Interviewed by a Smart-Aleck Baboon

In the American Scholar, literary critic, essayist and screenwriter Arthur Krystal has written a memoir of his experiences with Jacques Barzun, his teacher and mentor at Columbia in the 1970s and later his friend and colleague. Among the numerous literary anecdotes, he includes this one about a visit Barzun made to Evelyn Waugh in December 1951:

Barzun had his disagreements with historians and writers (Leon Edel, for one, regarding something William James wrote), but I never came across a true vilifier except for Evelyn Waugh. In the winter of 1951, Life magazine sent Barzun to interview the novelist. Afterward, Waugh decided that Barzun had scotched his deal with the magazine: “Life had sent a smart-aleck down here,” he wrote to Graham Greene, “and that has ended my profitable connexion with them” (Feb. 27, 1952). Waugh’s diary entry reiterates the sentiment: “They sent me an apostate frog called professor Smart-Aleck Baboon. He stayed here and gave me a viva in history and reported all.” Which makes me wonder if Waugh’s pen was dipped in imperceptible acid when he wrote, “Dear Professor, I enjoyed our conversation so much last night. Do come again” (Dec. 18, 1951).

Barzun apparently never wrote up his version of the interview. The meeting arranged by Life was not intended for publication in the magazine but was more in the nature of setting up another project to follow Waugh’s article on the Holy Places that they had just published. I cannot find the quoted reference to Barzun as a “Smart-Aleck Baboon” but perhaps that was edited out of the published version of the Diaries.

Waugh may be correct that Barzun discouraged any further Waugh projects for publication by Life based on his 1951 meeting. According to Waugh’s follow-up letter to Barzun, they had discussed as a possible subject the Emperor Constantine.  In his letter, Waugh proposes Thomas More as an alternative. He also offers a second choice of Ignatius Loyola as a subject if that proved more appealing  (Letters, 361-62).

Waugh later describes a reception to which he was invited to view Life’s new London offices and notes that it did not go well. There was later an exchange of correspondence in 1954-55 about an article on St Francis of Assisi, but that broke down after Waugh demanded a substantial advance (Diaries, 715, 747-50; Mr Wu and Mrs Stitch,  213-17).

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St Patrick’s Day Roundup

–RAI Radio 3 has posted a podcast relating to the new Italian translation of A Little Learning. Here is a translation of the introduction:

Let’s not expect the usual self-glorification of the middle-aged writer: Waugh takes us first to get to know his family tree full of temper and bizarre types, then moves on to sketch a vaguely hostile father and a vaguely hen mother, and finally here is the young Evelyn, unsure of his literary vocation and so malevolent towards himself as to border on self-defamation. As Mario Fortunato writes in the note that introduces the volume, “reality for Waugh is nothing but our imagination reduced to a minimum”.

I think translator Mario Fortunato may take part in the podcast. Here’s a link to the recording on RAI’s website in case you understand Italian.

–The book is reviewed by Alessandra Stoppini on SoloLibri.net. Here is an excerpt translated by Google with a few edits:

…In the winter between 1962 and ’63, at the age of sixty, Evelyn Waugh settled in Menton, in the South of France, with the intention of starting the first of the three volumes that should have composed his autobiography. But the writing did not continue, because there was the problem of having to tell real events, describe people who are still alive. The names, facts, circumstances, feelings that had to be examined and narrated were those of real life, even if in the recent past, and there was the risk of hurting the sensitivity of someone, a family member, a friend, an acquaintance. Menton’s atmosphere and indeed a considerable propensity for drinking, smoking and sleeping pills had not helped the writing, so Waugh had gone home.

In 1964, finally, the first volume of the autobiography was published, completed by Waugh in a few months.[…] If in the first part of the volume the author reconstructs a significant part of his family tree, describing his parents wisely, in the second part, instead, the fictional side so dear to the author appears. In fact, in these pages, which stop at the year 1924, the names of many real characters are changed, […] The names change, but their characters and their bizarre and over the top personalities maybe not…

JSTOR Daily has published an article entitled “Sick Party!” by Naomi Milthorpe and Eliza Murphy. The theme is described as follows: “The idea that partying can make you sick is not new. But the party as an occasion for illness or disease—as an occasion not generally in the service of public health—has specific valences in history and culture.”

