Roundup: A Handful of Quotes

–Writing in the London Review of Books about the Iranian armed drones being used by Russia against Ukraine, James Meek is reminded of similar weapons employed by the Nazis against Britain in WWII after the Normandy invasion. These were the V-1 and V-2 rockets.  Here’s an excerpt in which Waugh is quoted:

Those early Nazi drones, launched from mainland Europe, killed thousands of people, caused heavy destruction in towns and cities already partly ruined by conventional bombing, and badly hurt morale in London, where V-1s and V-2 rockets destroyed or damaged more than a million houses. Hundreds of thousands of children were evacuated. The uncanny remoteness of drone warfare, brought home in the 2000s by footage of suspected terrorists and harmless civilians being blown up by US drones whose pilots were safe a continent away, was already present in wartime London. [Philip] Ziegler quotes Evelyn Waugh: ‘No enemy was risking his life up there. It was as impersonal as a plague, as though the city was infested with enormous, venomous insects.’

The quote is from Unconditional Surrender (London, 1961, p. 245).

–The European Conservative has posted an essay (“Rediscovering Waugh“) by James Bradshaw discussing Waugh’s major works. It is quite well written and worth reading even by those quite familiar with the subject. Here are the opening paragraphs:

In terms of the breadth of his popularity, Evelyn Waugh has probably not fared as well as some of his literary contemporaries who achieved distinction in the mid-20th century. This may not have surprised him, given how much time he spent bemoaning the societal changes which were accelerating in the decades before his death in 1966. These changes included the decline of the aristocratic way of life, the elevation of politics and secular political ideologies to a position of pre-eminence, and, above all else, the decline of the Christian religion which alone had given hope to an author who was permanently plagued by melancholy and misanthropy.

Occasional revivals in popularity due to adaptations of his work—most notably, that which followed the release of the glorious ITV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited in 1981—will always continue. But there is far more to Waugh than first meets the eye, and no matter how great the gulf between his era and ours, readers who delve into his work can discover not only a supremely gifted literary craftsman, but an extraordinary soul and intellect as well.

Harvard Medicine, the journal of the Harvard Medical School, has posted a list of favorite books recommended by its graduates. A 1995 alumnus posted this:

…Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, which I have read perhaps ten times in my life. This quotation has always stuck with me: “To know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom.”

–The religious journal Aleteia has an essay by Fr Peter John Cameron OP entitled “Sin and something better“. It opens with this:

…In God’s loving providence, even sin plays a redemptive role in leveling us so that we finally come face to face with what really matters in life. As St. Thomas Aquinas put it, “God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good.”

Recall that poignant scene from Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited in which a character, living in adultery, goes through a meltdown:

“Living in sin, with sin, by sin, for sin, every hour, every day, year in, year out. Waking up with sin in the morning, bathing it, dressing it, clipping diamonds to it. ‘Poor Julia,’ they say, ‘she can’t go out. She’s got to take care of her little, mad sin.’”

Quote from Book Three, Chapter III, The Fountain. (Rev Ed 1960).

–The Literary Hub has convened a panel of four writers and academics to discuss the topic: “The Most Important Poem of the 20th Century: On T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” at 100“. Here’s a quote from a contribution by David Barnes:

…I sometimes wonder if The Waste Land hasn’t had more of an influence on the modern novel.

Evelyn Waugh named A Handful of Dust (1934) after a line from the poem, of course; Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) contains a number of conscious echoes of The Waste Land in its descriptions of the New York cityscape. And in post-war writers, that influence continued: Sam Selvon’s novel of alienated Caribbean immigrants, The Lonely Londoners (1956) begins with a description of the foggy “unrealness” of the London scene.

Jeanette Winterson’s novels are steeped in quotations from Eliot. The Waste Land has seeped into culture as a moving set of referents to describe urban alienation, fracture, cultural collapse. It also has a striking ability, inherent in its form I suppose, to speak across cultures. Jahan mentioned the impact of the text on Caribbean poets like Walcott and Braithwaite; and although it’s a poem focused on London, the apex of political and economic power, its language and structure seem also to destabilise, decentre.

The lines from the poem are:

“…I will show you something different from either/Your shadow at morning striding behind you/Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;/I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

–The Majorca Daily Bulletin has an article recalling the 2000 filming of Channel 4’s adaptation of Sword of Honour on that island:

This was a production based on Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy and loosely paralleled Waugh’s experiences during the Second World War. In Mallorca, it was the production of that year, 2000, with locations chosen to represent Egypt, Italy and Yugoslavia.

Valldemossa became an Italian town, the quarry in Porreres was a camp in Egypt; camels were used for authenticity. Cala S’Almunia and Cala Torta were chosen for landings and for escapes from enemy fire; Selva was a village full of partisans. Even the Castell de Sant Carles in Palma was a location. In the film it was a military barracks. Filming would normally be difficult there because it is a Spanish military place. However, and as Nofre Moya explains: “When we told them what the story was about, they loved it. Everything was easy.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Roundup: “The Waste Land” Centenary

–The centenary of T S Eliot’s The Waste Land has been marked in several print and broadcast media. The Washington Post notes the poem’s appearance in Brideshead Revisited:

First published in the inaugural October 1922 issue of Eliot’s literary magazine, the Criterion, “The Waste Land” was quickly recognized as a seismic event. Evelyn Waugh, a novelist of exquisite eye, re-created the force with which the poem landed. In “Brideshead Revisited,” his novel of 1920s Oxford, Waugh placed a sophisticated student of cutting-edge taste on a balcony, loudly declaiming lines from “The Waste Land” as crowds passed below.

The scene in question was inspired by Harold Acton’s recital of the poem from a Christ Church balcony which would have taken place shortly after the poem’s publication.

There is also a BBC documentary (“T S Eliot: Into The Waste Land) in which most of the poem was reread with comments, as well as the rebroadcast of a commentary by A N Wilson (“Return to T S Eliotland”) and a reading of Four Quartets by Ralph Fiennes. The documentary is currently available for streaming and the latter two will be broadcast this evening.  All will be available from tomorrow on BBC iPlayer with a UK internet connection.

–The Spanish paper Diario de Sevilla is reminded of the closing scene of Brideshead Revisited in this recent article:

PERHAPS one of the most beautiful moments in television history is the final reflection of Brideshead Revisited, the series based on the novel of the same name by Evelyn Waugh. Remember: Charles Ryder (played by a young Jeremy Irons), returns to the country mansion of his old and missing friend Lord Sebastian Flyte (Anthony Andrews), where he had been so happy in his youth and which at that time is a makeshift barracks where troops are instructed to go to the front. In the midst of the military bustle, Ryder, a skeptical complement officer, manages to find a few minutes to pray in the palace chapel, built with the stones of the feudal castle of Lord Sebastian ‘s family, former knights who, like the vast majority of the medieval nobility, had fought in the Holy Land. Before the tabernacle and its lamp, Ryder prays and the voiceover sounds: “… That flame that the old knights saw shine from their graves and that they saw go out; that flame burns again for other soldiers far from their homes, further in their hearts than Acre or Jerusalem, and could only have been lit by the builders and the tragic ones. And there I found it that morning, burning again among the old stones.”

It is tempting to feel a little Ryder when passing through the hole in the San Juan de Acre gate in Seville , demolished in 1864 […] Today, the Puerta de San Juan de Acre is a place disordered by development, half town, half neighborhood, with no more interest than the proximity of the river. However, as in that chapel in Brideshead in which Ryder prayed before leaving for the front, a tile-shaped flame continues to burn that reminds us that there was a shutter there with the name of the knights of Acre and takes us back to another time surely worse than the current one, but more beautiful and magical. We should never revile the power of toponymy.

The translation (including the passage from BR) is by Google.

–Peter Hitchens writing in The Spectator remembers former train journeys to France before the Eurostar tunnel service replaced them with faster but more Spartan fare. He thinks some of the old opulence might be restored, noting a passage from Brideshead Revisited:

In fact the delight of eating proper meals aboard trains might be re-established on the Paris run, and spread outwards – once more people realised just how wonderful it was. As Evelyn Waugh described it in Brideshead Revisited:

The knives and forks jingled on the tables as we sped through the darkness; the little circle of gin and vermouth in the glasses lengthened to oval, contracted again, with the sway of the carriage, touched the lip, lapped back again, never spilt; I was leaving the day behind me.”

And so he was, and when I take the train to Paris or beyond, I am leaving the humdrum world behind me. Can’t it once again be a voyage, rather than a bureaucratic, joyless procedure best done under general anaesthetic?

The Epoch Times has published an article reviewing the career of novelist W Somerset Maugham. Here’s an excerpt:

Gabriel García Márquez, George Orwell, James Michener, and Evelyn Waugh all admired his work, with Waugh describing him as “the only living studio-master under whom one can study with profit.” In “Earthly Powers,” Anthony Burgess pays homage to Maugham, sometimes humorously so, by basing his narrator Toomey on Maugham and even having that character meet Maugham.

The Waugh quote comes from a 1939 Spectator review of Maugham’s novel Christmas Holiday. Reprinted in EAR, 247.

–Finally, The Conversation has reposted an article from 2021 about a visit to the church at Blythburgh in Suffolk. This includes a reference to Waugh:

A church first stood in Blythburgh before 654 CE. That was the year King Penda of Mercia slaughtered King Anna of East Anglia and his son in battle. Anna’s followers brought their bodies here for burial. The present building is mostly 15th-century. In this part of England those days were what Evelyn Waugh called the fat days of wool shearing and the wide corn lands. (Brideshead Revisited, Penguin, 1976, p. 317)

 

 

 

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90th Anniversary of Black Mischief Marked

A feature length article in the academic journal The Conversation marks the 90th anniversary this month of the publication of Waugh’s third novel Black Mischief. This is by Naomi Milthorpe who is also the editor of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh volume for that novel and longtime member of the Society. The novel was published in October 1932 in both the UK (Chapman & Hall) and US (Farrar & Rinehart). The UK edition was reprinted six times in its first month. Here’s an excerpt from Milthorpe’s article:

…Black Mischief was the Book Society choice for October 1932. The Book Society was an interwar subscription book club established in 1929. Members were often from non-metropolitan UK or English dominions, such as Australia, and used the Book Society to access new English books that were otherwise hard to get. The result was that Waugh’s novel did quite well in the UK.

It was published simultaneously in the United States. For whatever reason, it failed to move US readers. But the novel’s financial failure in the US was only a small concern in the face of its critical savaging by the Catholic press at home.

For a reader today, the offensive parts of Black Mischief are its representations of race. This is a novel that uses racial slurs. It depicts its Oxford-educated African Emperor as a fool and a lunatic, susceptible to “the inherited terror of the jungle”. Africans are described as “black, naked, anthropophagous”.

When it was reprinted in 1962, Waugh included a series of his own illustrations, which had previously appeared only in a limited large paper edition issued to family and friends. In these, his drawings of African characters resemble the clichés of blackface minstrelsy, a staple of British music hall and US popular entertainment in the early 20th century.

The reviewers of 1932 did not have a problem with Waugh’s depiction of race. Instead, the major controversy of its publication centred on the question of his violation of standards of decency…

As explained by Milthorpe, the Roman Catholic Church, like the reviewers, was not troubled so much by the book’s racist attitudes:

…Ernest Oldmeadow, editor of the Catholic weekly The Tablet, […] called the novel “nauseating” in its depiction of adultery and cannibalism. Oldmeadow argued that Waugh violated Catholic civility by showing Basil and Prudence’s loveless sexual affair (there’s a suggestive image of a cigar limply unfurling in a hip-bath), and Prudence’s grisly end, “stewed to pulp among peppers and aromatic roots”. He called into question Waugh’s good faith and even suggested the work was blasphemous…

Milthorpe goes on to describe in some detail the prolonged debate between Waugh and Oldmeadow regarding these issues.

A Penguin edition appeared in 1938 and was (according to some sources) reprinted even during the war when paper was in short supply. I have yet to see one of those wartime editions which are not listed on Pengiun’s copyright pages. Later Penguin editions (starting in 1965) also include Waugh’s illustrations mentioned in the article. The article includes several interesting and well-produced illustrations and is available at this link.

