Christmas 2023 Roundup

–An article posted by the Duke University Center for the Study of the Public Domain has announced that beginning in January 2024, some books written by Evelyn Waugh will be out of copyright protection in the United States. Here’s an excerpt explaining the situation:

On January 1, 2024, thousands of copyrighted works from 1928 will enter the US public domain, along with sound recordings from 1923. They will be free for all to copy, share, and build upon. This year’s highlights include Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence and The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht, Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman and Cole Porter’s Let’s Do It, and a trove of sound recordings from 1923. And, of course, 2024 marks the long-awaited arrival of Steamboat Willie – featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse – into the public domain. That story is so fascinating, so rich in irony, so rife with misinformation about what you will be able to do with Mickey and Minnie now that they are in the public domain that it deserved its own article, “Mickey, Disney, and the Public Domain: a 95-year Love Triangle.” Why is it a love triangle? What rights does Disney still have? How is trademark law involved? Read all about it here.

Here is just a handful of the works that will be in the US public domain in 2024… They were first set to go into the public domain after a 56-year term in 1984, but a term extension pushed that date to 2004. They were then supposed to go into the public domain in 2004, after being copyrighted for 75 years. But before this could happen, Congress hit another 20-year pause button and extended their copyright term to 95 years. Now the wait is over.

The list that follows includes Decline and Fall which was published September 1928 in the UK  but appeared in the United States in 1929. Whether that later US publication date has any significance is not addressed. Waugh’s first book Rossetti: His Life and Work was published earlier in 1928 in both the US and UK and would also be in the public domain in the US consistent with this article. What may be the situation in other countries than the US is not much discussed. I do recall reading that some of Waugh’s works were in the public domain in Canada a few years ago. According to one internet site, in the UK, copyright of a novel would continue until 70 years from the writer’s death. Since Waugh died in 1966, that would seem to extend the copyright protection in the UK until 2036. Here’s a link to the Duke University article.

–An article by Adam Douglas in this month’s Literary Review is entitled “To Brideshead Born” and begins with this:

My parents burdened me with two middle names. Three forename initials were commonplace once – sported by the captain of an MCC touring side in the 1920s, say – but nowadays they are a nuisance. Official forms allow for only one middle name, although if there is space I shoehorn both in, somehow feeling I am not myself without them.

The two middle names are Charles and Sebastian. My mother told me that one was chosen from each side of the family. But she misled me. They are the names of the leading characters of my father’s favourite book.

I now own the copy of Brideshead Revisited my father gave my mother as an engagement present. Raised Anglican, he went over to Rome, as the saying was, in 1959. Whether he did so purely to marry my mother, whose family tree boasted Jacobites out in the risings of both 1715 and 1745, as well as a couple of recusant bishops, is a moot point. But my father certainly drove his Morris to his second baptism with the lush cadences of Brideshead fresh in his mind.

The copy he gave her is not valuable. It is a third edition, confusingly described on the title verso as ‘New Impression 1952’. I would look it up, but there is no Evelyn Waugh bibliography…

Unfortunately, the remainder of the article is behind a paywall, but it might at least be worth mentioning that there is a bibliography of the works of Evelyn Waugh published in 1986. This was written by 5 well-known Waugh scholars headed by Professor Robert Murray Davis. That work cites (pp. 14-15) several editions of Brideshead, but the only one issued in 1952 was a reprint of the Penguin edition first published in paperback in the previous year. There is no UK hardback publication mentioned between a 1949 Readers Union/C&H edition in 1949 and a C&H “Reset” edition in 1960.

–A website called Letters of Note posted an article entitled “Christmas is a rotten hype & all we can do is ride it out: Letters of Noël”. The first of several entries is this:

“Oh the hell of Christmas cards.”

Evelyn Waugh
Letter to Lord Kinross
December 1953

The statement was included in a letter relating to the arrival of the gift of a present from John Betjeman. It was some sort of antique wash basin for which Waugh believed (wrongly as it turned out) that a part was missing. After the quote above about Christmas cards, Waugh closed with this: “How lucky to be Scottish–or has this beastly custom spread north?” (Letters, 416)

Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year to all our readers.


Posted in Brideshead Revisited, Letters, Newspapers, Rossetti: His Life and Works | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Society’s Secretary Interviewed on Literary Website

The literary and entertainment website Book and Film Globe earlier this week interviewed the Society’s Secretary Jamie Collinson. The interview entitled “Waugh in Our Time” is posted today. Here’s the introduction by interviewer Michael Washburn:

Nearly six decades after his death in 1966, the British novelist, short story writer, memoirist, biographer, critic, journalist, and foreign correspondent Evelyn Waugh keeps coming up in discussion. References to him in contemporary reportage, books, movies, and academic discourse are far too myriad to catalog. Waugh has much to say to us in 2023.

That is the view of Jamie Collinson, an author and the secretary of the London-based Evelyn Waugh Society, who recently took time out of his crammed scheduled to share his thoughts on the creative talent whom his organization promotes and celebrates.

In our wide-ranging interview, Collinson, whose newest book The Rejects will be out from Little, Brown in February, mentioned Waugh’s ubiquity and the fact that nearly all reviews of the hit movie Saltburn contain a reference to Waugh.

That is not surprising. One of the film’s protagonists, the young aristocrat Felix, tells the strange young visitor to his estate that his relatives seem to him to provide the inspiration for all Waugh’s characters. Felix’s parents, in particular, represent the kind of vain and pompous high-society toffs Waugh loved to satirize in his stories and novels.

Ultimately, the Waugh reference in Saltburn feels like a strained attempt to lend gravitas to a flashy but vacuous thriller. If you really want insight into Britain’s aristocracy, social dynamics, class rivalries, imperial aims, literary ambitions, geopolitical entanglements, and military humiliations, there is no better source to turn to than the writer himself. Waugh wrote with the ear of a poet and the precision of a surgeon, never using too many or too few words, and he ran circles around even George Orwell in the breadth of his interests and the scope of his literary explorations.

Whether he set his works at an estate buried deep in the sedate hinterland of northern England, or a town in Wales, or a chaotic Yugoslavian village in the midst of war and upheaval, or an African state trying to find its way in the world, or the hellhole known as Hollywood, Waugh wrote with verisimilitude and found the uproarious humor always ready to pounce from behind the workaday. Today he is controversial, and a candidate for cancellation, because his pen did not spare the sacred cows of progressive dogma. Indeed it often seems when reading Waugh that he reserved a special contempt for ideological fads that tried to claim the status of gospel.

But in our interview, Collinson pointed out that Waugh did not suffer fools gladly regardless of where or in what guise they might appear, and that people who tar him as a supercilious toff and a haughty guardian of highbrow taste ignore his tendency to skewer members of his own class the most savagely of all.

The interview was wide-ranging and both the questions and answers were thoughtful and detailed. Here is an excerpt:

…are there areas of his work that non-members of your society—or even members—find problematic? For example, his rather brutal satire of a former colonial state in Black Mischief, or his skewering of “enlightened” penological approaches in Decline and Fall, where an inmate in a prison carpentry program uses a saw to remove a well-meaning priest’s head?

It’s a while since I’ve read Black Mischief, but I seem to remember that the most brutal and hilarious satire is reserved for the white colonial characters. That said, Waugh was an equal opportunities satirist in that no one was safe. Waugh was clearly a conservative, or as he describes his alter ego in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold—“maintaining an idiosyncratic Toryism which was quite unrepresented in the political parties of his time and was regarded by his neighbors as being almost as sinister as socialism.” As such, I think it’s safe to say he’d have been skeptical of dangerously naive do-gooding, represented by the Decline incident you refer to.

George Orwell, near the end of his life, wrote that “Waugh is about as good a novelist as one can be (i.e. as novelists go today) while holding untenable opinions.” Do you think that Waugh’s continued appreciation faces dangers in this age of cancellation and de-platforming of creators?

As above, Waugh seems to have got away with it somehow. I think probably that’s down to the hysterical cancellation types not having read him (do they read anything, or just look at TikTok?), but more so the fact that his talent is, as Orwell implies, absolutely undeniable. I remember being astonished by the crystalline clarity of the prose when I first encountered him.

The modernity of it was striking, compared to the far more verbose, maximalist work of his contemporaries—something like Malcolm Lowry springs to mind. The way he can draw a character in a few deft sketches, the insistence on “action, dialogue and the sequence of time,” as opposed to dull description. The humor and the perfect arcs of the narratives. Also: the astonishing imagination and under-recognized experimentalism—and of the most successful and exciting kind. The ending of A Handful of Dust is one of the most unexpected and breathtaking that I’ve encountered in fiction.

One thing I’ve noted since my love of Waugh’s work developed: rarely a week goes by that I don’t notice some reference to him, usually in a newspaper or cultural magazine or similar. He looms very large, simply because he’s so good.

In short, I think the clue is in the Orwell quote: it perfectly summarizes why Waugh is still read and loved and will never be cancelled…

In a question about what he described the relative paucity of the adaptation of Waugh work into film, the interviewer mentioned only the films of The Loved One and A Handful of Dust as well as the TV series of Brideshead Revisited. He seems to have been unaware of the two TV adaptations of Sword of Honour, the most recent in 2001 scripted by novelist William Boyd, as well as the 2008 film version of Brideshead and Stephen Fry’s 2003 adaptation of Vile Bodies (retitled Bright Young Things). Boyd also adapted a two-hour London Weekend version of Scoop which appeared on ITV in 1987.  Collinson also noted the BBC’s 2017 adaptation of Decline and Fall as the latest effort as well as rumors of a third Brideshead adaptation.

The interview concludes with this exchange:

Looking back on your Evelyn Waugh Society, from its founding to the present, where do you see interest in Waugh as reaching its peak? And what insights can you offer on this writer’s posthumous fortune?

I’ve only been a member of the Society since 2017. I’m pleased to say that I detect more interest in Waugh recently than at any other time in those six years. I had the sense that he was very unfashionable when I joined, but as per the above in terms of just how often he’s referred to culturally, I think that has changed. There are rumors of a star-studded new Brideshead adaptation, lurid stories such as that of the Piers Court ownership debacle, references in those Saltburn reviews, and as I said, barely a week goes by that I don’t encounter his name. Perhaps that’s partly because times like these cry out for a satirist such as Waugh. He would have had a field day.

The complete interview is available at this link.


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Pre-Christmas Roundup

–The British Film Institute (BFI) has posted a copy of Evelyn Waugh’s 1924 silent film production The Scarlet Woman. I think the film was more a creation of Waugh’s Oxford friend Terrence Greenidge than Waugh himself, although Waugh seems to have written the script and provided the setting for many of the scenes in the garden of his family’s home on North End Road.  Here is the description of the film from BFI’s website:

Much of the appeal of this confusing but fascinating amateur film is a gloriously camp performance by its writer, Evelyn Waugh. He plays the Dean of Balliol College, Oxford, and based his performance on the real Dean, ‘Sligger’ Urquhart. Urquhart, he observed, was Catholic, homosexual, and a snob; an epithet that could as well describe the author himself after his conversion in 1930. Filming took place at Hampstead Heath, Golders Green, and the Waugh family’s Hampstead back garden in the summer of 1924.

In the film the Dean is under orders from the Pope and his envoy Cardinal Montefiasco to convert the English monarchy to Roman Catholicism. The Dean holds a sinister influence over the Prince of Wales, but this is counteracted by the attractions of cabaret actress Beatrice de Carolle, played by a sinuous Elsa Lanchester (The Bride of Frankenstein) in her first film role.

Here’s a link to the film.  It is available for streaming without charge on the BFI Player via a UK internet connection.

–The website CapX sponsored by the UK’s “center-right” Centre for Policy Studies has posted a list of books read and recommended by its contributors in 2023. Here’s one listed by Tom Jones:

With the rise of medically assisted suicide, it was a ‘good’ year to get round to Evelyn Waugh’s Love Among the Ruins. Written at the very beginning of the welfare state, Waugh delivers a tour-de-force that reminds you satire was, at one point, important rather than impotent. This welfare dystopia has become so unbearable that euthanasia is now the most in-demand government service – as it now seems to be the Canadian government’s first resort.