After discussing parties in the works of writers such as Edgar Allan Poe and F Scott Fitzgerald, they come to those of Evelyn Waugh. Here’s an excerpt:

The parties in Evelyn Waugh’s satiric novel Vile Bodies (1930) are definitely irresponsible, but hardly pleasurable at all: as we’ve written elsewhere, they waste time, effort, money, and occasionally life. As Marius Hentea writes, Vile Bodies was one of a host of party novels published during the twenties and thirties, and follows a group of young socialites based on the historical Bright Young People of post-war London. In a letter to fellow author Henry Green, Waugh wrote that Vile Bodies “seems to shrivel up & rot internally,” hinting that the novel’s parties aren’t all frolics and fizz.

Instead, they are physically nauseating and morally depleting. In the opening chapter, a voyage across the English Channel is likened to “one’s first parties, […] being sick with other people singing.” In a later scene, a gossip columnist gate-crashes a party in a bid for the latest scoop, masking his identity with a fake beard. The mask is a symptom of the “bogus” modernity which, as the literary scholar Brooke Allen comments, Waugh skewers throughout the novel. Gaining entry is a matter of life or death: “if I miss this party,” one character, Lord Balcairn, says “I may as well put my head into a gas-oven.” When he’s thrown out for being recognized, he follows through with his plan. Instead of offering a venue for play and renewal, the party drives him to suicide.

Only slightly less grim is the novel’s most infamous party scene, in which a party is held in a tethered airship (an inherently unstable setting, with echoes of warfare that would not have been lost on Waugh’s audience). While the party’s odd venue is a novelty, the guests in attendance are “all the same faces.” As the protagonist, Adam, enters the airship, one of the first things he sees is a woman “breathing heavily; evidently she felt unwell.” […] Moving from an airship to an illegal nightclub, then to an acquaintance’s bedsit, Adam concludes his evening by listening to his host vomit next door.

The article concludes with a discussion of how the recent novel entitled Severance by Ling Ma fits into this oeuvre (if that’s what it is).

–An interview of Evelyn Waugh’s grand daughter Daisy Waugh, also a novelist, is posted on YouTube. The interviewer is another novelist, Jessica Fellowes. The interview begins with a discussion of Daisy’s family life and how it has shaped her career. This mainly involves what she learned from her father Auberon Waugh but also what it is like for a writer to live and work in the shadow of a grand father with a reputation such as that of Evelyn Waugh. The latter half of the 25 minute program becomes more of a dialogue than an interview as both writers describe how they approach the tasks of writing a book and then getting it published. Daisy’s next book is Phone for the Fish Knives, out in June in the UK, and she is at work on or has just finished another one to be called Guy Woake’s Word Diary (or something to that effect–she points out that she and her publisher do not always agree on a title). Jessica has been writing a series called The Mitford Murders, the latest of which was The Mitford Trial, published in November.

The interview is part of a series called “Tuesday Connection” produced and posted by ForumHere’s a link which was kindly provided by Dave Lull. You will be asked to subscribe to watch the entire program, but there is no charge. It is worth the effort to subscribe.

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Brideshead Festival May Not Happen

The Yorkshire Post has published a story by David Behrens in which it reports that the festival scheduled last year to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Brideshead Revisited’s publication may never happen. This is largely based on an interview with the festival’s brainchild Victoria Barnsley. It opens with her expression of some relief that it had to be postponed from its original date:

“It poured with rain all that weekend,” she said. “And my sadness that the festival didn’t happen was mixed with relief because Brideshead in the rain wasn’t the idea. It was all going to be picnics and punting on lakes.”

This year marks perhaps an even more significant anniversary for the grand house, home to the Howard family for three centuries – for it was 40 years ago that Granada Television’s monumental adaptation of the novel hit the screen.

It was filmed in large measure at Castle Howard – apparently Waugh’s inspiration for the fictional Brideshead Castle – and its phenomenal success in Britain, the US and beyond, placed the house indelibly on the world tourism stage.

Ms Barnsley had considered reviving the festival for this summer, but the uncertainty over international tourism made it impractical.

“I don’t know whether we’ll ever resurrect the idea now. It feels as if its time has come and gone,” she said. “It’s so sad. We were going to have glamping in the walled garden and Sebastian Flyte’s teddy bears’ picnic.