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Columbus Day Roundup: Cricket, Latin and Name Extinction

–In what is perhaps this week’s most interesting story, the Independent newspaper has posted a history of the Hollywood Cricket Club. This is by Leonie Cooper and describes in some detail the club’s founding, growth and membership. Evelyn Waugh makes a contribution:

Founded in 1932 by British character actor and one-time England test cricketer Charles Aubrey Smith, the Hollywood Cricket Club was a home away from home for Brits in Los Angeles at the boom of the talkies. […] Smith was already in his late sixties when he formed the club. Before acting on the London stage, Smith had been a professional cricketer, playing for both Cambridge and Sussex. It wasn’t just the cricket that made him every inch the stereotypical British gent – there was the bristly handlebar ’tache and fondness for smoking a pipe, too. Such was Smith’s stature that fellow Brit Evelyn Waugh would immortalise Smith’s Hollywood years in his death industry novella The Loved One. Here Smith would take the form of Sir Ambrose Ambercrombie, an endearingly pompous expat committed to holding up an extreme version of Englishness for himself and his fellow UK transplants. “The captain of the Hollywood Cricket Club was the redoubtable, craggy C Aubrey Smith,” wrote David Niven. “A famous county cricketer, he had a penchant for suddenly nipping out from behind the umpire and firing down his fast ball… He had been nicknamed ‘Round the Corner Smith’. His house on Mulholland Drive was called ‘The Round Corner’; on his roof were three cricket stumps and a bat and ball serving as a weather vane.”

Among the interesting bits of information on offer is that PG Wodehouse, not much of a batsman, when in LA on scriptwriting assignments, would stop by the Club’s Griffith Park grounds and act as scorekeeper. The Club’s founder C Aubrey Smith died in 1948, the year The Loved One was published.  The Griffith Park cricket pitch has been converted to other uses, but the pavilion is still there, now serving cucumber sandwiches to wedding parties.

–James Marriott writing in the Times newspaper addresses the “British affliction of mistaking fusty learning [inherent in Oxbridge educations] for intellectual heft.” He cites the recent example of the new Chancellor of the Exchequer:

It’s now clear that an appreciation of Latin poetry and a PhD in 17th-century coinage aren’t enough to stop a man from crashing the economy. Kwasi Kwarteng’s intellectual armoury sounded intimidating but it turns out that when the pound is jittering and kicking like a spooked mule, you can’t soothe it with a few well-chosen verses from Horace. Intriguingly, even as bits of the economy were falling off and bursting into flames, the chancellor’s allies continued to insist their man was “formidably” intelligent. The guy writes poetry in Latin. And if you ever wanted an informed opinion on the coinage crisis of 1695-97 . . .

He goes on to discuss how Americans are similarly confused by attributing unwarranted intelligence to successful businessmen and notes this example of how the English see through this American prejudice from an Evelyn Waugh novel:

In Britain, the notion that businessmen are philistines is a matter of long tradition. In Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh informs readers that the Canadian entrepreneur Rex Mottram is unable to appreciate a glass of fine burgundy because its complex taste reveals that “the world was an older and better place than Rex knew, that mankind in its long passion had learned another wisdom than his”.

It’s . . . a drink? In few other countries would it even begin to make sense to associate expensive booze with esoteric wisdom. You don’t have to meet many aristocrats to become sceptical of the idea that drinking in posh clubs is making them smarter.

–The New Statesman marks the anniversary of the James Bond films with a reference to Waugh’s reaction to the first of them:

Sixty years ago, on October 5, 1962, the first James Bond film, Dr No, was released in the UK. Evelyn Waugh, a friend of Ian and Ann Fleming, accompanied them to the premiere, after a swell dinner party. He was not impressed. In his diary, Waugh recorded: “We entered in darkness and left unobserved by the paying audience; not at all like a gala performance of opera with tiers of boxes, promenade and tiaras sparkling under chandeliers. The film was totally fatuous and tedious, no mystery, not even erotic.” A few months later Waugh wrote to Ann Fleming remembering what he could about “Bond’s passions” in the movie: “In the film I think he dallied during a sweaty siesta… and then went off in a boat with a prize cock-drop – a sort of Swedish games mistress. But I was not very attentive.” So much for Ursula Andress.

Waugh, it seems, did not feel that he had been present at an historic event for the nation as a whole. Yet that evening launched one of the defining cultural icons of Britishness to this day, up there with the Beatles, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and the late Queen Elizabeth, whether we like it or not. James Bond is the longest continually running film series; it is estimated a quarter of the global population has seen at least one Bond film. …

The article goes on to explain how the franchise and its budget grew and grew beyond its original roots. It seems unlikely that these efforts would have made any difference to Waugh.

America magazine remembers J F Powers, an American writer whom Waugh admired and befriended. This may have been intended to mark the 75th anniversary of Powers’ first book publication. See previous post. The article opens with this:

What is worse, a sin of commission or one of omission? In the case of the obituary writers of The New York Times over the decades, the latter failings call out more loudly for repentance. Any survey of the accounts of lives of religious novelists is all the evidence you need. With what words would you bury Evelyn Waugh? The Times chose “Evelyn Waugh, Satirical Novelist, Is Dead at 62.” His greatest triumph, Brideshead Revisited, is described as (not kidding) “a tragic recounting of the decline of a great English family.”

J. F. Powers didn’t fare much better. This finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction for 1957, the winner of that award in 1963, a writer hailed as a literary lion by everyone from Flannery O’Connor to Philip Roth to Mary Gordon to Frank O’Connor, was dispatched upon his death in 1999 with “J. F. Powers, 81, Dies; Wrote About Priests.”

I suppose it’s not entirely wrong: Both of his novels (Morte D’Urban in 1962, Wheat That Springeth Green in 1988) and many of his short stories had priests as protagonists, and surely no American writer has ever captured the quotidian existence of parish priests better than Powers. But you wouldn’t bury a writer with “Hemingway: Wrote About Drunks,” nor “Melville: Wrote About a Whale.” There’s a sneer behind the headline, the passing regret that J. F. Powers didn’t write about something more compelling.

The article goes on to describe Powers’ career that was marred by the frustration of a 25 year writer’s block with respect to his second novel. The subject of Waugh’s friendship is not developed further, although the two writers reviewed each other’s books, corresponded and met each other over several years.

The Economist magazine has an article about a new program to promote the study of Latin and Greek in English schools. It opens with this:

Evelyn Waugh, a novelist, valued his classical education. Not because it enabled him to understand ancient languages: Waugh could remember no Greek, write no Latin and enjoyed reading neither. But it did enable him to excel in a more important exercise: spotting and judging those who knew less than he. Such people (“most Americans and most women”) betrayed their deprivation with sentences of “inexcusable vulgarity”. “I do not,” he wrote, “regret my superficial classical studies.

Latin occupies an odd place in English curriculums. One part proper subject, two parts smug social shibboleth, to have chanted “amo, amas, amat” in a Latin class has long implied membership of another kind of class altogether. The decline and almost fall of Latin in state schools in the 20th century did not diminish its social cachet, because numbers in fee-paying independent schools remained high. In 2020 eight times more pupils sat Latin gcse at Eton, a posh school, than in the entirety of Northumberland. Waugh considered Latin the mark of a gentleman. Mary Beard, a professor of classics at Cambridge University, puts it more briskly: it gets seen as a subject for “posh white boys”.

The Independent newspaper has also done a survey of name popularity and has determined that the name Evelyn for boys has become extinct in the 21st century. It provides a list of 10 most commonly used names in the past that are now extinct and describes the process as follows:

…the definition of extinct is a name that doesn’t appear in the Office for National Statistics dataset of babies’ first names in England and Wales since 2000, or in the Scottish records for 2020 and 2021. The ONS dataset omits names that are recorded only once or twice in a year, on grounds of confidentiality – so “extinct” means no more than two in any year since the turn of the century.

Here’s the comment on Evelyn’s extinction: “Nominated by Paul Edwards. Extinct for boys. Never mind Waugh, it is the 21st most popular name for girls: 1,729 in 2021.” Among the other boys’ names facing extinction are Branwell, Hilary and Torquil.

 

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On Offer: Two Events, a Radio Series and Some Books

There have been two announcements of upcoming events in Southern England that may be of interest. The first is a joint presentation of the Victoria & Albert Museum and Vogue magazine:

Four monarchs (crowned and uncrowned); one abdication; one royal investiture; a jewel box of jubilees and many, many royal marriages… British Vogue has borne witness to a century of royal history.

With visual treasures from Vogue‘s unrivalled archive and contributions through the decades from the most perceptive of royal commentators – from Evelyn Waugh to Zadie Smith – The Crown in Vogue presents one of the most definitive views of royalty in the modern age.

Join authors Robin Muir, contributing editor at Vogue (formerly Pictures Editor), and Josephine Ross, literary and royal historian, for an exploration of the monarchy as seen through the eyes of Vogue, including never-before-seen portraits from the Vogue archives.

It is not clear what views of Waugh they may have in mind. The presentation will be on Zoom.com and will be convened on 3 November 2022. For details, see this link.

This Saturday (8 October) there will be a talk at the University of Buckingham’s Radcliffe Centre as part of the Buckingham History Festival. Here’s the announcement:

Daisy Dunn describes a story of passion, jealousy, debate, exuberance and foreboding, painting a fascinating portrait of academic Oxford in the first half of the 20th century, the near-sylvan world immortalised by Evelyn Waugh in his novel of 1945, Brideshead Revisited. Her cast of characters includes: the classicist and wit Maurice Bowra, who inspired the character of Brideshead’s Mr Samgrass; the Australian-born classical scholar Gilbert Murray, who married into the family that owned Castle Howard, the model for Brideshead; and E.R. Dodds, Regius Professor of Greek, who correspeonded with many of the century’s literary greats, including W.H. Auden, Louis MacNeice and W.B. Yeats.

The lecture is scheduled at 14:00. Details are available here.

BBC Radio 4 Extra has announced the rebroadcast of Jeremy Front’s 2007 four-episode adaptation of Brideshead Revisited. This will be transmitted on Monday, 17 October 2022 at 10:00a and may be monitored on BBC iPlayer over the internet afterwards. Details here.

Forum Auctions has announced an auction on Friday, 14 October 2022 that will offer several of Waugh’s books: lots 281-289. Only one has a signed presentation, but several are first editions as well as many with what look like attractive dust jackets. Here’s a link to the catalogue.

 

 

 

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Roundup: America, America

–The Jesuit magazine America has posted a survey 0f its coverage of Waugh and his works dating back to 1931. This is entitled “God’s grump: The irascible Evelyn Waugh” and was written by James T Keane. Here are the opening paragraphs:

We have a running joke in the offices of America that there are certain figures whose every utterance or act requires coverage in the magazine. Whether it’s Bruce Springsteen, Dorothy Day, Flannery O’Connor or Thomas Merton, we can’t go more than a fortnight without mentioning at least one of them. Our poetry editor, Joseph Hoover, S.J., wrote a spoof about it for April Fool’s Day a few years back—and then about a week later, pitched a story about Bruce’s Catholic imagination.

Not until recently did I discover our forebears were no different; but their Bruce Springsteen was Evelyn Waugh. From the first mention in America in 1931 of “the brilliant young novelist” who had become Catholic the year before up until, well, I mentioned him in this space three weeks ago, the guy has never been far from the minds of America’s contributors.

What follows is an interesting and accurate discussion of Waugh’s life and works as reflected in the magazine’s pages. (The only hiccup worth noting was the reference to Waugh’s first novel as Rise and Fall, which may be part of some in-joke.) After an extended coverage of Waugh’s irascibility, particularly as applied to the magazine’s homeland, this appears:

…Waugh eventually wrote more positive pieces about the U.S. church and donated the profits from the paperback version of The Loved One to the U.S. bishops. “We also forget how he mentored a young Thomas Merton in the late 1940s as the sage editor for the British editions of two of the young Trappist’s books, including The Seven Storey Mountain, which was retitled Elected Silence in England,” Jon Sweeney wrote in America in 2013. Waugh even wrote in a letter to a friend at the time: “It seems to me likely that American monasticism may help save the world.”

–As a bonus, the magazine has posted in full the text of a 1993 article written by John W Donohue, SJ, associate editor of America, whose tenure extended from 1972 to 2007, probably something of a record. This was entitled “Portrait of the Artist as a Christian Wayfarer” and was effectively a detailed review of Martin Stannard’s biography of Waugh, the second volume of which was published in the US in 1993. Here’s an excerpt from that review:

…If the first virtue of Martin Stannard’s biography is the fullness of its chronicle of Waugh’s life, the second is its appreciation of Waugh’s positive qualities along with an understanding of how profoundly his religious faith influenced both his life and books.

So far as one can tell, Mr. Stannard neither shares Waugh’s Catholicism nor is particularly sympathetic toward it. Because he is a thorough and perceptive scholar, however, he has seen how central the Christian view of human existence was for Evelyn Waugh and how he tried, even if only fitfully, to live up to his faith. “The story of Waugh’s later life,” Martin Stannard writes, “is the story of his agonized spiritual quest towards compassion and contrition.” […]

On the evidence Mr. Stannard has accumulated, Waugh made some advance toward his goal even this side of purgatory and did so in the only way that counts—in deeds rather than mere aspirations.

Not that he became as genial as a country pastor, or even imagined that he could. In November 1955, he noted in his diary: “Resolved: to regard humankind with benevolence and detachment, like an elderly host whose young and indulged wife has asked a lot of people to the house whose names he does not know.”

He had no intention of keeping that resolution, but his friends cherished him because he was, as Mr. Stannard says, “essentially kind.” He went out of his way to help young writers or those who were not recognized. He gave generously to friends down on their luck and to charitable causes. He demanded high fees for articles in Life, but wrote without payment for British Catholic magazines like The Month and The Tablet…

Father Donohue’s review concludes with this:

Martin Stannard’s biography succeeds so brilliantly because it honors that distinction Evelyn Waugh drew. As the study of how a great artist developed, it is absorbing. As the story of how this gifted man toiled to be a Christian, it is, in the best sense of the word, edifying.

–The University of Chicago Press has posted a catalogue of  foreign published academic books for which it is US distributor. Among these is the Bodleian Library at Oxford, which operates separately from the OUP. One of the Bodleian’s books on offer is Barbara Cooke’s 2018 Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford. Here is UCP’s description of that book:

Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford years were so formative that the city never left him, appearing again and again in his novels in various forms. This book explores in rich visual detail the abiding importance of Oxford as both location and experience in Waugh’s works. Drawing on specially commissioned illustrations and previously unpublished photographic material, it provides a critically robust assessment of the author’s engagement with Oxford over the course of his literary career.
Following a brief overview of Waugh’s life and work, subsequent chapters examine the prose and graphic art Waugh produced as an undergraduate, together with his portrayal of Oxford in Brideshead Revisited and his memoir, A Little Learning. A specially commissioned, hand-drawn trail around Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford guides the reader around the city Waugh knew and loved through such iconic locations as the Botanic Garden, the Oxford Union, and the Chequers.
A unique literary biography, this book brings to life Waugh’s Oxford, exploring the lasting impression it made on one of the most accomplished literary craftsmen of the twentieth century.

The book is available from UCP at this link. Whether this is something new or a long-standing arrangement is not explained. It is also available, at a discount, from Amazon.com.

–The New York Times reviews a new novel entitled The Whalebone Theatre that may be of interest. It is written by Joanna Quinn who is

…being eagerly interviewed because “The Whalebone Theatre,” a generous slab of historical fiction cut from the same crumbling stone as Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited” and Elizabeth Jane Howard’s “The Cazalet Chronicles,” is a big hit in England. Centered on imperiled aristocracy during the well-trod period of 1919-45, it’s also been compared (inevitably, and to Quinn’s dismay) to “Downton Abbey,” Chilcombe [the stately home setting] being almost a character in its own right. I was reminded further, at least during its delightful first third, of Dodie Smith’s cult classic “I Capture the Castle” and of a lesser-known work by the prolific children’s book author Noel Streatfeild, “The Growing Summer,” in which four siblings are sent to live with their eccentric aunt in Ireland.

Shimmeringly if sometimes a little preciously, Quinn depicts the strange, resourceful magic that can be conjured by a cluster of children when they’re neglected by selfish adults. Overseen by a vague French governess, they educate themselves with books stolen from the study, by eavesdropping from cloakrooms on drunken dinner parties and by running around with young “savages” they encounter scuttling naked around the shore, the progeny of Taras, a daring Russian artist.

The book is available at this link and will be released in the US on Tuesday, 4 October.

The Times newspaper has announced the 21 October sale by Christie’s of articles from Clarissa Churchill’s estate. The Times writer is most interested in the two paintings given to Clarissa and her husband Anthony Eden by Clarissa’s uncle Winston. But there are other pieces of interest to our readers:

Alongside the art collection, there is a selection of first edition books and furniture. They include books signed by Churchill, Charles De Gaulle, Harry Truman and the author Evelyn Waugh.

The auction catalogue lists two signed presentation copies:

Helena (1950). Large print limited edition.

Basil Seal Rides Again (1963). One of 750 numbered copies.

There is also included in Lot 86 a presentation copy to Clarissa of Work Suspended and other stories written before the Second World War (1949). The presentation is dated 14 July 1950.

These are signed but contain no message. No correspondence came up when I searched the catalogue, although there must have been some in the archives. Perhaps the archives are separately distributed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ma Meyrick Inspires Again

Novelist Kate Atkinson has written a book about a London night club hostess from the 1920s that has received considerable press coverage. This is entitled Shrines of Gaiety. The opening of this article by Jake Kerridge in the Daily Telegraph is typical of the comments:

In the London of the Roaring Twenties, no woman – not even the feistiest flapper – provided more pleasure for more people than Kate Meyrick. Ma Meyrick, as she was universally known, was the proprietress of the city’s most exciting night clubs, rackety spots endowed with glamour by their clientele of aristocrats and celebrities.

She was a rather incongruous figure in such company – Barbara Cartland once described her as “a wispy little woman who always had holes in her stockings”. But if she didn’t match anybody’s mental image of the woman the press dubbed the “Night Club Queen”, that was an apt reminder of the bizarre transition she had made in her 40s from unremarkable doctor’s wife to tutelary spirit of London’s nightlife.

