Juneteenth Roundup

–A recent article in the Times newspaper criticizes plans for reopening some schools after lockdown with what it sees as a confusing “blend” of in-school live and at-home online teaching. Alex Massie opens the article with a quote from Evelyn Waugh:

Sent down from Oxford for an unfortunate episode of indecent behaviour, Paul Pennyfeather, the protagonist in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall, discovers that his employment prospects are on the bleak side of disappointing. Teaching appears to be all that is available to him. At interview, he discovers that schools are classed into four grades: “Leading School, First-rate School, Good School and School” and “Frankly, School is pretty bad”.

To which we may now add a further category: “Blended School” and note, with still greater remorse, that frankly Blended School is pretty much certain to be worse than “School”. This, however, is what Scotland’s children will have to endure when schools return for the new academic year in August…

–A Danish e-newspaper Information.dk has posted an article commemorating the 75th anniversary of Brideshead Revisited. This is written by Jakob Illeborg and entitled “Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited continues to be particularly pervasive and inhumanly English”. Here’s the introduction and opening paragraphs:

Beautifully written, thick with nostalgia, steeped in class distinction, outlawed homoeroticism and religion – and a good place to start if trying to understand Brexit. This month, the novel  ‘Brideshead Revisited’ is 75 years old.

Many Danes, born in the last five decades of the old millennium, want a relationship with Brideshead Revisited. For most people, it’s because of the iconic 1981 television series starring Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder and Anthony Andrews as the noble enfant terrible Sebastian Flyte. The series is beautifully filmed with the huge Castle Howard as the backdrop for the fictional manor Brideshead, which, as the title indicates, plays a crucial role in the novel.

Brideshead provides a historical insight into the British upstairs and downstairs tradition. As you know, the fascination of British class society continues to be great, and Brideshead is a kind of precursor to the television series Downton Abbey’s worldwide success. However, the latter is primarily a glossy narrative, while Brideshead is both more dangerous and infinitely much more complex.

The computer translation is quite high quality but the remainder of the story has been placed behind a paywall. Perhaps one of our Danish readers can provide a summary.

–Australian artist Franko Franko has posted an offer for a painting he calls “Taxed Painting”.  This was, as he describes it:

Painted on pages from the book ‘When the Going Was Good’ by Evelyn Waugh… oranges, white, cream and black with a dash of pink, blue and green… These beautiful pieces (“Bookclubs” as I call them) have a classy or subject relative vibe to them created by the subject matter of the base. They are either produced on (mostly) old vintage or destructed books (I have assembled a large collection) or vintage comics….classic, yet totally modern. Pop based, often with a with a touch of realism rather than pure Pop art styling.

A full color copy of the painting is posted on the dealers website.

–Ephraim Hardcastle in his Daily Mail gossip column included this item referring to an incident from 60 years ago:

ABOUT to go bust with debts of £20,000 in 1960, the London Library was delighted to get manuscripts from TS Eliot, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh with the Queen gifting a book on Benvenuto Cellini, the Renaissance sculptor, from Queen Victoria’s Library. The Queen Mother sent a silver wine cooler. Did the royal toper think the library was a front for a bar?

The idea was not to have the London Library deposit the manuscripts but sell them on to provide operating capital. Waugh gave them the manuscript of Scott-King’s Modern Europe which they sold at auction for £160. EM Forster sent in the manuscript of A Passage to India which sold for £6500 and TS Eliot copied out the text of The Waste Land which brought £2800. Letters, p. 545, n5.

–An article in the neo-fascist Italian language paper Il Primato Nazionale addresses the Italian Fascist government’s policy in 193o’s Abyssinia where one of its first actions was to abolish the slavery that had been practiced under the regime of Hailie Selassie. The article by Eugenio Palazzini quotes Evelyn Waugh’s book Waugh in Abyssinia as a source:

Before then, as Evelyn Waugh writes in his sublime reportage Waugh In Abyssinia, “Slavery and slave raiding were universal practice; justice, when executed at all, was accompanied by torture and mutilation in a degree known nowhere else in the world; […] disease was rampant” [p. 32]. In all this, the Abyssinians, Waugh writes, “boasted of their audacity and the inferiority over all the other breeds, white, black, yellow and brown”. And instead the Italians, those “racist” bad guys, had another idea: “Treating an empire as a place that had to be fertilized, cultivated and made more beautiful, instead of a place from which things could be taken away, a place to be plundered and depopulated “.

The text above is taken from the English translation that has been published on the website news1.news. The quoted text has been retranslated into English from an Italian version except for the first quote which I tracked down to the original and substituted for the retranslation.

