Evelyn Waugh Studies 52.2 (Fall 2021)

The latest issue of the Society’s journal, Evelyn Waugh Studies, has been distributed to the membership. This is issue Ne. 52.2 (Fall 2021). A slightly edited summary  by the Society’s Secretary, Jamie Collinson, that accompanied the distribution, is set forth below:

Opening the proceedings, our own Jeffrey Manley reviews the career of the American Waugh scholar Robert Murray Davis. Next up is a short, funny and generally brilliant recollection of a visit to Combe Florey in 1963 by John Stathatos. Combining military special ops, a quintessential Waugh putdown and Wagner, what more could you ask for? Jonathan Pitcher reviews Kingsley Amis: Antimodels and the Audience, by Andrew James. For my money, Waugh is the clear antecedent for the comic genius of Lucky Jim, and it’s good to see Amis make an appearance here. His interviews for Nicholas Shakespeare’s Arena documentaries were fascinating.Finally, Jeffrey Manley closes proceedings with a review of Writing in the Dark: Bloomsbury, the Blitz and Horizon Magazine, by Will Loxley. As the present company will doubtless know, Horizon played a key role in literary life around the Second World War, and was satirized to great effect in the Sword of Honour trilogy.The reference to Horizon reminds me of the EWS’ activity at the Huntington Library’s Waugh seminar in 2017. It was there that a fellow member advised me to read Anthony Powell, who fictionalized Horizon equally brilliantly in A Dance to the Music of Time. I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t attended – one of many reasons I’m glad I did. I very much hope that we can all get together in person before too very long.

A copy will be posted on this site in due course.

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Post-Thanksgiving Roundup

–10 December will mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Christopher Hitchens. This is commemorated in the Financial Times by an article entitled “The World Christopher Hitchens Left Behind”. This is by Janan Ganash who might have used as a subtitle “Where is Christopher Hitchens Now that we Need Him?”. After considering how Hitchens might have taken on several present-day issues, Ganash concludes:

…his devotion to the western canon was not an appendage to his politics, but its reinforcement. Grasp the complexity of an individual, as rendered by a novelist, and all ideologies look absurd. “Politics is the great generaliser,” said Philip Roth, “and literature the great particulariser.” Hitchens read Evelyn Waugh and (one of his last reviews) GK Chesterton more closely and sensitively than most of the fatheads who happened to share their politics. If, in the end, he spat them out, it was only after a discerning swill.

None of which is to canonise him. He never wrote a great book. Like Gore Vidal, to whom he was both dauphin and rival, he couldn’t say no to a deft but glib epigram. He didn’t account for or even wholly renounce his Trotskyism, and flounced out of one interview (with Matthew Parris, the greater 1949-born journalist, to my mind) when pressed on it. […] As for the right, he would have met them beyond the comfort zone of liberal talk shows (to whom, at one point, he gave the literal finger) in Red America. His godless evangelism was so potent precisely because it engaged pastors on their own southern and Midwestern turf.

It is just a shame that Anglo-America only really came off its hinges when he was no longer around to try to right it. In tribal times, his speeches and essays impart the only lesson worth teaching to those who care for truth and its dazzling expression. Never, ever join a team.

–The New Statesman has posted the copy of a 1978 review written by Kingsley Amis in which Amis reconsiders Waugh’s debut novel Decline and Fall. Here’s the New Statesman’s introduction:

Here, in the first of an occasional series of New Statesman articles on 20th-century writers, Kingsley Amis revisits Evelyn Waugh’s “Decline and Fall”. Amis had read the 1928 novel dozens of times. It was, he wrote, a book “written for me, and not for some porcelain-collecting multilingual gourmet”. The book has been considered “satire”, but Amis understood this term as being “more usefully reserved for pieces purposefully deriding vice or folly”; Waugh’s novel contains just some “incidental touches” of satire. The book should not be straightforwardly declared a “statement”, either; “No novel is a statement, and we should try to fight against making inferences about its author’s state of mind,” Amis writes. What a critic can do, and what Waugh was in need of when writing “Decline and Fall”, Amis suggests, was “something that offered an explanation of or an excuse for the horrors of existence”.

The full article can be read at this link.

–The Irish Times in a story about the appointment of Ralf Rangnick at Manchester United football club as “interim” manager makes an allusion to a character from Decline and Fall:

It is Rangnick’s personality as much as his background that makes this such a startling turn. There has already been a great deal of poring over his familiar lines, quotes and quips in the last few days. What emerges from that patchwork is a slightly comedic figure, something along the lines of Evelyn Waugh’s German modernist architect professor Otto Silenus, who sees human beings as flawed mechanical designs, who says things such as “the only perfect building must be the factory, because that is built to house machines not men”. Going by his pre-publicity it would be no surprise to see Rangnick take his first press conference standing motionless behind a synthesiser wreathed in dry ice and mumbling about being a robot.

–The Catholic Herald in an essay entitled “Joy of Unexpected Things” by Kenneth Craycraft uses quotes from Brideshead Revisited to illustrate facets of Roman Catholic beliefs. This opens with a quote from a dialogue between Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte and ends with a quote from a dialogue between Charles and Lady Marchmain:

…“But my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all,” accuses Charles. “I mean about the Christmas star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”

“Oh, yes, I believe that,” Sebastian replies. “It’s a lovely idea.”

“But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea,” Charles exclaims.

“But I do,” answers Sebastian. “That’s how I believe.”

