Complete Works Featured in TLS

A review of the four latest volumes in the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh series is featured on the cover of this week’s TLS. This is written by literary critic Peter Parker and entitled “A Handful of Books: Evelyn Waugh’s failed marriage and spiritual crisis”. Here is a summary from the weekly editor’s column:

The great Waugh juggernaut rolls on. The University of Leicester and Oxford University Press’s forty-five-volume collaboration on a lavish, scholarly edition of The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh – letters, juvenilia, poems and graphic art included – continues with the publication of four volumes of fiction and nonfiction, A Handful of Dust (1934), The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957), Edmund Campion (1935) and Robbery Under Law (1939). Peter Parker reviews the work in progress.

A Handful of Dust reflects the author’s shame after the failure of his first marriage to the Hon Evelyn Gardner. Waugh’s “darkest novel” was also, according to Parker, coloured by the humiliating rejection of his proposal to Teresa “Baby” Jungman. In Vile Bodies (1930), Waugh had already reached a turning point: thereafter he condemned a civilization that had thrown away its moral compass. Writing to his brother about his intention to divorce his wife, Waugh complained that “the trouble about the world today is that there’s not enough religion in it. There’s nothing to stop young people doing whatever they feel like doing at the moment”. Untethered from hierarchy, tradition and the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, we were all, like his doomed protagonist Tony Last, lost. He would scourge the Bright Young Things in his satires.

Waugh’s hagiography of the sixteenth-century Catholic martyr Edmund Campion showed the way ahead. “If Campion began as an act of pietas”, says its editor, Gerard Kilroy, “it had become, by 1946, the cornerstone of Waugh’s future writing”, introducing Catholic themes in all his later books. Yet was Waugh truly at peace? In his penultimate novel, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, the autobiographical story of a Catholic writer’s breakdown during a sea voyage, hallucinatory voices suggest that his religion is humbug of a social climber. “Everything with him was jokes”, replied his friend Nancy Mitford.

As is so often the case, Waugh’s underrated travel book Robbery Under Law is not even mentioned by the editor aside from its title. Parker’s review gives it more attention. Here’s an excerpt:

The account of sixteenth-century religious persecution [in Edmund Campion] was undoubtedly informed by Waugh’s knowledge of similar purges in his own times, and Robbery Under Law (1939), another of Waugh’s least regarded works, includes a whole chapter on the harrying and murder of Catholics in Mexico. Unlike CampionRobbery was initially undertaken for strictly commercial reasons. It was commissioned by Clive Pearson, the son of the late Lord Cowdray, whose Mexican Eagle Oil Company had been expropriated by the country’s Marxist government with promises of recompense that were clearly never going to be fulfilled. The contract drawn up between Pearson and Waugh, reproduced in Michael G. Brennan’s introduction, was kept secret to ensure that no one would know that the author had been paid by an interested party to write the book.

The result was that Waugh’s case for Mexican Eagle and praise of its late proprietor appeared entirely objective. Waugh was, however, genuinely appalled by what he found in Mexico, and it seems unlikely that he would have written the book any differently without Pearson’s £1,500 (which was added to his publisher’s advance of £400). […]

One of his biographers, Christopher Sykes, maintained that Waugh came to regard Robbery Under Law “with shame and displeasure”, but there is no evidence for this. Waugh did once liken the book to “an interminable Times leader of 1880”, but this was in a letter to Diana Cooper and need not be taken seriously. The opening sentence acknowledges the book to be a political one, but the first chapter, in which Waugh describes his arrival in Mexico City and his impressions of the capital, is travel writing of a high order. The book also contains some admirable passages of rhetoric, as well as enjoyable satire of the kind familiar from Black Mischief and Scoop. The frequently changing rulers of Mexico and the losses incurred by foreign businesses in the country are now of merely local historical interest, but some of Waugh’s observations remain pertinent, as when he writes that American interventions in countries south of its border have repeatedly “proved disastrous”.

Contrary to Parker’s comment quoted above, there is indeed some evidence that Waugh had disowned the book written under contract. After the war when he compiled a selection of his prewar travel writings, generous excerpts from Labels, Remote People, Ninety-Two Days and Waugh in Abyssinia were assembled for When the Going Was Good (1946). In the introduction, Waugh writes: “There was a fifth book, Robbery  Under Law, about Mexico, which I am content to leave in oblivion, for it dealt little with travel and much with political questions. […] So let it lie in its own dust…” Parker’s own observations indicate that Waugh may have been unfair in his judgement of the book, but that does not change the fact that he deemed the book to have been an embarrassment.

Parker also adds this interesting observation about the editorial decision to omit from this Handful of Dust volume of the Complete Works the alternative ending written for the magazine version :

The novel was published in Harper’s Bazaar in an abbreviated version with a different (and happier) ending. A scholarly edition of this novel ought really to have included this alternative ending, which Waugh published under the title “By Special Request” in Mr Loveday’s Little Outing and Other Sad Stories (1936). The reason it does not is that Mr Loveday’s Little Outing will be Volume 5 of the Complete Works, but we have no idea when this will appear, and the omission here is frustrating.

Finally, Parker concludes with some observations about the books’ production and editing. He is annoyed by the blurry photographic reproductions and finds that while some of the detailed discussion

will be of interest only to scholars, much of it will be welcomed by the general reader. Woudhuysen’s observations about architecture in A Handful of Dust, for example, are particularly illuminating.

There is also a mention of some oversights. For example:

…when in Robbery Under Law Waugh compares nations to “horses at ‘Minaroo’, moving at varying speeds towards the same object”, Brennan suggests he “might be referring to a popular fairground game”, the name of which is of “unknown derivation”. Minoru, as it is properly spelt, was in fact a popular board game of the Edwardian period, named after the king’s world-famous racehorse, winner of the Derby in 1909…

There are plans afoot for reviews of these four volumes in future issues of Evelyn Waugh Studies.

 

 

 

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Summer Solstice Roundup

–In a recent issue of The Sunday Times, Matthew Syed discussed the legacy of Boris Johnson. This excerpt appears near the beginning:

We always knew Johnson was a skilled deceiver and dissimulator. In his book Chums, Simon Kuper tells of a formative experience at Balliol College, Oxford, when “good old Boris” was caught by his classics tutor, Jonathan Barnes, copying a translation straight out of a book. Johnson reputedly apologised: “I’ve been so busy I just didn’t have time to put in the mistakes.” It was an early lesson in how a winning smile can get you out of a corner and elicit a giggle. As Evelyn Waugh remarked in Brideshead Revisited: “Those that have charm don’t really need brains.”

Sounds like something Anthony Blanche would say.