–Finally, the website of the literary journal Kenyon Review has posted an article by Aatif Rashid explaining how and why he came to admire Brideshead Revisited despite being a non-religious former Muslim. Here’s an extract:

As a declared atheist who’d abandoned my own religion (Islam) in my youth, I wasn’t at all taken in by this Catholic plotline. […] I didn’t want to believe that Charles would ever convert to Catholicism, because it would have been a total rebuke of my own personal journey away from Islam.

I think, though, that this tension is where the novel gets its power: in disagreeing so vehemently with Waugh’s ultimate moral message, I was having a profound emotional experience from a novel. Art had forced me to reckon with my own spiritual development, my own atheism. Even if I didn’t agree with Waugh’s ultimate Catholicism, I couldn’t help but acknowledge that the novel was brilliant. 

Posted in Auctions, Brideshead Revisited, Decline and Fall, Newspapers, Scott-King's Modern Europe, Waugh in Abyssinia, When the Going Was Good | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Peter Quennell: Reviewer and Rival

Two recent articles by Duncan McLaren have been devoted to Peter Quennell. Waugh had developed a particular dislike of Quennell (similar to that he had of other literary critics such as Alan Pryce-Jones and Edmund Wilson). The acquaintanceship between Waugh and Quennell dates back to Oxford or perhaps even before. In his first article, McLaren attributes Waugh’s aversion to Quennell’s review of his first book Rossetti in the New Statesman.  While not a hatchet job, it was decidedly lukewarm.  Quennell was more receptive to Waugh’s first novels Decline and Fall and Vile Bodies, and Waugh reciprocated with a favorable review of some essays published by Quennell.

Over time, however, Waugh’s attitude toward Quennell hardened and McLaren attributes this to jealousy rather than professional rivalry. Quennell wrote well, as Waugh recognized, but he was not jealous on that account. Rather, Quennell seemed to have just the sort of easy success with attractive women which Waugh lacked. Moreover, Quennell formed close friendships with such women friends of Waugh as Diana Cooper and Ann Fleming which Waugh resented. In addition, Waugh resented the fact that Quennell, like his close friend Cyril Connolly, had a good war without having to go through all the boredom and bad treatment meted out to Waugh by the Army which had little use for him (although it did provide considerable future material for his writing).

The first article consists of narratives by McLaren and Nancy Mitford on the relationship between the two writers and comparisons of their writings about each other. The second article, entitled “The Quennell Room”,  is an imagined dialogue between Waugh and Nancy Mitford of a display at the Castle Howard festival of Quennell’s criticism of Waugh’s works. This appeared over his years at the Daily Mail where Quennell worked as chief book reviewer between 1943 and 1955.  McLaren brings up the texts of the reviews as they are displayed on computer consoles at the imaginary exhibit. Few of these have  been reprinted or even discussed by Waugh scholars due to some extent to their having been missed by the compilers of Waugh’s bibliographies. They are on the whole favorable or even adulatory, giving rise to little call for Waugh’s resentment.

Quennell is little mentioned among literary scholars today which is odd considering the large body of work devoted to his contemporary and colleague, Cyril Connolly, to whom Quennell’s career is most obviously comparable. In addition to his position at the Daily Mail, Quennell went on to edit the Cornhill magazine and wrote several books according to McLaren. No posthumous collection of his essays or letters has ever been published. Nor has any biography or comprehensive study of his works been written. DJ Taylor recently gave him a major supporting role in his study of Connolly’s life during his years as editor at Horizon magazine. This was in the recently published Lost Girls.

Posted in Articles, Festivals, Newspapers, Rossetti: His Life and Works | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Castle Howard’s Brideshead Webinar on YouTube

The webinar produced by Castle Howard on the 75th anniversary of Brideshead Revisited’s publication (28 May 2020) has been posted on YouTube. This is entitled “Castle Howard and Brideshead: Fact, Fiction and In-Between” and is presented by Chris Ridgway, Castle Howard’s Curator. He discusses the relationship between features of the house and grounds at Castle Howard and the TV and film adaptations of the book that were both set there. See previous posts. It is well worth watching if you missed it on the day. Here’s the link. There is no charge or subscription required.

