Hard Cases: Drugs and Reality

The Spanish magazine Historia y Vida based in Barcelona has an article this month about Brenda Dean Paul. She was a member of the bright young people, and the story by Eva Melús connects her with Waugh’s novels of the period:

In theory, Dean Paul always wanted to be an actress, but this interest soon deflated. Already at twenty years old, she had succumbed to the nightlife of Berlin in Weimar Germany, where she spent a season. Back in London, she concentrated on her celebrity role and queen of the holidays. Her circle, baptized by journalists as Bright Young Things, mounted them in all colors. …The writer Evelyn Waugh, one of the Bright Young Things, portrayed Brenda Dean Paul’s parties in his novels like Decline and Fall (1928) and Vile Bodies (1930). Meanwhile, the Englishman in the street, (el inglés de a pie) affected by the Great Depression, absorbed with a mixture of envy and disapproval the activities of that gang of idle and banal millionaires.

After explaining her addiction to morphine and later heroin and her prison sentence for drug possession and fraud, the article describes the sad ending to her story in the 1950s:

….[A]t age 45 she got her first big role in the theater: being the protagonist of La Princesa Zoubaroff. Drugs had not made a dent in her beauty, but in her ability. Her addiction prevented her on many occasions from performing her role. Her repeated relapses and scandals did not cease. ..The artist Michael Wishart claimed to have seen her clean her syringe in the water of a vase during a party. And one of her roommates informed the police that she was hiring herself out as a submissive in sadomasochistic sessions. She died at age 52, probably because of an overdose.

I don’t think any of Waugh’s characters sank quite to her level of depravity. Still, one wonders how much she may have contributed to the naming of Brenda Last in Waugh’s novel A Handful of Dust? The translation is by Google with edits.

The Catholic World Report has a review of the Disney film adaptation of the novel A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. According to the reviewer, James Watson, the book involves characters who are forced to encounter reality at various levels. He thinks the adaptation misses the point of the book and offers examples of how other writers have dealt with it more succesfully:

This emphasis on the hardness of reality is not unique to L’Engle, of course, though it has become rare in recent decades. Dostoevsky’s priest tells the Karamazov patriarch that the most dangerous type of lie is that which one tells oneself. Charles Williams (a lesser known Inkling) has his character Lawrence Wentworth begin his descent into hell by fudging small historical details in his books, then allowing himself to indulge in an increasingly unrealistic fantasy about an unrequited love, and finally by isolating himself in pure solipsistic delusion as he lowers himself step by step into damnation. In Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisitied, Julia finally comes up against the immovable object of her indissoluble marriage, and leaves Charles Ryder permanently. Her absolutely steely decision has nothing to do with her feelings on the matter.

This probably makes more sense if you have read the book.


Posted in A Handful of Dust, Adaptations, Brideshead Revisited, Decline and Fall, Evelyn Waugh, Newspapers, Vile Bodies | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Diary, a Legacy, and a First Edition

The long-running “Londoner’s Diary” column of the Evening Standard has been relaunched as “The Londoner” and has a new author, Charlotte Edwardes, who writes her introductory article with a nod to Evelyn Waugh and several of his friends:

On my first day on one of the broadsheet diaries back in the late Nineties, I found a reporter balled up in the stationery cupboard reeking of what they called “a light breakfast wine”. […]

As I return to the new Londoner, launched yesterday, I’m reminded how important these mischievous, dirty, scandalous corners are to the trade. They have bags of history — not least in Evelyn Waugh’s satire Vile Bodies, where a diarist is the tragic hero. Anyone snobby towards diarists should remember the alumni: John Betjeman, Randoph Churchill, Harold Nicholson and Michael Foot, all worked on The Londoner. The diary,  said Bill Deedes, should have one fact, one generalisation and a slight inaccuracy.

Rules today seem as they always were: the least relevant are the most haughty, while the most glittering are the most helpful.

