Conversion Anniversary

The American Spectator, a conservative journal, has an article by Tom Raabe marking the 90th anniversary of Evelyn Waugh’s conversion to Roman Catholicism on 29 September 1930. Raabe remarks that, at first, the conversion did not have much impact on Waugh’s writing, which continued with the comic satires he had begun with his pre-conversion novels Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies nor did his behavior change much:

Evelyn Waugh was in life everything that good Catholics, not to mention Christians in general, abjure, or are supposed to abjure. He was a short-tempered, rude, cranky, insulting, bibulous, intentionally unkind and insensitive man who didn’t much like his children and who, increasingly deaf in his later years, frequently carried with him an ear trumpet, nearly two feet long and comically old-fashioned, that he would raise to his ear when he was speaking and lower when he was spoken to. How can you not love a guy like that?

He may have continued to exhibit many of the same characteristics after his  conversion but with Brideshead Revisited in 1945 his writing changed. It was more what he wrote about than how he wrote it, but the change did not go down well with his critics. Raabe quotes to this effect Edmund Wilson, Joseph Frank, Kingsley Amis, Bridgid Trophy and Philip Toynbee.  According to Raabe, with Brideshead:

…Waugh departs from reliance on witty repartee (à la Ronald Firbank, an influence in Waugh’s earlier books), doesn’t include stand-alone humorous scenes, and brings the cast of characters into a religious milieu — the main characters are all set against a backdrop of faith. The patriarch of the central family, the Marchmains, and one son are wayward Catholics who, each in his own way, come back to the church in the end — one on his deathbed; the other, dissipated and repentant, at a religious house in Morocco. The mother and a daughter are as staunch in faith as can be; a different daughter is engaging in extramarital affairs but is wracked by guilt and eventually returns to the church. And the narrator, Charles Ryder, an atheist condemning Catholicism as “mumbo-jumbo” throughout, finds a spiritual home in the church at the end. Intellectuals dismissed the novel as a “Roman tract.”

It didn’t help that the Marchmains were aristocrats at a time when that became unfashionable among literary tastemakers. But Raabe is not persuaded that the wave of left-wing critical objections warrants a lower estimation of Waugh’s reputation . He concludes: “As all conservatives, Waugh possessed a realistic view of human nature, for we are all one step from barbarity without God’s grace.”


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Michaelmas Observed

In a short article in the Daily Telegraph, Christopher Howse explains the meaning and importance of St Michael whose day is marked tomorrow (29 September) as Michaelmas. Howse is reminded of a prayer to St Michael which is mentioned in one of Evelyn Waugh’s novels:

On Michaelmas Day two years ago, the Pope asked pious Catholics to say a prayer that seeks the intercession of the Archangel Michael. This surprised some people who thought Pope Francis trendy, because the prayer in question is old-fashioned.

It had, in 1886, been ordered by Pope Leo XIII to be recited after Mass. It begins, in Latin, Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in proelio, “Holy Michael archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God thrust down to hell Satan and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.”

It is this prayer that is remembered by the delirious Guy Crouchback in an open boat drifting in the wartime Mediterranean in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Officers and Gentlemen. But, in his fever, Crouchback directs his words to St Roger of Waybroke, a renaming in his confusion of Sir Roger of Waybroke, a Crusader knight whose chivalry he admires.

The Pope wasn’t invoking Waugh in his call for prayers. He was thinking, he said, of the devil as the “Great Accuser” referred to in the biblical Book of Job, who “goes around the world seeking to accuse”. In the Hebrew of the Book of Job, “Accuser” is a meaning of the name Satan. Satan, in that tale, takes away Job’s wealth and kills his children. Job’s answer is: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

In the novel, Guy recalls the prayer in hospital as he is recovering from the voyage out of Crete and is awakened by a visit from a priest:

There was one clear moment of revelation between great voids when Guy discovered himself holding in his hand, not, as he supposed , Gervase’s medal but the red identity disc of an unknown soldier, and heard himself saying preposterously: ‘Saint Roger of Waybroke defend us in the day of battle and be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil…’ (Officers and Gentlemen, Penguin, 1977, p. 228).

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Waugh’s Politics Surveyed in “The Critic”

The Critic magazine has published another article on Evelyn Waugh following hard on the short article by Eleanor Doughty dealing with Brideshead Revisited, discussed in two previous posts. The latest posting is a feature length article by Bruce Newsome who is lecturer in international relations at the University of San Diego. Given his academic speciality, it is perhaps not too surprising that his topic is Waugh’s politics.