Charles thinks he is testing the reasonableness of Sebastian’s personal belief. In fact, however, he is imposing a rationalist conceit on the Catholic faith to which Sebastian adheres. In doing so, Charles confuses the tenets of the faith with the means by which one embraces it. And by using Christmas motifs in the dialogue, Waugh illustrates his own acute understanding of the difference. […]

Later in Brideshead Charles has a similar conversation with Sebastian’s mother, Lady Marchmain, in which Charles alludes to “a camel and the eye of a needle”. In reply, Lady Marchman says, “But of course it’s very unexpected for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, but the gospel is simply a catalogue of unexpected things. It’s not to be expected that an ox and an ass would worship at the crib… It’s all part of the poetry, the Alice-in-Wonderland side of religion.”

Thus, Christmas. It is a time to celebrate the Wonderful Exchange through the lovely ideas of unexpected things.

Quadrant, an Australian literary journal, has an essay by Cardinal George Pell entitled “Religion, Barbarism and the Fall of the Roman Empire”. Here’s the opening:

Evelyn Waugh’s novel Helena tells the story of the mother of Constantine, the first Christian emperor in Rome, who granted religious toleration to the Christian minority (10 per cent?) in 313 AD.

The remainder of the article is behind a paywall but presumably makes additional references to Waugh’s novel. The article may, indeed, be related to the subject of this year’s Thomas More lecture that Cardinal Pell will deliver at the Newman Society in Oxford on 13 November. This is discussed in the current issue of the Catholic Herald in an article entitled “The Ordeal of Cardinal Pell”. The article is written by William Cash who notes that Cardinal Pell is in England to deliver the lecture. The article also explains that the Cardinal was recently unlawfully imprisoned in his Australian homeland for 400 days only to be released by a unanimous acquittal order of the Supreme Court:

In prison, he watched England play Australia at cricket along with reading the Bible and Thomas More. He was also sustained by reading books including The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold by Evelyn Waugh. He also enjoyed watching Songs of Praise on television. He was unable to celebrate Mass for all of his 400-plus days, with the closest he came to traditional carols at Christmas being a Vietnamese choir that had gathered outside the prison walls on Christmas Day – but alas, he didn’t hear them.

After reporting about the Cardinal’s experiences during his imprisonment, Cash continues:

… the major theme of his Newman lecture [will be] the decline and fall of faith. Matthew Arnold’s only book that remains in print is Culture and Anarchy (1869), and Pell seizes on this theme in his lecture. He uses Waugh’s reason for converting in 1930 – faced with a choice between “Christianity or chaos”, he chooses the former as society disintegrates.

Pell used to prefer Graham Greene to Waugh but has changed his mind and was pleased that he was to be shown around the Wallace Collection by a member of the Waugh family.

The title of the lecture is “The Suffering Church in a Post-Christian Society” which sounds a bit broader than the topic of the Quadrant article. Tickets for the lecture are sold out but further information is available at this link.

–Finally, a familiar Waugh quote has recently made the rounds of the American papers. This may have originated in a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on 18 November:

The Republican Party of Wyoming has formally banished Rep. Liz Cheney from its ranks. This decision calls to mind Evelyn Waugh’s remark when told that Winston Churchill’s son, a politician and journalist, had undergone surgery for a benign tumor: “A typical triumph of modern science to find the only part of Randolph that was not malignant and remove it.” Saying she is not a Republican is like saying Kim is not a Kardashian.


Posted in Brideshead Revisited, Catholicism, Decline and Fall, Helena, Lectures, Newspapers, Oxford, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brideshead and Beatles

A feature length article about the making of the 1981  Brideshead Revisited TV series appears in the Sunday Post (Dundee). This is by John Macleod and is entitled “Brideshead Recelebrated”. It is, indeed, another celebration of that event’s 40th anniversary. After a discussion of the generally low cultural level of British network TV in the 1970s and how Granada stole the march on BBC over the Brideshead adaptation, the article addresses the extraordinary production problems that had to be overcome:

The show was going to be expensive to make and, in an era dominated by coarse, gritty, contemporary urban drama, would the public really want this fey period-piece? Michael Lindsay-Hogg has never forgotten the day, in the high summer of 1978, when Derek Granger asked him round for a drink. “Look,” he said, “Evelyn Waugh. Brideshead Revisited. Have you ever read it?…well, the thing is, Granada’s going to do it for television. I’m producing. Do you want to direct it?”

There followed eight months of casting, costuming, and wrestling with a central problem – a script commissioned at no small cost from John Mortimer.It was, they feared, too flip, too thin and, bravely, they binned it. Granger and his team returned to the novel, mining it wholesale – 95% of all the dialogue in the drama is by Evelyn Waugh. Yet Mortimer kept the fee, the screen-credit, and was even nominated for an Emmy.

Then, in August 1979, Jeremy Irons – who, as Charles Ryder, appears in almost every scene – was whipped away to make The French Lieutenant’s Woman, even as technical unions went on strike and effectively shut down ITV till the end of October. Granger’s shooting schedule, with all principal photography to be in the can by New Year 1980, was blown apart.Worse, Lindsay-Hogg – who, as the director of Beatles documentary Let It Be can be seen in Peter Jackson’s revelatory Fab Four series Get Back – was contracted to direct a film in the spring of 1980. There was no way out of it and, gutted, he had to walk away from Brideshead. To widespread alarm, the mantle fell on Charles Sturridge. He was tireless, charming and had most original ideas – but the new director was only 28 and had never shot anything more demanding than a few episodes of Crown Court and Coronation Street.

“My God, it’s a schoolboy,” gasped Nickolas Grace, who plays the affected and stuttering Anthony Blanche.

“Don’t worry,” Jeremy Irons assured Phoebe Nicholls, cast as Cordelia. “If he’s not what he’s cracked up to be, we’ll just get rid of him.”

“The actors thought I was part of an insurance scam,” Sturridge later, ruefully remarked, “and my inexperience would cause the production to fall through.”

But he won their confidence – and, as for Phoebe Nicholls, in 1985 she married him. Their son, Tom Sturridge, is a noted actor. As it turned out, there was blessing in this hiatus. For one, Granger finally convinced Granada chief executive David Plowright that six hours of screen time could never do justice to the novel. His boss took the gamble: the drama was extended to 12 hours and with a budget to match…

The article continues with descriptions of the story and how it was adapted. This is followed by a detailed discussion of the critical reception of the production in both the British and American markets and concludes with this:

…Brideshead Revisited, Michael Lindsay-Hogg concludes, is “concerned not with costumed nostalgia or cliff-hangers or audience-grabbing surprises but with how life changes, how the dreams of youth alter and, in time, become a sterner reality.”

Charles Sturridge looks back gratefully. “The combination of Granada’s stubbornness, Derek’s confidence, a brilliant cast and my own unlikely mix of innocence and experience allowed something rarer. We got to make exactly what we thought.”

But, really, “what distinguishes Brideshead is its sensitive ability to translate the novel’s tone of wistfulness and regret to the screen,” concluded Time Magazine. “Brideshead took a novel and made it into a poem.”

The Sunday Post article has been posted on PressReader.com and can be viewed at this link.

Lindsay-Hogg is also interviewed by Casey Seiler in a recent issue of the Times-Union newspaper in Albany, NY. He now lives just south of Albany in Hudson, NY. That interview relates more to his earlier involvement with the 1969 Beatle’s film Let It Be which is mentioned in the Sunday Post article. That production was also plagued by problems not directly related to the actual making of the film itself:

Lindsay-Hogg’s documentary ended up a victim of the ex-Beatles’ mixed feelings about the project, which captured the escalating tensions within the band — including but not limited to guitarist George Harrison’s efforts to stake out a larger role as a songwriter. At one point, Harrison quietly quits the band for several weeks, and then returns. The project was also complicated by financial disputes within Apple Corps Ltd., the Beatles’ company, as Paul McCartney began to lose confidence in the leadership of the band’s imposing new manager Allen Klein.

“So we have a movie which was shot before they broke up, and then was put on the shelf for a while for a lot of internal reasons,” said Lindsay-Hogg, who began directing the Beatles’ video clips with “Paperback Writer” in 1966. “And then it’s released when they’re broken up — and everyone thinks, ‘Oh, it’s the breakup movie. This is what we’ve been having nightmares about for such a long time: Mommy and Daddy are broken up.’ And so it was regarded as this kind of slightly soiled remnant of what had been a glorious four or five years when the Beatles had taken over the world.”

The “Let It Be” film was ultimately pulled from release, and in recent decades has circulated primarily in bootlegs and ancient VHS tapes. “It was slightly put under the carpet by Apple,” Lindsay-Hogg said.

The Let It Be filming forms much of the story in the Peter Jackson streaming series Get Back now appearing on the Disney+ channel. Lindsay-Hogg also explains his involvement in that production in the Times-Union article.

Posted in Adaptations, Anniversaries, Brideshead Revisited, Interviews, Newspapers, Television | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Septimus Waugh: Reminiscence

The Tablet’s latest issue has a reminiscence of the late Septimus Waugh. This appears in the “Word from the Cloister” column and is based on an interview of Jimmy Burns, journalist and member of The Tablet’s board. He was a friend of Septimus, and his father Tom Burns was a friend of Evelyn Waugh as well as (for a brief period) his publisher. The column is appropriately headed “Fathers and sons”. As explained in the article, Tom Burns:

was the driving force behind Waugh’s biography of Edmund Campion, published in 1936. When the Spanish Civil War broke out later that year, “My father and Waugh both supported Franco,” Jimmy says. “Waugh’s sister-in-law Gabriel Herbert, one of my father’s girlfriends prior to his marriage, drove an ambulance and raised funds for the nationalist cause.”

Tom Burns worked for Longmans, Green, which also published Waugh in Abyssinia. Waugh blamed Burns for the punnish title of that book which he himself disliked. As the article explains, both Burns and Waugh applied to work for the MoI at the beginning of WWII. Waugh was rejected and went into the army while Burns was accepted and sent to Spain where he met the woman who was to become his wife and Jimmy’s mother. Jimmy notes that relations became rather frayed after this marriage:

“Of my father’s young Castilian bride, Waugh wrote in his diary in February 1946: ‘swarthy, squat, Japanese appearance’. My mother, hardly surprisingly, thought Waugh was racist, a snob, and a misogynist, a sentiment that was compounded when Waugh, invited shortly after to dinner at my parents’ house, complained about the smell of garlic coming from the kitchen and made fun of the young Spanish maid who served at the table.”

The article goes on to compare Jimmy’s recollections of his own less fraught friendship with Waugh’s youngest son. This sometimes involved shared holidays, including one in Spain as recently as 2019 that Jimmy fondly recalls:

“Over a magnificent paella we recalled Evelyn’s connection with Spain long before we were born.” Waugh visited Catalonia for the first time in 1929 during a stopover on his Mediterranean cruise trip before the breakdown of his first marriage. He was impressed by the various examples of Gaudí’s works, not least the Sagrada Familia. “It seems certain to me that it will always remain a ruin, and very dangerous, unless the towers are removed before they fall,” Waugh wrote. As the sun went down, Septimus and Jimmy shared memories of their fathers, “aware of how much we owed them but also of what differentiated us from them,” as Jimmy tactfully puts it.

After mentioning several of Septimus’s better known wooden carvings, the article concludes:

“I will miss dear Sepo hugely,” Jimmy tells us. “Que en Paz Descanses, querido amigo!”


Posted in Bibliophilia, Diaries, Edmund Campion, Interviews, Newspapers, Waugh Family, Waugh in Abyssinia | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Roundup: From Party Going to Boredom

–A recent issue of Financial Times contains a “Weekend Essay” on the return of the party, to London and New York at least. This is by Alex Bilmes who is editor of Esquire. After reminiscing about how party going shut down during the Covid pandemic, Bilmes notes how things began to change in September:

If socialising and entertaining hasn’t quite returned to pre-pandemic levels, then certainly we have come a long way in a short period. In the past month I’ve been to restaurants, and concerts, and the ballet, and the theatre, and the cinema, and the pub, and other people’s houses. And parties, I have been to parties. Book parties, launch parties, dinner parties, leaving parties, birthday parties, office parties, after-parties, after-after-parties.

A gradual build up in party going during September-October is then described, and the article concludes with this:

“Masked parties, Savage parties, Victorian parties, Greek parties, Wild West parties, Russian parties, Circus parties, parties where one had to dress as somebody else, almost naked parties in St John’s Wood, parties in flats and studios and houses and ships and hotels and night clubs, in windmills and swimming-baths, tea parties at school where one ate muffins and meringues and tinned crab, parties at Oxford where one drank brown sherry and smoked Turkish cigarettes, dull dances in London and comic dances in Scotland and disgusting dances in Paris . . . ”

That, as every well-read reveller surely knows, is Evelyn Waugh, from Vile Bodies, his effervescent satire on the Bright Young Things, those libertines of the 1920s. Our present decade, you will remember if you search your dimmest and most distant memories, was heralded, a scant two years ago, as a likely rerun of the Roaring Twenties. Like latter-day Daisies and Jays, we were all set to dance ourselves silly, high on fizz. So far, it hasn’t worked out that way. But there is time. Most decades don’t really get going, don’t become fully themselves, until they are well under way. As I prepared to press “send” on this story, my phone buzzed with a WhatsApp from my friend Laura. It was a photo of her as a child beneath the sentence: “Join me for my belated 50th (Plus One Year).” Then, the details: a famous Soho nightspot, next Friday, from 6pm until whenever. I replied succinctly: “Bring it on.”

–Craig Brown in the Mail on Sunday reviews a new book by historian Jane Ridley, George V: Never a Dull Moment. The review opens with this:

Who could have imagined a biography of King George V would share its name with an album by Rod Stewart?

Of course, the title is a bit of a tease. For years, the Queen’s grandfather has been regarded as deadly dull. Even his official biographer, Harold Nicolson, privately considered him ‘a stupid old bore’.

Tommy Lascelles, latterly the King’s assistant private secretary, agreed that ‘He WAS dull, beyond dispute…’ before adding, in a phrase that gives this book its title, ‘but my God, his REIGN (politically and internationally) never had a dull moment’.

I suppose you could argue that George V carried his dullness to such a peak that it became interesting.[…]

Evelyn Waugh once observed that the presence of Royalty was ‘as heavy as thunder in the drawing room’.

The quote comes from Vile Bodies, Chapter Eight.

–A Daily Mail weblog (mailplus.co.uk) has posted a story by Liz Jones entitled “It’s true you can laugh a woman into bed – so give me a call, Ricky Gervais!” See link. After considering how many men she knows who are funny enough to be seductive, she concludes:

There aren’t even many funny male writers. Clever – William Boyd, Evelyn Waugh – but not self-deprecating and tragic and therefore truly funny. Jack Lemmon is an exception, both handsome and funny. I would force him to make me spaghetti using a tennis racket (The Apartment) and repeat, ‘And bring your yacht!’ (Some Like It Hot) over and over again.

Real humour comes out of pathos, of being able to admit you are ridiculous, a failure, depressed (Tony Hancock, Leonard Rossiter et al.) and not conventionally sexy at all. And not many men are brave enough to want to do that.

The Spectator has posted its “Books of the Year” from the December Spectator World edition. Madeleine Kearns (who is a staff writer at the National Review) has chosen as one of her three selections Waugh’s Edmund Campion: A Life. She explains that the book “is as gripping and eloquent as any of his novels–good enough even to inspire a fondness for Jesuits.” I couldn’t find that selection in the UK version of the magazine, and Kearns has cited a US edition from Ignatius Press that is probably not available in the UK. The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh edition from OUP is eagerly awaited.

–The National Catholic Register has posted a brief article on Waugh’s final wishes. This was, according to the article: “I should like people in their charity to pray for my soul as a sinner.” After a brief discussion of the circumstances of Waugh’s death, the article addresses the most frequent sin of which Waugh would likely have been guilty: sloth (sometimes referred to, according to the article, as acedia or ennui, which is usually, in my experience, rendered into English as boredom):

Call it a weariness with life, or just plain boredom. In Work Suspended, Waugh’s only unfinished novel, the narrator of the story says of another character that he was “still smarting with the ruthless boredom of my last two or three meetings with him.” Ruthless boredom. Now there’s a combination of words which only a serious sufferer of the malaise could put together.

I am confident that if one searched diligently there would be other sins that might be addressed but perhaps it is fair to say that this is the one that would have been most prevalent.

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John Saumarez Smith (1943-2021) R.I.P.

John Saumarez Smith who was widely considered as the last of London’s “gentleman booksellers” has died at the age of 78. He was the son of an Indian Civil Service family and graduate of Winchester and Trinity College, Cambridge. After university, he joined the Heywood Hill Bookstore in Mayfair. Waugh had become a loyal customer when Nancy Mitford worked there during the war. He continued to trade there under the management of Heywood Hill’s successor, Handasyde Buchanan, who was a fairly frequent correspondent. According to The Times obituary:

The core group of original customers after it opened in 1936 were associates and admirers of writers such as Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell and Graham Greene, assisted by Nancy Mitford who worked in the shop during the Second World War. Waugh reminisced that Heywood Hill was “a centre for all that was left of fashionable and intellectual London”.

It certainly appealed to literary aristocrats and spies, especially as Trumper’s, the smartest London barbers, were next door, as was Leconfield House, then the headquarters of MI5. David Cornwell, aka John le Carré, was a customer and was browsing in the shop one day when someone came in who he wanted to avoid. Saumarez Smith helped him flee, sending him into the basement and then leading him up into the private courtyard at the rear. Le Carré recreated this scene in the BBC TV version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, with George Smiley doing the escape through the Mayfair bookshop. […]

The atmosphere in the shop was poisonous between Handasyde Buchanan and Heywood Hill, to say the least, and is described in lapidary detail in two volumes edited by Saumarez Smith, The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street and A Spy in the Bookshop. Problems arose because Buchanan, who took over after Hill retired, resented Saumarez Smith’s superior Wykehamist manner. “The trouble is,” he bluntly told Saumarez Smith in 1969, “and you probably don’t realise this yourself, that you correct us all as if you were a headmaster, that your tone of voice becomes almost canonical.”

The Daily Telegraph obit offers a bit more detail about the relationship among Buchanan, Hill and Saumarez Smith:

… Buchanan turned out to be a pompous and patronising figure, whom Evelyn Waugh once described as possessing all “the concealed malice of the underdog”. Before long he and the even more malicious Mollie [his wife who also worked at the store] had succeeded in alienating both staff and customers. Hill retired in 1966 and retreated to Suffolk rather than endure the couple any longer.

His main contact thereafter was his young “spy in the bookshop”, Saumarez Smith (to whom, much to the Buchanans’ resentment, Hill was vaguely related by marriage). The Buchanans did all they could to make Saumarez Smith‘s life a misery. Yet he determined to stick it out, letting off steam by sending front-line dispatches to Hill.

Saumarez Smith was director of the bookstore from Buchanan’s retirement in 1974 until his own retirement in 2008. After that, he sold books from catalogues produced at Maggs Bros and later John Sandoe until mobility issues caused him to move to the Charterhouse Infirmary in 2018.

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Clarissa Churchill (1920-2021) R.I.P.

One of the last of Evelyn Waugh’s contemporary friends died yesterday. This is Clarissa Churchill.  Her father was Jack Churchill, Winston’s younger brother, and she was always close to Winston’s family. She grew up in a house in South Kensington which the two brothers shared. In 1952, she married Churchill’s Foreign Secretary and successor as Prime Minister, Anthony Eden. She acquired the title Countess of Avon when he became the Earl of Avon in 1961. It was this marriage that brought Evelyn Waugh most memorably into her life. As explained in the Daily Telegraph:

When she announced her engagement, her aunt Clementine Churchill expressed the view that Clarissa was too independent to make a suitable wife for a politician. Others were shocked by the fact that she was marrying one.

Evelyn Waugh suddenly confessed that he had been in love with her – “a rare treat which came my way now and again” – and opposed the match on the grounds that Eden was a divorcee and she was a Roman Catholic, albeit a lapsed one. He berated her: “Thousands have died and are dying today in torture for the Faith you have idly thrown aside.” Their friendship never recovered, but as she recalled: “Other Catholic friends were more civilised.”

The Telegraph’s obituary is quite detailed but it does not explain how she came to be a Roman Catholic or when she allowed her Catholicism to lapse. According to an editorial note in Waugh’s collected letters (p. 378) she “had been brought up a Roman Catholic in a household that was not fervently religious.” But Waugh did rather carry  too far his persecution of her for her marriage, somewhat in the same manner in which he tormented John Betjeman for not following his wife Penelope into Roman Catholicism when she converted to that faith. It was not Waugh’s finest hour. See Letters, pp. 378, 381-82.

The Telegraph’s obituary opens with this introductory explanation of her acquaintanceship with Waugh and his circle of friends:

… A fragile-looking haute bohemian beauty in youth, with fair hair and pallid skin, she was also an intellectual with highly developed tastes in literature, art, music and design. Before her marriage she had received close attention from figures such as Evelyn Waugh, James Pope-Hennessy, Cecil Beaton, Cyril Connolly, Duff Cooper, Lord Berners, Lucian Freud, Greta Garbo and Isaiah Berlin. The list of those whose path she crossed in her early life ranged from Jean Cocteau and the composer Nicolas Nabokov to Edith Sitwell and Orson Welles. And these were not mere meetings. She read their books, studied their art and had a clear understanding of what they were trying to achieve…

According to the Telegraph, both Berners and Pope-Hennessy used her as a model for characters in their novels:

… she inspired the character of Emmeline Pocock in Lord Berners’s wartime book, Far From the Madding War. Berners described her thus: “The first impression was one of gentleness and modesty. Then you began to realise that she was extremely pretty.” […]

She was also the inspiration for Perdita, the heroine of James Pope-Hennessy’s book London Fabric, which was dedicated to Clarissa. Together they wandered round war-torn London, frequently disagreeing over the architectural gems visited.”

Pope-Hennessy described “Perdita” as looking “with her freshness and her swinging golden hair, like a Hans Andersen princess in a dungeon. It was hard to know what she was thinking. There is about her a withdrawn aloofness that just misses being haughty and widely misses being absurd. It is an unmodern quality, and I find it arresting.”

Pope-Hennessy was devoted to her, but her long friendship with him ended when she married, as his lifestyle proved too bohemian for Anthony Eden.

She was 101 when she died. Several other papers (Times, Daily Mail, Guardian) mention the Waugh connection but in less detail than the Telegraph. The Guardian obituary has the distinction of relating to a subject who outlived her obiturist. This was Cate Haste who died 25 April 2021 and had cooperated with Clarissa in the writing of her autobiography.

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Waugh on the Internet

–A discussion of Brideshead Revisited is scheduled for later today (13 November, 10am CST) on Meetup.comHere’s a link.

YouTube has posted a discussion of Evelyn Waugh’s work by two Dominican friars. This is episode 119 in a series called Godsplaining in which:”Fr. Gregory Pine and Fr. Bonaventure Chapman  discuss the work and wisdom of the author of Brideshead Revisited”. Here’s a link.

–A podcast interview of Daisy Waugh is posted from the series House of Mysteries on NBC. She discusses her book In the Crypt with a Candlestick which has been described in previous posts. Thanks to Dave Lull for sending this link.

Posted in Brideshead Revisited, Discussions, Interviews, Radio Programs, Waugh Family | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Michael Septimus Waugh: Eulogy

Alexander Waugh has kindly provided a copy of his eulogy delivered at yesterday’s requiem mass for his uncle, Septimus Waugh in Tiverton, Devon. This is posted in lieu of an obituary:

Septimus (known to many as ‘Seppo’) spent his last months bedridden and in certain knowledge of imminent death. Pilgrims to Halberton found him immobile yet cheerful, uncomplaining, stoic, humorous and loving – lifelong characteristics that he, with typical modestly, attributed at that time to the effects of palliative drugs. To the end his mind was occupied – listening with attention to his granddaughters’ accounts of their schooldays, reading a history of the formation of the welfare state, fixing what he perceived (not always correctly) to be other peoples’ problems, sending poignant valedictories to friends and family, reconciling with his Maker and arranging this, his funeral. ‘I have been entertained by receiving obituary letters that some have sent’, he wrote, ‘nothing like a bit of puff on one’s journey’.

In mid-July he sent me an email: ‘we have been discussing my funeral a bit though we have no clue when I will die, albeit weeks or months. Concerning eulogies it was thought that it would be good to have someone from the family and that you would be the ideal because of your silver tongue and our friendship through the years.’ I replied nervously: ‘It must feel very odd having the time, energy and inclination to prepare one’s own funeral. Of course I shall do anything that is asked of me and with much love in my heart. But would you not like to write something yourself? There is so much to say and all of it laudatory it will be impossible to whittle down the heroic and the wonderful into less than four hours. No eulogy should be saccharine so you will have to tell me a few of your faults to pepper the thing up a bit. I love you dearly and if you find it as hard as I do thinking of your faults, I shall entirely understand.’

Septimus bided his time before returning an unusual list, not of faults, but of four childhood actions of which he was ashamed:

1. When he was four years old he served as a red-Indian mascot to his older siblings as they pushed their brother James, dressed as a cowboy, into a wisteria.

2. He envied a steam powered rocket that James had been given for Christmas. ‘I wanted it’ he wrote, ‘but second best thing was to chase it into the shrubbery where it fell and smash it up with a rake.’

3. Aged eight he lost his temper with his mother in an altercation over a field mushroom and

4. At seventeen he attempted to bribe a border guard in Tanzania with a packet of cigarettes. ‘The officer’, he wrote ‘gave me a right royal tick off telling me that I was just an adolescent twit with misconceived imperialist ideas of what Africans were like and then having brought me down a peg he let me through with the 380 cigarettes.’

These minor transgressions were long since forgiven but it is interesting how they preyed on Septimus’s mind to the end. With hindsight each can be seen as a formative event. Of the African border incident Septimus wrote ‘it was then that I began to learn respect for my fellow man.’ The pushing of his brother into the wisteria turned him into an ardent and lifelong defender of the bullied against the bully. To quell his tantrum over the mushroom he was put in a bath of cold water from which he emerged reborn with such a peaceful and benevolent nature that never after lost its temper even when all about him were losing theirs. Atonement for smashing the rocket – destroying the very thing he loved – found artistic expression in the immortal effigies of George and the Dragon – not a scene of hatred between slayer and slayed as we are used to seeing it, but a benign love-in, finely and tenderly carved from a single block of chestnut. And was the destruction of James’s rocket not also connected to the song that he sang at so many annual family gatherings? ‘Where be that Blackbird to?’ with its curiously amended final line: ‘’Ee sees Oi and Oi sees ‘ee, with a girt big stick Oi’ll knock ‘ee down – Blackbird Oi loves ye!’

Septimus was born on 11 July 1950 at Pixton, the house of his maternal grandmother and was christened eight days later at St Stanislaus Catholic Church in Dulverton, where his carving of George and the Dragon is permanently displayed.

Evelyn Waugh’s attitude to his children has been crystallised in the public mind by an unfortunate remark committed to his diary: ‘My children weary me. I can only see them as defective adults: feckless, destructive, frivolous, sensual, humorless.’ Septimus remembered him wandering round the house chanting ‘Oh the hell of it, Oh the smell of it, Oh the hell of the family life’ but thought that typical of all fathers and remained ever loving and loyal to his memory. In 2016 he wrote in The Spectator ‘Certainly I was in awe of my father. This was less from fear than from a desire not to appear foolish in front of him. But in my teenage years I felt protective of him. He was fragile like a beautiful piece of china’. Unlike his brothers Septimus emerges from his father’s diaries and letters entirely unscathed. He is ‘dear little Septimus’, ‘Septimus whom God preserve’, ‘we have few pleasures to offer except the company of darling Septimus’, ‘Septimus is bright as a button’, ‘Septimus continues to give unusual delight’ etc, etc. To the indignation of his siblings he appeared also to be the favourite of their mother. So they taunted him by singing:

Why were you born so beautiful?

Why were you born so wise?

From his greenest years Septimus was blessed with a blithe, mischievous and independent spirit. He was only two years old when his father wrote:

“Spring is strangely affecting your brother Septimus. Yesterday he disappeared for three hours. Your Mother, Vera, Mrs Harper, both Mr Atwoods were in tears. Police, boy scouts, all the village were out searching for him. He was at last discovered singing outside a house two miles away. He was brought back in a coma from exhaustion. At dusk he was off again & caught by Vera opposite Lady Bowlby’s house striding among the buses & motor cars.”

For over half a year ‘little Septimus’ (six years old) was abandoned by his parents in Gloucestershire while they moved into Combe Florey. When he finally came to Somerset he was sent straight to St Joseph’s Catholic school in Taunton where he was caught spending money on sweets that was intended for bus fares. ‘God will punish you’ they said, ‘No he won’t because he’s nailed to a cross and can’t get down, and anyway I have confessed’. From St Josephs he was sent to Catholic boarding school near Shepton Mallett and put under the odious aegis of headmaster, F.H.R Dix, who had an arm crippled from caning boys too hard. His schooling ended at Downside at Stratton on the Fosse, where he joined a secret theological group at which a renegade monk furtively taught ‘God is Love’ through a curtain in the Chemistry Labs.

It was this same message (‘God is Love’) that seventeen-year-old Septimus surely brought to Tanzania where for two terms he gave 23-year old female students lessons in religious instruction. From that moment Africa was his passion. He toyed with going to SOAS on his return to England but settled instead for Oxford University where he read history, spent his money on what he called ‘frivolous things’ (a euphemism for drugs) wrote long letters to his moral tutor explaining why mending motorbikes was more important than writing history essays and served as Secretary to the Africa Society which sought to provide a support network for African students while simultaneously serving as a fishing pool for foreign agents seeking to recruit versatile spies. In true Waugh tradition he was awarded a third class degree.

His father died when he was still at school and his mother died the year after he left Oxford so by the end of 1973 Septimus found himself an orphan hippy co-owner of a house on the All Saints Road that was protected by a friendly group of Caribbean dissenters operating out of the nearby and notorious Mangrove Restaurant. It was at about this time that he started vaguely wondering about jobs. While making deleterious alterations to the foundations of his house and between puffs on ‘frivolous things’ he came up with the idea of lexicography. Although his interest in compiling dictionaries lasted but a few weeks, ‘Lexicographer’ was the profession registered in his passport for ten years. He had enjoyed acting in school plays and at Oxford had starred in ‘The Rhythm of Violence’, Lewis Nkosi’s controversial drama about apartheid in South Africa. He was Laertes in a moderately successful production of Hamlet at the Adelphi Theatre in London. Studio photographs, showing him dressed as a priest, convinced his naive nephews and nieces that he had taken holy orders. In 1974 he decided to audition for RADA and took voice projection lessons from the actor Simon Ward who insisted on conducting them in the raw on account of his needing to be in a play involving unselfconscious nudity. When RADA said ‘No’ Septimus happily settled for carpentry, that same exacting trade to which both Jesus and his father had been trained; but they gave up while he stuck at it.

Septimus had no ego and was not an ambitious man but took a justifiable pride in the many beautiful works he produced and, for which he invariably undercharged his clients. Inlaid tables, bookcases, porches, chairs, carved door frames, elaborate staircases all imaginatively designed, all finished to the highest standard. The finest among his works were perhaps his religious effigies: his carving of St George at St Stanislaus, Dulverton, of St Jude at the Sacred Heart Wimbledon, St Patrick at Our Lady and St Joseph’s in the Balls Pond Road and his truly magnificent crucifix at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Ilfracombe. It is comforting to feel that these extraordinary figures, whose hands were always copied from his own, will survive, maybe for thousands of years, as testimony not only to his art but to his modest, gentle and humorous spirit. In them we glimpse a gracious and original mind that was often preoccupied with God and religion. ‘I was a very devout little Catholic when I was at school because it was the air I breathed’ he said ‘and as I’m grown older I find it less easy to believe in any fixed faith though I will still, in times of anxiety, pray.’ He received last rites shortly before his death and requested a Catholic mass to be said at his funeral.

Septimus held strong political opinions but when confronted by those whose ideas were opposed to his own he listened attentively and respectfully and always responded affably. In this he was a true gentleman and a natural communicator. Though not perhaps a natural linguist he lately attained a considerable proficiency in Spanish in order to talk to Umberto and his granddaughters, but was frustrated when some of the words and phrases he had collected from recondite 16th century Spanish sources or from slangy Colombian tele-novellas, were incomprehensible to their ears. In youth he arrived at a house in France expressing dismay that his French had let him down at a railway station ‘What did you wish to say?’ they asked him. ‘Not much’ he answered, ‘just who am I and where am I going?’

At the centre of his world was of course Nicky whom he first met at the Catholic chaplaincy in Oxford when he was twenty-two and she seventeen. No one looking from the outside in could describe their union as anything but a ‘blissful marriage made in heaven’. Indeed, it was regarded by many as the perfect exemplar upon which all marriages should be modelled. Together they seemed ever in harmony, ever in accord, ever supportive of one another, ever loyal, ever radiating enjoyment and enthusiasm for all things: for gardening, for novel recipes, exotic foreign travel, football, opera, people, books, jokes, for life itself. Nicky’s loss is incalculable, but he is not entirely gone. His warm and nurturing spirit lives on in her and in their three children, Laura, Tom and Edmund, just as his benevolent and beamish light will continue twinkling from the heavens to support, encourage and guide the third generation that he loved so dearly: Brandon, Sid, Isaac, Lucia and Ana.

May Septimus’s glorious memory remain ever with us and may he rest in peace.


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Armistice Day Roundup

–Perhaps in anticipation of today’s commemoration, this week’s Sunday Times reviewed a new book by Max Hastings. This is Soldiers: Great Stories of War and Peace. Here’s an excerpt from the review:

The anthology opens with biblical warriors (Joshua at the fall of Jericho) and Herodotus’s account of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae; it ends with Hastings’s report from the Falklands conflict, a Russian soldier recounting the dog-eat-dog conditions in his regiment fighting in Chechnya, and a female member of a US intelligence unit describing her discomfort with interrogating suspects in Iraq.

The sheer variety of voices for which Hastings has found room is impressive. An Englishman in 1429 vainly petitions Henry VI for relief because he was at the siege of Harfleur and was “there smitten with a spring bolt through the head, losing his one eye”; an Irishwoman who enlisted as a man in 1693 in order to pursue her husband tells her life story to Daniel Defoe; Evelyn Waugh gives a brilliantly funny, deadpan account of an army attempt to blow up a tree stump, which, thanks to the accidental use of 75lb of explosive rather than 7.5lb, sends an entire plantation of young trees soaring into the air; and Nicholas Tomalin paints an unforgettable pen portrait of a semi-deranged American general in 1966, leaning from a helicopter to shoot fleeing Viet Cong.

The Waugh story is taken from his collected letters (31 May 1942, pp. 160-61).

–The Guardian has posted an article anticipating a new book by Henry Eliot to be published later this month. This is entitled the Penguin Modern Classics Book and explains how that notable series grew out of the earlier success of the Penguin Classics series. The latter is covered in a 2018 book, also by Eliot. Here is an excerpt of the Guardian article by Killian Fox:

Some of Eliot’s favourite covers date back to the early 1960s, when the Modern Classics series was still finding its feet. From the outset, Penguin had relied on mostly typographical designs, but by the late 50s illustrations were becoming more common. As younger designers and illustrators were brought in, and given much greater graphic freedom, Penguin covers became increasingly bold and strange, to match the writing they advertised.

The colours of these covers were relatively restrained, says Eliot, “but within that quite muted, subtle framework, the art directors were commissioning these sometimes really shocking and startling original images from the illustrators of the day”. These included David Gentleman, Michael Ayrton and a young Quentin Blake, who was tasked with illustrating the novels of Evelyn Waugh. Blake, whose irreverent, scratchy style was already in place, captures Waugh’s mordant wit and keen sense of life’s absurdities…

One hopes the book also will give due recognition to the artistry of the psychedelic covers on the next generation of Waugh’s Penguins. These were designed by Peter Bentley but do not appear to have been included in the Penguin Modern Classics series. But then nor do the original Penguin editions of the individual war trilogy novels that are adorned by Quentin Blake covers.

— On the occasion of the reopening of nonessential travel between the US and UK, the Daily Mail asked Patricia Nicol to recommend some books describing transatlantic voyages. For the second time in a month, a book by Waugh appears in her resultant Daily Mail article. Here are her two concluding recommendations, both relating to ocean voyages:

There are unforgettable literary transatlantic sea passages, too. In Colm Tóibin’s heartrending 1950s-set Brooklyn, Eilis Lacey — pushed by her family to emigrate from rural Ireland — finds the trip aboard the ship there tortuous.

In the 1930s, Charles Ryder, in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, crosses from New York to London in absolute luxury — but that does not protect his wife, Celia, from horrendous seasickness. Celia being confined to her cabin pushes him into the company of Julia Flyte, with whom he begins a passionate but ultimately doomed love affair.

–Another allusion to Armistice Day also appears in the Sunday Times. This is the review of a play entitled “Into Battle” by Hugh Salmon. This deals with the generation of those who like the Grenfell brothers (Julian and Billy) were prepared by their upper class upbringings to revel in one sort of fight or another. Here’s an excerpt from the review by Libby Purves:

… its first act, starting in 1910, relates the Balliol feud at Oxford. [Julian] Grenfell and his even wilder brother Billy led a notorious Etonians-only dining-club called the Annandale. They were all frankly horrible: their exclusivity, vandalism and arrogance making our 1980s prime-ministerial Bullingdon set seem angels in comparison.

They regularly smashed furniture and musical instruments, hurled “waterfalls of crockery down staircases”, stocked up “throwing port” as well as the best stuff. They chased, ritually abused and bullied college “nonentities”, tormented mild scholars of their own age and terrorised dons.

They let rabbits loose in a closed quad to be killed by bulldogs. It was all glee and glassware: as Hilaire Belloc put it, teasing their friend Baring, “Like many of the upper class, he liked the sound of broken glass”

If one was temporarily sent down, as Billy was, family dignities and wealth saved him. Fines meant nothing — “I can pay”, says Billy with flat simplicity, “with money God-bothering plebs like you don’t have. I can do what I like.”

His particular enemy was Keith Rae, one of what Evelyn Waugh called the “intelligent men from Birmingham etc”. Rae was a serious, deeply religious undergraduate who ran a boys’ club for the local poor. At one stage the Etonians threw all his furniture, possessions and papers out of his bedroom window. For all their classical allusions and tailcoats, they were yobs.

The quote comes from Waugh’s biography of Ronald Knox, but it is actually a requote by Waugh from F.F. “Sligger” Urquhart, a fellow at Balliol College (Penguin, 2011, pp. 92-93). He may have contributed to the character of Mr Samgrass in Brideshead Revisited and that of Sillery in Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time. Neither Waugh nor Urquhart in the quoted material mentions Keith Rae, although the review discusses a boys club he founded at Balliol. Here’s what it says on a WWI memorial website:

Born on 24 May 1889 in Birkenhead, Thomas Keith Hedley Rae was the youngest son of Edward Rae, a stockbroker, and his wife Margaret of Courthill, Devonshire Place, Birkenhead. He was educated privately because of ill health but went up to Balliol College, Oxford, in 1907 and took second class honours in History in 1912.

Birkenhead is part of the Liverpool conurbation. Rae was a 2nd Lt. when he was killed in action during a flame thrower attack at Hooge Crater (Belgium) on 30 July 1915. Thanks to Dave Lull for providing the source of the quote.

UPDATE (12 November 2021): The concluding paragraph was revised based on information provided by reader Dave Lull. Many thanks.

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