Winter Solstice Roundup

–The website Arab News has an article by James Drummond about how Armenians have succeeded as businessmen in many Arab countries. Here is one example:

Armenians were famous builders. Indeed, Sinan Pasha, the great architect of the Ottoman Empire, was reportedly of Armenian heritage. Many in the diaspora carved out niches as middle-men, translators, bankers and merchants. One such character, a Mr. Youkoumian, is an anti-hero of Evelyn Waugh’s comic novel “Black Mischief,” set in a fictionalized Ethiopia in the 1930s.

It is not quite on point, as Ethiopia hardly qualifies as an “Arab Country”, but it is bordered on several sides by them.

–Radio presenter and satirist Garrison Keillor names on his website a Waugh short story as his Christmas selection:

It’s Christmas weekand we’re celebrating with Christmas stories. There’s a darkly comic story by British authorEvelyn Waugh, (books by this author) written in 1934, about a reclusive aristocratic octogenarian Irish spinster who decides to give a huge elaborate festive bash as a last big hurrah. Waugh’s “Bella Fleace Gave a Party” is set in the north of Ireland, in the countryside outside a town called Ballingar.

After retelling the story is some detail (and without a spoiler alert), Keillor concludes:

Evelyn Waugh’s “Bella Fleace Gave a Party” can be found in The Complete Stories of Evelyn Waugh (1998). It can also be found in a collection entitled Christmas Stories (2007), edited by Diana Secker Tesdell, part of the Everyman’s Pocket Classics series.

–A blogger who is reading through and reviewing in order Time Magazine’s selection of the Top 100 books since 1923. Here’s an excerpt in the entry for A Handful of Dust:

Evelyn Waugh writes well, and I can understand why this book is on the top 100 list. Like Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, this is set in a time period and world that I don’t find greatly appealing and even though both works are dealing with the unraveling of that world they are not things I would seek out to read. With A Handful of Dust, I identified strongly with Tony Last and for personal reasons I really disliked Brenda’s shallow and careless actions which destroyed not only her marriage but the entire world of her husband. […]  Even though I may not have chosen to live in Tony Last’s world, I could empathize with the trauma he must have endured as it quickly is taken away from him and he finds himself in unfamiliar territory still attempting to be the person he once was. All reviews of any work of fiction are subjective, and although the work unearthed some painful memories for me, and it is not a genre or a time period that I find compelling it is well written and I can understand why many people enjoy its mocking of the collapse of this stilted and formal world. These brief reflections are, for me, a way of consolidating my thoughts after engaging with each work.

–The Vancouver Sun reviews a book by Canadian author John MacLachlan Gray which makes several allusions to a Waugh novel, including its title Vile Spirits:

While Gray’s deft use of mystery novel tropes reflects his debt to masters of the genre like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, his chosen title and section epigraphs all nod to another and more unlikely influence, that of dyspeptic British satirist Evelyn Waugh, whose early novels, in particular Vile Bodies, satirize the “bright young things” of the Roaring Twenties.

–A contributor to McGill University’s McGillReporter includes this item in a recommended reading column:

“I was recently recommended ScoopDecline and Fall, and Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. The first two books are supposed to be very dry humour, while the second is more of a drama,” writes Sean. Fun fact: Mr. Waugh had married a woman named Evelyn. Friends used to call them ‘He-Evelyn’ and ‘She-Evelyn.’

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When the Going Was Good @ 75

Waugh’s collection of travel writings from the 1930s was published in the UK 75 years ago today. This was entitled When the Going Was Good. US publication followed in January 1947.  This was has first book to be published after the success of Brideshead Revisited.

In an introduction, Waugh explains that what is reprinted comes from only four of the travel books he wrote between 1929 and 1939: Labels, Remote People, Ninety-Two Days and Waugh in Abyssinia. He distances himself somewhat from the latter, which he describes as more political than the others, and he further notes that his 1939 book about Mexico, Robbery Under Law, was excluded altogether because it was entirely devoted to a discussion of political matters.

He further explains that his life in the period these books were written was largely given over to travel and that he had no fixed abode. He expects, as he writes in 1945, to write no such book in the future, having by then adopted a more settled life:

These four books, here in fragments reprinted, were the record of certain journeys, chosen for no better reason than that I needed money at the time of their completion; they were pedestrian, day-to-day accounts of things seen and people met, interspersed with commonplace information and some rather callow comments. I have sought to leave a purely personal narrative in the hope that there still lingers round it some trace of vernal scent.

He then briefly summarizes what he best remembers about each book and notes that they all involved travel that fell largely outside of Europe, leaving time for more restful exploration of that continent ’til later. In this, he associated himself with his fellow travel writers Peter Fleming, Graham Greene and Robert Byron and distinguished himself from Cyril Connolly (referred to only as “Palinurus”) who, unlike Waugh and his fellow adventurers, had the foresight to visit Europe before it was “to melt overnight like an ice-castle, leaving only a puddle of mud…”

Looking ahead, he concludes by supposing that there will be few travel books such as his in the future:

There is no room for tourists in a world of ‘displaced persons’. Never again, I suppose shall we land on foreign soil with a letter of credit and passport (itself the first faint shadow of the cloud that envelopes us) and feel the world open before us. […] I never aspired to be a great traveller. I was simply a young man, typical of my age; we travelled as a matter of course. I rejoice that I went when the going was good.