Unsurprisingly, novelists have been fascinated by this unlikely character over the decades – Evelyn Waugh put her into his books as “Ma Mayfield”, with her most famous club, The 43 in Soho, renamed “The Old Hundredth”. Now Kate Atkinson has appropriated Ma Meyrick’s story for her latest novel, Shrines of Gaiety, in which the formidable “Old Ma Coker” battles the business rivals trying to take over her night club empire.

After a fairly detailed discussion of Meyrick’s history, Kerridge returns to Waugh’s coverage in Brideshead:

The question of what attracted these upstanding male members [to her clubs] was addressed by Ma in the chapter on “Dance Hostesses” in her memoir, Secrets of the 43 Club. How could the hostesses “command the substantial earnings they do without descending into ways that are dubious”? The answer was that “a great many of the rich men who come to night clubs are dancing mad” and would tip “an expert dancing partner” extravagantly.

The hostesses needed to lead temperate lives to keep themselves fit and attractive – “How does such a regime fit in with the picture of night clubs as ‘dens of iniquity’ which uninformed people are so fond of painting?”, Ma asked. One assumes that the two hostesses Charles and Sebastian pick up in Brideshead Revisited – “One had the face of a skull, the other of a sickly child” – were having an off day.

Writing in the New York Sun , Jude Russo reviews Atkinson’s book as well as Meyrick’s contribution:

“Shrines of Gaiety” follows the tribulations of the Coker clan, a family running an underground jazz club empire under the canny eye of their matriarch, Nellie — a formidable presence modeled on the historical “Night Club Queen,” Kate Meyrick, who also inspired Evelyn Waugh’s Ma Mayfield in “Brideshead Revisited.” Chief Inspector John Frobisher sets himself to ending their reign of vice with the aid of a peppy librarian, Gwendolen Kelling.

Readers familiar with P.G. Wodehouse and Waugh will find much that is pleasantly familiar in “Shrines of Gaiety” — toffs and toughs, antique cars, flappers, corrupt policemen, hardboiled policemen. Ms. Atkinson’s work as a detective story writer has served her well; it is in the crime novel strain of this latest book that her skill for plotting is most evident. Despite its scale, “Shrines of Gaiety” comes together like the innards of a fine Swiss watch.

Laura Miller reviewing Atkinson’s book in Slate also notes the literary connection somewhat more more broadly:

London in the 1920s, and especially the shenanigans of the Bright Young Things—a group of socialites famous for their extravagant costume parties and excessive drinking—has provided fodder for dozens of novelists, including Waugh, Nancy Mitford, and Anthony Powell, all of whom were counted among the Bright Young Things themselves. In Shrines of Gaiety, everyone in town is talking about a bestselling book, later adapted for the stage, portraying this milieu: The Green Hat by Michael Arlen, a real novel now long forgotten. There’s also a character evidently based on Waugh, who despite fawning over the Bright Young Things in person, is at work on a book about how their brightness has become “tarnished.” This plan chagrins Nellie’s feckless son Ramsay, who fancies himself the writer best positioned to depict the intersection of the aristocracy and the underworld where his mother’s businesses flourish. That is, if he can manage to actually write.

The Economist’s reviewer also offers this comment on Ramsay’s book: “Another of Nellie’s sons tries to capture the zeitgeist in a dreadful novel called “The Age of Glitter”, a nod to “Vile Bodies”, Evelyn Waugh’s satire of the era of the Bright Young Things.”

The book was also favorably reviewed in the Guardian, the Minneapolis StarTribune and the New York Times. The latter explains why so many reviewers were able to identify the connection between Atkinson’s character and Waugh’s:

A cast list of this teeming tapestry up front might have been helpful, though at least one figure may be familiar to some readers; Atkinson notes in the afterword that her nightlife maven Nellie Coker was inspired by the famed 1920s club impresario Kate Meyrick, already immortalized as Ma Mayfield in “Brideshead Revisited.” A middle-aged turnip of mysterious provenance, Nellie has molded herself through sheer will and ruthlessness — is there ever any ruth, when it comes to this kind? — into the queen of Soho’s demimonde, supplying all manner of nocturnal pleasures to the government ministers, movie stars and Bright Young Things who can afford her entrance fees.

Atkinson’s book was published earlier this week in both London and New York. The US edition is available at this link.

UPDATE (30 September 2022): A reference to The Economist’s review was added.

 

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Roundup: Mostly Books

–The Public Domain Review has posted an article and links to reproductions from a noted piece of Victoriana in the Waugh Collection at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. Here’s the opening:

The novelist Evelyn Waugh was an inveterate collector. His interest was Victorian arcana — bric-a-brac unfashionable in his time, even gauche, and cheaply acquired. He had a soft spot for histrionic decorative objects, and furniture much larger than function demanded. By his own account, Waugh’s taste referenced the musty, redolent home of his three maiden aunts, a house that hadn’t been altered since 1870, which had entranced Waugh as a young child. Brownish oil paintings; mounted butterflies; glass cabinets of fossils; a taxidermized monkey on the bathroom shelf. “It all belonged to another age, which I instinctively, even then, recognized as superior to my own.”

In middle-age, Waugh turned his collector’s eye toward books, telling Life magazine in 1946 that he was now “collect[ing] old books in an inexpensive, desultory way”. Indeed, he amassed some 3500 volumes, all of which were transferred after his death to the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. Despite the size of Waugh’s library, the archive had no trouble designating its “single most curious object”. That distinction belonged without question to the Victorian Blood Book.

A similar article was mentioned in a previous post, and the Society’s own Richard Oram has spoken and written articles about the Blood Book as well. Richard was librarian at the HRC when a copy of the book was posted on the HRC ‘s website.

–Novelist Andrew Greer mentions Waugh in connection with his new book Less is Lost. Here’s an excerpt:

Q: So you didn’t go for the more vicious comedy of, say, an Evelyn Waugh?

A: The one Evelyn Waugh I like is called The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, which I read while I was working on this book. It’s a fictionalization of a time when Waugh went on a cruise. and he mixed some of his doctor’s drugs by accident and started hallucinating. It’s bizarre but it’s funny and painful and it was really interesting because it wasn’t as caustic as his other books which I find unpleasant.

The new book is described by interviewer Christopher Bollen as “humorous and heartbreaking”. It is a sequel to Greer’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize winning novel Less. The full text of the interview appears in Interview Magazine.

–The New Statesman reviews a new book about the Huxley family (Thomas, Julian and Aldous). The book is entitled An Intimate History of Evolution and is written by Alison Bashford. In the review by John Gray, this appears:

…Aldous is the least interesting of the three [Huxleys]. Like Evelyn Waugh, he began by satirising the mores of his contemporaries in light, witty novels, then developed a concern with spirituality – though the faith to which he surrendered was less well-defined than Waugh’s. Like his pacifism, which was common among London’s intelligentsia, a watered-down Indian mysticism was popular in Hollywood. He is remembered for a single work of genius, Brave New World (1932)…

–Ben Macintyre, author of several books and film and TV scripts about spies is interviewed in the Irish Times. Here’s an excerpt:

A book to make you laugh?

It is very politically incorrect but Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop still makes me laugh. I read it once a year. “Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole.” Every time I think my writing is getting a bit too lush and a bit too purple, I take another look at Scoop.

–The National Catholic Reporter mentions a literary anniversary overlooked by other publications. Here’s the opening section:

In June 1944, an unlikely inmate at a federal penitentiary in Minnesota passed the time by corresponding with a priest friend about the wonders and woes of clerical life. The prisoner was 27-year-old James Farl Powers: “Jim” to close friends and “J.F.” to the writers Evelyn Waugh, Donna Tartt and many other devoted fans who gushed about Powers’ oft-overlooked fiction as they would, in the words of critic Denis Donoghue, about “an idyllic village in an unfashionable part of France, not to be disclosed to the ordinary camera-flashing tourist.”

Powers’ first short story collection, Prince of Darkness and Other Stories, was published 75 ago, kicking off a celebrated career dedicated to the messy lives of Catholic priests: their pushy visitors, parish finances, and long, dark nights of the soul.

Waugh reviewed the book in 1949, apparently when the UK edition appeared.  The review was published in the Month and is reproduced in EAR. Waugh noted that “the shadows of Hemingway and Steinbeck lie over the work but not so heavily as to obscure the brilliant and determining quality which [John Lehmann, the book’s UK publisher] does not choose to notice. The book is Catholic.”  (EAR, p. 373).

Waugh and Powers became friends and met each other on Waugh’s 1949 lecture tour to the US (requiring a substantial detour to St Paul between St Louis and Springfield, IL) as well as during Power’s periods of residence in Ireland. The imprisonment mentioned in the NCR article was related to Powers’ declaring himself a conscientious objector in WWII. Powers’ stories (as well as his two novels) remain in print in the US market thanks to New York Review Books. Here’s a link.

–Finally, another Roman Catholic journal, Crisis Magazine, has published a brief essay by Joseph Pearce highlighting the religious themes in Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited. Here’s a link to that essay.

 

 

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Orwell News

George Orwell was born the same year as Evelyn Waugh and they became acquainted  in the late 1940s shortly before Orwell’s death. They admired each other’s writing but had different political and religious views (although both agreed in their opposition to Communism). The following articles relating to Orwell may be of interest to our readers:

–Obituaries have appeared in both the US and UK announcing the death of Peter Davison (1926-2022). He was a literary scholar and academic best known for his editing of the The Complete Works of George Orwell. This took over 17 years and was completed with vol. XX that appeared in 1998. According to D J Taylor, writing in the Guardian:

Without the efforts of Peter Davison, who has died aged 95, our knowledge of the life and works of George Orwell would be immeasurably the poorer. In an editorial engagement that extended for nearly three-and-a-half decades, Davison turned himself into a one-man Orwell industry: his 20-volume George Orwell: The Complete Works (1998) is rightly regarded as one of the triumphs of late 20th-century publishing.

This achievement is all the more remarkable in that Davison’s career as an Orwell scholar did not begin until he was in his mid-50s. At an age when most academics are settling into comfortable retirement, he was working eight hours a day on the voluminous output of a man whom he regarded as the greatest writer of his age.

Davison’s enlistment as an Orwell scholar came out of the blue. He had spent a quarter of a century teaching literature at Birmingham, Lampeter and Kent universities, specialising in Elizabethan textual scholarship and gaining a reputation for indefatigable hard work: his one-time colleague the novelist David Lodge remembered that his departure from Birmingham left 17 committee posts to fill.

In September 1981, shortly before he took early retirement, he was telephoned by the publisher Tom Rosenthal of Secker & Warburg and asked if he would be prepared to “look over” a forthcoming edition of the six novels and three works of non-fiction Orwell had published in his lifetime. Publication was set for 1984.

Rosenthal assured him that little was needed in the way of amendment. Davison, on the other hand, found himself having to check the books against nearly 50 extant editions and manuscripts. Out of this initial contract – Davison was initially paid at the princely rate of £100 a volume – grew the altogether mammoth undertaking of George Orwell: The Complete Works.

In the mid-1980s Orwell studies barely existed. Bernard Crick had written his pioneering biography George Orwell: A Life (1980) and Ian Angus and Orwell’s widow Sonia had co-edited the four-volume Collected Journalism, Essays and Letters (1968), but vast amounts of uncollected articles and lost correspondence awaited rediscovery in ancient files.

Assisted by Angus and Davison’s wife Sheila – who devoted herself to the project – and eking out his pension by taking on the additional burden of the secretaryship of the Albany building in Piccadilly, Davison set to work.

The 17 years it took to get all 20 volumes into print were marked by a series of disasters. The first three books did not appear until 1986 and had to be pulped as the printers had used an uncorrected version of Davison’s texts. Subsequently the edition was abandoned six times by its publishers (Secker in London, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in New York): after each abandonment Davison carried on regardless. There was a further setback in 1995 when his doctors advised him to have a sextuple heart bypass.

It was not until 1998 that the books finally appeared on both sides of the Atlantic, to a chorus of praise in which Davison sometimes seemed to achieve equal billing with his subject. As another of Orwell’s biographers, Michael Shelden, put it: “In America such an enormous undertaking would be likely to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars of government funding … But Davison has had to get by on a few thousand pounds advanced to him by his British and American publishers … One can only marvel at the devoted service one British scholar has given to that genius [Orwell].”…

The ongoing Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project will ultimately extend over more than twice as many volumes (total 41) as the Orwell collection. Waugh lived 15 years longer than Orwell and wrote more books, journalism and correspondence during his working life. Fortunately, there are more people at work on the Waugh project, and by the end of this year, 12 of the projected volumes will have been published. The goal in both cases seems to be the same–to publish a definitive edition of the author’s work consistent with his intentions at the time of his death. Whether the Orwell editions contain the detailed manuscript development material included in the Waugh editions exceeds my experience with the Orwell editions.

The Spectator has recently reposted a 2011 feature length article about Orwell’s views of religion, in particular his disregard for Roman Catholicism. This is entitled “Orwell vs God ” and was written by Robert Gray, who included this brief mention of Orwell’s and Waugh’s views of each other:

…Perhaps Evelyn Waugh divined something of Orwell’s buried spirituality when he wrote to congratulate him on Nineteen-Eighty-Four, and subsequently visited him in the nursing home at Cranham in Gloucestershire. On the other side, one of Orwell’s last attempts at writing was to draw up notes for an essay on Waugh, who, he considered, ‘is abt as good a novelist as one can be (i.e. as novelists go today) while holding unacceptable opinions’.

Waugh’s later novella Love Among the Ruins (1953) was in a sense his “answer” to 1984 since he brought into his dystopia a consideration of the element of religion that he felt was missing from that of Orwell’s.

UPDATE (22 September 2022): Edits added.

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Fall Equinox Roundup

The Sunday Times contributes another assessment of the literary achievements of Queen Elizabeth II’s years. This is entitled “The books that defined the Queen’s reign.” It is written by Dominic Sandbrook, who begins with a consideration of T S Eliot’s World War II visit to Buckingham Palace while Elizabeth was still a princess. It did not go well.  Sandbrook then proceeds to the years of Elizabeth’s reign, beginning with the 1950s:

…Some candidates pick themselves. Of the books published in the immediate aftermath of her accession, the most influential on the world’s imagination was surely JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The best? Hard, I think, to look past William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, indelibly stamped by the horrors of the Second World War.

Yet perhaps the best glimpse of life in the early Fifties, and certainly the funniest, comes in Kingsley Amis’s debut, Lucky Jim, which recounts the misadventures of a young history lecturer at a redbrick university. Published in 1954, it might seem irredeemably tweedy today, with its smoke-wreathed pubs, high-minded folk singers, beret-wearing artists and tight-sweatered bluestockings.

At the time Lucky Jim’s sheer irreverence, as well as its unrepentant masculine hedonism, caught the mood of a Britain emerging from the rigours of austerity. Evelyn Waugh thought it symptomatic of a “new wave of philistinism”. Somerset Maugham, more bluntly, thought its grammar-school-educated hero and his contemporaries were “scum”. “Some will take to drink, some to crime, and go to prison,” Maugham wrote. “Others will become schoolmasters and form the young, or journalists and mould public opinion. A few will go into Parliament, become Cabinet Ministers, and rule the country. I look on myself as fortunate that I shall not live to see it.”

Sandbrook continues through the years, mentioning such notable books as Angus Wilson’s Last Call, John  Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course, and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane. For the concluding years, Sandbrook reservees judgement but thinks something by Jamie Oliver or Joe Wicks might well be noted.

The Critic in an article by CD Montgomery about Boris Johnson (“A critical man without any plan”) offers a comparison with Waugh’s assessment of a politician (something he rarely stooped to):

…[Johnson] disappointed those who had hopes of him, but what of those who merely had expectations? Even then, his premiership contrived to end more miserably than Theresa May’s. For she at least was ground down by events. Whereas Boris Johnson was undone by the pettiest form of himself: the little man breaking free from the great man of history.

With his ear for a quip, this prime minister was fond of recalling Evelyn Waugh on Churchill (“simply a radio personality who outlived his time”) but now posterity claims the sometime Archie Rice of Downing Street: a man who will forever be associated with the moment he missed and the destiny he failed. The waters will close over him, and the idea of “Boris loyalists” will soon seem preposterous. There shall be no Borisites tending to his cult… 

–In the latest installment of BBC’s University Challenge, Waugh came up in a Bonus Question. The questions related to fictional places and the one involving Waugh asked to name his novel in which William Boot was sent by mistake to Ishmaelia. The answering team responded Decline and Fall and lost 5 points. The correct answer was of course Scoop.

–In the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly magazine, James Parker explains how he

…fixed his insomnia with whiskey and audiobooks. Seriously. I was a terrible non-sleeper, once upon a time. In the small hours, in the little pointy hours, wife asleep, son asleep, dog asleep, when the whole apartment seemed to creak and bulge like a vessel rigged for oblivion, I would creep onto the couch and torture myself with last-man-in-the-worldness. But then I discovered it. I synthesized it: Jameson, headphones. The antidote. The warming, blurring-the-edges whiskey—a shot or two, no more—and the human voice.

First it was John le Carré novels. English voices murmuring about espionage—to a boarding-school boy like me, a cracked product of the Establishment, intensely soothing. Then it was Linda Hamilton (yes, Linda Hamilton of Terminator) reading Martin Amis’s Night Train; Michael Cochrane reading Evelyn Waugh’s The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold(a performance of extraordinary Pinfoldian energy—when Cochrane enunciates the word parliamentary it has six syllables); and John Moffatt reading Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. Believe me, nothing lays you out like The Faerie Queene. I don’t think I’ve ever made it to the second canto…

–In the Literary Review of Canada Mark Kingwell recalls his life of book buying and reading:

What are the highlights on this most recent journey of self-rediscovery? For one thing, I’m struck by how much I associate certain books with where and how I bought them — and sometimes with whom. I found my first edition of Brideshead Revisited in a Toronto used bookstore. It was beyond my means, but my friend Matt Parfitt pressured me to splurge. (He and I were mesmerized at the time by the Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews television adaptation.)

 

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