Late January Roundup

–The New York Times, in a recent column in its By The Book series, interviewed dramatist and gay health rights activist Larry Kramer. Waugh came up in this context:

Q. What’s the last book you read that made you laugh?

A. This is a special subject for me. I love words and how they’re made beautiful. Two of my very favorite authors are P. G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh. I am constantly rereading them. Each is a brilliant writer with great skill with words and the English language. No one writes a sentence like both of them. It makes me happy to laugh as I witness this expertise. I guess I should include my Yale classmate Calvin Trillin, who’s no slouch.

The Spectator has a story relating to the candidature of Rebecca Long-Bailey for leadership of the Labour Party. It relates to the irony of a Labour candidate with a hyphenated surname and opens with this:

When Francis Hurt inherited the Renishaw estate in 1777, he changed his surname to Sitwell. His eight-year-old son and heir Sitwell Hurt thus grew up to be Sir Sitwell Sitwell. ‘Perhaps his hypersensitive descendant should resume the patronymic and call himself Sir Hurt Hurt,’ Evelyn Waugh once remarked of his contemporary Osbert Sitwell.

I was reminded of this by a declaration from Rebecca Long-Bailey that her name now bears a hyphen. Ms Long-Bailey’s father Jimmy Long was a trade unionist and she is married to Stephen Bailey, but she did not want to be the last in a long line of Longs.

–Fr Dwight Longenecker comments on Waugh’s war trilogy on his weblog:

During my recent bout with the flu I had the chance to re-read Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honor trilogy. One of the criticisms of the books is that they are uneven, dull at times, confusing and disjointed. On re-reading I realize much of that was intentional. Waugh was showing the reality of war.

–A recent PhD dissertation relating to Waugh is mentioned in the CV of Dr Michael Horacki who teaches at Luther College in Regina, Saskatchewan:

His dissertation, Memory, Interpellation, and Assemblage: Multivalent Assemblage in the Novels of Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, and Evelyn Waugh (2019), examines the relationship between individual and group identity in the fiction of the three authors.

–A reader has added Waugh’s 1928 biography of Dante Gabriel Rossetti to the weblog for the St Louis Public Library’s current book challenge:

In this biographical study Evelyn Waugh seeks to understand both Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s success and his failure.  The former, he concludes, demands a spiritual aesthetics that transcends formal analysis, while the latter is best explained by the artist’s personal tragedies and character flaws.  Rossetti spent his career pursuing an ideal of the feminine, but was sabotaged by his own indiscipline and irresponsibility.

Rossetti was Waugh’s first full-length book, but if his development is certainly not complete the voice is already unmistakable his.  Especially delightful are his account of Rossetti and Whistler’s shared mania for blue china and the ethics of reviewing the books of one’s friends, although equally characteristic is his vivid description of his subject’s isolation, paranoia, and despair.

A photograph of the front cover of the book’s US edition is included.

–The Catholic News Service reviews a book by Joseph Pearce entitled What Every Catholic Should Know. The review is by Patrick Brown who writes:

…The book offers a Cook’s tour through pre-Christian epics, a full-throated defense of Dante’s “Purgatorio” and “Paradisio,” a helpful take on dystopian fiction and St. Thomas More, and rightfully effusive praise for the insights of Jane Austen. “Literature” becomes especially rich when Pearce gets to 19th- and 20th-century figures. […]

When, in contrast to the usual brief sketches, he spends a generous five pages on Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited,” you sense Pearce come alive with excitement about the book he calls “arguably the finest novel of the 20th century.” …

–Finally, writing in the the Guardian, Emma Jane Unsworth briefly compares a currently popular novel (I Am Sovereign by Nicola Barker) to earlier works with this rather quirky analogy:

The narrative style is elegant and frenetic, which suits the story of a house sale that becomes an existential scrum. [Satirical novelist] Nell Zink described it as “Evelyn Waugh on ecstasy” and I think that’s about right. Either that or F Scott Fitzgerald on meth. It’s also nice and short – I’m not a heathen but since having a child I read approximately one novel per year so the short ones feel much more doable.