That introduction is dated “Stinchcombe, 1945”. It was a year later that the book was published. Waugh was not to know, when we wrote the introduction, that a month after the book appeared he would be leaving England on a voyage to America with his wife that inspired The Loved One. And later that same year (1947) he made a trip to Scandinavia with the intent of writing about it for the Daily Telegraph. Nor could he have known that he would continue to travel on extended journeys to exotic destinations such as Goa, Ceylon, and the Holy Land, as well as repeat trips to the United States, British Guiana and Africa, two of which ended up in book form: The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold and A Tourist in Africa.

When the Going Was Good was later printed in book club editions (1947-49) and later still in a Penguin paperback (1951). It was recently republished as a Penguin Modern Classic (2000) and is still available in the UK, Canada and Australia in a revised version of that edition, as well as an e-book.



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Pre-Christmas Roundup

The Times reports a recent interview of Nicholas Howard, current resident of Castle Howard in North Yorkshire. The interview, conducted and reported by Helen Rumbelow, opens with a discussion of the shortfall in revenue caused by the recent Covid-related closures in the context of the estate’s large repair and restoration budget as well as the costs of its daily operations. One topic not raised by Rumbelow (or at least not reported) is the recent closure of the estate to visitors for an extended period in September-October this year to accommodate filming by an undisclosed production company. According to previous reports, non-disclosure of the details of that project were part of the agreement between the estate’s owners and the film-makers. See previous posts.

The interview article closes with this:

We leave through what seems like an endless corridor: some claim that its 17th-century architect, John Vanbrugh, invented corridors, which sounds ridiculous until you see them, lit by the low light as if by a Hollywood cinematographer. And the domed roof, a mini St Paul’s Cathedral, now looks spectacular, a must-have accessory if you are to house, as it does now, a 30ft Christmas tree, or hang a vast chandelier made of 1,250 yellow washing-up gloves, as the family did for a “surrealist” 21st birthday party for Howard’s daughter Blanche, which ended with guests in the fountain. In Brideshead Revisited Evelyn Waugh captured the outsider’s reaction to this inordinate beauty: seduced and suspicious.

One image sticks with me: Howard says that when his father rebuilt the dome he forbade anyone to go up there, saying that it was too dangerous. Howard, who scampered around the 145 rooms like a mouse, went up there immediately.

Now Howard can scamper no more. He told me that lockdown money shortages were “absolutely terrifying”. It was also scary for him as a boy staring down at the hall from the inside of the dome. “I can still remember the feeling of standing on the edge. There was no railing between you and that 70ft drop.”

I think that is what it’s like to be a Howard. High up, looking down, scared of falling.

Also mentioned is an upcoming TV documentary relating to Castle Howard: “Nick Knowles: Heritage Rescue” that is to be broadcast in the UK on December 22 at 9pm on something called “Quest”.

–Meanwhile, Time Magazine has announced “The 50 Most Anticipated TV Shows of 2021.”  The BBC/HBO production of Brideshead Revisited, noted but not mentioned by name above, is among the listings:

Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino is adapting Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel of a young British man who falls in with an aristocratic family and gets entangled in their drama. The enviable cast includes Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Ralph Fiennes and Joe Alwyn.

The scheduled broadcast is simply described as “TBA“.

–A one-hour plus podcast has been posted in “The History of Literature” series. This is moderated by Jacke Wilson and features Phil Klay as the presenter. Here’s the description:

…In this episode, Jacke is joined by author Phil Klay to discuss Waugh’s religion, military background, and his novel A Handful of Dust in particular. The two also discuss Klay’s award-winning fiction, his writing process, what it means to be a Catholic writer in Waugh’s time and our own, and the new podcast American Veteran: Unforgettable Stories, which Klay hosts.

PHIL KLAY is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. His short story collection Redeployment won the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction and was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of 2014 by The New York Times. His debut novel, Missionaries, was released in October 2020 with Penguin Press.

–Earlier this week, the Daily Telegraph in an opinion article by Douglas Murray compared the current Conservative Government to a scene at the end of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall:

Professor Silenus, is watching a ride in an amusement park when Paul Pennyfeather comes upon him. Silenus explains the fairground attraction they are watching. For five francs the punters go into a room with tiers of seats, and in the centre is a great revolving floor that spins everyone around quickly.

At first you sit down and watch the others. They are all trying to sit in the wheel, and they keep getting flung off, and that makes them laugh, and you laugh too. “It’s great fun.”

Pennyfeather wonders whether this is much like life.

“Oh, but it is” says Silenus. “You see, the nearer you can get to the hub of the wheel the slower it is moving and the easier it is to stay on.

“There’s generally someone in the centre who stands up and sometimes does a sort of dance. Often he’s paid by the management, though, or, at any rate, he’s allowed in free. Of course at the very centre there’s a point completely at rest, if one could only find it.”

I’m sure I don’t need to extrapolate to readers why this passage has been on my mind. This week has included an especially horrible turn of the wheel. And the fairground attraction of Boris’s Number 10 suddenly seems to have lost all of its amusement value. It can even turn a party into a portion of the horrible, destructive game.

After describing Professor Silenus’s understanding of how the spinning wheel is like the Johnson government, the article concludes:

How that sums up much of Westminster today – MPs and hacks who just enjoy the game and enjoy holding on as others go to the wall. But in the process they forget why anybody would want to get into this game in the first place.