–American novelist Gary Shteyngart was recently interviewed by The Guardian regarding his reading preferences. Here a few of his replies:

…The writer who changed my mind
I guess George Orwell, with Nineteen Eighty-Four. I grew up loving dictatorships as a Soviet citizen, but Orwell made it seem a lot less sexy. I’m glad Lenin never met that magical goose…

The book or author I came back to
Reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch as a teenager was not a great idea. But when you’re in your 20s it rocks…

The book I could never read again
I guess Evelyn Waugh’s Black Mischief. Hoo boy, that is um … Yeah.

The book I discovered later in life
Later in life? Who has time to read?

–The London Review of Books has a review of Gertrude Trevelyan’s 1937 novel Two Thousand Million Man-Power. The review is by David Trotter and is entitled “Hippopotamus Charges Train.” Trevelyan wrote 8 novels during the 1930s of which this is the 5th. The novels have not attracted much interest until lately when two others were republished. In this latest reprint, she describes life between the wars in London, with news items from the period inserted in the narrative of the lives of the two characters, a recently-married couple named Robert and Katherine. Here’s an excerpt:

Two Thousand Million Man-Power stops dead, for no apparent reason, shortly after George V’s funeral procession in London on 28 January 1936. It thus omits a key event in the story of the bomber’s increasing supremacy, the Spanish Civil War, which broke out in July (Guernica was hit on 26 April 1937). The focus, towards the end of the novel, is on Italian actions in Abyssinia. ‘League force for the Saar, Franco-Soviet commercial agreement, Italo-Abyssinian relations strained – Where’s Abyssinia? – Abyssinian losses at Wal-Wal, Italian government seizes securities, Mussolini on importance of fighting.’

The Abyssinian losses in question were incurred in November 1934 during a skirmish at the Walwal oasis in the disputed border zone between Abyssinia and what was then Italian Somaliland. Robert and Katherine [characters in the novel] cannot have been the only people in Britain who needed to ask where Abyssinia was. ‘Everybody talking about Abysinnia, wh. I cannot spell,’ … On 3 October, Italian troops entered Abyssinia from Eritrea. Robert wonders whether the news of distant hostilities might rekindle what’s left of Katherine’s desire to do a bit more about things: ‘When the Italians won, as they obviously would, she’d take up Abyssinians instead of German Jews.’ To follow the Abyssinian pathway through the database is to begin to think about the radical 1930s outside the customary Orwell orbit. For Trevelyan, news of the war in East Africa consists of a series of facts of uncertain implication; for Evelyn Waugh, in Scoop (1938), it consists of wild surmise further embellished by Fleet Street hacks. The more apt comparison might be Claude McKay’s breezily satirical Amiable with Big Teeth, set in Harlem in the period after the invasion, an event of widespread concern among African Americans because it threatened to complete the European subjugation of Africa…

Trevelyan died in 1940 apparently as a result of wounds suffered in a German bombing raid on London.

The Jewish Chronicle has an article entitled “The ever-present antisemitism of George Orwell.” This is by Ian Bloom. Here is an excerpt:

…Literary antisemitism was the norm in England until relatively recently. If they mention Jews at all, most major 19th-century English novelists described unattractive stereotypes. Perhaps George Eliot is the shining exception, as is EM Forster in the next century. But Graham Greene, JB Priestley, Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell are all “guilty”, while HG Wells, Saki, GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc are positively odious. As for the poets, TS Eliot and Ezra Pound are simply vile. This then was the context, the prevailing milieu, when Orwell was serving both his literary and political apprenticeship in the 1930s. There was a prevailing hostility towards Jews in both spheres. If, like me, you expected better, even then, from the young Orwell, you’d be disappointed…

Waugh, Powell, Greene and Priestley were certainly guilty of describing Jews as “unattractive stereotypes.” Whether that, in and of itself, constitutes antisemitism, such as that evidenced by Belloc or Pound, could be argued. Where Orwell falls within this spectrum can also be open to discussion, which Bloom does fairly and thoughtfully in his essay.

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Sale Drama at Piers Court Continues

The Daily Mail has reported the outcome of legal proceedings to order sitting tenants at Piers Court to vacate the premises so that new buyer can take possession. See earlier posts for details of the auction sale that took place late last year. The Mail also reveals the identity of the new  owner who bought the property at the auction. After serving three notices to the sitting tenants to vacate the premises, the new owner filed proceedings for a court order. According to the Mail:

Two Evelyn Waugh superfans who have been refusing to leave the literary giant’s £3m country mansion have just 15 days to get out after losing a court battle with the new owner, we can reveal. Bechara Madi and his partner Helen Lawton, a life-long Waugh enthusiast, have been digging their heels in and refusing to budge from the Grade II-listed 18th century Cotswolds property they have called home for the past four years.

MailOnline can reveal that the new proprietor is a Brazilian socialite by the name of Vanessa Valerie Gomes De Bustamante Sa who bought the sprawling, eight-bedroom house where the novelist penned works such as Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen and Brideshead Revisited [sic] at auction for £3.16million last December – but she has been unable to get access to it for the past seven months…

On June 8, a judge at Gloucestershire County Court ordered the [sitting tenants] to leave the house within 28 days – or face the bailiffs. He also ordered Mr Madi [one of the sitting tenants] to pay the new owner costs of almost £18,000. This was despite Mr Madi claiming to have paid a £250,000 deposit for the house and a further £250,000 repairing and maintaining it. Mr Madi said he was unable to afford legal representation and that he and his wife had been left penniless. He told the court: ‘It’s not a great position to be in.’

As noted in previous posts, the sitting tenants took the position that their rights to remain under their lease with the previous owner were superior to those of a buyer at the auction sale:

But the auction went ahead. With a starting price of £2.5m, the hammer eventually fell at £3.16m, with Ms [Vanessa] Gomes De Bustamante Sa outbidding three other interested parties. The [Brazilian] daughter of a surgeon, she has lived in London for more than a decade during which time she has been photographed at a string of society events including the polo, gallery openings and fashion shows. She also runs a company called the Conscious Kitchen Club – which hosts children’s parties with a difference. Rather than featuring cake and Coca-Cola, the young guests are instead taught to cook healthy, nutritious food such as spinach and pomegranate salads and avocado on toast. Precisely what plans Ms Gomes De Bustamante Sa has in store for Piers Court remains unclear. She declined to comment when approached by MailOnline.

The story in the Mail online edition includes several new photos, primarily relating to the new owner. It also repeats certain misstatements such as that Waugh wrote Brideshead Revisited while living at Piers Court and misidentifies a 16-year old Auberon Herbert as Evelyn Waugh in a wedding photo. These have been discussed in previous posts.

