Summer Solstice Roundup

–Peter Quennell may be having a revival. Duncan McLaren (see previous post) has now been joined by A N Wilson in recounting his career. Wilson in a memoir posted by The Oldie discusses several first hand meetings he had with Quennell over the years as well as some anecdotes he picked up from other sources. The fraught relationship between Quennell and Waugh is one of the subjects he writes about:

Evelyn Waugh hated PQ so much that he once came up to him in White’s and jumped up and down on his feet, the sort of bullying you would expect in a school playground, not at the hands of a distinguished novelist in his fifties in a gentleman’s club. The hatred went back to their young manhood when Q had reviewed Waugh’s first book, a biography of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Q, who had been at Oxford with Waugh, pretended that “Evelyn” was a woman and referred throughout his review to “Miss Waugh”.

Waugh in his journals or letters, I have not found the reference, made the fair point that Fuddy Duddy Fishface, as he called Quennell, was a better writer, technically, than anyone in his generation, but that he had nothing to write about. Although his books are mellifluous and beautifully crafted – volumes on Baudelaire, Byron, Ruskin etc., you never feel he was writing from compulsion. I wonder whether something got sealed off in his youth.

It was not Quennell’s reference to him as a woman that ruffled Waugh. That error was committed by the TLS reviewer (Letters, p. 28). It was rather Quennell’s negative tone from some one he knew personally that offended Waugh and sparked an exchange of letters.

–The trade press of the publishing industry contains another round of stories about the new owners of Waugh’s literary estate (and also includes some clarification of the extent of their ownership interest as it applies to Waugh’s works). Here’s an excerpt from The Hollywood Reporter:

International Literary Properties, the newly former London- and New York-based company that earlier this month acquired the estates of 12 late authors, has signed a first-look deal with BBC Studios, marking its first major production partnership. Under the deal, announced Tuesday, BBC Studios Production, the production arm of BBC Studios, and its portfolio of independent producers can explore the intellectual property owned and managed by ILP. Set up last year, the company currently holds the rights for authors including Georges Simenon, Eric Ambler, Margery Allingham, Edmund Crispin, Dennis Wheatley, Robert Bolt, Richard Hull, George Bellairs, Nicolas Freeling, John Creasey and Michael Innes as well as 20 percent of Evelyn Waugh’s estate.

Twenty percent is not exactly a controlling interest as was was wrongly suggested in the first round of stories about ILP’s acquisition. Just how they will work with the other owners has yet to be explained.

–Alexander Larman writing in The Critic joins several others in celebrating the 75th anniversary of Brideshead Revisited’s publication. After a discussion of the context in which it was written, its mixed initial reception, and its popularization by the 1981 TV serial, Larman concludes:

I read Brideshead Revisited for the first time when I was about 11, a decade or so after the TV series had appeared. I still remember the circumstances in which I encountered it, lying on my bed one summer afternoon. I didn’t understand everything in it, either the language or the situations described, but it made me feel transported, as if I had travelled to a new world that I had previously only dimly perceived the existence of. Like Charles, I thrilled to the description of prelapsarian Oxford; delighted in the straight-faced tomfoolery of Mr Ryder; enjoyed the farce of the worst tutor in literature, Mr Samgrass; and, above all, revelled in the vividly evoked sense of another, richer world. While my peers lost themselves in science fiction and fantasy novels, I, precocious little prig that I was, took my escapism from Evelyn Waugh. […]

Yet three-quarters of a century on, and nearly four decades after Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons made standing around in central Oxford looking wistful with a teddy bear the height of chic, Brideshead Revisited remains one of those quintessentially iconic stories that encapsulates not just aristocratic privilege, but our communal yearning for something glorious yet unattainable. Not for nothing is one of the sections of the book called ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’, nor is there much more Proustian in English literature than Charles’s comment, revisiting Brideshead during WWII, that ‘I had been there before; I knew all about it’. As tourists flock to Christ Church to take photos of the fountain of Mercury in which Anthony Blanche was dunked, and the book continues to sell in its thousands every year, it remains the classic that Waugh hoped it would be, and, in its combination of glacial beauty and lovelorn desperation, speaks to all readers, be they precocious 11-year olds or their older and hopefully wiser selves.