You might say, as Silenus does, that “you needn’t get on it at all, if you don’t want to.” And that, at times, seems like the easier and more attractive option. Yet the ride this country is on is not an amusement.

If our country is to succeed in the coming years we are going to have to build as well as destroy, to develop people as well as fling them off. To find still points as well as the amusement. But nobody seems to want to think of that, so on it goes.

–There are several more articles marking the 10th anniversary of Christopher Hitchens’ death.  One of these by Alexander Larman in the World Edition of The Spectator magazine includes this:

When asked who his favorite writers were, [Hitchens] unhesitatingly listed Kingsley Amis, Evelyn Waugh and PG Wodehouse, none of whom shared his politics or worldview, as well as the more predictable figure of George Orwell.

The Atlantic, where Hitchens wrote literary reviews and essays for several years, has posted all his reviews that appeared in the magazine, including several that relate to Waugh, most notably “The Permanent Adolescent”. The New Statesman has published in its UK edition (its only edition so far as I am aware) the article on Waugh by Ross Douthat mentioned in a previous post.



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Roundup: Flaubert’s Birth and Hitchens’ Death

–Novelist Julian Barnes has written a rambling retrospective of Flaubert’s career covering all of his books and many of his own and Flaubert’s obsessions. This is on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Flaubert’s birth and is published in the London Review of Books. One subject is a writer’s assessment of his own books:

Novelists are famously unreliable when judging their own work. Critical reception has an effect on their judgment, as does simple perversity; and they may affect to love the most overlooked of their progeny. Thus Evelyn Waugh used to claim that his favourite novel was Helena. Though Salammbô was a greater financial and social success than Madame Bovary – it became a meme, and the inspiration for ballgowns – most knew that Flaubert’s first novel was his best, and always would be. At times he resented this, once expressing the view that he would like to buy up every copy of the book and burn them all.

A more phlegmatic response to the Famous First Book dilemma was that of Kingsley Amis, who in later years was asked if Lucky Jim hadn’t been a bit of an albatross around his neck. ‘It’s better than having no albatross at all,’ he replied.

Another Thing Kingsley Amis Said,

this time of me: ‘I wish he’d shut up about Flaubert’ – advice it gave me delight to disobey.

–Ben Lawrence writing in the Daily Telegraph expresses his concern with the lack of editorial discretion lately being exercised. This manifests itself in such overblown works as Peter Jackson’s documentary about the Beatles’ breakup Get Back (nearly 8 hours), Hilary Mantel’s final volume of her Cromwell trilogy (912 pages) and the final Daniel Craig installment of the James Bond film epic (nearly an hour longer than the original–Doctor No). He then wonders whether this editorial laxity has any historical precedents:

If we go back in time, we can see that even such a genius as Charles Dickens was susceptible (although in his case it was often padding in order to fulfill a deadline, rather than a resolute conviction of his own genius). In Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, Tony Last goes slowly mad when is forced to read Martin Chuzzlewit to the illiterate Mr Todd. It’s not hard for us who have waded through Dickens’ novel (particularly that bit in America) to sympathize).

Lawrence goes on to recognize instances of where sound editorial supervision has produced works that have become classics by insisting on their being trimmed or rewritten–eg, Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Town and Country, the American magazine that debuted Waugh’s novel in 1944 over four issues, has posted an article entitled “Everything To Know About the BBC’s Star-Studded New Brideshead Revisited“. Unfortunately, this article recites what we already think we know from last year about a project that seems surrounded by secrecy. It mentions the actors and director that were identified in a Daily Mail article that was replete with unsubstantiated expectations and comments on that in Deadline. See previous post. The T&C story by Emma Dibdin  neither confirms nor denies theses previous announcements but at least writes hopefully that they will prove to have been correct.

–The website posts an essay by Christopher Fowler on the subject of “Englishness” in British thrillers. The essay’s theme is stated in this header: “We specialise in a specific kind of English malice based on class and distorted moral rectitude.” Here is one of the three important historical developments in the subject of “Englishness”:

(2) By the start of the eighteenth century, the satirist James Gillray was happily ridiculing the British Prime Minister in print without reprisal. We satirised our social mores with the smug self-confidence of ruthless colonialists. Our authors had already learned to play jokes on readers, as anyone who has climbed the Everest of Sterne’s ‘Tristram Shandy’ can testify.

British literature honed its sharpness in the Great War and emerging with new elements of irony, ridicule and gallows humour. The novels of Evelyn Waugh are cruelly funny but beneath the wit is a howling darkness that in ‘Black Mischief’ ends with the perfectly logical act of cannibalism. Killing becomes a social faux-pas on a par with grammatical errors.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has posted on his own website a response to the Financial Times’ recent article on Christopher Hitchens. See previous post. That was by Janan Ganesh and noted the need for a voice such as Hitchens’ in the current political environment. Douthat thinks Ganesh may have overlooked or understated the abilities of several current journalists, although to be fair none of those identified by Douthat share with Hitchens the latter’s self-promotional abilities.  Douthat concludes with this:

In this sense the aspect of [Hitchens’] career that Ganesh emphasizes, the search for causes and enemies worthy of his romantic and crusading spirit, illustrates what in The Decadent Society I describe as the dangers of anti-decadence — the way that the desire for a great war or a Great Enemy can supply a “cure” for decadence that makes the world more interesting but also makes it worse.