“As far as I know, no-one has done a festival around a single book or a single author. But it was a huge amount of work and the logistics in such a rural location were also challenging. We might revisit bits of it – the teddy bear’s picnic on its own could be a lovely thing to do.

“But there will be a perennial interest in Castle Howard because of Brideshead. There’s even a new BBC adaptation rumoured to be in the works.” […]

After a discussion of Castle Howard’s connection with the film productions, Ms Barnsley addresses Waugh’s personal association with the house:

Evelyn Waugh had passed it in 1937 on his way to Ampleforth Abbey and was later a visitor there. When Brideshead Revisited was serialised in the USA and the publishers requested an illustration, he sent an engraving of the Yorkshire house [sic]. But the narrative dictates that the fictional Brideshead Castle is closer to Oxford.

It is true that the drawing that illustrates the serial version of Brideshead in Town & Country magazine does resemble Castle Howard. But Waugh had nothing to do with that serial version or its illustrations as he was in Yugoslavia when it was being edited, prepared for publication and issued in four installments in November 1944-February 1945. Waugh never saw the abbreviated version before its publication and was furious when he learned it had been shortened. The artist who illustrated the serial (Constantine Alajalov) used only Waugh’s verbal description in the novel to depict the house, but that came so close to Castle Howard as to look as if it were a copy.  For a more detailed discussion of the serial version of Brideshead see Evelyn Waugh Studies, No 50.3 (Winter 2019). A reproduction of Alajalov’s drawing appears at p. 17 of the article.

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Waugh and the Cancel Culture

Simon Heffer writing in the Daily Telegraph discusses the cancel culture’s attack on Philip Larkin. He suggests the proper area of debate should be limited to Larkin the man and not his poetry. In the course of the article he also notes:

The question of whether an artist’s personal views should affect our appreciation of his or her art goes far beyond Larkin. His fellow Hull poet, Andrew Marvell, devoted much of his prose writing to vilifying Roman Catholics. How long will he last? Shakespeare has already necessitated “trigger warnings” for those university students incapable of putting language in its historical context. Charles Dickens had quite poisonous views on women, and the first draft of Oliver Twist makes his later treatment of Fagin look benign in its anti-Semitism. Saki drips anti-Semitism too, as did several writers of his class and generation. It is astonishing that Evelyn Waugh’s treatment of black people in Decline and Fall, Black Mischief and Scoop has so far escaped scrutiny.

I don’t know Mr Heffer’s age but since the 1960s when I began reading Waugh I can’t think of any period when critics were ready to give him a pass on his attitude toward black people whenever the opportunity arose. Unlike Larkin, who has a statue in Hull that is now at some risk, no monuments have ever been erected for Evelyn Waugh and perhaps we should be thankful for that.

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VB Theatre Programme On Offer

Another programme for the 1932 Vaudeville Theatre production of Vile Bodies is on offer. This one is on eBay and the bidding is set to close on Wednesday 10 March. Here’s the link:

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/1932-Vaudeville-Theatre-Programme-Vile-Bodies-Evelyn-Waugh-/353406831994#viTabs_0

See earlier post for a more detailed description of the programme contents and circumstances of the production. These are based on listing for the previous sale.

 

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Late Winter Roundup

–The Daily Mail has posted some excerpts from the new and unexpurgated edition of the diaries of Chips Channon. Two of these new entries involve comments of Channon about Evelyn Waugh:

Evelyn Waugh – Sunday, December 16, 1934

Lunch was amusing: Evelyn Waugh said that anyone can write a novel given six lessons, pen, paper and no telephone or wife. Perhaps he is right.

Tuesday, August 6, 1935

Evelyn Waugh has just signed on with the Daily Mail for the duration of hostilities between Italy and Abyssinia, and is leaving for Ethiopia on Saturday. He may, as he says, be away for five years, or five months. He pretends to have insured his testicles for £3,000, as Ethiopians had a way of castrating unwelcome individuals.

Richard Davenport-Hines quotes the latter passage more briefly in his review of the diaries in the TLS. He also provides an interesting comparison of this latest edition, which will stretch to three volumes, with the earlier one-volume edition. Much of the text of that earlier version was eliminated by Channon’s boy-friend and literary executor Peter Coats, not by the named editor Robert Rhodes James, whose primary contribution was a forward and some footnotes.  Publication details are available in an earlier post.

–Waugh biographer and EWS member Duncan McLaren is interviewed on the book website Flashbak.com. Here are some excerpts:

Q: What is special about Waugh to you and in comparison to other writers?

DM: It’s in adolescence that we are most open to new art. We then carry this with us through the years, and the constant engagement with it leaves its creators in an unassailable position among our preferences.

Decades after adolescence I read the books of, say, Julian Barnes, and enjoyed them. But I won’t ever be putting Barnes on a par with Waugh in my personal pantheon, because there has been insufficient time to grow with his books and his understanding of the world. Maybe a better example is Irvine Welsh. I was 36 when Trainspotting came out as a novel. I realised straight away it was brilliant, on a different level (of originality, of energy, of ambition) to anything else written in the 20th-Century by a Scot. And I could relate to it in some ways, but not in others. So I never quite committed to it, and though I’ve read other books of his, and been impressed by astonishing qualities, I’ve not read them all, and I’ve not even considered researching his life. It’s like appreciating what my brother got me to listen to of the Smiths. I loved Morrissey’s music, his vibe, but I was from Bowie’s generation, had all the albums and had listened to them hundreds of times. Bowie was embedded in my being. The first cut is the deepest.

Q: When did you decide to write a biography on Waugh? Why did you decide to write it in such a brilliant and original way?

DM: I decided to write about Evelyn Waugh in the way I did because I’d just had great fun, and some success, taking a similar approach to the life of Enid Blyton.

But you say ‘brilliant’, about my writing about Waugh, which is very nice of you, so I’ll address that. It starts with a rigorous chronology and geography (that again, so maybe I didn’t waste the government’s money). Things happen to Evelyn Waugh in a particular place at a particular time. So that has to be pieced together, and in so doing you realise who else was there. The picture builds up, and as you’re making it more three-dimensional, Evelyn and his mates start talking and doing stuff. You hold on for grim life to the authenticity of the scene, never forgetting your sense of humour and your moral compass. Then out pours the original insight. Sometimes I struggle to contain it all in suitable vessels. […]

Q: What can we learn from reading Evelyn Waugh? What life lessons?

DM: The qualities inherent in Waugh that I used to bolster myself with when young (irony, humour, the primacy of art), I’ve tried to distance myself from later in life. Sometimes the best way forward is to live a healthy, well-balanced, straightforward life amongst other people. Waugh was not good at this. He drank too much, always. He became inflexible in his opinions as he got older. His right-wing views, largely ironic when he was younger, solidified and became horribly serious. He professed to believe in God in a way that seems un-nourishing. He began to lose the few friends he had, he was so rude to everyone. He died at the age of 62, having become bored with life and longing for death.

At 63-year-old, I’m having to tend poor Evelyn’s grave, diverting readers’ attention to his earlier years and books, when he was funny, sweet and full of joie de vivre. […]

–Another interview, this one focused on Brideshead Revisited, has been posted on YouTube. This appears in a series called Plotlines.  The interview is conducted by a college student named Connor  who is otherwise unidentified. The interviewee is Joseph Pearce, who frequently writes on Waugh’s religion. If the first 10 minutes is any guide, that will also make up most of what will be discussed in this 45-minute session.

–The Guardian has announced the death of the actress Nicola Pagett at the age of 75. She first made her name in TV serials such as Upstairs Downstairs but went on to stage and film appearances. Her career was interrupted by bouts of mental illness but she resumed acting after her recovery. The Guardian mentions one role she played that I had forgotten:

In Scoop (1987), a two-hour film scripted by William Boyd, based on Evelyn Waugh’s great 1938 novel, she was Julia Stitch alongside Michael Maloney as the hapless war reporter William Boot and Denholm Elliott as the chaotic newspaper editor.