Larman also mentions an artist named Felix Kelly (1914-94) as one of Waugh’s possible inspirations for the character of Charles Ryder. Others have frequently mentioned Rex Whistler in this connection, but this is the first I have seen a reference to this artist. Some additional explanation might have been helpful. For example, according to his Wikipedia entry, Kelly painted, inter alia, many country houses and enjoyed staying in them.

–After his financial success with Brideshead, Waugh considered moving to a home located where less ruinous taxes applied. One of these was Gormanston Castle in Ireland. The Independent newspaper  has published a story about the recent development of that property and mentions in passing Waugh’s experience:

After the passing of a series of land acts, the Prestons [then owners] were forced to divide up the estate and sign over land to tenants. By the time Ireland had gained independence, the estate was in a perilous financial state. The writer Evelyn Waugh, author of Brideshead Revisited, had planned to buy Gormanston Castle, but was deterred when he learned of Billy Butlin’s plans to build a holiday resort at the nearby beach at Mosney.

Instead, the Prestons sold the castle and the remaining estate in 1947 to the Franciscan order, which set up an all-boys’ boarding school called Gormanston College in the grounds. The alumni of the college include actor Colin Farrell and former ministers Charlie McCreevy and James Reilly.

In Stamullen, just across the M1 from Gormanston College and its nearby beach, Glenveagh Properties is building a scheme called Silver Banks on land that likely once belonged to the Gormanston estate.

The development of 202 homes near the Co Dublin border is sandwiched between mature housing and St Patrick’s GAA’s playing grounds. The scheme will appeal to families commuting to Dublin or Drogheda by motorway or train and who want to be close to the beach.

Waugh would no doubt have been equally appalled by the middle class housing estate as he was by the prospect of being a neighbor to Butlins. Indeed, it was the postwar encroachment of suburban housing in Dursley as well as UK taxes that had prompted his decision to make an exit from Gloucestershire.

–Finally, the TLS has a review of a collection of obituaries (or brief lives) by Nicholas Barker. The collection is entitled At First, All Went Well…. Although apparently not a subject of one of the essays, Waugh gets a mention:

At First All Went Well… pulls together half a century’s worth of Barker’s pieces, some from the Independent, most from The Book Collector. Taken together, these pieces represent more than simply an anthology of individual lives. Barker paints a picture, an accidental sociology, of the book world in the twentieth century, its dealers and collectors, publishers, printers and scholars. The early obituaries – representing lives that ended in the 1960s and 70s – have the effect of telescoping time, pitching us, at one degree of separation, among the Edwardians and the Bright Young Things of the interwar years. When the bibliographer Graham Pollard was still young enough to travel around Putney by pram, he encountered the aged Swinburne, who poked at him with a stick. (The following day Pollard asked his nanny if they might take a different route on their perambulations.) It was Pollard too who introduced corduroy trousers to the Oxford fast set and defeated Evelyn Waugh in the university’s 10-foot spitting contest.




Posted in Anniversaries, Brideshead Revisited, Letters, Newspapers, Rossetti: His Life and Works | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Summer Solstice Roundup

Campion in La Prensa

The Buenos Aires paper La Prensa has published a review of Waugh’s biography Edmund Campion. The review, which is unsigned, opens with this:

Evelyn Waugh wrote this book between 1934 and 1935, in homage to the Jesuit College of Oxford University (Campion Hall) and Father Martin D’Arcy SJ, who years earlier had guided him in his conversion to Catholicism. Although it is an unusual work In his production, his portrait of the English martyr contains vibrant narrative passages and a sound historical survey, valid for Catholics of all times, from the cruel persecutions of the Elizabethan era.

In the preface to the American edition, Waugh explained that he had not set out to write a scholarly biography of St. Edmund Campion (1540-1581), but “to select the incidents which would strike a novelist as important, and put them into a narrative which I hope may prove readable. ” We can affirm that he achieved that purpose, and that he did it with the command of the English language that is habitual in all his books, and with his typical tense, compact, precise style, which says more when it seems to say less.

This is followed by a well written and concise summary of the book and concludes with this:

In 1946, when he wrote the preface to the American edition of the book, Waugh (1903-1966) warned that the world of that year, at the beginning of the Cold War, was in a better position to understand the martyrdom of Saint Edmund Campion than the more tolerant Victorians. Perhaps the same can be said of this deranged 2020. With other excuses, the “unending war” on faith continues and promises to intensify. Waugh warned the reader: “The hunted, trapped, murdered priest is amongst us again, and the voice of Campion comes to us across the centuries as though he were walking at our side.”

The book was translated into Spanish and published in Madrid in 2009. The reviewer seems, however, to have read it in an English language edition that included the 1946 introduction. The introduction was written for the American edition which appeared after the success of Brideshead Revisited but has also been included in UK editions printed since then. The computerized translation of the article into English is quite readable with very few minor adjustments. In the excerpts above, the language from the book that quotes Waugh’s writing has been taken from the original and substituted for the retranslation from Spanish.

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Harold Acton (and Martin Green)

Duncan McLaren has added Harold Acton to Waugh’s pantheon of friends. On this occasion he writes it up as a straight narrative rather that as an addition to the crowd gathering at the now postponed Brideshead Festival at Castle Howard.

He breaks their relationship into three periods: Oxford and After, China and Travel, and Post War. This works quite well, as the Oxford and After period is already covered in other biographies and is well summarized by McLaren. He also notes that Acton’s decision to move to China coincides with Waugh’s adoption of a nomadic life following the breakup of his first marriage. A useful description of Acton’s life and work in China is also provided, a period that is less well known. After the war they met each other from time to time and leave descriptions of those meetings in their memoirs and letters. These are well covered in the article.

Acton’s reputation rests as much or more on his friendships with other writers such as Evelyn Waugh than with his own writing. Waugh relied on Acton’s opinion to consign his first novel to the fireplace and dedicated Decline and Fall to him, but, as time went on, McLaren explains how Waugh became less enamored of Acton’s own writing. That opinion seems to have held up, as little of Acton’s writing aside from his memoirs remains in print. Even those could not be described as “easy reading”.

McLaren also introduces the book Children of the Sun: A Narrative of ‘Decadence’ in England After 1918 (1976) into the article. This is by Martin Burgess Green (1927-2010) who taught at Tufts University for many years. This set out to describe the group of aesthetes and intellectuals who formed around Harold Acton and Brian Howard in the 1920s. McLaren provides some interesting background on Green’s research for the book as well as Acton’s rather negative reaction to it. The book is still in print although you may have to search more diligently than usual to find it. Here is a link to the entire article.

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Brideshead @ 75: A N Wilson, The Oldie and The Folio Society

The Oldie has posted A N Wilson’s introduction to the Folio Society’s 2018 reprint of Brideshead Revisited. While this may not be denominated by Wilson or The Oldie as a commemoration of the novel’s 75th anniversary, we should be entitled to regard it as such. Wilson begins by placing the book’s plot in historic context and explaining how the story would play out both the same and differently in today’s social and religious environments. His discussion of the religious context is of particular interest. He then provides his own assessment of the story itself:

…So, Brideshead Revisited is a period piece. The aristocratic way of life which Waugh believed to be doomed, still continues, albeit in modified form. The seemingly immutable Holy Mother Church has shifted some of her sterner stances.

This in no way spoils our enjoyment of the novel , which many would consider Waugh’s masterpiece. Those of us who love his work, and reread it often, must often have felt torn between appreciation of the brittle comedies of his youth and young manhood, and the august achievement of the Sword of Honour trilogy, one of the undoubted works of literary genius, in any language, to emerge from the Second World War. The early comedies, owing so much to Ronald Firbank, but so distinctively themselves, make us laugh aloud. The sports day at Llanabba Castle in Decline and Fall, the oafish customs inspectors in Vile Bodies, confiscating Dante’s Inferno because it sounds foreign and therefore pornographic, the hatefulness of the Connolly children in Put Out More Flags, these are crystalline comic vignettes which are cruelly and perfectly constructed. The Sword of Honour books retain the comedy (who can forget Apthorpe’s thunderbox?) but follow the themes of all great literature, love, war, death, with unmatched seriousness. Brideshead Revisited, lush, colour-splashed, romantic, comes between these two bodies of work. It is Waugh’s Antony and Cleopatra. It is his richest, and most passionate book…

Wilson’s introduction continues through other topics and ends up on the often overlooked success of the book’s comic characters:

Given the solemnity of the theme, “the operation of divine grace”, you might have expected Waugh’s humour to have failed him in this book, but even the hilarity of the early novels is outshone by the comic characters in this one. Charles’s father, Anthony Blanche, or the awful Samgrass take their place among the immortals with Dr Fagan and Captain Grimes. Even the figures whom Waugh and Ryder hate – Hooper and Mottram – are funny. And even non-Catholics have laughed at Cordelia’s hoodwinking Rex into believing that there are sacred monkeys in the Vatican.

To which might be added the character of Bridey who raises religious cluelessness to previously unattained heights of humour.


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Bright Younger People

In yesterday’s Mail on Sunday, Toby Young writes about his days at Oxford in the 1980s, energized to do so by a new book out later this week by Dafydd Jones. This is entitled Oxford, The Last Hurrah. The US edition will be out early next month. Young begins his essay with a description of the first time he encountered Boris Johnson:

The audience at the Union roared with laughter – and it was laughter of appreciation, not ridicule. There was something so winning about this befuddled yet strangely charismatic 19-year-old that you couldn’t help warming to him. This was the first time I ever set eyes on Boris Johnson. I’d been at Oxford for about a week by then, searching in vain for the Bright Young Things I’d found so appealing in the TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

It was watching that ITV series that had made me want to go to Oxford in the first place – there was something irresistible about the Olympian insouciance of the characters. And here at last, performing a comic turn honed to perfection over five years at Eton, was someone who conformed to the Oxford stereotype. Blond, handsome, oozing with confidence and humour, it was as if Boris had sprung, fully formed, from Waugh’s imagination.

It was only later that I learned he was the son of a middle-class farmer on Exmoor who was himself the grandson of a Turkish immigrant. After landing at Eton on a scholarship, Boris had set about recreating himself as a cartoon version of a posh public schoolboy […] The number of people pretending to be posher than they were was one of the striking things about Oxford in those days.

Looking like you’d been born with a silver spoon in your mouth hadn’t been fashionable in Britain since Labour won a landslide Election victory in 1945. But for a brief period in the mid-1980s, it was surprisingly cool to be privileged. It’s hard to imagine today, but people from quite ordinary backgrounds would go to parties wearing tailcoats and silk dressing gowns, as if to the manner born. The 1960s gave us hippies and the 1970s gave us punks, both determined to overthrow ‘the system’.  The 1980s, by contrast, gave us Sloane Rangers and Young Fogeys, as if a new generation were reacting to the misery of the previous decade by thumbing their noses at the finger-wagging egalitarians.

Young goes on to describe his first encounters with other members of these Bright Younger People such as Hugh Grant, David Cameron and Nigella Lawson. Toward the end, he offers a roll call of the entire decade at Oxford, including BYPs in the years before and after his own Oxford career, some of whom came as a surprise to your correspondent. The story is illustrated with several photographs from the book, which are what it’s all really about. Dafydd Jones seems to have done for this new generation what Cecil Beaton did for his own contemporary BYPs. There are several amusing photos of the people Young describes with evident retrospective enjoyment as well as one of him enjoying himself first hand.

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Juneteenth Roundup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Auctions, Brideshead Revisited, Decline and Fall, Newspapers, Scott-King's Modern Europe, Waugh in Abyssinia, When the Going Was Good | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Juneteenth Roundup

Peter Quennell: Reviewer and Rival

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

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

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

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

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Castle Howard’s Brideshead Webinar on YouTube

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

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Brideshead @ 75: The Economist and The Tablet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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Roundup: Protests and Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Letters, Newspapers, Radio Programs, Scoop, Sword of Honour, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Roundup: Protests and Summer