Here there’s a special irony that in the very spring that the United States invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein, Hitchens appeared in the Atlantic with a caustic essay on Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy, which he dismissed (wrongly, but never mind that) as the place where Waugh’s reactionary mood finally curdled and his gifts essentially ran out. Because in an important way the Hitchens of the War on Terror era quite resembles Waugh’s protagonist in that World War II-era saga, the English Catholic aristocrat Guy Crouchback, for whom the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, the alliance of the totalitarians, felt like a moment of grand opportunity and purpose for an otherwise-decaying civilization: “The enemy at last was plain in view, huge and hateful, all disguise cast off. It was the Modern Age in arms.” Coming from a very different ideological vantage point, this was exactly the Hitchens reaction to September 11: It famously filled him with “exhilaration” because it promised “a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate.”

At the end of Waugh’s novels, Crouchback ends up disillusioned: He meets a Jewish refugee in the Balkans who speaks of the “will to war” in 1930s Europe, the way “that “even good men thought their private honour would be satisfied by war.” She asks him: “Were there none in England?”

“God help me,” Crouchback answers, “I was one of them.”

I’ve always like that passage in part because that’s how I feel about myself, thinking back on some of my jejune writings (very) early in the War on Terror, my own youthful right-wing exhilaration at the possibility that Meaning was finally coming back.

I don’t think Hitchens ever came around to that kind of regret, but I do think his most important work stands, for now at least, as a monument to a variation on the temptation that Waugh describes. He wanted to join a great battle to save his particular vision of liberal civilization, but he chose his crucial causes poorly, winning pyrrhic victories that mostly deepened decadence, and left that same civilization more unhappy, endangered and internally divided than before. [Links in original.]


Posted in A Handful of Dust, Adaptations, Anniversaries, Black Mischief, Brideshead Revisited, Helena, Newspapers, Sword of Honour, Television | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Evelyn Waugh Studies 52.2 (Fall 2021)

The latest issue of the Society’s journal, Evelyn Waugh Studies, has been distributed to the membership. This is issue Ne. 52.2 (Fall 2021). A slightly edited summary  by the Society’s Secretary, Jamie Collinson, that accompanied the distribution, is set forth below:

Opening the proceedings, our own Jeffrey Manley reviews the career of the American Waugh scholar Robert Murray Davis. Next up is a short, funny and generally brilliant recollection of a visit to Combe Florey in 1963 by John Stathatos. Combining military special ops, a quintessential Waugh putdown and Wagner, what more could you ask for? Jonathan Pitcher reviews Kingsley Amis: Antimodels and the Audience, by Andrew James. For my money, Waugh is the clear antecedent for the comic genius of Lucky Jim, and it’s good to see Amis make an appearance here. His interviews for Nicholas Shakespeare’s Arena documentaries were fascinating.Finally, Jeffrey Manley closes proceedings with a review of Writing in the Dark: Bloomsbury, the Blitz and Horizon Magazine, by Will Loxley. As the present company will doubtless know, Horizon played a key role in literary life around the Second World War, and was satirized to great effect in the Sword of Honour trilogy.The reference to Horizon reminds me of the EWS’ activity at the Huntington Library’s Waugh seminar in 2017. It was there that a fellow member advised me to read Anthony Powell, who fictionalized Horizon equally brilliantly in A Dance to the Music of Time. I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t attended – one of many reasons I’m glad I did. I very much hope that we can all get together in person before too very long.

A copy will be posted on this site in due course.

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Post-Thanksgiving Roundup

–10 December will mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Christopher Hitchens. This is commemorated in the Financial Times by an article entitled “The World Christopher Hitchens Left Behind”. This is by Janan Ganash who might have used as a subtitle “Where is Christopher Hitchens Now that we Need Him?”. After considering how Hitchens might have taken on several present-day issues, Ganash concludes:

…his devotion to the western canon was not an appendage to his politics, but its reinforcement. Grasp the complexity of an individual, as rendered by a novelist, and all ideologies look absurd. “Politics is the great generaliser,” said Philip Roth, “and literature the great particulariser.” Hitchens read Evelyn Waugh and (one of his last reviews) GK Chesterton more closely and sensitively than most of the fatheads who happened to share their politics. If, in the end, he spat them out, it was only after a discerning swill.

None of which is to canonise him. He never wrote a great book. Like Gore Vidal, to whom he was both dauphin and rival, he couldn’t say no to a deft but glib epigram. He didn’t account for or even wholly renounce his Trotskyism, and flounced out of one interview (with Matthew Parris, the greater 1949-born journalist, to my mind) when pressed on it. […] As for the right, he would have met them beyond the comfort zone of liberal talk shows (to whom, at one point, he gave the literal finger) in Red America. His godless evangelism was so potent precisely because it engaged pastors on their own southern and Midwestern turf.

It is just a shame that Anglo-America only really came off its hinges when he was no longer around to try to right it. In tribal times, his speeches and essays impart the only lesson worth teaching to those who care for truth and its dazzling expression. Never, ever join a team.

