone dim, and
The moon’s turned black;
For I loved him, and
He didn’t love back.

Shakespeare’s compulsive talker Polonius declared “Brevity is the soul of wit”, but his garrulous inability to embody his own wisdom indirectly killed him. To remind ourselves why “less is more”, we have compiled 30 of the best short feature films (of around 90 minutes or under) and novels (under roughly 200 pages); further below, we list 10 works we consider to have earned their right to length. Now is the moment to revel in concision, to defend the satisfactions of travelling light, the pleasures of feeling that not a word, image or minute is being wasted, of not allowing form to smother content, while registering that it will always remain a personal matter for artist and audience to determine what constitutes the perfect length. Here’s to knowing when to stop…

Conspicuous by its absence from the selections in the short book category is Waugh’s The Loved One.

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–Novelist and biographer A N Wilson has published a detailed review of John Betjeman’s recently rebroadcast program Metroland. This appears in a recent issue of the Daily Mail. The BBC rebroadcast was mentioned in the previous Roundup. Wilson who was also acquainted with Betjeman and wrote a biography in his centenary year ranges in the Mail article over Betjeman’s whole career raising several interesting points. Here are the concluding paragraphs in which Betjeman’s sometimes fraught relations with Waugh are discussed:

One of Betjeman’s close friends was the novelist Evelyn Waugh, who was a fervent Catholic convert. Waugh had a bullying temperament and would sometimes bombard Betjeman with letters, outlining reasons for leaving the Church of England which Betjeman so loved.

Cruelly and brilliantly trying to undermine Betjeman’s Anglicanism, Waugh wrote: ‘You must not suppose that there is anything more than the most superficial resemblance between Catholics and Anglo-Catholics. They may look alike to you. An Australian, however well-informed, simply cannot distinguish between a piece of Trust House timbering and a genuine Tudor building; an Englishman however uncultured knows at once.’

Betjeman’s reply was equally brilliant. He did not attempt counter-arguments or rival claims. He simply wrote back: ‘I am beginning to find that there is a lot to be said for sham half-timber.

‘I have been visiting during the recent fine weather, some rich specimens in Metroland at Chesham and Amersham, sunk deep in bird baths and macrocarpa down lanterned drives.’

The superb Metro-Land film spells out this message. It is a celebration not merely of unappreciated places but of ordinary lives — of our lives.

It took a poet to remind us how grateful we should be for what we so often scorn or take for granted.

–Geoffrey Wheatcroft reviews several books relating to the recently troubled history of the Conservative Party in the UK. This appears in the New York Review of Books and is entitled “Bloody Panico.” Among the many topics covered is the troubled life of Boris Johnson. Wheatcroft brings Waugh into the story:

In one respect Johnson decidedly set the tone for the contemporary Tory Party that has been plagued by sexual and financial scandal. Sexual impropriety among politicians is nothing new or necessarily important. The pious William Gladstone supposedly said that he had known eleven prime ministers, seven of whom he knew to have been adulterers, which didn’t mean that only the other four were fit for office. And at the time of the Profumo affair in 1963, Evelyn Waugh wrote to a friend deriding the factitious indignation: “To my knowledge in my life time three prime Ministers have been adulterers and almost every cabinet has had an addict of almost every sexual vice.”

The quote is from a March 1963 letter to Daphne Acton.

City Journal has posted an interview of Jonathan Leaf. He is the author of a new Hollywood novel entitled City of Angels to be published in the US later this week. Here is an excerpt:

Los Angeles is more than just a setting in the book—it is almost a character in its own right. From Evelyn Waugh to Elmore Leonard, legions of authors have tried to depict the city. Were there any writers in particular who inspired you?

The Loved One might be my favorite Waugh novel. But the two that do the best job, I think, of capturing Hollywood in a ruthlessly honest way are F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story collection The Pat Hobby Stories and Nathanael West’s The Day of The Locust. As readers probably know, they were written in the 1930s. I can’t claim this book is as good as those. But my aspiration was to tell a really good, juicy story that entertained and that had that same authenticity in portraying Los Angeles and the entertainment business as they are now.

–Finally, Barbara Charone, described as “one of the greatest Rock scribes of the Seventies” is interviewed in Esquire by Tom Parker Bowles about her new memoir. This is entitled Access All Areas: A Backstage Pass Through 50 Years of Music and Culture. Here’s an excerpt:

“Female rock critics were extremely rare back then [1973],” she says. The bouncers could never understand why a woman would come backstage for any other reason than being a groupie. But the access to stars at that time was amazing, “something that rarely happens these days”. She remembers a day in Oxford when Paul McCartney suddenly decided to grant an interview. All she had to hand was a copy of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, so she scribbled down McCartney’s quotes in the margins of the book. “Talk about life imitating art!”

Alas, she doesn’t tell which edition of Waugh’s novel she had to hand. If it was the then current Penguin reprint from 1971 or 1973, there can’t have been much space on which to scribble.


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Evelyn Waugh Annual Lecture: 2023

Lancing College has announced the details of their annual Evelyn Waugh Lecture to be convened next month at the college. Here’s an excerpt from the announcement:

We are delighted to have Oliver Soden (Teme 20032008) [writer, broadcaster and OL] as the guest speaker for our Evelyn Waugh Lecture…

[His book] Michael Tippett: The Biography was hailed by Philip Pullman as a “delight to read”; by the Spectator as “an exceptional piece of work”; and by Gramophone as “nothing short of miraculous”. Book of the Year in the Spectator,Times Literary Supplement and Observer, it was read (by the author) for BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week, with Sir Derek Jacobi playing Tippett. The book won both a Somerset Maugham Award and the Royal Philharmonic Society Prize for Storytelling; it was shortlisted for the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography and longlisted for the HWA Non-Fiction Crown.

Jeoffry: The Poet’s Cat, a semi-fictionalised biography of the cat who belonged to eighteenth-century poet Christopher Smart, was acclaimed as “inspired and original” by Hilary Mantel and as “the most beautiful and haunting book of recent times” by Alexander McCall Smith. Book of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement, it was championed as “a little classic” by Dame Eileen Atkins on BBC Radio 4’s A Good Read.

Masquerade, the first biography of Noël Coward in nearly thirty years, will be published on 16 March 2023.

Oliver’s writing – on art, music and literature – has appeared in the GuardianSpectatorLondon Review of BooksTimes Literary Supplement, and Literary Review; he is a frequent guest speaker on BBC Radio 3, and has been interviewed for the Six O’Clock News (BBC Radio 4) and for Times Radio and ABC Radio National. He is Chair of the Michael Tippett Musical Foundation and has worked on award-winning television documentaries such as Janet Baker: In Her Own Words and for BBC Radio 3’s long-running programme Private Passions. After Lancing Oliver went on to Clare College, Cambridge, where he took a double first in English. Born in 1990, he grew up in Bath and Sussex, and lives in London.

This very special occasion is by invitation only and open to all members of the Lancing Foundation in recognition of their support for the College…

The lecture is scheduled for 20 April 2023 at 645p at the college.  It is not open to the public, although the college has on occasion in the past allowed individual members of the Evelyn Waugh Society to attend if they request permission and space is available. Contact Alexandra Friedman, Events Coordinator.


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Early March Roundup

–Valerie Grove writing in The Times reviews BBC’s recent rerun of John Betjeman’s program Metroland which was originally broadcast 50 years ago (1973).  Grove had interviewed Betjeman about then when she must have been a cub reporter at the Evening Standard, and she recalls visits with him to his boyhood home in Highgate as well as to Metroland itself where they looked in at Grim’s Dyke a large house which features in the film (“the half-timbered Norman Shaw house where WS Gilbert had lived. In Metro-land, Grim’s Dyke was Betjeman’s suburban prototype: tall brick chimneys, gabled windows, leaded lights, lawns and rhododendron walks.”) Here’s an excerpt from her article:

Metro-land was the best of Betjeman’s TV films, and a revelation. Between 1920 and 1940, the ancient villages, manors and farmlands in Middlesex and Hertfordshire had been seized on by the railway and Messrs Wates, Wimpey & co, to build “homes fit for heroes” — 1,500 a week in Greater London alone. In 1938 you could buy a £479 semi for a down-payment of 11s (55p), until expansion paused under the Green Belt Act.

From London’s hinterland sprang Michael Frayn, Julian Barnes (first novel, Metroland); also Elton John, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger. From one pair of suburban schools, Harrow County, came Michael Portillo, Diane Abbott and Clive Anderson.

But suburbia was always patronised. George Orwell wrote of “Ellesmere Road, West Bletchley”, identical to innumerable others with houses named “The Laurels, The Myrtles, The Hawthorns, Mon Abri, Mon Repos, Belle Vue”. Evelyn Waugh hated his first address in Golders Green. Kingsley Amis scorned the ersatz name of Norbury, his childhood suburb in south London. When Eleanor Bron returned from Cambridge to her parents’ semi in Edgware, she felt like Alice: she “could hardly squeeze through the door-jambs”. Claustrophobic, conventional, the suburbs were a place to escape from.

Betjeman understood this. He could fondly mock the pretensions of suburbia, the parades of little shops. But such was his boundless enthusiasm for architecture, he wanted to share with everyone the decorative details of ironwork, balustrades, stained-glass motifs of rising suns. Metro-land brilliantly captured that. Some suburbs were indeed “frankly hideous,” wrote James Richards, editor of the Architectural Review. But as JB Priestley had said, they made people moderately happy. Meanwhile, by the time of Betjeman’s film, drab blocks of grey concrete were already springing up all over Metroland. Now, they’re vandalised and graffitied. If he were here, Betjeman might murmur, echoing Christopher Wren: Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.

I would agree with her that this is the best of several films Betjeman made for the BBC.  It is still fresh and enjoyable.  BBC has it posted for streaming on BBC iPlayer until March 25.  Here’s a link. A British internet connection is required.

–Another article in an earlier issue of The Times features an opening paragraph that prominently refers to a  Waugh novel in connection with recent news about the Scottish Nationalist Party:

In Evelyn Waugh’s Second World War Sword of Honour trilogy, the Scottish nationalists are a tiny fringe group of anti-English plotters living on remote islands in draughty castles. They are dotty dreamers, high on romantic tales of Jacobitism and Bonnie Prince Charlie. There was a darker side to it in real life: the wartime nationalists also dreamt of a German invasion because it would mean Britain’s defeat and dissolution.

Waugh was writing about that period from the perspective of the 1950s. Scottish nationalism then was a twee tartan joke — and oh, how unionists laughed.

Until last [month] and the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon, unionists hadn’t been doing much laughing for a while. From the 1960s, the SNP advanced steadily until it became, after the launch of the devolved Scottish parliament in 1999, the official opposition and then the government north of the border…

–The Australian paper Toowoomba Chronicle published an interview with British author Alexander McCall Smith which included this exchange:

Q. What book do you reread?

A. There are two writers I re-read. I have re-read Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy many times. The story of Guy Crouchback and his experiences is, I think, Waugh’s greatest work. I also like to re-read E F Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels. These, in my opinion, are amongst the finest achievements in comic art in the English language.

–In its obituary of biographer Philip Ziegler, who died last month, The Daily Telegraph included this:

By [1980] he had completed a biography of Lady Diana Cooper, the beautiful, aristocratic socialite who had bewitched Evelyn Waugh in the 1920s – she was the inspiration for Waugh’s Mrs Stitch – the only book Ziegler published during the lifetime of its subject. “She had no doubt that it must be,” Ziegler explained in the foreword to Diana Cooper (1981), “and was indeed amazed that any other idea should have occurred to me.”

Even though “the wrong Lady Diana”, as she latterly styled herself, was possessed of total recall, Ziegler conceded that the enterprise had not been without difficulties, and pressed ahead pretending that the problem of a still-living subject did not exist, never asking himself what she would think when eventually she read the book.

–The Irish Times recently ran a story about the most frequently borrowed library books in Ireland.  This notice was near the end of the story:

A LGMA [Local Government Management Agency] spokesperson said many of the most borrowed ebook and audiobook titles reflected novels that had proven popular across special literary social media accounts like Bookstagram and Booktok including The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Waugh [sic] by Taylor Jenkins Reid; The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley; and the young adult title We Were Liars by E Lockhart.

A search on Amazon.co.uk produced the book’s correct title: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

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Waugh’s Ash Wednesdays

On this Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the Western Christian Churches, the National Catholic Register has posted an article recounting how Evelyn Waugh and his colleague Fr Ronald Knox observed the occasion. Here’s the Waugh version:

He spoke about it flippantly when he was a dissolute and essentially pagan high school student.

“I think that I shall be forced into Lenten self-denial as my funds are rapidly decreasing and there is little prospect of more for a long time yet,” Evelyn Waugh wrote in his diary.

He entered the Church 10 years later, in 1930, at the age of 27, and he may seem from appearances not to have gotten the idea of Lenten discipline even after years in the Church. I think he got it very well, though no priest would hold him up as an ideal of Lenten discipline.

“I have ‘given up’ wine and tobacco. Laura wine,” he wrote in his diary in 1948. “As a result we drank heavily on Sunday 15th. … My Lenten resolution to start work on Helena has not come to much.” (Laura is his wife and Helena his biography of the Emperor Constantine’s mother, said to have discovered the True Cross. The book appeared in 1950.) And then three weeks later: “A hangover from Sunday’s remission of Lenten abstinence. … When the hangover is over I shall work on Helena.”

Most famous now as the author of Brideshead Revisited, a romantic treatment of God’s work in people’s lives, he was one of the last century’s Catholic writers who was also a major writer in the wider world. G.K. Chesterton, Graham Greene and J.R.R. Tolkien were others.

On Ash Wednesday 1953, he wrote that he had gotten his ashes and had resolved to give up opiates for Lent. He took the drugs for insomnia. A month later he reported that “Lent began well.”

In 1956, he “resolved to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament daily during Lent and to eschew gin and paraldehyde,” the drug he then took for insomnia. Eight days after that, he notes “I have kept my Lenten resolution to eschew gin and visit the church daily,” but doesn’t mention the drugs.

Waugh didn’t, as far as I can find, write much more about Ash Wednesday and Lent. He wasn’t a great one for asceticism. He doesn’t mention either in his letters, and only once in his collected essays. But that once was beautiful.

After a review of Knox’s more subdued observances, the article returns to Waugh and concludes:

Given those drunken Lenten Sundays, Waugh may seem not to have gotten the idea of Lenten discipline. He did, even if like most of us he didn’t always observe it the way he should.

There is this, written in an essay titled “The American Epoch in the Catholic Church,” published in Life magazine in 1949. He described Ash Wednesday in New Orleans, the city looking “draggled” after Mardi Gras. Hungover tourists about to go home filled the hotel, and he wondered how many knew about Lent.

“But across the way the Jesuit Church was teeming with life all day long; a continuous, dense crowd of all colours and conditions moving up to the altar rails and returning with their foreheads signed with ash. And the old grim message was being repeated over each penitent: ‘Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return.’”

He continues: “One grows parched for that straight style of speech in the desert of modern euphemisms. … Here it was, plainly stated, quietly accepted, and all that day, all over that light-hearted city, one encountered the little black smudge on the forehead which sealed us members of a great brotherhood who can both rejoice and recognize the limits of rejoicing.”

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Presidents’ Day Roundup

The London Magazine has posted two articles from its recent offerings that comment on Evelyn Waugh. The first is from an unsigned Poetry and Politics column:

Contemporary parliamentarians, in my experience, are not specially attuned to contemporary verse. There are significant exceptions. The former culture secretary, Chris Smith, presides over the Wordsworth Trust at Dove Cottage, a venue for poets, and is an expert on the Romantics. Kenneth Baker, a former Home Secretary, has compiled fine anthologies for Faber. When in the 1970s and 1980s I worked in Parliament, many members had enjoyed, or suffered, a classical education. Enoch Powell was a full Professor of Greek at the age of 25. Quintin Hailsham, Lord Chancellor when I joined the Cabinet, knew reams of Greek and Latin poetry by heart. Denis Healey, still happily with us, was famous for his cultural hinterland. Of these three, Powell wrote and published a few poems. They are quite death-directed (he reminds me of Ludovic in Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour war trilogy) and a bit creepy; certainly less well composed than his speeches…

The other reference is from an article entitled “And the Night Watchman Talks On” about the 20th Century writer W W Jacobs. According to the article, he is today remembered only for a short story entitled “The Monkey’s Paw”.  But in earlier times his writings were widely admired:

…Greene considered Jacobs, along with Wodehouse and George Birmingham, one of the top three English comic writers of the past century. Priestly called Jacobs ‘a most finished conscientious and delicate artist’. Pritchett said Jacobs was one of ‘the supreme craftsmen of the short story’ and praised his ‘pellucid economy’. Evelyn Waugh said Jacobs ‘developed an exquisite precision of narrative’. And Ian Hay wrote ‘…Jacobs was much more than a writer of amusing or creepy tales; he was one of the greatest masters of story construction, especially short story construction, in our language. Moreover, he invented an entirely new form of humorous narrative. Its outstanding characteristics were compression and understatement’…

Waugh’s opinion of W W Jacobs work is taken somewhat out of context.  It is not from a review of his work but  rather from an assessment of his family which had become well known and close to Waugh’s own as a result of his brother Alec’s engagement to Barbara Jacobs, one of the writer’s many children.  The quoted passage from Waugh’s autobiography continues:

…[W W Jacobs] was at the height of his power and reputation when I came to observe him, but I was not impressed. His stories had been read aloud at Heath Mount; I did not regard them as ‘literature’; they were ‘prep school’ stuff; nor did his children take any pride in his achievements. They were taught to see him as a niggardly breadwinner.  Lately [early 1960s] he has come to the notice of serious students of fiction. I doubt whether he often raises laughter among the young as he used.[…] He was a secular puritan, one of those ‘who have not got the faith and will not have the fun’, and all his opinions were those of Lord Northcliffe. But concealed behind this drab facade, invisible to my boyish eye, there lurked a pure artist. (A Little Learning, p. 118)

Thanks to Dave Lull for sending along this cite.

–London tabloid The Sun carries a story describing previous attempts by British candy and soft drink makers to offer new products that failed but might now be worth reviving. One of these was a chocolate bar named Flyte:

The Flyte was basically a two-pack of Flake-shaped Milky Way bars with a new wrapper… THE marketing department at Mars must have thought they were on to a winner when they imagineered these back in the mid-nineties. They seemed to promise so much – twin bars of whipped nougat covered in chocolate and with less fat, too. It was basically a two pack of Flake-shaped Milky Ways with a new wrapper. Still, it wasn’t exactly diet food. Maybe that was its undoing. The fact it shared its name with the tragic hero of Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel Brideshead Revisited meant it was probably doomed to failure.

A color photo of a Flyte bar accompanies the story but does not appear to offer any incentive to try one.

–The New Statesman has a review of a new musical that opened at the Old Vic. This is called Sylvia and is based on the life of suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst. Here’s an excerpt:

…Sylvia was an artist, newspaper editor and journalist – her diverse campaigning skills continue to resonate with today’s young. So does her work on maternal and universal healthcare, cost-price restaurants for the precariat, and committed vegetarianism. She went on to work with her erstwhile opponent Winston Churchill in raising the alarm about European fascism. She took up the Ethiopian cause against Mussolini’s invasion when the likes of Evelyn Waugh were writing in the Evening Standard that it was “a barbarous country”…

–An article in The Conversation reconsiders the present standing of the British aristocracy:

They don’t dominate parliament, they don’t own Twitter and they don’t star in big Hollywood movies. Yet the British aristocracy’s capacity to intrigue and enthral seems boundless.

The continuing popularity of the TV and film series Downton Abbey, Evelyn Waugh’s upper-crust novel Brideshead Revisited and Nancy Mitford’s autobiographical The Pursuit of Love underscore the popular appetite for all things aristocratic…This has intensified recently with a wave of biographies and memoirs (long predating Prince Harry’s royal hand grenade, Spare). A notable publishing phenomenon was 91-year-old Lady Glenconner’s 2019 autobiography, A Lady In Waiting which became a New York Times bestseller, and 2020’s well-received Diary of an MP’s Wife by Baroness Sasha Swire…

The attraction is peering inside aristocrats’ mysterious world, to feel its privilege and strangeness, its peculiarly gilded yet feudal lifestyle and wealth. Aristocrat biographies reveal the secrets behind the persistence of ancient privilege in modern Britain. But academic studies and fictional accounts of the British aristocracy have painted a glummer picture. Whether you read David Cannadine’s definitive history The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy or Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, the message remains the same: like their grand estates, aristocrats have fallen into ruin. Which portrayal is correct? …

The Economist has printed a letter in reply to its recent article (previously noted) comparing Rishi Sunak’s career to that of Paul Pennyfeather in Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall:

The university of life

I disagree that “things only get worse” for Paul Pennyfeather in Evelyn Waugh’s “Decline and Fall” after he is sent down from the fictional Scone College in Oxford (“Rishi Pennyfeather”, January 28th). Pennyfeather’s adventures in a series of situations teach him far more about life than he would have learned from his schooldays, his university career, or his intended profession as a clergyman.

He meets and gets an understanding of the “preposterous inhabitants” of the private school where he works for a while as a teacher. He is initiated into sex by a beautiful and wealthy woman. He hears confessions from a series of vivid characters, among them a child abuser, a clergyman who is lacking faith, a criminal impostor, and a successful rags-to-riches politician. He undergoes the experience of prison, where, like anyone who has been through the public-school experience, he feels “comparatively at home”. He will in due course be ordained as a clergyman, but one endowed with a far deeper and richer acquaintance with human nature and life than would have been the case if he had never been debagged by the Bollinger (aka Bullingdon) Club.

Rishi Sunak, as you correctly say, “is surrounded by colleagues whose decisions cause him harm”. The effect on Paul Pennyfeather of the decisions made by others is, ultimately, to do him good.

simon jackson

UPDATE (22 February 2023): The reference to Waugh’s discussion of W W Jacobs that appeared in The London Magazine has been updated to provide a fuller context.

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75th Anniversary of The Loved One

The Loved One appeared in print 75 years ago this month in the pages of Cyril Connolly’s  magazine Horizon. Waugh had begun writing it on 21 May 1947 shortly after his return to England from Los Angeles.  He finished a first written draft in early July, with final typescript revisions by 14 September. He offered it to Connolly on 16 September, and Connolly accepted subject to some revisions of his own to which Waugh agreed.  It was also offered to American magazines, with particular hope, on Waugh’s part, that the New Yorker would take it up; but they rejected it, deeming it (according to Selina Hastings) yet another “Hollywood novel” in the wake of those by Nathaniel West, Aldous Huxley, et al. One can’t help suspecting that Edmund Wilson may have a hand in that decision. By December 1947, a final version including all revisions had been prepared.

Waugh agreed to have it published for the price of his yearly Horizon subscription in  recognition that Connolly’s magazine was struggling to survive. In the introduction which Connolly wrote for the Horizon version, he quotes at length Waugh’s public explanation for the pre-book publication.  Waugh recognized that the subject matter was controversial and wanted to see what sort of reaction it would receive from sophisticated readers such as those who subscribed to Horizon.  Indeed, Waugh and his agent A D Peters had at first concluded that the book was too controversial for publication in the United States, and Peters feared that it would wreck the valuable American readership that had developed in response to the American publication of Brideshead Revisited in 1946.

Waugh said that he “anticipated ructions” from the book. As it turned out, these began even before the magazine appeared. Connolly faced considerable opposition from his Horizon publisher Peter Watson who found the book unacceptably bleak, negative and offensive. But Connolly prevailed, and the magazine containing The Loved One appeared in due course (about 17 February 1948). This was the full text of the book, not an abbreviated version and took up that entire 159-page edition of the magazine. It was sold out in a week. Book publication in the UK was postponed by C&H because they did not want it to interfere with sales of Scott King’s Modern Europe that had been published in the UK only a few weeks before in December 1947.

Little Brown had no such qualms since they had not yet published SKME and could postpone that book’s release to 1949. The Loved One therefore was published in America in June 1948 (probably about 22 June when the first newspaper reviews began to appear) and had warranted 4 additional printings by August 1948.  Indeed, according to Martin Stannard, it would have been published sooner, but Little Brown had to await legal opinion and make necessary revisions to avoid libel actions before it could be released.  This was the only occasion where US hardcover book publication of a Waugh novel preceded UK book version release.  Stannard wrote that the book received generally favorable reviews in the US. Time magazine, then an important arbiter of US taste, devoted six columns to The Loved One, something not done for any previous book.

UK book publication took place in November 1948. By then the 9,500 Horizon copies would have already circulated and, in at least one case, The Loved One had already been reviewed from that magazine edition. This was Peter Quennell who reviewed it in The Daily Mail, 21 February 1948, p. 2. Here are some excerpts:

“…brilliant short novel…among the finest things that he has ever written…Neatly and forcefully written by a novelist to whom the art of story-telling seems to come as second nature, it abounds in a dry, malicious wit and flashes with strokes of satirical observation; it made me laugh aloud again and again; and that alone, in February 1948, is something to be grateful for…”

When the hardcover book was published in November, the UK reviews were largely favorable —eg, TLS (anonymous: Marie Hannah), Manchester Guardian (Alistair Cooke) and Sunday Times (Desmond MacCarthy). Novelist Olivia Manning, reviewing it  pseudonymously in the New Statesman, was more reserved.

The book has probably remained in print without interruption in both the US and UK markets since its publication. A Penguin edition appeared in the UK in 1951, with Modern Library and Dell paperback editions in the US shortly thereafter. In 1965, a Hollywood film adaptation was made by MGM, the studio which had turned down Brideshead Revisited. This was written by Christopher Isherwood and Terry Southern and directed by Tony Richardson. Although it was panned at the time of its release, the film continues to show up on classic movie channels and DVDs. The portions satirizing the British film colony are actually very well written (probably by Isherwood who would have followed the book) and performed (esp. John Gielgud and Robert Morley). But the insertion of a plot by Southern under which Whispering Glades will be emptied by rocketing the corpses into outer space and the land used for a retirement home simply doesn’t work. It isn’t funny despite the efforts of comedian Jonathan Winters who plays both the cemetery owner and his brother who plots the acquisition of the rockets from the military.


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