Evelyn Waugh Studies 50.3 (Winter 2019)

The Winter 2019 issue of the Society’s journal Evelyn Waugh Studies No. 50.3 has been issued. It is posted at this link. The contents are set out below:


“Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead and Castle Howard” by Jeffrey Manley


Castle Howard has become inextricably connected in the public perception with Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited. This is due more to its selection as a setting for two popular film adaptations than to what was written by Waugh himself. And yet because of the overwhelming effectiveness of the portrayals of Waugh’s story in these films (or at least the earlier Granada TV production), even some literary scholars have come to accept the identity of Castle Howard as the setting intended in Waugh writings. The purpose of this paper is to compare Waugh’s descriptions of Brideshead Castle to Castle Howard itself and to review the process of the filmmakers in selecting that site as the setting for the story. The paper will then consider to what extent the identification of Castles Howard and Brideshead can be attributed to Waugh and what to the film adaptations.

Another question arises relating to the source for the Flyte family itself. They are clearly identified with the Lygon family who lived in Worcestershire at Madresfield Court. To some extent, Sebastian Flyte has similarities to Hugh Lygon, who was the second son of the Lygons and had a serious drinking problem that contributed to his early death. Hugh was to have been Waugh’s flat-mate in his final term at Oxford if Waugh had not left without finishing his degree. Hugh’s father, Lord Beauchamp, was forced into exile by homosexuality, whereas Lord Marchmain exiled himself by choice to escape his domineering wife and her religion in favor of his Italian mistress. Few among Waugh’s friends missed these connections. But to spare the Lygon family further embarrassment, Waugh provided thefictional Brideshead Castle and its residents with identities that are intended to distinguish them from the Lygons and Madresfield. His efforts in this regard were more successful in the case of distinguishing the houses than it was the families.


“The Ghosts of Romance”, Lost Girls: Love, War and Literature 1939-1951, Constable, 2019. 384 pp. £25.00, or Lost Girls: Love and Literature in Wartime London, Pegasus, 2020. 336 pp. $28.95, by D. J. Taylor. Reviewed by Jeffrey Manley


UPDATE (26 March 2020): A link to EWS 50.3 has been added.

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The Loved One Meets the Wuhan Coronavirus

–A blogger posting as “Sapper” traces the influence of Waugh’s writing about Los Angeles in the post war 1940s to what may be the first of several New Yorker essays by English writer and satirist Geoff Dyer, now a resident of that city (more specifically, the beach suburb of Venice):

Roll Over, Evelyn Waugh — Geoff Dyer Finds Laughs & Humor In Our Own Plague Year

As this blogger read Geoff Dyer’s essay about living in the US during a pandemic and scanned Dyer’s descriptions and reactions, the blogger remembered reading another Brit’s reaction to US attitudes toward death, Evelyn Waugh (full name: Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh) spent a brief post-war interlude (1945-1947) on a film project of one of Waugh’s novels, Brideshead Revisited. When the project collapsed, Waugh remained in Los Angeles and went on a tour of one of the most famous (or infamous) cemeteries in Southern California: Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, CA. The experience and several return visits to Forest Lawn, were the basis of Waugh’s British interpretation of death and funerals in the United States: The Loved One. And Geoff Dyer carries on the tradition of a British view of US attitudes toward death and dying. If this is (fair & balanced) macabre humor, so be it.

Waugh’s tenure in Los Angeles was much shorter than indicated in the blogpost. His visit lasted for about 6 weeks in February-March 1947. The Forest Lawn Memorial Park that Waugh visited was the original incarnation of that institution in Glendale. The Hollywood Hills branch opened after his trip, in 1952. Dyer’s New Yorker article appears in the March 23, 2020, issue of the magazine. Here are the opening lines, mentioning two other English writers (and later a French one), but not Waugh:

This might be the first installment of a rewrite of “A Journal of the Plague Year,” but it will be written in real time rather than with the benefit of the fifty-odd years of hindsight that Daniel Defoe was able to draw on. If all goes well—or very badly—it might also be the last installment, because although we’re only at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, I’m close to the end of my tether. Physical effects lie in the future, but the psychic toll is already huge—and wide-ranging. At the top end: Am I going to catch it? This can be answered with a slight rephrasing of Philip Larkin’s famous line from “Aubade”: most things may never happen; this one probably will.

Dyer’s article is entitled “The Existential Inconvenience of Coronavirus” and may be viewed at this link.

–Recommendations for reading and viewing during the coronavirus shut-down continue to roll in:

The Daily Telegraph provides a list of 20 “best TV box-sets for self-isolating”. Each entry has a brief summary. Here’s the only Waugh box-set that is listed:

Brideshead Revisited

For pure escapism and nostalgia, what better screen spectacle to lose oneself in than Granada’s gorgeously lavish 1981 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel? Jeremy Irons plays Charles Ryder, the Oxford student bewitched by the dysfunctional aristocratic family of his dissolute friend Sebastian Flyte (Anthony Andrews). Castle Howard in North Yorkshire stands in for the Marchmains’ palatial country seat, while a distinguished supporting cast is led by Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and, of course, Aloysius the teddy bear.

Available on: BritBox, Amazon Prime Video or DVD (Collector’s Edition £27.99)

The Daily Mail has compiled its own streaming list that also includes Brideshead:

Brideshead Revisited BRITBOX

This 1981 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel is perhaps the greatest costume drama of all time. Jeremy Irons is Charles Ryder, an undergraduate at Oxford who forms an intense friendship with hedonistic Sebastian Flyte (Anthony Andrews).

Flyte loathes his family but insists on taking Charles to their country estate ‘to meet mummy’, but it is Sebastian’s sister Julia (Diana Quick) who really catches his eye.

Laurence Olivier plays Lord Marchmain and John Gielgud is Charles’s snobbish, small-minded father. One series

— Michah Mattix’s “Prufrock” column, formerly in the Weekly Standard, is now in The American Conservative. Mattix:

asked readers to send me their favorite book (fiction or nonfiction, classic or contemporary) of the past five years. Boy, did you all deliver. Here’s the list, which I’ll continue to update over the next few days. Any comments that appear after the titles are from the readers who recommended the book (in some cases, slightly edited).

One of the books recommended is Waugh’s Decline and Fall.

–A webpage for marajuana lovers called leafly.com prepared “a list of 50 of our favorite stoner books. Whether you define a stoner book as a novel about the delights of cannabis, or a nonfiction work about the history of weed, we’ve got you covered.” One of those recommended is Scoop by Evelyn Waugh. How it meets the stated criteria isn’t explained, but perhaps some of the journalists managed to get stoned while on assignment. Hashish was no doubt available. Anyone recalling such an incident is invited to comment below.



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Anthropologist at the Hypocrites Club

A new book surveys the professional career of E E Evans-Pritchard, a noted anthropologist who made his reputation with studies of Sudanese cultures. This biography is entitled The Anthropological Lens: A Dandy Among the Azande and is written by Christopher Morton. It is reviewed by anthropologist Adam Kuper in a recent issue of the Wall Street Journal. According to the review, what sets Evans-Pritchard apart is his writing style. Quoting another assessment, Kuper writes:

“there has been no greater master of the ‘Oxbridge Senior Common Room’ tone, instancing his deployment as a guerrilla officer in the Sudan during World War II: ‘This was just what I wanted and what I could do, for I had made researches in the Southern Sudan and spoke with ease some of its languages.'”

Evans-Prichard was a member of the Hypocrites Club at Oxford. While Waugh, also a member, doesn’t mention him among his “roll call” of Hypocrites in his autobiography A Little Learning, Kuper explains that they would have known each other. Waugh’s friend Anthony Powell, also a member, recalls Evans-Pritchard in his memoirs as “grave, withdrawn and somewhat exotic in dress.” He was photographed wearing a Berber gown at a 1924 fancy dress party given by the Hypocrites. Evans-Pritchard had another connection at the Hypocrites through Waugh’s friend from Lancing, Tom Driberg, also a member. Driberg’s brother Jack, who “would become a district officer in the Sudan, [had] studied anthropology under Bronislaw Malinowski, and became a bosom friend of Evans-Pritichard.”

Kuper goes on to explain how several of the Hypocrites became part of the Bright Young People after they left Oxford but does not mention whether the biography places Evans-Pritchard himself in that group. Evans-Pritchard like fellow Hypocrites Waugh and Christopher Hollis and non-Hypocrite Oxford contemporary Graham Greene also became a convert to Roman Catholicism. This took place while he was serving in Libya.

After his conversion Evans-Pritchard rather distanced himself from fellow anthropologists whom he dismissed as “dogmatic unbelievers, obsessed with showing that religious belief was a bundle of illusions…” He, nevertheless, held the chair of social anthropology at Oxford until 1970 and, according to Kuper, “at his peak was the equal of his teacher and rival Bronislaw Malinowski. Mr Morton offers a fresh perspective on an extraordinary career.”

From a quick survey of the table of contents and index of the book available on Amazon.com, it appears that these discussions of Evans-Pritchard’s Oxford career and religious conversion come from Kuper’s own knowledge rather than Morton’s biography. The latter appears to concentrate more on Evans-Pritchard’s photography and fieldwork than it does on his personal life.


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Spring Equinox Roundup

–Several publications have posted recommended binge reading and watching for the homebound during the Wuhan coronavirus shut-down. Many of these include books or adaptations of books by Waugh:

The Guardian produced a list of 50 of the “Best Binge Watches: From Buffy to Brideshead.” This was compiled from recommendations of a team of TV writers. Here’s the one for Brideshead:

49. Brideshead Revisited
Amazon Prime Video/BritBox
They don’t, in so many senses, make them like this any more. ITV’s 1981 version of Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel was, with its 11-hour running time, not far off granting the wish of those viewers who like dramatisations to include every word of the book. That meant the world Waugh conjured – fading nobility, eccentric inter-war hedonism and grassy afternoons at a perfectly proper Oxford University – could be allowed to completely envelop the viewer. In the days before the big US box-set beasts, Brideshead Revisited was routinely cited as the best TV show of all time. In part, that was due to the exquisite score, the sky-high production values and the brilliant cast. But its appeal has always been mainly as a door to a fantasy of a bygone world. That’s now perhaps more valuable than ever. Jack Seale

The Sunday Times also has a list of 50 TV serials recommended in its “Coronavirus Lockdown: Self-Isolation Special”. This was compiled by Helen Hawkins. Under the “Period” heading this one appears:

Brideshead Revisited
Even more than the sets and costumes, Evelyn Waugh’s dialogue and characters sing. How many series offer cameos by Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud?
Britbox; Amazon, from £6.99

Forbes Magazine lists 8 books to take you away from your quarantine to somewhere overseas:

When it comes to the foibles and absurdities of the upper-crust (and often under-behaved) British land-owning aristocrats, there is no writer as masterful as Evelyn Waugh. And of all his varied and accomplished writings, there is no novel more instantly absorbing (and impossible to resist) as Brideshead Revisited. His depiction of privileged boyhood is a classic, and you will find yourself rooting for its protagonist as he falls within a very dissolute, very English lifestyle. In the words of Waugh: “You never find an Englishman among the under-dogs except in England, of course.” Expect many more one-liners to follow.

At least one recommendation mentions a Waugh novel other than Brideshead. This appears in the Greater Manchester online newspaper mancunianmatters.co.uk and is entitled “Ignoring coronavirus: A cultural guide”. It is written by Emma Morgan, and this particular section starts with a Jane Austen novel:

Although a trip to the cinema is probably off the cards, Autumn de Wilde’s new adaptation of [Jane Austen’s Emma] will also be available to view at home from Friday. This film is an elegant and picturesque interpretation of the grace and wit of Austen’s prose, which is sure to have a calming effect on any viewer. The reassuring softness of Emma is echoed in the style of novelists Elaine Dundy and Evelyn Waugh. The blasé heroine of Dundy’s The Dud Avocado, Sally Jay Gorce, and the hapless Paul Pennyfeather, protagonist of Waugh’s Decline and Fall, seem to exist in some sort of comedic vacuum, where no action or decision has any real consequence on anything.

The Australian issued a list of books to read in “self-isolation”. Among these is Brideshead Revisited as well as the Book of Revelations, W G Sebald’s Austerlitz and Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room.

–In another of its “Top 10 Books” columns, the Guardian lists books about boarding schools. This was compiled by James Scudamore whose new novel, English Monsters, “is about a group of friends who meet at a boarding preparatory school at the age of 10, and whose experiences there resound inescapably in their lives over the next 30 years. […] Everyone at boarding school craves superpowers, because it’s the most obvious response to the powerlessness. But you don’t have them.” One of those on Scudamore’s “Top 10” list is Waugh’s Decline and Fall:

4. Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh
Sent down from Scone College, Oxford for indecent behaviour after his trousers are stolen by a drunken member of the Bollinger Club, Paul Pennyfeather is exiled to teach at a purgatorial boarding school in Wales. On sports day, the hurdles have been burned for firewood and are replaced by five-foot-high spiked railings, and the starting pistol is Philbrick the butler’s service revolver, which ends up being discharged into the heel of Lady Circumference’s son, Lord Tangent. Among its many delights is the novel’s acknowledgement of the fact that teachers at boarding school often seem as perplexed as the pupils as to how they came to be in such a place.

Others included are George Orwell’s “Such, Such Were the Days”, The Compleet Molesworth by Geoffrey Willans and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

–The global fashion and travel magazine Lucire has posted on its website an article from issue #41 entitled “The Land of the Giants” by guest contributor George Rush. He writes about his recent trip to Guyana in advance of changes likely to be wrought in that country by revenues from the oil exploitation that is just beginning. As part of his equipage he

…brought along a copy of Ninety-Two Days, Evelyn Waugh’s amusing diary of his 1933 trek into this country’s wilderness (and a template for his novel, A Handful of Dust). Before embarking on his ‘journey of the greatest misery,’ Waugh had strolled around Georgetown, finding that its ‘main streets were very broad, with grass and trees down the centre.’ And so they still were—plaited with canals, to drain a city that lies three feet below sea level at high tide. (One more incentive to pay attention to climate change!) Georgetown was bigger now—population: about 200,500—and probably tattier, due to a chronically depressed economy. But much of what Waugh saw remained.

The web post is accompanied by photography, some of which is quite stunning.

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Sword of Honour Re-examined

The current issue of the literary magazine Raritan Quarterly (Winter 2020, v. 39, #3) includes an article by Andrew J Bacevich about Waugh’s war trilogy. This is entitled “My Guy”, giving some indication that Bacevich finds himself in agreement with Waugh’s (and Guy Crouchback’s) views of the conduct and results of WWII. Bacevich is a graduate of West Point, retired army officer and Professor Emeritus of International Relations and History at Boston University. He is noted for his outspoken criticism of the second Iraq War, which may explain to some extent his identification with Evelyn Waugh’s position on WWII as reflected in his trilogy.

In the absence of an abstract of the article, here is an excerpt from the opening paragraphs in which Bacevich explains what he sets out to do:

The first volume of Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy appeared in 1952 and the last in 1961. In the United States, this was the Eisenhower decade, a moment defined by three seemingly unimpeachable convictions: first, that the recently concluded Second World War had been a righteous struggle pitting good against evil; second, that the ongoing Cold War was a replay of the conflict that had ended in 1945 in decisive victory; and third, that God had remained throughout firmly on our side. Eisenhower endorsed all three of these propositions. So too did the great majority of his fellow citizens. Or at least they pretended to, aware that overt dissent could be perilous. […]

Today, several decades after they first appeared, Men at Arms (1952), Officers and. Gentlemen (1955), and The End of the Battle (1961) retain their place among the very best novels of World War II. They are vividly written, savagely funny, and teeming with the sublimely absurd characters that are a trademark of Waugh’s fiction. Yet underlying the comedy is serious purpose. The trilogy is above all a sober reflection on cultural and civilizational decline, which, in Waugh’s view, the conflict soon to be enshrined as the Good War had served to accelerate.

In an act of anticipatory demolition, Sword of Honour takes aim at the yet-to-be-fully-promulgated Good War/Greatest Generation myth and proceeds to dismantle it. For Waugh, the war that Europeans date from 1939 does not qualify as good, in considerable part because Great Britain chose to wage it by following a morally disreputable course. Nor does he deem those who fought or endured the war particularly great. They are merely human: flawed, frivolous, and mostly preoccupied with minimizing the annoyances and discomfort that number among war’s byproducts.

The article is available on academic subscription services EBSCOhost Web and ProQuest..

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Life in the Time of Wuhan Coronavirus

There are several articles containing recommended reading for the period of confinement during the present epidemic. But perhaps the most thoughtful is that in (odd as it may seem) the Daily Mail. This is by Roger Alton and relates to the Mail’s “Book of the Week”: The Rules of Contagion by Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist who teaches at the University of London’s School of Tropical Medicine. This was obviously written and probably went to print before the present epidemic got started. The reviewer congratulates the author for avoiding the temptation to add last minute references in an effort to increase timeliness. These were not needed to make the book relevant. (The book will not be released in the USA until September. Here’s a link to the UK edition currently on offer.)

After summarizing the book’s description of the history of epidemics and the evolving means to contain them, the review provides Kucharski’s summary conclusion:

‘There’s a saying in my field: “If you’ve seen one pandemic, you’ve seen . . . one pandemic.” ’ And like all good mathematicians, [Kucharski] knows that numbers are the key. Not hysteria. Not fear.

Here’s the reviewer’s summary of what the math teaches, according to Kucharski:

The shape of all outbreaks is roughly the same: first spark, then growth, peak and decline. It is a pattern known as the SIR model, dividing populations into three types: susceptible, infected and recovered. Once the number of recovered people is large enough, the disease will die out as there is no one left to infect. And at the heart of that is a mathematical big beast, the reproduction number, known as R, representing the number of people an infected person will go on to infect. If R is less than one, then sooner or later the disease will die out. But above that, if R is greater than one, the contagion will spread. The R for coronavirus appears to be between two and three, comparable to the Sars outbreak of 2002. Ebola and pandemic flu have an R between one and two. Measles, though, which is staggeringly infectious, has a very big R, about 20.

Toward the conclusion of the review, the writing of Evelyn Waugh is drawn into the discussion:

As we live through the throes of a disease pandemic and a stock market panic, never has it been more important to hold the line between real and bogus information. It’s not a new phenomenon. In Evelyn Waugh’s 1938 satirical novel Scoop, legendary American foreign correspondent Wenlock Jakes is sent to cover a revolution in the Balkans. Unfortunately he oversleeps on his train and wakes up in the wrong — but wholly peaceful — country. Not realising his error, he makes up a story about ‘barricades in the streets, a dead child like a broken doll spreadeagled in the deserted roadway, machine guns answering the rattle of his typewriter’. Other journalists swiftly arrive and make up similar stories, stocks plummet, the country has an economic crash, there’s a state of emergency, and then a revolution. And Jakes is there to cover it.

Fiction of course, but now the speed at which bogus information can be transmitted — like a virus — is incomparably quicker than in Waugh’s day. Whether it is disease epidemics or crime and terrorism, mathematical models can help countries plot outcomes and allocate resources.But models are just that, writes Kucharski: reality is messy and complex. If you build a model train set — no matter how skilful and full of add-ons such as delays, leaves on the line, faulty signals — it will always differ from reality in some way.

A survey of other recommended reading will follow in a later post.

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Ambrose Silk + Anthony Blanche = Brian Howard

Duncan McLaren has posted another of his profiles of Waugh’s friends as they foregather at Castle Howard in anticipation of a literary festival. The recent postponement of that event may require some adjustment in the arrival of future participants, but the latest addition to McLaren’s list, Brian Howard, one of Waugh’s most interesting if not beloved friends, is not coming in person in any event.

Waugh’s relationship with Brian Howard may have been even more prickly than that he had with the most recent previous arrival, Robert Byron. Since Brian is not expected to attend the Brideshead Festival, McLaren’s presentation on him is written as a monologue of Nancy Mitford as she researches materials for Brian’s biographical profile. From this it is shown, through Waugh’s writings and those of Mitford, as well as others, how Brian contributed heavily to two of Waugh’s fictional characters: Ambrose Silk in Put Out More Flags and Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited. As spelled out near the end of McLaren’s posting:

… in March, of 1958, Evelyn wrote to Earl Baldwin [on the occasion of Brian’s death]: ‘I used to known Brian well – a dazzling young man to my innocent eyes. In later life he became very dangerous – constantly attacking people with his fists in public places – so I kept clear of him. […] There is an aesthetic bugger who sometimes turns up in my novels under various names – that was 2/3 Brian and 1/3 Harold Acton. People think it was all Harold, who is a much sweeter and saner man.’

Having made something of a study of this, I [Nancy Mitford] have to correct Evelyn. Ambrose Silk may indeed be 2/3 Brian and 1/3 Harold, but for Anthony Blanche the fractions are surely reversed.

That this is a fair point is made clear from the writings about Brian (some few written by him) as well as about Harold Acton. These are quoted and discussed in the earlier pages of the posting. Indeed, after reading Nancy’s jottings, it seems fair to say that Brian, who never produced any writings worth mentioning, did nevertheless make two important contributions to 20th Century British literature. These are  two of Waugh’s most memorable and humorous characters who could not have been created without a heavy contribution from Brian Howard.

McLaren’s posting is, as usual, amply illustrated, but in this case it is the quotations from Waugh’s novels that tell the story, with a little help from Mitford. One thing they illustrate is that Ambrose Silk is an equally or, perhaps, even more interesting or fully developed character than Anthony Blanche. Anthony has benefitted considerably from his portrayal by Nicholas Grace in the 1981 TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited. Ambrose has missed out on that sort of opportunity, but one day an adaptation of Put Out More Flags is bound to happen and Ambrose will surely achieve character stardom.


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Peter Fleming’s War Career (More)

In the current New Criterion, D J Taylor reviews the recent biography of Peter Fleming, brother of Ian and friend of Evelyn Waugh. See previous post. Before addressing the contents of this biography, which covers his military career, Taylor discusses Fleming’s life before WWII, concluding that discussion with this:

[In 1938] Fleming was installed in Merrimoles House on a two-thousand-acre estate in Oxfordshire given to him by his uncle Phil. As well as furnishing him with a home and the occupation of a country squire, the locale also gave him the chance to indulge the great hobby of his life. This, it seems fair to say, was killing things. Even Alan Ogden’s Master of Deception, [the book under review] a punctilious and notably well-researched account of Fleming’s military career, can’t quite ignore the altogether exceptional havoc that its subject wreaked on the fauna of the United Kingdom (and other places) during his five decades or so behind a rifle sight.

Waugh knew Fleming and records in his Diaries a brief meeting with him in 1932 just as Fleming was returning from Brazil (where he gathered material for his Brazilian Adventure) and Waugh was leaving for Guyana. Waugh was looking for advice about the kit he was taking along on a trip to gather material for Ninety-Two Days. Waugh also met up with Fleming in North Africa in WWII where Fleming was looking for Army customers to use secret espionage appliances developed under his supervision. See previous post.

Taylor also mentions Waugh’s war writings in connection with Fleming’s military career:

As for the military environment that Fleming found himself in between his re-enlistment in the Grenadier Guards in 1939 and his eventual demobilization seven years later, it takes only a chapter of Master of Deception to establish that, if conducted at a stratospherically higher level, this was a version of Crouchback’s war—as in the hero of Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy. […] There is a literal connection, too, for in the Norwegian campaign Fleming served as aide-de-camp to the legendary one-eyed, one-armed, death-defying General Adrian Carton de Wiart, the model for Waugh’s Brigadier Ben Ritchie-Hook, who returns from a raid on the African coast with a sentry’s severed head. Here the real-life de Wiart confines himself to marching off with unimaginable sangfroid through a village being obliterated by Heinkel bombers in search of rations. “Better get rid of those egg-shells,” he instructs Fleming on his return; “Don’t want the place in a mess.”

Fleming admired de Wiart, whose biography he mysteriously failed to complete, and was admired by him in return. Meanwhile, Ogden’s account of Fleming’s time in Greece emphasizes just how closely he and his fellow soldiers share some of the attitudes quietly on display in Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen and Unconditional Surrender. There is, for example, the undisguised contempt for foreigners. […] Like Waugh, he is no fan of the Royal Air Force, routinely describing its representatives as “mongrels” and remarking of the raf men attached to the party during the retreat from Greece that “they all flap and gas and give a sorry exhibition.” […]

On his demob from the army, Fleming declined the offer of a safe Conservative seat in parliament, detached himself from the Times hierarchy, and spent the last quarter century of his life managing his estate and, after a slow start, writing best-selling works of popular history. It was almost as if a part of him realized that the world he had strode through so blithely in the 1930s was dead. “You’re the flower of England’s youth,” one of Crouchback’s friends observes in Men at Arms, “and it just won’t do.” […]

Posted in Biographies, Men at Arms, Newspapers, Ninety-Two Days, Officers and Gentlemen, Sword of Honour, World War II | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Brideshead Festival Postponed

The organizers of the Brideshead Festival scheduled for this summer at Castle Howard have announced its postponement. Here is a copy of their press release:

“In the interest of the health and the well-being of our participants, visitors, employees and partners, given the current situation with COVID-19, we have taken the decision to postpone The Brideshead Festival which was scheduled for June 2020. We will continue to monitor the situation in order to decide when the Festival will be reinstated. In the meantime, please accept our apologies for the inconvenience caused, we are all disappointed to have had to take this decision.”

Those with tickets can find details about refunds at this link.

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Group ’27

Spanish novelist and critic Jose Joaquin Bermudez Olivares posting on the Spanish literary website Todo Literatura has nominated a generation of English writers as Group ’27. He refers to a group of Spanish writers with a similar denomination, although their relevance to the English group is not particularly clear. It should be noted in this regard that the computer translation of the essay leaves much to be desired. Olivares introduces the English writers as follows:

All temporal division is relative, but there are several factors that lead me to use ’27 to characterize the authors that I will cite below. Born just after the death of Queen Victoria (1901) and, therefore, Edwardians – a term that would later become almost pejorative – affected in their adolescence by the Bolshevik coup of 1917, too young to fight in World War I, university students around 1921 (the annus mirabilis of In Search of Lost Time, Ulysses, Mrs. Dalloway …, they live through the general strike of 1926 at the end of their educations and they start publishing around 1928. We are talking about great men (and women) like George Orwell (Eric Blair), Cyril Connolly, Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford, Henry Green, Anthony Powell … without wishing to be exhaustive.

Olivares then, without much justification, strikes Orwell from the list. This is explained because he didn’t attend Oxford, as did the others (except Mitford), nor did he associate himself with each of them, as they did with each other. That is not entirely fair since Orwell did attend Eton with Connolly, Powell, and Green, and was friends of both Connolly and Powell and, latterly, with Waugh. Mitford is also somewhat set apart as the only aristocrat at a time when English women rarely enrolled in universities. Conspicuous by his absence is Graham Greene (b. 1904) who was a student at Balliol College, Oxford.

Olivares next briefly explains the importance of the group:

It can be said that, at the time, the one with the greatest impact was Waugh, better known now for Brideshead Revisited (and the unforgettable television series […]),  than for, at the time, the massive sales successes with his youthful novels: Vile Bodies, A Handful of Dust, Decline and Fall, Scoop …, that the most cultured was Cyril Connolly (author of The Unquiet Grave and for many years editor of the influential Horizon magazine), the most hermetic, Henry Green  (pseudonym of H. Yorke), author of Party Going and the finest and most elegant, Anthony Powell (at least so thought his friend Kingsley Amis), with his dozen novels grouped together as A Dance to the Music of the Time.

The influences on the Group of ’27 are then considered:

[…] If we had to seek intellectual influences on these authors, I would look at their “older brothers”: Aldous Huxley (1894), Dorothy Sayers (1893) or Maurice Bowra (1898). It should be noted that social environment, the milieu, is more important to them than ideology: they wrote about each other, lived in daily contact, frequented the same places in London and identical vacation destinations … they were an elite within a very small social group. Nancy Mitford amused herself in compiling a glossary of terms used by the upper class […].

It would also suffice to read Waugh’s A Little Learning on Connolly [? También bastaría con leer Una educación incompleta de Connolly sobre Waugh], Powell’s At Lady Molly’s or Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate (Waugh himself was in love with her sister Diana and, after her wedding to the heir to the Guinness brewery, dedicated to the couple his Vile Bodies of 1930). Not all of these works are necessarily of the roman a clef type, but the “joyful deathbeds” [? “alegres lechos de muerte”], to use an expression of Connolly, which fill them are often their own shared or solitary beds.

An important point would be who can we consider as the [literary] influence on this group? […] Curiously, those references seem to be all poetic: Eliot, Pound, Yeats, Apollinaire, Valéry … but only Connolly occasionally wrote poetry; it is true that Eliot and Valéry were important critics. On the other hand, it is curious that these referents were politically “reactionary”, at least in an aesthetic sense and, in the case of Pound even with criminal consequences, while Mitford, Orwell and Connolly were, nominally Marxist, with a strong commitment during the Spanish Civil War.

Thus it seems that, like most groups, these “twenty-sevens” were more aligned “against” than “for”. […] The question that  arises is whether today, a century later, Conrad and James are more provincial than Waugh or Powell.

Or perhaps it is that literature is a continuum, where each work occupies its place, like a tile, in the great mosaic that we contemporaries, too close, cannot see; and groups, schools and generations are mere mnemonic pretexts to save us the effort of detailed and conscious reading. Fortunately, many of these authors’ works have recently been rescued in Spanish […]. Perhaps this time of isolation is a good occasion for your (re) reading.

Olivares was originally an academic biochemist but switched professions, publishing his first novel in 2017: El ultimo de Cuba. As noted above, the Google translation of his essay is not particularly good in this case. Some of our readers may want to comment or correct the edited version quoted above or discuss some of the deleted portions of the essay that defied editorial efforts. The Spanish original is available at this link.

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