 

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Rossetti Reviewed

Waugh Society member Milena Borden has kindly prepared the following review of the Dante Gabriel Rossetti exhibit currently running at the Tate Britain museum. This was mentioned in previous postings. The review is entitled “What Is Wrong with Rossetti?”:

The Tate Britain’s current exhibition The Rossettis features Evelyn Waugh’s biography Rossetti: His Life and Works displayed alongside poetry collections and Jan Marsh’s biography of Christina Rossetti. The company in which Waugh’s book is placed would likely please the author, known for his admiration of the Victorians. The exhibition highlights the extraordinary artistic family, focusing on Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his sister Christina, his brother William Michael, and his wife and model Elisabeth Siddall (Lizzy). The Rossettis are credited with bringing about an artistic revolution in Britain and beyond. 

 The exhibition provides expert explanations of the origins and aims of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (P.R.B.), of which Rossetti was a founding member. Rossetti’s paintings are curated alongside key poems by Christina Rossetti, which are read aloud when viewers step on digitally activated spots on the floor. Rossetti’s art radiates from the gallery walls, particularly showcasing his renowned portraiture of his beloved women who served as his models, muses, and lovers. The Tate hails the Rossettis as successful “medieval moderns” and “radical romantics.” 

 However, amidst the praise and the exquisite display, there is a noticeable absence of criticism or questioning of Rossetti’s art or life. No mention is made of the highly symbolic yet unsettling depictions of women’s faces on unnaturally thick necks, nor is there discussion about the overall confusion in Rossetti’s compositions, which possess both biblical and non-religious elements. 

 In contrast to the exhibition’s celebratory tone, it is worth reflecting on what Waugh wrote 95 years ago. Waugh believed that Rossetti lacked “essential rectitude” and argued that real art should possess a moral centre and social value. He criticized Rossetti’s brooding on magic and suicide as symptoms of mediocrity rather than genius, pointing out a spiritual inadequacy and a sense of disorganization in his work. 

 This raises the question of who is correct: Waugh or Tate Britain? However, a more intriguing question arises: Why was Waugh drawn to Rossetti in the first place, given his critique? 

 Italians have historically thrived in London, and Rossetti embodies the stereotypical image of an Italian in England. As the son of a political refugee, he was named after Dante Alighieri and grew up in a household surrounded by notable Italians. While his sister emerged as one of the finest Victorian poets, Rossetti became one of the most famous members of the P.R.B., associated with mystical imagination and a somewhat divine artistic madness. Yet, his scandalous personal relationships with working-class English women who became his muses and models, along with his hot-headed and eccentric nature, contributed to the tragic aspects of his personal life. 

 This context sheds light on Waugh’s interest in Rossetti. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Waugh aspired to be an artist, and he had already written an essay about the P.R.B. before publishing this “product of its own time” (M. Brennan, Introduction,  The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh: Rossetti His Life and Works, vol. 16, OUP, 2017). During that period, Waugh, like Rossetti, embraced a romantic and bohemian lifestyle while studying at Oxford and cultivating deep friendships. Their shared rejection of established academic norms, Waugh of Oxford and Rossetti of the Royal Academy of Arts, may have contributed to Waugh’s fascination with the enigmatic and melancholic Victorian painter.

 The Tate exhibition provides valuable insights into Waugh’s motivations by examining Rossetti’s paintings. While Rossetti is recognized as a radical and revolutionary figure within the 19th-century Pre-Raphaelite movement, his highly symbolic works never quite achieved the status of true masterpieces. Appreciating Rossetti’s peculiar mastery over his primitive biblical compositions and his depiction of working-class English models, one must also confront the core of his artistic achievement—his failure. Are his works idealistic or salacious, revolutionary or exploitative? 

 Waugh’s critique extends beyond artistic analysis. By exploring Rossetti’s dual life as a romantic painter and a cruel husband and lover, one can find valuable insights in his early biographer’s judgement. Waugh thought very highly of the painting “Beata Beatrix” (1864-1870), which is displayed centrally in the exhibit depicting Beatrice as the saintly muse with the poet Dante hovering mournfully in the background, capturing the weighted symbolism and foreshadowing death. It serves as an apt subject for a psychological analysis of the artist’s mind, paralleling the tragic real-life story of Rossetti’s wife and model, Lizzy. It is perhaps interesting to note here that Waugh’s analysis of this painting avoids making judgements or drawing conclusions about the more modern theme of Rossetti’s guilt as the driving force behind it. After his wife’s tragic death at the age of 32 from an overdose of laudanum, he continued to have love relationships with his models, most notably with Jane Burden (William Morris’s wife) but seems to have never quite recovered from the shock. 

Waugh dedicated his first book to his first wife, Evelyn Gardner, to whom he was married for a very short period of time. Much later on in his life he did say that he would like to rework the Rossetti biography but, since it didn’t happen, one can only speculate about what he might have written about the Rossetti’s marriage with perhaps more understanding of Elisabeth’s emotions. After his failed marriage Waugh converted to Catholicism in 1930 and this would have most probably changed his thinking about Rossetti who was a declared atheist. 

Since 2020 under the pressure of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Tate has taken a new direction of rethinking the artistic depictions of racial hierarchies. Nowadays Rex Whistler’s mural at the Tate is closed for recreation which would try to acknowledge problems with racism. It seems obvious that in line with this policy, it is represented in the context of race too. The Beloved (1865-6) which depicts a bride attended by virginal bridesmaids and an African page is displayed alongside individual studies of the boy in order to expand the theme. Also a fictional essay by Chiezda Mhondoro dedicated to this topic is published in the catalogue. Waugh disliked ideological and progressive interpretations of art and it is virtually certain that he would have dismissed this trend as a misguided decolonization. 

Both Tate and Waugh discuss Rossetti from an English point of view and say almost nothing of his reception outside Britain. It seems that the Rossettis have integrated to such an extent into Victorian London that they became an entirely English phenomenon with limited fame and almost no influence in Europe. Giuliana Pieri, an Italian academic, writes convincingly that despite the acknowledged aversion to Rossetti’s paintings in late 19c Italy as “ill painted and repulsive”, he remains the most popular of the pre-Raphaelites in his native Italy which he never visited. 

The Tate Britain exhibition about Rossetti, in its celebratory nature, glosses over some uncomfortable aspects of the artist’s “incongruous” achievement to use Waugh’s definition and avoids criticism and inquiry. In contrast, Waugh’s book on Rossetti, despite its relative obscurity and acknowledged limitations, remains a delightful read due both to its critical assessment and the elegance of its prose. It offers a welcome break from the ambitious and weighty exhibition dominated by live narration of Christina Rossetti’s poetry combined with her brother’s high symbolism. 

 As visitors step across the floor circles within the exhibition, Waugh’s question lingers in the mind: “What is wrong with Rossetti?”

 

 

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Roundup: a Painter, a Photographer and a Satirist

–This quote appears in a recent collection of essays entitled Antisemitism, Islamophobia and the Politics of Definition edited by Prof G D Cohen of Rice University:

In June 1945, the British diplomat and man of letters Harold Nicolson admitted that he still disliked Jews but now “loathed” antisemitism even more. The conservative writer Evelyn Waugh expressed a similar thought in 1952: “I am afraid I must admit to a shade of anti-Jew feeling. Not anti-Semite.”

Waugh’s quote is cited from a secondary source rather than one of his own works. It is taken from a February 1952 letter to Nancy Mitford in which he commented on her remark that Waugh’s novel Helena had been favorably received by some French Jews.

–Michael Deacon comments in the Daily Telegraph about a current exhibit of Picasso’s work at the Brooklyn Museum. It is intended to remind the public “not just how talented he was, but how horrid.” This is co-curated by one Hannah Gadsby, described as a “non-binary feminist comedian…who once declared on stage that “I hate Picasso,” and denounced him as a “misogynist.” Deacon doesn’t think this is such a good idea and is heartened that most reviews have been absolutely scathing. He writes:

Yes, Picasso may well have been a male chauvanist pig. Just as Evelyn Waugh may have been a snob, Kingsley Amis an adulterer, George Orwell a homophobe and Roald Dahl a foul-tempered, fat-shaming, racist bully. But quite frankly so what? Castigating an artist over flaws in his character is not just drearily self-righteous. It’s also moronic–because it misses a crucial point about how art is created.

Deacon then considers the case of Philip Larkin and supposes that his poetry would not have been written as it was (or perhaps not at all) if he hadn’t been such a difficult person.

The same goes for all the other ‘problematic’ artists. Their art was a product of their characters. An earnestly egalitarian Evelyn Waugh could not have written such joyously malicious satire. A dotingly uxorious Kingsley Amis could not have written so hilariously about male (and female) misbehaviour. A woke Roald Dahl could not have written such deliciously subversive children’s stories. A feminist Picasso, meanwhile, might never have picked up a paint brush. Without his demonic compulsion to sleep with as many women as possible, he’d probably have trained as an accountant instead.

It’s gratifying to see Waugh in the company of so many other great artists, but one wonders how pleased he would be to find himself included with Picasso, an artist whose work he loathed and went out of his way to denigrate. For example, Waugh had a habit of closing his letters “DEATH TO PICASSO KING OF THE COUNTERHONS” (Letters, 218).

–A biography of satirist Tom Sharpe was recently published in Spain. It is written by Miquel Martin i Serra and published in both Spanish and Catalan. Its English title would be Fragments of Non-existence. Articles appearing in The Times and the Spanish paper El Pais explain that, after Sharpe retired to Spain, he was offered £1 million to write his autobiography. This was about 2001. According to The Times: “Sharpe, known for Porterhouse Blue and his Wilt series and deemed by his fans to be heir to the mantle of Evelyn Waugh and P G Wodehouse, almost accepted the £1 million offer…”, but feared the consequences given that his father was a dedicated Nazi and he wasn’t. Instead, he dictated his life story to his companion Monserrat Verdaguer and she typed it out. He was still going when he died in 2013. It was the task of Martin i Serra to turn it into a book.

The Times also reprints an earlier article by Patrick Maguire who includes Joe Orton with Waugh and Wodehouse as among Sharpe’s “satiristical” antecedents. Maguire noted that Sharpe’s

…cartoonish treatment of sex and the sexes, as well as the England of country piles and quadrangles that his best known works evoke, now feels distinctly dated… Nowadays Sharpe is likelier to be found on the shelves of charity shops than Waterstones. More fool us. Few writers before or since have had such a keen and merciless eye for establishment cant, the injustices of arbitrary authority, and the quiet dignity of those forced to endure both–be it from Guardian leader writers or boneheaded policemen. It all feels very seventies. But then again, so does 2023…

–A biography of photographer Barbara Ker-Seymer harks back to the interwar years immortalized by Waugh’s novels. This is Thoroughly Modern by Sarah Knights. The Daily Telegraph reviewer Catherine Ostler was only modestly impressed:

Ker-Seymer’s friendships with Burra, Chapell and others endure, although the dance genius Frederick Ashton becomes such a prima donna that they can’t ask him for supper in advance in case he gets the call from the Queen Mother. Ker-Seymer herself seems to have a soft spot for celebrity, befriending Patricia Highsmith and (strangely) the artist Beryl Cook, to whom she writes a fan-girl letter. There is even a change of tone as our principal tips into late middle-age: has outrageous, entrepreneurial Bar become a cosy cruise-taker?

What are we left with? Ker-Seymer’s pictures — of, say, Nancy Cunard or Jean Cocteau — are in contrast to what Knights calls the “dramatically embellished goddesses of Madame Yevonde”: hers are “honest and unfussy”, “straight” portraits. Gratifyingly, too, we see her at last getting the credit when some of her work has been misattributed to Cecil Beaton. Otherwise, this book is a picturesque portrayal of a world that sounds as thoroughly maniacal as it was modern..

The review in The Times by Roger Lewis reports:

Key-Semer’s claim on modern attention, according to Knights, is that she was a first class social photographer who was “exceptionally skillful in manipulating light, bringing a sculptural quality to her subjects”. They included Oswald Mosley, Nancy Cunard, Elizabeth Bowen and Evelyn Waugh. Indeed, it is the generation of Waugh’s Bright Young Things whom Bar represented — the Jazz Age silliness, which followed naturally from the horrors of the First World War in the same way that the Goons were a release valve after the Second World War.

I was unable to find an example of a Ker-Seymer photo portraying Waugh. There is a video of a 1986 Channel 4 interview of Ker-Seymer posted on Vimeo that is worth watching. In it she explains that she had to give up photography during the war and afterwards managed to make a decent living from establishing a chain of laundromats. The book is available in the UK but does not show a publication date in the US at this point.

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Early June Roundup

–The New Statesman reports the confused results of the controversial Oxford Union appearance of Prof. Kathleen Stock, described as a “gender-critical feminist philosopher”. After the Union invited her to speak, a protest arose against her appearance as being unfair to the rights of trans gender people. After much debate on the debate, that included the Prime Minister (who urged she be allowed to appear), the Union proceeded with the project. Protesters against gathered at the Oxford Union on the day, and admission to the debate was monitored by security forces. The story in the New Statesman by Will Lloyd describes the event in some detail. After one of the protesters self-glued him/herself to the floor and others were removed, the somewhat subdued debate proceeded. According to Lloyd:

Stock said she didn’t mind the protest. She said that it was possible (still) to disagree reasonably with each other and remain friends. “They want me to be evil,” she said. “They want a baddie. I’m afraid I am a very shit baddie.” Before she disappeared in a scrum of security guards, she warned against institutions becoming “propaganda machines”. Wasn’t that what they always had been though? Perhaps this was one of those sticky moments when the values being propogandised by places like Oxford were shifting. From the “effortless superiority” of “Balliol men” to the “No dead trans kids” placards of Balliol they/thems.

This was the other side of Oxford. Yes, it had been the “anvil” that [Jan] Morris wrote about, where national consensus was forged. But there was also the Oxford that inspired fantasies. The secret nonsensical garden worlds of Lewis Carroll. The heady wonderlands of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis and Evelyn Waugh. “We’re all mad here,” the Cheshire cat says at one point. Sometimes, as events at the union yesterday proved, the line between Oxford politics and Oxford fantasy blur…

One disturbing message in the article is that the protest (prefiguring others in the future) may threaten the continued existence of the Oxford Union. Waugh would not be pleased with that result.

–More information is posted on the Dutch-language stage production of Brideshead Revisited, scheduled to open on Monday. This is presented as part of this year’s Holland Festival in Amsterdam:

Though this masterpiece enjoyed cult status among queers and conservatives alike in the last century, nowadays this novel seems consigned to obscurity. While this is perhaps the most romantic and Anglophile book that literature has ever yielded….

Trapped in a bitter worldview himself, for Evelyn Waugh writing this novel was an attempt to recover the happiness of his younger years. Inspired by this soul-searching, De Warm Winkel exploits Brideshead Revisited as a vehicle for an autopsy of love and an unfolding of our (sexual) identity. With live music composed by Rik Elstgeest and the memories and fantasies of Florian and Abke as the beating heart, they finally resuscitate the epic love story Waugh so longed for.

Details of venue and booking are available at this link.

–The Daily Telegraph in a recent “Peterborough” column refers to life peer and Labour frontbencher Lord Ponsonby:

…Ponsonby’s coat of arms carries the words Pro Rege, Lege, Grege (For the King, the Law, and the People).

In a Lord’s debate, the peer admitted he was not always terribly good at the Lege bit. “I was stopped more times than I can remember by the police in Notting Hill and expect my experience with the police force 50 years ago was very different from the one displayed in Dixon of Dock Green,” he said.

Ponsonby was maintaining a family tradition. His grandfather, the 2nd baron, was arrested in 1925 when he and his friend Evelyn Waugh drove the wrong way down London’s Oxford Street while on a pub crawl. Lege-breaking must run in the family.

The article is headed “‘Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello, Lord Ponsonby.”

–The journal Chronicles: An American Magazine of Culture includes in its latest issue “A Letter from Australia”. It is written by R G Stove and opens with this:

In 1956, Anthony Eden found himself graced with the porcine presence of the visiting Nikita Khrushchev. Many hoped that Evelyn Waugh—who, after all, had subjected Marshal Tito to one of the most murderous philippics that 20th-century English literature can boast—would unleash similar invective against the Soviet Union’s strongman. Waugh rejected all newspaper entreaties to unleash it. He justified his refusal by emphasizing an obvious difference between Tito and Khrushchev: that whereas the former hypocritically pretended to be a gallant ally of the West, the latter pretended no such thing. As Waugh himself put it: “There [is] nothing unchivalrous about dining with open enemies.”

So should Australian conservatives, if they have any sense, judge the prime ministerial tenure of Anthony Albanese, as the first anniversary of his May 21 electoral victory approaches. He has never presumed to think like a conservative or to talk like one. What conceivable purpose would be served by denouncing him for not being Germany’s Konrad Adenauer or Italy’s Alcide De Gasperi?…

 

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Memorial Day/Spring Bank Holiday Roundup

The Spectator has posted a memorial tribute to its recently deceased columnist Jeremy Clarke. This is by David Goodhart who writes that he gave Clarke his start as a journalist. Clarke’s longest and best known gig was the Low-Life column in the Spectator which he took over from Jeffrey Bernard. Here’s an excerpt from Goodhart’s tribute:

…a favourite English teacher, a raffish ex-journalist, happened to be standing behind Clarke as he was surveying the library books. The teacher plucked out a volume and said to Jeremy: ‘Read this.’ It was Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall. And so began a lifelong love of Waugh and English satirical fiction and a determination to become a writer.

Just a few weeks ago, as he lay on his bed in the upstairs room of his home in Cotignac, looking out on to the blue skies of Provence and the Massif des Maures mountains, he returned to Waugh, watching YouTube videos of his literary mentor interviewed by Elizabeth Jane Howard.

Their clipped upper-class accents contrasted with his own Essex twang and, as he always insisted, lower-middle-class upbringing. His father John was a bank clerk turned sales rep and heavy drinker; his mother Audrey, with whom he always remained close, a nurse and devout Christian.

After Jeremy was seduced, aged 17, by Waugh’s silky, sardonic prose, he adopted a kind of restless double life that lasted a couple of decades. He took odd jobs often inspired by the literature he was reading – factory jobs (Steinbeck), assistant in a mental hospital (Kesey). His affable manner helped him fit in everywhere, but he rarely let on that he went home after his shift to immerse himself in literary novels, lest he be considered soft.

A notice in the Daily Telegraph adds this:

… it was Evelyn Waugh who inspired his quixotic application to read English Literature at Waugh’s Oxford college, Hertford, after taking A-levels at night school. When that failed, he gained entrance to SOAS in London to read African studies.

Among other things, Clarke wrote travel pieces probably inspired by an extended trip to central Africa described by Goodhart. He was never able to put together a full length book, however. The full Spectator article is worth reading and is available at this link.

The Washington Post does a literary analysis of the HBO Succession series before the start of the last season. Here’s an excerpt:

In the end, … perhaps the show’s most enduring literary legacy will be the one we are quickest to laugh off: its astonishing art of invective. Anybody can insult anybody, but it takes a certain kind of genius to hone insult into poetry, and nowhere has that genius been better cultivated than in Great Britain — a lineage that includes the late Martin Amis on “Don Quixote” (“an indefinite visit from your most impossible senior relative”), Virginia Woolf on E.M. Forster (“limp and damp and milder than the breath of a cow”), Evelyn Waugh on his 6-year-old son (“I have tried him drunk & I have tried him sober”) and that master of all registers Shakespeare (“I do desire we may be better strangers”).

Small wonder that the creator and many of the writers of “Succession” are British. But what gives their work its special zest is how deftly they harness both Anglo-Saxon obscenity and American idiom to create a distinctly mid-Atlantic vituperation. Logan to his chief financial officer: “Karl, if your hands are clean, it’s only because your whorehouse also does manicures.” Shiv, catching a whiff of her little brother’s fragrance: “Oh, what is that? Date Rape by Calvin Klein?” Logan’s disaffected brother, upon learning there will be a Logan Roy School of Journalism: “What’s next? The Jack the Ripper Women’s Health Clinic?”

–There have been several follow up stories on Martin Amis after his death last week. Here is the opening of an obituary of Martin Amis by Mathew Walther in the Roman Catholic journal The Lamp:

“Among living writers of English prose there are few who attempt magnificence.” When Evelyn Waugh pronounced this severe sentence upon his contemporaries in 1955, he admitted only two exceptions: Sir Osbert Sitwell, whose delightful memoirs are almost entirely forgotten, and, perhaps more surprisingly, Winston Churchill, who even now enjoys a wide and devoted following among a certain kind of older male reader whose other interests include submarine warfare and reviews (consulted aspirationally) of very expensive cigars.

Waugh did not define the quality whose absence he lamented, but by “magnificence” he seems to have meant the prose of the eighteenth-century: stately periodic sentences set to Handel-like rhythms, decorous semicolons, and occasional dashes leaping across the page like a fox driven to hounds.

Martin Amis, who died on Friday at the age of seventy-three, did not aspire to magnificence in the Wauvian sense. But he almost certainly would have recognized what Waugh meant when he said that in his own age “elegance tends to be more modest.” Unlike many of his contemporaries, especially in America, Amis aspired to—and, I think, ultimately achieved—what Waugh had proposed as a universal ideal for writers: the dutiful cultivation of a highly individual and readily identifiable style…

–Dr James Alexander in The Daily Sceptic opened his obituary with this:

Martin Amis is one of the two classic ‘nepo babies’ of the English literature of the 20th Century. As everyone knows, Evelyn begat Auberon, and Kingsley begat Martin. And what was remarkable is how both the Waugh and Amis sons admired their fathers, and, to some extent, imitated them. I spent this morning looking through about twenty of Martin’s books and saw nothing so clearly as that the novels of Amis fils now remind me of those of Amis père: not in what was perhaps most characteristic of Martin: the turbo-charged and exuberant scabrousness of his whimsical version of Tom Wolfe’s New Journalism; but certainly in the sentiment, situation and relentless humour, also the attention to language, and, finally, in the occasional intrusion of weighty themes – admittedly more weighty in the case of Martin than in the case of Kingsley.

Now, in this pantheon of great literary fathers and sons I have to say that I rate Martin the lowest. Evelyn Waugh was unparalleled: there is nothing like any of his early novels; and nothing like what is possibly his best single bit of writing, the long opening musing – essentially autobiographical, despite what he said – of The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. Auberon rather failed as a novelist in the 1960s, being out of time: but imposed his sense of absurdity more closely on his time, especially in the famous Private Eye diaries in the 1970s, but also in his journalism, where he was a rare case of someone who was able to express serious thought in amusing terms. (Consider Heath in drag; working-class children being supposed to eat lumps of coals, fish fingers and dogdirt; politics identified as a form of displaced psycho-sexual depravity.) Kingsley, of course, made his name with Lucky Jim: which bewildered Waugh as much as Decline and Fall had bewildered G.K. Chesterton. Such was the change in the sense of humour across the generations. But Kingsley wandered closer to his characters than Waugh (or drank with them); and there was more affection, more sentiment, less spite. I think Stanley and the Women was an achievement; not, as Martin thought, a stain. But the Amises both wrote much about cock anxiety, a subject avoided by the Waughs. Martin inherited the humour of his father, the language, and the sentiment: and added to it, as I say, scabrousness and, perhaps, a European or American taste for occasional experiment…

–Finally, here’s an excerpt from one in The Times by James Marriott entitled “Snobs like Martin Amis do society a valuable service”:

…Such was the vehemence of his campaign against mediocrity that he came to believe his intolerance of stupidity amounted to a mental disorder, a kind of “dementia”. A whole vicious and despairing tradition of English satire, from Alexander Pope to Evelyn Waugh, is founded on the fear that the forces of idiocy are overwhelming the fragile bastions of culture and good sense. Such elitism is eminently capable of being mad and unpleasant. It is very often wrongheaded…

Snobs are rarely nice people. The role requires a certain arrogance and in some cases a positively psychopathic indifference to public opinion. Waugh was not a pleasant man. Neither was Flaubert. Amis’s own life was hardly an essay in intellectual humility and sexual continence. His hostility to Islam in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings was deplorable. But in a week of headlines about Phillip Schofield, and the death of Rolf Harris, we might also recall that there is often something sinister about the light entertainer…

 

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Sherborne School Posts Record of Waugh’s Wartime Residence

The Sherborne School and the Old Shirburnian Society have posted a detailed and annotated account of Waugh’s six month residence at the school while stationed there in the Army: 5 October 1942-12 April 1943. This was a little over a year after his return from Crete during which he was posted from one training course to another. Here’s the introduction (footnotes omitted):

On the 5 October 1942 Captain Evelyn Waugh arrived in Sherborne having been sent ahead by Colonel Laycock to prepare for the relocation of the Special Service Brigade (Commandos) Headquarters to Sherborne Castle.  Evelyn remained in Sherborne for the next six months until the 12 April 1943, a time revealed in his diaries and letters – and possibly also in his novel Brideshead Revisited.

The Waugh family and Sherborne had history. Evelyn Waugh was well-aware of this when he arrived in Sherborne in October 1942. Evelyn’s father, the publisher Arthur Waugh (1866-1943), had attended Sherborne School (School House) from 1879 to 1885 and, after the birth of his sons Alec and Evelyn, decided ‘there could be no pleasanter prospect than to see our sons at my old school, in my old house, and, as seemed likely, doing the things that I would have given my soul to do some 30 years before.’

Throughout their childhood Alec and Evelyn Waugh knew they were destined to follow their father to the hallowed grounds of Sherborne School. Alec, who was five years older than Evelyn, came to Sherborne School in 1911 and joined his father’s old house (School House), with Evelyn down to follow in September 1917.  Alec’s time at Sherborne School allowed Arthur Waugh to re-live his own very happy schooldays, coming down most weekends to stay at the Digby Hotel to watch Alec play cricket or rugby or to visit his former school masters.

But Evelyn’s fate never to follow his father and brother to Sherborne School was sealed on the 19 July 1917 with the publication of Alec’s semi-autobiographical novel The Loom of Youth. The novel was perceived at Sherborne as being critical of the School and resulted in the Old Shirburnian Society, in a fit of righteous indignation, officially removing Alec’s name from their roll and Arthur Waugh resigning from the Society in protest. Although Alec and his father were reinstated into the Old Shirburnian Society in 1933, 25 years after the publication of The Loom of Youth Evelyn was still keenly aware that he and his family had been snubbed by Sherborne School.

The posted account identifies the lodgings Waugh occupied and several non-military events he attended while stationed at the school. He was billeted there for most of the stay at a sort of lodging house called Westbridge House which had a somewhat eccentric landlady whose relations with Waugh and fellow officer, Basil Bennett, who also lived there, are the subject of some of the comments. Waugh wrote several letters to his father while stationed at Sherborne, only one of which apparently survived and which is cited in the school’s archive (footnotes omitted):

Although only one letter written by Evelyn to his father from Sherborne survives, Arthur Waugh’s diaries reveal that Evelyn wrote him several letters during this time. On the 12 December 1942, Arthur writes that he has received a letter from Evelyn offering to send them a turkey for Christmas and mentioning a visit he had made to Arthur’s recently widowed friend Littleton Powys (1874-1955) at his home Priestlands Cottage in Sherborne. When the author Elizabeth Myers (1912-1947) wrote to Littleton Powys on the 14 December 1942 she mentioned that Arthur had read this letter to her. Arthur’s diaries also reveal that Evelyn met Littleton Powys on at least three occasions during his time in Sherborne, and that on Christmas eve Littleton had shown Evelyn around Sherborne School.

At a time when wartime rationing would have meant a meagre Christmas for Arthur and his wife, on the 18 December 1942 Evelyn sent his parents two dozen half bottles of white Burgundy and on the 23 December Evelyn’s batman arrived from Sherborne with a small goose. Alec later described this incident as a ‘highly irregular operation which touched my father as much as the goose delighted him.’ On Christmas Day, Arthur and his wife dined on Evelyn’s goose followed by plum pudding and, no doubt, a glass of Evelyn’s white Burgundy!

Several of Waugh’s letters to his wife written during this sojourn have been published, but they make little comment on the incidents described in the Sherborne archive. The file also contains several photographs illustrating some of the sites and events Waugh visited during his stay. The school and society are to be congratulated for preparing this document and posting it for public access. It can be read at this link.

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Martin Amis R. I. P. (1949-2023)

Novelist and critic Martin Amis has died at the age of 73. Dwight Garner, a book critic of the New York Times, opens that paper’s obituary with this:

Martin Amis, whose caustic, erudite and bleakly comic novels redefined British fiction in the 1980s and ’90s with their sharp appraisal of tabloid culture and consumer excess, and whose private life made him tabloid fodder himself, died on Friday at his home in Lake Worth, Fla. He was 73.

His wife, the writer Isabel Fonseca, said the cause was esophageal cancer — the same disease that killed his close friend and fellow writer Christopher Hitchens in 2011.

Mr. Amis published 15 novels, a well-regarded memoir (“Experience,” in 2000), works of nonfiction, and collections of essays and short stories. In his later work he investigated Stalin’s atrocities, the war on terror and the legacy of the Holocaust.

He is best known for his so-called London trilogy of novels — “Money: A Suicide Note” (1985), “London Fields” (1990) and “The Information” (1995) — which remain, along with his memoir, his most representative and admired work.

The tone of these novels was bright, bristling and profane. “What I’ve tried to do is to create a high style to describe low things: the whole world of fast food, sex shows, nude mags,” Mr. Amis told The New York Times Book Review in a 1985 interview. “I’m often accused of concentrating on the pungent, rebarbative side of life in my books, but I feel I’m rather sentimental about it. Anyone who reads the tabloid papers will rub up against much greater horrors than I describe.”

Mr. Amis’s literary heroes — he called them his “Twin Peaks” — were Vladimir Nabokov and Saul Bellow, and critics located in his work both Nabokov’s gift for wordplay and gamesmanship and Bellow’s exuberance and brio…

He moved to the US in 2011 settling in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn with his wife and children:

In America, he was happy to escape what he called “the cruising hostility” of the English press. He became an almost avuncular figure in Brooklyn, regularly seen walking his daughters to school. No longer the upstart, Mr. Amis himself inspired a younger generation of writers, including Zadie Smith and Will Self…

The obituary concludes:

…Mortality was long a theme in Mr. Amis’s work. In “The Information,” he wrote: “Every morning we leave more in the bed: certainty, vigor, past loves. And hair, and skin: dead cells. This ancient detritus was nonetheless one move ahead of you, making its humorless own arrangements to rejoin the cosmos.

He might have been speaking of himself in that novel when he wrote of one of its dueling writers: “He didn’t want to please his readers. He wanted to stretch them until they twanged.”

This comment was also posted by the NYTimes following the obituary. It was submitted by Susan Fitzwater:

It must be dreadful, being the son of a celebrated father. A man who writes books. When you dream of writing them yourself. My acquaintance with the Amis’s is confined to–“Lucky Jim.” Which came out–when? Early ’50’s, I think–around seventy years ago. (The notorious Senator McCarthy is alluded to briefly. He bothered the Brits as much as he bothered us.) Compare that book with those of Evelyn Waugh. A man no less sensitive to the buffooneries of British life! the louts–the lovers–the ne’er-do-wells! The difference is– –Waugh looks down upon all this from an aristocratic standpoint. A bit cold, detached– –and we’re a million miles from the world of “Lucky Jim.” An excruciatingly funny book! And I gather this comic genius– –was passed on to his son. In spades.

Another obituary posted at London-based news website Unherd.com was written by Rob Lownie and opens with this:

“If the voice doesn’t work, Martin Amis told the Paris Review in 1998, “you’re screwed.” It’s just as well for the novelist, who has died at the age of 73, that his literary voice did work, so much so that plot, characterisation and moral instruction were all subsumed by the irony and wordplay which guided the reader through his novels.

The obituaries so far have focused on his status as the flagbearer of a dying breed of literary personalities. He was an enfant terrible; he was a literary rock star; he was the book world’s answer to Mick Jagger. And so on. Yet the disproportionate fascination with Amis’s love life and famous friendships obscures his satirical gift: he was the Evelyn Waugh of his own consumerist age, and his brand of literary cynicism is at risk of dying with him.

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson was quoted in several papers, including the Guardian and The Herald (Glasgow), as having posted this message on his Twitter account

Shocked and sad at the death of Martin Amis – the greatest, darkest, funniest satirist since Evelyn Waugh. If you want cheering up, re-read the tennis match in Money. RIP.

So far as I am aware, Martin Amis never wrote a major piece of criticism or biographical essay devoted to Waugh or his works. In 1981 he wrote a review of a “busty new paperback of Brideshead Revisited.” This would have been a Penguin reissue in connection with the Granada TV series based on that book that was released about then. Amis is not impressed with the book but then, as he notes, ultimately neither was Waugh who initially deemed it his magnum opus then disowned it when he saw how popular it was in America. Martin makes some interesting points on Waugh’s attitude toward middle-class characters such as Rex Mottram and Hooper as well as the unconvincing position of Julia in the final segments. He also sees inconsistencies in the characters of Sebastian and Lord Marchmain. The review concluded

…Waugh wrote Brideshead with great speed, unfamiliar excitement, and a deep conviction of its excellence. Lasting schlock, the really good bad book, cannot be written otherwise. ‘The languor of Youth…How quickly, how irrevocably lost!’ The novel had its origins in this regret, the more keenly and confusedly felt by someone ‘beginning to be old.’ But then all this somehow had to be turned into art, that is where the real trouble started.

The article entitled “The Art of Snobbery” appeared in the Observer (25 October 1981) and was included in Amis’s 2001 collection entitled The War Against Cliché.

UPDATE (22 May 2023): The complete quote of Boris Johnson’s statement was posted and other corrections were made .

 

 

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Roundup (Exhibits and a Lecture)

–The Historical Association (Richmond & Twickenham Branch) has announced a lecture later this year that may be of interest to our London area readers:

Takes Place: 28th September 2023

Time: 8pm

Venue: Richmond Library Annexe, Quadrant St, Richmond TW9

Description: a fascinating vista of the inter-war period of British Society and the World of Literature

How to book: HA Members attend for free, as do School students; non-members pay £2 on the door

Price: £2

Tel: 07958 729526

Email: (click to email)

Organiser: Richard Turk

Lecturer: Mr David Fleming

The subject will be Mr Fleming’s recent book Hellfire: Evelyn Waugh and the Hellfire Club. This has been mentioned in several recent posts and was reviewed in the latest issue of Evelyn Waugh Studies.

–Meanwhile, our Southern California readers may enjoy this recently-opened exhibit at :

… the Forest Lawn Museum, Glendale, “Grand Views: The Immersive World of Panoramas.” It’s a collaboration of two of L.A.’s quirkier alternative spaces, the hipster Velaslavasay Panorama and the kitsch-positive Forest Lawn Museum. Both institutions have unique connections to the subject matter. Forest Lawn founder Hubert Eaton had an abiding belief in the power of art to draw pre-need customers. He bought a mothballed panorama, Jan Styka’s The Crucifixion, and installed it as a light-and-narration tourist attraction in his Glendale cemetery. […]

Eaton located Styka’s painting, wrapped around a telephone in the basement of the Chicago Civic Opera Company. He bought it for a pittance and had it restored by Styka’s son. Put on display at Forest Lawn, it was billed as America’s largest religious painting. … No sooner had Eaton secured his big picture than he was planning a sequel. A crucifixion is a downer, at odds with Forest Lawn’s sanitized spin on death (satirized in Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One). Eaton held a competition for designs for a similarly large painting of the Resurrection, to be shown alternately in the same building…

Even if you can’t schedule a visit to the exhibition, it is worth viewing the review posted on the website Los Angeles County Museum on Fire. The detailed illustrations will be of interest to anyone who has read Waugh’s novella and related essay on Forest Lawn: “Half in Love with Easeful Death” (EAR, 331). The 1952 photo from an unknown source entitled “Dr Hubert Eaton searching for Smiling Christ” is alone worth a look. The article is available at this link. Information regarding location and visiting hours at the museum is available here.

The Independent newspaper has posted an article on what it considers the best individual episodes of television series. This is explained in the introduction:

Television shows are, inevitably, made up of parts. On the surface, there’s the great, overarching story that begins with the first shot and ends with the last. But, within that narrative, there are small parts: the series, and the episode. It is the smallest of these sub-divisions, the episode, that is most intriguing. A truly brilliant episode can bridge the gap between cinema and TV. It can refine the essence of the best shows into a single, self-contained moment. At its most potent, a perfect episode is like mainlining all the myriad ingredients of prestige television in a single sitting.

The article then chooses the best 50 episodes of all time, and ranking just below the top at No. 6 is the final episode of the 1981 Granada series Brideshead Revisited:

The final episode of Granada TV’s Evelyn Waugh adaptation is by far the most melancholic, and not simply because Laurence Olivier, in his last significant screen role, gives an acting masterclass as his Lord Marchmain lies dying – the dissolute, snobbish marquis making a surprise reconversion to Catholicism. The final 15 minutes set during the Second World War, when the narrator Charles Ryder (Jeremy Irons) returns to Brideshead with his army squadron, and finds the place that holds so many memories being turned upside down by the troops, makes for a perfect Proustian coda. GG

I would have chosen the first episode. There will never be a better dramatization of interwar Oxford.

The Herald (Glasgow) has posted an article on Mary Quant. This is in connection with the opening of an exhibit at the Kelingrove Gallery and Museum in Glasgow entitled “Mary Quant: Fashion Revolutionary.” No doubt this is in connection with the celebration of Quant’s centenary year. See previous post. The article seems to be largely based on an interview of Quant’s long-time marketing and communications director Heather Tilbury Phillips. In the course of the article, this appears:

…Tilbury Phillips arrived at Quant’s HQ in Ives Street to take up a post working with Quant’s husband, Alexander Plunkett-Greene, an entrepreneur who came from old money (his family were said to be the inspiration for the Flyte family in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited).

While it is true that one might well find examples of characters based on the Plunket-Greenes in some of Waugh’s novels (especially Vile Bodies), there is little to connect them to the Flytes except for their  Roman Catholicism (at least Olivia Plunket-Greene and possibly her mother Gwen were converts; not sure about other members of the family). For one thing, they lacked a large country house estate such as Brideshead Castle.

–A Christchurch, New Zealand newspaper The Press:Te Matatika asked one of their veteran columnists (Joe Bennett) about his thoughts after several decades of journalism. One response related to memoirs:

“Evelyn Waugh, who’s an idol of mine, said the only time to write an autobiography is when you’ve lost all curiosity about the future. I don’t think I’m quite there but I can see it from here.” Bennett recently turned 66 and he suspects there is nothing much left to surprise him “apart from what are you going to die of?”

–Books blogger zmkc has posted a review of Scott-King’s Modern Europe after seeing a discussion about it in a book Bradbury wrote about Waugh. This may have been Bradbury’s 1964 booklet Evelyn Waugh in the Writers and Critic Series. Here’s her conclusion:

…Bradbury claims the book was written by Waugh after a visit to Spain. To me the country Scott-King is taken to seemed stranger and more remote than Spain could ever feel to a visitor from England. In any case, Waugh is, as always in my view, unable to put a word out of place and full of perceptive melancholy humour and wisdom. No one is a hero, everyone is scrabbling to live in some sort of reasonable comfort, life is consistently absurd and strange. The business of travel – the waiting rooms and so forth – are horrible, people are mysterious, surprising and absurd, confused surrender is the only useful attitude in face of the onrushing tide of life’s events.

I suspect someone could rig up a proposal for an academic thesis on books about innocents abroad, which could include Rates of Exchange, Scott-King’s Modern Europe and the scariest I’ve yet found of the genre – Metropole (or in Hungarian Epepe) by Ferenc Karinthy. If one wanted to, it also wouldn’t be impossible to argue that the story of Scott-King’s Modern Europe has some similarity to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – in both, the main characters are swept from their daily lives to a strange world quite outside their experience and then returned to their normal existences, with no one in their original world being any the wiser…

Thanks to Dave Lull for sending this review. It was inadvertently omitted from the original post.

 

 

 

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