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Brideshead @ 75: The Economist and The Tablet

–The current issue of The Economist includes in its Arts section an article entitled “The Flyte club.” This is the magazine’s commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the publication of Brideshead in 1945. After a brief survey of the somewhat surprising initial reception of the book in postwar Britain, given that that it relies heavily on religion and nostalgia to convey its story, the article comes to its core subject. This is the equally surprising and perhaps even more widespread reception of the book by a later generation as a result of the 1981 Granada TV serial. Here’s an excerpt from that portion of the article:

…Waugh, who died in 1966, might have been shocked by the next stage in this zombie afterlife. Directed by Charles Sturridge and Michael Lindsay-Hogg, with a star-strewn cast including Laurence Olivier, Anthony Andrews … and Jeremy Irons …, an 11-hour television adaptation of his novel began to air in Britain in October 1981. This lavish feast of nostalgia set off a national cult. Students and others mimicked the languid extravagance of doomed, drunken Sebastian, toting his teddy bear at Oxford, and his spoiled pals.

Smokestack industries were dying under Margaret Thatcher’s government; unemployment soared and inner cities rioted. But in many living rooms, the aristocracy was back in vogue. The fairy-tale nuptials of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer fed the mood. “We have really touched a nerve,” said Derek Granger, the producer of the series. […]

In Britain hardly any members of this new Flyte club actually belonged to the sparse upper classes. They came from the bourgeois middle and, after some play-acting at university, went back to it. For most, Brideshead mania left no lasting trace. For a fateful few, it did.

Here the article goes on to discuss the Brideshead impact on politicians such as Boris Johnson and David Cameron who came under the spell of the TV series while cavorting in the Bullingdon Club at Oxford, satirized in an earlier Waugh volume.

–Gerard Kilroy writing in The Tablet takes the opportunity presented by its 75th anniversary to survey the religious themes of the book. He provides an excellent and compact summary of the major religious features as well as some that have tended to be overlooked by other commentators. The article is recommended to those looking for an accurate, dispassionate and  coherent discussion of these religious matters. And even those who regard the religious portions of the novel as tedious and tendentious will find much to like in Gerard Kilroy’s concise coverage. Here’s an excerpt from the ending:

Despite all the criticism it has received for what Edmund Wilson called its “cult of the high nobility”, it grants the respectable Bridey, a leading Knight of Malta, only a refracted account of an audience with the Pope. Centre stage, Waugh invites the reader to a feast of admiration for the “grace of God” and its operation on Lord Marchmain, Sebastian, Julia, Cara and Charles. They, and Brideshead, are worth a fatted calf or two on the novel’s seventy-fifth birthday. (Perhaps now, more than ever, when hope is in short supply, may be the time to show again the television adaptation in 1981 by the Jesuit-educated Charles Sturridge, making “our inward vision clear”). […]

Brideshead Revisited is an assertion of hope in time of dreadful darkness, of the eschatological triumph of divine grace in a very human Church. The Preface he wrote in April 1946 for the US edition of Edmund Campion, reissued to surf on the success in America of Brideshead, makes clear Waugh’s horror at the “prison camps of Eastern and South Eastern Europe, of cruelty and degradation more frightful than anything in Tudor England”. It is a sense of the seriousness and scale of the evil which they faced that lies behind the image of “the same pure light shining in the darkness, uncomprehended”.

Gerard Kilroy is also, I believe, a co-editor of the Edmund Campion volume of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh.




Posted in Adaptations, Anniversaries, Brideshead Revisited, Complete Works, Edmund Campion, Newspapers, Television | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Roundup: Protests and Summer

–The “Rhodes Must Fall” debate has been revived in Oxford in the context of the Black Lives Matter protests. See previous post. In the Daily Mail, a comment on the matter by Evelyn Waugh is brought to bear:

Oxford will have an easier time finding that coronavirus vaccine than solving this conundrum. So much easier, of course, to fixate on a statue. Cecil Rhodes never saw this stone effigy of himself. It was put up several years after his death by a college thrilled to receive £100,000 of his fortune upon his death in 1902. It’s not a terribly good statue. Rhodes looks like a bank manager on his second-storey alcove, lording it over the two mere King-Emperors standing below – Edward VII and George V.

They all stand on the North Wall of the Rhodes Building, a mock-Jacobean complex built between 1909 and 1911. The ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ lot were by no means the first to seek the dismantling of this unashamedly imperialist façade. Back in 1930, one of Oxford’s most famous literary sons, Evelyn Waugh, wrote: ‘A very small amount of dynamite should be enough to rid us forever of the High Street front of Oriel.’

