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.’”
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”
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?
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…
by Rob Weinert-Kendt
I am not quite sure how it happened, but by the age of 13 I was a blissfully indiscriminate Anglophile—a devotee of Jane Austen, “Doctor Who,” Monty Python and the Beatles. The summer of my first teen year, I didn’t just wake up in the wee hours to watch the televised wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer; I dutifully recorded the audio of some of it on a small tape deck for easy replay. When “Chariots of Fire” surprisingly won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1982, it felt like a personal triumph.
It was in that impressionable state that “Brideshead Revisited” entered, and changed, my life. The 11-part television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s great novel aired weekly on PBS, the main supplier of my Brit fixes, and I sat gape-jawed at it, drinking it all in, even as its narrative took turns I didn’t understand at the time (some of which I still wrestle with, in different ways). The book soon became a beloved talisman as well. And while my initial attraction was the usual aesthetic one—the accents, the clothes, the vintage motorcars—the novel’s deeper strands wove themselves indelibly into my own story.
Continue reading ‘Brideshead Revisited changed my life’
Evelyn Waugh’s writing is being comprehensively re-edited at last, more than 50 years after his death.
Under the general editorship of his grandson Alexander Waugh, Oxford University Press, in association with the University of Leicester, where Waugh’s biographer Martin Stannard is based, is publishing a Complete Works, bringing together all of Waugh’s extant writings and graphic art, including much that has never been seen before (some 85 per cent of his letters, for example). It’s a huge undertaking and a thrilling prospect for all who love Waugh’s prose. Read on…
Dear Evelyn Waugh reader,
Mr and Mrs Evelyn Waugh invites you to a coming-out celebration for their daughter, Teresa, on Thursday 5 July, 1956.
The celebration is divided between two sites:
1) The Hyde Park Hotel, 7pm, for dinner.
2) The tents erected in Kensington Square Gardens for photographs, afternoon drinks and post-dinner dancing.
Non-vintage champagne for all except Evelyn. Any departures from the correct formal dress for men (billiard-table-green tweed suit and orange-and-white brogues) will be recorded in his private diary.
To accept the invitation, simply click the link:
Duncan McLaren (soc. sec.)
Dear Top 3 million Daily Express readers,
Lord Beaverbrook invites you (and me) to dinner with Evelyn Waugh at Piers Court.
To accept, simply clip the coupon on page 6 of your newspaper for 23 June, 1955, and send it to The Daily Express Building, 120 Fleet Street, London EC4. Or click HERE
Nancy Spain (chief literary critic)
One is not usually conscious when reading the Scriptures that there are many different translations. One simply reads the text endeavouring to follow the narration and understand the meaning. I must admit, though, that the style and language usage of what I am sometimes reading comes across as wooden, fractured and archaic without the grace of some ancient writing, all of which makes the meaning obscure. I have been in the habit of thinking myself lacking understanding rather than blame the text.
Some years ago I was reading some passages from the New Testament when I suddenly became aware that my mind had come on the text as a train rides on the perfect fit of the railway track. The language was my language and I was inside the narration. There was none of that woodenness or forced rigidity of language that I often experienced. I had no way of knowing which translation it was. Sometime later, I picked up the New Testament edition I had been given back in 1959 when starting secondary school. Upon reading I realised it was the same translation that had engaged me so naturally. It was Mgr Ronald Knox’s translation. Continue reading The Christmas story according to St Luke, translated by Mgr Ronald Knox
Just received Duncan’s McLaren’s latest invitation. This is for the informed lover of Evelyn Waugh, his group of friends and the influence they exerted on his novels. Join Evelyn for ten days with the Sitwells at their fabulous Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire.
To do so simply click HERE.