The article opens with this observation: “From the start, Waugh’s writings were political, but since he was on the wrong side of trends, his politics are usually caricatured or ignored.” He then goes through Waugh’s novels one by one, spending most of his time on Vile Bodies, Decline and Fall and (as a group) the war novels and concludes that discussion with this:

Waugh wrote many political critiques but few prescriptions. He is often categorised as a religious conservative, given his conversion to Catholicism, his opposition to the Church’s later reforms, and his offering of Catholicism as a binary solution to modern decline.

Ultimately, the charge of religious conservatism is dissatisfying. Waugh was conservative but not partisan. His novels feature politicians who are equally flawed whatever their party. In fact, parties are rarely clear, although most of his characters are privileged or titled to suggest Conservatives. His second novel (Vile Bodies) satirised the tumultuous politics of the 1920s with a character described as “this week’s prime minister.”

He then takes up Waugh’s non-fiction and considers two books. The first is Waugh in Abyssinia:

The book that most corrupted his reputation was Waugh in Abyssinia (1936), based on a three-week tour, with Italian support, of newly conquered Abyssinia. He had reported from Abyssinia on the Emperor’s coronation in 1930 and from the Abyssinian side during the first months of Italian invasion in 1935. His contempt for its Emperor, ethnic minority rule, slavery, and corrupt clerics was a consistent feature of his commentary.

It should be noted that he made two trips to Abyssinia which are reflected in the book. The first was about 5 months at the end of 1935. He began work on the book in April 1936 but returned to Abyssinia for about 6 weeks in August and September. He finished the book a few days after his return. It is not his best book, as he was well aware. But based on those same trips he wrote Scoop during 1937.  It was certainly one of his best, and Newsome concludes is “known for lampooning the virtue-signalling and fake news in journalism, but also satirised the idealism and false promises of international institutionalists.”

The final book he analyses is Robbery Under Law which is probably Waugh’s most overtly political book and the one that is least read. According to Newsome, the book is:

an erudite history of the [oil] industry and the politics [of Mexico]. He also used the book to set up both communism and fascism as antagonistic to a preferred ideology that he called “individualism.” Waugh’s individualism mixed Christianity, humanism, and classical liberalism, akin to libertarianism.

Unfortunately, his best polemic is the least known. He deferred writing the book until December 1938, and did not finish until April 1939, so it was published too late to capture public attention from the crises in Europe. It sold little and was never reprinted.

It was reprinted by British book club in 1940 but was not otherwise reprinted in his lifetime. There was an American paperback at some point and Penguin finally got around to reprinting it in hard back in 2011 when they reissued all of his books in a uniform edition.

The article concludes:

In popular culture he became a caricature of the unfashionable establishment, which Waugh consciously provoked by keeping servants, wearing garish tweed clothes, and sneering at change. […] Today, Waugh is one of those novelists who is too white, male, English, conservative, and counter-consensus to be admitted in English literature classes. Upper classness alone would prevent his novels from being debuted today (although publishers reprint his past successes). Yet Waugh offers more political insight into how Britain has developed since the 1920s than most of the political fiction published today.

The article is a good survey of the subject, focussing on politics in novels like Vile Bodies and A Handful of Dust where you would least expect it as well as those such as the war novels where it is more relevant. Mr Newsome is obviously well acquainted with Waugh’s writings, and his article is on the whole quite well researched. I am not sure he would receive universal agreement that Waugh was a “a confidant of Duff Cooper [in seeing through] Winston Churchill’s chaotic leadership.”   They were barely able to speak to each other without shouting, but I suppose they may have been able to conspire on a point where they knew in advance they were in agreement. It might have been an idea to include what may be Waugh’s ultimate dismissal of party politics in his 1959 response to a Spectator symposium on an upcoming election: “I do not aspire to advise my Sovereign in her choice of servants.”

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Another Look at Brideshead (More)

This editorial message appeared in a recent TLS.  It relates to the subject of Eleanor’s Doughty’s article in The Critic that was discussed in a previous post. Here is the opening section from the TLS:

Edith Wharton was buried in the American Protestant section of the Cimetière des Gonards in Versailles. Yet she was drawn towards Roman Catholicism in her final years, writes Sarah Whitehead, in her introduction to “The Children’s Hour”, a short story written by New York’s Gilded Age laureate. We take great pleasure in publishing it for the first time. Her friend Nicky Mariano, however, recorded one sceptical intime laughing at the thought that Wharton took her love of smells and bells too seriously: “if Edith should be converted to Catholicism my heart would go out to her confessor”.