The quote comes from a satirical comment of Waugh relating to a proposal for preserving Oxford’s “Amenities”. He had jokingly suggested that “judicious destruction” would be preferable to wholesale preservation as a means of improving Oxford. In this regard he by no means singled out the High Street front of Oriel for destruction but included such other sites as “the clock tower at Carfax, the Town Hall […] the Holywell Front of New College and the whole of Hertford.” He also proposed to eliminate through traffic by destroying Folly and Magdalen Bridges but included this reservation: “Magdalen Bridge is a pretty structure and its total destruction is unnecessary; one arch would be enough.” (Letters, p. 49)

–In the Wall Street Journal,  Terry Teachout recommends series novels as an ideal selection for reading in today’s circumstances. The article is entitled “The Staying Inside Guide: Traveling the World Through a Novel–or 20” He recognizes the contribution of the French roman fleuve as written by Proust and Balzac but also sees an English multi-volume tradition dating back to Trollope’s Barchester and Palisser novels. He singles out three contemporary versions of the genre, starting with Patrick O’Brien’s Master and Commander (this is the 20-volume example referred to in Teachout’s title), continuing with Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time (a favorite of Waugh, as Teachout points out), and ending with Waugh’s own Sword of Honour. He recommends the final version as edited by Waugh and published in 1965. He writes that the books:

…are permeated with [Waugh’s] deep-dyed disillusion—he believed that the England of his idealistic youth had been destroyed by the war. Yet their dark account of the coming of modernity is nonetheless full of characteristically riotous touches of satire

Although Teachout suggests that Waugh’s edits were substantial, they do not materially change the story (except perhaps for the ending). Anyone with access to the three individual volumes should be content with reading them.

–The National Review has posted a brief article addressing the decision of HBO to first drop and then, instead, to attach a disclaimer on streamings of Gone With the Wind. The NR thinks both moves to be wrong

We don’t need a disclaimer on Gone with the Wind any more than we need them Mark Twain’s books or movies based on Kipling’s stories. I run across anti-Semitic stereotypes in literature all the time. I don’t need you to repudiate Shakespeare’s or Dickens’ portrayal of Jews, because I get it. I don’t need you to cancel Roald Dahl or Evelyn Waugheven if they occasionally trafficked in bigotry. They’re both dead. Their work isn’t. They were geniuses. We’re adults.

Prospect magazine has gathered quotes written by writers from George Orwell and Virginia Woolf to Evelyn Waugh and Barabara Pym expressing their reactions to a hot summer such as that which seems to be developing in England this year. Here is Waugh’s contribution:

On 12th July [1955], Evelyn Waugh observes in his diary from Piers Court, Gloucestershire: “High summer continues. I shall not go to London until it breaks. This is a pleasant house in the heat. For the first time since I planted it the honeysuckle outside my bedroom window scents the room at night. I don’t sleep naturally. I have tried everything—exercise, cold baths, fasting, feasting, solitude, society. Always I have to take paraldehyde and sodium amytal. My life is really too empty for a diarist.”

The chemical cocktail he mentions for sleeping in the heat was later to bring on the breakdown he describes in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold.

–RTV Slovenia has posted the transcript of a broadcast review by Misha Gams of the recent translation of Scoop into Slovenian. See previous posts. The 5-minute review began with a fairly detailed and accurate description of Waugh’s plot and several of the characters and concluded with this:

The novel Ekskluziva [Scoop] is marked by ironic monologues and witty dialogues, with which the writer Evelyn Waugh shows the whole emotional range of the journalistic profession, taking on new dimensions in the uncertain war situation. At the same time, he points out how slippery and manipulated the truth can be when it comes to the reckoning of major political forces and the desire to maintain a monopoly in the field of media. Waugh without a hair on his tongue confirms that truth is a construct created as a result of invested financial resources of interest groups who want to present war from the perspective of geostrategic imperialism, not from the perspective of the poorest citizens who pay the highest price in conflict.

Posted in Letters, Newspapers, Radio Programs, Scoop, Sword of Honour, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Brideshead @ 75: National Review and Diario de Noticias

The National Review has posted an article commemorating the 75th anniversary of Brideshead Revisited. The article is by NR columnist Madeleine Kearns and is subtitled “The best 20th-century novel on time and grace.” It opens with this:

Between December 1943 and June 1944, English author Evelyn Waugh took unpaid leave from the army to finish his novel Brideshead Revisited, now considered by many to be his greatest. The book (which Waugh first suggested calling “A Household of Faith”) has many themes — Catholicism, aristocracy, youth, redemption — but the author’s specific focus was, in his own words, “the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters.” Today Waugh’s religiosity, much like his traditionalist tastes, may seem niche or archaic, but his treatment of the human experience of time is — well, timeless. In an updated preface, Waugh offered Brideshead “to a younger generation of readers as a souvenir of the Second War rather than of the twenties or of the thirties, with which it ostensibly deals.” While nostalgia functions both as a theme and a narrative device in the novel, what is often overlooked is how masterfully the two themes, nostalgia and grace, are interwoven.

What follows is not the usual plot summary but an interesting discussion of Waugh’s use of a first-person narrator, George Orwell’s criticism of that and other elements of the book and an interpretation of the fountain scene with Julia as self-parody. The article concludes:

In 2003 essay for The Atlantic, Christopher Hitchens agreed with Orwell that there was something adolescent about Waugh’s worldview, although “Waugh was not a mere propagandist, and we would not still be reading him if he had been.” He’s right about that. Readers are free to reject Waugh’s religious interpretation, just as the novel’s characters are (though ultimately they don’t). The accusation of childishness is nevertheless correct. A child is simultaneously fully present in his time and yet capable of fully leaving it through imagination. Being truly present — free from regret, change, loss, and shame — are all things lost with experience and retrieved through grace.

–The Portuguese paper Diario de Noticias has published the fourth and apparently final installment in a series of articles about the connections between Brideshead Revisited and Waugh’s friendship with the Lygon family. These are entitled Uma educação sentimental and are written by António Araújo. See previous posts. This one addresses Mary Lygon’s unhappy marriage to a Russian prince and her subsequent decline into alcoholism. It begins by describing the circumstances of the marriage and Waugh’s troubled relationship with the couple, including his short-lived and unsuccessful attempt  to share an apartment with them in London. The article also mentions Waugh’s hatred of Prince Vsevelod, including a claim that he once told Mary that Vsevelod was spying for the enemy. There should have been some mention in mitigation that Waugh and Vsevelod were able to cooperate in Waugh’s 1947 book Wine in Peace and War that was dedicated to Vsevelod who was an employee of the sponsors. After that, the relationship between the couple and Waugh as well as Mary Lygon’s marriage went ever more precipitously downhill, ending in a divorce and her impoverishment in the 1950s. The article notes that friendly relations between Waugh and Mary herself were never seriously threatened and contains this in its concluding section:

Maimie was interviewed when the the Granada TV series of Brideshead Revisited was broadcast. At the time, at 71, she lived in a small house in a London suburb, where the television broadcast shows the chaotic and dirty housekeeping arrangements, and Maimie continuously serving vodka sweets, even though it is mid-afternoon. Mary “Maimie” Lygon died of cancer in September 1982.

The article also mentions Waugh’s attitude toward Portugal and religion in an earlier section:

…in 1952, Waugh traveled to Goa, which fascinated him by the European presence and the mark of the Christian faith (as is evident, not only in that did he not question the Portuguese colonial rule but also that he proved to be a supporter and admirer of Salazar).

The article is accessible on the newspaper’s website linked above. If it asks for access code and password, try again later. The translation by Google is better than average, aside from the usual Iberian gender confusion with pronouns. The quotes  above have been edited somewhat.

Posted in Anniversaries, Brideshead Revisited, Newspapers, Wine in Peace and War | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

ILP Acquires Rights to Waugh Works

Publishing industry journals have announced that a new firm has acquired the right to license the copyrighted works of Evelyn Waugh.  These have been managed for many years by the successors to the A D Peters firm. Here’s an excerpt from the story in Variety magazine:

Recently formed rights business International Literary Properties (ILP) has acquired the literary estates of 12 writers, including Evelyn Waugh and Georges Simenon, from U.K. agency Peters, Fraser + Dunlop.

The eight-figure multi-estates deal sees London and New York-based ILP acquire the rights for the literary estates of writers Georges Simenon, Eric Ambler, Margery Allingham, Edmund Crispin, Dennis Wheatley, Robert Bolt, Richard Hull, George Bellairs, Nicolas Freeling, John Creasey, Michael Innes and Evelyn Waugh.

Their works spans books including Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited,” Simenon’s Inspector Maigret novels, and Wheatley’s thrillers such as “The Devil Rides Out,” and Creasey’s “The Battle for Inspector West.” […]

Peters, Fraser + Dunlop will continue to act as literary agent for the twelve estates.

ILP launched last year to acquire the rights and manage IP from literary estates, as well as from living authors, with an eye on exploiting the rights across platforms including film, TV and theater.

In the case of Waugh’s literary estate, the PF+D firm will apparently not be acting as literary agents. That function was transferred in 2008 to the Andrew Wylie Agency according to a story in The Bookseller. See this link.

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Roundup: Riots and Pestilence

–Conservative essayist and editor Roger Kimball writing in the journal The Epoch Times (describing itself as “non-partisan” but otherwise characterized elsewhere) addresses the controversial subject of political protests and street riots in the USA. The article is entitled “Those Burning Our Cities Aim at Destroying Our Civilization.” Without attempting to summarize his position (which will come as no surprise to those familiar with his work), here is an excerpt from his conclusion which contains a reference to Evelyn Waugh:

Writing in the dark days of 1939, Evelyn Waugh noted that “barbarism is never finally defeated: given propitious circumstances, men and women who seem quite orderly will commit every conceivable atrocity.” […] Waugh was right. “The more elaborate the society, the more vulnerable it is to attack, and the more complete its collapse in case of defeat.”

We got a taste of that vulnerability when we indulged in a strange cult-like exercise of society-wide self-asphixiation over a novel respiratory bug. Now we seem bent on trying self-immolation instead. “At a time like the present,” Waugh warned, society is “notably precarious. If it falls we shall see not merely the dissolution of a few joint stock companies, but of the spiritual and material achievements of our history.” […]

The quotes are from the concluding paragraph of Waugh’s book Robbery Under Law: The Mexican Object Lesson. It was one his few ventures into written political commentary, and the book was the only prewar volume which was never reprinted in whole or in part during his lifetime.

–The Portuguese newspaper Diario de Noticias has published the third installment of its series of articles on Evelyn Waugh entitled  “Uma educacao sentimental“. These are written by Antonio Araujo. See previous post. Unfortunately this one is behind some kind of access wall on my laptop. Although it will open on my iPhone, I cannot translate it from there. This episode appears to deal with Brideshead Revisited and the characters as they relate to the Lygon family but that is only an uneducated guess. If any of our readers can open the article and translate it, they are invited to describe its content by commenting below.

–Georgetown University Library in Washington, DC has mounted an online exhibition relating to a history of performances in the university auditorium known as Gaston Hall. This was the site of Evelyn Waugh’s lecture in 1949. Georgetown was the only venue where the original lecture on 10 February was so overbooked that the sponsor scheduled a second performance on 13 February. A ticket to the first night reads as follows:

The Graduate School of Georgetown University / presents  / Evelyn Waugh / The Distinguished British Novelist / Who Will Lecture on / “Three Convert Writers: Chesterton, Knox and Graham Greene” / on Thursday, February 10 at 8:00 PM / in Gaston Hall, Georgetown University / 27th and O Streets, NW / Washington, DC / Reserved Section $2.40 (Tax Included)

–Yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph has a story about a projected biography by literary critic John Sutherland. The subject is Monica Jones, one of Philip Larkin’s girl friends, and it will be based, at least in part, on a collection of over 2,000 previously unpublished letters from her to Larkin. Rupert Christiansen writes about the value and danger in biographical reliance on personal letters. Evelyn Waugh enters into the subject at one point:

Letters can indeed be as rich in artifice as novels or poems: they adopt the narrow perspective of being directed at one person, someone to whom the writer has a specific relationship, someone to whom one shows a particular side of oneself, someone who knows and responds to certain aspects of one’s personality and not others. […]  But they are also less considered and more contingent – vessels for unguarded opinions that we may not precisely mean or believe tomorrow.

Evelyn Waugh once advised his daughter: “When you write a letter, try to put yourself in imagination into the presence of the person you are writing to.” Larkin manages this to a rare degree, which is what makes his correspondence so compelling. He is not there so much as the self that his correspondent requires or desires.

The Spectator recently posted an article by Flora Watkins entitled “Bookish Cakes: From Proust to Pym”. After considering the madeleine and several other examples, including seed cake, angel cake and gingerbread she comes to the primary English example of the cake genre:

Another lost cake, now found only in literature — but remembered fondly by the schoolboys and girls of the 1940s and 50s, for whom it was a tuck box staple — is Fuller’s Walnut. It appears in some of my favourite books, by Nancy Mitford, Evelyn Waugh and Barbara Pym; the comfort reads I’ve been turning to of late.

‘Oh Mrs Heathery, you angel on earth, not Fuller’s walnut?’ exclaim the Radlett children in Love in a Cold Climate. In Brideshead Revisited, Charles Ryder’s cousin Jasper dispenses volumes of preposterous advice over a very good tea of ‘honey-buns, anchovy toast and Fuller’s walnut cake’. It pops up again in Barbara Pym’s Crampton Hodnet, published posthumously in 1985, but written during the war, during an illicit liaison between an academic and his student in Fuller’s Oxford teashop. […]

Unlike Proust, ‘the vicissitudes of life’ did not become ‘indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory’. But I’d found the English equivalent to his madeleine.




Posted in Academia, Brideshead Revisited, Events, Newspapers, Robbery Under Law | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Brideshead @ 75: Tablet, Quadrant, Penguin

More commemorations of the Brideshead anniversary have been posted:

–Eleanor Doughty writing in The Tablet confesses in her introduction that, despite being a dedicated Waugh fan, she has never liked this particular volume. She surveys other literary journalists and scholars, most of whom find reasons for liking the book or finding it of some literary interest. Included in her survey are interviews of Barbara Cooke and Martin Stannard, co-editors of the OUP Complete Works project. Doughty then looks more closely at Waugh’s attitude toward the upper classes and his alleged snobbery as reflected in the book. She concludes her article with this:

Brideshead needn’t be just a book about Catholicism, the country house, or the aristocracy. It can be all of these. It can be good, and it can be bad. It is now 75, and for me, it is still not as funny as Decline and Fall. But it is not boring. It is touching. Truly, it is Orwell’s “good bad book”. “People like Waugh to be one thing,” says Dr Cooke. “Brideshead really caught the spirit of the time.” Most importantly, says [Patrick] Kidd, “it teaches the lesson that every boy needs a bear – though A.A. Milne may do that better.”

I would have to agree with her that the book is overrated and currently being overhyped (largely due to the popularity engendered by the 1981 TV adaptation, which she also mentions). But one shouldn’t allow the bad bits to overshadow the good ones. And the comic characters in Brideshead stand out against the relgiosity and snobbery which in the final analysis take up a relatively small part of the book. Those religious and social themes were important to Waugh and are likely to be so to many readers but need not necessarily be to all. Comic characters such as Anthony Blanche, Ryder’s father, Bridey, Mr Samgrass, Rex, Cousin Jasper, and even Cordelia continue to evoke laughter (often out loud) every time I read it and the book can still be read for that even if the religious and social content do not resonate. And the comedy even has its religious and social dimension. Who can take Roman Catholicism entirely seriously after reading Bridey’s and Cordelia’s versions of it? And who can be concerned about social snobbery after a few minutes on a page with Mr Samgrass or Anthony Blanche? Maybe it’s not as consistently funny as Decline and Fall but it’s close enough to warrant multiple re-readings.

–The Australian literary journal Quadrant has posted an article by Mark McGinness in which he begins with a brief discussion of how the book came to be written and published during wartime conditions. He goes on with a more detailed survey of its critical reception both in the literary and popular press, as well as among Waugh’s friends, and concludes that discussion with the assessment of American critic Edmund Wilson who, like many (including Eleanor Doughty who also cited Wilson) were put off by the book’s religious themes and snobbery:

…the New Yorker’s Edmund Wilson, a warm admirer of Waugh’s (“the only first-rate comic genius who has appeared in English since Bernard Shaw”), drew a sharp line between the early novels and Brideshead. He called it “a bitter blow”. While he thought the early chapters “felicitous, unobtrusive, exact”, the last scenes were “extravagantly absurd”. Wilson, an atheist, was especially appalled by the conversions of both Lord Marchmain as he crosses himself, and Charles Ryder falling on his knees to pray at the bedside.

“What has caused Mr. Waugh’s hero to plump on his knees isn’t the cross but Lord Marchmain’s aristocratic prestige.” Waugh’s friend, fellow novelist Henry Green, agreed, “how shocked & hurt I was when the old man crossed himself on his deathbed” and thought that “you may have overdone the semicolons a bit yet even then the regret with which the whole book is saturated, is beautifully carried out in the long structure of your sentences. The whole thing seemed deeper & wider than any book you have written.”

Wilson missed the anarchy of the early Waugh “that raised its head — boldly, outrageously, hilariously, or horribly” while the religion that is “invoked to correct it seems more like an exorcistic rite than force of regeneration.” But as Ann Pasternak Slater has written more recently it is this revelation that is the point of the novel. Wilson sadly predicted that the novel will prove to be the most successful, the only extremely successful, book that Evelyn Waugh has written…” Of course, Waugh’s response to the review of his erstwhile admirer was “I am glad we have shaken off Edmund Wilson at last.” […]

McGinness then refers to Waugh’s decision in the late fifties to edit the book in an effort to remove some of the more dated and overwritten portions. Waugh wrote in his introduction to the 1960 edition, quoted my McGinness: “Much of this book … is a panegyric preached over an empty coffin.”

The Quadrant article then concludes: That coffin may well have been empty, but in 2020, a time of angst and uncertainty when one looks for permanency and perhaps something otherworldly, there is still much in this panegyric, even for those who have heard it before, to justify revisiting.

Penguin Books, Waugh’s UK reprint publisher since the 1930s, has posted its own anniversary notice about Brideshead. Included are several examples of the Penguin covers for the novel, illustrating how they have evolved over the years since it was first published in 1951 in the boilerplate orange “tri-band” cover. This is by no means a complete reproduction of Penguin covers for the book, however. For example, Chris Ridgway in yesterday’s Castle Howard webinar showed another orange Penguin cover with a drawing of Brideshead Castle in the center that predates the 1981 TV series and is based on Waugh’s own written description. The cover drawing looks remarkably like Castle Howard, even though Waugh himself never identified that as a model. There were also probably TV and movie tie-in editions and I can recall some recent post-2000 editions with particularly dreary and unimaginative covers which are, perhaps thankfully, excluded.

Posted in Anniversaries, Bibliophilia, Brideshead Revisited, Decline and Fall, Newspapers | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Brideshead @ 75: Castle Howard, The Spectator, BBC

Today is the 75th anniversary of the first book publication of Brideshead Revisited. Chapman & Hall and the Book Society jointly issued the book in London on 28 May 1945. The occasion has been marked in several recent events:

–Castle Howard this morning sponsored a “webinar” in which the connections between the book and the building were discussed. Most of these connections stem from the two adaptations of the book which were filmed at Castle Howard. The Castle Howard curator Chris Ridgway delivered an excellent talk with illustrations from both the 1981 and 2008 adaptations as to how the building and grounds were skillfully woven into the films. He also explained that connections between Waugh’s fictional Brideshead Castle and the real Castle Howard were more illusive but nevertheless worth considering.  Waugh’s only recorded visit was in 1937 and not much is known of the details of that visit. Still, Waugh has included many elements of Castle Howard in Brideshead Castle (including the dome, the fountain and the back story) as well as several hints in the book that suggest he may have had Castle Howard in mind for at least some important features of his fictional edifice.

This was a very interesting talk, both well researched and presented. The illustrations were also efficiently laid out and relevant to the theme. The webinar was well attended. I noticed more that 90 participants on the Zoom.com participant counter. The webinar will be posted on the Castle Howard website in the coming days and a link will be provided when that occurs. Meanwhile, an abbreviated transcript of Chris Ridgway’s presentation with several of the slides has been posted on the Castle Howard’s website for immediate access at this link.

The Spectator magazine has posted a podcast marking the book’s anniversary. This involved the participation of novelist Philip Hensher and Waugh’s grandson Alexander and was moderated by literary journalist Sam Leith. The topics discussed began with how Brideshead Revisited fitted into Waugh’s oeuvre, the style of his writing compared to his other works, and how the text of book evolved over the years after publication. Philip Hensher asked Alexander what version of the book would be used for the OUP Complete Works edition. Alexander, who is acting as the project’s General Editor, explained that it would be the 1945 London edition with all subsequent changes clearly annotated. The book’s religious and comic themes were also discussed at some length as were film and TV adaptations. Another topic related to how Waugh built original fictional characters using elements from real life friends and acquaintances. The podcast carries on for about 45 minutes and never lags. It can be monitored at this link.

The Evening Standard posted this entry in its Londoner’s Diary column relating to the Spectator podcast:

John Mortimer, who wrote such a poor script for the film of Brideshead Revisited that it had to be rewritten by the director and producer straight from the book, was once asked: “How did you do it?” Alexander Waugh, Evelyn’s grandson, recounts his self-effacing reply, “well you know it’s all Waugh, he’s wonderful, he’s just such a good writer”. Alexander Waugh adds to the Spectator’s podcast: “He wouldn’t quite admit that he didn’t write it at all, and yes it was all Waugh.”

–BBC Scotland has interviewed Jenny Niven who is the dircctor of the now postponed Brideshead Festival at Castle Howard originally scheduled for next month. This is carried on BBC Radio Scotland in the Monday, 25 May episode of The Afternoon Show. The first topic was how the Wuhan coronavirus lockdown has affected cultural events such as this. Niven commented on her hope that the Brideshead Festival event can be rescheduled, but with all the current uncertainty, firm rescheduling plans have not yet been possible. The presenter (who I think was Janice Forsythe) also asked Niven to discuss the history of the book and the filmings of the two adaptations that took place at Castle Howard.

You can listen to the interview on BBC iPlayer for about a month. It appears at the end of a 2 1/2 hour broadcast. Set the timer to 2:11:00 which is about where it begins. Here’s the link.

UPDATE (29 May 2020): A reference in the Evening Standard to the Spectator podcast was added.

UPDATE (30 May 2020): An abbreviated version of Dr Chris Ridgway’s webinar presentation has been posted on the Castle Howard website pending the availability of the complete webinar,

UPDATE (1 June 2020): The source referenced in the 29 May update should have been the Evening Standard, not the Evening News.The link itself was correct.




Posted in Adaptations, Alexander Waugh, Anniversaries, Brideshead Revisited, Events, Festivals, Film, Interviews, Radio Programs, Television | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment