Downside’s Future Threatened (Updated)

The current issue of The Spectator has an article about the future of the two remaining Benedictine order public schools in Britain. These are Ampleforth in North Yorkshire and Downside in Somerset. A combination of falling enrollments (Roman Catholics are now welcomed at public schools such as Eton that used to deny them entry), rising costs (as the number of Monks falls, lay personnel must replace them at higher costs), and difficulties complying with ever increasing government regulations to prevent child abuse is creating a perfect storm threatening their survival. Another Benedictine public school Douai in Berkshire closed 20 years ago.

Evelyn Waugh has a long association with Downside. This is partly recognized in the Spectator article:

There was a time, we pupils were often told, when the captain of the school’s 1st XV rugby team would consider joining the monastery. Those days, when Evelyn Waugh used to attend the Easter services, now seem very distant.

It went deeper than that, however. Evelyn frequently attended services and retreats at Downside throughout the year, not just at Easter. He also sent his oldest son Auberon to the Downside School, although Auberon himself has no particularly fond memories of that experience. Auberon sent his own children to day schools and they lived at home. Evelyn was also a close friend and correspondent of Dom Hubert van Zeller. Van Zeller was Ronald Knox’s confessor and helped Waugh as a source for his biography of Knox. He was also, according to Martin Stannard,  the subject of Waugh’s last published work which was a review of van Zeller’s autobiography One Foot in the Cradle. That article appeared in the Downside Review for April 1966. Downside also graciously and generously hosted a memorable conference of the Evelyn Waugh Society in 2011.

The Spectator article, by Will Heaven, a Downside alumnus, ends on a slightly more positive note:

What happens next? It’s possible that if the monks relinquish more control and hand over to experienced Catholic professionals, both schools will revive themselves and experience what Cardinal Newman called a ‘second spring’. Numbers may start to climb again, perhaps aided by pupils from overseas. Many parents are very loyal — understandably so, because they see their children doing well and they personally like the monks.

But some might feel differently. An old monk, I remember, once told me at a drinks party that he was relaxed about Downside closing one day. Sometimes it’s better for something to end with integrity, he argued, than change with the times too much.

Earlier this week, the Spectator’s USA edition published an article by Jacob Heilbrunn about the trial of Paul Manafort (former aide of Donald Trump) that was then about to begin. The article described a likely result of the trial to be :

A further spate of publicity about Trump’s Russian entanglements is sure to come tomorrow when his former campaign manager Manafort goes to trial — unless he cuts a last-minute deal with Mueller. It would probably take an Evelyn Waugh to chronicle Manafort’s exploits abroad, which sound like something out of Scoop.

No such last-minute deal was announced and the trial is ongoing as this is written.

UPDATE (9 August 2018): Milena Borden has kindly sent us an update to the story posted above. The report of an independent investigation into sexual abuse in the schools at Downside and Ampleforth has been issued. The Spectator story mentions the report’s pendency. It is not particularly helpful to the schools. According to the Guardian:

The true scale of sexual abuse at two of the UK’s leading Catholic independent schools over a period of 40 years is likely to have been far greater than has been proved in the courts, a report by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse has concluded. Ten people have been convicted or cautioned in relation to sexual offences at Ampleforth in North Yorkshire and Downside in Somerset. The schools “prioritised the monks and their own reputations over the protection of children … in order to avoid scandal”, says the 211-page report published by IICSA on Thursday after hearings last year. The monks avoided giving information to or cooperating with statutory authorities investigating abuse, it says. Their approach could be summarised as “a ‘tell them nothing’ attitude”.

The Guardian’s description of the report’s conclusion sounds much like that forseen in the Spectator:

The report recommends a strict separation between the governance of the two abbeys and the schools. It acknowledges that some steps have been taken but says neither school has formally established a comprehensive redress system and no public apology has been made. In April the Charities Commission stripped the charitable bodies that run Ampleforth of their safeguarding oversight and appointed an interim manager.