Secular souls might argue it was better for her art that Wharton didn’t fully embrace Mother Church. Zealous Catholic convert writers have been criticized for sacrificing convincing narrative on the altar of faith. Edmund Wilson, a great admirer of Evelyn Waugh, wrote of the deathbed repentances and conversions at the end of Brideshead Revisited: “The last scenes are extravagantly absurd, with an absurdity that would be worthy of Waugh at his best if it were not – painful to say – meant quite seriously.” Graham Greene’s Catholicism divides the critics to this day. The End of the Affair has been described as his masterpiece. Its miracles, however, leave others cold.

A Middlebury College weblog also posts a brief essay on Waugh by John Vaaler that opens with this:

During what is hopefully the last few months of the Trump era, recommending Evelyn Waugh can seem like a daunting task. Both Waugh’s brand of Catholicism and his political views bend towards the uber-conservative, and the novels of his later years increasingly include storylines and jokes that give way to theological tirades and overwrought language.

But when he stays away from untenable beliefs, Waugh’s novels reign supreme in their painstaking style and dark humor. The word “satire” almost doesn’t apply to his books; Waugh’s jokes don’t just strike the reader with their barbed venom but simply induce sheer (if at times uncomfortable) laughter.

The remainder of the article discusses other books–with particular reference to Decline and Fall and A Handful of Dust. There is also a brief mention of Brideshead Revisited:

… a good deal of the novel’s last 200 pages play out a tad ham-fisted, particularly when Lord Marchmain — an avowed atheist and philanderer — suddenly takes Holy Communion in his last minutes, dying only after making the sign of the cross. But the book’s first 100 pages have an unvarnished sentimentality which has aged well…

The Critic also posted a letter that responded to Doughty’s article. Here’s an excerpt:

…Her failure to engage with Brideshead’s theme accounts for her extraordinary claim that the novel’s punchline never comes. How did she manage to miss the climactic scene in which the dying Lord Marchmain finally accepts his previously rejected Catholicism? The agnostic narrator Charles Ryder realises that this moment is like the veil of the Temple being torn in two.

Waugh’s Catholicism arose directly out of his early satirical novels: he came to see how grace could act on people despite the world’s chaos and absurdity. This is also the unifying theme of his World War II Sword of Honour trilogy — but perhaps Miss Doughty finds that “a bore” too.

Andrew Nash

Abingdon, Oxfordshire

One of our readers (Auberon Quin) also commented. That comment is attached to the original posting and may be viewed here.


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Michaelmas Roundup

–Several religious journals carry a story by George Weigel about the elimination of the Papal States in the 19th century as part of Italy’s reunification. The article, as published in the interfaith journal First Things, opens with this:

Evelyn Waugh’s Catholic traditionalism was so deep, broad, and intense that self-identified “traditional Catholics” today might seem, in comparison, like the editorial staff of the National Catholic Reporter. Yet the greatest of 20th-century English prose stylists held what some Catholic traditionalists (notably the “new integralists”) would regard as unsound views on the demise of the Papal States: a lengthy historical drama on which the curtain rang down 150 years ago this month.

In the third volume of Waugh’s Sword of Honor trilogy, the novels’ protagonist, Guy Crouchback, makes Italy’s surrender in World War II and King Victor Emmanuel III’s flight from Rome the occasion to lament, to his father, the papacy’s acquiescence to its loss of the Papal States: “[This] looks like the end of the Piedmontese usurpation. What a mistake the Lateran Treaty was . . . How much better would it have been if the popes had sat it out and then emerged saying, ‘What was that all about? Risorgimento? Garibaldi? Cavour? The House of Savoy? Mussolini? Just some hooligans from out of town causing a disturbance . . . ’”

To which Gervase Crouchback, a man of insight informed by deep piety, replies in a letter:

“Of course in the 1870s and 1880s every decent Roman disliked the Piedmontese. . . . And of course most of the [Catholics] we know kept it up, sulking. But that isn’t the Church. The Mystical Body doesn’t strike attitudes and stand on its dignity . . . When you spoke of the Lateran Treaty did you consider how many souls may have been reconciled and have died at peace as a result of it? How many children may have been brought up in the faith who might have lived in ignorance?”

–Charles Moore writes in The Spectator of his thoughts on elevation to the peerage:

I believe I am Etchingham’s third peer. […One of the] others was Lord Killearn who, as Miles Lampson, was our imposing plenipotentiary in Egypt during the war. He is said to have originated the phrase ‘Get your tanks off my lawn’, addressing King Farouk. According to the not always reliable Evelyn Waugh, Lampson sent a telegram to Winston Churchill after Randolph Churchill had dined with him in the embassy in Cairo in 1941. It said: ‘Your son is at my house. He has the light of battle in his eye.’ Waugh claimed that ‘Unhappily the cypher group got it wrong & it arrived “light of BOTTLE”. All too true.’

–The Daily Express publishes a listing of the favorite 6 books of Charles Spencer, author, broadcaster, 9th Earl and uncle to Prince William and Harry. At the top of his list is:

PUT OUT MORE FLAGS Evelyn Waugh ( Penguin Classics, £ 9.99) I reread this masterpiece of black comedy as Covid- 19 appeared. Waugh’s targets in this 1942 novel – the bogus “experts” and the profiteers who appear at times of crisis – still resonate strongly today.

–Jane Shilling writes in the Daily Telegraph about the effect of COVID-19 restrictions on returning university students:

For students, the real loss will be of life lessons not to be found in the seminar room or the library. Of these, the first to go will be permission to be silly. For countless generations of undergraduates, a degree has offered a brief window of freedom through which to explore new experiences, meet new people, make mistakes and learn how to be a grown-up. It is a process that often involves a certain amount of boisterious behaviour – “its naughtiness high in the catalogue of grave sins”, as Evelyn Waugh put it in Brideshead Revisited. But in the shadow of Covid, tolerance of student peccadilloes promises to be sharply curtailed.

–A local newsblog from the Sevenoaks Chamber of Commerce also quotes Waugh about the beginning of the school year:

“It is typical of Oxford … to start the new year in Autumn.” As August turned to September, the weather has definitely taken an autumnal turn and the Summer holidays are long forgotten as we go into “back to school” mode. Even if you don’t have any connections to school-age children, the calendar continues to revolve around the 3 term system.

My quote actually comes from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and it does raise a good point; who came up with the new academic year starting in the Autumn? Oxford and Cambridge certainly have their idiosyncrasies and special terminology as we’ve discussed before in this blog. While the Autumn term is known as the Michaelmas term in Oxford, it follows the standard UK convention of making a fresh start in September.

Waugh himself did not matriculate in Michaelmas Term. He started in January (Hilary Term). Although he was not to know it at the beginning of his student career, this would later cost him the award of a degree. He took his finals in the summer at the end of his 8th term and passed with a low third. This resulted in loss of his scholarship at Hertford College, and his father refused to pay the fees for his 9th term which was necessary to fulfill residency requirements. This may have had more to do with Evelyn’s prodigious debts than with the poor exam results. His father (New College) had also graduated from Oxford with a third-class degree.

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Downside Abbey to Close

In a recent article, The Tablet announced that the Benedictine Abbey at Downside would be closed, after having previously been separated from the public school on the same site in Somerset. The school will remain on the site but the abbey will move to a new location:

The decision comes soon after the abbey and its monastic community completely separated from Downside School, a move that followed a 2018 investigation by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) into abuse at both Downside and Ampleforth. At Downside IICSA found a “culture of acceptance of abusive behaviour” that prioritised monks’ reputations over the safety of children.

In September 2019 the Charity Commission approved the creation of a new charity to run Downside School, while the abbey was to continue as Downside Abbey General Trust. No monk from the Community was allowed to have a role in the charity that ran the school.

A spokesperson said today that the separation of the abbey and the school had enabled the Monastic Community to concentrate on discerning their future. “They have now unanimously decided to make a new start and to seek a new place to live.”

In a statement the Community said that the shrinking monastic community and “changing circumstances” mean that the current monastery buildings are no longer suitable.

Another article by James Baresel explains Evelyn Waugh’s longtime attachment to both the abbey and the school. This appears on the website

Downside, as the senior community within the English Benedictine congregation, took its place as an important influence within 19th century England’s Catholic revival. Its school rose steadily to the top, the Benedictines eventually overtook even the then-rigorous Jesuits as their country’s true masters of Catholic education. Its architecture was at the forefront of the neo-Gothic movement and has since been declared a Grade I building by England’s National Heritage Trust.

Such centrality to English Catholic life continued well into the 20th century. One of its monks, Dom Hubert van Zeller, ranked among the more popular spiritual writers of mid-20th century England and was a friend of both Monsignor Ronald Knox (for whom he also served as a confessor) and Evelyn Waugh (who frequently made retreats at the monastery and sent one of his sons to its school).

Waugh sent his oldest son Auberon to the Downside School but his second son, James, was sent to Stonyhurst (another Roman Catholic school). Septimus Waugh, his youngest son, mentions in a recent article in The Tablet that he was also educated at Downside. See previous post. The Downside School kindly hosted the Evelyn Waugh Society’s 2011 conference. Waugh’s last work published in his lifetime was a review of Dom van Zeller’s autobiography One Foot in the Cradle. This appeared in the Downside Review (April 1966). Waugh died on 10 April 1966.

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Evelyn’s Last Dance

Duncan McLaren has posted two articles in his Brideshead Festival series in which Evelyn Waugh ponders the contents of the last two volumes of Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time. These are Temporary Kings (1973) and Hearing Secret Harmonies (1975). McLaren (or an imagined Waugh) begins the Temporary Kings essay with this observation about how the settings of these final installments fit in with the rest of Powell’s novel:

Temporary Kings is set in the late 1950s, ten years on from Books Do Furnish a Room. In other words, a much larger gap between books than hitherto in the series. Time is speeding up. And we know what happens, in human terms, when time speeds up. People slow down. They get old and drop dead. But, no, this novel, although touching on death, is not about death. Perhaps the last book in the series would be. Evelyn has not read that yet. If nothing else, he is going about his reading systematically.

This carries on in the HSH essay:

Heinemann published [HSH] in 1975, so it was largely written in 1974, when Tony was in his 69th year. As in the 11th book in the series, the action has moved on several years, on this occasion from the late fifties to the mid-sixties. Time having speeded up considerably from that experienced in the first ten volumes. […] It did not seem to be an old man that was writing Temporary Kings. It may be an old man who is responsible for Hearing Secret Harmonies. Time will tell.

Waugh continues to see similarities between Powell’s character Kenneth Widmerpool and himself. He doesn’t suggest that Powell in any way intended to base the character on Waugh. Rather, that it simply comes out that way. He also finds similarities, equally unintended, between Widmerpool and his characters Apthorpe in Men at Arms and Ambrose Silk in Put Out More Flags. He compares the plot device of the Venice writers conference in Temporary Kings with the one he created in Spain for Scott-King’s Modern Europe. The most interesting of the comparisons from the HSH volume are between the wedding scene in which Widmerpool appears unannounced and the wedding scene in Powell’s memoirs where he actually encountered Waugh for the last time in 1964:

Evelyn tries to calculate whether he would have made a better or worse impression on wedding guests than Widmerpool had done in Hearing Secret Harmonies. Worse, probably. Though he hadn’t got down on his hands and knees and asked forgiveness of anyone. Though if Dudley Carew had been there that day, he would have been tempted. The poor man had been his best friend during Lancing schooldays, but Evelyn had thoughtlessly insulted him in 1965’s A Little Learning.

In the Temporary Kings essay, similar comparisons are made and the best in my opinion is his discussion of how Pamela Flitton reminds Waugh of Barbara Skelton (who Powell admitted was his model for the character). He also takes time to comment on the collage Powell created in his cellar’s boiler room beginning about the time Waugh made his last visit to the Powells in the early 1960s:

Apparently, in late 1964, Tony was working on The Soldier’s Art – the eighth book in the Dance, set in 1941 – in the morning, and he would work on the boiler-room collage in the afternoon, covering walls, pipework, doors and ceiling. What was Evelyn doing by this time at Combe Florey, within relatively easy visiting distance? He was longing for death. True, he had cut up illustrations from a volume of Canova in order to make illustrations for Love Among the Ruins, but that had been in 1953. […] It is said that Tony worked on the collage for decades. So it seems reasonable that he was working on it in 1972, when writing Temporary Kings. The ceiling is as densely covered as the other surfaces. Would that be Pamela Widmerpool up there on the right? Or on the left, but the wrong way round? Why not?

In an earlier paragraph Waugh makes a connection with Widmerpool as cuckold, as was illustrated in the fictional paintings by Tiepolo which take up a major chapter in Temporary Kings. This reminds Waugh of his own cuckolding by John Heygate that ended his first marriage, although unlike the Waugh cuckold, the Widmerpool version gets his jollies from watching his wife have sex with other men.

Evelyn wonders at what stage in Widmerpool’s life he began to obsess over letting other people have sex with his wife. Perhaps the masochistic urge had been there from the start. There is a scene in A Question of Upbringing where Widmerpool seems to get pleasure from being hit in the face with a banana, if only because it had been thrown at him by a boy of high status.

In Evelyn’s own case, an obsession with being cuckolded may have begun with John Heygate’s relationship with She-Evelyn. In 1936, Heygate had written him a letter apologising for what he’d done. Evelyn had replied ‘OK E.W.’ But it hadn’t been OK, not by a long chalk.

Whether this brings Duncan’s series of articles in the Brideshead Festival stream to an end is not clear. In the concluding paragraphs, Waugh is reminded of the last stanza of the 10 Little Oxford Men ditty:

‘One little Oxford man, reading just for fun. He read right up himself, and then there were none.’

But by then he is on his way to one of the rooms at Castle Howard where, he hopes, he will find his friends having drinks and conversation with each other. He further anticipates that by now Anthony Powell will have joined the others and [spoiler alert] he can get a laugh with a new character he has named Waughmerpool in a novel cycle to be called “A Waughltz to the Music of Time”. The essays are available here (Temporary Kings) and here (Hearing Secret Harmonies).




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Another Look at Brideshead

Literary critic Eleanor Doughty has taken another look at Brideshead Revisited on the occasion of the book’s 75th anniversary and doesn’t particularly like what she finds. This essay is published in The Critic and is entitled: “A little too mature: In Brideshead, the overriding feeling is that surely the punchline is to come. It never does.” Although she is a keen fan of Waugh’s work, she didn’t much like this novel the first time she read it and likes it even less now. She thinks this may be due to the fact that Brideshead lacks the humor of his earlier novels. After explaining why she likes his early books such as Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies, she describes why she does not feel the same about Brideshead:

After six cracking novels in a row, a dedicated reader might imagine that this would be just as funny. Alas, it is tortured, too serious. Dare I say, it is dry — not the writing, though this is sometimes overbearing and schmaltzy, but the content. […]

In the 1959 preface to a new edition of the book, Waugh wrote: “It was impossible to foresee, in the spring of 1944, the present cult of the English country house. It seemed then that the ancestral seats which were our chief national artistic achievement were doomed to decay like the monasteries in the sixteenth century.” I think of this often, but it is not becoming of a novel that a preface to a revision is what is most memorable.

Brideshead isn’t a book for a Sunday afternoon in the sun, or for a medium-length train journey. It is overly preoccupied with Catholicism. Even Waugh’s friend, the late Christopher Sykes, a cradle Catholic, worried about this. “I have often wondered what I would make of it if I was not a Catholic,” he wrote in his 1975 biography of Waugh. “The book [is] … deficient because solely addressed to believing Catholics and admirers of the Catholic Church. The general reader is left in the cold.”

Kingsley Amis, interviewed as part of the BBC’s Arena programme about Waugh in 1987, identifies one of the novel’s troubles — that “the nobs are seen uncritically, not so much that they get away with behaving badly, as they get away with behaving very boringly. Every time I read it, I say surely there must be more to Sebastian Flyte than that he is rich, aristocratic and Roman Catholic, but there isn’t.” In Brideshead, the overriding feeling is that surely the punchline is to come. It never does.

Doughty is not the first Waugh admirer to find Brideshead’s religious passages a barrier to appreciation of the book. But the good news is that, once you have read the book, with a little effort, you can leave out the more overwrought passages from future readings. This means pencilling through some paragraphs but you really lose only a few pages and none of the story, and what you have left is a very funny book. You don’t need to cut out the religious theme entirely, just where it goes over the top, such as Julia’s meltdown at the fountain and Lord Marchmain’s death. Some of Charles Ryder’s anti-catholic hectoring can be dispensed with as well.

Doughty ends her article on another downer:

Had I begun with Brideshead, I don’t know whether my love affair with Waugh would have ever started. I’m not sure I’d have jokingly described myself as the “Waugh correspondent” for the newspaper I worked for, or tortured my undergraduate tutor through a dissertation on his work. What a disappointment it would have been — not at all the thing for a teenager, or anyone seeking solace in literature.

I wrote on its seventieth anniversary that Brideshead was a bit of a bore. If anything, it has matured a little too much with age.

If an edited Brideshead doesn’t work, then perhaps one just shouldn’t re-read it.  But then, you will miss what is some very fine comic and descriptive writing and a story which is well told even if it ends unhappily. And, to be fair, Charles Ryder didn’t really deserve a happy ending.

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Waugh-Commissioned Artist in New Book and Exhibition

An artist commissioned by Evelyn Waugh to paint a work entitled The Pleasures of Travel 1951 is about to receive new critical attention. Thus is Richard Eurich who painted the work for Waugh to accompany two Victorian works with a similar ironic theme.  Copies of all three paintings appear in the collection Evelyn Waugh and His World (1973).

As explained in a recent Country Life article, Eurich made his name with his paintings of the evacuation of Dunkirk and other WWII subjects. His early career and education are also described:

Richard Ernst Eurich was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, the son of a distinguished bacteriologist, himself a second or third generation Bradfordian. […]

As a teenager, his precocity gained him an introduction to the Horton-Fawkes family, descendants of Turner’s patron Walter Fawkes, and he used to bicycle north to their home, Farnley Hall, to look at their collection of the master’s work. Eurich recorded some years later that ‘Turner has always been my very own particular god’.

Another early influence was the […] work by the avant-garde Yugoslav sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. Eurich attended Bradford College of Arts and Crafts from 1920 to 1924, before winning an exhibition to the Slade. By this time, he had added Cézanne to his pantheon of heroes, provoking Prof Tonks to comment in one of his reports: ‘This student is being influenced by painters who have not been dead long enough to be respectable.’

In London, he met Sir Edward Marsh, Sir Winston Churchill’s private secretary and a generous patron of young artists. Apart from purchasing pictures, Marsh introduced him to the work of Christopher Wood, whose influence is clearly evident in Eurich’s 1932 self-portrait, Green Shirt, with its uncompromisingly direct vision and bold brushstrokes, as well as in the simplified handling of its maritime background.

After a description of Eurich’s WWII paintings, the article briefly mentions his postwar works, of which:

…none is more strange than The Pleasures of Travel 1951, commissioned by Evelyn Waugh as a companion piece to two satirical works that he already owned — The Pleasures of Travel 1751 and The Pleasures of Travel 1851 — by the Victorian artist Robert Musgrave Joy. The former depicts a stage coach being held up by highwaymen; the latter passengers in a crowded railway carriage being told their journey was seriously delayed. Eurich’s take was air travellers panicking as one of the aeroplane’s engines catches fire.

The exhibition in London is intended to celebrate the publication of a book on Eurich’s work. This entitled The Art of Richard Eurich by Andrew Lambirth and is published this month by Lund Humphries (£40). Waugh’s painting as well as several others are also nicely illustrated in the Country Life article. Information about the exhibition, that will extend for two weeks from 21 September-3 October 2020 at Waterhouse & Dodd, Savile Row, is available here. Whether Waugh’s painting will displayed in the exhibition is not stated.

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Heroes and “Hard-Faced Men”

In yesterday’s Times an opinion column by Libby Purves was headed: “We’ll remember Covid’s heroes and villains: Companies and individuals should know that the stigma of having behaved badly during this crisis will be long-lasting”. This contained a discussion of which companies and individuals fell into which category. The story opened with this

Waking up with a Gilbert and Sullivan song in your head is rarely explicable or useful but there was satisfaction this weekend in humming: “I’ve got a little list!/I’ve got a little list. Of society offenders . . . who never would be missed!” One day we shall be out of this medico-political quagmire and be able to look back and judge it. Politicians are constantly evaluated elsewhere, so leave them out for now: try listing more widely not just Covid’s heroes but its villains. The type Evelyn Waugh called “hard-faced men who did well out of the war”.

In today’s edition this letter appeared:

Sir, Aged just 15 at the time, Evelyn Waugh would have been a highly precocious political commentator had he described the 1918 intake of new MPs as “hard-faced men who did well out of the war” (Libby Purves, Sep 14). That description was, in fact, coined by Stanley Baldwin. As a man who anonymously donated 20 per cent of his personal wealth to help pay off the country’s First World War debts, Baldwin recognised meanness of spirit when he saw it.
Rob Maynard


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