Waugh’s career as a gossip columnist was on the Daily Express which used none of his copy written during his brief tenure. He became a subject of a gossip column in the “Londoner’s Diary” in 1948 when he was waylaid by a reporter on his arrival from the USA. This was after an unpublicized tour to gather research for a Life magazine article. Having avoided negative publicity on this tour, he was somewhat abashed by the story that appeared in the Standard’s “Londoner’s Diary” for 30 December 1948: “The Americans–by Waugh” (reprinted in CWEW, v. 19: A Little Learning, p, 505). In this, he complained that the Americans overheated their rooms, nailed down their windows, played their radios endlessly, talked too much and chewed bubble gum. After the story spread through the US press on the wire services, Waugh felt obliged to submit a rejoinder, professing his admiration for Americans. This was intended to unruffle feathers in advance of his public lecture tour of the USA in early 1949. The article eventually appeared, entitled “Kicking Against the Goad”, in Commonweal, a Roman Catholic journal (EAR, p.371).

Naim Attallah has republished on his website another of his detailed literary interviews. The subject was Sybille Bedford, novelist and biographer of Aldous Huxley as well as his friend. The interview was conducted in 1996, 10 years before Bedford’s death in 2006. Her first novel was A Legacy, published in 1956. Attallah asks her about it:

Q. A Legacy was reviewed favourably by Evelyn Waugh in The Spectator. He said: ‘We know nothing of the author’s age, nationality or religion, but we gratefully salute a new artist.’ I imagine these words gave you a tremendous thrill…

A. Still do…still do. It’s the one thing I hang on to sometimes when I start to wonder what I have done with my life. It’s much the best thing that ever happened to me.

Waugh’s review (entitled “A Remarkable Historical Novel”) appeared in The Spectator’s 13 April 1956 edition and is reprinted in EAR, p. 510.

Finally, an inscribed first edition of Waugh in Abysinnia is offered for sale by a dealer in Hull:

A very good book that has been warmly inscribed by the author to his father, to the ffep. The Inscription reads BEST LOVE FROM / EVELYN. The book has the family bookplate of Arthur Waugh to the front pastedown, opposite the authors inscription.

The book is listed on ABE for about $15,000. The listing includes photos of the inscription and bookplate.

UPDATE (15 March 2018): Modified to reflect comment of David Platzer printed below. Thanks, David.

Posted in Complete Works, Essays, Articles & Reviews, Evelyn Waugh, First Editions, Interviews, Newspapers, Vile Bodies | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Waugh Criminal

A new book about criminality in WWII (Merlin at War) has been written by Mark Ellis and is discussed on Historyextra.com  (official website of the BBC History Magazine). The article opens with this:

The Second World War was a golden period for British crime. Between 1939 and 1945, reported crimes in England and Wales rose from 303,711 to 478,394, an increase of 57 per cent. What was behind this huge jump? The blackout and the bombs were the most obvious factors, and murder, rape, robbery, burglary and theft all flourished in the dark and the chaos. But there were other reasons. The war brought with it a vast raft of new restrictions and regulations which many people chose to break or circumvent. Rationing of various staples of life offered huge opportunities to fraudsters, forgers and thieves and created a vibrant black market…

After considering many of the examples cited in the opening paragraph, the book comes to one with a Waugh connection:

Other government initiatives, such as evacuation, were open to fraudulent manipulation. Some country families were happy to have children billeted with them, but others weren’t – and some resorted to bribery to evade the responsibility. Basil Seal, one of Evelyn Waugh’s protagonists in his wartime novel Put Out The Flags, takes advantage of his sister’s position as a billeting officer and makes a nice sum from this type of corrupt activity, illustrative of activity at the time.

Other examples of wartime criminality in Waugh’s books would include Dr Akonanga, the abortionist/witch doctor in Unconditional Surrender, not to mention Ludovic in Officers and Gentlemen (although killing an officer came under military, not civilian jurisdiction).

Racing Post has a story about a 109-year old resident of Gloucester, Ralph Hoare, who remembers delivering baked goods to Evelyn Waugh in his youth:

Prior to serving in the RAF, Ralph worked as a bank clerk, where he met TE Lawrence, otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia. “I met Evelyn Waugh before the war as well,” he says. “He was a grumpy old thing. He was very fond of cake as well. My landlady in Somerset made very good cakes. He would come to pick one up, but if it wasn’t ready I had to take it to his house. I thought he was quite surly.”

Since Waugh was living in Gloucestershire just before and after the war (in Stinchcombe near Dursley) Mr Hoare may have gotten his landlady’s locations mixed up. Waugh didn’t move to Somerset until the 1950s.

The Independent newspaper has posted its list of the best 10 alternative titles for books. Waugh’s “alternative title” for Brideshead Revisited is one of those selected: “The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder: … Peter Warner, who had the idea for this list, suggested this one.”  That’s more of a subtitle. I don’t think Waugh ever gave any thought to using it as an alternative. Others on the list include: The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up: J M Barrie, Peter Pan; and The Modern Prometheus: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein. Again, those sound more like subtitles.

Finally, the Richmond Times-Dispatch quotes a speech of a Member of the Virginia House of Delegates (Lee Ware) to a gathering of distinguished local news correspondents about the importance of their work:

…as we gather here I am reminded of the exchange that indicates a rising tension between would-be husband and wife in the novel “Brideshead Revisited” by Evelyn Waugh. After listening — again — to her consort complain about people believing in the “hocus pocus” of a particular religion (which happens to be mine, by the way) the woman bellows, “Why don’t you write a letter to The Times?!” The man does not do so, not because he lacks the conviction — though it is a conviction he holds only half-heartedly. He does not do so because he recognizes in his lover’s cry of the heart that writing a letter would not only change no one’s mind but bring him no peace.

Posted in Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh, Newspapers, Put Out More Flags, World War II | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Waugh and Norman Mailer: “The Naked and the Read”

This week’s TLS has an article (“The Naked and the Read”) about Norman Mailer’s library. This is by J Michael Lennon, Mailer’s archivist and authorized biographer. Mailer seems to have been a book accumulator rather than a book collector like Waugh. He possessed over 7,000 volumes scattered over four locations: two in Brooklyn and two in Provincetown. He spent over $1,000 a month on books but was not interested in first or rare editions, only in their contents. Indeed, according to Lennon, if there was a passage or section to which he wanted to refer at some event, he would rip out the relevant pages. This was true whether the book was a signed first edition or a mass market paperback. Sometimes he taped the pages back into the book, sometimes not.

His main interests were American and French literature (he had a working knowledge of French) but he also included British writers in his library. According to Lennon:

… his favourite authors [were] those he listed on seven published surveys. They were: Dos Passos (on all seven), Tolstoy (six), Spengler, Thomas Wolfe and Marx (five), Dostoevsky, Stendhal, Hemingway and James T. Farrell (four), as well as Malraux and Steinbeck on three occasions. Several other writers are listed twice, including Melville, Borges and E. M. Forster, the only English author.

His interest in British writers extended beyond Forster, however, as we noted in a previous post where he mentioned admiring Waugh during an interview by William F Buckley. Lennon goes on to explain the extent of Mailer’s interest in British literature:

Mailer may have been more influenced by French novelists than British ones, but he nevertheless admired the skills of the latter. During a visit to London in the autumn of 1961, he told an interviewer, “Sentence for sentence, the good British authors write better than we do. I’m thinking of people like Amis, Waugh, Graham Greene. Some are bad: I’ve never been able to read Joyce Cary”…. On the other hand, he owned most of Forster’s novels. Forster was not “one of the novelists I admire most. But I have learned a lot from him” […]

His best-loved British novelist was Graham Greene; he once said that The End of the Affair was the best anatomy of a love affair he had ever read (the fact that Greene wrote to him to say that he was “moved and excited” by the “magnificent” Advertisements for Myself did no harm to their relationship). […] Speaking on the BBC programme Omnibus in 1971, Mailer praised Nineteen Eighty-Four for its “profoundly prophetic vision of a world filled with dull, awful, profoundly picayune little wars . . . that would kill the world slowly”. Orwell admired Mailer’s work, and said in a letter in 1949 that The Naked and the Dead was “awfully good, the best war book of the last war yet”, a comment that appeared on paperback copies of the novel for decades. Some of the other British books on the shelves are The Mill on the FlossWomen in Love (discussed at length in The Prisoner of Sex, 1971), The Good Soldier and Cyril Connolly’s The Missing Diplomats, a non-fiction examination of the scandal surrounding the Cambridge spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, which Mailer probably consulted for Harlot’s Ghost. The earliest book by a British writer is Charlotte Brontë’s final novel, Villette (1853), a Folio Society edition which shows no dog ears. There is nothing by Austen, Dickens, Trollope, or Hardy.

Waugh and Mailer met at least once, in 1961 (probably during the visit mentioned above), at a party in Somerset given by a Mrs Kidd. Waugh told Ann Fleming in a 23 September 1961 letter that one of the horses “bit an American pornographer who tried to give it vodka.” This was Mailer, accompanied by Mrs Kidd’s daughter, Lady Jean Campbell (whom Mailer later married). Waugh’s letter continues:

I had never met Lady Jean Campbell and was fascinated. She came to us next day bringing the bitten pornographer. He might have come straight from your salon–a swarthy gangster just out of a mad house where he had been sent after an attempt to cut his wife’s throat. It is his first visit to England. His tour is Janet Kidd, Randolph, Ian Argyll. He will be able to write a revealing pornogram of English life.

Mailer responded to this description, apparently in response to a letter of enquiry from Mark Amory:

The horse did bite me on the finger but I was not feeding him vodka, just patting his nose…I did not cut my wife’s throat…Jean Campbell asked me what I thought of him [Waugh] and I said ‘Lots of fun. Much sweeter than I expected.’ Letters, 572-73.

The archives of both writers have come to rest in the same building at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas.

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CWEW Journalism Volume Published

Volume 26 of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh was published in the UK earlier this month and is available for sale. This is the fifth volume of the Complete Works to be published and first of four volumes in the Essays, Articles and Reviews series. It covers Waugh’s journalism for 1922-1934 and was edited and compiled by Professor Donat Gallagher who also edited earlier collections of Waugh’s journalism as well as several books and articles on his life and works.

This description of the contents appears on the OUP website and is substantially the same as that we posted previously:

This first volume of Evelyn Waugh’s Articles, Essays, and Reviews contains every traceable piece of journalism that research could uncover written by Waugh between January 1922, when he first went up to Oxford, and December 1934, when he had recently returned from British Guiana and was enjoying the runaway success of A Handful of Dust.

Long interred in fashion magazines, popular newspapers, sober journals, undergraduate reviews, and BBC archives, 110 of the 170 pieces in the volume have never before been reprinted. Several typescripts of articles and reviews are published here for the first time, as are a larger number of unsigned pieces never before identified as Waugh’s. Original texts, so easily distorted in the production process, have been established as far as possible using manuscript and other controls. The origins of the works are explored, and annotations to each piece seek to assist the modern reader.

The volume embraces university journalism; essays from Waugh’s years of drift after Oxford; forcefully emphatic articles and contrasting sophisticated reviews written for the metropolitan press from 1928 to 1930 (the most active and enterprising years of Waugh’s career); reports for three newspapers of a coronation in Abyssinia and essays for The Timeson the condition of Ethiopia and on British policy in Arabia. Finally, in early 1934 Waugh travelled for three months in remote British Guiana, resulting in nine travel articles and A Handful of Dust, acclaimed as one of the most distinguished novels of the century. Waugh was 19 when his first Oxford review appeared, 31 when the Spectator printed his last review of 1934. This is a young writer’s book, and the always lucid articles and reviews it presents read as fresh and lively, as challenging and opinionated, as the day they first appeared.

This volume is scheduled for release in the USA on 1 May 2018, and Amazon.com is accepting advance orders at the link posted above.

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Weekend Roundup: Brideshead in the News

Alan Hollinghurst’s latest novel The Sparsholt Affair  is being released in the USA next week and is reviewed in the Boston Globe. The Globe’s reviewer, Priscilla Gilman, as with several in the UK, notes the book’s conections with Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited:

The first section, “A New Man,” is utterly captivating and immersive. It is a literary memoir by former Oxford student Freddie Greene, whose wry, bemused, plummy voice is perfectly realized. With wit and elan to spare, Greene expatiates on the intrigue that ensues when David Sparsholt, an engineering student with a fiancée, Connie, and a plan to join the Royal Air Force, arrives at Oxford in 1940….Sparsholt’s enigmatic allure, the impossibility of possessing, knowing, or pinning him down casts a dreamy spell over character and reader alike. In this “New Man” section, rife with “brief dislocated intimacies” and “fleeting alliance[s]”, Hollinghurst gives us a brilliant homage to Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford novels while creating a mood of provocative possibility and ominous foreboding distinctively his own.

Brideshead is also the inspiration for the posting of a recipe in The Guardian. This is sorrel soup which appears on the menu in Waugh’s novel: “I remember the dinner well – soup of oseille, a sole quite simply cooked in a white-wine sauce, a caneton à la presse, a lemon soufflé.”  The Guardian article, from a correspondent in Brisbane, Australia where it is now late summer, offers this context:

…as I reminded myself of the other courses Charles Ryder orders – a sole in white wine sauce and a dish of pressed duck – I decided that, although it certainly would have been served hot in Paris, I was happy to reimagine it as a cold soup. And on a muggy January night in Brisbane, it’s the only version I could imagine eating. The sharp acidity of the sorrel is tempered by the egg and cream, though they’re added in small amounts so that the soup doesn’t taste too rich. I could have eaten the whole pan – it’s a soup I’ll be repeating.

The Atlantic magazine ran a poll on the question of which fictional house you would prefer to live it. One respondent made this choice:

Meg Wolitzer, author, The Female Persuasion

As someone who happily grew up in a suburb off the Long Island Expressway (Exit 43), once in a while I imagine what it would’ve been like to spend my childhood wandering the echoing halls of Brideshead Castle, from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited—English accent included.

The MSN.com website’s Insider column chooses the 50 best TV shows from history to watch in  a lifetime during what it sees as another “golden TV age” dawning. At number 4 is the Granada TV production based on Waugh’s novel:

Brideshead Revisited (1981). Considered by many critics to be the gold standard in adapting a novel to TV, “Brideshead Revisited” starred Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews as a pair of friends from youth to adulthood who grow apart. Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel gets deep into its character’s heads, but the adaptation gives it time to breath and translates it into an entirely new medium instead of simply staging the same scenes.

It was outranked by The Sopranos, Game of Thrones and The Wire at #s 1, 2, and 3 respectively.

The CBC has posted on its website’s books column My Life in Books a list of the favorite books of its sportscaster Andi Petrillo. Among those selected was Waugh’s The Loved One:

“I caught myself laughing out loud many times reading The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh. This is one of my favourite satirical novels. Instead of getting angry with the human pursuit of social status, this novel mocks it using humour by exaggerating our chase for it through how we depict ourselves even in death.”

Finally, BBC Radio 4 has reposted a 1999 broadcast of its series A Good Read. In this, the presenter Bel Mooney discusses three books with  guests Hunter Davies (novelist and biographer) and Jim Sergeant (BBC Chief Political Correspondent). All three participants had had experience as  journalists and brought this to bear in a discussion of Waugh’s 1938 novel Scoop. This forms the first discussion of three on the 30 minute episode.

Posted in Adaptations, Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh, Newspapers, Radio Programs, Scoop, Television, The Loved One | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Waugh and Anthony Powell (More)

Waugh’s influence is prominently mentioned in a review in this week’s Die Tagespost, a German language paper sponsored by the Roman Catholic church. The review is by Urs Buhlmann and the book is Powell’s novel The Soldier’s Art which has been translated into German (Die Kunst des Soldaten). This is No. 8 in Powell’s 12 volume series Dance to the Music of Time. The review begins by describing Powell as: “Better than Balzac,” according to one critic; another thought that he could classify the author as a mere descriptor of the British upper class.  …  He is a worthy successor to Evelyn Waugh, mostly not yet known [in Germany]. The review is entitled “Kühl, humorvoll, durchdacht” (translated as “Cool, Humorous, Thoughtful”). In the article,  this is explained by describing Powell’s work as: “…a reading pleasure, like a bottle of good sparkling wine to quote Evelyn Waugh, ‘cool, humorous, thoughtful and well built'”.  Where this translated quotation originates is not explained. It doesn’t appear as such in the two Spectator reviews Waugh wrote of Powell’s novels. It may be Buhlmann’s interpretation of something Waugh wrote. Whether Waugh was writing about Powell’s work or wine is unclear from the translated text. The article concludes with another reference to Waugh:

The typical topics of recent British literature, as already encountered in Evelyn Waugh – the rise of the success-oriented middle class with simultaneous decline of the hitherto leading elites -are coolly noted by Anthony Powell, not challenged.

The translations are by Goggle with some edits.

Another reviewer, this one addressing the recent biography of Anthony Powell by Hilary Spurling, also describes Powell’s relationship to Waugh. This is by Martin McGinness in the Sydney Morning Herald. He begins by considering how well Dance to the Music of Time has worn:

With a title taken from Poussin’s masterpiece of the four seasons, Dance, has been described as “Proust Englished by P.G. Wodehouse” but perhaps Powell’s closely-observed study of 20th-century bohemacy has suffered from being too real: its texture a trifle tweedy; its colours slightly faded. He is not an escapist like Wodehouse; a moralist like Orwell, nor a satirist like Waugh. And yet his 3000 pages, 1 million words and nearly 500 characters are still a singular and extraordinary achievement – a very English life over 60 years through the eyes of Nicholas Jenkins. Auberon Waugh said on the publication of his father’s diaries, “[They] show that the world of Evelyn Waugh’s novels did in fact exist”. This is even truer of his friend and contemporary. Powell’s Dance is not just a roman-fleuve; it is also largely a roman-a-clef.

McGinness goes on to compare aspects of Powell’s characters and plot with real people and events. After adjudging Hilary Spurling’s official biography a bit inferior to the earlier unauthorized book by Michael Barber, McGinness concludes:

Anthony Powell, the novelist, deserves to be read and though, like the last century, it was not a merry one, his Dance can be enjoyed – its elegant ebb and flow, its cadences and coincidences; its galaxy of recurring characters; and its message that time takes its toll.

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Evil Genius on BBC Podcast

BBC has signed comedian and Evelyn Waugh fan Russell Kane do a series of podcasts on the theme of the Evil Genius. In this, he will trace characters through history who have been geniuses but who have also done horrible things. These will include “characters from W G Grace to Evelyn Waugh,” and at the end of each podcast Kane will decide (with the help of a panel) whether the subject’s genius is outweighed by his or her evil. The idea will be to decide whether it is acceptable to enjoy art that is somehow at the same time horrible.

Kane is well known in the Waugh world. For example, he once appeared on a BBC Mastermind Special (devoted to charity fundraising) and brilliantly answered a series of rapid fire questions on Waugh and his Novels (18 out of 19). See previous post. The first episode of the new series has been posted. It is devoted to the life and work of John Lennon.

Meanwhile, the TLS has posted an interview of literary journalist Adam Gopnick who writes for the New Yorker and who seems to think Waugh is, if not exactly evil, at least not so much a genius. In answer to the question of what writer he thought was most overrated, Gopnick answered:

My good friend and part-time literary conscience Anthony Lane will doubtless never speak to me again – he holds Waugh and Wodehouse to be the two pillars of fine modern style – but, love Wodehouse though I do, the Waugh cult I find still baffling. The meant-to-be-funny bits seem laboured and sniggering and schoolboyish – that hilarious thunderbox! – and the not-meant-to-be-funny bits embarrassingly ripe and second rate. This isn’t a political or religious prejudice, since I find Nancy Mitford, whom he condescends to in their letters, limitlessly fun. Nor is it anti-Catholic since Chesterton, whose anti-Semitism is a lot more overt even than Waugh’s, is an author I can never read enough. It’s just Waugh. (Add to the overrated list William Burroughs, whose life was certainly lively, but whose prose seems as dead as a doornail.)