–The New Statesman has posted the copy of a 1978 review written by Kingsley Amis in which Amis reconsiders Waugh’s debut novel Decline and Fall. Here’s the New Statesman’s introduction:

Here, in the first of an occasional series of New Statesman articles on 20th-century writers, Kingsley Amis revisits Evelyn Waugh’s “Decline and Fall”. Amis had read the 1928 novel dozens of times. It was, he wrote, a book “written for me, and not for some porcelain-collecting multilingual gourmet”. The book has been considered “satire”, but Amis understood this term as being “more usefully reserved for pieces purposefully deriding vice or folly”; Waugh’s novel contains just some “incidental touches” of satire. The book should not be straightforwardly declared a “statement”, either; “No novel is a statement, and we should try to fight against making inferences about its author’s state of mind,” Amis writes. What a critic can do, and what Waugh was in need of when writing “Decline and Fall”, Amis suggests, was “something that offered an explanation of or an excuse for the horrors of existence”.

The full article can be read at this link.

–The Irish Times in a story about the appointment of Ralf Rangnick at Manchester United football club as “interim” manager makes an allusion to a character from Decline and Fall:

It is Rangnick’s personality as much as his background that makes this such a startling turn. There has already been a great deal of poring over his familiar lines, quotes and quips in the last few days. What emerges from that patchwork is a slightly comedic figure, something along the lines of Evelyn Waugh’s German modernist architect professor Otto Silenus, who sees human beings as flawed mechanical designs, who says things such as “the only perfect building must be the factory, because that is built to house machines not men”. Going by his pre-publicity it would be no surprise to see Rangnick take his first press conference standing motionless behind a synthesiser wreathed in dry ice and mumbling about being a robot.

–The Catholic Herald in an essay entitled “Joy of Unexpected Things” by Kenneth Craycraft uses quotes from Brideshead Revisited to illustrate facets of Roman Catholic beliefs. This opens with a quote from a dialogue between Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte and ends with a quote from a dialogue between Charles and Lady Marchmain:

…“But my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all,” accuses Charles. “I mean about the Christmas star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”

“Oh, yes, I believe that,” Sebastian replies. “It’s a lovely idea.”

“But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea,” Charles exclaims.

“But I do,” answers Sebastian. “That’s how I believe.”

Charles thinks he is testing the reasonableness of Sebastian’s personal belief. In fact, however, he is imposing a rationalist conceit on the Catholic faith to which Sebastian adheres. In doing so, Charles confuses the tenets of the faith with the means by which one embraces it. And by using Christmas motifs in the dialogue, Waugh illustrates his own acute understanding of the difference. […]

Later in Brideshead Charles has a similar conversation with Sebastian’s mother, Lady Marchmain, in which Charles alludes to “a camel and the eye of a needle”. In reply, Lady Marchman says, “But of course it’s very unexpected for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, but the gospel is simply a catalogue of unexpected things. It’s not to be expected that an ox and an ass would worship at the crib… It’s all part of the poetry, the Alice-in-Wonderland side of religion.”

Thus, Christmas. It is a time to celebrate the Wonderful Exchange through the lovely ideas of unexpected things.

Quadrant, an Australian literary journal, has an essay by Cardinal George Pell entitled “Religion, Barbarism and the Fall of the Roman Empire”. Here’s the opening:

Evelyn Waugh’s novel Helena tells the story of the mother of Constantine, the first Christian emperor in Rome, who granted religious toleration to the Christian minority (10 per cent?) in 313 AD.

The remainder of the article is behind a paywall but presumably makes additional references to Waugh’s novel. The article may, indeed, be related to the subject of this year’s Thomas More lecture that Cardinal Pell will deliver at the Newman Society in Oxford on 13 November. This is discussed in the current issue of the Catholic Herald in an article entitled “The Ordeal of Cardinal Pell”. The article is written by William Cash who notes that Cardinal Pell is in England to deliver the lecture. The article also explains that the Cardinal was recently unlawfully imprisoned in his Australian homeland for 400 days only to be released by a unanimous acquittal order of the Supreme Court:

In prison, he watched England play Australia at cricket along with reading the Bible and Thomas More. He was also sustained by reading books including The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold by Evelyn Waugh. He also enjoyed watching Songs of Praise on television. He was unable to celebrate Mass for all of his 400-plus days, with the closest he came to traditional carols at Christmas being a Vietnamese choir that had gathered outside the prison walls on Christmas Day – but alas, he didn’t hear them.

After reporting about the Cardinal’s experiences during his imprisonment, Cash continues:

… the major theme of his Newman lecture [will be] the decline and fall of faith. Matthew Arnold’s only book that remains in print is Culture and Anarchy (1869), and Pell seizes on this theme in his lecture. He uses Waugh’s reason for converting in 1930 – faced with a choice between “Christianity or chaos”, he chooses the former as society disintegrates.

Pell used to prefer Graham Greene to Waugh but has changed his mind and was pleased that he was to be shown around the Wallace Collection by a member of the Waugh family.

The title of the lecture is “The Suffering Church in a Post-Christian Society” which sounds a bit broader than the topic of the Quadrant article. Tickets for the lecture are sold out but further information is available at this link.

–Finally, a familiar Waugh quote has recently made the rounds of the American papers. This may have originated in a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on 18 November:

The Republican Party of Wyoming has formally banished Rep. Liz Cheney from its ranks. This decision calls to mind Evelyn Waugh’s remark when told that Winston Churchill’s son, a politician and journalist, had undergone surgery for a benign tumor: “A typical triumph of modern science to find the only part of Randolph that was not malignant and remove it.” Saying she is not a Republican is like saying Kim is not a Kardashian.


