Twofer: Waugh and the Country House

–An essay in current issue of The Critic is devoted to the threatened demise and later salvation of the English Country House. This is by Lara Brown and is entitled “Waugh saves the English country house.” She begins by explaining how Waugh foresaw the destruction of the country house and its occupants which he described in his 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited. When it came time for a reprint and revision in 1959, he explained how he had got it wrong and the country houses and their owners had survived and prospered. The essay brings matters up to date and concludes with this:

…Far from failing to predict “the cult of the English country house”, Waugh created it, ushering in — perhaps in spite of himself — a new age of democratisation for enjoyment far beyond the nobility. It was the work of novelists like Waugh which revived the country house and made it clear that these sites were of “historic interest”. The history of Brideshead has always been aligned with this process of democratisation. Castle Howard, the setting for the ITV adaptation of the novel, was one of the first houses opened up to the public after the war. Its current owner, Nick Howard, credits Waugh with preserving the site so synonymous with the novel.

We should take pride in the English country house. It is a wonderful, distinctly English institution. It has always been the job of writers to preserve our cultural inheritance. I was heartened to see Castle Howard, the real-life Brideshead, included in Netflix’s Bridgerton. Daphne’s reaction upon seeing her new husband’s home wonderfully mirrored Charles’ when Sebastian first drives him there from Oxford. As the National Trust is losing visitors, it may seem that we are losing this pride, however. Visitors to our country estates are accosted by slavery reports, apologies for colonialism and criticisms of our history. It is not in these circumstances that English heritage will flourish.

Prospect Magazine has reposted the 2016 review of a relatively recent contribution to the country house novel genre, although in this case it’s more of a novella. This is by veteran novelist Graham Swift and is entitled Mothering Sunday. The review is by Frances Wilson and begins appropriately enough with a consideration of previous examples of novels featuring country house themes:

…When Brideshead Revisited was published in 1945, it had been impossible, wrote Evelyn Waugh, to predict “the present cult of the English country house.” Every writer worth their salt now counts a country house novel among their oeuvre: Sarah Waters has The Little Stranger, Toby Litt has Finding Myself. Ned Beauman’s debut, Boxer, Beetle (2010) pays tribute, he says, to “the three finest country house novels ever written: Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and Ian McEwan’s Atonement.” The country house novel is always paying tribute to the literary past, just as the historical past is usually the setting of the country house novel…

Swift’s recent contribution sounds like a Downstairs, Upstairs situation:

…In Mothering Sunday, Swift’s new novel and his own foray into the genre, there is a great deal of crossing between zones—domestic, generic, sexual and psychological. In brief and lacerating prose, Swift strips the genre bare: the exterior of Upleigh, his novel’s country house, remains undescribed, while the interior is for the most part uninhabited. Except that is in the book’s central scene, when a post-coital maid wanders through the rooms wearing nothing but a Dutch cap. The novel is set on 30th March 1924—Mothering Sunday—when the nation’s mothers are still grieving for the sons they have lost in the Great War. The tone is elegiac, but the lament is less for the certainties of social hierarchy than the innocence of pre-lapsarian bliss. Jane Fairchild, a servant, is having an affair with Paul Sheringham, a master…

The review concludes:

…Rarely does fiction invite such intense identification, such mental hazarding. Swift strips his reader bare. Our tension is born of familiarity: we too have done this… Poking around in other people’s houses is our national obsession. We do it when we flick through Hello! or World of Interiors, when we watch Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey. This is what we are doing when we read country house novels, which describe and, more importantly, re-enact the thrill of being in a room belonging to someone of a finer class.

Swift’s novel was published in 2016 and is available at this link. A film adaptation with a largely British cast was released last year and can currently be seen on streaming services.

 

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Roundup: Mostly Books and a Makeover in North Wales

The Spectator reviews a book by journalist and author Simon Winchester entitled Knowing What We Know: The Transmission of Knowledge from Ancient Wisdom to Modern MagicReviewer Dennis Duncan mentions that there is a discussion of Waugh’s Scoop in the book:

…Each of its six chapters is divided into a dozen or so numbered sections which read like standalone pieces. Winchester is clearly at his most comfortable when he’s telling a story rather than building an argument. Here are half a dozen pages on the Encyclopaedia Britannica; a paean to the London Library; the plot of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop; a reminiscence about how Winchester got into Oxford…

The book’s index is posted on the internet and indicates a two-page discussion of Scoop. There is also this reference in the book’s Glossary section:

Waugh, Evelyn: The wildly comic author of such novels as Scoop and Decline and Fall. Waugh, due to his social and political views, has been rather cast out of fashion today, though the elegance of his imagination may yet allow him an enduring following.

The book’s publication is scheduled for later this week in both the US and UK.

–A book about Franco’s Spain is reviewed in the website jacobin.com. This is by Paul Preston and is entitled Architects of Terror: Conspiracy and Anti-Semitism in Franco’s Spain. The review by Gustav Jönssen opens with this:

Every so often I’ll look up what certain twentieth-century intellectuals said of Francisco Franco. I’m always struck by how many of them were fooled by him: they swooned, like innocent debutantes, when the blue-shirted Falange marched past. To my mind, this “Franco test” is for the political right what the Stalinist show trials were for the Left — it is hard to really admire those who failed it…

After noting that Alexander Solzhenitsyn was one of them, he writes this:

Evelyn Waugh came out firmly in favor of the nationalist side: had he been Spanish, he said, he’d be fighting for General Franco. Taking a retrospective view, William F. Buckley said that Franco had stayed on too long, but he celebrated his skill in keeping Spain outside World War II. Buckley called him “an authentic national hero” who had saved “the Spanish soul” from a grotesque regime of “visionaries, ideologues, Marxists, and nihilists.” Such statements can still be heard on the religious right, though now usually muttered rather than exclaimed…

The book was published in February in the UK (link here) and is scheduled for US release in August (link above).

–The website Literary Potpourri has a regular weekly feature called “Shelf Control.” In this readers are asked to look at their “TBR” (To Be Read) piles and choose one to describe for the website. A recent posting (#224) was devoted to The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. After a brief description of Waugh’s career, it concludes:

 The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold is described as ‘one of his most remarkable and self-revealing books’ based on an experience he himself had when in poor health. Gilbert Pinfold is a successful middle-aged novelist with ‘bad nerves’ who is travelling to Ceylon. Almost as soon as the journey starts, he begins to hear all sorts of sounds emanating from the roof of his cabin–jazz bands, barking dogs, revival meetings. He thinks a public address system is allowing him to hear all that’s going on aboard the ship, but then suddenly the sounds change–they become voices, and ones that are talking about him!

This sounds a fun novel in which Waugh seems to be (and I confirmed this from a friend’s review) poking fun at himself. Though Waugh did ‘do’ humour and satire, this still sounds very different from his usual line of writings, especially in the personal element coming through strongly. So this is one that is definitely staying on my TBR and one I would very much like to read.

There follow several comments from readers who are now considering whether to read the book. Whether the author of the notice will ultimately post an assessment is not explained.

–The book entitled Adam and Eve After the Pill, Revisited by Mary Eberstadt is reviewed in the National Catholic Register. This considers the impact of the “sexual revolution” following the introduction of birth control pills has had on various institutions. Waugh finds his way into the review’s conclusion (as well as the book’s title):

So is the sexual revolution an inevitable and irreversible process in history?  To this question, Eberstadt responds with an emphatic, “No.” Noting that ever since the 1960s, liberationists have anchored their successes to the supposed “inevitability of history,” she suggests that the sociopolitical changes spawned by the sexual revolution “could be subject like any other social phenomenon to scrutiny and revision.”

In fact, Eberstadt writes, “The revolution’s toxic legacy itself amounts to tacit vindication of [the Church’s] long-standing teaching concerning sex and marriage — whether or not that vindication is widely understood.”

In her epilogue titled, “What Are Believers to Do? The Cross Amid the Chaos,” Eberstadt quotes Evelyn Waugh, who, in a 1930 newspaper interview, revealed why he had converted to Catholicism. He said, “In the present phase of European history, the essential issue is no longer between Catholicism, on the one side, and Protestantism, on the other, but between Christianity and Chaos.” Eberstadt sees the same choice before us in America today.

The book is available in the US at the link above and in the UK at this link.

–The Daily Mail has a story about a couple who invested £320,000 and 7 years of their time on a rundown building in North Wales  and turned it into two semi-detached properties selling for over £1 million. The properties were formerly a dorm at Arnold House, the school where Waugh was a teacher in the 1920s and which he used as a setting for his first novel Decline and Fall. The Mail’s story explains Waugh’s connection in some detail:

…Waugh was a teacher at the school after studying at Oxford, but it wasn’t a happy time for the struggling young writer. While at Arnold House, he sent a few chapters of another manuscript, The Temple at Thatch to his friend Harold Acton, who thought little of it, and the disappointment, combined with missing out on another job, sent Waugh down to the beach, determined to drown himself. But on being stung by a jellyfish, he changed his mind and headed back to shore.

‘Decline and Fall’, was based on the boarding school (fictionalised as Llannaba) and others where he worked. It was televised a few years ago, starring Jack Whitehall and Eva Longoria, though the drama was filmed elsewhere in Wales. Waugh was paid £160-a-year teaching history, Latin and Greek to the boys. He wrote in his diary: ‘Apparently, the school is so far away from any sort of place of entertainment that it is quite impossible to spend any money at all there.’ He would take a break from the gloomy environs of Arnold House in the Fair View Inn nearby, known as ‘Mrs Roberts’ pub’ in Decline and Fall. On March 16, 1925, said recorded in his diary that he went to the Fair View where a eunuch taught him a toast in Welsh. He wrote it down on an envelope which he later lost.

Waugh later recalled in an interview: ‘It was pretty terrible in that school from a teacher’s point of view. It was in a private school near Llandudno. We used to take the boys on picnics to Snowdon and Cadair Idris.’…

 

 

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Mary Quant: R I P (1930-2023)

The Spanish language fashion magazine S Moda has published a retrospective article on the life and career of fashion designer Mary Quant on the occasion of her recent death. It contains a reference to the relationship of her husband Alexander Plunket-Greene to the family of that name to which Evelyn Waugh was closely connected. This was through his friendship with Olivia Plunket-Greene, her brothers, Richard and David, and their mother Gwen. Richard was Alexander’s father. Here’s the relevant excerpt translated by Google:

…The daughter of school teachers, descendants of Welsh miners relocated to the outskirts of the capital in search of a better life, Barbara Mary Quant herself exemplified the jovial uproar of the moment. At art school she met her future partner and husband, Alexander Plunket Greene, who had an impressive pedigree: grandson of legendary Irish baritone Henry Plunket Greene and his wife British aristocrat Gwendoline Maud Parry, son of motorcycle racer, jazz musician and writer Richard Plunket Greene, a jewel of the bohemian Bright Young Things whose adventures filled the pages of the London tabloids in the twenties (the writer Evelyn Waugh was close to the family and was inspired by Richard and his siblings, David and Olivia, to create characters in Vile Bodies and Brideshead Revisited). Still engaged, they arrived in Chelsea, which in 1955, was at the dawn of the youthquake. This was no longer just any neighborhood, but was abuzz with musicians, artists, filmmakers and society puppies becoming beatniks in cafes (espresso-bars) and clothing stores. In November they opened a restaurant, Alexander’s, and a boutique, Bazaar, in the building that Plunket Greene and his friend Archie McNair, a lawyer-turned-photographer, had bought on King’s Road. The bistro was a flop; the store, a success that would inevitably change the business model and what we now call the shopping experience…

It is doubtful that Waugh ever met either Mary or Alexander. Since Waugh died in 1966, he would have missed the period in which their careers were at their peak. Waugh last mentions in his published correspondence and diaries any meeting with members of the family in 1948. This was in connection with a visit he made to the cottage in which Olivia and her mother Gwen were living a rather ramshackle existence on the Longleat Estate. In his autobiography, Waugh gives a fairly detailed account of his relations with the Plunket- Greenes, noting that for “ten years…I was practically a member of the family.” (A Little Learning, CWEW, v. 19, pp. 180-185).

UPDATE (23 April 2023): Quote from ALL added.

 

 

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Tax-Day Roundup

Country Life magazine has posted a 2-part essay on the history of Edwin Lutyens design and the building of Campion Hall at Oxford. Waugh was involved in the process. Here’s an excerpt from part 1:

…Waugh celebrated the Hospitality of Campion Hall in a manuscript reminiscence kept in the hall’s archive. ‘We came from all quarters as guests of the house; fellows and undergraduates, gowned, from the neighbouring colleges, refugees from foreign tyranny, editors of Catholic papers from London, under-Secretaries of State visiting the Chatham or the Canning, the President of the Royal Academy, the Spanish Ambassador, and men marked by no notoriety but distinguished by the high privilege of the Master’s friendship. You never knew whom you would meet at Campion Hall but one thing was certain, that for a single evening at any rate they would all fit harmoniously into the social structure which the Master, without apparent effort, ingeniously contrived.

Today, the hall may feel pleasantly and appropriately severe, but that is not the impact it had on Waugh in the 1930s. Accommodation across Oxford was spartan, so Waugh felt ‘it was remarkable that the only religious house in the university should appear less monastic than the secular colleges… the carpeted entrance-hall, the broad staircase, the profusion of ornate furniture, the bed-rooms with their tasteful choice of bed-side books, the prodigality and accessibility of hot-water, all had the air of a private house rather than of a college’. …

–The Thomistic Institute at Georgetown University in Washington, DC has announced a lecture by Prof. Patrick Callahan of the Newman Institute for Catholic Thought & Culture titled “The Influence of Virgil and St. Augustine on Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.” Here are the details:

Thursday, April 27

6:00 PM

WAL 491

This lecture is free and open to the public.

About the Speaker:

Patrick Callahan is director of the Newman Institute for Catholic Thought & Culture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as well as Assistant Professor of English & Humanities at St. Gregory the Great Seminary. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Dallas and his graduate work at Fordham University in Classical Philology. While his doctoral work focused on ancient Greek commentaries to the lyric poet Pindar, his recent work focuses on early Jesuit Latin texts.

–The German language newspaper Welt has a story about how Waugh got his novel Brideshead Revisited written, proofed and published during one of the most active periods of WWII. Here is an excerpt translated by Google:

…On June 6th – at breakfast the waiter had greeted him with the news of D-Day – he wrote the last chapter in no time at all, on the 20th he mailed the manuscript and returned via Gibraltar, Algiers, Catania, Naples and Bari back to war: together with Randolph Churchill, son of the prime minister , Waugh was to keep in touch with Tito’s partisans on the Croatian coast. How he should correct the upheaval of his novel behind enemy lines was therefore in the stars…

With some certainty no upheaval has embarked on a more adventurous journey than Waugh described years later. Brideshead was sent to Downing Street by the publishers in October 1944; “From there,” Waugh reported, “it traveled to Italy in the Prime Minister’s mailbag, was flown out from Brindisi, and parachuted into Gajana in Croatia, then an isolated region of resistance; it was corrected in Topusko and then taken to Split by jeep when the road was temporarily out of enemy hands; from there by ship to Italy and home, via Downing Street.”

Brideshead Revisited is Evelyn Waugh’s most famous book to date; when he wrote it while the war was on hiatus for him, he himself thought it his best. After that, however, he was as severe with himself as he had been with Randolph Churchill, without whom it would not have appeared at the time.

“I wrote with a zeal that was completely foreign to me,” he recalled, “but also impatient to return to the war. It was a bleak time of real hardship before impending catastrophe – marked by soybeans and a limited vocabulary – and so the book is imbued with an immoderate lust for food and wine, for the splendor of the recent past, but also for rhetorical, ornamental language, which I find disgusting today on a full stomach.”

–The Los Angeles Times asked 95 local writers to name their favorite books about the city. In the published excerpts a Waugh novel appears twice:

“The books by emigrés — Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Isherwood, Thomas Mann and others. Even West falls into this category. The foreigners don’t count in most people’s L.A. canon, but they spoke to a kid raised among immigrants. I grew up among ‘foreigners.’”— Dana Gioia

“Evelyn Waugh’s ‘The Loved One’ and Aldous Huxley’s ‘After Many a Summer [Dies the Swan]’ snuck dark comedy onto the serious shelves (can we imagine Terry Southern or even Thomas Pynchon without them?).”— Boris Dralyuk

Links in the quote are from the original.

–The Guardian in a story about declining football player behavior blames in part the so-called VAR (video replay of on-field action). The story opens with this:

It is always vital not to bend too far with the weather, to dodge the squalls and thunderclaps; and above all to be wary of the worst and most deathly storm of all, the confected media storm.

Does the Premier League really have a problem with “player behaviour”? It has been tempting given the heat, the chat, the clipped-up punditry faces prophesying the decline of all that is fine and noble, like Evelyn Waugh bemoaning the death of the carpeted bathroom, to file the current rage about rage alongside all the other things that have seemed, very briefly, to signal the coming of the rapture.

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Easter Roundup

–Drinks website The Master of Malt has posted a story tracing the history of Cognac. Here’s a contribution from Waugh:

…According to Boswell, Samuel Johnson said: “claret is the liquor for boys; port, for men; but he who aspires to be a hero (smiling) must drink brandy.” Before there was blended whisky, the drink of  British upper classes in the nineteenth century was Cognac mixed with soda. Winston Churchill wrote, “my father could never have drunk whisky except when shooting on a moor or in some very dull chilly place. He lived in the age of brandy and soda.”

As with Bordeaux and Burgundy, there was the pure product and then something doctored to British tastes. Additives such as sugar syrup, prune juice and a wood solution made from boiling oak were added to give the brandy an antique feel. This vulgar brandy feels the full force of Evelyn Waugh’s disdain in one of the most famous scenes from Brideshead Revisited where Charles Ryder has dinner with Rex Mottram, an arriviste businessman, in Paris. Ryder orders a Cognac which is dismissed by Mottram as “the sort of stuff he puts soda in at home. So, shamefacedly, they (the waiters) wheeled out of its hiding place the vast and mouldy bottle they kept for people of Rex’s sort. ‘That’s the stuff,’ he said, tilting the treacly concoction till it left dark rings round the sides of his glass.”…

–Here’s an event at the upcoming Stratford Literary Festival that may be of interest to Waugh readers (at least those who also share his love of PG Wodehouse):

Alexander Armstrong and Dame Harriet Walter

What ho! PG Wodehouse in words and music

Wednesday 3 May 2023 7:30pm-8:45pm

£20

£18 students

To book call the box office on 0333 666 3366

‘Mr Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale,’ wrote Evelyn Waugh. Join us for a sparkling evening, celebrating two of P G Wodehouse’s best-loved characters, Bertie Wooster, and the inimitable Jeeves. Alexander Armstrong, President of the P G Wodehouse Society, and Dame Harriet Walter bring the world of Jeeves and Wooster to marvellous life, together with hapless chums, a battalion of Aunts, and the voice of Wodehouse – ‘Plum’ – himself. All served up with a delicious cocktail of period music, from jazz pianist Toby Boalch and his suave quartet. With thanks to The P G Wodehouse Society (UK) which exists to celebrate and share the enjoyment of his work. For more information, visit pgwodehousesociety.org.uk

Harriet Walter’s appearance is subject to her filming commitments

–The Betjeman Society has also announced an event next month in London that may be of interest:

‘Not Far From Brideshead: Oxford Between the Wars’ a talk by Dr Daisy Dunn

May 16 | 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

£10

Award-winning author and historian Dr Daisy Dunn introduces the world of interwar Oxford with its punting, picnics and warring dons. This was the world that inspired Evelyn Waugh as well as John Betjeman and many others. Soldiers returned to study after the horrors of the trenches and women received degrees for the first time. But amid the relief and jubilation came the threat of further unrest as events in Europe began to spiral.

Dr Daisy Dunn is the author of six books, including Not Far From Brideshead: Oxford Between the WarsOf Gods and Men: 100 Stories from Ancient Greece and Rome, and Catullus’ Bedspread: The Life of Rome’s Most Erotic Poet. She read Classics at Oxford before receiving an MA in Art History from the Courtauld and PhD in Classics and Art History from UCL. She is a critic for The Spectator and writes widely for the press.

The venue for this talk is the Grosvenor Chapel, deep in the heart of Mayfair. It the setting for Betjeman’s “Lenten Thoughts of a High Church Anglican” and well worth visiting. It contains a recently installed plaque, with the full text of the poem, commemorating Betjeman and his muse for the poem, Joan Constantinidi. For more on this please see page 7-8 of Betjeman Society Newsletter 116.

Guests are welcome.

Details available here.

–Blogger Steve Sailer posts an article from the New York Times about recent stories relating to “updates” made by publishers without the knowledge of long dead authors or their literary estates not to mention no notice to existing owners of e-books whose editions are edited automatically. The article ends with this:

“…Terry Adams, a vice president who runs paperback and digital publishing at Little, Brown and Company, whose authors include James Patterson, Evelyn Waugh and Donna Tartt, said the company regularly makes “corrections” to e-books at editors’ and authors’ discretion, fixing factual errors and typos, rewording phrases and adding new passages, among other changes. These edits are typically not recorded publicly, Adams said, in line with industry standards.”

Here’s Sailer’s comment:

I could at least see an argument for allowing Donna Tartt, who is a living author, to alter her books on your device (not that there’s any evidence she wants to). But I would think that Little, Brown would want to issue a statement saying they will never, ever alter your Evelyn Waugh books on your device.

After all, what would Waugh say?

The entire article can be read here.

–The Hollywood entertainment website GoldDerby.com has posted a review of what it deems the best 12 movies by the late film actor Rod Steiger. The 1965 film adaptation of The Loved One is among those selected:

Steiger was known as one of the most macho of actors, so it was a bit of a surprise when he was cast in Tony Richardson’s funeral industry satire as the fey Mr. Joyboy, the chief embalmer at Whispering Glades cemetery and mortuary.  Mr. Joyboy loves children, particularly if they’re dead.  Reportedly one of Steiger’s own favorite performances, his work in “The Loved One” is a hoot, sending up his macho image while at the same time staying true to this key character in the Evelyn Waugh satire.

I would have to agree that Steiger’s performance accurately portrayed the character as written by Waugh. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said to have reflected various other plot and character changes incorporated into the script by writer Terry Southern and director Tony Richardson.

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‘The Loved One’ Remembered

The New Criterion magazine has posted an essay on the writing, publication and history of Waugh’s 1948 novel The Loved One.  This is by John P Rossi who is Professor Emeritus of History at La Salle University in Philadelphia. While not mentioned, this essay’s publication may be related to the fact that this year marks the 75th anniversary of the book’s publication. See previous post. Here’s the opening paragraph:

Edmund Wilson argued that there were two Evelyn Waughs: the great comic genius of his early novels—Decline and Fall (1928), Vile Bodies (1930), Black Mischief (1932), Scoop (1938)—and the religiously obsessed author of Brideshead Revisited (1945), whose success made Waugh internationally famous and in Wilson’s view no longer interesting. But just three years after Brideshead, Waugh returned to his first theme in what is perhaps the bitterest yet one of the funniest of his comic works: The Loved One (1948).

After opening with a description of Waugh’s 1947 visit to Hollywood in unsuccessful pursuit of a film contract for Brideshead Revisited, the article notes that The Loved One was the major benefit Waugh secured from the trip. He also points out something I had not realized:

Nancy Mitford, the novelist and close friend of Waugh, suggests that the character of Mr. Joyboy was based on the flat-faced, pug-nosed Cyril Connolly, a friend whom Waugh loved to taunt and tease. “Joyboy was not a handsome man,” writes Waugh, “but every girl in Whispering Glades gloated over him.” Like Joyboy, Connolly was notorious for surrounding himself with beautiful women, in his case at his journal Horizon.

After describing how Waugh wrote the book quickly on his return to England, the article oversimplifies the publication history which was rather complicated:

Among those he showed [the book] to was Connolly, who agreed to devote an entire issue of Horizon to it in February 1948. The Horizon issue sold out and Waugh gave the royalties to various Catholic charities—perhaps to expiate any guilt he felt for savaging the Yanks. The novel appeared in book form that same month [sic] in England and the United States.

Waugh received no royalties from Connolly to whom he gave the magazine publication rights in exchange for his monthly subscription in recognition that the magazine was struggling financially.  The book appeared in Horizon’s February 1948 issue, and then was published in the USA in book form by Little Brown in July 1948. UK book publication followed in November of that year. The book royalties may have been donated to the church. This was the only time that US publication of a Waugh novel preceded UK release. The delay was due to the UK publisher’s concern that The Loved One not interfere with sales and promotion of Scott-King’s Modern Europe which had been published in the UK at the end of 1947.

After a description of the overall positive critical reception of the book in the US, Rossi finds some dissent in a likely spot:

Edmund Wilson, who had never forgiven Waugh for Brideshead and for snubbing him during a visit to London, called the novel sketchy and incomplete, saying he found the participants in Whispering Glades more sensible and less absurd than the priest-ridden Waugh. But Waugh would get the last word. When asked during a television interview if he found Wilson’s criticism illuminating or helpful, Waugh asked if he was an American and then added, “I don’t think what they have to say is of much interest.”

Wilson did not review the book but did write a brief addendum to reviews of earlier books. This appeared in his collection Classics and Commercials (NY, 1950, pp. 304-05).  It is not wholly negative; after the quoted brush off, Wilson wrote that the book was “extremely funny” and a “farcical satire on those de luxe California cemeteries that attempt to render death less unpleasant by exploiting all the resources of landscape gardening and Hollywood mummery.”  The addendum concluded with Wilson’s familiar objections to Roman Catholicism.

After a brief reference to the unhappy episode of the book’s Hollywood film adaptation in 1965, Prof. Rossi’s article concludes:

How does The Loved One hold up today? The novel generates smiles and laughs, but there is a meanness to it that doesn’t reflect the depth of Waugh’s religious feelings. It also lacks the development of Waugh’s early satires. The character of Barlow is never as likable a rogue as Basil Seal of Black Mischief, nor is there any character who generates sympathy like Paul Pennyfeather in Decline and Fall. There is also a rushed quality about The Loved One, as if Waugh could not wait to get his reactions to America down on paper. Still, it is a fun read, one that not only keeps you smiling but also shocks throughout.

 

 

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Pre-Raphaelite Exhibit at the Tate Britain (More)

An article in The Times reviews the upcoming exhibit of the Rossettis. (See previous post.) This is by Laura Freeman who cites Waugh’s earliest published work. Here’s excerpt from the beginning paragraphs:

…I’m not alone in my pre-Raphaelite prejudice. Evelyn Waugh, in an extended essay on the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, one of his earliest literary efforts, characterised the general view of the movement thus: “Young women who will prattle with assurance of Pruna or Poussin, will say, should the topic ever arise, ‘The pre-Raphaelites — Burne-Jones and people like that — my dear, you can’t admire them.’ To the great mass of more or less educated people the movement means Keble College Chapel, the poems of Christina Rossetti (in limp calf) and the line of Miss Siddal’s neck; to the more enlightened it means a meticulous care of detail and a vividness of colouring which has long ceased to be courageous.”

The contempt in that limp calfskin! Waugh was writing in 1926 when the names on discerning lips, rosebud or otherwise, were Picasso, Braque, Mondrian and the elliptical TS Eliot. It was the age of bob haircuts and slim sheath dresses. The peacock feathers, tumbling tresses, voluminous bath gowns and still more voluminous verse of the pre-Raphaelites were terrifically old hat. That was then. But as sure as buds become blooms and seeds pomegranates, the pre-Raphs come back in fashion. The pre-Raphaelites may not have been right for the bright young things, but they are right for now. Christina, with her pantheistic poems of nature, could be a voice against the present ecological crisis. Gabriel, with his sumptuous scene-setting, a poster boy for the new maximalism seen on the accounts of Instagram’s interiors influencers…

The “early extended essay” from which the article quotes would be Waugh’s P.R.B. An Essay on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, 1847-1854. This was self published by Waugh from a printing press available to his college friend Alastair Graham. The publication was in late 1926 arranged during the period of Graham’s apprenticeship to a printer in Stratford-upon-Avon. A few months later Waugh used a copy to impress Duckworths when Anthony Powell introduced him to Thomas Balston at that London publisher in 1927.  Balston was looking for a writer who could produce a biography of Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his centenary year and, according to Powell, Balston liked what he saw in Waugh’s extended essay.  Much of the essay was incorporated into the resulting book Rossetti: His Life and Work, published by Duckworths on 11 April 1928. P.P.B. itself was not reprinted in its entirety until 1982 in a limited edition. It was most recently reprinted in the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh, v. 26, Essays, Articles and Reviews 1922-1934 (Oxford, 2018).

The Tate-Britain’s exhibit “The Rossettis” opens on 6 April and closes 24 September. Details at this link.

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April Fool’s Day Roundup

–The academic journal Shakespeare has announced the acceptance for publication of an article by Barbara Cooke entitled “Waugh’s green world: Reconceptualising The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold as a transcoded production of King Lear”. Dr Cooke is co-executive editor of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh and edited the recent volume 14 (Pinfold). Here’s an abstract of the article, the full text of which will appear in a future edition of the journal:

This article makes the case for interpreting Evelyn Waugh’s The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957) as a transcoded performance of King Lear, directed and enacted through the hallucinations of the eponymous writer-protagonist. Suffering from writers’ block and bromide poisoning, Pinfold unconsciously re-creates and inhabits the roles of the king, his fool and Cordelia within a green world setting suggested own disordered mind. This exegesis of Waugh’s intricate method of textual adaptation, which encompasses numerous additional hypotexts from The Tempest to Waugh’s own contemporaries, urges Pinfold’s recognition as an exemplar of criticism-through-practice that may be applied across a wide spectrum of symbiotic creative relationships. Reconceptualising Pinfold in this way affords a new understanding of the later text’s notoriously baffling conclusion, which in turn generates a new lens through which to view King Lear. Throughout his ordeal, the embattled Pinfold demonstrates his commitment to the inseparable qualities of modesty and truthfulness that define Cordelia’s character. By ultimately handing Pinfold-as-Cordelia the victory Shakespeare denied her, Waugh announces both his adaptation and adapted text as meditations on the nature of, and need for, personal integrity and the right to emotional privacy.

–Irish novelist Kathleen McMahon has a brief article on the website of RTÉ, the Irish broadcast network, about what she looks for in a short story. Here’s the concluding paragraph:

…Finally, it’s hard to resist a short story that delivers a punch. I love Lionel Shriver’s wickedly good Kilifi Creek, which takes brutal pleasure in the unexpected. Roald Dahl was a master of the dark twist, but my favourite of all is Bella Fleace Gives a Party, by Evelyn Waugh. The pleasure of the Waugh story is in the long, slow draw on the reader’s heart strings, as an eccentric old Anglo-Irish lady plans a party in her crumbling mansion. Like all the best short stories, it offers extremely good value to the reader.

The Spectator has reviewed a recent novel whose main character is a journalist. This is summarized by John Sturgis in the article that opens with this:

A recently published novel, Becky by Sarah May, is the latest in a long tradition of fiction based on journalism – and a good excuse to think again about the great books from that sub-genre. May’s is a curious hybrid of the life story of News UK CEO Rebekah Brooks and a repurposing of Vanity Fair. George Cochrane, reviewing it for The Spectator, called Becky ‘a good novel dwarfed by a great one’.

He was referring to the Thackeray, but he might just as easily have been talking about another classic English novel: Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. That comic masterpiece from 1938 is the book against which all other fictional evocations of journalists and journalism are judged – and is almost invariably the first on any list of the best of such books.

Scoop, a constantly hilarious absurdist send-up of the haplessness of reporters and the chaos of newspaper offices, is worthy of its place at the top of the tree. But there are countless other examples in a field that’s ever expanding – no doubt because there can be few other professions whose members are more likely to write fiction themselves. Here, in order of date of publication, are a dozen recommended books that aren’t Scoop, which feature journalists at work and play.

Among the novels he lists, there are several familiar ones like Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, P G Wodehouse’s Psmith, Journalist, Gissing’s New Grub Street and Malcolm Muggeridge’s Picture Palace. But the one that most closely resembles Scoop is, according to Sturgis, this:

Towards the End of Morning, Michael Frayn (1967)

If any journalism book can give Scoop a run for its money, it’s this – the choice of the cognoscenti in the field. Anyone who has seen Noises Off – currently being revived in the West End yet again – will know what a master of comedy Michel Frayn is, and his touch doesn’t fail him here. Frayn, who worked on the Observer for most of the 1960s, assembles the usual ingredients of hapless hacks, dead-end jobs and pubs and booze but somehow creates something completely fresh.

–Craig Brown writes in the Daily Mail about the upcoming auction of the papers of the novelist W G Sebald and wonders whether the papers will be as gloomy as the books he wrote. He offers examples of novelists’ correspondence and memoirs resembling their writing, first citing E M Forster and Henry James. He then offers this example from Evelyn Waugh and concludes:

The novelist Evelyn Waugh created characters who were notably cruel and self-centred. In his autobiography, his son Auberon wrote of the day in his childhood when bananas arrived for the very first time.

‘Neither I, my sister Teresa nor my sister Margaret had ever eaten a banana throughout the war, when they were unprocurable, but we had heard all about them as the most delicious taste in the world.

‘The great day arrived when my mother came home with three bananas. All three were put on my father’s plate, and before the anguished eyes of his children, he poured on cream, which was almost unprocurable, and sugar, which was heavily rationed, and ate all three.’

Just a year or so before W.G. Sebald died, I went to see him give a talk in Suffolk, and was invited to lunch with him afterwards. I found him charming, and wryly funny.

I had written an anonymous parody of his gloomy writing in Private Eye magazine a few weeks earlier. ‘

The sky appeared blue, but I knew that, somewhere else in the world, yet more clouds, black and bruised, were gathering.’

In my cowardly way, I avoided telling him over lunch that I was the author. But after he died, two of his obituaries said that my parody had made him laugh: further evidence that you should not always judge a writer by his writing.

The Independent newspaper has posted its review of a new biography of Noel Coward. This is by Oliver Soden and is entitled Masquerade: The Lives of Noel Coward. It was published earlier this month in the UK. The review is by Martin Chilton who mentions several of Coward’s friends and acquaintances, including Evelyn Waugh:

Coward was also friends with Evelyn Waugh, that “strange little man”. Coward, an agnostic, was intrigued by Waugh’s Catholicism. “I have always been mystified how anyone as intelligent can accept the dogmas of the RC faith,” he wrote. When he quizzed Waugh, the Brideshead Revisited author admitted to being a “bored and unhappy man”. One of Coward’s most comical collisions was with macho Ernest Hemingway. “Hemingway found Noël’s gossipy conversation unbearable, and fled his company,” writes Soden.

 

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Elizabeth Jane Howard Centenary: b. 26 March 1923

The Oldie has published a remembrance by Mark McGinness of novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard’s centenary which occurs today. Here’s an excerpt:

Elizabeth Jane Howard would have been 100 on 26 March. Her stepson, Martin Amis, paid tribute to her “penetrating sanity” and pronounced her, with Iris Murdoch, “the most interesting woman writer of her generation. An instinctivist, like Muriel Spark, she has a freakish and poetic eye, and a penetrating sanity.”

Her scholarly champion, Hilary Mantel, wrote of her “she helps us do the necessary thing – open our eyes and our hearts”. The eyes and hearts of the literary firmament were not quite as open and so Elizabeth Jane Howard remains one of the underrated novelists in our post-war history.

As she said herself, late in life, “You have to put writing first. If I was mooning after someone… I wouldn’t be focused. I wasted a lot of my life on men, but I think a lot of women novelists have.” There was certainly a lot of mooning – and lot of bedding but she still managed to leave behind a formidable canon.

Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy and Olivia Manning’s Fortunes of War are seen as wartime classics difficult to match but there is something in the subtlety, astuteness, sense of period and sheer readability of her prose that makes Elizabeth Jane Howard an author of substance…

Howard’s Cazalet Chronicle of novels may not match the war novels of Waugh and Manning (as well as those of Anthony Powell) but come very close. Howard was also involved in literary journalism, as explained by McGinness:

…With [her second husband Kingsley] Amis presiding and Elizabeth Jane providing, they received the literary ton of their time – Somerset Maugham, Bernard Levin, John Betjeman, Anthony and Lady Violet Powell, Iris Murdoch and John Bayley.

When she interviewed Evelyn Waugh for BBC Television in 1964 (see BBC Archives via Facebook) she clearly charmed him. (Apparently, in the intervals he kept asking, “When is Miss Howard going to take off all her clothes?”) [See recent post.] He was certainly kinder to her than he had been when interviewed by John Freeman four years earlier, “Ah, Miss Howard. And have you anything to do with literature?” “Only spasmodically, Mr Waugh,” was her self-effacing and, within a few years, sadly honest reply…

Howard also wrote in her memoirs that Waugh had agreed to appear in the 1964 BBC interview only if he wrote the questions. As described by Howard:

“…The questions were very run-of-the-mill and unlikely to elicit much. I asked some of them and then I decided, when I knew a reel was coming to an end, to put in one of my own…At the end of the second afternoon, I was asked to ‘amuse’ Mr Waugh while they took reaction shots of him. Amuse him! How could I do that? In the end I told him in some detail about my lack of education which he seemed to enjoy, or at any rate remained benign throughout. But the reply that most interested me was when I asked whether he preferred to be anxious or bored. ‘Oh, bored every time is the answer.’… The chief and most arresting feature of Waugh’s face was his beautiful eyes: of a clear blue they  were marvellously alive, seeing eyes that sparkled with intelligence and perception. Even Kingsley, when he did his very funny impersonation of Waugh’s face–even with an apoplectic edge of congested rage–couldn’t manage the eyes…”(E J Howard, Slipstream (2002, pp. 351-3).

The BBC adapted the first two novels in the Cazalet Chronicle for TV in 2001 and all 5 novels for radio in 2012-14. The TV adaptation extends over 5 (PBS) or 6 (BBC) episodes and the radio, over 45 episodes.

A memorial article also appeared in a recent issue of The Times. This is by Susie Goldsborough and opens with this:

Elizabeth Jane Howard was not afraid. She wrote with terrible, icy clarity about sensations that others spend their lives trying to hide from (or failing to capture). Betrayal, guilt and fathomless loneliness. Looking at someone you love and feeling only “frightful, sudden indifference”.

Like Jane Austen, she was a master dramatist of the inner life. Her characters’ emotional epiphanies play out like action sequences: tense, slow-motion, liable to burst out mid-paragraph and catch you by the throat. Someone might look up and intercept a glance across the breakfast table and suddenly feel their hopes disintegrating into the toast crumbs. Her novels are full of silent, unrecognised explosions.

Born 100 years ago next week, Howard is one of our greatest 20th-century novelists. She is also criminally underappreciated. Were it not for The Cazalet Chronicles — her late career, five-book masterpiece about upper-middle-class life in England from the late Thirties to the Fifties — she might be forgotten.

It was through the Cazalets that I encountered Howard as a teenager, staring out of the car window into the rain and half-listening to whatever musty book was being read on Radio 4. Then listening intently. The Cazalet family had sucked me in…

 

 

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Daylight Savings (UK) Roundup: Pre-Raphaelites at the Tate Britain

–Tate Britain has mounted a major exhibit of Pre-Raphaelite painting of and by Elizabeth Siddal. This is described in an article by Iona McLaren in the Daily Telegraph:

For modern readers, accustomed to the legend of Siddal as the “meek, unconscious dove” (as Rossetti called her, after Tennyson), it is a jolt to find that this much-fed-upon face could actually talk back – and that, behind the “sweet lips” so fetishised by Rossetti, were pointed teeth. For Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall – as she was born, before she dropped an L for chic – was a painter and a poet, too…

From next month, 17 paintings and drawings by Elizabeth Siddal are to be seen in Tate Britain’s new blockbuster, The Rossettis, which juxtaposes her with Gabriel and Christina. It is the largest showing of the London-born Siddal‘s work since the seminal 1991 revival at the Ruskin Gallery in Sheffield, and her first ever show in a major institution.

The hope is to spring this cutler’s daughter from the trap of the most inextricable of all Pre-Raphaelite legends: Elizabeth Siddal “the exquisite and mysterious virgin” (as Peter Quennell archly put it in his 1949 Ruskin biography), sacrificed on the altar of art. For, of course, she is already one of Tate Britain’s biggest draws, as Millais’ famous 1852 Ophelia in the permanent collection, for which she posed in a tin bath heated by oil lamps. When the flames failed, rather than interrupt Millais, Siddal “kept floating in the cold water till she was quite benumbed”, and contracted such a severe cold that her father threatened to sue: life imitating art – and a macabre prophecy of her own early end. Like Marilyn Monroe playing the dumb blonde, Siddal has got stuck as the doomed maiden. Now Dr Carol Jacobi, curator of the Tate exhibition, wants to “break her free of Ophelia” and “get her out of the bath tub”…

Later, her tiny oeuvre came to be seen as purely derivative of Rossetti’s (or, where admirable, evidence of his own hand). “He had his defects, and she had the deficiencies of those defects,” his brother, William Michael Rossetti, the self-appointed Pre-Raphaelite chronicler, wrote in 1903. The condescension deepened with every passing generation: in 1928, Evelyn Waugh wrote that her art had “so little real artistic merit, and so much of what one’s governess called ‘feeling’; so tentative, so imitative”… [Yellow high-lighting from original.]

Waugh’s biography of Dante Gabriel Rossetti was his debut book, published in 1928. It was recently published as Vol. 16 of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh: Rossetti: His Life and Works and more recently as a Penguin Modern Classic.

The London Magazine has posted an article about the Melville family of Guyana. This is written by John Gimlette. The opening paragraphs explain how they came to settle there:

…Harry Prideaux Colin Melville was born in Jamaica, in 1864, the son of a Presbyterian archdeacon. Unlike his father, however, Harry had never had an appetite for matters spiritual, and preferred the sight of gold. At the age of twenty-seven he decided to extract himself from Scottish Jamaica, and set off in search of ore. His gold-washing brought him to British Guiana. There, in 1891, he plunged into the forest, and was soon cooking up a case of malaria. At the moment of death – the story goes – he was found by some Amerindians. Harry had no wish to die in the dark, and asked for help to reach the light. With either payment or pathos, they agreed, and brought the dying Scot out onto the Rupununi Savannah. There, he liked what he saw and lay down to die.

Death on the savannah had suited Harry well. The next thing he knew, the grass was his home. He acquired two Wapisiana wives and settled down to become a trader in the finest fish hooks and trinkets. It was good business, and – after twenty years – he was the most powerful man on the savannah. Not only was he now the father of ten children, he was also a cattle baron, a district commissioner, and the Laird of Dadanawa. It was the largest ranch in the world, and covered an area about the size of the Lowlands of Scotland…

In the course of the story, Evelyn Waugh makes an appearance:

…[Melville’s] semi-feral children had produced plenty of brats of their own. Evelyn Waugh had met several of these grandchildren, when he walked through the Rupununi Savannah in 1933. Waugh disliked most children but to him the Melvilles were particularly beastly. And he may have been right. By 1969 the same grandchildren were numerous and boisterous enough to start a revolution. They rose in revolt, and declared independence from Guyana. But the Republic of the Rupununi lasted only a day before the Guyanese army appeared, and chased most of the Melvilles off into Venezuela. These days, not much remains of Harry’s world, except a handful of thready descendants, and, of course, the ranch at Dadanawa…

See Ninety-Two Days (CWEW, v.22, p. 14) and related annotations.

–In its obituary of Roger Ellis, best known as a Headmaster of Marlborough School where he oversaw the admission of girls, The Times also mentions one of his memories from  college days:

[…] Ellis … won a scholarship to Trinity College, Oxford. There he read history and occupied rooms with a Grinling Gibbons fireplace, though he had to cross two quads to wash. One memorable event was being taken out to tea by Evelyn Waugh, the novelist and godfather of a friend. “I found him terrifying and non-communicative,” Ellis later recalled…

–An African newspaper, The Namibian, reprints a 2007 obituary of William Deedes by William Holden. Here’s an extract:

…[Deedes] became best known as the inspiration for the character William Boot in Evelyn Waugh’s satirical novel ‘Scoop’, which tells of a hapless rural reporter who is sent by mistake to cover a civil war in a fictional African state. Deedes had been sent to Abyssinia in 1935 to cover the invasion ordered by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, and arrived with a huge amount of luggage. He admitted this might have given Waugh, who was also covering the war for a rival paper, the idea for the character…

–An article in The Catholic Weekly (Australia) looks forward to Good Friday. This is written by Patrick O’Shea who is anticipating a treat after the religious observances:

Just like Cordelia from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, I look forward to the Good Friday liturgies of the 3pm and Tenebrae—a series of psalms and chants reflecting the church’s sorrow at the death of Our Lord. As I’m starving during both liturgies, my mind drifts between the Lamentations of Jeremiah, the reproaches, and craving hot cross buns. I don’t know if it’s the sweetness of the fruit they put in them, or the cushy dough they use for the bread; I always look forward to them every year. I’m sure Our Lord can forgive my wandering mind during Good Friday.

 

 

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