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Evelyn Waugh, Brexiteer?

In an article in the “pro-market” website Reaction, Alastair Benn considers why more artists do not support Britain’s exit from the EU. When he reviews where today’s writers come out on this subject, Evelyn Waugh’s name comes up:

Although it might be true that opposition to Brexit has become a kind of idée fixe for the present-day cultural policy establishment, these things come and go. Fashions change. Some of the greatest English writers of the last century, those who make up the recognised canon, whose books are never out of print, are hardly hostile to a conservative world view. Take one of my favourite writers: Evelyn Waugh, whose later work becomes obsessed with social worlds that may appear quite alien to modern life. But then again, his early work is hardly conservative at all – brilliant satires engaging with the modern themes of technology, social change and with a strong anti-establishment ethic. Great writers resist easy classification.

An earlier article on this same topic by Simon Head in the New York Review of Books’ daily online edition took a more aggressive view of Waugh’s likely position:

Boris Johnson leads the cabinet faction agitating for a hard Brexit, a “clean break” from the EU, but he now has a serious rival for leadership of the party’s nationalist wing in Jacob Rees-Mogg, a deeply Euroskeptic member of parliament who outshone Johnson at the recent conference in Manchester. In their different ways, Johnson and Rees-Mogg both evoke the image of late-imperial Britain to which the aging membership of the Conservative Party feels drawn. So what would the great social geographer of the period, Evelyn Waugh, have made of  them? He would surely have spotted Johnson as a phony in a trice: his combination of bombast and faux bonhomie, his opportunism, his hack writing and intellectual sloppiness. Johnson makes a perfect fit for a villainous journalist toiling away for Lord Copper in Scoop. Waugh would surely have approved, however, of Rees-Mogg’s catholic dogmatism and his ample progeny. In his later years, Waugh complained that the Conservative Party hadn’t put the clock back five minutes; Rees-Mogg is someone who wants to put the clock back sixty years, at least.

Finally, in another battle over conservatism (or more specifically, conservation), Waugh’s name comes up in connection with a dispute between two aging rock stars over conserving a historic house in the west Kensington neighborhood. This is Tower House designed by Victorian architect William Burges. It belongs to Jimmy Page, guitarist for Led Zeppelin. He opposes improvements to the house next door by Simon Head, who was once lead singer for Take That and wants to expand his basement to include such amenities as a swimming pool. An article in The Times invokes Waugh and his friend John Betjeman as previous defenders of Tower House:

Page, who lives in Tower House, a grade I listed property that was previously owned by the poet John Betjeman and the actor Richard Harris, wrote that “it seems reasonable to expect the council to dismiss any application for subterranean development on a site so near to such an important ‘heritage asset’ as the Tower House”. He noted that the house, which was designed by William Burges, was “one of the most historic buildings in the borough” and that vibrations from building work next door would put his house and garden wall at risk. …“I believe the house was one of the first Victorian buildings in the country to be listed and was saved by John Betjeman and Evelyn Waugh, who amongst others, campaigned against the threat of its demolition in the early sixties. Having protected the Tower House for over 40 years, I am now continuing the fight against a new threat to this precious and unique building.”

Page may somewhat overstate Waugh’s role in the preservation of Tower House. Betjeman was indeed for a short time its owner, having been left a two-year remainder on the lease by the previous owners in the hope that he would preserve the house by taking it over for his own use. According to A N Wilson, Betjeman felt he could not afford that burden, and the house was sold to actor Richard Harris in the hope that he would fulfill the owners’ wishes. Waugh comes into the story indirectly at best. Several years before he became owner of the house, the owners gave Betjeman a washstand from the house that had also been designed by Burges. When installation of this in Betjeman’s house proved impracticable, he made a gift of it to Evelyn Waugh. This then became the subject of a delusion in Waugh’s novel The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. Waugh himself suffered similar delusions relating to what be believed was a piece he had remembered seeing that had gone missing when the washstand was delivered to his house. Whether Waugh was ever drawn into the later issue of the preservation of the house itself during Betjeman’s brief ownership is unclear.

Posted in Art, Photography & Sculpture, Newspapers, Scoop, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Update: Churchill’s Secret Affair

Channel 4’s documentary Churchill’s Secret Affair broadcast last night differs in several important details from the account published in the Daily Mail last week. See previous post. Several experts contribute to the documentary. From our perspective the most important are UK academics Warren Dockter (University of Aberystwyth) and Richard Toye (University of Exeter), both of whom have written books on Churchill, and Judith Mackrell who has written on Doris Castlerosse (The Unfinished Palazzo). Also contributing are Catherine Delevigne, Doris’s niece, and historian Hugo Vickers.

The story begins with Dockter’s discovery of a 1985 tape in the Churchill College archive at Cambridge in which John “Jock” Colville, one of Churchill’s secretaries, mentions that, while Churchill was not particularly active sexually, he did have one brief affair with Doris Castlerosse. Dockter’s joint researches with Prof Toye track this to a 1933 visit by the  Churchill family (including wife and at least some children) to a villa in the South of France. This was called Château de l’Horizon and was owned not by Lord Beaverbrook, as is suggested by the Mail, but by an American actress by the name of Maxine Elliott. Doris,  who by then had already married and divorced Valentine Castlerosse, was also a guest. The next detail isn’t entirely clear but is important to our readers. Doris had an affair with Randolph Churchill before, not after Winston’s. C4 dates this only to the “early 1930s” so it may have been before or during the 1933 visit. Evelyn Waugh contributes to the story in his later report (Letters, p. 552) where he writes of the contretemps between Randolph and Valentine in a London restaurant that would probaby have occurred during this affair. Alas, Waugh’s contribution does not get mentioned in the documentary, and Randolph’s affair takes up only about 1 minute of the film.

Doris’s affair with Winston was more extensive than was suggested in the Mail story. Winston returned to the château by himself on four separate occasions beginning the following summer (1934). It was on the first of these that the affair began (not at the Hotel Ritz). It was also on these vists that Winston painted three portraits of Doris, one of which he gave her. He only painted one portrait of his wife Clementine, who it is also suggested on Colville’s evidence, may have herself had an affair with an art dealer Terence Philip while she was on a cruise without Winston in 1934. After Doris moves back to London in 1937 (apparently having been residing full time in the South of France) meetings are occasionally arranged in her Berkeley Square residence. According to Catherine Delevigne (based on information from her mother and her father, Dudley Delevigne, Doris’s brother) on these occasions the staff were temporarily dismissed so there was no one present except Doris and Winston. After Winston returned to the government and became more involved in events leading up to the war, the affair ended.

The story concludes with Doris’s decampment to Venice and then New York in 1939 where she never found anyone willing to pay her way and from whence she is rescued by Winston’s discrete intervention in 1942 facilitating her return to London. Lacking no more support in London than she had in New York, however, Doris died after overdosing on sleeping pills a few months after her return. The one-hour documentary is available for streaming on Channel 4’s internet service 40D. A UK internet connection is required. It seems likely, given the high quality and content of the film, that it will appear on US television in due course.

Meanwhile, more information has become available about the play Happy Warriors in which Waugh’s WWII mission to Yugoslavia with Randolph Churchill is dramatized:

A new play, ‘Happy Warriors’, written by 91-year old James Hugh Macdonald, makes its worldwide premiere Upstairs at the Gatehouse Theatre in Highgate from 28th March – 22nd April. WT Stage, the producers, wanted to buck the trend of young writers giving a veteran his chance to have his script come to life on stage!

Happy Warriors is set in a war zone and based on a true story. … Along with Randolph [Churchill] and Evelyn [Waugh], who are billeted in a small deserted farmhouse, is Zora Panic, a young, belligerent, university-educated partisan. Zora is far from thrilled when told by her guerrilla commander she must learn to be less arrogant ahead of joining her comrades in the battle against the German army. In addition, she was told that her employment in the menial position of cook/housekeeper to the two Englishmen must be endured. Zora takes out her indignation, frustration and anger on the two men. What could possibly go right?


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