Smoke Signals from Waugh

Duncan McLaren has posted a lavishly illustrated photographic essay showing Waugh posing with pipe and cigar. Here’s a link. The pipe smoking photos seem to be post Oxford in the 1920s and the cigar smoking, post war. This leaves a 15 year gap with no photo illustrating either form of tobacco consumption. The essay opens with this:

In later life, every time Evelyn Waugh was asked to be photographed, he reached for a cigar. But when did this start? Did Evelyn smoke at Oxford? The first image of him smoking may have been taken when he was a teacher at Aston Clinton. On 22 February 1926, the 22-year-old mentioned that proofs had been sent to him by a photographer from Tring. He wrote that they were amusing, in particular the ones in ‘ordinary clothes’ in which he looked like a ‘popular preacher’.

At the end of the pipe smoker phase, about 1930, Duncan notes:

He’s square-on to the photographer by this time in his career. Very sure of himself. So sure of himself that he no longer needs to be pictured with the tools of his trade. It was in 1930 that Evelyn Waugh changed his signature, as detailed on another page on this site. It may also have been around this time that he switched from pipe to cigar, never to return.

Duncan invites readers to comment on Waugh’s smoking habits, as well as when and why he changed them. During the war he could hardly have smoked fine cigars very often, but cigarettes may have been plentiful–at least that is what I always heard from US war vets. Yet, I do not recall ever seeing him in a photograph smoking a cigarette. Comments can be sent via Duncan’s internet site that is linked above or you may comment as provided below and I will see to it that they reach him as well as our readers.



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A Little More Learning

Sophia Waugh, Evelyn’s grand daughter and Auberon’s daughter, writes this week in the Catholic Herald about the current state of Roman Catholic schools in the UK. The article opens with a brief review of the differing attitudes of various members of her family toward education of their children:

My father did not choose to send his four children to a Catholic school, or even a boarding school. While our cousins trotted off to Ampleforth or St Mary’s Ascot or Shaftesbury, I was sent to grammar school and my siblings were public school-educated. My father and one of his brothers went to Downside, the other went to Stonyhurst and his sisters went to St Mary’s Ascot (until one of them was expelled for turning the statues of saints to the wall and the others walked out with her in protest).

As a child, I did not think very deeply about his reasons; I suppose I was obscurely flattered, naively thinking that it meant he loved us more than his siblings loved my cousins. I knew that he was rebellious and hated his boarding school; my knowledge of boarding schools stemmed from my parents’ tales of misery and books by Angela Brazil and Enid Blyton. Then I read more advanced books such as Frost in May and Jane Eyre, and Helen Burns’s death put the kibosh on any lingering yearning to be sent away to school.

My children went to a Catholic primary school, chosen more for its educational qualities than for its religion, although I was delighted by the priest attached to the school, the regular Masses for children and parents, and the ethos that came with its religious base. Until, that is, I learned that a dinner lady insisted that the children ate in silence and when they did not, she punished them by making them pray. To be fair, she was shown the door when the head found out.

The remainder of the article is a discussion of the strides made by Roman Catholic schools in putting behind them the days of sex scandals and coverups. She also notes that monasteries have been separated from administration and teaching in adjacent schools and that a high percentage of the teaching staff and students are now non-Catholics. Despite its recent problems, Downside has filled its classes for the coming term. As befitting a Waugh, she concludes her article with a story:

This year, as last year, celebrations for school leavers have been much curtailed. The leaving balls are proms have in many cases had to be cancelled, causing angst among the young the length and breadth of the country.

This, from Harriet Langdale at Ampleforth, gives a lovely flavour of what a Catholic education meant to the leavers this year: “To give an indication of what Mass in the Abbey Church means to the pupils, all of last year, because of Covid, Mass was only in houses, and often outside which was wonderful. The leaving upper sixth made a special request that they be allowed to have Mass again in the Abbey Church before they left. They didn’t have a leavers’ ball and all the other usual leaving rites of passage, but the one thing they couldn’t bear to miss was Mass in the Abbey Church. This was their absolute highlight at the end of their term.”

It appears there is still an argument for a Catholic education – and it is coming from the students themselves.

Sophia writes the “School Days” column for The Oldie and teaches at a secondary school.

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Roundup: Sash Windows and Sitwells

–Eleanor Doughty writing in Country Life considers whether sash windows should be repaired or replaced. She opens the story with this:

There is something about a sash window, isn’t there? The gentle squeak and heave as you lift it up, the rush of air that greets you. ‘For some reason, houses with them feel like a proper home,’ says a friend, a keen sash-window enthusiast. And it’s true — until the bleak midwinter arrives and you’re drawing the curtains at 3pm, cursing silently every time you look at the windows, which, let’s be honest, probably sold you the house in the first place. This is the curse of the sash. It’s beautiful, but damned — both a reason to buy and not to buy a house.

Doughty is also a literary critic and Evelyn Waugh fan. This is reflected as the article nears its conclusion:

… exhaust all other options before you replace. After all, says Andrew Cronan, senior associate director of Strutt & Parker’s country department, ‘windows are the eyes of the house’, so they’ve got to be bang on. Sometimes, double-glazing is the answer. He gives the example of Combe Florey House in Somerset, the former home of Evelyn Waugh, which is on the market for £5.5 million, ‘where all the original windows have been replaced with high-quality double-glazed sashes, bringing the house into the 21st century’. The upgrade work done at Combe Florey is consistent with wider window restoration trends. Richard Dollar set up The Sash Window Workshop 28 years ago and explains that, until recently, ‘we did a lot of draught-sealing work. That market has almost disappeared — most of the work we do now is double-glazing’.

–A new novel in which Nancy Mitford is the leading character may be of interest. This is entitled The Bookseller’s Secret and is written by Michelle Gable. The author is interviewed by her hometown newspaper the San Diego Union Tribune where she explains:

The story follows Mitford’s adventures as a London bookstore manager during World War II — complete with spies, infamous sisters and romance. Interwoven within is a modern-day narrative seeking Mitford’s lost wartime manuscript.

Here’s an excerpt from the Q&A:

Q: What character or real-life person did you have the most fun writing?

A: This is by far the hardest question! Nancy had a rich cast of characters in her life, from family members to fellow writers and friends. The hypochondriac Edwin “Hellbags” Sackville-West was great fun. This was a man who viewed his body as a swarming hive of malevolent bees. “Hellbags” was a real person, but there’s not much written about him, so I enjoyed filling in the sketch of what is known.

If I had to pick one person, it’d be the insufferable, hilarious Evelyn Waugh. He was such an ass, and it was a blast making up snide remarks, or sharing horrible comments he really did say. He could be downright cruel to Nancy, such as saying she wrote half of a good book, yet there was a deep and profound bond between them. Evelyn’s voice was so clear to me; I could practically hear him sneering at me from the other side of the room.

The Economist reviews a new book on Public Schools. This is by Richard Beard and is entitled Sad Little Men: Private Schools and the Ruin of England. Here’s an excerpt:

As its subtitle promises, this book is an uncompromising denunciation of Britain’s private schools. They offer their charges a Faustian bargain, says Richard Beard: the tools of success (principally fluency and self-confidence) in return for emotional impoverishment. He knows whereof he speaks: in 1975 he was sent from home to a new life sleeping in dormitories and climbing hierarchies, much like David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

This argument is far from original; lambasting public schools for tormenting their inmates and ruining the country is one of Britain’s oldest traditions. […] In the 20th century Evelyn Waugh quipped that “anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison.” Goronwy Rees, a journalist, wrote of the public-school boys he encountered at Oxford that they “were all well-taught at school and what they understood they understood very well; what they did not understand included almost everything which would change the world in their lifetime”.

Updating these criticisms, Mr Beard makes some striking points about the way “total institutions” (a phrase he borrows from the sociologist Erving Goffman) can reconstruct the human personality. The aim of public schools is to make people fit in effortlessly with the changing rules and rituals of the tribe. They do this by removing children from their natural environments, then forcing them to play a succession of different roles. […] Thus Alexander Johnson became Boris, Eric Blair became George Orwell, and Philby, Burgess and Maclean became Soviet agents.

The Oldie’s latest “Country Mouse” column opens with this:

In the late 1920s, Evelyn Waugh was staying with the Sitwells at Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire. Standing on the terrace, Sir George Sitwell stood silently, gazing out across the valley. Eventually, he turned and spoke to Evelyn ‘in the wistful, nostalgic tones of a castaway, yet of a castaway who was reconciled to his own company. Ignoring the settlement in the mining valley nearby, its streets packed with terraced housing, Sir George declared, “There is no one between us and the Locker-lampsons.” ’

The story used to resonate, not only with snobs who found themselves ‘marooned’ in the country, but also with artsy former Londoners who were desperate for intellectual communion with others on their wavelengths. And for these former Londoners too, even in the Home Counties, there was invariably no one between them and a single soul mate 30 miles away.

Yet country life has changed since Giles Wood – my husband and the customary occupant of this page – and I swapped stimulation for space, fresh air and lower outgoings 30 years ago.

Columnist Mary Killen goes on to explain how the Covid 19 pandemic has brought so many metropolitan residents to her rural retreat at Marlborough that she now feels like George Sitwell.

It should also be noted that several papers have announced a major auction of Sitwell family artifacts and memorabilia (including a substantial library from Weston Hall in Northamptonshire). See previous post. This will take place on 16 November in Newbury, Berks. Details may be seen at this link.

–The Catholic Herald in the debut column of American religious journalist Kenneth Craycraft focuses on a letter by Waugh published by the CH in its 7 August 1964 issue about the ongoing Second Vatican Council. Craycraft’s column opens with the assertion that Waugh’s letter:

… raised issues as fresh as this summer’s headlines. […] The letter is a timely proxy for the broad range of theological, philosophical and moral matters that are especially – but not solely – of concern to the peculiar way that American Catholics think about faith and public life. […]

Addressing the relationship of Catholicism to popular culture, the importance of liturgical integrity, and the problem of dogmatic commitment to “diversity”, Waugh’s letter spoke to matters that are still at the forefront of Catholic argument and concern.

In it, he complained about the condescension of some Council enthusiasts towards those who, like Waugh, did not object to the Council but anticipated that it might be an opportunity to subordinate the faith delivered once and for all to the spirit of the times. That is, he complained about those who celebrated the Council as a victory of “progressives” over “conservatives”. Waugh saw this as a capitulation of theological principle to cultural exigency…

The letter is not included in the 1980 Mark Amory collection but is quoted and cited at length in the balance of the CH article.

–Finally, the death was announced earlier this week of Charlie Watts, longtime drummer for the Rolling Stones. He was also, inter alia, a book collector. The Independent newspaper includes this quote in their obituary notice:

His work with the group had earnt Watts an estimated £70m. As befitted such an aesthete, he spent a portion of his time and money seeking out appropriate rare artefacts. These included one of Kenny Clarke’s drum kits, as well as one once played by Big Sid Catlett – “one of the great Thirties swing drummers”. He also collected signed first editions of 20th-century writers: “Agatha Christie: I’ve got every book she wrote in paperback. Graham Greene, I have all of them. Evelyn Waugh, he’s another one. Wodehouse: everything he wrote.”

According to The Independent, Watts was born in London, 2 June 1941; married 1964 to Shirley Ann Watts (one daughter); died 24 August 2021. He was 80 when he died.

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Adaptations Abound

–In a recent issue of The Spectator, Chilton Williamson, Jr considers the success of the 1950s Perry Mason CBS TV series in light of today’s alternatives. Here’s the opening of the article:

I was well into my thirties when my parents acquired a television set, for no good reason that I could discern after they’d gone so many years without one without obvious damage to their health or intellects. Growing up in the Fifties and Sixties, my sister and I were permitted to watch two television shows while visiting with relatives. One was Topper. The other was Perry Mason, which they occasionally joined us for: a small family grouping that was the closest thing the Williamsons ever came to resembling a painting by Norman Rockwell.

Over the past year and a half, I have been re-watching episodes of the original show […] As with so many good things, I found that they had improved with age — not only theirs but my own as well. Several months ago, the discovery that Evelyn Waugh had been a great admirer of Erle Stanley Gardner’s novels, from which the series was adapted, further increased my appreciation and respect for the films. […]

See previous post re Waugh’s admiration of Erle Stanley Gardner. After discussing why the original series was so successful, Williamson continues:

The formal elegance and compactness of the stories, based for the most part on Gardner’s own, are carried over from the novels, thus preserving the craftsmanship, professionalism and structural balance that doubtless explains Evelyn Waugh’s appreciation of the novels; the soundtrack and musical scoring are as discreetly suited to the whole as are the other elements.

Williamson then looks at a 1980s remake on NBC and determines why it did not succeed. Among other things, it seemed out of its time in the 1980s: too much had changed during the turbulent 1960s. And the setting was moved away from Los Angeles to Denver, which was not what Erle Stanley Gardner had in mind. The article concludes  with this:

I am no TV critic, and my rather philistine taste in film runs chiefly to foreign detective shows, Lewis, the Poirot movies (with David Suchet, of course), Il Commissario Montalbano, Le Sagne du Vigne, Maigret (with Bruno Cremer), Muertres, and so forth. Nevertheless I feel confident in judging the first Perry Mason series to be a true work of art, probably the best thing ever accomplished by the American television industry. I doubt Evelyn Waugh ever watched an episode. That is a pity. He would have loved everything about it.

Williamson doesn’t mention the recent HBO Perry Mason series (nor do I recall any discussion of its critical reception.) It was more of a prequel and moved the setting to the 1930s with Perry Mason transformed into a private detective rather than a defense attorney.  It must have been successful, as HBO has commissioned a second series.

Waugh has not left much information about his TV preferences (if, indeed, he had any). But it is hard to imagine that some one who was as keen an admirer of Gardner’s work as he was could have resisted the temptation at least to sample the original TV series (if, that is, it was ever broadcast on British television during his lifetime). On the other hand, he had his own sad experience with adaptations of his work (e.g. The Loved One) and may for that reason not have been so keen as I have suggested to see what the result was for the works of an author he so much admired such as Gardner.

–Another article on adaptations of books into TV and film appears in a recent issue of The Critic. This is by Alexander Larman and he turned to the subject when he read the announcement that The English Patient was about to be made into a TV series. He does not foresee this as a necessarily good development since he recalls Anthony Minghella’s previous theatrical film adaptation as something that would be hard to improve upon. He explains his own views as follows:

The debate has raged on for some time as to whether cinema or television is a “superior’ medium, ever since the arrival of streaming services and the increasingly accepted idea of ‘box set binging’. […] It’s simply easier to watch an hour or two of television on Netflix or Amazon Prime than to schlep out to the multiplex or arthouse, with all the attendant costs and fuss that that involves.

As someone who has traditionally regarded the act of going to the cinema in much the same way that a religious man treats going to church, it has been a source of great sadness to me that it seems to be rapidly declining as an art form. […] Mid-budgeted literate films aimed at adults, such as The English Patient, are no longer being made. Instead, their natural home is television.

Yet even here there is compromise and disappointment. The Netflix drama Bridgerton attracted vast viewing figures, as well as some controversy for its anachronistically diverse and woke presentation of the Georgian era. Yet the chances of, say, Evelyn Waugh or EM Forster’s novels being similarly adapted for Netflix or a rival seem remote. There is a vast amount of money being spent on television, but most of it is being spent in an uninspiring and unexciting fashion. And the BBC has hardly covered itself in glory lately, either, not least with its catastrophic decision to allow Emily Mortimer to ruin The Pursuit of Love  and thereby destroying any chance of a faithful, enjoyable adaptation of Love in a Cold Climate. [Emphasis supplied.]

–Larman doesn’t mention the possibility of a TV serial remake of Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited; this was mooted late last year and was said to have been commissioned by BBC and HBO. It was to be directed and adapted by Luca Guadagnino. See previous post.

Not much has been reported about this project since November 2020, but there was a recent announcement by Castle Howard in Yorkshire that may be relevant. This stated that Castle Howard would be closed to the public for late summer-early fall:

We have confirmed a filming contract that will take place at Castle Howard, which will mean a period of closure of the visitor attraction. We hope you will understand that the decision to take on the filming project has not been taken lightly and we have considered options very carefully. […] The essential income that filming provides goes directly into the restoration of our historic buildings and landscape.

The filming itself will take place between 9th September and 9th October and for this period the House and Gardens will close entirely to the public. The House itself will close for a further period in order for the set up and de-rig of the project, from 16th August […]

The Castle Howard team have signed a non disclosure confidentiality agreement and all we are permitted to say about the project is:‘Castle Howard will be closed due to filming. We are not permitted to say anything about this project other than it being a television filming project’

Castle Howard as many of you know was the setting for Brideshead Castle in both the 1981 TV and 2008 film versions of Waugh’s novel.

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Waugh Podcasts

Podcasts relating to books by two Waughs have recently been posted.

–The first is on the Bowie Book Club website. This is loosely related to singer-songwriter David Bowie’s list of 100 favorite books that included Waugh’s Vile Bodies. That is the subject of this 26 July 2021 podcast. This information about the podcast has been posted on the website:

Welcome to another episode of the Bowie Book Club, where wild speculation and grasping for straws about Bowie’s favorite books has reigned supreme since 2016. This time we read Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, a careening comic novel of doomed romance, never ending parties, and rotating gossip columnists. […]


Here’s the link.

–The recent book by Waugh’s grand daughter Daisy Waugh Phone for the Fish Knives is also discussed on a Tessa Williams podcast. Here’s the link to that one for which we thank our reader David Lull.

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Helena and Lolita in One Day

–The Gregorian Institute at Benedictine College in Atkinson, Kansas yesterday posted several quotes from Waugh’s novel Helena. This was on the occasion of St Helen’s day on 18 August in the Roman Catholic calendar. Here is the introduction:

British novelist Evelyn Waugh, a high-profile Catholic convert in 1930, called his historical novel Helena, about St. Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine, “far the best book I have ever written or ever will write.” In the same way, the author Mark Twain called his Joan of Arc the favorite of the books he wrote. Most of their readers disagree with both of them. It may be the contact with sanctity, not the books themselves, that impressed them. In fact, Waugh’s daughter Harriett reportedly said Helena was, “the only one of his books that he ever cared to read aloud,” and it starts to make more sense.
On a British interview television show, Waugh explained what he had in mind with Helena. “It wasn’t about her sanctity I was writing; it was about the conditions of fourth-century Rome, you see. She happened to be the empress,” he said. “It wasn’t the fact of her rank that made her interesting; it was the fact of her finding the True Cross made her interesting.”

The quotations may be viewed at this link. The Complete Works edition of the book, edited by Sara Haslam, was published last year by OUP. When this is being written, has the book on offer at a steep discount (62% off the cover price).

–Another, more worldly anniversary was observed yesterday by Garrison Keillor in his daily weblog, The Writer’s Almanac:

On this date in 1958, Vladimir Nabokov‘s Lolita was published in the United States. First released in France in 1955 by a publisher that specialized in erotica, the story of middle-aged Humbert Humbert and his obsession with his landlady’s 12-year-old daughter was met with mixed reviews. Graham Greene named it one of the best books of 1955; E.M. Forster, Evelyn Waugh, and Edmund Wilson disagreed.

There is no record of Waugh having reviewed the book, but he may have mentioned it in one of the year-end best books columns. He certainly mentioned it in his letters. In one to Nancy Mitford he referred to it as “smut”, and in a letter to James Donaldson seeking his help in securing a copy of the Paris edition, Waugh wrote: “It [the Paris edition] may be a mare’s nest but if I have hit on a truth it may be jolly funny.” The “truth” to which he refers is his expectation that the “Yank edition”, which he had read, may have “introduced ‘literary merit’ into the smut.” An editorial footnote comments: “It was a mare’s next.” (Letters, 516, 523)

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Oxford Campion Event (More)

The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh has issued an invitation to  recently announced book launch at Campion Hall in Oxford. See earlier post dated 26 July. This clarifies that the book to be launched is the OUP Complete Works edition of Waugh’s Edmund Campion of which Gerard Kilroy is the co-editor. That book is currently in production at OUP, although a publication date has not yet been announced. Here is a copy of the CWEW invitation distributed by co-executive editor Barbara Cooke:

It gives me great pleasure to invite you to an online event hosted by Campion Hall, Oxford, which celebrates the fantastic scholarship of our own Professor Gerard Kilroy. As most of you know, Gerard has been hard at work editing Waugh’s Edmund Campion for a number of years (editors of completed volumes can guess just how many), and the volume is now in production with OUP. The final stages of Gerard’s work correspond with the beginning of a year of events at Campion Hall to mark their 125th anniversary, and I’m delighted that we all have the chance to support Gerard and the Hall. On 9 September at 17.30 BST (GMT +1), Gerard will give a talk entitled ‘Edmund Campion and Waugh’s “’Household of the Faith’”, for which you can register via this Eventbrite link:

Edmund Campion and Waugh’s ‘Household of the Faith’ Tickets, Thu 9 Sep 2021 at 17:30 | Eventbrite

Waugh was personally involved in the foundation of Campion Hall and donated the royalties of the book to that effort. His good friend Martin D’Arcy was the first Master of that institution.

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Evelyn Waugh Studies 52.1 (Spring 2021)

The latest issue of the Evelyn Waugh Studies has been published and distributed to members. This is issue No. 52.1 (Spring 2021). The contents and opening paragraphs are as follows:


Evelyn Waugh: A Housemaster’s Report

Jeremy Tomlinson

Evelyn Waugh left Lancing 100 years ago this December saying: “I am sure I have left at the right time: as early as possible and with success.” He was the 2,862nd pupil of the school. Since then about 11,000 more pupils have come and gone but he remains one of the best known and most distinguished; he even has an annual lecture in his honour. On one of these occasions, the Waugh family gave the College Evelyn’s original final report from December 1921. It is a fascinating document, prescient and challenging, and greatly to the credit of Lancing. To almost everyone’s surprise, Waugh had just won an open scholarship to Hertford College Oxford to read History. At that time it was much easier for public school boys to get Oxbridge places – of the 400 pupils who were at school with Waugh over five years, 128 did so – but only 14 got academic scholarships; that was the gold standard.

In the report, the Revd Henry Lucas, his History teacher, said “He can write an essay that is fresh and thoughtful. He can think and has the happy gift of finding the right word to express his thoughts.” His English teacher and form master, J F Roxburgh, of whom more anon, said “His work has great merit and is sometimes really brilliant;” “I think he has quite unusual ability and a real gift for writing. Congratulations on the first of many successes . . . we shall hear of him again.” …


Greene’s Life with Waugh

The Unquiet Englishman: A Life of Graham Greene, by Richard Greene, New York: Norton, 2021. 624 pp. $40; or Russian Roulette: The Life and Times of Graham Greene, London: Little, Brown, 2020. 608 pp. £25.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Manley

This is the first comprehensive, single-volume biography of Graham Greene, a major 20th-century British novelist. He was also a close personal and professional friend of Evelyn Waugh as well as a fellow Roman Catholic convert. The previous detailed biography was by Norman Sherry and was published in three volumes during 1989-2004. That was written with Greene’s permission and with access to his papers, though the first volume was published in Greene’s lifetime and did not meet with his approval because of its “intrusion into his sexual life” contrary to what he thought he had agreed with Sherry. The final volume was, according to the author of this latest version, Richard Greene (hereafter “RG;” no relation to Graham), written during an early onset of Sherry’s dementia and is “strangely incoherent”. Another shorter book by Michael Shelden entitled Graham Greene: The Enemy Within (1994) was affected, as I recall, by a rivalry with Sherry and Greene over access to Greene’s papers (which were denied to Shelden) and, while readable and brief, is not usually recommended. RG describes it as “prosecutorial”. Greene’s boyhood, education and literary history track closely with those of Evelyn Waugh. Their private adult lives, however, sharply diverge.

The present book covers their friendship and some of the common issues arising from their published works. There are excellent reviews of the book available for those who want a broader consideration of its contents. […]  Rather than offer another discussion of the entire book, it is my intention to concentrate on those points of contact between the lives and works of the two writers.


A copy of this issue (52.1) is posted at this link. A copy of the previous issue 51.3 is available at this link.

UPDATED (16 August 2021): Last paragraph updated.

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Roundup: Vagaries and More

–Writing in the TLS, critic and novelist DJ Taylor discusses one genre he discovered he enjoyed during his lockdown reading. He identifies this as the writer’s vagary:

What is the writer’s vagary? It is the solitary book in a well-known novelist’s oeuvre that deviates from a well-trodden path, the uncharacteristic or in some cases over-characteristic book, the exception that proves the rule, the occasion on which the talent in question takes it into their head to venture out on a limb. The master of drawing-room comedies who decides to write a three-act tragedy; the historical novelist who produces a book set in a psychiatric hospital in which all the characters are represented by letters of the Greek alphabet – it is in this questionable and hitherto untilled soil that the writer’s vagary takes root and burgeons.

Not that the burgeoning can ever be taken for granted. Publishers, naturally, hate them on the grounds that the paying public, used to one kind of book, are liable to become confused when a different kind turns up. […]

He then offers examples of three vagaries by leading writers:

Evelyn Waugh’s Helena (1950), which swaps the Mayfair charivari for a devotional novel set in the third century; Patrick Hamilton’s Impromptu in Moribundia (1939), a Marxist fable which bears no relation at all to the grimly naturalist Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky trilogy (1929–34) that had preceded it, or Graham Greene’s Lord Rochester’s Monkey (1974), a departure from the beaten track so pronounced that it had to wait nearly four-and-a-half decades for publication.

He returns to Waugh’s vagary in his conclusion: “Penguin Books, who with great fanfare reprinted each of Evelyn Waugh’s novels as paperbacks in the 1950s, quietly excluded Helena from the list.”  But Waugh’s US publisher Little, Brown recognized a potential demand for the book and marketed it accordingly. In the US, where it was published simultaneously with the English hardback, it was reprinted 4 times in the first 5 months of sales and flirted with best-sellerdom. It had to wait until 1957 for a US paperback edition, but that was not uncommon in those days. Penguin finally got around to a UK paperback in 1963, and I think it has remained in print ever since. It was recently issued by OUP as Volume 11 of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh.

–Alexander Larman in the Guardian offers this remark on a recent debut biography by Will Loxley, Writing in the Dark:

Will Loxley’s first biography concerns the fortunes of Horizon magazine, the influential 1940s literary title that Cyril Connolly edited, George Orwell and Graham Greene contributed to and Evelyn Waugh vocally detested.

I think it is unfair to say that Waugh detested it. He was jealous of its (and its editor’s) popularity and made frequent satirical comments about them both in his letters and diaries. But in 1948, when the magazine’s future was in doubt, he let them print the complete text of The Loved One for the cost of his year’s subscription. He also on more than one occasion recognized its relative importance as a literary journal after its demise. Loxley’s book is mentioned in previous posts and will be reviewed in a future issue of Evelyn Waugh Studies.

–A new Netflix film, The Last Letter from Your Lover, has been widely mentioned as containing a plot device based on the film characters’ referring to each other by names of characters in Waugh’s novel Scoop. Here is an excerpt from the Los Angeles Times:

Fittingly for a movie awash in lovely penmanship, “The Last Letter From Your Lover” announces its writerly trappings at the outset. It begins with a quote from “A Farewell to Arms” and then, a short time later, finds two of its characters sparring over Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop.” The literary references, perfunctory and obvious though they may be, do their part to signal the kind of movie we’re watching: a forbidden romance set against the hustling-and-bustling world of the British press.

–A recent issue of the Italian online religious literary journal Radio Spada contains a review of Waugh’s novella Love Among the Ruins. This is published in Italian as “Amore tra le rovine”. Here’s is a translation of excerpts from the review’s concluding paragraphs:

The result, as we said, is an absurd pastiche , almost a freak show characterized by irrational characters and even more unthinkable situations. Miles Plastic, emblem of the “Modern Man”, product of that “Progress” that makes the members of the government so proud, is just a disillusioned poor man who vents his nothing by incinerating everything, even himself. […] More generally, in Love among the ruins everything is marked by the same destiny of decadence, so much so that even Mountjoy Castle, unlike the other stately mansions that appear in Waugh’s works, emblems of a golden age unfortunately disappeared, is reduced to a delinquent resort (Mountjoy, by the way, is the name of the Dublin prison).

The story is saved from an otherwise desperate epilogue only by its dystopian nature, the desire to be above all a warning, a warning against the fulfillment of the political, cultural and moral nightmares that crowded the mind of Waugh (some of which,  incidentally, have now become a sad reality). Behind a patina of easy divertissement , Love among the ruins therefore hides a controversial substance that is not at all despicable, the same that makes history worth reading and meditating on.

The article can be translated on the Chrome browser. The above excerpt contains a few edits.

Town and Country magazine, a frequent US venue for Waugh’s writing in the 1940s, has published an article on the U and Non-U debate inspired by Nancy Mitford. This is on the occasion of the US broadcast of the TV adaptation of her novel The Pursuit of Love:

… it is her short essay “The English Aristocracy,” first published in Encounter magazine, that may be her most enduring legacy.

In it, she referenced an academic paper “U and Non-U: An Essay in Sociological Linguistics,” published in a Finnish journal by Alan S. C. Ross, a professor at the University of Birmingham. Ross argued that England at that time was divided into three classes and that, “It is solely by its language that the upper class is clearly marked off from the others.” His article, which he acknowledged was based mostly on personal observation, explored differences in pronunciation, writing styles, and vocabulary.

It was the latter category on which Mitford focused, expanding on Ross’s examples with some of her own. Upper class speakers said “looking glass;” non upper class speakers said, “mirror.” “Chimney piece” was U; “mantlepiece” non-U. Some entries supported a notion that the upper class abhorred euphemism (“die” instead of “pass on”) and preferred original names to new ones (“wireless” instead of “radio”). But many of the entries seemed arbitrary.

Mitford’s article garnered enough attention that she reprinted it in book form accompanied by Ross’s paper and rebuttals from well-known writers, including her friend Evelyn Waugh…



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Waugh Would Not Be Happy

To Evelyn Waugh, one of the most important aspects of the Roman Catholic Church’s Vatican II reforms of 1960 was the limitation on the use of the traditional Latin Mass. He spent his final years in active opposition to this reform. According to recent stories, the leniency that allowed certain parishes to use the Latin Mass in addition to the new vernacular versions has now suffered a setback. Here is the story recently reported in the Toronto Globe and Mail:

It may be considered a dead language, but Latin seems to be very much alive, and kicking rather aggressively, if the past week is any indication. On July 16, Pope Francis reversed one of his predecessor’s most significant policies by reintroducing (and increasing) strict restrictions on celebrating the Latin Mass – or, to be more precise, the revised Tridentine rite so beloved of traditionalists and conservatives. He argued that this version of the mass was causing division within the church and being exploited by critics of the Second Vatican Council.

Vatican II, as it’s more commonly known, introduced some long overdue reforms into the church in the 1960s and allowed for a new, more participatory and, some would claim, more historically accurate mass, in the vernacular. Latin wasn’t outlawed but became increasingly difficult to find.

When the new service was introduced it certainly surprised people, but opposition was limited and relatively brief. J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, loudly responded in Latin to show his displeasure. Writer Evelyn Waugh even asked to be excused from mass – but Evelyn Waugh would do that, wouldn’t he?

The Latin Mass enjoyed a renaissance during the pontificate of John Paul II, even though he wasn’t a particular devotee. There are now parishes that celebrate in Latin all over the world. Most also offer the service in the local language – but not always willingly or enthusiastically.

Under Pope Francis’s new policy, the old rite has to receive the approval of the bishop in each diocese, and newly ordained priests require permission to lead such services, with the Vatican also being consulted. The bishop must also ascertain if Latin Mass leaders and participants accept Vatican II, which will be extremely difficult to do, and there is ambiguity about where they may worship – whether they will be allowed to do so in churches.

Possibly related to this, the Italian language religious website Radio Spada has posted an article in which it offers a survey of Waugh’s writings on this issue. Here is a translated excerpt from its introductory paragraphs:

Among the English intellectuals opposed to the new course, Evelyn Waugh was perhaps the one who most of all publicly expressed his dissent: until the end of his days he fought with articles, armed only with a typewriter, a daily battle against rampant heterodoxy.  Even in his powerful correspondence – edited by Mark Amory and published in 1980 – several letters can be traced that deal more or less directly with the issues debated at the Council. In 1996 these letters were collected by Alcuin Reid in a small volume, A Bitter Trial , subsequently expanded and republished in a second edition in 2011 by Ignatius Press.

To read the entire article, click this link on the Chrome browser.  When it opens, click in the lower right corner of the screen and choose “Translate to English”.

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