Posted in Brideshead Revisited, Catholicism, Decline and Fall, Helena, Lectures, Newspapers, Oxford, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brideshead and Beatles

A feature length article about the making of the 1981  Brideshead Revisited TV series appears in the Sunday Post (Dundee). This is by John Macleod and is entitled “Brideshead Recelebrated”. It is, indeed, another celebration of that event’s 40th anniversary. After a discussion of the generally low cultural level of British network TV in the 1970s and how Granada stole the march on BBC over the Brideshead adaptation, the article addresses the extraordinary production problems that had to be overcome:

The show was going to be expensive to make and, in an era dominated by coarse, gritty, contemporary urban drama, would the public really want this fey period-piece? Michael Lindsay-Hogg has never forgotten the day, in the high summer of 1978, when Derek Granger asked him round for a drink. “Look,” he said, “Evelyn Waugh. Brideshead Revisited. Have you ever read it?…well, the thing is, Granada’s going to do it for television. I’m producing. Do you want to direct it?”

There followed eight months of casting, costuming, and wrestling with a central problem – a script commissioned at no small cost from John Mortimer.It was, they feared, too flip, too thin and, bravely, they binned it. Granger and his team returned to the novel, mining it wholesale – 95% of all the dialogue in the drama is by Evelyn Waugh. Yet Mortimer kept the fee, the screen-credit, and was even nominated for an Emmy.

Then, in August 1979, Jeremy Irons – who, as Charles Ryder, appears in almost every scene – was whipped away to make The French Lieutenant’s Woman, even as technical unions went on strike and effectively shut down ITV till the end of October. Granger’s shooting schedule, with all principal photography to be in the can by New Year 1980, was blown apart.Worse, Lindsay-Hogg – who, as the director of Beatles documentary Let It Be can be seen in Peter Jackson’s revelatory Fab Four series Get Back – was contracted to direct a film in the spring of 1980. There was no way out of it and, gutted, he had to walk away from Brideshead. To widespread alarm, the mantle fell on Charles Sturridge. He was tireless, charming and had most original ideas – but the new director was only 28 and had never shot anything more demanding than a few episodes of Crown Court and Coronation Street.

“My God, it’s a schoolboy,” gasped Nickolas Grace, who plays the affected and stuttering Anthony Blanche.

“Don’t worry,” Jeremy Irons assured Phoebe Nicholls, cast as Cordelia. “If he’s not what he’s cracked up to be, we’ll just get rid of him.”

“The actors thought I was part of an insurance scam,” Sturridge later, ruefully remarked, “and my inexperience would cause the production to fall through.”

But he won their confidence – and, as for Phoebe Nicholls, in 1985 she married him. Their son, Tom Sturridge, is a noted actor. As it turned out, there was blessing in this hiatus. For one, Granger finally convinced Granada chief executive David Plowright that six hours of screen time could never do justice to the novel. His boss took the gamble: the drama was extended to 12 hours and with a budget to match…

The article continues with descriptions of the story and how it was adapted. This is followed by a detailed discussion of the critical reception of the production in both the British and American markets and concludes with this:

…Brideshead Revisited, Michael Lindsay-Hogg concludes, is “concerned not with costumed nostalgia or cliff-hangers or audience-grabbing surprises but with how life changes, how the dreams of youth alter and, in time, become a sterner reality.”

Charles Sturridge looks back gratefully. “The combination of Granada’s stubbornness, Derek’s confidence, a brilliant cast and my own unlikely mix of innocence and experience allowed something rarer. We got to make exactly what we thought.”

But, really, “what distinguishes Brideshead is its sensitive ability to translate the novel’s tone of wistfulness and regret to the screen,” concluded Time Magazine. “Brideshead took a novel and made it into a poem.”

The Sunday Post article has been posted on and can be viewed at this link.

Lindsay-Hogg is also interviewed by Casey Seiler in a recent issue of the Times-Union newspaper in Albany, NY. He now lives just south of Albany in Hudson, NY. That interview relates more to his earlier involvement with the 1969 Beatle’s film Let It Be which is mentioned in the Sunday Post article. That production was also plagued by problems not directly related to the actual making of the film itself:

Lindsay-Hogg’s documentary ended up a victim of the ex-Beatles’ mixed feelings about the project, which captured the escalating tensions within the band — including but not limited to guitarist George Harrison’s efforts to stake out a larger role as a songwriter. At one point, Harrison quietly quits the band for several weeks, and then returns. The project was also complicated by financial disputes within Apple Corps Ltd., the Beatles’ company, as Paul McCartney began to lose confidence in the leadership of the band’s imposing new manager Allen Klein.

“So we have a movie which was shot before they broke up, and then was put on the shelf for a while for a lot of internal reasons,” said Lindsay-Hogg, who began directing the Beatles’ video clips with “Paperback Writer” in 1966. “And then it’s released when they’re broken up — and everyone thinks, ‘Oh, it’s the breakup movie. This is what we’ve been having nightmares about for such a long time: Mommy and Daddy are broken up.’ And so it was regarded as this kind of slightly soiled remnant of what had been a glorious four or five years when the Beatles had taken over the world.”

The “Let It Be” film was ultimately pulled from release, and in recent decades has circulated primarily in bootlegs and ancient VHS tapes. “It was slightly put under the carpet by Apple,” Lindsay-Hogg said.

The Let It Be filming forms much of the story in the Peter Jackson streaming series Get Back now appearing on the Disney+ channel. Lindsay-Hogg also explains his involvement in that production in the Times-Union article.

Posted in Adaptations, Anniversaries, Brideshead Revisited, Interviews, Newspapers, Television | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Septimus Waugh: Reminiscence

The Tablet’s latest issue has a reminiscence of the late Septimus Waugh. This appears in the “Word from the Cloister” column and is based on an interview of Jimmy Burns, journalist and member of The Tablet’s board. He was a friend of Septimus, and his father Tom Burns was a friend of Evelyn Waugh as well as (for a brief period) his publisher. The column is appropriately headed “Fathers and sons”. As explained in the article, Tom Burns:

was the driving force behind Waugh’s biography of Edmund Campion, published in 1936. When the Spanish Civil War broke out later that year, “My father and Waugh both supported Franco,” Jimmy says. “Waugh’s sister-in-law Gabriel Herbert, one of my father’s girlfriends prior to his marriage, drove an ambulance and raised funds for the nationalist cause.”

Tom Burns worked for Longmans, Green, which also published Waugh in Abyssinia. Waugh blamed Burns for the punnish title of that book which he himself disliked. As the article explains, both Burns and Waugh applied to work for the MoI at the beginning of WWII. Waugh was rejected and went into the army while Burns was accepted and sent to Spain where he met the woman who was to become his wife and Jimmy’s mother. Jimmy notes that relations became rather frayed after this marriage:

“Of my father’s young Castilian bride, Waugh wrote in his diary in February 1946: ‘swarthy, squat, Japanese appearance’. My mother, hardly surprisingly, thought Waugh was racist, a snob, and a misogynist, a sentiment that was compounded when Waugh, invited shortly after to dinner at my parents’ house, complained about the smell of garlic coming from the kitchen and made fun of the young Spanish maid who served at the table.”

The article goes on to compare Jimmy’s recollections of his own less fraught friendship with Waugh’s youngest son. This sometimes involved shared holidays, including one in Spain as recently as 2019 that Jimmy fondly recalls:

“Over a magnificent paella we recalled Evelyn’s connection with Spain long before we were born.” Waugh visited Catalonia for the first time in 1929 during a stopover on his Mediterranean cruise trip before the breakdown of his first marriage. He was impressed by the various examples of Gaudí’s works, not least the Sagrada Familia. “It seems certain to me that it will always remain a ruin, and very dangerous, unless the towers are removed before they fall,” Waugh wrote. As the sun went down, Septimus and Jimmy shared memories of their fathers, “aware of how much we owed them but also of what differentiated us from them,” as Jimmy tactfully puts it.

After mentioning several of Septimus’s better known wooden carvings, the article concludes:

“I will miss dear Sepo hugely,” Jimmy tells us. “Que en Paz Descanses, querido amigo!”


Posted in Bibliophilia, Diaries, Edmund Campion, Interviews, Newspapers, Waugh Family, Waugh in Abyssinia | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Roundup: From Party Going to Boredom

–A recent issue of Financial Times contains a “Weekend Essay” on the return of the party, to London and New York at least. This is by Alex Bilmes who is editor of Esquire. After reminiscing about how party going shut down during the Covid pandemic, Bilmes notes how things began to change in September:

If socialising and entertaining hasn’t quite returned to pre-pandemic levels, then certainly we have come a long way in a short period. In the past month I’ve been to restaurants, and concerts, and the ballet, and the theatre, and the cinema, and the pub, and other people’s houses. And parties, I have been to parties. Book parties, launch parties, dinner parties, leaving parties, birthday parties, office parties, after-parties, after-after-parties.

A gradual build up in party going during September-October is then described, and the article concludes with this:

“Masked parties, Savage parties, Victorian parties, Greek parties, Wild West parties, Russian parties, Circus parties, parties where one had to dress as somebody else, almost naked parties in St John’s Wood, parties in flats and studios and houses and ships and hotels and night clubs, in windmills and swimming-baths, tea parties at school where one ate muffins and meringues and tinned crab, parties at Oxford where one drank brown sherry and smoked Turkish cigarettes, dull dances in London and comic dances in Scotland and disgusting dances in Paris . . . ”

That, as every well-read reveller surely knows, is Evelyn Waugh, from Vile Bodies, his effervescent satire on the Bright Young Things, those libertines of the 1920s. Our present decade, you will remember if you search your dimmest and most distant memories, was heralded, a scant two years ago, as a likely rerun of the Roaring Twenties. Like latter-day Daisies and Jays, we were all set to dance ourselves silly, high on fizz. So far, it hasn’t worked out that way. But there is time. Most decades don’t really get going, don’t become fully themselves, until they are well under way. As I prepared to press “send” on this story, my phone buzzed with a WhatsApp from my friend Laura. It was a photo of her as a child beneath the sentence: “Join me for my belated 50th (Plus One Year).” Then, the details: a famous Soho nightspot, next Friday, from 6pm until whenever. I replied succinctly: “Bring it on.”

–Craig Brown in the Mail on Sunday reviews a new book by historian Jane Ridley, George V: Never a Dull Moment. The review opens with this:

Who could have imagined a biography of King George V would share its name with an album by Rod Stewart?

Of course, the title is a bit of a tease. For years, the Queen’s grandfather has been regarded as deadly dull. Even his official biographer, Harold Nicolson, privately considered him ‘a stupid old bore’.

Tommy Lascelles, latterly the King’s assistant private secretary, agreed that ‘He WAS dull, beyond dispute…’ before adding, in a phrase that gives this book its title, ‘but my God, his REIGN (politically and internationally) never had a dull moment’.

I suppose you could argue that George V carried his dullness to such a peak that it became interesting.[…]

Evelyn Waugh once observed that the presence of Royalty was ‘as heavy as thunder in the drawing room’.

The quote comes from Vile Bodies, Chapter Eight.

–A Daily Mail weblog ( has posted a story by Liz Jones entitled “It’s true you can laugh a woman into bed – so give me a call, Ricky Gervais!” See link. After considering how many men she knows who are funny enough to be seductive, she concludes:

There aren’t even many funny male writers. Clever – William Boyd, Evelyn Waugh – but not self-deprecating and tragic and therefore truly funny. Jack Lemmon is an exception, both handsome and funny. I would force him to make me spaghetti using a tennis racket (The Apartment) and repeat, ‘And bring your yacht!’ (Some Like It Hot) over and over again.

Real humour comes out of pathos, of being able to admit you are ridiculous, a failure, depressed (Tony Hancock, Leonard Rossiter et al.) and not conventionally sexy at all. And not many men are brave enough to want to do that.

The Spectator has posted its “Books of the Year” from the December Spectator World edition. Madeleine Kearns (who is a staff writer at the National Review) has chosen as one of her three selections Waugh’s Edmund Campion: A Life. She explains that the book “is as gripping and eloquent as any of his novels–good enough even to inspire a fondness for Jesuits.” I couldn’t find that selection in the UK version of the magazine, and Kearns has cited a US edition from Ignatius Press that is probably not available in the UK. The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh edition from OUP is eagerly awaited.

–The National Catholic Register has posted a brief article on Waugh’s final wishes. This was, according to the article: “I should like people in their charity to pray for my soul as a sinner.” After a brief discussion of the circumstances of Waugh’s death, the article addresses the most frequent sin of which Waugh would likely have been guilty: sloth (sometimes referred to, according to the article, as acedia or ennui, which is usually, in my experience, rendered into English as boredom):

Call it a weariness with life, or just plain boredom. In Work Suspended, Waugh’s only unfinished novel, the narrator of the story says of another character that he was “still smarting with the ruthless boredom of my last two or three meetings with him.” Ruthless boredom. Now there’s a combination of words which only a serious sufferer of the malaise could put together.

I am confident that if one searched diligently there would be other sins that might be addressed but perhaps it is fair to say that this is the one that would have been most prevalent.

Posted in Biographies, Edmund Campion, Newspapers, Vile Bodies, Work Suspended | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

John Saumarez Smith (1943-2021) R.I.P.

John Saumarez Smith who was widely considered as the last of London’s “gentleman booksellers” has died at the age of 78. He was the son of an Indian Civil Service family and graduate of Winchester and Trinity College, Cambridge. After university, he joined the Heywood Hill Bookstore in Mayfair. Waugh had become a loyal customer when Nancy Mitford worked there during the war. He continued to trade there under the management of Heywood Hill’s successor, Handasyde Buchanan, who was a fairly frequent correspondent. According to The Times obituary:

The core group of original customers after it opened in 1936 were associates and admirers of writers such as Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell and Graham Greene, assisted by Nancy Mitford who worked in the shop during the Second World War. Waugh reminisced that Heywood Hill was “a centre for all that was left of fashionable and intellectual London”.

It certainly appealed to literary aristocrats and spies, especially as Trumper’s, the smartest London barbers, were next door, as was Leconfield House, then the headquarters of MI5. David Cornwell, aka John le Carré, was a customer and was browsing in the shop one day when someone came in who he wanted to avoid. Saumarez Smith helped him flee, sending him into the basement and then leading him up into the private courtyard at the rear. Le Carré recreated this scene in the BBC TV version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, with George Smiley doing the escape through the Mayfair bookshop. […]

The atmosphere in the shop was poisonous between Handasyde Buchanan and Heywood Hill, to say the least, and is described in lapidary detail in two volumes edited by Saumarez Smith, The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street and A Spy in the Bookshop. Problems arose because Buchanan, who took over after Hill retired, resented Saumarez Smith’s superior Wykehamist manner. “The trouble is,” he bluntly told Saumarez Smith in 1969, “and you probably don’t realise this yourself, that you correct us all as if you were a headmaster, that your tone of voice becomes almost canonical.”

The Daily Telegraph obit offers a bit more detail about the relationship among Buchanan, Hill and Saumarez Smith:

… Buchanan turned out to be a pompous and patronising figure, whom Evelyn Waugh once described as possessing all “the concealed malice of the underdog”. Before long he and the even more malicious Mollie [his wife who also worked at the store] had succeeded in alienating both staff and customers. Hill retired in 1966 and retreated to Suffolk rather than endure the couple any longer.

His main contact thereafter was his young “spy in the bookshop”, Saumarez Smith (to whom, much to the Buchanans’ resentment, Hill was vaguely related by marriage). The Buchanans did all they could to make Saumarez Smith‘s life a misery. Yet he determined to stick it out, letting off steam by sending front-line dispatches to Hill.

Saumarez Smith was director of the bookstore from Buchanan’s retirement in 1974 until his own retirement in 2008. After that, he sold books from catalogues produced at Maggs Bros and later John Sandoe until mobility issues caused him to move to the Charterhouse Infirmary in 2018.

Posted in Bibliophilia, Newspapers | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment