Late September Roundup

–A recent issue of the Financial Times carries a story of the impact of Evelyn Waugh and his contemporaries on the latest mens fashions. Here’s an excerpt:

This season, menswear has embraced the gimlet-tinged mood of Cecil Beaton’s diaries, the roman à clefs of Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford, and the posturing of their 1920s peers. You can see it in the lace and exaggerated puffed sleeves at Simone Rocha, the Genet-like Marseille sailors at SS Daley and the flamboyant tailoring at McQueen and Peter Do. Most of Dries Van Noten’s collections feature pyjama silks that Beaton’s subjects would have loved. …

Designer and photographer Cecil Beaton has frequently revisited the 1920s and the so-called Bright Young Things, as documented by Beaton, Mitford, Waugh, and the tabloids of the day. “Those androgynous, luxurious and often queer-coded self-representations resonate with today’s menswear designers,” says Jay McCauley Bowstead, lecturer in cultural and historical studies at the London College of Fashion, and author of Menswear Revolution: The Transformation of Contemporary Men’s Fashion. “The famous Cecil Beaton photograph from 1927 of Stephen Tennant, Rex Whistler and the Jungman sisters dressed in a joyous simulacrum of 18th-century dress in Tennant’s garden in Wiltshire comes to mind.”…

The story by Mark O’Flaherty is entitled “How fashion got stuck in the Waugh zone” and is headed by a copy of the painting of the 26-year old Waugh by Henry Lamb.  It also contains several photos illustrating his point. Here’s a link.

–Writer Jonathan Raban’s final book entitled Father and Son has been published and is reviewed by Carl Hoffman in the Washington Post. Although Raban (a distant relative of Evelyn Waugh) didn’t like to be labelled a “travel writer”, he wrote several of his best books about his travels:

…The greats of travel literature were products of one very small island that ruled for centuries over an empire upon which the sun never set, and out from which a tiny population of erudite, upper-class White men embarked. The conceit of Raban in Arabia and all those men he was emulating — from Robert Byron to Peter Fleming, V.S. Pritchett to Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, who infamously traveled “when the going was good” — was civilized man among the savages. They weren’t all British or even men, of course. “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills,” is one of the most iconic lines in travel literature, but “Out of Africa,” by Isak Dinesen, is what it is: a lyrical, romantic homage to colonialism by a rich baroness in which the indigenous Kikuyu — “my Natives,” as she calls them — are childlike and her 6,000-acre farm wasn’t land appropriated from them by force…

Raban’s book intersperses memories of his father, whom Raban first encountered at age three due to his father’s war service, with his own last days in which he suffered from debilitating health problems.

–Rupert Murdoch’s recent announcement of his retirement has elicited from the press reminders of a Waugh character. For example, an article by Adrian Wooldridge on the Bloomberg news service has appeared in several papers. Here’s an excerpt from the Washington Post:

…Murdoch is the only contemporary figure who can be spoken of in the same breath as the great press barons of yesteryear: Alfred Harmsworth, the Napoleon of Fleet Street who invented the tabloid; William Randolph Hearst, who perfected the arts of sensationalism, salaciousness and war-mongering; and Lord Beaverbrook, who competed with Hearst in his enthusiasm for blurring the line between reporting the news and making it. If Hearst gave the world Orson Wells’ Citizen Kane, and Beaverbrook Evelyn Waugh’s Lord Copper, Murdoch gave it Logan Roy, the foul-mouthed master of family dysfunction. …

And this appeared in the Boston Herald, a paper Murdoch had rescued from failure:

…In the late 1980’s, as he began expanding into TV, Murdoch would fly into Boston just before Christmas and host a fancy dinner at a nice steakhouse for the top people at the Herald. I remember one year he told us not to worry about all these stories that he was losing interest in print. “The backbone of any media company is content,” he said. “And print people are the only ones who can produce the proper content. So this corporation will always be based in print.” We believed him — up to a point, to use the expression Lord Copper’s minions would use to agree with, sort of, their media mogul boss’ disassembling in Evelyn Waugh’s classic Fleet Street novel, Scoop. …

Posted in Newspapers, Scoop, When the Going Was Good | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Roundup: Book Fair and Vanity Fair

–The Empire State Rare Book and Print Fair in early October has announced its exhibitors and events. This will take place at St Bartholomew’s Church on Park Ave betw. 50th-51st Streets starting 5 October. There are two live events of special interest to our readers. These are both on Friday, 6 October. Sir Michael Lindsay-Hogg will appear for a “fireside chat” between 5-8pm. Here’s an excerpt of the description of his career:

If fame, though fleeting, matters at all, Michael Lindsay-Hogg is partly famous as the director who lured The Beatles up on the roof for their final-ever Concert as the climax to his film, Let It Be, which provided all the footage for Peter Jackson’s epic “documentary about the making of a documentary,” Get Back

Moving to TV drama, Michael received four BAFTA nominations. In 1981, he won as Co- Director for Brideshead Revisited

Lindsay-Hogg worked with Derek Granger on the casting, settings and script of the TV adaptation. He directed the first episodes and several portions of the later episodes but was forced to drop out for filming most of the later episodes because of a strike which delayed the production. He now lives in Upstate New York.  Preceding Lindsay-Hogg will be Daisy Waugh, speaking at 3-4 pm on the topic of “Writing Fiction”. Here’s the description:

Daisy Waugh has written 12 novels which, between them, have been translated into many languages. Three of those novels were set in early 20th century Hollywood, New York and Colorado.. She  has written two further novels under the name EV Harte, starring a tarot-reading detective.  Most recently, she has written a series of comic murder mysteries starring a family of contemporary British aristocrats. The third in the series, Old School Ties, will be published in the UK in September. She  is the granddaughter of Evelyn Waugh and daughter of Auberon Waugh.

According to the announcement, tickets to the fair will include entry to the foregoing events as well as the exhibits. Here’s a link to the details.

Vanity Fair has an article by James Reginato on famous country house estates in Yorkshire, with detailed background histories on three of them. One (Castle Howard) is well known in this parish:

Over the years, various film productions—Brideshead Revisited and Bridgerton, most notably—have brought in much-needed cash. But when producers of the latter called, the family was skeptical. “I knew the books, because they had been published by Harper Collins,” says [Victoria] Barnsley. “This wasn’t Evelyn Waugh, put it that way.”

Another Yorkshire estate also has a connection to Evelyn Waugh but is less well known. This is Sledmere, discussed in another section:

“Some might argue that Sledmere, as the seat of mere baronets, hardly qualifies as a great house,” posits Christopher Simon Sykes, 75, a great-great-great-great-great-grand-nephew of Richard Sykes, builder of the aforementioned estate. The gray stone exterior of the house is fairly austere. But once inside, there’s nothing plain—or small—about it, and it sits on just under 9,000 acres.

This is the family home of Waugh’s friend and biographer Christopher Sykes who must have lived there as a child. Although not himself mentioned in the article, some of his siblings and perhaps his children and grand children are described. Waugh was certainly a more frequent guest at Sledmere than he was at nearby Castle Howard.

While researching Sykes’ life for the note above, I discovered that he was the co-author with another of Waugh’s Oxford friends Robert Byron of a novel called Innocence and Design (London, 1935). Its authorship was attributed to “Richard Waughburton”. It seems to be well known among booksellers as there are several copies available at collectable prices. What struck me as odd is that I don’t recall any of Waugh’s biographers or critics mentioning this. Byron’s biographer James Knox has a fairly detailed discussion of the book and its critical reception, noting, inter alia, that Waugh declared it “unreadable” (p. 334). Whether that was in a review or a letter isn’t stated. He wasn’t keeping a diary at the time.

–Kenneth Craycraft writing for a Roman Catholic news service (OSV News) notes the 100th anniversary of the Hogarth Press edition of Eliot’s The Wasteland:

I have long considered “The Wasteland” to be the poetic inspiration of such novels as Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” Evelyn Waugh’s “Vile Bodies” (among others), Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front,” Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse,” and similar between-the-wars novels. Each of these works of literature are portraits of the disillusion and unmoored debauchery of post-World War II Europe. They are not celebrations of what the modern has wrought, but rather observations of the disaster and diagnosis of what it portends. All are “modernist” works, but only in the sense that the modern ought to make us shudder in anxious perplexity. We have lost our way, they all seem to say, and we haven’t the foggiest idea of how to find it again. Written before any of these novels, “The Wasteland” might be seen as the blueprint for all of them.

Indeed, Waugh used a line from “The Wasteland” as the title of another of his novels from that period, “A Handful of Dust.” If you know the novel, you can see how it was inspired by these lines from Eliot:

“You cannot say, or guess, for you know only / A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, / And the dry stone no sound of water. / Only / There is shadow under this red rock, / (Come in under the shadow of this red rock), / And I will show you something different from either / Your shadow at morning striding behind you / Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; / I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

And in Waugh’s most famous (if not his best) novel, “Brideshead Revisited,” the stuttering character Anthony Blanche delivers from memory a passage from “The Wasteland,” at the window of lodgings at Oxford, in order to scandalize the earnest undergraduates passing by in the quad: “In languishing tones [Anthony] recited passages from ‘The Wasteland’ to the sweatered and muffled throng that was on its way to the river. ‘I, Tiresias, have foresuffered all,’ he sobbed to them from the Venetian arches; ‘Enacted on this same d-divan or b-bed, / I who have sat by Thebes below the wall / And walked among the l-l-lowest of the dead.’”


Posted in A Handful of Dust, Adaptations, Brideshead Revisited, Events, Television, Vile Bodies | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Roundup: Events and Architecture

–Waterstones the booksellers have announced a live, in-person interview of Andrew Pettegree on the subject of his latest book entitled “The Book at War”. This will take place on 17 October, 1830-1930p at the Waterstones store in Canterbury, 6-8 Rose Lane. Martin Latham will be the interviewer. Here’s what they will be talking about:

Chairman Mao was a librarian. Stalin was a published poet. Evelyn Waugh served as a commando – before leaving to write Brideshead Revisited. Since the advent of modern warfare, books have all too often found themselves on the frontline. In The Book at War, acclaimed historian Andrew Pettegree traces the surprising ways in which written culture – from travel guides and scientific papers to Biggles and Anne Frank – has shaped, and been shaped, by the conflicts of the modern age. From the American Civil War to the invasion of Ukraine, books, authors and readers have gone to war – and in the process become both deadly weapons and our most persuasive arguments for peace.

Ticketing and other details are available here.

–The University Church in Oxford (St Mary the Virgin, just down the street from Hertford College) has posted this in an announcement of a service this week:

The cross is arguably the most iconic of all icons: an instantly recognisable symbol that is infinitely replicable, and which has spread across the world. We wear it on jewellery; we recreate it on our bodies when we make the sign of the cross; we hang it in our churches and even build our churches in its shape. And yet we rarely think, except perhaps on Good Friday, about the actual, physical cross on which Jesus died.

This is strange, since, as Evelyn Waugh expressed in his novel exploring the life of Empress Helena, ‘what is different about Christianity is that it identifies the mystery of God with a set of prosaic happenings in a specific place.’ God became a human being, at a particular time, in a specific place, and lived a human life, and died a human death. The cross is the ultimate expression of this specificity: a real physical object which not only touched Jesus’ body, but which was an instrument in his death, and therefore in our salvation. Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, is said to have discovered the True Cross when travelling in the Holy Land in the Fourth Century, sparking centuries of veneration of fragments and splinters of wood, as they spread across Europe and the world.

The service was for the feast of the Holy Cross on Sunday, 10 September at St Cross Church. The speaker was the Master of Balliol College, Dame Helen Ghosh.

–A current House and Garden magazine has an article by Fiona McKenzie Johnston discussing architectural and decorating “style tribes”.  She identifies several varieties such as “English Eccentrics” and “Espousers of Quiet Beauty” and concedes that one may comfortably claim membership in more than one tribe. Here’s one she describes one as “Country House Traditionalists.”

Nearly all of us fall into this tribe, or at least overlap with it – for English country house style, as perfected by the great Nancy Lancaster and John Fowler (who co-owned Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler) and immortalised by Nancy Mitford, Evelyn Waugh, and others, is hands down the most enduring decorating style of the last century, and there are several very good reasons why. It looks as glorious in a St. John’s Wood flat as it does in a sprawling Georgian rectory in Hampshire; there’s a high comfort quotient by way of deep squishy sofas and plenty of books to read, and, thanks to colour and pattern and a layering of both eras and rugs, it’s a perfect backdrop for children and dogs (in fact, you might argue that dogs are a vital ingredient)….

–This comment about architectural tastes recently appeared on the weblog of Charles Saumarez Smith:

I have just read the admirable short biography by John Holden, late of Demos, of Ralph Dutton who owned and reconstructed his family’s Victorian house of Hinton Ampner, employing Gerald Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, as its architect, just before the Second World War. It’s a fascinating, but in some ways frustrating, story because although Dutton seems to have had a wide circle of friends, many of them writers, including L.P. Hartley, James Lees-Milne and James Pope-Hennessy, none of them seem to have much to say about him, other than complimenting him on his impeccable taste and enjoying his hospitality. The only alternative glimmer of him appears in a characteristically waspish letter from Evelyn Waugh to Nancy Mitford about a review he had written of Dutton’s book on The Victorian Home‘I took the writer to be a bumptious young puppy. I hear he is an aged and wealthy pansy’. Anyway, it has particularly good information on the taste for what Osbert Lancaster described as ‘Vogue Regency’ and a generation of Old Etonians who ran the arts.

The letters cited appeared in NMEW Letters 355-57 and relate to a review written by Waugh in the Sunday Times, 28 November 1954. This quote from the review appears in a footnote where Waugh describes Dutton’s book as one:

“which cannot be wholeheartedly recommended to any class of reader…The illustrations…are very poorly reproduced. The text is trite and patronizing…the only readers likely to derive enjoyment from it are those who indulge in the badger-digging of literary blood sports, the exposure of error.”

The book is unlikely to be all that bad, as Saumarez Smith cites an edition currently on offer 70 years later from

–Waugh (or his family) features in yet another architectural taste dispute cited in a Canadian entertainment website:

…Showbiz celebrities such as Emma ThompsonImelda Staunton (The Queen of the latest episode of The Crown) and her husband Jim Carter (Butler Carson from Downton Abbey)…are outraged by a plan to build a glass and aluminum house in West Hampstead, an area on the northern outskirts of London where they live along with many other celebrities.

An American couple wants a new mansion. [They] made money on cryptocurrencies and artificial intelligence and now dream of good retreat in a privileged segment of London. But the English actors are not in the know and have written a letter to the local council to oppose the project: according to them, new home [is] ‘better suited for Malibu’ while it is an eyesore in an area made up of Victorian and Edwardian Art Nouveau residences.

West Hampstead is something of a village in itself, dotted with small restaurants and independent shops: there is no McDonald’s or Zaras here, you’re having an outdoor brunch (weather permitting) or stopping to browse bookstores. It was here that writers such as Evelyn Waugh and Doris Lessing lived. Today it is home to actors such as Stephen Fry and pop stars such as Dua Lipa...

Evelyn Waugh did actually live in West Hampstead briefly, having been born there at 11 Hillfield Road on 28 October 1903. In 1907 the family moved to a house at 145 North End Road. I’m not sure what borough or postcode that was in when they moved, but by the time Waugh was a student, it became Golders Green NW11. It was never in West Hampstead (NW6) or Hampstead village (NW3). It is unlikely that Waugh ever expressed any societal or architectural enthusiasm over the Waugh’s residence on Hillfield Road as he was 4 only years old when they moved. There has been considerable comment, however, on his attitude toward the social position of the house on North End Road, but that’s another story.

–The Guardian concludes a series of articles on emotion in books, with the final topic being ambition (or “those who are determined to succeed”). This is written by Sophie Ratcliffe and concludes with this:

… while we may be struck by memoirs of odds overcome – from Tara Westover to Barack Obama – we are equally drawn to ambition in miniature – the everyday striving, and seemingly ordinary achievements, through which we may glimpse what Larkin terms an “enthralled/ Catching of happiness”.

Such scaled-back ambition is well caught in MetamorphosisRobert Douglas-Fairhurst’s memoir about living with MS. “Always,” he writes at his book’s close, “there is the potential for something new to go wrong, or something old to deteriorate,” but, on waking one morning, he decides to risk it and “go for a walk”. There’s a knowing irony to his chosen route march – “the top of a nearby hill, a little over a mile away” looking over the “lead domes” and “thick fingers of honey-coloured stone” of Oxford – for it is a view that conjures up ambition on a big canvas. Here are the dreaming spires, the “city of aquatint” in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. It would, Douglas-Fairhurst writes, “be an easy stroll for most people, but for me it will be a little voyage into the unknown. I’m not entirely confident that I’ll make it there and back without my legs buckling underneath me, but there’s only one way to find out.” It’s a fitting end to this beautiful, formally ambitious book. Opening his front door, he steps “into the bright morning sunshine”.

Posted in Brideshead Revisited, Helena, Interviews, Lectures, Newspapers, Oxford | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Charlie Watts’s Collection of Waughiana to be Auctioned

Christie’s has announced the sale of the book collection of Charlie Watts, late drummer of the Rolling Stones. Watts was not an ordinary book collector but, as described in Christie’s announcement, had a “deeply thoughtful” taste. This is well defined in the announcement which is available at this link. It concludes with this:

…all these books bear Charlie Watts’s fingerprints. Everyone who met him in life agrees that he was a truly likeable man — self-effacing and gentlemanly in a very English way. Strands of a specifically English genius run through the authors that he favoured most: the wit and wordsmithery of Wodehouse; the steely common sense of George Orwell; Graham Greene’s gift for ambiguity and uncertainty; Waugh’s prickly class-awareness.

It’s all there. You could get a good sense of what it meant to be a 20th-century Englishman by reading the first editions in Charlie Watts’s wonderful library.

In Waugh’s case he was interested in a complete collection and seems to have mostly succeeded. Christies has divided the sale between two auctions. The first contains books that are all inscribed to those friends of Waugh considered important such as Graham Greene and Robert Laycock. These often included comments with the inscription which are duly noted in Christies’s catalogue.  These will be sold in Part 1 of the auction. Here’s a summary of the select list (these are London first editions unless otherwise notes):

Decline and Fall: copy inscribed to Vyvyan Holland (Oscar Wilde’s son) who had invited Waugh and his first wife to a party.

Vile Bodies: Copy of Frederick K Adams a director of the J P Morgan Library. Not original dw.

Black Mischief: Graham Greene’s copy with inscription. Not original dw.

A Handful of Dust. No inscription. Original dw.

Brideshead Revisited: Page proof ed of which 50 printed as Xmas presents 1944; this was Robert Laycock’s copy inscribed by Waugh. Although  not noted, that inscription must have been added later as the book was printed and distributed while Waugh was stationed in Yugoslavia. There was no dw.

The Loved One: Graham Greene’s large paper, prepublication edition limited to 250 copies; signed by Waugh and artist. There was no dw.

War Trilogy: Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen, Unconditional Surrender: All copies inscribed to Robert Laycock. Original dust wrappers.

Officers and Gentlemen: Specially bound edition inscribed and gifted to Laycock, to whom the book was dedicated. This had no dw.

The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold: One of 50 specially printed copies, inscribed to Laycock. No dw.

The books listed above are sold individually in lots 106-115 of Part 1 of the sale. The other books appear individually and as groups in lots 410 thru 414 of Part 2 of the auction. They are mostly first editions with dustwrappers. There are duplicates of some books in the more select list such as Brideshead Revisited and The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1st C&H published editions). Some are inscribed but not to anyone of particular note or importance to Waugh or his career. The only books missing from the collection so far as I was able to tell are The Holy Places, the Life of Ronald Knox and A Little Learning. There was also no copy of P R B. An Essay on the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood, although one can argue that that was not formally “published” until it was reprinted in 1982. Nor was there a copy of the post war collection of stories published in the UK as Work Suspended and Other Stories Written before World War Two (London 1948), although there is a copy of Work Suspended: Two Chapters of an Unfinished Novel (limited edition, London 1942). The only US publication in the collection is Tactical Excercise (Boston 1954) which included both pre- and post war stories.

One would have to conclude that Charlie was a fairly ambitious and studious collector of Waughiana. It is a shame to see his efforts at completeness and quality dispersed in an auction sale, but to be fair, this is not the sort of collection that appeals to academic libraries.

The select books described in detail above will be sold at auction at Christies/London on 28 September. This sale is called Charlie Watts: Literature and Jazz, Part 1. See this link. The other books from the collection will be sold in an online auction (Charlie Watts: Literature and Jazz, Part 2) starting September 15 at 10am and ending on 29 September at 11am (I assume those are London times). Here’s a link.

NOTICE (9 September 2023): A Little Learning was added to the list of books missing from Charlie Watts’s collection (or at least from those now being auctioned).



Posted in Auctions, First Editions, Items for Sale | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Labo[u]r Day Roundup

–Writing in the New  York Review of Books, Michael Gorra reviews novelist Zadie Smith’s latest book The Fraud. This is the lead article of this issue, and in it Gorra places the novel in the context of Smith’s other works as well as those of other novelists. Among those considered is Evelyn Waugh. Gorra writes that Smith:

…is now in her late forties, and having started so young it must feel like time to take stock. In 1939 Evelyn Waugh began a novel that he put aside at the start of World War II. He never went back to it, but he published the fragment a few years later under the title Work Suspended, and I would happily trade Brideshead Revisited for a finished version. It was Waugh’s initial attempt at writing in the first person, and his narrator is a novelist in search of a new subect. For he believes he’s “becoming mechanical, turning out year after year the kind of book I know how to write well….I have got as good as I ever can be at this particular sort of writing.”

That was Waugh’s own dilemma as he looked for a way past the frantic brittle comedy of his first books. Opinions differ, but I don’t think he ever found it. Smith hasn’t become mechanical, but she has kept returning to the same ground: modern-day Willesden and a few surrounding neighborhoods: close, tense friendships between people who’ve known each other since childhood; four hundred-odd pages; and an ending with a series of neatly resolved comic comeuppances. Does she feel that she’s gotten as good at that particular kind of book as she ever could be? I’ve no idea, but she’s a risk-taker, and in writing a historical novel she has stepped into the “new Worlds” that Waugh’s narrator says he wants.

–Harry Mount, editor of The Oldie, moonlighting in The Spectator, has written an essay on the English practice of school nicknames. Here’s an excerpt:

…An American friend tells me nicknames were little-used in his New York schooldays. Their popularity in Britain depends on our peculiar taste for abusing our best friends in order to show intimacy – much easier than having to admit you like them.

That tendency is particularly marked in British private schools and the upper classes. Thus Boots – Evelyn Waugh’s nickname for his old friend Cyril Connolly, short for Smartyboots, thanks to Connolly’s dangerously suspect intellectual pretensions.

The Mitford sisters were inveterate nickname-droppers, as in ‘Cake’, their name for the Queen Mother after she shrieked the word with huge enthusiasm on spotting a large cake at a party.

But the Great British Nickname is at threat in an era of cancellation and sensitivity readers. Nicknames have even been taken away at some universities to reduce ‘micro-aggressions’. Instead, new undergraduates are asked to give the name, nickname and pronouns they would like to be known by…

–In The Oldie itself there is an article by Richard Howells entitled “Smoking’s Hotter Than Vaping.” It opens with this:

In one of the best smoking scenes in English literature, Charles Ryder and Julia Flyte are motoring to Brideshead. Julia is behind the wheel of her open-topped car and nods towards a box of cigarettes: ‘Light one for me, will you?’ ‘As I took the cigarette from my lips and put it in hers,’ writes Charles, ‘I caught a thin bat’s squeak of sexuality, inaudible to any but me.’ But, of course, we all heard it. Imagine for a moment that, instead of lighting her cigarette, Charles had offered Lady Julia a pull on his vape. Things would have turned out so very differently. Why? Because vaping can never be cool. Smoking, on the other hand … Smoking, for all we know about it today, used to have a place not only in literature but also in film, photography and public life. It was usually a stylish one…

–Max Hastings in The Times has an article entitled “Clergy remain divine source of comedy”. While noting that while the church in Britain is doing a disappearing act, he writes that it will always survive in the pages of English literature. Most of his discussion relates to characters created by 19th c. authors, especially Trollope. But then he continues:

Even in the 20th century, comic novelists continued to feast upon parsons. Think of Bertie Wooster’s curate chums “Beefy” Bingham and “Stinker” Pinker, hulking athletes striving for livings. One of PG Wodehouse’s finest stories is The Great Sermon Handicap, in which a group of bored young men summering in the country run a book on the length of local parsons’ Sunday orations, irrespective of any possible merit.

Evelyn Waugh was rather ahead of his time when, in Decline and Fall, he described how the failed schoolmaster Mr Prendergast became a “Modern Churchman, who draws the full salary of a beneficed clergyman and need not commit himself to any religious belief”. […]

Likewise, the Hon and Rev Bertie of Weston-on-the-Green, a squarson – wonderful word, that, characterising a parson who was also the local squire, a pairing now surely extinct – addressed a neighbour at an All Souls dinner: “I see you have been brought up in the best school, sir, the school of port. If you will take an old man’s advice, you will always drink it out of a claret glass.”

–The website has posted a detailed discussion of Waugh’s 1939 short story, “An Englishman’s Home”. This has a plot summary as well as textual analysis but does not reflect the story’s publication history. Here is the beginning of the plot summary:

The narrative explores the intricacies of class distinctions and social positioning within the context of a quintessential English village, Much Malcock. Through his incisive satirical lens, the writer exposes the dynamics of aspiration, snobbery, and societal norms that characterize this insular community.

Central to the story is the protagonist, Beverly Metcalfe, who aspires to transcend his middle-class origins and embed himself within the aristocratic upper echelons of Much Malcock’s social hierarchy. The tale unravels against the backdrop of England’s class system, replete with its established norms and stratified divisions. From the outset, it is evident that Metcalfe’s desires align with the village’s landed elite, an aspiration underscored by his careful observations of their behaviors, undertaken not merely for understanding, but as models for emulation…

The story was first published in Good Housekeeping (London, August 1939) and was first collected in Work Suspended and Other Stories Written Before the Second World War (London, 1948).

Posted in Brideshead Revisited, Decline and Fall, Newspapers, Short Stories, Work Suspended | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dog Days Roundup

–Will Lloyd, commissioning editor of the New Statesman, has written an interesting and enjoyable article in that journal summarizing why Evelyn Waugh’s works have outlived those of his contemporaries. This is entitled: “Evelyn Waugh is laughing at you: His lethally coherent worldview turns reality into a farce.” Here are the opening paragraphs:

Art is not fair. If they knew what his reputation was now that is the lesson Evelyn Waugh’s contemporaries would surely learn.

His literary generation was pacifistic, left-wing, irreligious, and righteously believed that justice existed to be rendered in this world, not the next. Hardly anyone reads Stephen Spender or Sylvia Townsend Warner any more. They wrote the right things; they believed the right things; they took up the earth’s wretched as their cause.

Evelyn Waugh never did. He did not hope to reform the species. Today his peers are not much more than inter-war curiosities. Read their poetry and prose, then feel the aeons open up between you and them. Waugh remains utterly modern. Such a state of affairs is a joke as icy as any found in his writing. Why the passing decades cannot diminish him ought to trouble our creaking, secular, liberal age…

After a brief and entertaining discussion of Waugh’s unhappy childhood, unpromising university career, unsuccessful first marriage and religious conversion, Lloyd focuses on how these influenced his works, with particular reference to Decline and Fall, Brideshead Revisited and Sword of Honour. The contemporary writer to whom Lloyd most frequently compares him is Orwell, the other literary survivor of that generation. Here’s the conclusion:

…Unlike Orwell, he never had a reputation for prophecy, yet Waugh saw far more clearly than he. Orwell’s darkest forebodings were fantasies. The world turned out nothing like Ninety Eighty-Four (1948). It turned out nothing like Waugh’s generation hoped it would either; they often looked fondly on Stalin, or, like Orwell, believed a socialist revolution was coming. “The human mind is inspired enough when it comes to inventing horrors,” Waugh wrote. “It is when it tries to invent a Heaven that it shows itself cloddish.” He knew that human happiness would never be achieved through politics.

Instead of theory there is his lethally coherent worldview, expressed in novel after novel. A consistent and horrible vision, made much the worse for being persuasive. The meek will not inherit the earth. Collective endeavours always come to grief. Cheats and scoundrels will be lavishly rewarded. Falling in love is the first step to having your heart eaten. Pity is a less powerful force than contempt. “I believe that man is, by nature, an exile,” he wrote, “and will never be self-sufficient or complete on this earth.”

As Margot [Metroland] says: this is just how things are going to happen. Oh dear! Knowing all this, Waugh, who was never lazy and rarely a bore, responded in the only sane way. He clowned, and invited us to join him in laughter.

The article can be read in is entirety and is available on the New Statesman without a subscription under its limited access policy. It is highly recommended.

–Simon Heffer in a recent Sunday Telegraph reviews George Orwell’s 1935 novel A Clergyman’s Daughter. He notes the general consensus that this may be Orwell’s weakest novel but thinks it is nevertheless worth reading if only because it is written by Orwell. Here’s his conclusion:

…Each reader must judge how effective his satire is: he lays it on thickly and without the deftness of his contemporary Evelyn Waugh. The other weakness is that the appearance of the helpful cousin is a little like too many plot devices in Dickens, where a saviour turns up and it usually provides a happy ending. In fact, it takes a second saviour to pluck Dorothy out of the near-slavery of her private school, and back to the near-slavery of Knype Hill. This troubling book has another interesting feature that was pointed out by DJ Taylor, Orwell’s biographer: that, like Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Dorothy ends up having to make an accommodation with her tormentors. To understand that work of genius better, we need to read A Clergyman’s Daughter.

Although he does not specifically mention Waugh’s description of public school life in Decline and Fall, that is presumably among Waugh’s satirical passages Heffer must have had in mind as having influenced Orwell.

–In a recent issue of the Daily Telegraph, Christopher Howse describes a late painting of  Goya called “The Last Communion of St Joseph Calasanz” who was at one time the head of the Piarist order. Like Heffer, Howse also invokes Waugh’s satirical description of public school life in the course of his discussion. Here is an extract:

…Goya is certainly a great painter, but I am not sure what part the mysteries of religion played in his vision of humanity. He would have applauded Calasanz’s humane approach to learning: his insistence that the vernacular as well as Latin should gure in classes, his preference for avoiding punishment. From 1591, when he was 34, Calasanz worked in Rome. In 1598 the Tiber flooded and he manfully tried to help the thousands of homeless poor whose houses had been destroyed. From 1600 the project of Pious Schools occupied him. Soon he had 1,000 poor children to look after. Calasanz’s positive attitude brought him enemies. He had admitted Jewish children to his schools. He sympathised with Galileo, and later provided him with a secretary when he lost his sight. At one stage, Calasanz had to help the Inquisition with their inquiries.

Calasanz’s own career ended in failure. A priest called Stefano Cherubini, in charge of a Piarist school in Naples, was appointed canonical visitor to the congregation. He was also said to have been guilty of sexual crimes with schoolboys. In Catholic Spanish society of the 17th century, this was strongly disapproved of, unlike, say, in the inter-war years in England when the middle classes seemed to take for granted some schoolmasters being pederasts, as Evelyn Waugh described in Decline and Fall (1928), written as a comedy, if a black one. Anyway, through family and institutional influence Cherubini managed to take over the whole Piarist congregation, and Calasanz, in his 80s, was pushed aside. The congregation was left divided and the Pope settled things in 1646 by suppressing it…

As explained by Howse in his conclusion, the order was later restored and survives to this day.

The New Criterion in its latest issue has a review of the book Hellfire:Evelyn Waugh and the Hypocrites Club. The reviewer is David Pryce-Jones. Here is the opening paragraph:

Evelyn Waugh (1903–66) is a writer who will be read as long as there is anyone interested in English literature. His early novels have a comic spirit all their own. In contrast, Brideshead Revisited (1945) and Sword of Honour (1952–61) capture England at a time in her history when peace was giving way to war and the old social order was vanishing. Waugh was a voice speaking for the past, going against the grain of modernity, and this brought into question what kind of a man could he be…

The book is mentioned in several recent posts and was reviewed in EWS 53.2 (Autumn 2022).

–The NE Ohio news website has published a detailed and interesting review of the life and works of Dawn Powell. She wrote satirical novels about small town Ohio and big city New York during the 1920s-60s. These were well received by the critics but have been largely forgotten since her death in 1965 despite two attempts to revive interest (late 1980s and again in abt 2000). Another of those may be in the offing as a result of the article by John S. Matuszek. Here is an excerpt:

…Her reputation experienced a resurgence when longtime friend Gore Vidal praised the then-forgotten Powell in a 1981 article as a “comic writer as good as Evelyn Waugh and better than Clemens.” An article Vidal wrote for the New York Times Review of Books in 1987 led to the reissuing of several of her novels in paperback.

In 1991,  [Tim] Page, a Pulitzer Prize-winning classical music critic for the Washington Post, came across Edmund Wilson’s essay on “The Golden Spur,” and launched into a years-long effort to further restore Powell’s place in the literary canon. His efforts resulted in the publication of her diaries, along with anthologies of her work by the Library of America and Page’s 1998 biography. In 1996, Case Western Reserve University celebrated the “Centennial of Dawn Powell,” with Page as a guest speaker. Page was featured in a Plain Dealer Sunday magazine article by John Stark Bellamy in 1996 headlined “The Resurrection of Dawn Powell.” […] As Page told the Plain Dealer, “She is one of our national treasures, and especially an Ohio treasure.”

Posted in Articles, Brideshead Revisited, Decline and Fall, Newspapers, Sword of Honour | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


–The New Statesman has an article by Josiah Gogarty entitled Only snobbery can stop Elon Musk: Class prejudice is the last weapon against tech titans.” Waugh makes a contribution:

…Then there’s the more squeamish side of elitism: class snobbery. This is not a popular cause. In The Great Gatsby, one of the most enduring depictions of the old-money/new-money showdown, its representative is the oafish Tom Buchanan, who attained “acute limited excellence” at Yale, then sagged into a racist, booze-soaked manhood. Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels portray, vividly and at length, how the snobbery of English aristocrats cauterises human decency. After David Melrose rapes his five-year-old son, the protagonist of the series, he reflects that “he had perhaps pushed his disdain for middle-class prudery a little too far”.

Brideshead Revisited takes the opposite approach. As Martin Amis wrote in 1981, it “squarely identifies egalitarianism as its foe and proceeds to rubbish it accordingly”. The narrator, drugged up, like Evelyn Waugh was, on Catholicism and old buildings, laments a modern world “safe for the travelling salesman, with his polygonal pince-nez, his fat wet handshake, his grinning dentures”. But Waugh’s snobbery only amounts to a “failure of imagination”, says Amis, matched by the clichéd purple prose the novel is laden with.

Nevertheless, class prejudice can have paradoxically progressive effects. If, no matter how far you rise, you’re never allowed to forget your origins, you might retain some solidarity with the people you grew up with. A more liberal, meritocratic elite, which welcomes you as an old friend once you crack a certain tax bracket, is more effective at banishing class consciousness. Think of it as the White’s club model – wingback chairs reserved for the spawn of marauding Normans – versus the Soho House vision of overpriced cocktails for all. After Margaret Thatcher forced meritocracy down the Conservative Party’s throat, like a nanny wielding a spoon of cod-liver oil, Labour embraced social mobility too, and shied away from pitching itself in class-based terms…

–Spurred by the debut of a new series of the ITV costume drama Sanditon, The Sunday Times has compiled a list of the 36 best ever TV costume dramas. The 1981 ITV/Granada Brideshead Revisited series ranks number 2, behind BBC’s Pride and Prejudice.

–This week’s episode of BBC’s University Challenge included a series of bonus questions based on T S Eliot’s poem The Waste Land. One of these asked the team from Emmanuel College, Cambridge to identify the Evelyn Waugh novel which included a quote from the poem in its title. They guessed wrong and answered Decline and Fall but won the match anyway. The correct answer is A Handful of Dust which will be the subject of an internet Zoom discussion sponsored by the Mechanics Institute Library in San Francisco. This is scheduled for 7pm-815pm PDT on Wednesday 11 October. It appears to be open to non-members. Details are available here.

–Richard Dawkins in the Evening Standard cites several instances of objections made to humorous references to transgender issues that represent attempts to censor what he deems to be well within the realm of fair comment. Here’s an excerpt:

The Guardian (February 14, 2020) reported that police officers turned up at Harry Miller’s workplace to warn him about his allegedly “transphobic” tweets, such as the obviously satirical, “I was assigned Mammal at Birth, but my orientation is Fish. Don’t mis-species me.” One of them told Miller that he had not committed a crime, but his tweeting “was being recorded as a hate incident”.

Well, if Miller’s light-hearted satire is a hate incident, why not go after Monty Python, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Rowan Atkinson, Private Eye’s royal romances of Sylvie Krin, the early novels of Evelyn Waugh, Lady Addle Remembers, Tom Lehrer, even the benign PG Wodehouse? Satire is satire. That’s what satirists do, they get good-natured laughs and perform a valuable service to society.

“Assigned Mammal at Birth” satirises the trans-speak evasion of the biological fact that our sex is determined at conception by an X or a Y sperm. What I didn’t know, and learned from [Helen] Joyce in our interview, is that small children are being taught, using a series of colourful little books and videos, that their “assigned” sex is just a doctor’s best guess, looking at them when they were born.

–Interviewed by Jake Kerridge last week in the Daily Telegraph, Irish novelist Anne Enright discussed her latest novel The Wren, The Wren:

To my mind, Enright’s eighth novel, The Wren, The Wren, is as starkly soulful and bleakly funny about human failings as The Gathering [her Booker Prize nominee], and would have made a worthy Booker contender. At its heart is an act of betrayal – feted poet Phil McDaragh leaving his wife and young daughters in the 1970s, the better to pursue his calling – and the enduring effect over several decades on his abandoned daughter Carmel and on Nell, the granddaughter he died without meeting.

Enright, 60, is fascinated by “the oddness of when people find their creativity rendered impossible by the fact of children, as if children stole some faculty just by existing or were some kind of affront. Evelyn Waugh wouldn’t have his children playing even in the same wing of the house when he was working – how weird is that?”

Where other novelists might have mimsily asked us to take Phil’s talent on trust, Enright has included several of the poems for which he sacrificed his family’s happiness. I found them as austerely beautiful as her prose: in one, the eponymous bird becomes “a panic/ of feathered air”. Had she been burning to publish poetry?

Posted in A Handful of Dust, Brideshead Revisited, Discussions, Internet, Newspapers, Television Programs | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Evelyn Waugh Studies 54.1 (Spring 2023) Posted

The latest issue of the Society’s journal Evelyn Waugh Studies has been posted. Here is a summary of its contents from the Society’s secretary Jamie Collinson:

It’s not often that someone finds a new angle into Waugh that yields genuine insight, but Bradley D. Clissold has done so with his brilliant essay on Waugh’s use of postcards. The performative aspect of these delighted Waugh, and he used them to excruciating comic effect. Clissold quotes from some of the best examples, and as a result his essay is as funny as it is original.Jeffrey Manley reviews the latest edition of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh – Robbery under Law: The Mexican-Object Lesson. This definitive collection of Waugh’s work might benefit from a consistent policy towards quotation, he says. Among the news: The John H. Wilson Jr. Evelyn Waugh Undergraduate Essay Contest is open for submissions, and offers a $500 prize. Details in the Studies.In 2019, Castle Howard commissioned the UK-based sound artist Jonathan Webb to produce a site-specific sound installation for The Brideshead Festival: 75 Years of Print and Screen. With the cancellation of The Brideshead Festival in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Webb instead produced Adapting Arcadia (2021), an online narrative audio piece that playfully uses music, sound design and archival recordings to explore the enduring appeal of Brideshead Revisited on screen. There’s a link to this excellent work in the Studies.Finally, I’m embarrassed that, despite my day-job in the music industry, I’d never come across the band Flyte. They are self-evidently Waugh influenced – if the name wasn’t enough, they called their debut album The Loved Ones. There’s an interview with them linked to in the News.

Posted in Complete Works, Evelyn Waugh Studies, Festivals, Letters | Leave a comment

Roundup: Mostly Books

–In Saturday’s Daily Telegraph politician and journalist Charles Moore sees connections between Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy and a new book by Daniel Finkelstein. Here are the opening paragraphs:

I have just caught up with Daniel Finkelstein’s newish book Hitler, Stalin, Mum and Dad. Its chirpy title makes it sound like Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall by the late Spike Milligan. Do not be misled. Although Finkelstein writes with humour and clarity, his tale is about as grim as could be. You could not call it an August “beach read”. Nevertheless, I could barely put it down. I urge readers to pick it up. It is a good book to read at any time, but also a book for right now.

“Mum and Dad” were Daniel Finkelstein’s parents. Both were Jewish, born in between the two World Wars. Mum (Mirjam Wiener) was born in Germany. Dad (Ludwik Finkelstein) was born in Lwow (now Lviv), then in Poland, now in Ukraine. They ended up in Hendon, married; but before that, they had quite separate, quite unspeakable experiences caused by war, totalitarianism and race/class hatred.

I shall not reproduce here the gripping family story the book tells, but I want to draw attention to its “fearful symmetry”. … The parallels are so close they feel too bad to be true. Yet they are true; and they bring home in direct, human form something we in free countries find so difficult to understand.

In the first chapter of his underrated Sword of Honour trilogy, Evelyn Waugh describes the “secret jubilation” of the book’s hero, Guy Crouchback, on hearing of the Nazi-Soviet pact in August 1939: “The enemy at last was plain in view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast off. It was the Modern Age in arms.” Guy, living in Italy, returns to England to fight for King and country.

The tragedy the trilogy describes is that Waugh’s “Modern Age” sort of wins. Yes, the Nazis are defeated, but only with the help of a totalitarianism exactly as brutal and more enduring than theirs, that of Soviet Communism. And whereas Guy Crouchback could return from war to his home country independent and free, roughly half of Europe could not…

Moore goes on to describe how Finkelstein’s family experiences are relevant to those living under Stalin’s latest successor Vladimir Putin. He concludes:

This is where Finkelstein’s book becomes urgent. In a country like Britain, we tend to see the crimes of Hitler and Stalin then, and of Putin now, as extraordinary, inexplicable aberrations. Extraordinary they are, but not inexplicable. They are what can happen when politics goes wrong.

“Politics,” writes Finkelstein, “had murdered my grandmother and dozens of other members of my family. Politics had exiled my grandfather. Politics had almost starved my mother to death.” The evil dormant in most people will certainly find expression if people are evilly led. Then it acquires its own warped logic.

The “final solution” was so called by its Nazi perpetrators because they thought they had identified a political “problem” – the Jews – which they had at last found a way of “solving”. Stalin thought that the triumph of socialism could come about only if all class enemies were destroyed. Putin thinks Russia’s civilisational destiny can be fulfilled only if Ukraine’s “drug-crazed neo-Nazis” are overthrown.

All of them thought – or think – “Press on! The more we kill, the greater the victory.” They rely on us being too feeble, frightened or short in attention span to resist. This is how Putin tests the West today…

–Literary critic and journalist John Self has posted a guide to the novels of Muriel Spark. This appears on the website called TheBookerPrizes of which Spark was a recipient. Here’s an excerpt where Self is discussing her early novel The Comforters:

Appreciation of Spark’s work tends to focus on the string of major works of the 1960s that made her name, but there is brilliance both before and after. Her debut novel, The Comforters (1957), showed from the beginning that hers was a unique talent: it is about a woman, Caroline, who keeps hearing typing noises and becomes aware that she is a character in a novel. It was flavoured by Spark’s conversion to Catholicism – hence its reflections on power, creation and control – and was praised by two fellow convert-novelists, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh. (Waugh remained a fan for the rest of his life, and in 1961 sent her a copy of his last novel, Unconditional Surrender, dedicated ‘For Muriel Spark in her prime from Evelyn Waugh in his decline’).

He might also have mentioned a letter Waugh sent to Gabriel Fielding in 1956:

Thank you for sending me Mrs Spark’s remarkable book.

The first half, up to the motor accident, is brilliant. The second half rather diffuse. The mechanics of the hallucinations are well managed. These particularly interested me as I am myself engaged on a similar subject.

Mrs Spark no doubt wants a phrase to quote on the wrapper and in advertisements. She can quote me as saying: “brilliantly original and fascinating.”

Please do not trouble to acknowledge thus. [Emphasis supplied.]

Letters, p. 477. At the time he wrote this Waugh was probably still at work on The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold.  There are also at least two contemporaneous letters from Waugh recommending Spark’s book to his friends.

–The Neglected Books Page has a review of what sounds like an interesting memoir:

I bought Viva King’s autobiography, The Weeping and the Laughter, on the strength of a single review: “How pleasant to know Viva King even if it only be at second-hand through this candid and amusing book.” It also said that “There were few of that period [Bloomsbury, 1920s] whom Viva King did not come to know.” Ezra Pound greeted her naked once (he, not she). She corresponded with Augustus John, dined in Soho with Norman Douglas, had Ivy Compton-Burnett and her partner Margaret Jourdain to tea. Maurice Richardson quipped in the Observer, “If you fired a shotgun at one of Mrs. King’s parties you would risk peppering half the characters in the novels of Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell.” Anthony Blond wrote that trying to keep track of the people who flash through King’s pages was like trying to read the names of stations on a fast-moving train.

But reviewers also noted her reputation for exceptional generosity; Richardson called her “a sort of British Higher Bohemian Mother Courage” and admired her honesty in writing of an affair she had with a sailor 40-plus years her junior when she was 70 — despite his tendency to make off with her jewelry. (She offers a fastidious way of saying that her lovers were uniformly bad at foreplay: “I needed revving up — and though the men may have had the right tools, they were bad mechanics.”)

The reviewer (probably Brad Bigelow) continues with a discussion of several other books with the same title. These include this one by:

Julian Maclaren-Ross, who might have caught some buckshot had a shotgun been fired at one of Viva King’s parties (he was X. Trapnel in Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time), took the phrase as the title for his first memoir. This volume covers his childhood up to the age of ten.

–The Paris Review has reposted on the internet the 1962 interview of Evelyn Waugh conducted by Julian Jebb. The interview itself is mostly behind a paywall. But the good news is that it is reprinted in the CWEW edition of A Little Learning (v. 19, pp. 566-75). As a bonus, the version on the internet includes the portions of the introduction by Jebb that were deleted by CWEW editors, probably due to lack of space. Here’s an excerpt of the deleted material:

…I had written to Mr. Waugh earlier asking permission to interview him, and in this letter I had promised that I should not bring a tape recorder with me. I imagined, from what he had written in the early part of The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, that he was particularly averse to them.

We met in the hall of the hotel at three in the afternoon. Mr. Waugh was dressed in a dark-blue suit with a heavy overcoat and a black homburg hat. Apart from a neatly-tied, small, brown-paper parcel, he was unencumbered…

I had prepared a number of lengthy questions—the reader will no doubt detect the shadows of them in what follows—but I soon discovered that they did not, as I had hoped, elicit long or ruminative replies. Perhaps what was most striking about Mr. Waugh’s conversation was his command of language: his spoken sentences were as graceful, precise, and rounded as his written sentences. He never faltered, nor once gave the impression of searching for a word. The answers he gave to my questions came without hesitation or qualification, and any attempt I made to induce him to expand a reply generally resulted in a rephrasing of what he had said before.

I am well aware that the result on the following pages is unlike the majority of Paris Review interviews; first it is very much shorter, and secondly, it is not “an interview in depth.” Personally, I believe that Mr. Waugh did not lend himself, either as a writer or as a man, to the form of delicate psychological probing and self-analysis which are characteristic of many of the other interviews. He would consider impertinent an attempt publicly to relate his life and his art, as was demonstrated conclusively when he appeared on an English television program, “Face to Face,” some time ago and parried all such probing with brief, flat, and, wherever possible, monosyllabic replies.

However, I should like to do something to dismiss the mythical image of Evelyn Waugh as an ogre of arrogance and reaction. Although he carefully avoided taking part in the marketplace of literary life, of conferences, prize giving, and reputation building, he was, nonetheless, both well informed and decided in his opinions about his contemporaries and juniors. Throughout the three hours I spent with him he was consistently helpful, attentive, and courteous, allowing himself only minor flights of ironic exasperation if he considered my questions irrelevant or ill-phrased.


Posted in Complete Works, Internet, Interviews, Letters, Newspapers, Sword of Honour, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, World War II | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Midsummer Roundup

The Article has a detailed review of the recent CWEW edition of A Handful of Dust. This is by literary biographer and critic Jeffrey Meyers who has written several articles about Waugh in the last few years. Meyers opens his review with this comment on the book’s production and content:

…This £95 book is nicely designed and printed but does not lie flat when opened.  Excellently edited by H.R. Woudhuysen, it has a detailed 12-page chronology of Waugh’s life, a perceptive 61-page Introduction, a helpful 43 pages of explanatory notes and a deadly 68 pages of textual variants that only a few fanatics will read.  That makes 184 editorial pages to 188 pages by Waugh…

He then proceeds to raise several additional points that he believes the editor could have made about the book. The most interesting are perhaps these comments relating to Eliot’s poem The Waste Land and other writings :

…The title and epigraph of the novel come from TS Eliot’s The Waste Land: “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”  But the key word originates in “The Burial of the Dead” in The Book of Common Prayer (1549): “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”  This recalls Genesis 3:19: “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”, which accounts for the custom at funerals of throwing a handful of earth on the grave of the deceased.  In his story “Youth,” (1898), Joseph Conrad recalls: “I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back . . . the heat of life in a handful of dust.”