–American literary critic Terry Teachout reviews the new biography of Graham Greene in the National Review. Details of the book may be seen in an earlier post. Teachout begins his review with this:

Sixty years ago, Graham Greene was widely regarded as an important novelist, perhaps even a great one, both in England and in America. His critical admirers included V. S. Pritchett, John Updike, and his close friend Evelyn Waugh, who called him a writer of “the highest imaginative power.” He was also very popular, in part because several of his books, most notably Brighton Rock (1938), The Third Man (1949), and Our Man in Havana (1958), were turned into successful films, often with his direct involvement (he was one of the first writers of stature to take a close interest in the screen). […]

But Greene, who died in 1991, is no longer as popular or admired in this country as he used to be, and if I had to guess, I’d say the reason is that his major novels are permeated with more or less explicitly Catholic themes and symbolism. Time was when Catholic novelists such as Greene and Waugh were well regarded, even fashionable, but religious faith has long since been shunted into a cultural siding, and today’s Catholic artists are treated contemptuously by most modern-day tastemakers. Even the radically idiosyncratic version of Catholicism espoused by Greene, who called himself a “Catholic-agnostic” and made a priest in Brighton Rock speak of “the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God,” is too often greeted nowadays with not-our-kind-dearie sniffishness…

He doesn’t mention why Waugh’s reputation has not been subject to these problems, or at least has been less affected by them than has Greene’s.

–John Self writing in The Critic magazine addresses the importance of money to a professional writer’s career. He compares Evelyn Waugh to another writer of their generation:

Evelyn Waugh never stopped wanting a richer start in life, and as a child would walk far enough from Golders Green to ensure that his letters were postmarked Hampstead. In 1928 he asked his agent A. D. Peters to “please fix up anything that will earn me anything, even cricket criticism or mothers’ welfare notes”. By the early 1930s he was earning around £2,000 a year, a third of which was from journalism; this was around the time that “five hundred a year” was declared to be the income required to distance a writer from money worries (by Virginia Woolf, who had none), though Waugh still felt himself to be permanently “starving” until the success of Brideshead Revisited in 1945.

But no writer of that era was quite so desperate as the gilded father of the Jazz Age, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Like Waugh, he resented not being higher-born, “distrusting the rich, yet working for money with which to share their mobility and the grace that some of them brought into their lives”. Like Jay Gatsby, for a time he spent his way into this lifestyle. But by the 1930s, his literary stock was low and he was writing to fund what Arnold Gingrich, his editor at Esquire, called “the fantastically expensive treatments for mental illness” undergone by his wife Zelda…

–Finally, the online magazine FarOut has reprinted the late Tom Wolfe’s 2007 list of his 10 favorite novels. One of these was by Evelyn Waugh:

10. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (1930). This careening novel follows a group of shallow, well-off Brits to motor races and antic parties. Joining in on the Bright Young Things’ mad doings are a writer named Adam Fenwick-Symes and his on-again, off-again fiancée. War looms, but Waugh’s style —dry and bubbly as the novel’s flowing champagne —keeps us laughing, even as characters descend into madness or head for the battlefield.

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Travel Book Launch

The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project last week conducted a virtual book launch for the next two books to be published in the series: Ninety-Two Days and A Tourist in Africa. The meeting was conducted by Barbara Cooke, a CWEW Executive Editor, and the presenters were Douglas Patey and Patrick Query who edited these two volumes.

Patrick Query, who teaches at West Point and is the former secretary of the Evelyn Waugh Society and past Co-editor of its journal Evelyn Waugh Studies, opened with a discussion of A Tourist in Africa (1960). He first explained how Waugh came to write this book, the last of his six travel books. He needed a trip to break away from the strain and tedium of his family duties, the Christmas Holidays and the British winter. As it turned out, his agent had already learned somehow that the Union Castle steamship line were looking for some one to write a book that would promote their services to Africa. This was an ideal destination for Waugh who was quite familiar with the territory. His agent noted that the project had been turned by Laurens van der Post, a well-known and popular writer at the time. Waugh agreed to the project so long as he was free to write and have it published as he wished, subject to the understanding that he it would be intended to promote the services of Union Castle.  Patrick made the observation that, unknown to most readers, van der Post was rather a nasty piece of work on several levels, leading Patrick to wonder what the book might have looked like if van der Post had agreed to write it.

Patrick noted that the two outstanding passages of the book in which Waugh was fully engaged with the subject were at the beginning where he visited the Campo Santo cemetery in Genoa with Diana Cooper and toward the end when he visited the Serima Mission in Zimbabwe. These were new experiences, whereas many of the other points he visited were places he had stopped on his earlier travels. Patrick went on to explain that the manuscript development was not as challenging as for other books except in the later passages where wholesale textual rearrangements in the published book were difficult to track from the available manuscripts because no typescripts were available. Waugh, as usual, avoided political comment, and Patrick made the interesting point that, in view of the turbulent political situation in Africa at the time, the book might have been better for it if Waugh had departed from his usual practice and injected his political opinions. But even as it is, the book represents a useful view of Africa in the period just before everything changed.

Douglas Patey, who teaches at Smith College, has written a biography of Waugh, and is a long-standing member of the EWS, presented his edition of Ninety-Two Days (1934). He began by contrasting the genuine danger and adventure involved in a trip to British Guiana and Northern Brazil as compared to Waugh’s other travel destinations. He also discussed why Waugh may have chosen that area for his trip as opposed to less adventurous zones. He then noted what he thought would be the difficulty faced in researching the textual development of a book for which there were no manuscripts, typescripts or corrected proofs available. Waugh had given the manuscript to Diana Cooper in thanks for the use of her cottage on the South Coast to write the book, but it appeared to have gone missing.  As it turned out, however, Jeffrey Heath possessed a photo copy Diana had allowed him to make when he wrote his book about Waugh, and a copy of the original later surfaced at the Huntington Library. Loren Rothschild had donated it after he acquired it through dealers to whom Diana’s descendants had passed it on.

Doug then continued his presentation with a comparison of several passages describing scenes that appeared in various newspaper and magazine articles that preceded book publication. Copies of these had been distributed to attendees before the conference to facilitate discussion. This was probably the most interesting part of his presentation because you could see and hear from Doug’s reading just how Waugh had improved both the vocabulary and grammar as well  modulating and polishing the subject matter as he moved from journalism to literature. He closed by mentioning something I had never realized. Long after Ninety-Two Days was published, the writer Pauline Melville wrote a novelized version of the story based on the visit of a British academic to Guyana researching the details of Waugh’s trip. This is entitled The Ventriloquist’s Tale (1997) and contains not only places and events that made up Ninety-Two Days but characters as well, including one based on Waugh himself.

There followed a Q&A session, addressing subjects such as the changing descriptions of racialism and the British Empire in literature, the difference between Waugh’s writing as reflected in travel books and fiction, and the photographs he took for Ninety-Two Days. The books will be published in the UK the last week of March and in the USA the last week of April. They may currently be ordered from either OUP or Amazon.

 

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Brideshead 2008 Film Adaptation on BBC2

The Times has posted in its TV listings the following notice about the broadcast of the 2008 film adaptation of Brideshead Revisited. This will take place today (Sa 27 Feb 2021) at 225 GMT:

BBC2, 2.25pm
The reaction to Julian Jarrold’s elegant, restrained adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel was rather muted at the time of its release. Certainly it’s long and rather ponderously paced. But this tale of the unstable love triangle between middle-class Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode), gorgeous heiress Julia Flyte (Hayley Atwell) and her erratic brother Sebastian (Ben Whishaw) is lovely to look at and gently absorbing. The high point is any scene that features Emma Thompson, suitably frosty and patrician as Sebastian and Julia’s mother, Lady Marchmain. Abandoned by her husband (Michael Gambon), who has left her for another woman, Lady Marchmain is as brittle as a dagger made of ice. At her insistence, Charles accompanies her children to Venice to visit their father and his mistress. (133min) Wendy Ide

The BBC co-produced the film with Ecosse Films and Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax. The film will be available on BBC iPlayer to stream on the internet after its transmission.

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Chips Channon Diaries Booklaunch

The Heywood Hill Bookshop in Mayfair London has organized a webinar in connection with the upcoming publication of the unexpurgated diaries of politician and gossip “Chips” Channon. Here are the details from The Oldie magazine:

Henry ‘Chips’ Channon: The Diaries 1918-38, edited by Simon Heffer

Heywood Hill’s bookshop have organised a zoom webinar at 6.30pm on 4 March 2021 to mark the long awaited unexpurgated publication of Chips Channon’s diaries. Professor Simon Heffer, the book’s editor, will be in conversation with Rt Hon Michael Gove MP. Register for the zoom here. Purchase your copy from Heywood Hill by 31 March 2021 and you will qualify for entry into a Prize Draw to win a post-pandemic literary treat: High Tea at Heywood Hill, an hour’s browsing in the legendary bookshop, with tea, cake or something stronger and £50 spending money.

Here is some additional information from the bookstore’s website:

The discussion will be followed by a Q&A hosted by Heywood Hill’s Nicky Dunne.

Born in Chicago in 1897, ‘Chips’ Channon settled in England after World War I, married into the immensely wealthy Guinness family, and served as Conservative MP for Southend-on-Sea from 1935 until his death in 1958. Channon’s career was unremarkable but his diaries are quite the opposite. Elegant, gossipy and catty by turns, they are the unfettered observations of a man who went everywhere and who knew everybody. They will surely be considered by future generations as the one of the most entertaining and important British historical documents of the 20th century.

The first 300 copies sold by Heywood Hill will be signed by Professor Heffer. Heywood Hill will begin sending out pre-ordered copies on March 3. All purchases of this book from Heywood Hill completed by March 31, 2021 will also qualify for entry into a Prize Draw to win a post-pandemic literary treat: High Tea at Heywood Hill.

A single volume edition of the diaries was published in 1967 and edited by Robert Rhodes James. A paperback edition of that version was issued by Weidenfield and Nicolson in 1993. Waugh was mentioned twice in that volume; neither of those was particularly flattering: “…He looks like a ventriloquist’s doll, with his shiny nose…” (16 December 1934). The new edition will appear in three volumes, the first of which is to be published next month. The editor of this volume, Simon Heffer, is a professorial research fellow at University of Buckingham and columnist for the Sunday Telegraph.

UPDATE: 7 March 2021  Last paragraph amended to reflect publication of new edition in three volumes.

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Washington’s Birthday Roundup

–Last week’s Sunday Telegraph reviews a new book by Simon Fenwick entitled The Crichel Boys. This is about a post-WWII literary salon established in a house that was formerly the rectory of Long Crichel, Dorset. This was purchased by Eddy Sackville-West, Desmond Shawe-Taylor and Eardley Knollys later joined by Raymond Mortimer. They installed a good cook and her husband served as butler. The guest list as reflected in the review was quite impressive, including James Lees-Milne, Peter Pears, Benjamin Britten, Kenneth Clark, Elizabeth Bowen, Somerset Maugham, Greta Garbo and Graham Greene. Conspicuous by his absence is Evelyn Waugh. He is quoted as referring to Long Crichel:

The Crichel Boys were all members of the establishment […] but none of them was conventional. They were all openly gay (Evelyn Waugh called Long Crichel “the buggery house”)…

Laura Freeman reviews the book in this week’s Sunday Times. She is a bit less inclined to like it:

Here come the usual (or should that be U-sual?) suspects: Nancy Mitford, waspish, wasp-waisted, just back from Paris; Patrick “Paddy” Leigh Fermor, bronzed and handsomely indolent; Lady Ottoline Morrell, splendid, ridiculous, roped in pearls. Sonia Orwell will perch on the fender and there will be cameos by John Betjeman, Cecil Beaton, Cyril Connolly, David “Bunny” Garnett and a glamorous Guinness or three.

Evelyn Waugh will turn up at teatime and be rude about everyone. It will be a bit Bloomsbury, a bit Bright Young Things, a bit BBC and a bit Oxford tweedy. Done well, the genre is enormous fun. Don’t you wish you were there? Guest of honour at a fantasy dinner party, with Paddy on your left and Nancy on your right and Virginia Woolf being wicked and bitchy within eavesdropping distance. Done less well, you feel trapped at an endless country-house weekend listening to minor literary liggers complain about the central heating.

Whether Waugh ever turned up is not stated nor could I find any evidence in his letters or diaries that he did so. His biographers make no mention of Long Crichel or its salon either.

–Flora Watkins writing in The Spectator addresses the frustrations of home teaching by listing (for her own home pupils and others) 10 examples of teachers who are worse than she is (or they are). One is Capt. Grimes from Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall:

Of all the misfits employed as schoolmasters at Llanabba Castle, the drunken deviant Captain Grimes is Primus inter pares. Dishonourably discharged from the army, he’s usually half-cut and perennially “in the soup”. He later makes a bigamous marriage with the headmaster’s daughter. Grimes’s pederasty was removed from the 2017 BBC-TV adaptation–what with boarding school abuse not being so amusing as it was in the 1920’s.

Others on the list include Jim Prideaux of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Wackford Squeers of Nicholas Nickleby; and Muriel Sparks’s Miss Jean Brodie.

–Novelist Louise Candish was interviewed in the Irish paper The Independent. Here is an excerpt:

Q. The writer who shaped you?
A. Margaret Atwood, Tom Wolfe, Patricia Highsmith, Evelyn Waugh, Agatha Christie, and, going back to childhood, Enid Blyton – have all had a strong influence on me. I connect with their unflinching interest in the less heroic motives of humans. Lust and avarice, cowardice and snobbery – the savagery that hovers beneath our civilised facades.

–The Canadian religious website Catholic Insight posts an unsigned review and recommendation of Waugh’s Edmund Campion: Jesuit and Martyr. Here’s an excerpt:

 …Waugh’s biography […] and Campion’s life, speak very much to our own time. Campion was a contrarian, standing against the spiritus mundi. He could have had it all, bright, successful, up-and-coming, but threw all that way to follow Christ. Only a living thing can swim upstream, as another Englishman, G.K. Chesterton wrote, not to follow the entropic and enervating current, but show there is a far better way.

And that Campion did. Waugh’s book, to this writer’s mind, is a masterpiece of hagiography, portraying the saint as he was, in his own time, and even in his own  ‘mind’, insofar as such is possible, the inner turmoil, difficulties and even doubts, as this once-foppish young man joined the most rigorous of Orders, full of their original zeal (the Jesuits were only constituted in 1540, four decades before Campion’s death). How Campion, by grace and training, was formed into an elite soldier for Christ, risking a brutal and grisly death to bring the Faith, the Sacraments, and some solace, to Catholics left bereft in Elizabeth’s increasingly anti-Catholic England.

–An academic journal The Modernist Review has issued a call for papers headed with this reference to Evelyn Waugh:

“[L]et us hide the cocktail-shaker,” Evelyn Waugh wrote in the Daily Express in 1928, for “[c]ocktails are chilly things at the best of times, and during Christmas week they are ‘all wrong.’”

Waugh was perhaps being a little tongue-in-cheek here, but his demand that cocktails—an emblem of modernity—should be cast aside during the festive season raises intriguing questions. How did the modernists (and modernist-adjacents!) feel and write about festivity and parties? How does festivity intersect with modernity, and what effects does this produce? Waugh’s own Vile Bodies follows a gaggle of thoroughly modern Bright Young People from one bizarre festive locale to the next…

–The following abstract of a University of California, Berkeley PhD thesis has been posted. This is entitled “The Comic Bildungsroman: Evelyn Waugh, Samuel Beckett and Philip Roth” by David Seidel:

This dissertation argues that the relationship between comedy and the Bildungsroman is symbiotic rather than subversive, indicative of a fundamental affinity between mode and genre. The Bildungsroman is a genre supremely anxious about the social, professional, and romantic definition its heroes seek, an anxiety that leaves it highly vulnerable to the incursions of comedy. Definition is about limits, ends, bounds, and stability. I argue that comedy attacks all these things mercilessly, and finds in the Bildungsroman’s preoccupation with definition, limits, and bounds a fertile ground for its own forces of indefinition [sic], limitlessness, and boundlessness. Therefore, small, sometimes trivial examples of comic indefinition can be traced back to the larger definitional stakes of the Bildungsroman form. The comic twentieth-century novels I take up, Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall and The Loved One, Samuel Beckett’s Murphy and Company, and Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint and Sabbath’s Theater, feed on the Bildungsroman’s ever-present, latent comedy. Comic Bildungsromans, anti-Bildungsromans, parodic Bildungsromans: a rose is a rose is a rose. Whatever the name, the comic Bildungsroman doesn’t so much distort the image of the Bildungsroman as reflect its truest form.

Here’s a link to the full text of the thesis.

UPDATE (21 February 2021): Dave Lull kindly sent a link to the full text of the UC PhD thesis. It is posted above.

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