Posted in Academia, Newspapers, Rossetti: His Life and Works, Sword of Honour | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Waugh’s Friends at Brideshead Festival

Duncan McLaren has started a new series of posts in which he describes memoirs of Waugh’s friends as they might occur during visits to Castle Howard for this summer’s Brideshead Festival. The first posting relates to Richard Plunket Greene and is accompanied by photos of his motorcar as well as sights that might inspire him on the grounds of Castle Howard. It relies on Waugh’s diaries for the period as well as the writings of Robin Hilyard who is the current owner of one of Plunket Greene’s motorcars.

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Brideshead Marathon in Norway

–The Kunstnernes Hus (Artists’ House) in Oslo has announced a marathon session of the 1981 Brideshead Revisited Granada TV series. This will take place on the weekend of 22-23 February. Here’s a translation of the announcement:

A rare opportunity to watch the legendary television series based on Evelyn Waugh’s novel on a large screen at the Artists’ House Cinema. The program is dotted with short tributes and critical banter by author Hans Petter Blad; critic and writer Kaja Schjerven Mollerin; visual artist and writer Morten Andenæs; editor and author Rob Young; professor of neuroscience Siri Leknes, and translator and writer Johanne Fronth-Nygren.

Here you can sit right through all eleven episodes, or wander to and fro and catch  favorite moments. The marathon show will be both a family gathering for old Bridesheaders – those of us who have a long and close relationship with the series and the book – and a chance to convert to the cult. Saturday night there will be a mid-party with a tailor-made drink menu in Lofthus Samvirkelag. Brideshead Revisited is a collaboration with author Hans Petter Blad and translator Johanne Fronth Nygren. Tickets 250, – for the whole weekend (200, – for students). Welcome!

For a detailed schedule and ticketing information, see this link.

–A less ambitious program is on offer tomorrow (Thursday, 23 January) at Lytham Hall near Blackpool in Lancashire. This is a showing of the 2008 theatrical film version of the novel. Food and drink are also on offer. Details are available here.

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Waugh and Trevor-Roper: The Annual Dacre Lecture

Waugh Society member and frequent contributor Milena Borden sends this report of her recent attendance at the annual Dacre Lecture in Oxford:

Milena Borden was invited to the recent Dacre lecture and dinner at Oxford, where Waugh was among the topics discussed. On 10th January, friends and relatives of the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper (1914-2003) gathered in Oxford around the date of his birthday. The Dacre Lecture is an annual event, which this year was hosted by St Hugh’s College and organised by the historian Blair Worden, a former student of Trevor-Roper and  editor of a collection of essays about T-R and his work.  Brian Young of Christ Church gave a talk on the unfinished work by Hugh T-R on the nineteenth-century Roman Catholic revival in England to which he was unsympathetic. This was followed by a short discussion and a black tie dinner in the Wordsworth Room. There were 25 participants including Oxford academics, journalists, biographers, students and members of Trevor-Roper family.

Waugh’s presence was noted as a part of the bigger narrative at the event. Young mentioned his name at the opening of his lecture, with a humorous remark about Waugh’s infamous spat with Trevor-Roper. This started in the 1940s and carried on until Waugh died in 1966. Waugh was a Catholic convert whereas Trevor-Roper described himself as ‘irreligious’ and quite anti-Catholic. Although they never met in person, the two of them exchanged their opposing opinions, at times publicly, in an antagonistic manner. Young discussed at considerable length the unfinished essay by Trevor-Roper on the Catholic revival in England during the nineteenth century from historical and philosophical points of view. He concluded that although it did demonstrate once again Trevor-Roper’s excellence in the genre, the argument in this case was less than coherent and lacked systematic conclusions.

Young did, however, give quite a satisfactory answer to the question, which others, myself included, asked themselves: ‘why was Hugh Trevor-Roper so anti-Catholic?’  First, on a general level, it became clear that Trevor-Roper believed religion to be an enemy of intellectual freedom, to which Waugh would have objected fundamentally on a theological level. As Noel Malcolm noted at the discussion, Trevor-Roper’s claim was rather theoretical and probably had little to do with Waugh’s or any other practicing Catholic’s understanding of freedom. Secondly, Trevor-Roper thought that the Catholic Church specifically was totalitarian in character because it interfered in people’s private lives, similarly to other totalitarian ideologies including fascism and communism. According to him, this was incompatible with democracy. Waugh, who was a staunch anti-communist, certainly thought that such claims were based on prejudice to, and envy of the Church. Last but not least, Trevor-Roper loved controversy and indulged his appetite for creating his own enemies. This happened also to be a passion of Waugh and might have contributed a great deal to the intensity of the row between the two of them, which continues to illuminate with new perspectives their rich legacy.

Posted in Academia, Catholicism, Lectures, Oxford | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Waugh and Celebrations, or not, as the Case May Be

–The Guardian in an editorial recently addressed various proposals to celebrate (or gloat over) Brexit. These range from suggestions of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson that Big Ben be temporarily brought back into service to ring in their victory and Leave UK’s plan to have all church bells in the country ring out as happened on VE Day 1945 to Teresa May’s earlier proposal for a Festival 2022 on a grander scale, like the Festival of Britain in 1951. The article opens with a quote from Waugh on the latter event:

In his 1961 novel Unconditional Surrender, Evelyn Waugh gave a typically waspish verdict on the Festival of Britain, staged 10 years earlier. “To celebrate the opening of a happier decade,” he wrote, “the government decreed a Festival. Monstrous constructions appeared on the south bank of the Thames … but there was little popular exuberance among the straitened people.”

Given his Tory sympathies, and distaste for the egalitarian spirit that swept the country after the war, Waugh would have knocked anything that the Labour government of the time came up with. The festival, masterminded by Herbert Morrison, was in fact well-attended and a qualified success. It left a permanent legacy in the shape of the Royal Festival Hall. We will have to wait and see whether Festival 2022, conceived by Theresa May as a post-Brexit jamboree and modelled on the 1951 event, makes a similar mark…

After commenting on the various proposals, the Guardian’s editorial concludes:

…There is always something to be said for a party. In Noel Coward’s 1951 song, “Don’t Make Fun of the Fair”, the playwright and composer defended the Festival of Britain from the likes of Waugh: “Take a nip from your brandy flask,” went one verse, “Scream and caper and shout/Don’t give anyone time to ask/What the Hell it’s about.”

On this occasion though, the purpose – gloating – is all too obvious. After his election, Mr Johnson promised to be the prime minister of remain voters and well as of leave voters. If he’s serious about that, he will forget about the “bong” and the bells will stay silent.

A letter to the Guardian’s editor from Adam Pollock, Greenwich, London, explained that Coward was on the same side as Waugh regarding the Festival, contrary to the implication in the editorial:

In his 1951 revue number Don’t Make Fun of the Festival (Editorial, 16 January), Noel Coward was far from defending the Festival of Britain, but rather, like Evelyn Waugh, caustically attacking it. The song’s final lines are “We believe in the right to strike / But now we’ve bloody well got to like / our own darling Festival of Britain.”

–The Daily Mail’s gossip mongers have weighed in on the recent announcement that Castle Howard will sponsor a Brideshead Festival this June. Sebastian Shakespeare wonders whether this may engender a competition among stately homes for similar events. He writes that Castle Howard is stealing:

… a march on Althorp, Earl Spencer’s pile in Northamptonshire, and Cliveden, once the country seat of the 3rd Viscount Astor but now owned by property developer Ian Livingstone, which hold their own literary festivals later in the year.

‘I’d like to do a permanent literary festival here,’ Castle Howard’s chatelaine, Vicky Howard, former boss of publisher HarperCollins, tells me, emphasising that this year’s is currently a ‘one-off’. Vicky assures me there is no chance that she and Nick will trouser the takings from their Brideshead jamboree. ‘All the proceeds from the festival are going to the restoration of the house,’ she explains…

–While not rising to the level of a festival, the upcoming exhibition of Cecil Beaton’s photos at the National Portrait Gallery opening in March is described by Vogue Italia in somewhat the same terms. This is a celebration of the Bright Young People of the late 1920s:

Many of the leading cast would become well known: writers Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, composers William Walton and Constant Lambert, stage designers Oliver Messel and Rex Whistler. Others would remain in the shadows, having accomplished almost nothing other than their own self-creations, such as aesthete Brian Howard and Stephen Tennant, the famously orchidaceous scion of a fractured dynasty. Drink, drugs and burn-out on the eve of another world war would claim more, famously and tragically, the dazzling “it girls” Brenda Dean Paul and troubled “wild child” Lois Sturt, debutante of the year and “the brightest of the Bright Young Things”.

Their recording angel was Cecil Beaton, whose journey from middle-class suburban schoolboy to shining society ornament and star of Vogue revealed a social mobility unthinkable before the war, prefiguring the meritocracy of the 1960s. His dazzling photographs and incisive caricatures chronicled the original “Lost Generation”, lost in time.

The article goes on to describe some of the history of Beaton’s BYP photos to be displayed at the NPG. For example:

Beaton organised and directed a series of late summer tableaux en fête champêtre emulating the stylised, pastoral paintings of Lancret and Watteau and Fragonard. The group of rococo neo-Arcadians, here standing on a bridge, comprised Zita and Baby Jungman, Georgia Sitwell, Stephen Tennant, Beaton himself and, appearing the least comfortable in knee-britches and ruffled shirts, Rex Whistler and William Walton. The painted faces of the mock shepherds and shepherdesses was a triumph of artifice, the Bright Young Things in excelsis. Later that same day, they visited the great Bloomsbury figure, Lytton Strachey, who declared them “strange creatures – with just a few feathers where brains should be”.

Some of the resulting photos are displayed in the Vogue article. The exhibition opens on 12 March and runs through 7 June.

UPDATE (17 January 2020): A letter in the Guardian corrected a point made in the editorial and has been added to the post.

Posted in Brideshead Revisited, Festivals, Newspapers, Photographs, Unconditional Surrender/The End of the Battle | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Roundup: Labels Reattached

–The weblog Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings contains a review of Waugh’s early travel book Labels. This is a thoughtful critique of an often overlooked book:

This is certainly no saccharine account of a trip round pretty places; if Waugh dislikes a place, he says so in no uncertain terms; and he’s clear-eyed about the squalid aspects of the trip, from the constant harrassment by locals exploiting the tourists, to the red-light entertainment mostly laid on just for the monied visitors. He’s often critical about tourism as a concept, seeing it as a kind of descendant of the Grand Tour, which he disses beautifully. […]

There is much discussion of art and architecture, which of course Waugh encounters in quantities wherever the cruise ship lands him, and even then many antiquities had been insensitively wrenched from their original locations. Much leaves him cold, and he’s not afraid to say so; however, when he’s moved by something his commentary goes into raptures about it, and the pages about his reactions to Gaudi’s architecture in Barcelona are fascinating and lyrical. However, he’s always ready to subvert the reader’s expectations and puncture pretentiousness…

There are several extended quotations, including the now familiar description of the sunset behind Mt Etna as “revolting”. The article concludes with this:

“Labels” turned out to be a delight; funny, thought-provoking, lyrical and entertaining, it was the perfect post-Christmas read. There were a couple of points where I was reminded that I was reading a book by somebody upper-class from the 1920s; the terminology is often not what we would use today, and I found his dismissal of much Oriental art baffling (although that “may” just come down to personal taste, as he didn’t dislike it all). Nevertheless, this was a wonderfully enjoyable and relaxing book; and as I believe he’s written more travel works, I’m going to have to do some careful consideration of what I’ll be spending the remainder of the book token on…

–An article in the National Catholic Register opens with this reference to a well-known scene in Brideshead Revisited:

In Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited there is a dramatic scene in which Julia [one of the central female characters] breaks down as she is confronted by her brother Bridey with the sins of her life — sobbing, she admits how easy it is to know with clarity what the Church expects of us: ‘They know all about it; they’ve got it in black and white; they bought it for a penny at the church door. You can get anything there for a penny, in black and white, and nobody to see that you pay.’ The Catholic Truth Society Penny Catechism has been available at church doors for over a century, bringing the Good News (and the hard truths) to saints and sinners alike…

The article goes on to recount the history and present work of the Catholic Truth Society, now celebrating its 150th anniversary.

The Oldie compares the successful run of the BBC serial The Trial of Christine Keeler, relating to the Prufumo scandal of the 1960s, with Auberon Waugh’s recounting of another scandal. This is Jeremy Thorpe’s bungled attempted murder of a homosexual lover and Auberon’s subsequent challenge of Thorpe in a general election. This account is in the form of a compilation by Alexander Waugh of Auberon’s reporting of the matter, probably from his Private Eye diaries.

–The TLS recently reprinted a 1953 review by novelist and critic Julian Maclaren-Ross (who inspired the memorable character of X Trapnel in Anthony Powell’s novels Dance to the Music of Time). The review in the TLS was written on the occasion of Penguin’s simultaneous republication of five of P G Wodehouse’s early novels, spanning 15 years of his career. Maclaren-Ross wrote:

What strikes one immediately on re-reading these books is the widespread effect exercised by Mr Wodehouse’s style on writers of divergent schools, and particularly on those specializing in humorous dialogue: the trick of repetitive utterance, for example, so characteristic of Bertie Wooster at moments of stunned incredulity, is also marked in the early novels of Mr Evelyn Waugh and Mr Anthony Powell, among others: while the locutions of the imperturbable Psmith are echoed in the speech patterns of both Lord Peter Wimsey and Mr Albert Campion: at times, too, there is a suave acidity in Psmith’s tone not unlike that of Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited.[…]

Although published three decades ago, Leave it to Psmith is remarkably undated…On the whole the book is less of a period piece than Vile Bodies, and surely the creation of Colonel Blount in the latter book, owes much to the old dodderer, Lord Emsworth […]

–In its latest Christmas Quiz, the TLS included three questions based on references to Waugh’s works:

7. The Right Glass.

Q. “Brandy’s one thing I do know about,” said Rex. “This is a bad colour. What’s more, I can’t taste it in this thimble.”/They brought him a balloon the size of his head. A. Brideshead Revisited.

8. A Second Breakfast

Q, “But I do want to bathe,” says Winnie. “You said I could bathe if you had two breakfasts.” A. A Handful of Dust.

16. According to whom is a man.

Q. “He ran the whole length of the quadrangle without his trousers. It is unseemly. It is more. It is indecent. In fact I am almost prepared to say that it is flagrantly indecent.” A. Decline and Fall.



Posted in A Handful of Dust, Anniversaries, Auberon Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, Decline and Fall, Labels, Newspapers | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Waugh and Mitford: Grave Problems

Waugh’s friend Nancy Mitford is in the news relating to the publication in the USA of her biography by Laura Thompson, Life in a Cold Climate. See previous posts. The Wall Street Journal (10 January 2020) has a favorable review by Elizabeth Lowry, opening with this: “There are excellent biographies of Nancy Mitford–Selina Hastings’s and Lisa Hilton’s among them–but Laura Thompson’s is the gold standard.”

After summarizing and commenting on Thompson’s discussions of Mitford’s life and works in the inter- and post-war periods, Lowry sums up with this:

Having made mincemeat of the interwar English elite [in her novels, Mitford] turned her attention to the ancien regime just as English readers were growing inimical to her kind. While her friend Evelyn Waugh was increasingly embittered and frightened  by England’s postwar class shifts, Nancy, working from Paris and later in Versailles, wrote about Madame de Pompadour and Louis XIV and Voltaire with the same ruthless candour she had brought to her fiction and journalism. Ms. Thompson suggests plausibly that Mitford’s affair with France, rather than with the reluctant [Gaston] Palewski, was the most significant of her life, not just because it brought her contentment, financial stability, and autonomy–all the things she failed to find in her connections with men–but because it allowed her to become the author she had it in her to be.

On the same day, the website posted an excerpt from Laura Thompson’s book about Mitford. This begins with a description of Thompson’s visit to Mitford’s grave in rural Oxfordshire:

The little grave at Swinbrook church is a sad sight now. One searches for many minutes, eyes wandering over the whiter tombstones, and the shock of finding it is considerable. Can this possibly be right? It is like a grave from two hundred years ago: the grave of a forgotten and anonymous person, of a poor serving girl who died alone and unlamented. It is covered with the thick damp lace of greenish moss, and there are no flowers. […]

Yet as one of England’s most devout Francophiles she had dreamed of a burial at Père-Lachaise cemetery, “parmi ce peuple”—as Napoleon put it—”que j’ai si bien aimé.” She called it the “Lachaise dump,” but that was just her Englishness coming out. She loved the place. What she no doubt imagined was lying in florid, elegant state between Molière, La Fontaine, Balzac and Proust: a comforting thought, as if death were merely a continuation of her glittering Parisian middle age. […]

Nancy dreamed of beauty around her in death. “I’ve left £4,000 for a tomb with angels and things,” she wrote to Evelyn Waugh ten years before she died. “Surely it’s an ancient instinct to want a pretty tomb?” [Mitford/Waugh Letters, 479-81] She also dreamed, in a way that would have amused, but irritated Waugh like a verruca, of a heaven that was really like fairyland, full of the people she had loved, along with sexy men such as Louis XV and Lord Byron—”I look forward greatly. Oh how lovely it will be”—and with The Lost Chord playing. “And an occasional nightingale.” […]

So here [in Swinbrook] is the grave in which she lies. Sombre, dilapidated, rotted in deep unchanging Oxfordshire. No brilliant Père-Lachaise neighbors, no sparkling subterranean potins, just poor brain-damaged Unity Mitford beside her, the sister who put a bullet in her head on the day that war was declared and died from its slow creep nine years later. Some way away from these two, close to Pamela, lie the Mitford parents, David and Sydney, whose only son, Tom is commemorated by a plaque inside the church. Around that dear little stone doll’s house are scattered most of the remains of that rampaging family mythology. Now birds sing above the stillness; rabbits hop softly between the tombs. It is intensely withdrawn, intensely English; a silent reminder of what lies beneath the fantastical cleverness, the Francophilia, the taste for Boucher and Boulle and les gens du monde.

Not so far away in rural west Somerset, Evelyn Waugh’s grave is not so much neglected but, as Cyril Connolly might have put it, unquiet. As noted previously, it is at risk of collapsing into the adjacent churchyard due to a dispute among the civil and religious authorities as to who is responsible for approving needed improvements which the Waugh Estate wants to make to the retaining wall separating it from the churchyard.


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John Ivan Simon (1925-2019): R. I. P.

John Simon, one of America’s great critics of theatre and film died in November the age of 94. His death was widely noted, and this obituary excerpted from the New York Times is fairly representative:

In a style that danced with literary allusions and arch rhetoric — and composed with pen and ink (he hated computers) — he produced thousands of critiques and a dozen books, mostly anthologies of his own work. While English was not his native language, he also wrote incisive essays on American usage, notably in the 1980 book “Paradigms Lost: Reflections on Literacy and Its Decline.”

Born in Yugoslavia and educated at Harvard, Mr. Simon was an imperious arbiter who, unlike daily press critics, foraged widely over fields of culture and entertainment at will, devouring the Lilliputians with relish. He regarded television as trash and most Hollywood films as superficial. His formula for an ultimate triumph on Broadway: “A loud, vulgar musical about Jewish Negroes.”

In his long gaze, the arts in America were in decline, or at least in a state of perpetual confusion, and he insisted that his mission was to raise standards through unflinching criticism.[…] “If I can’t convince these imbeciles of anything, I can at least annoy them, and I think I do a reasonably good job of that.”

Many readers delighted in what they considered Mr. Simon’s lofty and uncompromising tastes, and especially in his wicked judgments, which fell like hard rain on icons of culture: popular authors, Hollywood stars, rock and rap musicians, abstract artists and their defenders in critics’ circles, for whom he expressed contempt.

Although Simon wrote no fiction, he shared with Evelyn Waugh a love of the English language (unlike Waugh, Simon was not a native speaker) and a preference for writing with a pen. Most of his criticism involved theatre and films, topics Waugh rarely addressed. Simon left one volume of literary criticism involving mainly book reviews. This was The Sheep from the Goats (1989). It contains 49 essays or book reviews but none involving Waugh or his work. They both wrote with a very keen wit but, as a reviewer, Waugh was overall kinder than Simon, especially to new writers.

Both Dave Lull and I have searched for some article or review by Simon discussing Waugh or a film adaptation of his work but have little to show for it. Simon does mention the film adaptation of The Loved One, which should offer an ideal target for his often savage treatment of Hollywood films. We came up with this reference in an essay on Terry Southern, the script writer responsible for the most egregious modifications of the plot:

…Southern went on to butcher, with admirable impartiality, whatever came his way to be adapted: the good, like Evelyn Waugh’s novella, The Loved One; the bad, like the comic strip, Barbarella, and the in-between, like his own early novelette, The Magic Christian. Movies into Film (1971)

Dave also found this mention of an early Waugh novel in Simon’s list of recommended books that “convey a tragicomic sense of life”.  This appeared in the Wall Street Journal (3 December 2005):

5. “Vile Bodies” by Evelyn Waugh (1930).
Waugh’s second novel exudes what his biographer Christopher Sykes calls “the blackest of black humor.” It is the story of Bright Young Things coming to confusion in sundry frivolous ways, abetted by a rogues’ gallery of older creatures goading them on and lousing them up. It is a tale of charmingly, riotously squandered lives that Martin Stannard, another Waugh biographer, calls “a manifesto of disillusionment, hilariously funny but bitter.” Chapter 11, in which lovers part in two brief, mostly monosyllabic, phone conversations, is one of the the most hilarious and most heartrending things I have ever read.

It is to be regretted that we don’t have a more detailed critique by Simon of The Loved One and that he didn’t see fit to review other adaptations, such as one or both versions of Brideshead Revisited. (Any reader knowing of something of this sort is invited to comment below.) The fact that the first Brideshead adaptation was a TV serial may have counted against it for Simon, who generally disdained television productions. But he seems to have admired Waugh’s work from a distance.

Dave also found this reference in an obituary by Jonathan Leaf that appeared in the American journal Tablet. It should be noted that Leaf is not an admirer of Simon:

Simon was the supercritic par excellence. He had many of the qualities that a good critic requires: high intelligence, wide learning, a broad base of knowledge of the arts, perspicacity, and wit. And he was not infrequently right.

But what he was lacking was vital.

To understand this, you must first understand that outstanding critics are very rare, much more uncommon than first-rate practitioners in any given art form. That’s because outstanding criticism requires 90% or more of the knowledge needed to excel as a practitioner—plus humanity and judgment. Consider the novel with regard to this. One could make a long list of gifted novelists who were largely devoid of either or both. I think it’s safe to say that Balzac, Dostoyevsky, and Hemingway lacked judgment and would not have been good critics, and that Waugh, Greene, and Roth lacked degrees of normal human empathy. Yet a critic of the novel needs all these things.

The article goes on to conclude that Simon lacked that “normal human empathy”, offering what are perhaps more examples than were necessary.


Posted in Adaptations, Brideshead Revisited, Newspapers, The Loved One, Vile Bodies | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ma Meyrick Gains Place in Dictionary of Irish Biography

The Royal Irish Academy has posted a new entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography. This relates to Kate Evelyn Meyrick (also known as Ma Meyrick and, to Waugh readers, as Ma Mayfield). She was born in Kingtown, Dublin into what sounds like a middle class family but lost both her parents in her childhood. She lived from 1875-1933. The character of Ma Mayfield in Brideshead Revisited is heavily based on Meyrick’s life and career. In the novel, Charles and Sebastian, encouraged and accompanied by Boy Mulcaster, visit what is known in the novel as the Old Hundredth at 100 Sink Street, which is a night club based on Meyrick’s 43 Club on Gerrard Street.

According to the RIA’s entry, written by Margaret Elliott:

…Meyrick had taken the first steps on the road to her glittering and notorious career as the ‘queen of the nightclubs’, becoming a partner in a new club, Dalton’s, that opened at 28 Leicester Square in April 1919. She claimed that the reason for her somewhat unusual choice of career was that she was determined to provide financial security for her young family. Dalton’s was soon followed by the Bedford, then Brett’s, but it was the infamous 43 club (later renamed Proctor’s) situated at 43 Gerrard Street, Soho, opened in November 1920, which became the star of her ever-shifting nightclub empire. In total Meyrick went on to own or hold an interest in around nine clubs but the 43 was her longest running enterprise.

With their heady mix of illicit drinking, gambling, drugs and prostitution the nightclubs of Soho thrived during the decade after the first world war. The generation of the ‘bright young things’, desperate to escape the tedium of conventional society, flocked to such venues. One of the chief draws of the 43 appears to have been Meyrick herself. Seated behind her desk in the front office, she collected door money and effectively vetted the clientele, a rite of passage which was an adventure in itself. Once inside it fell to the dance hostesses, nicknamed ‘Meyrick’s Merry Maids’, to entice the customer to spend lavishly and while away the night listening to the world’s greatest jazz artists. […]

Meyrick, despite her short stature and diminutive physique, had an uncanny knack of disciplining rowdy and drunken crowds. Observing that her normally hard-headed customers would empty their pockets in the pursuit of pleasure, Meyrick did not spend much on extravagant decorations in the majority of her clubs. The 43 was sparsely furnished, dingy and full to capacity at eighty people, the crowded and sleazy atmosphere adding to the thrill. The one exception was the Silver Slipper on Regent Street, with its illuminated glass dance floor and glass doors engraved to look like spider webs.

Anyone familiar with Waugh’s description of the Oxford students’ visit to the Old Hundredth in Chapter 5, Book 2 of Brideshead (Revised Edition, 1960, pp. 127 ff.) will find much that is familiar in the foregoing entry. See also previous posts.

According to the RIA, Meyrick is one of 66 so-called “missing persons” just added to the DIB. Half that number were women. These are apparently cultural or historical Irish figures overlooked by previous RIA administrations. The DIB entry concludes with this:

Immortalised in the works of Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell, Kate Meyrick had lived life to its fullest, defiant of the legal and social codes which defined her era. For it was in her nightclubs, so much a feature of the fast hedonist environment of the roaring twenties, where she records she found the ‘joy of living at highest pressure’ (Kate Meyrick, Secrets of the 43 Club, 1994, p. 102).



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Waugh: Harry Potter and Sunglasses

A quote from Evelyn Waugh was recently added to a page called Harry Potter House Quotes. Each quote contributed is reviewed by Carmen and Fiona, who run the page, to decide its relevance and in which “house” to place it. These houses are based (as I understand it) on the student houses located at Hogwarts boarding school in the novels.

The Waugh quote is from Brideshead Revisited where Anthony Blanche is warning Charles Ryder about Sebastian’s charm (London, 1960, p. 63):

SLYTHERIN: “Of course those that have charm don’t really need brains.” –Evelyn Waugh (Anthony Blanche: Brideshead Revisited)

The quote was placed in Slytherin and posted on 4 January 2020. Perhaps one of our readers, who is more knowledgeable about the Harry Potter novels than I, could explain why that house was selected.

Another allusion to Waugh’s novel is made in an advertisement that comes up with a Google search for Evelyn Waugh. This is for a style of sunglasses called Ryder. They are on offer from Here’s a description:

A refined square silhouette developed from a thin ultra-light acetate frame with classic proportions for elegant masculine style.

Eight & Bob also market men’s perfumes and toiletries at shops throughout the world as well as over the internet.

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