More significant in The Waste Land is “The sound of horns and motors, which shall bring / Sweeney to Mrs. Porter in the spring.”  Waugh posed for a well-known 1926 photo on his motorbike, and Eliot’s “horns and motors” unite the hunting horns that attract Tony’s son, John Andrew, and the motor’s backfire that startles the horses and causes his fatal accident.  Waugh’s “horns that sounded in the heart of the wood” echoes the mournful mood and location of Alfred de Vigny’s “Le Cor” (1826): “Le son du cor est triste au fond du bois” (“The sound of the horn is sad in the depth of the wood”).

Waugh observed that “Man without religion will seek after strange and false gods (fortune-telling, psychoanalysis, economics, lost cities)”, as well as bone-setters and chromium plating.  His statement alludes to Deuteronomy 31:16: “this people will rise up, and go whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land.”  Eliot used After Strange Gods (also 1934) as the title of the bigoted book he later suppressed.  After the Brazilian Indians steal all Dr Messinger’s goods and disappear, he exclaims, “The situation is grave.  But not desperate,” which echoes the notorious speech of the German Minister of Foreign Affairs in July 1914, one month before the outbreak of World War One…

How much Meyers may be adding to what the editor wrote on these and other topics discussed in the review is hard to say without having seen the CWEW edition of the book.

The final section, and by far the longest, is essentially Meyers’ review of Waugh’s text and story rather than the editorial content and production standards of the new edition. Again, he may be elaborating on points made by Woudhuysen or discussing points Woudhuysen may not have raised. For example, this comment appears near the end of this final section:

…A Handful of Dust was a great critical and commercial success.  Edmund Wilson and Frank Kermode, two of the best modern critics, called it Waugh’s masterpiece.  Recalling the epigraph, Wilson observed the “sense of fear that permeates the novel”—the fear of loss, treachery, imprisonment and death…

It is not clear from this whether Meyers is relying on Woudhuysen’s text for these cites or is criticizing him for not including them.

The article is very interesting and well-written and is well worth reading whether or not one has any interest in the  critical apparatus added by the Complete Works edition. Here is a link.

–Lucy Scholes has added a book to her column “The Booker Revisited” on Lit Hub. This is a 1977 novella entitled Great Granny Webster written by Caroline Blackwood. She wrote several books, of which Scholes finds only three still in print. One of those is Granny Webster that was nominated for the 1977 Booker. Here’s a brief summary from the Lit Hub article:

…Initially, the chapters have the flavor of three distinct vignettes. The narrator’s account of her sojourn with Great Granny Webster reads as though it could have been written by Barbara Comyns, whose tales of young women in uncannily perilous domestic settings have a similarly gruesome, gothic allure. Aunt Lavinia’s chapter, meanwhile, takes us into territory that feels closer to that of an Evelyn Waugh novel; a world in which tragedy and excess sit side-by-side, but everyone’s very matter-of-fact about it all and no one makes a fuss. The visit the narrator pays her aunt—her account of which gives the chapter its shape—takes place on the day Aunt Lavinia is discharged from a psychiatric hospital, in which she’d been briefly interned following a failed suicide attempt. Now, back ensconced in her white lily-bedecked boudoir, sat at her dressing table and painting her nails, the whole episode was simply “infuriating” she tells her niece. And to make matters worse, she’s now in the most “frightful dilemma”—should she dismiss the poor maid who found her? The “indignity” of being discovered “stark naked in a blood-drenched bath” by one’s employee is really too much to bear…

Scholes goes on to describe how the 1977 Booker prize process eliminated Granny Webster from contention. This is:

…understood to have been down to the caprices of the chair of that year’s judges, Philip Larkin, who—in an episode that’s so dramatic it could have been lifted straight out of Blackwood’s novel—famously threatened to jump out of the window if the prize wasn’t awarded to Staying On, Paul Scott’s sequel to his acclaimed Raj Quartet. Whether his fellow judges agreed with him, or if they just wanted to shut him up, Larkin got what he wanted. He also wasn’t shy about airing his opinion that Great Granny Webster was autobiography and not fiction, so shouldn’t really have been a contender for the prize at all.

Blackwood is also remembered as an heir to the Guinness fortune and as wife of poet Robert Lowell. Great  Granny Webster is still available in both the US and UK as a New York Review Books Classic. Here’s a link to AmazonUS.

–The Catholic World Report has posted a review of the collection of articles by Cardinal Newman scholar Edward Short entitled What the Bells Sang. Among these is an essay on Evelyn Waugh. Here’s an excerpt from the CWR review:

In his survey of Novelists, Short gives a brief reflection on “The Catholic Apologist in Evelyn Waugh.” He notes that “After converting to Rome in 1930, Waugh spent the rest of his days trying to see himself and the world sub specie aeternitatis.” Contrary to the later animadversions of his grandson, Alexander Waugh, “there was nothing make-believe about his Catholic faith.” For, according to Waugh, his life after conversion was

“an endless delighted tour of discovery in the huge territory of which I was made free. I have heard it said that some converts in later life look back rather wistfully to the fervour of their first months of faith. With me it is quite the opposite. I look back aghast at the presumption with which I thought myself suitable for reception and with wonder at the trust of the priest who saw the possibility of growth in such a dry soul.”

Waugh unabashedly addressed Catholicism in his both his non-fiction and his journalism, but above all in his novels such as Brideshead RevisitedHelena, and The Sword of Honour, all of which were “studies of grace,” according to Short:

“Waugh shows how the life of faith actually takes root in a world hostile to but transformed by grace, the supernatural being always present in the natural world. Sebastian Flyte, Helena and Guy Crouchback all find themselves in a world radically fallen, and yet it is their persevering, grace-endowed faith that sustains them.”

Here’s a link to Short’s book.

–Religion journalist Joseph Pearce has posted an article entitled “Evelyn Waugh and the Traditional Mass” on a new subscription-only website called Inner Sanctum. No other information is available.

–A website called Academic Accelerator (looks like a cram sheet for high school and college students) has posted anonymous background notes for Waugh’s first novel Decline and Fall. There are four sections: A biographical introduction, a plot summary, a critical reception and a discussion of “other media” (i.e., adaptations). Here’s a copy of the of the critical reception paragraph:

In 1928, The Guardian called the book “The Great Lark. The author has a pleasant sense of comedy and character, a talent for writing smart and persuasive dialogue, and his paintings are very much in the spirit of the story.” It’s harmonious,” he praised. . The paper also compared the novel’s superficial presentation to that employed by P.G. Wodehouse. Arnold Bennett hailed it as “an uncompromising and gloriously malicious satire”, while writer John Mortimer called it “the most perfect novel of all … a plot that is as ruthlessly comic” as Waugh’s is. Journalist Christopher Sykes recalls in his biography of Waugh, “I was in a nursing home when Decline and Fall was published, and Tom Driberg came to visit me and I [sic] brought a copy and he started reading some of his favorite passages and I literally couldn’t read them.” In a 2009 episode of Desert Island Discs, British actor and comedian David Mitchell said: He named Decline and Fall as a book to take to a deserted island, calling it “‘the funniest book I’ve ever read’ and ‘exactly the kind of novel I’ve always wanted to write’.”

Whether there are similar background entries for Waugh’s other works and why only this particular entry came up in a search, I couldn’t say.


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