Posted in Academia, Auberon Waugh, Catholicism, Evelyn Waugh Society, Newspapers, Ronald Knox, Scoop | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Defining A Waugh Fanatic

Conservative journalist Matthew Walther in the news magazine The Week has written an essay in which he defines what he considers to be a relatively new phenomenon: the Evelyn Waugh fanatic. (See previous posts.) It is worth noting that he considers himself to be one:

The Waughian wears tweed jackets, often if not always ill fitting. He smokes a pipe or one of the expensive additive-free brands of cigarette. He drinks gin and, partly out of spite for craft-beer nerds, Miller Lite. He is a Catholic but has vaguely romantic feelings about English church architecture and says “Holy Ghost” instead of “Holy Spirit.” He insists that the Church has been in a crisis since the Second Vatican Council and the introduction of the new liturgy….

And so forth for reasons that become increasingly amusing as he moves along.

The inspiration for this fanaticism stems from the recognition of Waugh’s position in the canon of English Literature:

When Waugh died on Easter Sunday in 1966, he was praised by contemporaries such as Graham Greene, who called him “the greatest author of my generation.” In death he has been rewarded with one of the most devoted, if not among the most sizable, followings in modern literature. Not one of his novels has ever gone out of print, and even his biographies and travel writings continue to sell tolerably well.

One might take issue with every novel remaining in print (particularly during WWII or in the 1950s before Penguin got all of them into its paperback editions) but the point is well taken. If any were ever out of print, it wasn’t for very long and it wasn’t due to lack of demand.

Walther also mentions the Oxford University Press project to issue annotated uniform editions of all of Waugh’s writings as another recognition of his greatness. While he has enjoyed reading the volumes issued so far, he nevertheless has reservations about the project:

As scholarship the new editions cannot be faulted. … Somehow, though, it all seems a bit soon. There is something to be said for the pleasure of reading books with no sense of obligation rather than as set texts. … The idea that instead of being harmlessly enjoyed by dorks in three-piece suits Scoop might be the sort of thing high-school sophomores get the SparkNotes for fills me with low-level dread. The best way to ruin a writer is to make him important or, even worse, essential.

…Like the Janeites before us, Waughians might well be able to carry on uneasily in the same world as the bored college students and the disinterested scholar-critics. But somehow I fear it will not be possible for us to appreciate our man in quite the same way ever again. Thus does that vague enemy, the modern world, claim another casualty.

The article is well worth reading in full. It manages to be consistently funny and entertaining while at the same time getting some serious points across–not entirely unlike the subject of the fanaticism.

UPDATE (2 August 2018): The Weekly Standard has selected Walther’s article to be featured in its “Prufrock” column. This week’s column is headed with a copy of the 1925 photo of Waugh and his chums on their trip to Lundy Island. The group (along with Waugh) includes the Plunket-Greenes (Richard, Olivia, Gwen and David), Terrence Greenidge and Elizabeth Russell (to whom one of the P-G’s was later married). Martin Stannard (v. 1). None of these people could ever have been described as “Waugh fanatics” (although Waugh was somewhat of an “Olivia fanatic” at that time) so the choice of this photo is a bit odd.


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Late July Roundup

–The Daily Telegraph has another story about the sale of Piers Court containing some new and corrected information:

Piers Court at Stinchcombe occupies a remote corner of Gloucestershire. … It has views of the Welsh Hills and the Forest of Dean, and played a role in some of the most extraordinary episodes of British history. A grand Georgian facade was wrapped around the original Elizabethan shell that was ransacked by Parliamentarians in 1645 after the fall of Royalist-occupied Bristol. Cromwell’s soldiers turned over Piers Court searching for commander Prince Rupert, the nephew of King Charles I. A few hundred years later it became the home of Evelyn Waugh for 19 years, where he wrote Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen and Helena.

The correction removes Brideshead Revisited listed in previous reports as having been written at Piers Court. (See previous posts.) They could have listed The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957) as having been written there (although published shortly after he moved). The novel’s description of Pinfold’s house (called Lychpole) probably wouldn’t attract any offers:

…this shabby old house which, over the years he had filled with books and furniture of the kind he relished…The central heating plant at Lychpole was ancient and voracious. It had not been used since the days of fuel shortage…Mr and Mrs Pinfold withdrew into two rooms, heaped the fires with such coal as they could procure and sheltered from draughts behind screens and sandbags. (C&H, 1973, pp. 122, 134)

–A Manchester online magazine, AboutManchester, has an article relating to a WWI exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North. It asks the question of whether this war should continue to be commemorated now that the centenary of its end has been reached. Waugh contributes this to the debate:

Then came the annual 11th November commemorations, the silence even back in 1919 atttracted criticism, Evelyn Waugh described it as a “disgusting idea of artificial nonsense and sentimentality, […] a disgraceful day of national hysteria.” Ninety eight years later Simon Jenkins would use the same language describing the 11th day of the 11th month which had become as a synthetic festival whose time had passed.

The quote comes from Waugh’s Diaries, p. 37 (11 November 1919). It omits language which, when taken in context, makes it somewhat less harsh: “If people have lost sons and fathers they should think of them whenever the grass is green or Shaftesbury Avenue brightly lighted, not for two minutes on the anniversary…”

–Robbie Millen in The Times  comments on this year’s Booker Prize longlist and complains that it reflects blandness and works not giving offense, or as he puts it “Pffft”, the sound made by a semi-deflated balloon. He thinks writers need to be more edgy:

It has also turned writing into a group activity. God help us, it has made writers more collegiate, more homogenised, blander, more self-congratulatory, more supportive — shudder — nicer. Groupthink is the death of thought-stirring writing.

Evelyn Waugh was never mistaken for a nice person (he said of Stephen Spender: “To see him fumbling with our rich and delicate language is to experience all the horror of seeing a Sèvres vase in the hands of a chimpanzee”). Nor Virginia Woolf (on James Joyce’s Ulysses: “The work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples”). Nor Gore Vidal (“It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”). Nor Norman Mailer (on Vidal: “I’ve had to smell your works from time to time, and that has helped me to become an expert on intellectual pollution”).

We need such writers to look at the world through a cold, gimlet eye, willing to put down on paper that unpleasant, truthful thing. We want them to be awkward, to be rude, to chuck grenades. To say things that others won’t say. To be the cat that walks alone. I await the Booker book that has bad, subversive thoughts. The anti-pffft novel.

–The newsletter QInsider has an article entitled “The Write Way to Travel” in which it cites various writers to recommend to its readers ocean voyages on Cunard liners. Most prominent among those quoted is Evelyn Waugh:

What’s more romantic than a surprising avowal of love? Perhaps one delivered aboard a huge ship, during a storm in the Atlantic. Those are the circumstances in which Captain Charles Ryder, the narrator of Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 classic novel Brideshead Revisited, comes closest to living happily ever after.  Waugh could have based this passage in any one of the book’s settings: Brideshead Castle, an Oxford college, or in any of the members’ clubs of pre-war London. However, he, like so many great 19th and 20th century authors, chose that isolated, technical wonder, thepassenger ship, to carry this scene forward. …Waugh even returned to a nautical setting for his late 1957 sci-fi-inflected novel, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, a slightly unhinged, fantasy inspired by Waugh’s own hallucinations, brought on by the misuse of sedatives during a passage to Ceylon.

They might also have mentioned Waugh’s early travel book Labels which takes place on a Mediterraean cruise.

–The Irish Times in an opinion article about the ongoing Brexit negotiations likens them to dysfunctional families in works of fiction:

Sometimes it seems that contemporary Tories act like dysfunctional characters from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. A more modern take on the lives of the ruling classes and minor aristocrats is to be found in Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose series of novels. These and other chroniclers of the the English elites explore – sometimes subtly, sometimes brutally – just what makes these people tick. They are devoid of the human connections that many of us take for granted. Narcissism and other clinical personality disorders are rampant; psychopathy and cruelty are common. Empathy is noticeable only by its absence.

–Finally, the website has compiled a list of the 101 books Millennials should read before they die. Waugh is included under the “Comedy and Satire” category:

Evelyn Waugh,The Loved One (1948)
Only Evelyn Waugh could write a side-splitting comedy about the work of morticians. The novel is set in California where Hollywood residents bury their beloved pets in the Happier Hunting Ground. The main character is an Englishman who is smitten by a rather dim mortician’s assistant and woos her by sending her famous English love poems under the pretence that he is the author.

Others in this category include P G Wodehouse, Joy in the Morning, and Flann O’Brien, The Dalkey Archive.

Posted in Brideshead Revisited, Diaries, Evelyn Waugh, Labels, Newspapers, The Loved One, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Waugh Plaque Unveiled

The Oxford Mail in a follow-up to its previous story, reports on the unveiling ceremony for the Evelyn Waugh Blue Plaque and the dinner that took place yesterday at the Abingdon Arms:

Speaking at the ceremony, organised by Beckley and Area Community Benefit Society, the author’s grandson Alexander Waugh described his grandfather’s writing as ‘absolutely magical’. He said: “There is nothing to compare with it.You turn a page and get a lovely paragraph that’s full of wit, absolute virtuosity and firework ability. It’s great to think that some of these fine books were written in this pub.”

Mr Waugh, who had not previously visited the pub, learned about its survival thanks to the community. He said: “I thought it was the most wonderful story, for the village to stand together to save their local. My grandfather would have approved. I think the plaque is extremely attractive and in exactly the right place. No one can come here and fail to learn that Evelyn Waugh stayed here”…

Research for the plaque was carried out by Beckley resident Tony Strong, who writes thriller books under several pseudonyms including JP Delaney. He said: “Older residents had always said their parents remembered a link with Evelyn Waugh. It was only when the Abingdon Arms was bought as a community asset in 2017 that we looked into it a bit deeper, and realised just how strong the connection was.”

Evelyn Waugh’s biographer, professor Martin Stannard of Leicester University, said: “There is no doubt of the significance of this pub for Waugh scholars. Relationships that played out here were central to his development as a writer.”

The story, by Sophie Grubb, is accompanied by a handsome photo gallery. This contains illustrations of the plaque and its setting as well as those gathered for the unveiling ceremony and at the feast that followed.


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Two Views of a Turning Point

Perry Anderson in the second half of his long essay on Anthony Powell in the London Review of Books mentions Evelyn Waugh several times. Most notable is his comparison of the reaction of Powell’s narrator in Dance to the Music of Time to the announcement of the German attack on its former ally the Soviet Union in WWII with that of Guy Crouchback, the hero of Waugh’s Sword of Honour war trilogy:

… Powell was ‘caught up in a tidal swell’ of patriotic feeling, Spurling writes, losing his temper with friends who weren’t rising to the occasion. The fate of the country was at stake. After the Continent had fallen to Hitler, when British isolation was broken by the German invasion of Russia, his narrator’s reaction is the opposite of Waugh’s hero Guy Crouchback, who sees only dishonour in the alliance that lies ahead: ‘An immediate, overpowering, almost mystic sense of relief took shape within me. I felt suddenly sure everything was going to be all right.’

Nick Jenkins’ reaction to the breakup of the alliance (quoted by Anderson) is quite similar to Guy’s attitude expressed when he first learned of the German-Soviet nonagression pact at the beginning of the war. This is repeated in the passage where Guy learns of the break-up of the pact in 1941, after he has escaped from Crete, to which he has a quite different reaction:

It was just such a sunny, breezy Mediterranean day two years before when he learned of the Russo-German alliance, when a decade of shame seemed to be ending in light and reason, when the Enemy was in plain view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast off; the modern age in arms.

Now that hallucination was dissolved, like the whales and turtles on the voyage from Crete, and he was back after less than two years’ pilgrimage in a Holy Land of illusion in the old ambiguous world, where priests were spies and gallant friends proved traitors and his country was blundering into dishonour. (Idem, p. 440).

In both novels, it soon turns out that everything was not immediately “all right” as Nick Jenkins thought. As noted by Anderson, Jenkins has soon to deal with the revelation of the murder of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest by Britain’s new Soviet allies, and Guy, for his part, is soon shipped to Yugoslavia where he witnesses Soviet treachery first hand. Other examples arise throughout the balance of the novel sequence. But Nick is more realistic in recognizing the most important thing: that the Soviets switching sides means that Britain is no longer fighting alone and can win. Guy sinks into the disillusion that overhangs Waugh’s whole trilogy, centering on the British attitude epitomized by the “Sword of Honour” they presented to the Soviets to commemorate their victory at Stalingrad.

Anderson goes on to summarize the reasons for Nick Jenkins’ position:

Anti-communist, of course, he was. But that was a conviction, not a passion. What defined his outlook was something else, his own brand of patriotism. Anchored in his family background, this was highly distinctive. Though he found his father personally impossible, the institution he represented commanded his unswerving respect from earliest childhood: at the age of eight or nine, Jenkins can already rattle off regiments and their colours to General Conyers. Though not much enjoying service in the field, the army was in Powell’s genes, as his nephew Ferdinand Mount has written. For him, patriotism was inseparable from the military record of the country, whose defining experience as he grew up was the First World War, in which his father was a decorated officer, at a time when Britain still headed the largest empire the world had ever seen.

Although not mentioned by Anderson, Waugh carried the added baggage of his religious beliefs in circumstances where he knew that his fellow Roman Catholics would be ruthlessly persecuted in the European satellites that were being ceded to the Soviets. Unlike Jenkins, Guy Crouchback does not appear in any extensive post war context. Waugh himself, however, was more open and active in his anticommunism than were Jenkins and Powell, singling out Marshall Tito in what often seemed a one-man press campaign of dedicated opposition.

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Oxford Mail Reports Pub Feast a Sell Out

The Oxford Mail reports that the feast following this evening’s unveiling of the memorial plaque to Evelyn Waugh at the Abingdon Arms in Beckley is a sell out. No tickets or reservations are needed fot the 630pm ceremony at which Alexander Waugh and Barbara Cooke will preside, and I am sure you are welcome to service at the bar. Here’s an excerpt from the report:

The plaque being unveiled today will carry the words: ‘Evelyn Waugh, Author, wrote, drank and loved here 1924-1931.’ July 28 has been chosen for the unveiling because it was on this date in 1924 that Waugh attended a big feast in a barn next to the pub. He wrote in his diary that ‘until about 3 in the morning the whole village sat and ate and drank and danced and sang.’

In recognition of its role of the pub in the writer’s life, villagers will hold their own ‘big feast’ at which diners will enjoy a four-course menu created by the pub’s chef. Co-tenant Aimee Bronock said: “Many people know this as the pub where Lewis Carroll was said to have been inspired to write Alice Through the Looking-Glass by the magnificent view over Otmoor. “We’re thrilled to be highlighting a more recent literary connection as well.”

The feast is sold out but drinkers can attend the unveiling at 6.30pm.

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Whatever Happened to Harold Claire ?

The Oxford Times in its Gray Matter column includes this among today’s stories:

I HAVE often wondered what became of Beckley farmer’s boy Harold Claire, and just possibly I might find out on Saturday night. Claire was a boozing companion of the novelist Evelyn Waugh, a regular visitor to the village’s Abingdon Arms pub in the 1920s, initially with his boyfriend Alastair Graham. Later, Waugh was to honeymoon there with his bride, the so-called She-Evelyn [Gardner]. He was also in residence, and busily writing his second hugely successful novel Vile Bodies, when he received a letter from her revealing the infidelity that was to lead to their divorce.

Waugh’s connection with the Abingdon Arms is being celebrated on Saturday with the unveiling of a blue plaque there by Waugh’s grandson Alexander. The ceremony will be followed by a “a big feast” at the pub in imitation of one that took place there on the very same date, July 28, in 1924, with Waugh and Graham in attendance.

Waugh recorded in his diary: “First there were sports and a cricket match and then at 4 an enormous meal in the big barn next to the pub. “It was a most delightful evening. Harold Claire was very, very drunk, but an excellent host to Alastair and myself, continually filling our glasses and introducing us to people. We danced with Mrs Mattingley [the landlady] several times and drank pints of beer. We went to bed long before it was over. Later we heard that it ended with Harold hitting the policeman on the head and then falling down in the road and cutting himself open.”

Nothing so indecorous, I trust, will be occurring at tomorrow’s ‘do’, for which some tickets are still available, price £43 (01865 655667). Smoked duck, confit trout and braised ox cheek figure on the menu. I will be there. Report next week.

In Waugh’s Diaries the story picks up in the next entry (p. 172) after he goes back to town and confirms that he got a third on his exams. On the following Saturday, he and Alastair return to the Abingdon Arms where they:

…dined with Cooke and Harold, and he and Mrs Mattingly came back to the caravan when the pub shut and drank champagne with us and Alastair and I gave a brooch to Mrs Mattingly which we had bought at Payne’s.

After that they scrounged some cash at Alastair’s home and set off for Ireland.

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Waugh in History

Waugh is cited in the context of two quite different works of history:

In the current issue of the magazine First Things (journal of the nonsectarian Institute on Religion and Public Life), there is a review of a book by Leo Darroch. This is entitled Una Voce and traces the history of the movement to restore the traditional Roman Catholic liturgy following the reforms of Vatican II in the 1960s. Waugh was of course part of that movement in its early days, and Alcuin Reid’s review of the book opens with this quote:

In 1965, Evelyn Waugh wrote to the archbishop of Westminster of the growing tide of liturgical changes: “Every attendance at Mass leaves me without comfort or edification. I shall never, pray God, apostatize but church-going is now a bitter trial.” The prominent Italian Catholic literary figure Tito Casini went further in 1967… He virulently took to task the cardinal charged with implementing the reform…Casini and Waugh had a point. What began to happen to the Sacred Liturgy of the Western Rite of the Catholic Church in the 1960s (or perhaps earlier), and which led to the production of brand-new rituals produced to meet the needs—almost self-consciously—of that ethereal entity “modern man,” was perceived as madness by many, and caused distress to a great number of faithful Catholics.

The review goes on to explain how the reforms had the unintended consequence of discouraging church attendance by the poorer believers, the very group who were supposed to benefit most.

The association started in the UK to preserve the Latin Mass is not specifically mentioned in the review. Waugh was active in the formation and leadership of that group despite his failing health at the time. He would be gratified that the fruits of its labors do get a mention:

The first breakthrough [in the restoration movement] was made by the English. Through the good offices of Evelyn Waugh’s correspondent, Cardinal John Heenan, in 1971, a petition signed by prominent Anglophones, Catholic and non-Catholic alike (including two Anglican bishops) argued that the suppression of the older form of the Mass would be an irreparable cultural loss. Pope Paul VI, said to be particularly moved by the signature, among others, of the novelist Agatha Christie, granted the requested permission for its occasional use—not, however, without provoking the ire of the custodians of “the correct attitude.”

In an Ethiopian weblog Ayyaantuu News which posts articles relating to African history, the second part of an essay discussing the history of the large ethnic group called the Oromo people appears. This is by academic Mekuria Bulcha who cites Evelyn Waugh to explain the conquest and subjugation of the Oromo tribes (living in Southwest Ethiopia) by the Abyssinian nation under its emperor Menelik II:

The Abyssinian onslaught on and treatment of their subjects was worse than that of the European colonialists in other parts of Africa.  The British journalist Evelyn Waugh stated that “The Abyssinians imposed what was, by its nature, a deadly and hopeless system.” Comparing the Abyssinian and European treatment of the peoples they had colonized, he wrote that the non-Christian “peoples of the south and west were treated with wanton brutality unequalled even in the Belgian Congo” in the Abyssinian empire. He noted that the Boers in South Africa and the Abyssinians were “the most notoriously oppressive administrators of subject peoples in Africa.” By Abyssinians, Waugh meant the ruling elite and the naftanya settlers in the south. From Emperor Menelik II to the regime of the late Ethiopian Prime Minister, Melese Zenawi, the historical record confirms Waugh’s assessment. The other difference is that the Europeans left their colonies and went home; the Abyssinians did not after their years of occupation and exploitation. They simply changed their narrative… [Footnote omitted]

A footnote cites the quotations to Waugh’s 1936 book Waugh in Abyssinia (pp. 11, 24, 26).

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Weekend Roundup: Brideshead Re-edited

Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited dominates this week’s roundup:

–Scottish novelist and journalist Allan Massie has written an article in the Catholic Herald entitled “Chapter & Verse: Brideshead re-edited”. The article begins:

Brideshead Revisited, published in 1945, was Evelyn Waugh’s first explicitly Catholic novel. It lost him, he wrote later, “such esteem” as he had enjoyed among his contemporaries. … It was possible to fall in love with the novel while ignoring its Catholic theme, or paying little attention to it. That was my experience, reading it in 1957, shortly before going up to Cambridge. I was entranced by Waugh’s evocation of 1920s Oxford, even if he assured the reader that this was now “lost as Lyonnesse”, entranced too by the beauty, charm, silliness and melancholy of Sebastian Flyte. Later I would be saddened by his descent into alcoholism as he ran away from adult life and the demands of his mother, Lady Marchmain – saintly but not a saint.

Of course I was reading it all wrong, as indeed the narrator, Charles Ryder, misunderstood Sebastian and his mother. In time he would come to see Sebastian as “the forerunner”, when a decade or so later he falls in love with Julia, Sebastian’s twin, has an affair with her, lives with her as man and wife, both being married – Charles to a bright socialite, Julia to the crass and pushing politician Rex Mottram. Julia, it should be said, is the great failure of the novel.

The remainder of the article is behind a paywall but perhaps one of our readers can report below how Massie would “re-edit” the novel.

–On the Anglophile website Anglotopia, a guest writer (Janna Wong Healy), who failed to find delight in either the novel or the 1981 TV adaptation when she was younger, has read (or listened) to the former and watched the latter, as well as the 2008 film version. She now has something good to say about each of them. After summarizing the story, she reaches this conclusion about the novel:

Brideshead Revisited has the depth and weight that are found in a writer working in his prime, in the full powers of an eager, good mind and a skilled hand, retaining the best of what he has already learned. It tells an absorbing story in imaginative terms. By indirection it summarizes and comments upon a time and a society. It has an almost romantic sense of wonder, together with the provocative, personal point of view of a writer who sees life realistically. It is, in short, a large, inclusive novel, … a novel more fully realized than any [considered on the website in] the year now ending, whatever their other virtues.

Moving on to the 1981 TV series, she admitted to having trouble sitting through the first episode, but she continues:

By the second episode, I was hooked.  The series is an extraordinarily true translation of the novel.  Every detail, every nuance of every character is depicted in the series.  In fact, I can think of no part of the book that was excised from the series.  When you watch the series, you get the full essence of the book, including (and especially) the lovely narration delivered in the dulcet tones of Jeremy Irons’ voice.

With respect to the 2008 film, she was able to watch that when it was released and then  again after reading the novel and viewing the 1981 series:

It’s a good piece of filmmaking.  It nicely depicts the friendship between Charles and Sebastian and the romance between Charles and Julia and it explores the importance of religion in the Flyte family.  But, there is no way to reduce a 432-page book that once had life as a 13-hour television series, into a 2 hour and 13 minute movie.  Too many of the subtleties of the characters and relationships are left undeveloped.  Watching the movie is a good method for becoming familiar with the main beats of the story and that’s how I appreciated it when I originally saw it in 2008.  But now that I am initiated in Mr. Waugh’s novel, I can see the movie’s shortcomings.  There was just too much from the novel that had to be excised in order to get it into the theater with a decent run time.

She concludes with a series of alternatives for combining the novel and the films in a satisfactory manner.

Brideshead along with a later novel appear on the website Clothes in Books. They are both included on a list of books recommended as good reading while on cruise:

4) The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold – Evelyn Waugh’s alter ego noisily going mad on a Mediterranean cruise. A kind reader has pointed out that while Pinfold passes through the Mediterranean, he is not on a Mediterranean cruise: he is on a ship travelling to Ceylon with cargo and passengers.

5) And Brideshead Revisited, also by Waugh, contains a memorable love affair on a transatlantic crossing…

Waugh did write a book about a Mediterranean cruise. This was Labels (1930), a travel book, not a novel.

–The BBC has announced that next year’s edition of its series Countryfile Live will be broadcast from Castle Howard in North Yorkshire. The program will air from 15-18 August 2019:

Chief Executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, Sir Gary Verity DL says: “…Castle Howard is a beautiful location and the perfect setting to host this family favourite.” Castle Howard, widely recognised as ‘Brideshead’ in adaptions of the Evelyn Waugh novel, will host many of the much-loved Countryfile Live attractions on its 1000 acre site including Passion for British Livestock, the Wildlife Zone and most importantly, The Craven Arms.

This year’s series of live broadcasts comes from Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire 1-4 August.

–In the magazine Humanities (published by the US-based National Endowment for the Humanities) Danny Heitmen has written a retrospective essay entitled: “The Messy Genius of  W H Auden”. In describing Auden’s wartime career, the article first quotes his biographer as explaining that he left England “to escape the temptations to fame.” According to Heitman:

That’s perhaps the most charitable explanation for Auden’s move to America in 1939. Others couldn’t help noticing that his departure coincided with the start of Britain’s ordeal in World War II. Novelist Evelyn Waugh would later claim that Auden had left “at the first squeak of an air-raid warning.” His absence from England even came up in the British Parliament, although the government took no action against him. 

Auden and his companion on his trip to America, Christopher Isherwood, were depicted in Put Out More Flags as Parsnip and Pimpernell who made a similar trip. The quote comes from that novel. See previous post.

–Meanwhile, on the conservative website Counter-Currents Publishing: Books Against Time, Ash Donaldson has posted an article entitled “Sword of Dishonor: The Reasons for the Decline of America’s Military”. While alluding to Waugh’s WWII trilogy for his title, in his text he relies on a character from Brideshead Revisited to explain one facet of the American military decline. This is in a section titled “An Army of Hoopers”:

By the Second World War, officers like Hooper in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited were as common as hobbits in the shire:

“Hooper had no illusions about the Army – or rather no special illusions distinguishable from the general, enveloping fog from which he observed the universe. . . . Hooper was no romantic. He had not as a child ridden with Rupert’s horse or sat among the camp fires at Xanthus-side; at the age when my eyes were dry to all save poetry . . . Hooper had wept often, but never for Henry’s speech on St. Crispin’s day, nor for the epitaph at Thermopylae. The history they taught him had few battles in it but, instead, a profusion of detail about humane legislation and recent industrial change. Gallipoli, Balaclava, Quebec, Lepanto, Bannockburn, Roncevales and Marathon – these, and the Battle in the West where Arthur fell, and a hundred such names whose trumpet-notes, even now in my sere and lawless state, called to me irresistibly across the intervening years with all the clarity and strength of boyhood, sounded in vain to Hooper…

–Finally, on the website of the Dublin-based popular music magazine Hot Press. a recent performance of the band calling itself Flyte is reviewed:

They’ve got that four part harmony thing down too, on opener ‘Victoria Falls’ from last year’s debut album, The Loved Ones, and ‘Closer Together’, which attempts to mix it up with some quasi 80s keyboards. … they’re at least heading in the right direction, although some of it sounded a bit samey, they could take it easy with the shiny keyboards, and they need to learn how to work an audience a bit more. The bass player has lovely hair though.

The performance was at The Iveagh Gardens in Dublin. See previous post.

Posted in Adaptations, Brideshead Revisited, Newspapers, Put Out More Flags, Sword of Honour, Television Programs, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Waugh’s Oxford (more)

The TLS has a review by Miranda Seymour of Barbara’s Cooke’s book Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford. It opens with a discussion of Waugh’s drawing of Harold Acton on the back flap of the dustwrapper (also p. 25) and continues:

Barbara Cooke’s emphasis here on Waugh’s graphic art – of which the Bodleian owns a splendid little collection – provides a useful corrective to our knowledge of a literary life that has been more sparklingly analysed by Selina Hastings, Paula Byrne and, most recently, Philip Eade. (Christopher Sykes’s engrossing biography of Waugh, published in 1975, remains endearingly tainted by his inability to write with sufficient detachment about one of his oldest friends.) Cooke may fail to sparkle, but she is tenacious in her determination not to mask Waugh’s manifold flaws.The first and better half of her book – it later descends into a historic trail guide (one beguilingly illustrated by Amy Dodd) to the famous and infamous locations of Waugh’s years at Oxford – potters across familiar ground.

The familiar ground is summarized as Waugh’s early life leading up to Oxford. Seymour thinks Cooke might have been more forthcoming about some of the more louche details of Waugh’s undergraduate years but…

Her interest revives when she turns to the novelist’s precocious gift for drawing and his early interest in film-making. Waugh shared Virginia Woolf’s fascination with silent film, and made many of his student friendships through Terence Greenidge, a fellow film enthusiast. Together they produced The Scarlet Woman, which was partly shot at Underhill, and featured, alongside Evelyn and Alec, Elsa Lanchester, who later starred in Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

Both Cooke and her publisher do full justice to Waugh’s early career as a graphic artist. It’s good to be reminded that woodcuts preceded Waugh’s work as a novelist – and to be shown in detail just how good his work was. The five Oxford types that Waugh drew as a frontispiece for Cherwell in 1923 were still being used by that magazine as late as 1940. When his comic novel Decline and Fall was published by Waugh Senior’s publishing firm in 1928, he provided his own illustrations. Clearly inspired by both Eric Gill and Aubrey Beardsley, Waugh’s darkly mischievous caricatures prefigure the exuberant wit of his early novels.

Our readers are reminded that an important phase of Waugh’s Oxford years will be commemorated next weekend on Saturday, 28 July at 6pm when a memorial plaque will be unveiled at one of his favorite pubs, the Abingdon Arms. This is just a few minutes cab ride north of Oxford in Beckley. For details and Waugh-themed menu of the feast planned after the event, see here.

Posted in Art, Photography & Sculpture, Books about Evelyn Waugh, Events, Newspapers, Oxford | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment