Academic Roundup: Vagabond-language and decadent arcadias

The following articles appeared in academic journals during 2018 and were not previously mentioned in our postings. Abstracts or excerpts from introductory materials are provided as available:

–Helena M. Tomko, “A Good Laugh is Hard to Find: From destructive satire to sacramental humor in Evelyn Waugh’s Helena“, Christianity and Literature, v. 67, issue 2, pp. 312-31, 1 March 2018:

Abstract. Despite Evelyn Waugh’s conviction that Helena (1950) was his greatest work, the novel receives less critical attention than his well-known interwar satires and his postwar hit, Brideshead Revisited (1945). This article argues that the novel accomplishes Waugh’s self-conscious postwar effort to rehouse his satiric impulses in a mode that resists both the “dark” laughter of modernism and the sentimentality risked in mid-century Catholic fiction. With metafictive attention to genre and style, Helena exemplifies what this article terms “sacramental humor.” Waugh’s fictionalized St. Helena embodies the contrast between satire that seeks to correct or destroy and humor that seeks to heal.

The author is Asst Prof of Literature at Villanova University.

–Annabel Williams, “Vagabond-language scrawled on gate-posts: locating home in Waugh’s travel writing”, Textual Practice, v. 32, issue 1, pp. 41-58, 2018:

Abstract. This essay establishes a framework for comparing Waugh’s interwar travelogues with his fiction, by aligning the tropes of home and travel. I will propose that, in his travel writing, and figuratively speaking, Waugh never left England. His impulses to travel, and so his representations of ‘abroad’, are involved in an entrenched desire to find or create a home. Through readings of Brideshead Revisited, Black Mischief and Remote People, I examine the aporia emerging from a disjunction between the falsely presented factual places and half-imagined fictive places that span genres in Waugh’s oeuvre. Heidegger’s theorisation of dwelling offers a productive means of analysing the divide between home and homelessness in Waugh. I will suggest that a certain aspect of Waugh’s writing – a ‘vagabond-language’ – destabilises the binaries of remoteness and the homely, the foreign and the native, with which his work is obsessed. Debbie Lisle’s investigation of geopolitical discourse will help an understanding of spatial representation in Waugh’s work and the textuality of his constructions of home. Though Waugh could neither leave home, nor solve the overwhelming question of deracination for his time, his work encourages us to engage in the remoteness of home, and perhaps to find home in the remote.

The author is a member of the English Faculty, Merton College, Oxford.

–J V Long, “Edmund Wilson Had No Idea: Brideshead Revisited as Catholic Tract”, Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature, v. 70, issue 1, pp. 43-58, Winter 2018

Abstract. Evidence in the text of Brideshead Revisited shows that it is inadequate simply to link Evelyn Waugh’s conversion to Roman Catholicism with his ostensibly reactionary sensibility. Rather than merely providing an exercise in apologetics, Waugh’s novel displays religious experience that is grounded in the author’s conversion and practice of his faith. The novel mines a deep understanding of both the complex experience of English Catholicism and the riches of the liturgical drama and texts that were experienced during the Holy Week Tenebrae services with which he was familiar.

The author is Associate Professor at Portland State University and Chairman of the Evelyn Waugh Society.

–Martin B Lockherd, “Decadent Arcadias, Wild(e) Conversions and Queer Celibacies in Brideshead Revisited“, MFS Modern Fiction Studies, v. 64, issue 2, pp. 249-63, Summer 2018:

Abstract. Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited is among the most important and influential Catholic novels in the English language. It is also one of the queerest novels of its time. This essay explores the diverse ways in which Waugh’s novel traverses the apparent divisions that separate Catholic and queer sexuality. Drawing on archival research and recent theoretical and theological insights regarding celibacy, it argues that Brideshead participates in the aesthetic of fin de siècle British Decadence as a means of driving its central characters toward a form of sexuality that is at once potentially orthodox and queer.

The author is Asst Prof of English at Schreiner Univerisity.

–D Marcel DeCoste, “Contested Confessions: The Sins of the Press and Evelyn Waugh’s False Penance in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold“, Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, v 21, issue 3, pp 62-84, Summer 2018:

Excerpt. I contend […] that Waugh’s novel neither depicts Pinfold’s confession nor enacts Waugh’s own. Rather, it is, as its title proclaims, the story of an ordeal, an agonizing and agonistic “test of guilt or innocence,” from which Waugh’s stand-in emerges, we are told, “victor” (OGP, 231). What the book exposes, then, is not the penitent-author’s grievous faults, but an author’s contest with his critics, and what it seeks, by its victory, to establish, is the falseness of those critics’ stock formulation and reprobation of Waugh’s sins. [Footnote omitted.]

The author is Professor of English at the University of Regina and a member of the Evelyn Waugh Society.

–Finally, Modern Language Review, v. 113, issue 1, pp. 235-37 (2018) prints a review by Barbara Cooke of Naomi Milthorpe’s book Evelyn Waugh’s Satire: Texts and Subtexts. See previous post.



Posted in Academia, Black Mischief, Brideshead Revisited, Helena, Remote People, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold | Tagged | Leave a comment

Evelyn Waugh, d. 10 April 1966. R. I. P.

Evelyn Waugh died on this day in 1966 at his home in Combe Florey, Somerset.

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Others in Abyssinia

Duncan McLaren has posted a new chapter (“In Search of Scoop”) on his website relating to Waugh’s second trip to Abyssinia in 1935. This is based on the book Waugh in Abyssinia but is supplemented by the writings of three other London-based correspondents who accompanied Waugh around the countryside and stayed in the same Addis guesthouse during their visits–Partrick Balfour (Evening Standard), Stuart Emeny (News Chronicle) and WF Deedes (Morning Star):

Deedes knew Stuart Emeny from working on stories with him in England. To some extent they teamed up, with Patrick Balfour and Waugh making another pair. Waugh found Deedes and Emeny’s remorseless hunt for non-existent stories faintly contemptible, but to an extent they all had to live together, so he passed it off as good-natured banter.

In another sense, it’s Deedes and Waugh that make a pair, in that they chose to write intimately about what they found in Abyssinia. The essays of both Emeny and Balfour found in Abyssinian Stop Press are much less personal, perhaps because of their remit. Balfour’s essay ‘Fiasco in Addis Ababa’ omits mention of Evelyn Waugh altogether, while Emeny’s mentions Waugh up-front but omits to mention him thereafter. About the ill-timed expedition they shared to to Harar and Jijiga, Balfour confines himself to a historical and geographical overview […] The real contribution of At War with Waugh, by W.F. Deedes, is the insight it gives into Waugh’s character and behaviour in Abyssinia in 1935. Deedes observes that Waugh provoked a feeling of resentment against his more professional colleagues. However, Waugh was looked up to as a senior figure because of his travel experience and his books.

Much of what McLaren writes will be new to those unfamiliar with the writings of these other correspondents. This is particularly true of the side trips Waugh describes to Harar/Jigiga and Dessye. Some will no doubt have read Deedes’ book which was published   in 2003, but the book to which the others contributed has been long out of print.

As usual McLaren provides photos as well as maps from these other books where they illustrate the subject in his text. In one case, he goes so far as to identify Waugh in a group photo in Addis Ababa where no mention of his presence is made in the source book. He also provides comparisons of passages from Waugh in Abyssinia with those in the other books about the same event. And as in the past, he imagines a few conversations among these four. It makes for enjoyable reading even for those familiar with the story.

McLaren explains that he prepared this chapter as part of his effort to swot up on the Abyssinian travels in advance of his discussion of Scoop with Martin Stannard at the Chipping Camden Literary Festival next month (Friday, 10 May 2019). Details here.


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Fleabag and Julia Flyte

The final episode of Fleabag’s second TV series was broadcast yesterday on BBC. The series has occasioned more than the usual amount of comment in the press. See earlier post. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Serena Davies has high praise for the series, written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge who also played the lead role.  She credits the BBC with taking a decision to make a series that foregoes the usual noirish thriller with “no-strings sex” or its “opposite, the tightly-corseted period drama.” Instead they have delivered an “investigation into how faith and human attachment at their best are synonymous versions of love.”

Davies describes the story as a “clash of religion and romance” not seen since

“the adulterous heroine of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair gave up her lover because she believed God had preserved his life during the Blitz.[…] Or Evelyn Waugh made Julia Flyte choose God and self denial over Charles Ryder and ‘living in sin’ during their pitiful parting on the stairs at the end of Brideshead Revisited.”

As earlier reported in the Times, Waller-Bridge like Greene and Waugh is a Roman Catholic. But who in this story is Julia Flyte–Fleabag or the priest?

Davies seems to think that there can be no third series. I’m not so sure. We may have seen the last of the priest, but Fleabag’s ultimate gaze at the camera as she walks away from the bus stop did not suggest a final farewell.  If there is a sequel, however, Davies is probably correct in predicting that it won’t match the levels of comedy and tragedy in this one. All episodes of both series are available with a UK internet connection on BBC iPlayer. In the US, viewers will be able to watch series two beginning May 17 on Amazon Prime.

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The Oldie Does Auberon

The Oldie has been running on its weblog a series of excerpts of Auberon Waugh’s Rage columns from its early issues. The latest posting from 1995 deals with aging and is one of the better ones to surface. He begins by explaining how French villagers deal much more humanely with treatment of the mentally handicapped (which he described a bit more colorfully as “village idiots”) and the senile than do the British, simply by leaving them alone:

The point about senility is that it is only distressing if people are prepared to be distressed by it. In the small villages of the Aude, in southern France, they simply weren’t prepared to treat it as anything except a fact of life, to be regretted, sworn at or joked about as the spirit moved them. In England, it seems to me that we treat senility as something between a disgrace and an infectious disease, possibly brought on by masturbation in youth. Not only are oldies who begin to show the symptoms whisked away into a home, even if it means ruining the family in the process; once they are in a home, they become a non-person, visited grudgingly and with increasing embarrassment on both sides.

He then segues into a consideration of how Harold Wilson dealt with his own aging by simply disappearing:

When distinguished oldies become senile, they are immediately withdrawn from view, not left babbling in the sun. Harold Wilson was scarcely seen in his last five years, while he was suffering from Alzheimer’s. It seems especially craven to lock a former Prime Minister away in this fashion when we have a national institution called the House of Lords, specially designed for them to exhibit themselves. This is one of the most humane political initiatives in the world.

The Oldie also posts the reprint of an article by Jeffrey Bernard about his favorite topic –drinking. He refers with some disdain to efforts being made to cure alcoholics and comments on their results as applied to him:

[…] the fact is that when I am not drinking I bore myself. I feel non-functional – a tea bag without hot water, bacon without an egg. But it has never been my intention to get drunk. That has always been the inevitable accident at the end of the day. Most drugs either have side effects or they don’t work efficiently. I used to start drinking at 11 am, pub opening time, and reach my peak of well being at lunch time. Unfortunately that peak only lasts for up to two hours and then the wheels fall off, the memory evaporates, repetitiveness sets in alongside aggression or melancholy or both.

Other side effects of withdrawal are also noted. One of the proponents of a cure

in a chart mapping the downhill progress of the alcoholic […] marks one station of the descent as ‘Starts drinking with social inferiors’. People like Auberon Waugh do that every time they walk into a pub. But in spite of the fact that drunks may number among the most boring people in the world, one does meet some extraordinarily interesting people during the downhill struggle.

The Oldie’s editor Harry Mount also offers comments on Auberon in a review of the collection of his writings in the newly published A Scribbler in Soho. This appears in the Catholic Herald:

Bron, who would have been 80 this November, wasn’t just extremely funny – a rare enough gift. He was also completely fearless. And he was a prose stylist as accomplished as his father – the greatest novelist of the 20th century. (I must confess that I knew Bron – a great friend of my parents and very kind to me as a child; always a good sign.) To possess one of these attributes is impressive enough – to have all of them is unique.

The collection, as has been noted in earlier posts, is edited by Naim Attallah and consists to a large extent of reprints of articles from Literary Review when Auberon was editor and Attallah publisher. Mount offers this comment on the collection:

What a joy to read an anthology of the best of Bron’s writing. But this isn’t it – you’re better off with William Cook’s tremendous collection, Kiss Me, Chudleigh: The World According to Auberon Waugh. This book is more The World According to Naim Attallah, who owned the Literary Review, edited by Bron. […] Space that could have been taken up by more of Bron’s sublime prose is given over to these paeans of praise to Attallah.

Finally, back in The Oldie, they have posted an article about another complication that has arisen for the Brexit process. According to a Swedish report, this is caused by the geology of the tectonic plate under the North Sea bed which is rising much faster than the level of sea water. Ultimately, this will cause Britain to become reconnected to the continent by a land mass known as Doggerland. This process will require more than 1000 years to complete but, according to Dr Üre Haavinkürlaaf of the Üvebinhadt Institute of Tectonics in Stockholm :

“[…] at a conservative estimate, the change is so dramatic that if I live to be 88 [in 50 years’ time] and I’m fit enough, I’m confident I will be able to walk across the Channel and the water won’t rise above my waders.” The emerging land bridge to Continental Europe has no formal effect on Brexit negotiations. But becoming a physical part of Europe is bound to influence attitudes of the public in any second referendum.

The article was posted by Glaub Mirnicht on 1 April 2019.

All of The Oldie articles are posted on its weblog and the review is available on the Catholic Herald website at the links provided above.


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Roundup: Lenten Love and Lots of Books

–In the Church Life Journal published by University of Notre Dame, Patrick Tomassi has written an essay on the themes of love in Brideshead Revisited and their particular relevance to the observance of Lent. Here is a summary:

Sorting out our many possessive, grasping loves, and redirecting them towards God is the objective of Lent asceticism. Charles Ryder, in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, is transformed by becoming friends with Sebastian Flyte. His love for Sebastian opens him up to a joy in life he has never known. Although their love is tinged with a possessiveness that eventually kills it, Charles is permanently changed. Their relationship raises a theological question: what is the nature of eros? Is it ultimately selfish and unworthy of a Christian, or is it the very soil without which grace cannot take root? In Charles’s spiritual journey, an answer is proposed through suffering and renunciation. It is through, and not in spite of his eros for Sebastian, and later for Sebastian’s sister Julia, that Charles is led to agape, self-gift, and so ultimately from agnosticism to the Catholic Church.

The Palestine Chronicle reviews a book about Israeli labor policies toward Palestinian workers. The book is by Andrew Ross and is entitled Stone Men. The review begins with this:

There is a memorable passage from satirist Evelyn Waugh’s perhaps purposively unremembered political masterpiece “Black Mischief” (1932), in which Basil Seal, the chief Anglo architect of a modernization program in the fictional African island nation of Azania, passes a stark sentence on the democratically bereft principals of political modernity:

“You know,” he added reflectively, “we’ve got a much easier job now than we should have had fifty years ago. If we’d had to modernize a country then it would have meant constitutional monarchy, bicameral legislature, proportional representation, women’s suffrage, independent judicature, freedom of the press, referendums…”

“What is all that? ” asked the Emperor.

“Just a few ideas that have ceased to be modern.”

The review goes on to compare Basil’s program to that adopted by Israel.

–The Evening Standard reviews a book entitled History of the Bible: The Book and its Faiths by Oxford scholar John Barton. The review explains that the Bible is:

venerated mostly as English literature as the King James Bible but, as T S Eliot observed, this veneration is testimony to the Bible being moribund in more crucial respects. John Barton, the author of this magisterial account of the book and its history, is funny at the expense of admirers of the Authorised Version, who appear to admire it more than the Greek and Hebrew original texts; it is, after all a translation, though a more wonderful one than any modern equivalent.

Actually, given the nature of some Old Testament narrative — Barton, an Oxford scripture professor, uses the term interchangeably with Hebrew Bible without disrespect to Jews — ignorance may be preferable to that dangerous thing, a little knowledge. It’s hard not to sympathise with the exasperated Randolph Churchill who, bet by Evelyn Waugh that he couldn’t read the Bible cover to cover in a fortnight, kept “slapping his side and chortling: ‘God, isn’t God a shit!’” [Diaries, 591]

–The Daily News, a Sri Lankan newspaper, on April Fool’s Day, published a story entitled “Waugh and Humour”. This poses the question: “There is no doubt about it. In another forty years, one of our grandkids will ask us, ‘What on earth is a newspaper?’ We will probably fumble with our explanation […]”  The article goes on to suggest that the best solution might be to hand them a copy of Waugh’s Scoop, which it then proceeds to summarize, concluding with this:

The story is fictional, yes, but to us journalists, most everything about the novel will seem real, too real. This could be why in my eyes, Waugh who is mostly known for his more ambitious novels: ‘A Handful of Dust’ and ‘Brideshead Revisited’ is at his best in ‘Scoop.’ Besides, he is all laughter, too. Hence the warning: if you read the book in a public place your sudden bursts of laughter might earn you curious looks from passersby.

–The Guardian has a review by DJ Taylor of a book entitled Gilded Youth. This is by James Brooke-Smith and argues that “almost since the moment of their foundation, the country’s elite private schools have been a nursery for dissent and sedition, sometimes to the point of outright insurrection.” Examples of “the dandy aesthetes, whose art world precocity was a direct response to the late 19th century’s fixation on sporting prowess” include Old Etonians Harold Acton and Brian Howard who inspired Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited. Alec Waugh’s writing of Loom of Youth also gets a mention but Taylor thinks him more of a reformer than a rebel. Taylor also thinks Brooke-Smith gets Orwell wrong by claiming that he rebelled against Eton:

This is a serious overstatement. After all, Orwell’s first reaction to the arrival of his adopted son in 1944 was to suggest that he be put down for his alma mater. His diaries reveal him to have been fixated on the Eton-Harrow cricket match, and one of the last reviews he ever wrote was of a book about Eton, where he praises “the tolerant and civilised atmosphere” that gives each boy a chance of developing his own individuality.

–Finally, another book has been published on Oxford in the WWI era. This is Gatsby’s Oxford by Prof. Christopher Snyder of Mississippi State University. In a story about a book signing on Friday in Starkville, the university website explained that:

The book chronicles the experiences of Americans in Oxford through the Great War and the years of recovery to 1929, the end of Prohibition and the beginning of the Great Depression. “This period is interpreted through the pages of ‘The Great Gatsby,’ producing a vivid cultural history,” Snyder said.[…] “Archival material covering the first American Rhodes Scholars who came to Oxford during Trinity Term 1919—when Jay Gatsby claims he studied at Oxford—enables the narrative to illuminate a detailed portrait of what a ‘historical Gatsby’ would have looked like, what he would have experienced at the postwar university, and who he would have encountered around Oxford—an impressive array of artists including Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, Winston Churchill, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis,” Snyder said.


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The Art (and Power) of the Book Blurb

In the current issue of the TLS, DJ Taylor addresses in the “Freelance” column “blurb-writing” for book covers and promotional materials. He begins with a discussion of the various considerations brought to bear in composing a successful blurb. These are based on his own experience as well as the advice of book publishers such as Anthony Blond and Rupert Hart-Davis. Perhaps the best of the stories about blurb composition relates to Orwell’s 1984 where Taylor notes that one of the pitfalls:

is the copy hazarded by an enthusiastic editor which betrays in every line just how little he, or she, has understood the book. “As to the blurb, I really don’t think the approach in the draft you sent me is the right one”, an aggrieved-sounding George Orwell wrote from the island of Jura to Roger Senhouse, his editor at Secker & Warburg, in December 1948, six months before Nineteen Eighty-Four hit the shelves. “It makes the book sound as though it were a thriller mixed up with a love story, and I didn’t intend it to be either.” Orwell, keener on the “zones of influence” he had detected at the 1943 Tehran Conference and wanting “to indicate by parodying them the intellectual implications of totalitarianism”, eventually had his way.

Another case considers one of Waugh’s last books, A Tourist in Africa:

How have book blurbs changed over the years? One obvious answer is that they have grown marginally less sedate. How, you might wonder, did Evelyn Waugh react to the news that Chapman & Hall considered A Tourist in Africa (1961) “a very pleasant bedside book (which should induce sleep in all but the most stubborn insomniacs)”?

So far as appears from his correspondence with his agents AD Peters in this period, Waugh seems not to have made any comment or involved himself in the composition of that blurb. It was the concluding sentence in a one-paragraph description of the book on the inside front flap of the dust wrapper. The rear page of the dust wrapper is covered with favorable quotes from reviews in the British press of the Ronald Knox biography. In any event, Waugh had no reason to object to the modesty of the blurb as he was under no delusions as to the quality of A Tourist in Africa. He told his brother Alec in a letter dated 25 October 1960 that he had not sent him a copy because he was ashamed of it

Waugh was not reluctant to become actively engaged in blurb-writing when it suited his interest. He wrote favorable descriptions of two early Muriel Spark novels and sent one to her agent (for The Comforters) and one to her (for The Bachelors). Both of these quotes still appear on the front cover of the current UK editions of these books. On the other hand, he was no shrinking violet in turning down book publicists’ soliicitations. For example, when Nina Bourne of Simon & Schuster ask for a favorable comment on Joseph Heller’s book Catch-22, Waugh sent back a catalogue of perceived defects of the book: indelicacy, prolixity–should be cut by half, often repetitious, lacking in structure. He was, however, prepared to say that “Much of the dialogue is funny”. He offered his own rather verbose blurb should she choose to use it: “This exposure of corruption, cowardice and incivility of American officers will outrage all friends of your country (such as myself) and greatly comfort your enemies” (Letters 417, 551, and 571-72).

Taylor’s musings over blurb-writing is in response to the need to compose one for his upcoming book which was mentioned in a previous post. Here’s a preview:

But where does this leave yours truly? To judge from these templates, it would saddle my own darling work with a paragraph that begins, “This is a book about some young women who worked on Cyril Connolly’s literary magazine Horizon in the 1940s and what they got up to in the black-out”. Somehow absorbing works of cultural reinvention and dazzling new lights seem the safer bet.




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Justin Cartwright (1943-2018): R.I.P.

In a recent issue of TLS, DJ Taylor reviews the works of South Africa-born British novelist Justin Cartwright who died late last year in London at 75. He wrote 17 novels (although, as Taylor notes, he disowned some early ones) starting in the 1970s. As his obituary in the Johannesburg Review of Books points out: “His writing was often compared to Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, and he himself named his influences as Saul Bellow, John Updike and Alan Paton.”  His obituary in the Guardian cites his most notable books:

Cartwright became a noted observer of the minutiae and absurdities of middle-class life, which he witnessed from the centre of the north London literary establishment. His acceptance was assured by a CV laden with awards, including the 1998 Whitbread best novel award for Leading the Cheers and the Hawthornden prize in 2005 for The Promise of Happiness. […] Cartwright was a rare bird in literary fiction, able to use comedy as a Trojan horse to confront readers with the tragedy of human existence. His most laugh-out-loud works, such as Other People’s Money (2011), a satire inspired by the global financial crisis, were underscored by an appreciation of the role of human frailty in driving historical events.

Although he attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, he seems never to have written an “Oxford novel”, as such. He did, however, in 2008 write some recollections about Oxford entitled This Secret Garden: Oxford Revisited in which Cartwright recalled visiting an exhibit devoted to John Betjeman, reminding him of the inspiration of Sebastian’s teddy bear in Brideshead Revisited.  He goes on to describe Waugh’s book as “still in some minds the defining myth of Oxford [and] the greatest Oxford novel ever written” (p. 167).

DJ Taylor in his TLS retrospective, discusses Cartwright’s novels in terms of their characters which he describes as “Cartwright-man” and “Cartwright-woman” in various guises. The latter he summarizes as:

In her middle-aged-to-elderly guise, Cartwright-woman is safely yet peevishly anodyne, a spirited rearranger of Home Counties flowers, a clipper-out of fascinating articles about Evelyn Waugh’s first wife; but her younger prototype needs watching: […] at all times operating by private codes that Cartwright-man – as ripe for superannuation as Amis- man became in his later versions – has no chance of deciphering.



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Evelyn Waugh, Brexit and Prendergast’s Wig (More)

A new magazine based in London and called The Fence has published its first issue which is declared a “Brexit Special”. It describes itself as featuring: “Haunting insights, ridiculous conceits, pulsating fiction and just straight up lies: The Fence is a bi-monthly magazine locked in on life in London.” One of the articles is by Saoirse Mulvey and is entitled “Evelyn Waugh, A Fictive Seer”. It opens with a quote from Sir Ambrose Abercrombie in The Loved One: “You never find an Englishman among the under-dogs — except in England of course.” This position is then described as emanating

from a familiar plane of the British psyche; despairing, embarrassed and freighted with delusions of its own grandeur, the post-war Brit reacts to his new predicament by mythologising former glories, and harking back to a rapidly departing past with an uneasy admixture of ironic nostalgia and barking self-pity. Some diseases of the soul are terminal. Others linger. Looking out on to an England still in fear of Tomorrow, looking back always to an ever-appreciating stock of Yesterdays, it’s hard not to look at the current government and infer that Abercrombie’s diagnosis belongs to the second class of things.

The article goes on to describe the present government’s Brexit strategy as less a Shakespearean tragedy than “a mottled rehashing of the careless over-reach depicted in Waugh’s less subtle works.” Among these is one from another novel, Decline and Fall in which Mr Prendergast:

 feels forced to continue wearing a wig, long after his students detect it as a ludicrous fake, [explains]:

‘I knew from the start that it was a mistake but once they had seen it, it was too late to go back. They make all sorts of jokes about it.’

‘Brexit is our wig’ came the droll assessment [in a letter to the Financial Times by], Mr Geoff Scargill. ‘After months of talks and posturing about independence we can see that we are thin on top. Everyone abroad knows it and is making jokes about us. But it is too late to go back’. [See earlier post.]

After noting that several leaders of the Tory party’s Brexit campaign are Waugh fans, the story hones on one of these, Jacob Rees-Mogg “who may as well have been summoned into being through a black mass held over Waugh’s collected works.” After elaborating on this point with several allusions to Waugh’s work, this discussion concludes:

Like in Waugh’s work, a fundamental complacency toward the vulnerable becomes, in practice, indistinguishable from nihilism. Those who suffer most from [Rees-Mogg’s] policies just need to know that he has a funny name, face and voice. His racial scaremongering, environmental catastrophism and sincere desire to uncouple millions from the protections of the welfare state, all become shrouded in a protective layer of pantomime ridiculousness that casts him not as the reptile he is, but just one more rogue in Waugh’s gallery of colourful bastards. Social reformer William Beveridge once told Waugh he took pleasure in life from ‘trying to leave the world a better place than I found it’. ‘I get mine spreading alarm and despondency’ replied Waugh, ‘and I get more satisfaction than you do’. The risk of The Tories’ Prendergast Wig is that it is the same class of despondent alarm, using the performative absurdities of its architects, to draw only the sort of laughter which begets bitter complacency.

This quote is taken from the 1953 autobiography (Born to Believe) by Waugh’s friend Frank Pakenham who invited both Beveridge and Waugh to a meal in 1942. The article could be read as suggesting that Waugh lived in what is now Rees-Mogg’s Parliamentary constituency of North-East Somerset, but Waugh’s home in Combe Florey is in the Taunton Deane constituency. Their MP is Rebecca Pow who, according to her Wikipedia entry, is also a Tory but who declared in favor of Remain in the 2016 referendum. It should also be noted that the constituency was Liberal Democrat before her election in 2015, which may explain her position on the EU. The article is well-written as these things go and the excerpts above do not do it full justice. It can be read in its entirety at this link.



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Waugh and Two Catholic Novelists

Recent articles in the Roman Catholic literary press have linked Waugh to two largely neglected (in the English speaking world at least) Roman Catholic novelists. The first is an essay by Luca Fumagalli in the Italian-language online journal Radio Spada in which he argues that Waugh’s writing was influenced by the early 20th Century works of convert Robert Hugh Benson. He begins with a consideration of Waugh’s preface to a 1956 reprint of Benson’s 1905 novel Richard Raynal, Solitary:

Before [considering Benson] the novelist, Waugh first showed himself an admirer of Benson as a man and a priest: […]  In his eyes Benson was  “superficially very much an aesthete, but the Catholic Church made little aesthetic appeal to him …. What he sought and found in the Church was authority and catholicity “. Again: “He worked without thought of posterity, as though Doomsday were imminent, using all his talents lavishly to draw as many souls as possible among his immediate neighbors to their true end in God.”

The quotes are from Waugh’s preface, pp. ix, xii. The article leaves out Waugh’s recognition that Benson cared little about the style and quality of his writing. Fumagalli goes on to the heart of his essay, comparing Benson’s writings to those of Waugh:

From a purely literary point of view, influences and contaminations [cross-fertilization ?] abound. If, for example, Valentine Medd’s nanny in The Sentimentalists (1906) closely resembles Sebastian’s nurse  in Brideshead Revisited (1945), the dark novel A Winnowing (1910), anticipates in many respects the black humor of The Loved One (1948). Also in The Sentimentalists, with the figure of Mr. Rolls and the great residence of Oxburgh Hall – where former priests, failed actresses and all those who have made serious mistakes in finding a meaning in their existence are helped – Benson prepared the ground for Waugh , who would use such enthusiasm for the Catholic aristocracy and their homes as an inspiration for Brideshead Revisited. Also with regard to the eschatological, dystopic or utopian current, Waugh’s stories  “Love Among the Ruins” (1953) and “Out of Depth” (1933) boast several similarities, respectively, with The Lord of the World (1907) and The Dawn of All (1911) – in the latter case especially in the expedient of time travel. Finally, it seems that Waugh also returned to Benson’s historical novels before writing his own book on the English saint and martyr Edmund Campion (1935), and that the works of Benson’s Edwardian settings had the merit of reviving [Waugh’s] satirical flame.

Translation by Google with edits. Waugh’s links to Benson’s dystopias and time travel in his own stories have been noted elsewhere, but some of these other connections may be original and worth further consideration.

The other comparison comes from an article in the National Catholic Register about a 1950 novel by Henry Morton Robinson entitled The Cardinal.  This:

tells the story of Stephen Fermoyle, a Catholic priest from Boston, between the years 1915 and 1939, when he, as a new cardinal, voted in the election of Pius XII. An immediate best-seller, the novel was translated into more than a dozen languages and turned into an award-winning 1963 film by Otto Preminger. Were it to be offered publishers today, I doubt the book would find a buyer in the secular press. It’s just too Catholic.

The novel inspired the author of the NCR article, K E Colombini, to seek out other writings about the Roman Catholic church in the period during which the novel’s fictional Cardinal thrived. Among the findings was an essay by Waugh:

The postwar period in which Robinson was writing his novel was a time when the Catholic Church was seeing great growth, and here I found myself reaching not for another book, but an essay by the British novelist Evelyn Waugh. This work, titled “The American Epoch in the Catholic Church” was published in Life magazine in September 1949. At the same time Robinson was crafting The Cardinal, Waugh was traveling around our country, talking to people and writing this report where he recognized, as did Robinson throughout the novel, that America was seen as a beacon of hope for the future of the Church.[…]

In his Life magazine essay, Waugh expresses this sort of optimism in a more complete way, setting a theme that one could say helps define Robinson’s novel. As Waugh put it, many of his contemporary Catholics are “turning their regard with hope and curiosity to the New World, where, it seems, Providence is schooling and strengthening a people for the historic destiny long borne by Europe.”

A copy of Waugh’s article as it appears in Life magazine can be seen at the link above or in a slightly different form in the Tablet as reprinted in A Little Order and Essays, Articles and Reviews.

Posted in Brideshead Revisited, Catholicism, Edmund Campion, Love Among The Ruins, Newspapers, Short Stories | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment