Category Archives: Literature

The National Book Foundation Defines Diversity Down

Kevin Mims, Quillette, 7 January 2020

Last month the Huffington Post published an essay by Claire Fallon entitled “Was this Decade the Beginning of the End of the Great White Male Writer?” Fallon celebrated the notion that white men are losing their prominence in contemporary American literature and that the best books being published in America today are being written by a wider variety of authors than ever before:

“What was once insular is now unifying,” National Book Foundation director Lisa Lucas told the crowd at the 2019 National Book Awards Gala, where the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry honors all went to writers of color. “What was once exclusive is now inclusive.”

Lucas took over the foundation in 2016, at a time when the high-profile awards had a somewhat checkered record with representation. Though historically the honorees had skewed heavily white and male, that began to change around 2010. (However, there had been some other recent embarrassments, like 2014 host Daniel Handler’s racist jokes following author Jacqueline Woodson’s win for “Brown Girl Dreaming.”) Lucas, the first woman and person of color to helm the foundation, made representation and inclusivity a focus of her messaging. When looking back at the past decade, she told HuffPost in an interview, a multipronged effort to build a more inclusive literary scene has indeed paid dividends.

Read on…

Evelyn Waugh's 'Love Among the Ruins'

Peace in a Plastic World

By Joshua Hren, First Things, 12 March 2019

Western secular culture “is a kind of hothouse growth,” Christopher Dawson wrote—an artificial culture that shelters us from “the direct impact of reality.” Neither birth nor death in secular societies occasions confrontation with ultimate realities. Rather, each brings us “into closer dependence on the state and its bureaucracy so that every human need can be met by filling in the appropriate form.” Evelyn Waugh’s Love Among the Ruins: A Romance of the Near Future dramatizes this sheltering. In this novella, “junior sub-official” Miles Plastic does clerical work for the “Department of Euthanasia” in a dystopian state. Plastic, whose surname epitomizes artificiality and malleability, ensures that those in line for a happy death do “not press ahead of their turn,” and adjusts “the television set for their amusement.” Although “a faint whiff of cyanide sometimes gave a hint of the mysteries beyond,” Plastic is content to empty the waste basket and brew tea for the patients. 

Because the “services” offered by the Department of Euthanasia are “essential,” Plastic has no feast on “Santa Claus Day” (December 25). After work he walks to the hospital to visit his lover Clara, who is with child, and finds “the hall porter . . .  engrossed in the television, which was performing an old obscure folk play which past generations had performed on Santa Claus Day, and was now revived and revised as a matter of historical interest.” The porter’s interest, Plastic supposes, is “professional,” for the show “dealt with maternity services before the days of Welfare.” The porter cannot look away from “the strange spectacle of an ox and an ass, an old man with a lantern, and a young mother.” “‘People here are always complaining,’” the porter says. “‘They ought to realize what things were like before Progress.’”

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Review Michel Houellebecq’s ‘Serotonin’

Lonely White Men: On Michel Houellebecq’s “Serotonin

By Louis Betty

FRANCE’S MICHEL HOUELLEBECQ leads something of a double career. A novelist of Prix Goncourt–winning distinction, Houellebecq is also his country’s best-selling author abroad and, on many accounts, currently its best. He is also reliably a prophet of current events: his third novel, Platform, featured an Islamist attack on a Thai sex resort and was published just days before 9/11; a later novel, Submission, which imagined France’s election of a Muslim party president, appeared the day of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and seemed a novelistic auger of the gruesome wave of terrorism that roiled France during the next few years. Whatever, Houellebecq’s 1994 debut novel, turned out to be equally prescient, though it took more than two decades for its prophecies to take shape. A commentary on male sexual frustration, Whatever, as the author of a New York Times essay argued in 2018, is a psychological account of involuntary celibacy and the violence that erotic isolation breeds.

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Evelyn and Alastair

Two more essays from Duncan McLaren’s Evelyn Waugh website. The information about Waugh’s and Graham’s relationship I have not read anywhere summarised in this way. As fascinating as ever. What a sad end for Alastair Graham.

The relationship between Evelyn Waugh and Alastair Graham in Evelyn concluded or ask Alastair

Evelyn Waugh and Alastair set out on trip to north of England and into Scotland Evelyn and Alastair’s Grand Tour

Duncan McLaren on Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell

More than six months ago I received a link to Duncan McLaren’s latest  (what shall I call it?) meandering musings on Evelyn Waugh. At the time I was bogged down with writing TONY ABBOTT AND THE TIMES OF REVOLUTION and did not have the mental space to read and post the link.  I have now got around it.

Duncan’s writings are for the extreme Waugh lover. Prepare for a wild ride. He had received a letter from someone who mentioned a meeting between Waugh and George Orwell. Duncan’s imagination took flight. Enjoy.

WHEN WAUGH MET ORWELL or “DOUBLEPLUSGOOD, JEEVES” 

A brief remark on style

While I agree in principle that fiction writers should avoid the passive voice and choose a strong verb in instead of resorting to adverbs, the passive voice and adverbs are functional part of the English language, and I use them when required by the shade of the narrative. I take my example from Evelyn Waugh who, it was said, never wrote a bad sentence. Take this sentence in Decline and Fall (chapter 9 about sports day). There were accusations of cheating:

No one spoke of the race, but outraged sportsmanship glinted perilously in every eye.

Would Waugh’s meaning be the same – have the same force – if one removed ‘perilously’ ? Or what verb could replace the already descriptive ‘glinted’ and convey the same meaning?

Publishing falls to the left

Ideologues Captured the Canadian Publishing Industry

In 2016, when I enrolled in the Master of Publishing program at Simon Fraser University’s Vancouver, B.C. campus, I had expected to find an industry of like-minded professionals who shared my love of the written word. And I did indeed meet many such colleagues. But I also got a glimpse into an industry that has become politicized to an extent that I scarcely could have imagined.

Publishing is not a career one chooses for the money. Nearly all areas of the industry are suffering economically. But since embarking on this course of study, I’ve found myself confronting challenges that have nothing to do with money. Regular Quillette readers will be aware that political and ideological forces have constrained the range of acceptable content in artistically and academically rarified fields such as creative writing (including poetry), media studiesmusic and performance art. What might be less appreciated is the manner by which these same forces are exerting pressure on the more mainstream area of publishing…

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Waugh on the merits

Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh was born in 1903 to upper-middle-class Anglicans who lived in a suburb of London. He attended a boarding secondary school (Lancing College), read history at Oxford, published his first book (a biography of the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti) at age twenty-four, then his first novel a year later. Waugh married that same year (1928), divorced after two years, and converted to Catholicism. After the first marriage was declared null, he married a Catholic by whom he had seven children. He served honorably but ineffectively as an infantry officer in World War II, and was to publish thirteen novels, as well as seven travel books, three biographies, a volume of autobiography, and numerous essays and book reviews. Lionized in the 1920s as a trendy man of fashion, he became increasingly conservative in politics and churchmanship and notorious for his truculent contempt for the sham enthusiasms of modernity. He died on Easter Sunday, 1966, at his house in Somerset. Read on…