BACK

 
Evelyn Waugh in his own Words
 

The Face to Face Interview in Full

 

Here you can read a transcript of the whole interview. In April 2004 I managed to knit together a complete transcript, I believe; the recent broadcasts of the interview on BBC TV which I had used up till then had been slightly cut. I have tidied the conversation up a little for the sake of clarity. At the end I have included a few notes on words and phrases I have coloured in red in the transcript. (If you use the link provided, you may get back to the text by right-clicking your mouse and choosing Back.)

John Freeman begins the interview.

***************************************

Mr Waugh, I would like to start at the very beginning of your life. Where were you born?

I have no memory of the event; I’m told that it occurred at 11 Hillfield Road, West Hampstead. I believe it has all been demolished now like most places.

Do you have any memories of that home at all? How old were you when you left it?

Infancy.

So that you don’t remember that at all?

Not at all.

What’s your earliest memory of a family home?

Well, my father built a little house on a plot of land in a village called North End, Hampstead, a little hamlet, an absolutely rural village within five miles of London. That’s where he settled. It was quite distinct from Hampstead and had a village pub famous in song called the Bull and Bush, a little village shop and post office combined; it had a dairy farm and the dairyman who sold his own milk, a lady of the manor - entirely like an English rural village now.

Your father was a publisher, was he not?

He was a publisher and a writer, literary critic, minor poet; he liked books and he liked writing - ‘man of letters’ I think would be the word for him, really.

Was he reasonably prosperous; I mean, how big was the house, for instance?

Well, for those days tiny - bigger than most people live in now.

Did you have a staff of servants looking after you?

I had a nanny, of course, yes.

Yes, but I don’t mean you personally - but the family had a cook -

- housemaids -

and housemaids and so on -

- gardener.

You’ve one elder brother.

That’s so.

Do you remember him at that time?

My memory’s awfully bad. I was of course aware of his existence. He was five years older than me and always very much more advanced. And by the time I was at prep school he was at public school, by the time I was at public school he was in the Army, and so on, so I really didn’t know him at all well until, oh, after the First War.

If your memory’s bad, it’s quite interesting to ask you if you have got any vivid pictorial memory of those days at that house at North End.

Well, I have certainly got pictorial memories because a lot of the furniture is now in my own house so that I am constantly reminded of it. And it’s awfully hard to know what one remembers oneself and what one’s been told to remember. I’m told that at the age of four I was taken to Hampstead Heath Fair by my father, and greatly indulged in all the coconut shies and things, and when told I must get back for luncheon I rolled on the ground and shouted, “You brute, you beast, you hideous ass!” I was never allowed to forget that as a child but I’ve got no personal memory of it.

Do your mother and father stand equal in your memory now, or is your father clearer?

Equal, I think.

Were you rather strictly brought up in the Edwardian manner?

No. No, I had an absolutely lyrically happy childhood - I think that’s why I have so few memories of it. Until I went to prep school I was taught by my mother, and very well taught, I think, in the ordinary rudiments. My father was usually out of the house most of the day, and I remember him largely as appearing about bedtime, you know.

Your parents of course were not Catholics.

Oh no.

Did your mother give you religious instruction?

Yes.

Of a simple Anglican -

- yes -

- broad-church view of the world?

They were both pious church-going Anglicans.

Did you accept that when you first remember?

Oh yes, rather.

And, continuously, have you taken a religious view of the world?

Certainly up to the age of about sixteen.

When you were a small child, do you remember dreaming at all?

No. I know I do dream every night of my life, all the time, but the dream disappears the moment I wake up.

How old were you when you could first read and write?

I couldn’t write fluently until I was seven.

And it was some time about then that you did write a story, didn’t you, or a book even?

I have always found spelling very hard - I do now, but - spelling’s very bad – yes, narrative I was keeping at the age of seven.

Did you tell stories or even enjoy listening to stories when you were extremely small?

By ‘extremely small’ you mean younger than seven?

Yes, I do.

Oh yes, certainly. I don’t think telling so much, but being read to a great deal.

How old were you when you first wrote a story?

I think seven, seven and a half.

Just for the delectation of your family?

Well, I don’t know what the motive was. It was called The Curse of the Horse Race and it was a warning against the dangers of betting, and was one of the temptations to which my father was never at all subject. He was never at a race-course in his life. I had a Calvinist nanny and I think perhaps she told me something about the dangers of horse-racing. But it’s plain from the story I didn’t know anything at all about the technique of the turf.

Would you have liked, do you think, to be a member of a bigger family than you were?

I’m sure the children of large families are happier in later life, but that’s a different question. At that age I was clearly very happy basking in my mother’s undivided attention.

But now, with hindsight, you realise the value of big families?

I realise a large family is much the best, yes.

Had you any consciousness of missing having a sister at that age?

I wasn’t aware of missing anything. My life was idyllically happy.

That’s perhaps a very slightly trapped question because I have noticed in one or two of your books, particularly in Put Out More Flags that there’s a very curious brother-sister relation, and I wonder whether this is a problem which has exercised you a lot.

No, you must allow the novelist their imagination to roam more freely than that, you know.

Well, I do. Then, to school. Where was your first school?

The first school was a day school in Hampstead, where I used to go - it was a school for half boarders and half day boys. I was a day boy most of the time. On the rare occasions when my parents went abroad I used to go and board there.

And most of your family went to Sherborne?

My father went there, my elder brother, and he sent his sons there. It’s a very curious thing, my father was absolutely miserable at Sherborne, and had no memory of it except of terror and cruelty and he never went back to the school; when it came to sending my brother to school the first thing he did was put him down for Sherborne.

Well, why didn’t he put you down?

He did put me down indeed, but then my brother at the age of seventeen wrote a book called The Loom of Youth based on his school-days, and so I was black-balled and he had hastily to find some alternative for me.

Which was Lancing.

Yes, I think very fortunate.

I was going to ask, you don’t have any feeling of resentment about that?

No. Sherborne is clearly a more beautiful little old town to grow up in. The thing about Lancing, certainly in my day, was its complete isolation. One might have been living on an island miles from anywhere. I never saw any other human life except the life of the school.

You have said that you were not particularly happy there.

Have I? Whom to?

Well, you’ve said it and been reported in public and you’ve never denied it, so I take it that you’ve said it.

Well, I wouldn’t like you to think that I was bullied or miserable or anything. The thing is I went there in 1917 and of course all schools were beastly in 1917. One was always hungry, always cold, chilblains, the Corps taking up a heck of a lot of one’s time; but then it was rather nice because suddenly life got better and better. Suddenly sweets began to appear, and cakes, and all the good masters who had been at the war, of course - one had been taught by really rather dreary old dugouts. And then the good young masters came back, so that one had a sensation of a gradually opening, brightening scene.

Did you form any friendships at Lancing which have lasted you right through to the present day?

Acquaintances.

But not intimate friends.

There’s no-one I see regularly nowadays, no.

Were you a conformist at school?

Do you mean, did I obey the rules?

Did you obey the rules and generally toe the line of school conventions?

No, I wouldn’t say that, but you see we were rather strictly brought up and severely punished. In fact, with all this talk now whether beating is a deterrent, the one thing which one could do at school which one wasn’t beaten for was Corps offences. They could only impose military punishments which were very negligible, like Defaulters’ Parade, so that all our high spirits used to be concentrated on making the Corps ridiculous; but we had to take jolly good care we didn’t play the fool in school or in chapel or in the football field or anywhere else.

Talking about chapel, apart from the physical appearance of Lancing Chapel, was the Anglican influence extremely strong in those days?

Yes.

And did you at that time have any doubts about your religious faith?

You’ll think it absurd - my doubts began through reading Pope’s Essay on Man at the age of about sixteen, although as you know he was a Catholic.

What form did they take?

Well, it was the first time I began to speculate at all metaphysically; through the notes on Pope’s Essay on Man I was turned onto Leibnitz and so on, through that the general eighteenth-century Enlightenment, and not in any sophisticated way, but I began then to question the truths of religion.

And did you in fact lose such faith as you had?

Yes indeed. I remember, I was sacristan. And I and a fellow sacristan who is now a member of your party, quite prominent, were folding up some sort of surplice or vestment or something, and I revealed to him in secret while I was doing this the fact that there was no God. And he was much shocked and he said ‘If you think that you’ve got no business to touch this chasuble’ - or whatever it was - ‘and you must go and tell the chaplain.’ And so I went off and told the chaplain that there wasn’t a God, and he wasn’t the least impressed and didn’t really, I think, do anything much to convince me that there was. He was a very nice man.

Why did you choose to go to Hertford College at Oxford?

They paid me.

You had an Open Scholarship –

Yes.

- in History.

Yes.

Did you subsequently remain a keen historian?

No!

You didn’t in fact get a very distinguished degree, that’s why I asked the question.

I got a bad third, yes.

Why did this happen?

Sloth.

What did you do at Oxford?

Enjoyed myself. Grew up, you know.

Yes, how?

Well, as one did in those days.

People have forgotten, you tell me.

Getting tight a lot of the time, entertaining, making new friends, writing silly little articles for undergraduate magazines, all that kind of thing.

It’s said of you, and indeed one would perhaps deduce from your books, that you moved very much in what was then called the Aesthetic Set at Oxford, which is very different, I would think, from your present life. Is that true?

Both those statements are true, yes.

Yes. Have you been conscious of any revulsion against that particular set of people at any stage, or has this been a gradual development?

Oh no, I’m still a pure aesthete. But in middle life one doesn’t have to dress up in special clothes in order to enjoy architecture, you know.

Are any of your children old enough now to be at Oxford?

One’s gone down, one’s up there now.

Are either of them at your own college? - well, one’s a girl, I believe.

The girl’s gone down, she couldn’t go to Hertford, no. The boy’s at the House.

Did you want him to go to Hertford?

No. I didn’t want to go to Hertford myself, I was paid to go there.

Yes, I see.

I should like to have gone to my father’s college, which was New College.

When you were an undergraduate, did you have enough money?

I got deeply in debt, of course - you always were.

But you were not resentful or conscious of not having enough money; your father gave you what you basically needed?

He gave me more than I basically needed and I spent about twice as much.

When you came down from Oxford did you have to earn a living at once?

Not at once, it was gradually borne in on me. I became - I always wanted to be a painter and I went to an art school for a time.

And - but then your father was paying for you?

Oh yes, and then of course the bills were beginning to come in, and eventually there was a kind of debt settlement in which I revealed the state of my indebtedness - it wouldn’t seem very much now. It was quite a lot then, four or five hundred pounds, I think. So he paid it on condition that I earned my living. And I went as a prep school master, it was the sort of resort for the criminal classes in those days.

And out of which presumably Decline and Fall eventually emerged.

Well, very remotely.

Yes. Was Decline and Fall a financial success?

Still is.

Yes, but was it at that time?

Oh, not in the sense that I was immediately rich. It brought in some money.

I mean, the point is, how old were you when you were first conscious that you could earn a decent living by writing?

I should think, twenty-five. My memory is awfully bad for dates. I wrote a book on Rossetti when I was, I suppose, twenty-three, and then this novel, which had a sort of succès d’estime, brought in commissions for articles and things.

Yes, quite. Now, how old were you when you were converted to the Catholic faith?

I think thirty, or just rising thirty.

Had you studied for a long time before your conversion?

I was under instruction, literally under instruction, for about three months, but of course I’d interested myself in it before, reading books independently and so on.

I am quite interested to ask you, because it isn’t clear from the book, whether you were almost a Catholic at the time you were writing Vile Bodies?

Not at all. No, no, no, I was as near an atheist as one could be, I think, at that time.

Is there - I hope not an impertinent question - is there any connexion in your own mind between Father Rothschild in that book and Father D’Arcy, who afterwards received you into the church?

No, no, no, no, it’s pure literary convention, I mean the sly Jesuit has been going on in English novels for two hundred years.

Nevertheless, what is a little unexpected perhaps in Vile Bodies is what appears to be your obvious sympathy with the sly Jesuit.

I’m surprised you find that, I hadn’t any such feeling at the time.

Did you have a sudden revelation which led you to this conversion, or was it a very gradual process?

Well, I think I had always, I say ‘always’, from the age of sixteen or so, realised that Catholicism was Christianity, that all other forms of Christianity were only good in so far as they chipped little bits off the main block. It was a conversion to Christianity rather than a conversion to Catholicism as such.

Well, this is the point I wanted to bring out. This came after a period when you had lost your faith and you regained it in the Catholic church. It wasn’t you had been continuously a devout and practising Christian who moved over to Rome.

Oh no, I think from the age of sixteen to the age of twenty-eight I didn’t go to church at all, as far as I remember.

Since you were received into the Catholic church have you ever seriously doubted?

No.

Never been through a period when things have been difficult for you? Looking back now -

Oh, it’s very difficult, I mean, exasperation at the extraordinary behaviour of individual clergymen -

Ah yes, but you’ve never had any at the central canon of your faith?

No.

Looking back now, what would you say is the greatest gift in terms of tranquillity or peace of mind or whatever, that your faith has given you?

Well, it isn’t a sort of lucky dip that you get something out of, you know. It’s hard without using pietistic language to explain, but it’s simply admitting the existence of God or dependence on God, your contact with God; the fact that everything in the world that’s good depends on Him. It isn’t a sort of added amenity of the Welfare State that you say, “Well, to all this, having made a good income, now I’ll have a little icing on top of religion”, it’s the essence of the whole thing.

You say all that is good in the world comes from God; you don’t seem to find very much which is good in the modern world - you’ve seen it consistently as a decadent world, have you not?

But there’s good in a decadent world.

Yes, but your purpose in life is what? To castigate or to chronicle the decadent world? Do you see a purpose in your books - are you trying to scourge us into reform?

Oh no, no, no, no, no. No, I’m just trying to write books.

Yes, but nonetheless no-one who is as intellectually coherent as you are can write books even just as finished polished objects without having a certain purpose in mind, I suspect.

Quite unconscious. It wouldn’t occur to me to sit down and say ‘I will now write a book to reveal the horrors of the gangs in this district’ or something like that.

No, no, I am sure of that, but now for instance, recently you said that in your next book you are going to deal with Crouchback’s realisation that no good comes from public causes but only private causes of the spirit. Now this seems to me to be a didactic theme which the novelist is perfectly entitled to take, and I wonder when that first came to you.

Oh, I think always. I’ve never believed in public causes.

But you see, in your earlier books I would have said the characterisation was perhaps not profound enough to reveal the private causes of the spirit.

Er no, that’s quite true, but you certainly wouldn’t say they revealed any public causes, would you?

No, I wouldn’t indeed. What is your favourite book?

One called Helena, now never read, awfully good.

Well, tell me why you like that best.

Well, it’s just much the best, you know. It’s the best written, most interesting theme.

What in particular fascinated you about Helena? - she’s an unusual saint.

Yes, that’s one of the fascinating things, practically nothing is known about her.

Catholicism in your books does seem very much to be equated with the aristocratic life and so on. I wonder, would you be equally interested in writing a book about the Little Flower, some Irish peasant saint, for instance, or a really humble -

It wasn’t about her sanctity I was writing, it was about the conditions of fourth-century Rome, you see. She happened to be the Empress. It wasn’t the fact of her rank that made her interesting, it was the fact of her finding the True Cross made her interesting.

Is humility -

If I might continue. The fact of the True Cross was, that there was an actual piece of wood, a historical fact, behind the Gospel. Whether or not the wood she found was the Cross is open to doubt but at that time all those Asiatic cults, the Gnostics and people, were trying to theorise and symbolise and fine away the simple facts of an actual Crucifixion on a piece of wood; and she I represented as being a simple English girl thrown greatly to her disgust into the imperial life, not the least enjoying her high position, and putting her finger at once on what was wrong with Imperial Rome at that time, which was that they were losing the sense of actuality. That you might indeed say was a didactic book.

Yes. I was going to put this to you, but what you’ve just been saying is highly didactic. Could I ask you some questions now about Pinfold? The question that everybody broadly wants to ask you is how far Pinfold is an account of your own brief illness.

Almost exact. In fact it had to be cut down a lot. It would be infinitely tedious to have recorded everything. It’s the account of three weeks’ hallucinations going on absolutely continuously.

And you heard voices?

Oh, these voices. If I had written down everything the voices said it would be immensely boring. One had to be selective.

But did they say the same things to you that they said to Pinfold?

Oh yes, rather, again and again and again, day and night.

And there were three different kinds of voices really who talked to Pinfold, there was the beautiful girl who made appointments with him -

They gradually thinned down, if you remember the book. At first I conceived that everyone was involved. I was rationalising it all the time. It was not in the least like losing one’s reason, it was simply one’s reason working hard but on the wrong premisses.

Yes. But I wonder why the voices said what they did. I mean, have you any notion why –

Well, I’ve always wondered that.

- why you should conjure up this lovely girl who made appointments for you?

No, I’ve always wondered that.

And you never kept the appointment?

Half did -

Yes.

- if you remember the story, went out to look for her and she wasn’t there.

And then the other, the most odious voices, said that Pinfold was a homosexual, a Communist Jew, a parvenu, and so on - were these the kind of hallucinations that you yourself felt?

Oh yes, these are, those are the voices, exactly.

And in your own life, was it the neighbours who were making these remarks, because again, if you remember, in Pinfold his neighbours were involved in this persecution.

I’ve no idea what my neighbours said about me.

But did you feel that your neighbours were involved –

No, no. The whole thing was so puzzling I had to, if you remember, invent the theory that the Broadcasting Society, your own people, were involved.

Well, I was going to ask you, have you in fact a particular deep feeling about the BBC?

No.

Because it comes again into a number of your books, which is why I ask, always in a slightly pejorative context.

Well, everyone thinks ill of the BBC, but I don’t think I’m more violent than anybody else.

In the life that you’ve chosen to lead now - you lead the life of a country gentleman, almost a squirearchic life - do you get on happily with your neighbours?

Well, it’s not really accurate to say I lead a squirearchic life. A squierarchic life means sitting on the bench of magistrates and going around cattle shows and that kind of thing - I lead a life of absolute solitude.

You don’t in fact take part in the activities of your -

No. I live in the country because I like to be alone.

Well now, you have made a very noticeable rejection of life, because this is not true at one time - you lived in the town, you mixed in society, you wrote books about society, and now you have withdrawn completely. Were you conscious of a sudden decision to do that?

It happened about eight years ago, not suddenly. But I suddenly got bored with - not suddenly, I gradually got bored with society, largely I think through deafness. And - I can hear you perfectly, and I can hear one person perfectly, but if there’s a crowd I get dazed. But I think it’s probably psychosomatic because I don’t hear because I’m bored, not I’m bored because I can’t hear.

Do you ever reflect on the difference between the sort of life you’ve chosen now and your own family background?

Very little difference.

But is there not - do you have people to stay with you constantly, do you still mix in the literary world?

I’m not as hospitable as my father was. He was always having people to stay.

And do you miss that or not?

No.

One wonders - this may sound rude, but it genuinely arises out of the things you’ve said and the things you’ve written - one wonders whether this is in some curious way a kind of charade; that you’ve decided to assume the attitude of country life which in your books doesn’t seem as if it’s entirely natural to you.

It’s quite true I haven’t the smallest interest in country life, in the agricultural sense or the local government sense. The country to me is a place where I can be silent.

Are you very sensitive to the criticisms of others - unkind reviews of your books?

I don’t think so.

I’ve often wondered, for instance, at the time in the middle of the thirties when you were assailed by, well, by Rose Macaulay and one or two others for being a Fascist because you reported the Abyssinian War from the Italian side, did that upset you or prey on your mind at all?

I wasn’t even aware she assailed me.

Well then, that’s a very effective answer. Have you ever brooded on what appeared to you to be unjust or adverse criticism?

No. I’m afraid if someone praises me I think ‘What an ass’, and if they abuse me I think ‘What an ass’.

And if they say nothing about you at all and take no notice of you?

That’s the best I can hope for.

You like that when it happens?

Yes.

Why are you appearing in this programme?

Poverty. We’ve both been hired to talk in this deliriously happy way.

Now you constantly tell people that you’re poor; and I don’t want to ask you impertinent questions, but you’re a great deal luckier than many people because you made something of a fortune before the war, before it was all taxed away.

Not a penny. Never saved a penny. And of course no honest man has been able to save any money in the last twenty years.

Looking at yourself, because I am sure you are a self-critical person, what do you feel is your worst fault?

Irritability.

Are you a snob at all?

I don’t think.

Irritability with your family, with strangers?

Absolutely everything. Inanimate objects and people, animals, everything.

Do you remember, if I may put a Catholic question to you out of the penny catechism, do you remember the twelve Fruits of the Holy Ghost?

I should do, I don’t.

Well, they include Charity, Joy, Patience, Benignity, Mildness; do you fall short in these?

Yes.

Are you ever rude to people, nuns, priests, people in your own faith, or is it something you reserve rather for outsiders?

I was never rude to a nun, obviously; I don’t think I’ve ever been rude to a priest, no, but that’s more respect for authority.

It’s not a feeling of oneness, of being on the inside with him? Do you feel the need to belong to an organisation all the time?

The best I can tell you in that way is that I’m much more at ease with fellow-Catholics than I am with heathens or Protestants. One has so many basic assumptions in common that there’s so much that doesn’t need saying, and when you’re talking to even the most amusing and intelligent heathen you suddenly find that something you’ve said has no meaning at all to them.

How high in the your scale of virtues do you put the Christian duty of service to others?

It isn’t for me to make these scales; my service is simply to bring up one family.

One would think that from reading, for instance, the end of Brideshead, that you attach a tremendous importance to the abnegation of self and the performing of menial tasks even; now is that an illusion, do you not attach much importance to this aspect of Christian virtue?

Oh, of course an enormous importance, but for people of ascetic temperament; we aren’t all called to be ascetics.

I’d like now to ask you a last question, and I want to go back to Pinfold. Looking back on that mental breakdown that you had then and on your life as you see it, can you see that there’s any permanent conflict or instability perhaps between the way of life in which you were brought up and the way of life in which you have chosen to live now?

Oh, I know what you’re getting at. That ass Priestley said that in an article; I think I dealt with it in the Spectator - that’s what you’re thinking of. He wrote it in the New Statesman, I answered in the Spectator.

Well, I was not particularly thinking of this, but I was asking you whether you have any fear that this sort of thing may happen to you again?

No, no. That’s poor old Priestley thought that.

***************************************

Notes

publisher : Arthur Waugh (1866-1943), Evelyn’s father, was managing director of the publishing firm Chapman and Hall for nearly thirty years, and continued to work there after his retirement in order to help out. He had made his name in 1890’s, at first with rather conventional poetry and then with reviews and columns in magazines and newspapers that were widely admired. He wrote an autobiography, One Man’s Road (1931).

brother : Evelyn’s brother, Alec Waugh (1898-1981), was also a noted novelist, though Alec himself openly admitted that he was not in the same class as Evelyn. His two best novels are The Loom of Youth (1917), referred to later in this interview, and Island in the Sun (1956), which made Alec a fortune.

A prep school (i.e. preparatory school) is a fee-paying private school (in those days usually single-sex) which took pupils from the age of 7 or 8 to the age of 13. It would prepare them to go on to the senior independent schools of the country, such as Eton, Harrow and Winchester.

A public school in England is a fee-paying independent school outside the state sector, quite the opposite of the meaning in some other countries. The description private school expresses its nature better.

Hampstead Heath Fair : The Waugh family lived very near Hampstead Heath, which is an area of somewhat hilly parkland in north London. It was, and is, a place where Londoners often went to enjoy themselves. The Fair takes place three times a year - Easter, Whitsun, and the first weekend in August (the August Bank Holiday). Coconut shies would form part of the entertainment on offer : one threw balls at coconuts placed on stands in an attempt to knock them off and so win them.

Edwardian : This word refers to the period 1901-1910, the reign of King Edward VII. Waugh was 7 in 1910. The word Edwardian does not perhaps have the same effect on listeners as the word Victorian does.

Sherborne : A public (i.e. private) school of considerable quality in the county of Dorset. It took boys from the age of 13.

The Loom of Youth : Alec Waugh was nineteen in the month that this novel was published. Alec had been, in effect, sent down for homosexuality though the actual offence seems mild today. He wrote this book in revenge : it tells of passionate friendships in a school easily recognisable as Sherborne. It was a great success and set Alec Waugh on a literary path which, even much later, some considered to be superior to that of his brother. Alec’s only other real success, however, was the novel Island in the Sun, published in 1956 and soon turned into an honoured film.

Lancing : Lancing College was another public school, this time in the county of West Sussex. At that time it had a Church of England ethos which remains quite strong today; the school was initially intended to cater for the sons of clergymen.

Corps : The Corps is the Officers’ Training Corp (O.T.C.), a cadets’ organisation which was a prominent feature of life in English schools. It trained boys in military matters and was naturally considered very important in war-time. In many schools it was considered desirable to get all the boys into the Corps.

Pope’s Essay on Man : A study in rhyming pentameters of the proper end and purpose of mankind’s existence. Pope (1688-1744) gives the impression that God is so far distant that Man ought to concern himself only with his place inthe atural world - The proper study of mankind is Man. Even in his own time Pope was criticised for promoting a fatalistic point of view, and some thought that much of his reasoning could be enhanced by his discarding the religious veneer entirely. Man would then stand as an admirable, complete being on his own. This criticism proved too much for a man who clung to his Catholic faith, and he adjusted his ideas in later life.

Leibnitz : Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (or Leibniz) (1646-1716) was a German mathematician and philosopher. He is perhaps most honoured for his development of differential and integral calculus simultaneously with Newton. Surprisingly perhaps, considering Waugh’s statement, God was at the centre of his philosophy though in an entirely new way. For him God was the intellect of the whole universe, and everything in the universe reflected his nature. Leibnitz rejected Newton’s atomic, causal, determinist version of reality and developed a static theory in which an infinite number of possibilities existed out of which at every moment God encouraged only some to fructify.

Enlightenment : a name given to the period after the religious upheavals in Europe consequent to the Reformation and lasting from around 1690 to the French Revolution (1789). Thinkers and artists developed a balance between reason and sentiment and downgraded the demands of religious dogmatism in their art and writings. Science became a major element in the bedrock of their philosophy, and consequently curiosity about the natural world around them increased.

fellow sacristan : A sacristan is someone who looks after church vestments and other contents of the church, especially those kept in the sacristy, a small room in the area of the altar. The fellow sacristan Waugh is talking about was Tom Driberg (1905-1976), a journalist in youth and Labour Party Member of Parliament from 1943 to 1955 and again from 1959 to 1974. In 1957-8 he was Chairman of the Labour Party. In 1975 he was created Lord Bradwell. Despite his deep High Church faith he was a promiscuous homosexual whose activities did not attract wide public attention until his uncompleted autobiography Ruling Passions was published after his death.

the House : i.e. Christ Church College. The nickname derives from the college’s Latin name Aedes Christi, i.e. the House of Christ. Evelyn’s son Auberon Waugh (1939-2001) was at Christ Church for only a year before going down after doing badly in his examinations. He quickly embarked on a successful journalistic career. Evelyn’s daughter Maria Teresa (born 1938) had been at Somerville College; she could not have gone to Hertford College because at that time colleges in Oxford were strictly segregated by gender.

Rossetti : Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) was a painter and poet. He helped to found the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a small and supposedly secret group of British painters including Sir John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt who wanted to revive the purity and brilliance of the late Middle Ages. In their eyes, the painters of the High Renaissance let abstract ideas of beauty dictate their canvases instead of deriving beauty from their subjects. Thus their paintings lost a sense of realism, a quality that the PRB attemped to recreate by painstaking accuracy of detail and colour. They settled on Raphael as an examplar of this objectionable imperfection, but in reality they were rebelling against the principles of the academic painters of their time.
Waugh’s biography Rossetti, His Life and Works was published in 1928 and was an early indication of his unfashionable appreciation of Victorian art. It was not his first work on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; his friend Alastair Graham had published his P.R.B. - An Essay on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood two years earlier.

I think thirty : In fact Waugh was received into the Catholic Church on 29th September 1930, a month before his 27th birthday.

next book : this book was to be Unconditional Surrender, the third book in the Sword of Honour trilogy.

Little Flower : this is one of the names by which Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus (Thérèse of Lisieux) (1873-1897) is known. She promised to send a shower of roses from Heaven.

Fruits of the Holy Ghost : In the Penny Catechism then popular in Catholic circles, the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit) were stated to be : 1. Charity 2. Joy 3. Peace 4. Patience 5. Benignity 6. Goodness 7. Longanimity 8. Mildness 9. Faith 10. Modesty 11. Continency 12. Chastity. Longanimity is another name for Forbearance.

Priestley : J.B. Priestley (1894-1984) was a novelist and playwright of considerable eminence in Britain in the twentieth century. His books and his talks on the radio were both popular. He had a comfortable air which disguised what at one time was a hard left-wing attitude that Waugh found objectionable. In an article in New Statesman published in August 1957 Priestley stated that Waugh had been hoodwinked by the glamour of the aristocratic milieu into adopting their manners and ways in his private life, and that this penchant conflicted with his artistic instincts. So he argued that Pinfold’s and therefore Waugh’s madness resulted from an interior struggle of epic proportions which could only be resolved by his giving up his squirearchic life in the country. Waugh responded with masterly wit in Spectator in September, pointing out that Priestley was giving way to politics of envy in his dissection of Waugh’s state of mind and habits of life.

 

BACK