Weekend Roundup–Friends at a Distance: Mitford/Waugh Letters

An article on the books blog The Captive Reader is effectively a new review of The Letters of Nancy Mitford & Evelyn Waugh first published in 1996. This is written by “Claire of Vancouver” and opens with this:

Mitford and Waugh write to entertain one another and, it must be said, show off.  They want to share the best gossip, make the cleverest comment, and score points in the ongoing competition that is their friendship. The results are fabulous.

Claire points out that the correspondence is needed because they were living far apart during most of it and rarely met in person.  As editor Charlotte Mosley comments: “…they found it easier to conduct a friendship on paper rather than in person.  When they did meet, Evelyn’s bad temper and Nancy’s sharp tongue – qualities which enhance their correspondence – often led to quarrels.”  After a chronolgical summary of several letters extending over numerous subjects, the article concludes:

The geographical separation was probably a very good thing for their relationship.  They are able to gossip continually about mutual friends … and, in Waugh’s case at least, provide critical feedback on the other’s writings …Waugh is a funny misanthrope but such a contrast from Mitford.  She manages to remain optimistic, to find happiness in a new dress she can’t afford or something terribly Parisian she’s just encountered or a ridiculous thing a member of her family has just done (so many to choose from)  … This was my first encounter with Waugh and I can’t say it did anything to make me warm to him.  But Mitford, on the other hand, her I love even more than before.  She could write devastatingly cruel things with incredible wit but these letters show what lay on the other side of that: the warmth and optimism that sustained her.

Another weblog (catholicism.org) has posted an article about Scott-King’s Modern Europe. This 1947 story was published separately as a short book in both the UK and USA. In the article, Robert Hickson argues that the Roman Catholic church might do well to adopt something more like Scott-King’s attitude to the modern world. The story is liberally quoted in the article and a full version is included in The Complete Stories.

A review in this week’s TLS addresses a book called Lost in Translation. This is reviewed by Lucy Beckett and is about a new attempt to improve the English vernacular version of the Roman Catholic liturgy. Waugh is prominently mentioned as one who was deeply disappointed in the version introduced in the 1960s and “who felt deprived of a precious inheritance from antiquity, and a blood- stained badge of recusant pride.” As described in the book, the new version was “an excellent, resonant and memorable translation, of which most English-speaking Catholics are, alas, unaware.” Although accepted enthusiastically by English-speaking prelates, it was not approved by Vatican officials. Whether Waugh would have joined with its supporters, however, seems doubtful since what he wanted was a return to the Latin services with which he was familiar, and not a better vernacular version.

In the Irish Times, Gerald Dawe writes an appreciation of Muriel Spark on the occasion of her centenary. As an example of her independent spirit, he offers the following anecdote:

Asked about “The Book I would Like to Have Written, and Why”, Spark, while name-checking several possibilities including Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One, The Book of Job which “enchants me above all other books in the Bible” along with the sonnets of Shakespeare, the dialogues of Plato, the notebooks of Kierkegaard, stories including James’s Daisy Miller, TF Powys’s Mr Weston’s Good Wine and novels by “most-admired contemporary novelist, Heinrich Boll”, is adamant: “I would not want to have written anything by anyone else, because they are ‘them’ and I am ‘me’. And I do not want to be anybody else but myself with all the ideas I want to convey, the stories I want to tell, maybe lesser works, but my own” (1981).




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Waugh and Tito

Standpoint magazine in its current issue has reprinted a letter from Milena Borden who is also one of our readers. She was commenting on an article in the magazine’s November issue as explained in her letter. Here is the text of her letter:

Robin Harris’s fine report from Zagreb, ‘Tito’s Crimes Should Never be Forgotten’ (Standpoint, Nov 2017) would have been applauded by Evelyn Waugh. Fifty five years ago almost to the date, in his Sunday Express article ‘Our Guest of Dishonour’ (30 Nov 1952). he asked, ‘Who is the man?’. Waugh argued that ‘Tito was simply his Comintern code-word. Marshal was a rank of the Red Army unknown in Yugoslavia. He had Stalin’s commission and Stalin sent him his marshal’s cap.’

Waugh protested to Anthony Eden’s invitation to Tito to visit London and was against the ‘English Conservative courtship’ of the Yugoslav leader. This was intensified by the split with Stalin in 1948, correctly judged by Harris as a matter of personal ambition rather then principal disagreement. [No doubt Waugh would have also enjoyed hearing more about Tito’s undignified personal life as he jokingly referred to him as a ‘she’ presumably meaning among other things that he was not a real ‘man’. ]

The main agreement he would have had with Harris is the deceptive misconception that Tito was a heroic ‘antifascist’ rather than a communist dictator. Waugh himself wrote an important report about the brutal elimination of Catholic priests by Tito’s partisans. He immortalised the British alliance with Tito in Unconditional Surrender (1961), the third part of his war trilogy Sword of Honour as the ultimate betrayal: ‘He was busy then, as now, in the work for which he has a peculiar aptitude – hoodwinking the British.’

The bracketed text above was deleted from the version reprinted in Standpoint. Waugh’s 1952 Sunday Express article is collected in Essays, Articles and Reviews.  Thanks to Milena for passing this along.

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“Night and Day”– A Londoner’s “New Yorker”

Literary critic and journalist Terry Teachout has written an article in the Wall Street Journal about the short-lived magazine Night and Day. This is entitled “The Magazine Shirley Temple Shut Down”. According to Teachout:

The New Yorker has been around so long that it is surprising how few imitators it has spawned. Moreover, none of them were commercially successful, and only one is still known, if only to literary connoisseurs: Night and Day, a weekly that sought to transplant the sophisticated style and design of the New Yorker to England between the wars. While it was published for only a short time, putting out its inaugural issue in July of 1937 and shutting down six months later, Night and Day made a impression that has yet to fade…. The regular contributors included, among others, Evelyn Waugh, who reviewed books; Graham Greene, the co-editor, who doubled as film critic; and… Anthony Powell, John Betjeman, Elizabeth Bowen, Alistair Cooke, Christopher Isherwood, Constant Lambert, Malcolm Muggeridge and Herbert Read. All were mainly out to amuse, though Night and Day was not above publishing more serious fare. For the most part, however, it was, like the New Yorker in the ’20s and ’30s, a chiefly comic magazine. Therein lay its appeal: At a time when England was looking nervously at the totalitarian monsters who were swallowing up Europe, Night and Day gave its subscribers something to smile about….

Waugh was offered the job of drama critic by Graham Greene, the magazine’s literary editor, but preferred to write a book review column. He contributed weekly book reviews between July and December 1937 and earned 8 guineas per week (including the resale of review copies). Among the books he reviewed were such classics as David Jones’ In Parenthesis, Edith Sitwell’s I Live Under a Black Sun (her first novel), George Bernanos’ Diary of a Country Priest and Aldous Huxley’s essay collection Ends and Means, all still in print. These reviews (as well as some others from the magazine) are collected in Waugh’s Essays, Articles and Reviews.

The magazine was struggling financially after its introductory period but the final blow came when Graham Greene was accused by 20th Century Fox of allegedly libelling Shirley Temple in his review of her film Wee Willie Winkie. That caused some outlets to refuse distribution and the magazine’s backers failed to come up with sufficient funds to continue. The libel case was settled for £3500 in March 1938 but by then the magazine had already shut down.

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West Coast Waugh

The Bay Area Reporter (San Francisco) has a review of Acorn TV’s DVD version of the BBC adaptation of Decline and Fall. After a background of the novel’s writing and summary of the story, reviewer Brian Bromberger concludes with this:

Director Guillen Morales and screenwriter John Wood make it all work by recreating a farcical morality tale as a deadpan comedy that also functions as a caustic period piece. Much of the biting dialogue is straight out of Waugh’s book, but the virtuoso acting creates sympathy for these largely vacuous characters. Jack Whitehall, a former stand-up comedian, is perfect as the trusting Pennyfeather, who thinks well of everyone, even when they are doing bad things to him. Eva Longoria is unexpectedly effective: you’re not sure if she’s an airhead or a scheming villainess. Grimes’ Douglas Hodge steals the show, especially when he fakes his drowning on his dreaded wedding night and returns later as a white sex trader.

“Decline and Fall” is a laugh-out-loud absurdity that’s shocking and vicious, yet also genteel and touching. Balancing these tonal shifts has made Waugh tricky to transfer to the screen. But Waugh’s verbal dexterity is as relevant today as it was 90 years ago. Breezy and never cruel, “Decline and Fall” gives us hope that other Waugh classics will be reinterpreted. They could receive no better treatment than this crafty, scathing, oddly contemporary adaptation.

This week’s Spectator contains a review by Robert McCrum of two books about attitudes toward death. One of them is by Californian Caitlin Doughty, a bestselling mortician and co-founder of “The Order of the Good Death.” Her book is entitled From Here to Eternity in which, according to McCrum, she describes a

… journey that becomes a search for ‘the Holy Grail of corpse interaction’. She hits the road in quest of cultures untroubled by the western taboos surrounding mortality. … Her rambling tour of ‘good deaths’ ranges from the Japanese ritual of kotsuage, where relatives pick their loved ones’ bones from the crematorium with chopsticks, to the natitas of Bolivia, cigarette-smoking skulls that grant mourners’ wishes. Doughty herself favours something simpler for the happy corpse, ‘a hand-made shroud lined with peacock feathers and palm fronds’. Although she never refers to Evelyn Waugh, somewhere in eternity’s sunrise the author of The Loved One will be rubbing his hands with glee.


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Oxford Mail Previews New Book on Waugh

The Oxford Mail in an article by Andrew Ffrench offers an advance look at a new book about Evelyn Waugh to be issued next month. This is Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford by Barbara Cooke who is lecturer at Loughborough University and co-Executive Editor of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project. According to the Mail:

Alexander Waugh, the author’s grandson, said in his foreword: “As an undergraduate Waugh spent much of his time drinking, socialising, spending too much money and what he called ‘eating wild honey in the wilderness’ but, like his character Charles Ryder, he never looked back in regret. “Barbara Cooke, a leading expert on Waugh’s life and work, offers an engaging account of Oxford’s effect on Waugh and Waugh’s effect on Oxford that should leave the reader with a refreshed, if slightly altered, view of both.”

Published by the Bodleian Library, the new study features illustrations by Amy Dodd, who creates a hand-drawn trail around Waugh’s Oxford, including favourite locations such as the Botanic Garden, the Oxford Union and The Chequers pub off High Street. Dr Cooke’s new book draws on specially commissioned illustrations and previously unpublished photographic material to provide a robust assessment of Waugh’s engagement with Oxford over the course of his literary career.

The book will be released in the UK on 16 March 2018. In connection with the book launch, Dr Cooke will discuss the book at the Oxford Literary Festival on Sunday 18 March. See previous post for details.  A 15 May 2018 date has been announced for the book’s USA release. Dr Cooke is also co-editor of the recently published Complete Works edition of A Little Learning (vol 19).

Meanwhile, on the Thames south of Oxford, another recent Waugh-related event is described in The Tablet’s weblog. This is the opening of a new private Roman Catholic chapel on the grounds of an estate:

Dispensations for private chapels were given up until the Reformation, after which many were lost. But some have crept back in modern times, and none more spectacular than one that’s recently been built from scratch at Culham Court on the banks of the Thames in Oxfordshire. [sic] Constructed in the style of a classical temple, with huge attention to detail, the Chapel of Christ the Redeemer took three years to build. The consecration service was led by the late Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor two years ago. The chapel is located in an estate owned by the Swiss financier, Urs Schwarzenbach….

An idea of the literary and historical context [of the chapel] can be imagined by referencing … Evelyn Waugh. Waugh in Brideshead Revisited writes: “The last architect to work at Brideshead had added a colonnade and flanking pavilions. One of these was the chapel. We entered it by the public porch …Sebastian dipped his fingers in the water stoup, crossed himself, and genuflected; I copied him. ‘Why do you do that?’ he asked crossly. ‘Just good manners’.”

…The Chapel of Christ the Redeemer is set on a hilltop within the Culham Court estate… The Chapel is open to the public for Mass once a month and on Holy Days of Obligation.

The next scheduled service at the chapel is on 25 February at 630pm. See here for details. The estate is situated in Berkshire, not Oxfordshire, although the nearest town is Henley-on-Thames, Oxon. It might also be considered relevant to The Tablet’s article that, after the visit described in the quote from Waugh’s novel, the private chapel at Brideshead was closed and deconsecrated, to the sadness of Cordelia (Penguin, pp. 211-212). As described in the novel’s Epilogue, the chapel was reopened during the war by a “blitzed R.C. padre”, who is sheltering in the house, and was open to the troops: “surprising lot use it too.” At the book’s conclusion, Charles Ryder finds a light still burning “in a copper lamp of deplorable design relit before the beaten copper doors of the tabernacle.”


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Journalism and Dystopia: Two Foreign Book Articles

Works by Evelyn Waugh feature prominently in articles on two foreign language weblogs. In Spanish, the books blog entitled “Regina ExLibris” vigorously recommends Waugh’s novel Scoop (in Spanish Noticia Bomba!):

…in Noticia Bomba! Waugh distills all his wit and talent for satire with a hilarious story that pulverizes the sound of the press and the war correspondents… and he knows about the subject, because he was a war correspondent. But here he raises a wonderful comedy of entanglements, in which a tabloid mistakenly sends to cover a war in a remote country a columnist of botanical issues. It’s hilarious, really. AY, YOU HAVE TO READ IT!

In Italian, Luca Fumagalli has posted on Radio Spada an article about Roman Catholic dystopian novels (“Dark prophecies and terrible futures in Catholic fiction”). These include well known examples such as R H Benson’s The Lord of the World (1907) and The Dawn of All (1911) as well as G K Chesterton’s The Flying Inn (1914, in Italian, L’osteria volante). Also mentioned are the Father Elijah novels by Canadian Michael D. O’Brien published between 1996 and 2015 and Park: A Fantastic Story (1932) by poet John Gray. In addition, he discusses two dystopian works by Evelyn Waugh:

The same satirical and grotesque coloring [on display in these other books] comes back in two dystopian tales written by Evelyn Waugh. In the story “Out Of Depth” (1933). he recalls how a middle-aged American, Rip Van Winkle, after having met a mysterious magician, is thrown forward in time by five centuries. He finds himself in a London reduced to ruins, where the vegetation has now taken over and the population is forced to live in straw huts and mud, practicing agriculture and fishing. The dominant class consists of a group of black Catholics, barricaded on a military base. After waking up from what seemed like a dream, Van Winkle decides to return to the faith he had given up in his youth. Love Among the Ruins, published as a book in 1953, instead refers to Brave New World by Huxley. The novella, much more complex than the previous one, however, deals only marginally with religious issues, narrating the misadventures of a former pyromaniac who wanders in a dystopian and fake egalitarian Britain.

The translation is by Google with edits. Both of Waugh’s dystopian tales are available in The Complete Stories.

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Prendergast’s Wig and Brexit

A reader of the Financial Times has written to the paper equating Brexit to the wig of Waugh’s character Mr Prendergast in his novel Decline and Fall. Here’s the explanation from Geoff Scargill of Stockport:

… All the boys know it is a wig. “[Prendy] knew from the start that it was a mistake but once they had seen it, it was too late to go back. They make all sorts of jokes about it.” Brexit is our wig. After months of talks and posturing about independence we can see that we are thin on top. Everyone abroad knows it and is making jokes about us. But it is too late to go back.

The letter is headed on the FT’s website with a photo of actor Vincent Franklin who masterfully portrayed Prendy in the recent BBC TV adaptation.

UPDATED (30 January 2018): Last sentence added.

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Waugh Presentation at Goa Conference

The third international conference on the culture, language and literature of Goa was convened last week in India and is reported in several Indian news services. The primary subject was the theatre in Goa, and a presentation was also made on Evelyn Waugh’s 1953 essay “Goa: The Home of a Saint”. This involved a reading of the article in Portuguese. The essay was based on Waugh’s trip to Goa in late 1952-early 1953 where he observed Christmas and the 400th anniversary of the death of Saint Francis Xavier who is buried in a Goan church. The original article was published in December 1953 in both the Month and Esquire magazines. It is collected in Essays, Articles and Reviews.

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Oxfordshire Pub to Host Waugh Event

The Abingdon Arms in Beckley, Oxfordshire, will tonight host an appearance of Prof Martin Stannard, Evelyn Waugh’s biographer and co-executive editor of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project. He will discuss Waugh’s association with the pub which is where he wrote some of his earliest works and visited with friends such as Alastair Graham. See previous post. The event is scheduled for 7pm today, 28 January 2018. Beckley is just north of Oxford between Headington and Horton-cum-Studley. Details available here.

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Weekend Roundup of Waviana

An Athens art exhibit has been titled “The Unseen Hook” (Το αόρατο αγκίστρι). The name is taken from Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited. As explained in an article on a Greek website:

The “invisible hook” is what binds us to the past – memories, emotions, secrets and canceled expectations, everything that has shaped us and shaped us, everything we loved and betrayed, hurt and hurt us. Starting with this phrase, artists Andreas Vouras and Alexandros Maganiotis meet and present a common visual proposition, content and multiple readings. A proposition in the core of which lies the notions of memory, experience and identity.

Translation is by Google. The credit for the quoted language should go, however, to G K Chesterton. It is taken from a Father Brown story (“The Queer Feet”) which is recalled in Waugh’s novel by Cordelia.

‘…I wonder if you remember the story mummy read us the evening Sebastian first got drunk – I mean the bad evening. “Father Brown” said something like “I caught him” (the thief) “with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”‘ (Penguin, p. 212)

The exhibit opens on 2 February at the Alma Gallery in the Kolonaki district of Athens. See a video tour of the exhibit here.

Another reference to Brideshead appeared in the National Catholic Register, linking it to Milton’s Paradise Lost:

When it comes to literature, there are plenty of examples in which right and wrong portrayed subtly have led to confusion.  Evelyn Waugh’s masterful and very Catholic novel, Brideshead Revisited, is adored by numerous secular critics only because they fail to see its Catholicity.  Waugh, writing from the point of view of a narrator who is (for most of the story) not Catholic, is too subtle for his advocacy of the Faith to be grasped by many readers.  A still more grave example of this phenomenon is Milton’s Paradise Lost.  Milton asserts rather grandly near the beginning of his biblical epic that he intends “to justify the ways of God to man,” an intention which even a minute scholarly knowledge of Milton’s life and opinions supports.  But over the centuries since Milton wrote, scores if not hundreds of readers have felt (in the words of William Blake) that Milton was “of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”  Milton has been rolling in his grave ever since… For every person misled by Waugh’s novels or Milton’s poetry, there are perhaps two people whose faith is strengthened by their work—perhaps greatly strengthened…

The Financial Times reviews a new novel (The Adulterants) by Joe Dunthorne (his third) about a free lance journalist’s picaresque quest to find a larger flat in east London. This is compared to a Waugh novel:

Dunthorne gleefully sends Ray on a trajectory similar to that of Paul Pennyfeather in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall (1928). Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse for our roguish protagonist, things continue their downward spiral. And just as there was something baroque and cruel about the way Waugh pitched Pennyfeather into ever rougher seas, Dunthorne is similarly cold-blooded in his treatment of Ray, a figure you simultaneously feel empathy for, yet wouldn’t mind seeing a little sense knocked into. …As with Pennyfeather’s fall from grace, Ray’s steady disintegration is oddly pleasurable to read. Dunthorne — also a published poet — has a humorous, well-observed precision to his writing …

A quote from Scoop opens an article in the online journal of the Stategic Culture Foundation, which is devoted to the practice of journalism. This is entitled “Nobody Cares About ‘The News'” and is written by Patrick Armstrong:

In his mordant novel Scoop, Evelyn Waugh has one of his characters explain what “The News” is:

‘News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read. And it’s only news until he’s read it. After that it’s dead.’

There is a great deal of wisdom in this little remark that I will attempt to unpack. It also, in my opinion, succinctly explains why we, who believe ourselves to be so brilliantly analytical and persuasive on sites like this one, have so little success in changing the opinions of our friends and neighbours (or awakening them as we might prefer to say).

Finally, another reference to Scoop turns up in the interview of a new novelist by the student newspaper (Palatinate) of Durham University where he was formerly a student and the paper’s editor. This is Matthew Richardson whose novel, entitled My Name is Nobody, is an espionage thriller currently being adapted for TV. When asked about his literary inspirations, he answered:

I did my dissertation at Durham on Evelyn Waugh so I really enjoy his work. He has a great novel, Scoop, which is a satire piece on the journalistic world … I have a huge respect for Dickens and Shakespeare. Graham Green, John le Carré … I especially like the authors that manage to bridge the gap between entertainment and high art. I prefer Dickens to Henry James.

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