Waugh’s novella is available in the Complete Short Stories. Here’s a link to the listings.

—Niall Ferguson writing in The Spectator has an article entitled “Students annoyed their elders in the 1930s too”.  Thus was inspired by the debate on apparent student support for the Palestine side in the recent warfare with Israel. Ferguson cites the debate that erupted in response to the 1933 Oxford Union motion that “this House will in no circumstances fight for King and Country.” Here’s an excerpt:

…It is true that Oxford had moved to the left since the 1920s. The onset of the Depression, the fashionable appeal of socialism and communism, and the admission of more grammar-school boys had dispelled forever the indulgent atmosphere that Evelyn Waugh later nostalgically recalled in Brideshead Revisited. [Frank] Hardie, the Union president, was a typical Oxonian of the 1930s. Educated at Westminster, he was also chairman of the Labour Club. Yet his most enduring contribution to our national life was a book on the political role of Queen Victoria…

The Times today has the obituary of Roderic O’Connor, Irish eccentric and environmentalist. Here’s an excerpt:

Roderic O’Connor was born Kevin Roderic Hanly O’Connor in Dublin in 1946, the only son of Captain Maurice Bernard O’Connor and his wife Pamela (née Hanly), who had been married to the 16th Viscount Gormanston. Lord Gormanston was killed during the Second World War. Roderic’s maternal grandmother was Lady Marjorie ­Feilding, daughter of the Earl of Denbigh, aide de camp to King George V.

Roderic’s mother lived at Gormanston Castle, a gothic revival house in Co Meath. Evelyn Waugh considered buying it when it came on the market in 1946 and was somewhat surprised when it was Mrs O’Connor, as she had then become, who opened the front door to his persistent knocking. When Waugh expressed surprise at the chatelaine of such a grand house opening her own front door, she told him, “I’m afraid footmen have gone out of fashion in Ireland, Mr Waugh.’’

UPDATE: Roderic O’Connor obituary added after initial posting.

Posted in Brideshead Revisited, Film, Internet, Love Among The Ruins, Newspapers | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Pre-Christmas Roundup

Roundup: Kitsch, Photos and a War

–Last week, a group of Waugh scholars convened by to listen to and discuss a talk by Professor Taichi Koyama on the subject Waugh and Kitsch. Here’s a description of Prof. Koyama’s presentation:

Evelyn Waughs novels, from the earlier secular comedies to the Guy Crouchback trilogy with its deep concern with Gods grace and the vocation of each individual, always grappled with the disordered chaos of the modern world. All of them focalise on rootlessness, dislocation and the loss of temporal and spatial contexts. This presentation seeks to add another angle to the preceding analyses of such elements, by applying the idea of kitsch to two major works of Waughs, A Handful of Dust and Brideshead Revisited

Prof. Koyama has translated some of Waugh’s work into Japanese. Hopefully, the results of the online conference, including Prof. Koyama’s paper, will be published in some readily accessible forum.

–In the current issue of the London Review of Books, Susannah Clapp discusses the work of mid 20th century photographer Yevonde which was recently on display at the National Portrait Gallery. Among the subjects of her photography was Evelyn Waugh. Here is an excerpt from the article:

…Her range of work is handsomely illustrated and sympathetically quizzed in Clare Freestone’s Yevonde: Life and Colour (NPG, £40), written to accompany the exhibition at the revivified National Portrait Gallery. On one page, the scarcely arrested vivacity of a still life in which a toadstool looks like a flying saucer. On another, the daftness of the cover for Woman and Beauty, where a woman with puffed sleeves, a straw hat and a cigarette-holder languidly shells peas. Some of the least flamboyant images are the most disconcerting. Evelyn Waugh’s face is squashed into a tiny picture frame between a potted plant and a copy of Vile Bodies. Double portraits of couples, with back-to-back profiles, raise the question of whether they are fusing or running away. One of these was of Yevonde and her husband, the playwright Edgar Middleton, who called his autobiography I Might Have Been a Success. She also produced self-portraits in which the camera looks like a metallic face. In 1968, she pictured herself in perky miniature, beside a massive studio camera. She is shackled to the great beast by a cable, which could also be a lifeline…

The NPG exhibition has alas concluded but the book is apparently available.

–The Washington Post reviews a book by Scottish professor Andrew Pettegree. Here’s a description:

…In “The Book at War,” Pettegree, a professor of modern history at Scotland’s University of St Andrews, explores how printed media has shaped people in relation to conflict. Books and war, he argues, are closely intertwined. Books have conditioned readers to expect and subsequently support war. They have been vectors of ideology and plunder for victors. Yet they have also represented great solace and solidarity in times of combat, for civilians taking cover and for soldiers on the front lines. […]

Pettegree clearly possesses an exceptional breadth of knowledge, in addition to a skill for nuanced narrative and convincing arguments. His accounts are often fascinating, such as his description of how modern spycraft relied on librarians, books and academics. He tells us of banned books entering Germany in the backpacks of Allied soldiers, and of “pudgy” and “insubordinate” Evelyn Waugh petitioning his commanding officers for leave to write what would become “Brideshead Revisited.” (Waugh was given the leave, in part because he was so insufferable.) …

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Advent Roundup

–The religious website Thinking Faith has posted an essay by Gerard Kilroy, who is, inter alia, co-editor of the recently published volume of Edmund Campion in the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh. In this essay, Kilroy explains in some detail the history of the writing, publication and critical reception of Waugh’s book. I had not realized until I read this that there were three editions of the book with different contents (1935, 1946, and 1961), not just two as I had previously thought. Here’s an excerpt:

…Waugh tells us, on the book’s last page, that he wrote Edmund Campion between October 1934 and May 1935 at three country houses, ‘Mells – Belton – Newton Ferrers’. Actually, he did much of the writing before Christmas 1934 in his bolthole, the Easton Court Hotel, Chagford (where, ten years later, he wrote Brideshead Revisited). By September 1935 he had sent 50 signed copies of the first edition to friends like Hilaire Belloc, Lady Diana Cooper and Lady Pansy Lamb, and the book was publicly advertised in October for the price of 6s 6d.

It was an immediate success and, by a remarkable concurrence of dates, Evelyn Waugh received the Hawthornden Prize for ‘a work of imaginative literature’ on 24 June 1936 – it was on the same date in 1580, the feast of John the Baptist, that a fair wind enabled Campion to cross the Channel. Two days after this accolade, Waugh attended the official opening of Campion Hall by the Duke of Alba, and two weeks later he received a telegram from Mgr (later Cardinal) Godfrey, sent from Rome, telling him that his annulment [of his first marriage] had finally come through: ‘Decision favourable. Godfrey.’ By the time Waugh married Laura Herbert on 17 April 1937, Edmund Campion had sealed both his friendship with [Martin] D’Arcy and his involvement in the life of the Hall, and established his own inclusion in what Waugh called (in a phrase borrowed from Campion’s scaffold utterance) the ‘Household of the Faith’…[Footnotes omitted]

–The religious journal Catholic Insight posted a related article on 1 December 2023, the date of remembrance of Edmund Campion in the Roman Catholic calendar. Here’s an excerpt:

…Waugh’s book, to this writer’s mind, is a masterpiece of hagiography, portraying the saint as he was, in his own time, and even in his own  ‘mind’, insofar as such is possible, the inner turmoil, difficulties and even doubts, as this once-foppish young man joined the most rigorous of Orders, full of their original zeal (the Jesuits were only constituted in 1540, four decades before Campion’s death). How Campion, by grace and training, was formed into an elite soldier for Christ, risking a brutal and grisly death to bring the Faith, the Sacraments, and some solace, to Catholics left bereft in Elizabeth’s increasingly anti-Catholic England. […]

Waugh’s prose and powers of description – honed in his time as as traveling journalist, through war zones – are a delight and inspiration.

–The New York Review of Books has a review by Nathaniel Rich of the new book by James Heffernan entitled Politics and Literature at the Dawn of World War II. One of the books considered by Professor Heffernan is Waugh’s Put Out More Flags. Here’s what the review has to say about that:

In Put Out More Flags, war is just another racket, the latest opportunity for shameless self-promotion, blackmail, giggles, and social gamesmanship. As one character says, “One takes one’s gas-mask to one’s office but not to one’s club.” Waugh did not write autobiographically: none of his characters is a Waugh stand-in, despite sharing his class and milieu. Waugh, in fact, committed himself to the war effort with much greater seriousness than any member of Basil Seal’s coterie, joining the Royal Marines as a second lieutenant. It would be tempting to say that Put Out More Flags reflected Waugh’s own disillusionment about the honor of war, but as Heffernan points out, he was under no illusions when he enlisted. Waugh’s correspondence from the period reflects a frank expectation of his own violent death and describes the fighting as “tedious & futile & fatiguing.” (In this way Waugh resembles Robert Jordan more than Basil Seal, risking his life for a cause that disgusted as much as inspired him.) In diary entries from the Battle of Crete, during which the Royal Navy suffered a humiliating defeat, Waugh describes starving men reduced to ghosts, crawling out of ditches like lizards. He began writing Put Out More Flags on an ocean liner back home. He would later claim it was the only book he wrote purely for pleasure. John Keegan, the preeminent military historian of the period, called Waugh’s farce of pompous dodgers and profiteers “the greatest English novel of the Second World War.”…

The Times (30 November, p. 39) has an article by Susie Goldsborough inspired by the reading of a Jimmy Carter love letter to his wife at her recent funeral. The article contains several love letters penned by writers rather than politicians:

… it’s more often writers who pen the best love letters. The all-time greatest, to my mind, is fictional — Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne in the closing chapters of Jane Austen’s Persuasion — but [the following] real-life examples are rather lovely too. […]

Evelyn Waugh to Laura Herbert, 1936.  You might think about me a bit & whether you could bear the idea of marrying me. Of course you haven’t got to decide, but think about it. I can’t advise you in my favour because I think it would be beastly for you, but think how nice it would be for me. I am restless & moody & misanthropic & lazy & have no money except what I earn and if I got ill you would starve.

–In today’s issue of The Times, Hugo Rifkind considers what might be called the angst of party going. Among the matters discussed are the ways various writers reacted to party going. Here’s an excerpt:

Evelyn Waugh certainly knew the horror of being left out–“she had heard some one say something about an Independent Labour Party and was furious that she was  not asked,” he wrote–even though his entire body of work rests on the premise that all social gatherings and everybody at them were invariably ghastly.

–The Financial Review (Australia) posted an article in its satire column which professes to show several proposals by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (aka Harry and Megan or “H&M”) for productions on Spotify. All were rejected. Here’s one of them:

Vile Bodies: A modern adaptation of the classic Evelyn Waugh tale in which a group of “bright young things” set about modernising the stuffy, boring old House of Windsor, only to find the monarchy is riddled with the vilest form of racists, sexists and misogynists. In one pivotal scene, an unnamed royal wonders whether two of those bright young things, the gorgeous mixed-race celebrity couple “Hugo and Muriel” who are expecting a child, will have a baby with brown skin or fair skin. The tension mounts unbearably …

Dear H&M, No it doesn’t, actually. Spotify.




Posted in Anniversaries, Edmund Campion, Letters, Newspapers, Put Out More Flags, Vile Bodies, World War II | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Advent Roundup

Thanksgiving Roundup

–James Marriott writing in The Times offers some thoughts on the new film Saltburn (mentioned in several previous posts). Here’s an excerpt:

…With the complacency characteristic of her class, Fennell [writer/director of film] never pauses to reflect that a person like Oliver [Charles Ryder figure] might not be that interested in befriending aristocrats. After all, her film seems partly to want to persuade us that they are vacuous halfwits. Oliver, meanwhile, is the only person in his year at Oxford who has read all 50 books on the summer reading list and is rarely glimpsed without an orange-spined Penguin classic. Would such a person really yearn for the company of Potterhead poshos? Apparently, inherited wealth carries its own irresistible charisma. That assumption is one of the leitmotifs of British culture. Every generation has its crowd-pleasing, toff-ogling popular hit. In literature, for instance, Evelyn Waugh’s lavishly snobbish fantasia Brideshead Revisited and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty. TV offers Upstairs, Downstairs and its spiritual successor Downton Abbey. In each instance the upper classes are made an ideal projection of all the writer’s dreams of superiority. For Waugh they were impressively tortured and Catholic, for Hollinghurst impressively cultured and tasteful, for Julian Fellowes impressively benign and paternalistic. Too many English writers still subscribe to the world view of the ancient Greeks, whose word for “aristocrat” was the same as their word for “the best”.

The truth, of course, is more banal. The scenario nobody seems prepared to consider is that the posh might simply be … boring. Being very wealthy is not a substitute for a personality and neither is living in a 17th-century house, however elaborate its porticos or lavish its acres. Anybody who has been exposed to the very posh — as I briefly was at university — cannot continue to regard them as inevitable paragons of culture, style and wit. The opposite, frankly…

Britain is odd in lacking any tradition of the romance of social mobility. We have no national myth equivalent to the American dream or even the French ideal of egalite. Instead, we are left with the cliche uncritically retailed by Saltburn: the upwardly mobile are almost always gauche, often ridiculous and perhaps even sinister. Saltburn’s Oliver — furtive, awkward, grasping, oddlooking, resentful — is the manifestation of every scholarshipboy stereotype committed to celluloid. In Britain, classism is the last socially acceptable prejudice.

Now that poor pay, expensive housing and insecure employment mean our creative elite has been colonised once again by the very wealthy — the Old Etonian actors, the trustafarian screenwriters — we should probably prepare to get used to these stereotypes: the enviable aristos, the sinisterly aspirational lower middle classes. Meanwhile, we must remember that real life is not like that at all.

–The auction house Christie’s is offering a group of letters including one from Evelyn Waugh to Robin Campbell dated 27 December 1945. Here’s the description:

In a letter to Robin Campbell, Waugh defends a recent letter he wrote to The Times with a fierce attack on Picasso who, he claims, fails as an artist and is a symbol of decadence and the decline of Western civilisation – ‘the only criticisms valid for him are: “Ooh doesn’t it make you feel funny inside” or “the fellow’s a charlatan”‘ – including Gertrude Stein in his criticism (‘aesthetically in the same position as, theologically, a mortal-sinner who has put himself outside the world order of God’s mercy’).

The letter is reprinted in Letters (1980), pp. 214-16. Here’s a link to the Christie’s catalogue in which the other letters in that collection as well as the details of the auction are available.

–Writing in The Nation, Professor James K Galbraith, who teaches at the University of Texas, takes issue with two recent newspaper articles which urge the elimination of the New Deal regulations requiring banks to offer 30-year fixed-rate mortgages:

Their thrust is that the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage—fairly standard in the United States—unfairly protects current homeowners from the risk of rising interest rates. That risk is therefore borne (they say) by the lenders, whose assets are devalued, and also by prospective homebuyers, who find fewer houses for sale, and at prices they can no longer afford. Meanwhile, aging boomers hold on to homes they might otherwise unload. Casselman writes, “Buyers get all the benefits of a fixed rate, with none of the risks.” Campbell confirms: “It’s a one-sided bet,” and goes on to add: “If inflation goes way up, the lenders lose and the borrowers win…”

This is where my Anatole France moment kicked in. My father—also a Harvard economist in his day—once elaborated what he called Galbraith’s Law: “People who have money to lend, tend to have more money than people who do not have money to lend.” Casselman and Campbell believe that the market, in its majestic equality, should distribute risk equally to lenders and borrowers alike—to the have-mores and the have-less, to the bank and to its customers.

After discussing in some details what he believes to be the fallacy of the proposed elimination of the fixed rate mortgage, Galbraith closes his article with this:

Long ago, a news report told that a tumor excised from Randolph Churchill (son of Winston) had proved benign. Evelyn Waugh commented that it was a miracle of modern medicine to find the only part of “Randy” that was not malignant, and remove it. That, roughly speaking, is what Casselman and Campbell propose for our American system of banking and finance.

The Herald (Scotland) carries a story by Rosemary Goring about recent litigation over abuse of students allowed in public schools. Here’s an excerpt:

In Decline and Fall, Evelyn Waugh’s excoriating satire of public schools, it was taken as given that teachers were, at best, peculiar, and often far worse than that. In his interview with the Headmaster, aptly named Dr Fagan, young Paul Pennyfeather admits he was sent down from university for indecent behaviour: “Indeed, indeed? Well, I shall not ask for details. I have been in the scholastic profession long enough to know that nobody enters it unless he has some very good reason which he is anxious to conceal.”

–Mark McGinnis in The Oldie observes the 75 anniversary of the death of Robert Kennedy by recounting the sad life of his sister Kathleen Kennedy. In it, he describes, inter alia, the refusal of her parents to attend Kathleen’s 1944 London wedding in which she married Billy Cavendish, heir to the Duke of Devonshare and a Protestant:

Rose [Kathleen’s mother] took herself to hospital with a nervous collapse. Evelyn Waugh, one of her admirers from a wider circle, warned her she would go to hell (using her plight for Julia Flyte falling in love with Rex Mottram in Brideshead Revisited).

Posted in Anniversaries, Brideshead Revisited, Decline and Fall, Letters, Newspapers | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Thanksgiving Roundup

Roundup: a Film, a Warrior and a Hoax

The Conversation has posted an article by literary scholar Christine Berberich, who teaches at the University of Portsmouth and is well known to members of the society through her writings and participation in its events. This latest essay explains the connection between the recent film Saltburn and Brideshead Revisited and provides a detailed review of the novel. Here’s the opening:

Ever since I first read Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited as a master’s student many years ago, I have been smitten. Literary trends and fashions come and go, but I still return to Brideshead every couple of years for sheer reading pleasure.

Undoubtedly Waugh’s most famous novel, Brideshead Revisited was first published in 1945 after the second world war. Its narrative is deeply imbued with nostalgia for an unspoilt, quasi-mythical rural England of stately homes and bright young upper-class people that, it can be argued, never really existed in the first place.

Waugh’s protagonist is Charles Ryder, a young middle-class man with social aspirations, who meets and befriends the upper-class Sebastian Flyte while at Oxford. Ryder is seduced by the easy charm and carefree attitude of Sebastian, an infatuation that only increases once Ryder accompanies Sebastian to his ancestral home, Brideshead, and meets his family.

This storyline is emulated in English director Emerald Fennel’s new film, Saltburn. The film follows Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan), an awkward student who is trying to find his place at Oxford. Quick is taken under the wing of the charming and aristocratic Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), who invites him to spend a memorable summer at his sprawling family estate Saltburn.

A riveting thriller, the film is also deeply nostalgic for an England of stately homes full of hedonistic, bright young things. It shows the timelessness of Waugh’s story and your appreciation for Saltburn will only be strengthened by getting to know the novel that inspired it…

The film is also discussed in previous posts. Here’s a link. In addition, the film is reviewed in several of the UK, US and Irish papers in connection with its theatrical release, and several of them prominently mention its connection to Waugh and Brideshead. Here’s the opening of the review from yesterday’s issue of The Times by Kevin Maher:

They say “write what you know” and, boy, does the film-maker Emerald Fennell know the upper-class milieu of this, her follow-up feature to Promising Young Woman. The 38-year-old Oscar-winner here takes judicious swipes at what she’s termed the “grotesque privilege” of her upbringing, and thus sets the film among wealthy university cliques and the buffoonish aristos of giant country manors in 2007.

One such pile is Saltburn, an estate that was, claims the screenplay, beloved of Evelyn Waugh but is now home to Sir James Catton (Richard E Grant), his ex-model wife, Elsbeth (Rosamund Pike), his disaffected daughter, Venetia (Alison Oliver), and his sweet but dim son, Felix (Jacob Elordi).

These characters are immaculately drawn and reason alone to see the film. In their exchanges, often riotously funny, there’s a conspicuous strain of casual cruelty. Elsbeth wittily dismisses Venetia’s bulimia as “fingers for pudding”. Sir James boasts about the family’s alleged informality even as they dress, black tie, for dinner. The Catton riches facilitate an underlying ruthlessness in Felix’s relationships with university friends; he picks them and drops them at will. It’s the stuff of classic “country house” fiction, and the references here, as well as Brideshead Revisited, are The Go-Between, Atonement and Mansfield Park although there’s a final reel revelation, concerning a key character’s affections, that’s been brazenly lifted from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca…

–An interesting article appears in the website of the Texas National Security Review: War on the Rocks. This scholarly journal is sponsored and curated by the University of Texas. The article is by Zachary Griffiths, a West Point graduate and a veteran of the Afghanistan War. His article is entitled “Waugh we Fight”. After explaining how he became acquainted with Waugh’s war trilogy Sword of Honour, he describes why it is particularly interesting to him as a professional soldier. Among these are Waugh’s description of the importance of non-commissioned offers in Men at Arms that Griffiths found true to life based on his own experience as an officer. He also compares Waugh’s narrative of the retreat from Crete in Officers and Gentlemen to the US experience in Afghanistan. Here’s an excerpt:

One place I have said goodbye to is Afghanistan. Now that we are more than two years from the withdrawal, the retreat from Crete in Officers and Gentlemen helps me make sense of my feelings. In that scene, Guy and Hookforce huddle in caves overhanging the beaches of Sphakia on Crete as the Germans close in. It becomes clear that no more boats are coming to take troops off the island. Individuals, not armies, make decisions about the future.

Faced with defeat, Guy and his colleague Ivor debate the honorable choice. Is it to stay, fight, and surrender, or to leave their men behind so that they may train the next crop of conscripts? His colleague sees that “the path of honor lies up the hill,” facing, then surrendering to, the Germans. Guy, though, falls asleep, bathes in the sea, and escapes with some sappers on a jerry-rigged boat. Ivor ultimately chose the least honorable path — desertion — while Guy battled post-traumatic stress and returned to the war. To this reader, none of these paths clearly offer honor, just like the options of staying or going in Afghanistan. These vignettes merely scratch the surface of how Waugh helps me think about war.

He has issues with Waugh’s conclusion of the trilogy:

Despite the incredible strength of Sword of Honour, I struggle with the happy ending: Guy’s redemption. The final chapter ties up all the challenges facing Guy at the beginning. He sought redemption from his failed marriage, his wasting of an inheritance as a failed Kenyan farmer, and his failure to restore his family estate so ancient it was nearly unique in “having been held in uninterrupted male succession since Henry I.” Men at Arms starts with Guy’s rejoicing that the new war might rescue him from “eight years of shame and loneliness [as] … the enemy at last was plain in view … [and] there was a place for him in that battle.” Then, over 27 lines in the book’s last two pages, Waugh grants Guy redemption. He cashes in his Italian estate, acquires an heir and wife, turns a profit on his farm, and obtains an inheritance. Given Guy’s string of failures, his desire for redemption is understandable, but no writing on the truth of war should end on such a note…

Griffiths may not be aware of Waugh’s struggle with his ending. He did not mean to suggest that Guy Crouchback would live happily ever after. While Guy did remarry, he was saddled with Trimmer’s illegitimate son born to his first wife Virginia, whom Guy had remarried during her pregnancy with the knowledge of the child’s paternity. When Virginia died in an air raid near the end of the war, the child survived and was deemed Guy’s legitimate child with full inheritance rights. Waugh’s original ending of Unconditional Surrender also blessed Guy with two children of his own with his new postwar wife. He hoped that the irony of the inheritance of Guy’s estate by Trimmer’s bastard and not his own sons would cloud his future. When several readers missed this point, Waugh changed the ending as it appeared in Sword of Honour to eliminate the two children with his new wife. This probably would not change Griffiths’ reservations about the ending but is worth a mention. Here’s a link to the article.  Thanks to Dave Lull for sending a copy.

–The Irish Times has posted an article on the 1929 Bruno Hat hoax and Waugh’s participation therein. This is by Alison Healy and opens with this:

The life of Bruno Hat is the stuff of fantasy. The reclusive German artist was reportedly discovered by Bryan Guinness, heir to the brewing dynasty, in 1929. The story goes that he pushed open the wrong door in a shop in a Sussex village and found the artist’s avant-garde paintings. He was blown away by the originality and learned that they were painted by the shop-owner’s stepson. Guinness brought the wunderkind to his home in Westminster where he held an exhibition of 20 paintings for the art critics and glitterati. Bruno Hat quickly became the talk of London.

It was indeed the stuff of fantasy, for Bruno Hat never existed. He was a dream conjured up by Bryan Guinness and his friends, a group of socialites, dilettantes and creative types dubbed the Bright Young People. And only for historian and broadcaster Myles Dungan’s website, I would never have heard of Herr Hat’s exploits.

The idea to create the fictional artist seemed to have come from the poet Brian Howard, and the paintings were a collaboration between him and the artist John Banting. Variously described as quasi-cubist and surrealist, the artworks on display at the Guinness mansion were painted on bathmats and framed with rope.

The writer Evelyn Waugh pulled out all the stops when he penned the catalogue notes with the earnest and scholarly title: Approach to Hat. Fond of a pun, his pseudonym was A.R. de T. He likened Bruno Hat to Picasso and said he “may lead the way in this century’s European painting from discovery to tradition . . . Uninfluenced, virtually untaught, he is the first natural, lonely, spontaneous flower of the one considerable movement in painting to-day”…

A complete copy of Waugh’s “Introduction” is included in CWEW of Evelyn Waugh, v. 26, pp. 186ff.

Posted in Brideshead Revisited, Newspapers, Sword of Honour, Vile Bodies | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Roundup: a Film, a Warrior and a Hoax

Armistice Day Roundup

The Spectator carries an article revealing renewed interest in the works of innovative novelist Ronald Firbank. This is by contemporary novelist Alan Hollinghurst and is inspired by the recent erection of a Blue Plaque commemorating Firbank’s residence at 33 Curzon Street in Mayfair. Hollinghurst also explains how Evelyn Waugh was amongst those who first realized Firbank’s influence on his generation:

[Firbank’s novel] Vainglory came out in April 1915 – not a good moment for such an adventure, and it seemed to set a pattern for the ignoring and deploring of Firbank’s subsequent fiction. But if sales were tiny in his lifetime, the effect of his work on writers of the next generation was revelatory. Evelyn Waugh wrote the first serious critical essay on Firbank in 1929, and his acute understanding of Firbank’s method bore fruit in the novel he was starting at the time, Vile Bodies, the first part of which reads like a direct transfusion of master to pupil. The fragmentary design the older writer had pioneered proved prophetically apt for the depiction of a disoriented post-war world. The setting of Henry Green’s Living, a Birmingham factory, could hardly be less Firbankian, but an envious Waugh saw that he had organised his plot in ‘exactly the way Firbank managed his’…

Waugh’s article appeared in Life and Letters (March 1929) and is reprinted in Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh, v. 26, p. 176.

The Guardian has a feature length article on the career of author’s agent Andrew Wiley. This is by Alex Blasdel and is headed with this:

Days of The Jackal: how Andrew Wylie turned serious literature into big business
Andrew Wylie is agent to an extraordinary number of the planet’s biggest authors. His knack for making highbrow writers very rich helped to define a literary era – but is his reign now coming to an end?

Here’s an excerpt:

…Wylie was always thinking globally. In the 2000s and 2010s, he made two serious attempts to enter the Spanish language market directly by opening up an office in Madrid and buying a renowned agency in Barcelona (both failed). He attempted to sign up many of the most important American historians (a success) and to sell their books abroad (a failure). He attempted to force the major publishing houses to give authors a greater share of royalties for digital rights by setting up his own ebook company (also, in most respects, a failure). He began recruiting African writers who won the continent’s prestigious Caine prize (seven successes to date).He went after the estates of JG Ballard, Raymond Carver, Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike and Evelyn Waugh (success, success, success, success, success)…

–A recent issue of TLS carried an article marking the centenary of novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard. This is by Norma Clarke and is entitled “Required reading: Elizabeth Jane Howard is much more than a guilty pleasure.” The article is a refreshing and concise description of Howard’s work and reputation. Here’s an excerpt:

…I’ll confess it was a luxury to be allowed to celebrate her achievement in this the centenary year of her birth, to be given permission to read and re-read. For so many readers, Jane Howard is like Jane Austen, the go-to writer for re-reading when immersion, distraction, comfort is called for. As well as Slipstream there is a biography, Elizabeth Jane Howard: A dangerous innocence by Artemis Cooper (2016; I’ll come to that sub-heading later) and audio recordings of her being interviewed and interviewing. On YouTube you can see her interviewing Evelyn Waugh, two immensely posh people pretending not to be uncomfortable with each other. (Waugh was a famously difficult interviewee; Howard managed to soften him up a little.) She was often on the radio, including twice on Desert Island Discs. Her fans, up to and including Queen Camilla, who would take The Cazalet Chronicles to her desert island, are multitudinous and vocal. There’s a slew of blogs, posts, responses, opinions, considerations and judgements. What there isn’t is the sort of scholarly critical appraisal that might be expected, given how significant a figure Howard was in London literary life.

The YouTube BBC Monitor interview has been edited, but a complete copy is available in CWEW v. 19 A Little Learning, App. F. For some earlier comments on Howard’s centenary, see previous post.

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Roundup: Rereading Black Mischief

–A recent column of The Times “Rereading” series contains a brief essay on Waugh’s 1932 comic novel Black Mischief. The column, published in today’s edition, is by Will Lloyd. Here’s the opening:

One afternoon in the absurdly early Thirties, Evelyn Waugh and some friends were discussing Abyssinia. The only African country to escape the dubious benedictions of European colonisation was in the news. Very soon, Ras Tafari would crown himself as Emperor Haile Selassie in a series of splendid ceremonies in Addis Ababa. Was it true, they wondered, that the legitimate heir to the throne was actually imprisoned in a mountain there? Surely the Coptic Church did not consecrate bishops by spitting on their heads, as was rumoured? Polygamy and drunkenness were everywhere in Abyssinia, Waugh’s friends said. Within two weeks Waugh would find out for himself. He was on a boat to Abyssinia, embarked on what he later called “one of the really amusing journeys left in the world”

That journey was integrated into his travel book Remote People, and transposed into his outrageous third novel, Black Mischief, published in 1932. This is not something that’s safe to read on the London Underground, unless you decide to sheathe it in a protective slip. (I usually place my copy inside the dust jacket of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race.) A book from the Thirties, written by an alltime snob, about Africa? Frankly, it’s a miracle that Black Mischief remains in print, and notable that when Penguin Classics reissued Waugh’s greatest works last autumn, they left this one out of the series.

They made a mistake. Black Mischief is a crucial throat-clearing work, the necessary novel Waugh had to write after his divorce and conversion to Roman Catholicism, before the slam-dunk, reputationsealing A Handful of Dust.

Although Black Mischief is a scream, it is also where Waugh discovers that he is serious. The world of society lightweights that the young satirist filleted in Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies is tempered here by a new concern with grander themes. Such a shift is often a disaster for the comic novelist (see: M Amis), but it only made Waugh more coherent and funnier. […]

After a brief but accurate summary of the plot, noting that the humor arises from the Europeans imported to bring progress to Africa rather than the Africans themselves, the article concludes with this:

Progress was a mirage. As Waugh put it in a 1932 BBC radio broadcast as he worked on the proofs of Black Mischief: “Man’s capacity for suffering keeps pretty regular pace with the discoveries that ameliorate it,” He fully expected “a vast recession of the white races from all over the world” to occur in his lifetime. Waugh’s clarity came at a cost. He wrote Black Mischief, one observer said, “slowly and reluctantly … groaning loudly” in the nursery of a country house. He hated writing. We should always be glad he did it anyway.

–The Sunday Times has published its “Top 10 Literary Adaptations” selected by a panel of experts. This included noted adaptor Andrew Davies as well as Jack Thorne, Heidi Thomas, Daisy Goodwin, Mark Gatiss, Sebastian Faulks, Tim Glanfield and Victoria Segal. Their number 3 choice was the Granada TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited:

Brideshead Revisited (1981) Jeremy Irons’s dulcet narration, some sumptuous title music and a fluffy toy cradled by Anthony Andrews all make this adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel utterly captivating. “The leads are perfect in every high-cheekboned aspect,” Victoria Segal says. Andrew Davies adds: “Ridiculously lush and self-indulgent, but it gets you every time.”

Davies’ 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was number 1 and the BBC’s 1976 series I,  Claudius was number 2.

The same issue of the Sunday Times (29th October) also includes an interview of Andrew Davies by Hadley Freeman. This is entitled “How to write a classic drama”. Here’s an excerpt: In Davies’s eyes a good adaptation will “render a truthful and honest experience of the novel”. In other words, fidelity to the words is less important than fidelity to the emotion. Why do almost 200-year-old books still make such blockbuster TV serials? “Well, they had bloody good stories that went on for a long time,” Davies replies, characteristically forthright. “Whereas contemporary novels seem mostly to divide up into, they’re very well written but there’s sod-all story, or there’s a lot of story but you can’t believe in the characters.”

–The German newspaper Welt has posted an article by Wieland Freund entitled (in translation) “When Evelyn Waugh interrupted the war”. It is focused on explaining how Waugh managed to edit the proofs of Brideshead Revisited while serving in the Army in Yugoslavia. Here’s an excerpt translated by Google:



…Waugh could put Randolph [Churchill] to good use. Somehow the upheaval of “Brideshead” had to reach Topusko. It is with some certainty that no upheaval has had a more adventurous journey, as Waugh described it years later. “Brideshead” was sent by the publisher to Downing Street in October 1944; “From there,” Waugh reported, “it traveled to Italy in the Prime Minister’s mailbag, was flown from Brindisi and parachuted over Gajana in Croatia, then an isolated region of the resistance; it was corrected in Topusko and then taken to Split by jeep when the road was temporarily out of enemy hands; from there by ship to Italy and so home, via Downing Street.”


–The European Conservative has an unsigned essay entitled “Liturgical Conservatism and the Catholic Church.” Evelyn Waugh is one of several writers considered, with particular reference to his novels Brideshead Revisited and Sword of Honour. Here’s the opening:

The conservatism of some of the greatest Catholic writers of the 20th century has often baffled, and sometimes enraged, their literary critics, with Evelyn Waugh and J. R. R. Tolkien in particular coming under sustained attack. … One critic protested Evelyn Waugh’s “excessive conservatism” and another, clearly irritated by The Sword of Honour’s critical success, argued that it was a triumph only “for pessimism and conservatism.” Writing in the New Statesman recently, Will Lloyd could not hide his exasperation: “Why the passing decades cannot diminish him ought to trouble our creaking, secular, liberal age.” Well, quite.

If Waugh’s social and political conservatism has been difficult to swallow, his liturgical conservatism has proved to be utterly inexplicable. Many critics seem to believe that the liturgical changes enacted after (not, despite popular belief, by) the Second Vatican Council were proof of the Catholic Church’s belated but inevitable acceptance of the modern world. Waugh’s heartfelt criticism of these changes was, therefore, clear evidence of his reactionary nostalgia: “An ardent traditionalist,” Mary R. Reichardt wrote, “Waugh especially deplored the liturgical changes of Vatican II, sadly convinced that his beloved Church was merely giving in to modernity”…






Posted in Adaptations, Black Mischief, Brideshead Revisited, Newspapers, Remote People, Sword of Honour, Television, World War II | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Roundup: Rereading Black Mischief

120th Anniversary of Evelyn Waugh’s Birth

Evelyn Waugh was born at 11 Hillfield Road, West Hampstead, London on 28 October 1903. That makes this his 120th anniversary. His centenary was marked in 2003 with several events including two academic conferences–one in Spain and the other at Oxford. This year marks the centenary of his publication of articles and illustrations in Harold Acton’s new magazine the Oxford Broom. His writings and drawings continued to appear in Isis and Cherwell, also published in Oxford, and he was actively supportive in John Sutro’s successful efforts to revive publication of the latter. In addition, his work appeared for the first time in a London magazine. This was a drawing that was published in London Mercury. He probably joined the Hypocrites Club in 1923; he was introduced by Harold Acton who is recorded as having joined in October 1922. In any event, Waugh was certainly active in the club in 1923 and was I believe, at least briefly, an officer.

Posted in Anniversaries, Evelyn Waugh, Oxford | 1 Comment