One can speculate in various ways about why one of the five ranks of the British Peerage, that of marquess, holds more glamor for writers and readers of fiction than the other four. For one thing, until the late eighteenth century it was rare. Young Frank Castlewood in Henry Esmond proclaims, supposedly in 1703, "There are but two marquises in all England, William Herbert Marquis of Powis, and Francis James Marquis of Esmond"; since the latter title was an empty one conferred by the exiled James II, and in any case a fiction of Thackeray's, there appears to have been only one. For another, it seemed an exotic import, as the persistence of the French spelling, "marquis," indicates, and carried with it strong overtones of French romance in which the elegant villain often bears that title. Although de Sade's hereditary title was actually "Comte," his contemporaries (and their descendants) felt it more appropriate to his character to promote him, without authority, to "Marquis." The incredibly cruel Saint-Evrémonde in Dickens's Tale of Two Cities is a marquis. It is perhaps also significant that of the 38 extant marquessates listed in Whitaker's Almanack for 1971, 24 were created during the fifty-odd years between 1784 and 1838; only five come from the two-and-a-half centuries between 1551 and 1784, and only nine from the century between 1838 and 1936. We know of course that this sudden rash of marquesses in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was part of the policy of the younger Pitt and his successors of diluting the power of the Whig "Venetian oligarchy" by flooding the peerage with Pittite creations (as Sir Walter Elliot complains)(1). Still, it is pleasant to note that the half-century so prolific of marquesses was also the heyday of "Romanticism."
The (real) marquess who contributed most to English fiction was Francis Charles Seymour-Conway (1777-1842), third Marquess of Hertford, Earl of Yarmouth, Viscount Beauchamp, etc., etc., the wealthy, fashionable, powerful, raffish intimate of the Prince Regent, later George IV. Lord Hertford figures, first, in Disraeli's Coningsby (1844) as the Marquess of Monmouth, and later in Thackeray's Vanity Fair (1847-48) as the Marquess of Steyne(2). I should like to argue that he had a third avatar, in Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, as the Marquess of Marchmain.
The real-life prototypes of the Flytes, Marchmain's family, were, according to Sir Henry ("Chips") Channon (1897-1958), the Lygons, the family of the Earls Beauchamp. In his diary for April 25, 1945, Channon recorded, "I am reading an advance copy of Evelyn Waugh's new novel 'Brideshead Revisited': It is obvious that the mise-en-scene is Madresfield, and the hero Hugh Lygon. In fact, all the Beauchamp family figure in it '(3)
Whether Madresfield Court, near Malvern, Worcestershire, the seat of Lord Beauchamp, bears any resemblance to the baroque architectural beauty of Brideshead Castle, I do not know. I have found no reference to it in the many works on the architecture of English country houses I have consulted; and of course it is not open to the public. The one notice of it I have so far come across is in a standard textbook on gardening, in a long list of English houses whose gardens are worth inspecting. In Waugh's sole mention of Madresfield in A Little Learning, he notes that there is a fountain in the garden on which was inscribed "That day is wasted on which one has not laughed," a motto which seems to him appropriate for his Arcadian Oxford days. The seventh Earl Beauchamp's eldest son and heir, William Lygon, Viscount Elmley (1903- ; later the eighth earl) was at Magdalen while Waugh was at Hertford; Waugh describes him as "a solid, tolerant, highly respectable man" (ALL, p. 179). Lord Brideshead? The second son, the Honourable Hugh Patrick Lygon, was at Pembroke, one of "the aristocratic refugees from the examination system, who had not even taken Responsions" (p. 167). He and Waugh shared "digs" together in Merton Street for a term (as Charles Ryder was frustrated from doing with Sebastian Flyte); it was the term before Waugh's final examinations, and proved disastrous for them. All that the standard reference works record of Hugh Lygon is that he was born in 1904 and died, unmarried, in 1936. Waugh describes him (p. 181): "Always just missing the happiness he sought, without ambition, unhappy in love, a man of the greatest sweetness." Sebastian Flyte? A Little Learning briefly mentions that Waugh once visited Madresfield in the company of a sister, Lady Mary Lygon ("Mamie"); we have no other clue to Channon's assertion that "all the Beauchamp family" figure in Brideshead.
Clearly the Flytes owe something to the Lygons. But it is the rare novelist who can resist fictionalizing the characters for whom real-life acquaintanceships may have provided the original inspiration. There is surely another, at least equally important, element in the composition of the Flytes, especially the older generation. Elmley and Hugh Lygon's parents, after all, seem to have been as unlike Lord and Lady Marchmain as possible. The highly active and respectable public career of the seventh Earl Beauchamp (1872-1938) is recorded in the Dictionary of National Biography and similar places. "He was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford," says the Encyclopaedia Britannica, "and afterwards entered public life as a Liberal." Among the offices he held in that capacity, from his early twenties until his death, were those of Mayor of Worcester, member of the London School Board, Governor of New South Wales, First Commissioner of Works and Lord President of the Council in Asquith's cabinet, leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Lords, and finally Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. To be sure, the date of his death, 1938, coincides with Lord Marchmain's; but who can imagine Lord Marchmain as leader of the Liberals in the House of Lords, or a member of the London School Board! Beauchamp's Countess, a Grosvenor, granddaughter of the first Duke of Westminster, an equally public-spirited Liberal peer, assisted him faithfully in his good works. Both families seem to have adhered staunchly to the Established Church; the Grosvenors indeed had a tradition of Low Church Evangelicalism. Lady Beauchamp's aunt, Lady Margaret Grosvenor, was the wife of Prince Adolphus, Duke of Teck, Queen Mary's brother, and an earlier Lady Mary Lygon was Queen Mary's lady-in-waiting and intimate friend.(4) Readers of Brideshead will recall that the Flytes' Catholicism debarred Lady Julia from contemplating an alliance, through marriage to one of the young princes, with the royal family.
Where then did Waugh find the Marchmains? Where else do we encounter a wealthy, urbane, arrogant, fashionable, pleasure-loving, agnostic marquess, who has married the intensely devout daughter of an old English aristocratic "recusant" (Roman Catholic) family; has produced two sons by her, of whom the elder, his heir, is on hostile terms with him, and the younger has turned out to be a weak failure; after amusing himself in various ways, finally settles down in Italy with a mistress; and whose death, in anything but a tranquil state of mind, is an important event in the story?
The reader of Vanity Fair recognizes the pattern instantly. Consider:
1. "Lord Marchmain, well, a little fleshy perhaps, but very handsome, a magnifico, a voluptuary, Byronic, bored, infectiously slothful, not at all the sort of man you would expect to see easily put down" (Brideshead Revisited [Boston, 1945], p. 54).
"Of a Star and Garter night Lord Steyne used also to put on his grandest manner, and to look and speak like a great prince, as he was. Becky admired him smiling sumptuously, easy, lofty, and stately. Ah, bon Dieu, what a pleasant companion he was, what a brilliant wit, what a rich fund of talk, what a grand manner!' (Vanity Fair, Chap. LXIV).
"'Lord Steyne is really too bad,' Lady Slingstone said; 'but everybody goes and of course I shall see that my girls come to no harm.' 'His lordship is a man to whom I owe much, everything in life,' said the Right Reverend Doctor Trail 'His morals are bad,' said little Lord Southdown 'but, hang it all, he's got the best Sillery in Europe!'"(VF, Chap. XLVII).
"'Why do you think he (Marchmain] will never go into Society?' 'I always thought people had turned against him.' 'My dear boy, you are very young. People turn against a handsome, wealthy man like Alex? Never in your life'" (BR, p. 102).
"Besides his town palace [Gaunt House], the Marquis [of Steyne] had castles and palaces in various quarters of the three kingdoms" (VF, Chap. XLVII). Lord Marchmain, not quite so wealthy, has somewhat fewer - only Marchmain House in London, Brideshead Castle in the west country, and a palazzo in Venice.
2. "The Marchioness of Steyne was of the renowned and ancient family of the Caerlyons who have preserved the old faith. They continued to fight for it and ruin themselves for it as long as there was a Stuart left to head or to instigate a rebellion" (VF, Chap. XLVII).
"The family history [of the Marchioness of Marchmain] was typical of the Catholic squires of England: from Elizabeth's reign to Victoria's they lived sequestered lives among their tenantry and kinsmen, sending their sons to school abroad; often marrying there - inter-marrying, if not, with a score of families like themselves, debarred from all preferment" (BR, p. 139).
Lady Steyne is educated abroad, in Paris, and for a time, like Lady Marchmain, has intellectual and artistic associations and admirers: "Fox had toasted her; Morris and Sheridan had written songs about her; Malmesbury had made her his best bow; Walpole had pronounced her charming" (VF, Chap. XLVII). "'Mummy and two attendant poets have three bad colds in the head'" (BR; p. 43); Lady Marchmain's admirer, Sir Adrian Porson ("the greatest, the only poet of our time" [BR, p. 57]), dissolves in tears at her death and publishes a poem in memory of her; her "tame" Oxford don, Mr. Samgrass, helps her write a book about her brothers. Lady Steyne learned music in Paris, and was taught religious songs of Mozart in her convent; Lady Marchmain goes in for art nouveau interior decoration, and dabbles with paints ("However bright the colours were in the tubes, by the time Mummy had mixed them up, they came out a kind of khaki" [BR, p. 82] - one of the most brilliant touches in Waugh's novel). But in time Lady Steyne, "after she had borne a couple of sons, shrank away into a life of devout seclusion. No wonder that my Lord Steyne, who liked pleasure and cheerfulness, was not often seen, after their marriage, by the side of this trembling, silent, superstitious, unhappy lady" (VF, Chap. XLVII). In the end, Lord Steyne, like Lord Marchmain, retreats to Italy with a mistress.
3. "To my Lord Gaunt's [the heir's] dismay, and the chuckling delight of his natural enemy and father, the Lady Gaunt had no children" (VF, Chap. XLVII).
"Brideshead won't see him [Marchmain]" (BR, p.55). [Lord Marchmain] 'Why should that uncouth pair [Lord and Lady Brideshead] sit here childless while the place crumbles about their ears?'" (BR, p. 320). Lord Steyne malevolently buys up his elder son's I.O.U.'s and bequeaths them to the children of his younger son. In a similar spirit, Lord Marchmain bequeaths the Brideshead estate, not to Lord Brideshead, but to his daughter.
4. "Lord George Gaunt [the second son] could not only read, but write pretty correctly. He spoke French with considerable fluency, and was one of the finest waltzers in Europe. There was talk of appointing him Minister when, of a sudden, rumors arrived of the secretary's extraordinary behaviour. He went to a ball at the hotel of the Bavarian envoy with his head shaved and dressed as a Capuchin friar. It was not a masked ball, as some folks wanted to persuade you. Lord George gave up his post on the European continent, and was gazetted to Brazil. But people knew better. 'Rio Janeiro is a cottage surrounded by four walls; and George Gaunt is accredited to a keeper, who has invested him with the order of the Strait-Waistcoat.'. . . Twice or thrice in a week, in the earliest morning, the poor mother went for her sins and saw the poor invalid. Sometimes she found the brilliant dandy diplomat of the Congress of Vienna dragging about a child's toy [the teddy-bear Aloysius!]. Oftener he forgot her, as he had done wife, children, love, ambition, vanity. But he remembered his dinner hour, and used to cry if his wine-and-water was not strong enough" (VF, Chap. XLVII).
"'We mustn't blame Sebastian if at times he seems a little insipid. With that very murky background. what could he do except set up as being simple and charming, particularly as he isn't very well endowed in the Top Storey'" (BR, p. 56). The contrast between Lord George Gaunt, "the brilliant dandy diplomat," and the "poor invalid" in the institution, crying for stronger wine-and-water, parallels that between Lord Sebastian Flyte, the brilliant social (if not intellectual) success at Oxford, and the broken-down alcoholic, the tolerated hanger-on at a monastery in Morocco, "pottering round with his broom and his bunch of keys. One morning, after one of his drinking bouts, he'll be picked up at the gate dying" (BR, pp. 308-309).(5) In both cases, the responsibility of the mother (in different ways) for the son's disaster is made clear.
Of course there are differences in detail. Marchmain is handsome; Steyne, though imposant, is not. Marchmain's mistress is a "highly talented" dancer of uncertain origin; Steyne's is an Italian countess. Lady Steyne's family, though equally Catholic, is of higher rank than Lady Marchmain's. Lady Marchmain, though hardly a frequenter of "Society," does not drift into the passivity of Lady Steyne, but, when it comes to her family, remains all too active. Lord Brideshead is a rounded character; Lord Gaunt we hardly know at all, apart from the hostility between him and his father (though the Countess of Gaunt, the former Lady Blanche Thistlewood, is as fully drawn as Mrs. Muspratt, the future Countess of Brideshead). Lord George, before he deteriorates, has been ordered to marry and produce children for the succession; Lord Sebastian remains single, and the succession presumably dies out. The daughters of the family, who play so important a role in Waugh's story, have no counterpart in Thackeray's. Thackeray speaks of Steyne as "the richly dressed figure of the Wicked Nobleman, on which no expense has been spared, and which Old Nick will fetch away at the end"; Waugh introduces a variation by having Lord Marchmain elude the clutches of Old Nick at the end - but only by a split second. Nevertheless, the resemblances between the two families are surely too striking to be entire coincidence. There seem to be few allusions to Thackeray in Waugh's other writings,(6) though there are many to Dickens. (Chapman and Hall, Dickens's publishers, were also Waugh's, as well as the employers of Waugh's father.) Yet Waugh would certainly have been familiar with Vanity Fair.
1. See my "Jane Austen and the Peerage," PMLA, LXVIII (December, 1953), 1017-31; repr. in Jane Austen: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Ian Watt (Twentieth Century Views).
2. In my "Becky Sharp and Lord Steyne: Disraeli or Thackeray?", Nineteenth-Century Fiction (September, 1961), pp. 157-161, I try to show Thackeray's indebtedness to Disraeli.
3. Chips: The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon, ed. Robert Rhodes James (Penguin Books, 1970; originally published 1967), p. 491. The discreet elliptic dots, as elsewhere in the volume, are the editor's, working with a 30-volume manuscript containing three million words, some of whose "comments on contemporaries" are "too acute for publication at present" (p. 15). Channon, a wealthy young American, moved to London in the 1920's, becoming (as well as the greatest society gossip of his time) an outrageous snob and a Chamberlain-supporting, Churchill-hating Tory M.P. His first encounter with Waugh is worth noting: he has lunched with Emerald, Lady Cunard; among the guests was "Evelyn Waugh, alias Mr. Wu. I never know is he good, trying to be wicked? Or just wicked trying to be nice? He looks like a ventriloquist's doll, with his shiny nose; I feel his ideals are measured by publishers' royalties. He told me today that he thought anyone could write a novel given six weeks, pen, paper and no telephone or wife" (December 16, 1934). Characterizing Waugh as a "reactionary Tory" tells us nothing; between him and such a "reactionary Tory" as Channon a great gulf was fixed.
4. James Pope-Hennessy, Queen Mary (London, 1959), passim.
5. One effect of promoting the head of the fictional Flyte family from an earl to a marquess is that the younger son, instead of being merely "the Honourable Mr. Sebastian Flyte" becomes "Lord Sebastian." Possibly this was intended to increase his glamor. The strong homosexual overtones of the story make one wonder whether Waugh may also have had in mind the dealings of Oscar Wilde with the malignant eighth Marquess of Queensberry and his younger son, the ephebic Lord Alfred Douglas, whose poverty-stricken and squalid end is vividly described by Chips Channon (see his diary for October 10, 1942, and March 20, 1945).
6. Though when one begins to think about it, one detects other possibly Thackerayan themes in the novels. Consider Becky Sharp's indifference to her young son Rawdon, and Brenda Last's (in A Handful of Dust) to John Andrew; or, for that matter, Tony Last's inexplicable loyalty to Brenda, and Dobbin's to the unattractive Amelia. Both Tony and Dobbin, after many years of ill-treatment by the loved one, are finally cured of their infatuation; and it is hard to say which man finally suffers the worse fate - Tony's of interminably reading Dickens in the Orinocan jungle, or Dobbin's of marriage to Amelia. The ennui in either case must have been insupportable.
Alas for those who rely on the DNB and Encyclopaedia Britannica for the biographies of public-spirited Liberal noblemen! Since writing this, I have learned from H. Montgomery Hyde's The Other Love (London, 1972), a chronique scandaleuse of male homosexuality in British high-life, that in later life Lord Beauchamp "came a cropper," as Charles Ryder's father would have put it: "In 1931 he suddenly resigned his offices and went to live abroad, at the insistence, so it was said, of King George V, who otherwise wished him to be prosecuted. One of his offices was that of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, and it was alleged that he had misconducted himself with various youths, fishermen and the like, at Walmer Castle, the Lord Warden's official residence Lord Beauchamp died a lonely exile in New York in 1938" (pp. 168-9). In spite of the common fact of exile, however, Lord Beauchamp's and Lord Marchmain's careers and sexual tastes, as well as the circumstances of their exiles, seem too diverse for any close parallel to be drawn.
Still another last-minute addition. When a long series of excerpts from Waugh's diaries was published in The Observer last spring (March 25-May 13, 1973), I hunted through it to see whether there was anything to confute my thesis that Brideshead owes less to Waugh's intimacy with the Lygons than to his recollections of Thackeray. Almost the only passages that seem relevant are those which recount that Waugh was not invited to the ball given to celebrate Lord Elmley's twenty-first birthday (April 1, p. 14) - though the site of the ball, Grosvenor House, the great London mansion of the Dukes of Westminster, suggests an original for Marchmain House - and that, when Brideshead was published, someone said to Waugh, "I didn't know you had been in love with Auberon" (April 29, p. 13; Auberon Herbert, presumably). The source for the incident of Sebastian's arrest for drunk driving (along with Charles Ryder and Boy Mulcaster) was a similar arrest of Matthew Ponsonby (son of Lord Ponsonby and cousin of the then Duchess of Westminster), accompanied by Waugh (April 1, pp. 20-22). Of course, when a fuller version of the diaries is published in book form, there may be more revelations.
It is perhaps a commonplace of polite society that one might talk frankly in mixed company about anything comfortably - except for Religion, Politics, and Sex. Alice and Kenneth Hamilton write rather priggishly of Sex, Religion, and Art as the "Three Great Secret Things,"(1) and Francis Bacon (nothing if not studied and decorous) cautions us about a too great levity in our conversation:
As for jest, there be certain things which ought to be privileged from it; namely, religion, matters of state, great persons, any man's present business of importance, and any case that deserveth pity.(2)
To be sure, matters sexual may be expanded to include any intimate bodily functions; one does not burp or release gas in company, one must not discuss the odors of the arm pits of a summer's day, nor anatomize the menstrual cycle nor the functioning of one's bowels; and, finally, one must not discourse openly upon that last great exemplar of bodily malfunctioning of them all - death.
Yet it is precisely these topics - Religion, Politics, Sexuality - that the satirist draws upon as his most beloved subject matter. Where angels fear to tread, the satirist bluntly rushes in. And it is no accident that the satirist is frequently taken at his word - misunderstood, in short - and repeatedly accused of being sacrilegious, Radical or arch-Conservative, and scatological or perverse.(3)
In the arena of Forbidden Topics, no satirist of our century has more successfully rifled amongst these polite secrets than Evelyn Waugh. His successful broaching of such subjects is partially, at least, the measure of his shock-value, and his success.
In Religion, Waugh will be remembered for the cold religious indifference of his Tony Last, for the enigmatic Jewish-Christian mountebank upon his motor-cycle, Father Rothschild, S.J., and perhaps most of all for Mr. Prendergast, the atheistical clergyman, who at last finds satisfying refuge as a "Modern Churchman" in Decline and Fall (1928); he "draws the full salary of a beneficed clergyman and need not commit himself to any religious belief."(4) If Prendy is outdone, it is only by "the mystical homicide' who hacks him to pieces (wonderfully if sacrilegiously reported during prison chapel by clandestine distortions of an Anglican hymn).
Matters political and patriotic are reduced to absurdity when we learn that the best families of old England, like Margot Beste-Chetwynde, run a fabulously lucrative white-slave trade in South America. At the apex of politics stands Walter Outrage, last week's prime minister, whose mentality never rises to politics at all, since he is hopelessly, monolithically, and inhibitedly addicted to the shy pursuit of the Baroness Yoshiwara. And we are made acutely uncomfortable when we witness the African natives (Seth of Azania, the Republicans of Ishmaelia) parroting European culture - and wreaking havoc upon sense, culture, and life.
In sexual matters, we encounter the bland promiscuity of Brenda Last, the casual adultery of Adam and Nina, the corporate prostitution directed by Margot Metroland. And throughout these early novels, there reside a clutter of giggling homosexuals - Miles Malpractice in Decline and Fall, the two poets of Vile Bodies (1930), and the effete artistes, Parsnip and Pimpernell, as well as Ambrose Silk in Put Out More Flags (1942).
Of course, the Arthurian names given to Tony Last's bedrooms in beloved Hetton Abbey. and the febrile attempts of Ginger Littlejohn to recite from Richard II concerning England's greatness (II.i.40 ff, "This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,/This earth of majesty ") remind us of English traditions long past and long lost. Evelyn Waugh is masterfully the Satirist of Manners, for he will not let these traditions be forgotten. His satire and his exemplars of folly and vice in matters of religion, politics, and sex are most effectively denigrated when set in the shadow of the gentilhomme, and the conception of decent gentlemanly behavior. His target, repeatedly, is simply Bad Taste. It is impolite for Philbrick the butler to be an intimate and fantastic gossip, it is bad form for the public schoolman, Grimes, to be a bounder and a coward. It is vulgarity when the ancient King's Thursday is remodelled in aluminum and plastic. It is improper form for Mr. Chatterbox to tattle at length about Defective and Eccentric Peers (it is worse, indeed, that the peers are so). It is adulterous for Brenda Last to have an affair - but it is inconceivably gauche that her affair should be with the lackluster and tawdry John Beaver. One should observe manners, but in modern restaurants it is not to be found. The Cafe Royal is hardly majestic: "Everyone was being thoroughly cross, but only the most sarcastic and overbearing were given tables, and only the gross and outrageous were given food."(5) 0ne should eat with appropriate utensils, but such protocol is not for his friends nor for Basil Seal (one of Waugh's most delightsome cads):
For the last four days Basil had been on a racket. He had woken up an hour ago on the sofa of a totally strange flat. There was a gramophone playing. A lady in a dressing jacket sat in an armchair by the gasfire, eating sardines from the tin with a shoe-horn. An unknown man in shirt-sleeves was shaving, the glass propped on the chimneypiece.
The man had said: 'Now you're awake you'd better go.' The woman: 'Quite thought you were dead.'
Basil: 'I can't think why I'm here.'
'I can't think why you don't go.'
'Isn't London hell?'(6)
It is indelicate to fall in love with a friend's pregnant wife, or for the man who has run down your father with a car to come and attempt to borrow money from you (Work Suspended ). It is not decent for a soldier, Apthorpe, to make such a public fuss about one's private toilet (or "Thunderbox"), as in Men at Arms (1952). Doubtless the apex of bad taste is achieved in that celebration of modern crass ostentation and boorishness with the presentation of California funerary practices at The Happier Hunting Ground and at Whispering Glades, in The Loved One (1948).
But Evelyn Waugh, like most satirists - and even more so than many - pushes further toward the infernal deification of had taste. Alvin Kernan speaks of "the primal energy of dullness,"(7) and Northrop Frye observes that, pushed toward its limits, satire utilizes the "technique of disintegration," deploying "weirdly logical fantasies of debauch, dream, and delirium" that rely heavily upon obscenity and the danse macabre.(8) And Waugh is doubtless at his best in creating the vicious minuet of the cruel fantastic. There are casual spates of destruction, as at the annual dinner at Oxford of the Bollinger Club. "At the last dinner, three years ago, a fox had been brought in in a cage and stoned to death with champagne bottles." And this year was even better:
It was a lovely evening. They broke up Mr. Austen's grand piano, and stamped Lord Rending's cigars into his carpet, and smashed his china, and tore up Mr. Partridge's sheets, and threw the Matisse into his water-jug; Mr. Sanders had nothing to break except his windows, but they found the manuscript at which he had been working for the Newdigate Prize Poem and had great fun with that.(9)
And with casual aplomb, elsewhere, human beings are easily dispensed with: Little Lord Tangent is shot to death, Flossie Ducane tumbles to her death from a chandelier, Agatha Runcible is destroyed in a racing accident, little John Andrew Last is killed as a horse lashes with a hoof into his skull. His father, Tony, is sentenced to life imprisonment in the South American jungle. Indeed, the very names of characters begin to assume the cast of decline and death: Pastmaster, Last, Todd, Todhunter, Aimee Thanatoqenos. Such death deepens, hangs omnipresent, as it did over the festivities of Trimalchio in Petronius, in the air of Evelyn Waugh's books. It turns sour in Black Mischief (1932), becoming cannibalism, as Basil and the headman chiefs dine upon his mistress, Prudence. And elsewhere, it threatens to expand its boundaries, until it can consume whole peoples. Thus Wenlock Jakes, the renowned American journalist, sent to cover a revolution in the Balkans, can instigate a war. He arrives by accident at the wrong capital. He
' didn't know any different, got out, went straight to an hotel, and cabled off a thousand-word story about barricades in the streets, flaming churches, machine-guns answering the rattle of his typewriter as he wrote, a dead child, like a broken doll, spreadeagled in the deserted roadway below his window - you know.
'Well, they were pretty surprised at his office, getting a story like that from the wrong country, but they trusted Jakes and splashed it in six national news papers. That day every special in Europe got orders to rush to the new revolution. They arrived in shoals. Everything seemed quiet enough, but it was as much as their jobs were worth to say so, with Jakes filing a thousand words of blood and thunder a day. So they chimed in too. Government stocks dropped, financial panic, state of emergency declared, army mobilized, famine, mutiny and in less than a week there was an honest to God revolution under way, just as Jakes had said. There's the power of the press for you.
'They gave Jakes the Nobel Peace Prize for his harrowing descriptions of the carnage ...'(10)
And such a threat of carnage lies lightly beneath the surface of every novel - and fully materializes at the close of Vile Bodies (1930), when Christmas is celebrated by a "Happy Ending," another world war upon "the biggest battlefield in the history of the world." And upon that ruin stands Adam Fenwick-Symes, with "his fingers about his Huxdane-Halley bomb (for the dissemination of leprosy germs) "(11) Here is satire pushed to its apex, embracing total destruction (as in Pope's Dunciad) and "unrelieved desolation,'"the final ironic ultimate of "tidings of comfort and joy."
It is true, as Edmund Wilson has said, that Waugh's rigorous and aloof aesthetic distancing allows us to apply Jowett's phrase to his practice: "Never Apologize, Never Explain." But Waugh's more significant and artful strategy is his satiric pushing toward knavish and foolish extremes. As Ionesco had postulated:
Push everything to a state of paroxysm, where the sources of tragedy lie. Create a theatre of violence, violently comic, violently dramatic.(12)
Hence, we might more properly say of Waugh's characters and actions, that they "Never Succeed, Never Sustain." In the manner of Parkinson, Peter, and Chisholm, Waugh's fictions celebrate "Why Things Always Go Wrong."(13) Perhaps the finest epitome of this daring and fiendish extravagance, in treating of the "prohibited," is a single sentence concerning the ebullient and eternal Basil Seal: "Basil went through the door marked KEEP OUT."(14)
And Evelyn Waugh has just a touch of Basil in him; he himself has a yen for those forbidden passageways and doors. As a good satirist, he has to. In one fine photograph of himself, taken in 1957, Waugh rests securely and serenely, if a little impishly, his arms at ease upon a fence, while a sign affixed to the gateway menacingly announces: "ENTREE INTERDITE AUX PROMENEURS."(15) Evelyn Waugh is on the inside - of course.
1. The Elements of John Updike (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1970), p. 35.
2. "Of Discourse," in Bacon's Essays, Advancement of Learning, New Atlantis and Other Pieces, ed. R. F. Jones (New York, 1951), p. 96.
3. Nothing better pleases the psychoanalyst than the opportunity to grapple with primal and rich case studies of satirists. See the rather confused but revealing study of all the things that are wrong with satirists, Leonard Feinberg's The Satirist: His Temperament, Motivation, and Influence (Ames, Iowa, 1963). Little has been written about the satiric uses of the scatological, but see the elementary beginning made by Jae Num Lee, Swift and Scatological Satire (Albuquerque, N.M., 1971).
4. Decline and Fall (Penguin Books, 1937), p. 141.
5. Vile Bodies (Dell edition, n.d.), p. 177.
6. Black Mischief (Penguin Books, 1938), p. 62.
7. The Plot of Satire (New Haven, 1965), p. 18.
8. Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton, 1957), pp. 234, 235.
9. Decline and Fall, pp. 9, 11.
10. Scoop (Penguin Books, 1943), p. 67.
11. Vile Bodies, pp. 220, 221.
12. Eugene lonesco, "Discovering the Theatre," Tulane Drama Review (Sept. 1959), 17-18.
13. Vid. C. Northcote Parkinson, Parkinson's Law (1957); Francis P. Chisholm, "Chisholm's Laws," Motive, XIX (April 1959), 16-21; and Laurence J. Peter & Raymond Hull, The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong (1969).
14. Put Out More Flags (Penguin Books, 1943), p. 164.
15. In Frederick J. Stopp, Evelyn Waugh, Portrait of an Artist (London, 1958), facing p. 219. A famous sign upon Waugh's gate at Piers Court is similarly marked, "NO ADMITTANCE ON BUSINESS"; see the picture facing p. 102 in Frances Donaldson, Evelyn Waugh: Portrait of a Country Neighbour (London, 1967); the INTERDITE photograph also appears in the Donaldson volume, facing p. 39.
There is a firm called "Regimentals" which sells all types of British militaria: medals, uniforms, shell cases, etc. The company's address is Box 2348, 303 Indian Springs Road, Williamsburg, Virginia 23185. EWN recently received a copy of its "Catalogue of British Militaria (Number 1973 - 1)"; included in the items was #21:
Georgian or early Victorian Officer's Portable Travelling Commode (W. C.), for campaigning in comfort, complete with beautiful porcelain flushing bowl (blue and white decorations, one group encompassing nature, a bird, a cornucopia, a beehive; another group encompassing the arts, mathematics, music, learning, travel, the globe; also, various fruits and flowers), brass flushing handle (a hand grasping a staff) water container, separate copper pail under porcelain flushing bowl which is set within a copper enclosure which fits snugly on top of pail. Carrying handles on both ends. Top lifts up and sits in place when in use retained by brass mechanism. Mahogany box makes a great end table! Top marked as though somebody had hit it with a small ball peen hammer, but overall finish is excellent and useable in anyone's living room. A real rarity.
23" x 19", height 18-1/2". $555.00
This catalogue was sent to EWN with the enclosed typed note, although the note's signature was handwritten: -
Dear Professor Doyle:
A friend suggests that the article advertised on the enclosure might be acquired and offered as "The Apthorpe Award" for annual presentation to the author of the year's best article in the Newsletter.
Readers of Anne Fremantle's memoir Three-Cornered Heart (New York: Viking, 1971) may like myself have been surprised to see on page 30 a reference to Waugh's short story "To Meet Jesus Christ." Since this item was not listed in any Waugh bibliography, I wrote Mrs. Fremantle for further information. She was kind enough to provide an outline of the plot but could not recall where or when the story appeared. After some sleuthing, I discovered that the author was not in fact Waugh, but rather one Mary Borden (see Four O'Clock and Other Stories, Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday & Page, 1927). The mistake is quite understandable since Waugh might indeed have created and certainly would have relished this account of a social-climbing hostess, a bishop's daughter, whose particular form of madness is to believe she has captured the world's most exclusive and illusive dinner guest - Jesus Christ.
Professor Linck's "Works of Evelyn Waugh 1910-1930" has put us all in his very great debt, but one item leaves me a little puzzled. It reads:
"A Bald Story," (Review of Alec Waugh, Card Castle),
The Isis, June 18, 1924, pp. 16-17.
Some years ago I obtained this review. It turned out to be signed "E." and to be written in a very odd style. Since Waugh used pseudonyms when he was a student, since "E." nicely distinguished Evelyn from his brother Alec, the author of the book, and since I was a lot less familiar with Waugh in those days, I was reluctantly prepared to accept, in spite of its odd prose, that Waugh wrote the review. When Professor LaFrance 's "Additions and Corrections" to Professor Linck's work appeared (EWN, IV, No.2,8), I was curious to see whether or not he would suggest another author, or even raise a doubt, and I was slightly disappointed when he didn't. Recently I re-read "A Bald Story" and it struck me forcibly, if mistakenly, that Waugh could not possibly have written it.
As far as I can discover, Professor Linck's dissertation provides no external evidence for his attribution of the review to Waugh, but he does suggest (p.112) that the opinions expressed in it correspond with Waugh's state of mind in 1924. He speculates that the "disgust" of the review was Evelyn's reaction to Alec's having directed the novel at him. It certainly is a rather unfavourable review, as Professor Linck says. But I would imagine that this casts doubt on Evelyn's authorship, for his "Alec Waugh," published in June, 1930 (Bookman, XXXVI, 299-301), speaks highly of Card Castle.
All that is as may be. My real problem arises from the prose style, to illustrate which I have chosen the following sentences:
Of the characters, that of Roland's father-in-law is the best drawn.
He is a delightful old man, with very correct and judicious opinions on wine, and dislikes spirits and vermouth tremendously.
In my estimation the loose syntax and the vague adjectives of this passage are typical of about half the review. But all of the writings of this period that are certainly Waugh's, and that I have read, show that in 1924 his style was precise and economical. Could the author of "Wittenberg and Oxford" have written a sentence in which "tremendously" comes so soon after "delightful"? Or have mistakenly substituted "and" for "who"? As it appears to me, only the third paragraph of "A Bald Story" comes at all close to Waugh's manner. Several very short sentences are left quite independent where another writer might have subordinated or used a connective ("He amalgamated his father-in-law's business with a rival firm. There is no apparent reason for his so doing.") But would Waugh have written "for his so doing" instead of "for doing so"?
Homer nodded, and Waugh was not infallible. But I find it hard to believe that on an off day, or when very rushed, he would have lapsed into the kind of wordiness and looseness that characterizes this review. May I ask through EWN that some of the people who know Waugh's university journalism spend five minutes on re-reading "A Bald Story" and let us have their conclusions? Or, if they are aware of any external evidence of authorship, that they would make it known?
John St. John, To the War with Waugh, Whittington Press, BCM - Whittington, London WCIV 6XX, 1973. Signed and numbered edition of 600 copies, £5.25 (cloth), £25 (leather); add 25p for postage; 56 pages. Reviewed by Paul A. Doyle.
St. John joined the Royal Marines at the beginning of World War II and found Waugh in the same regiment. They participated in basic training, prepared to defend the Cornwall area, and joined the Dakar attack. Many of these activities are related in POMF and MA, and pertinent passages from the novels are quoted. We learn the prototype of Ritchie-Hook, the location of Kut-al-lmara House, and the identification of Inverary with the Isle of Mugg. There are some interesting personal revelations, e.g., Waugh's lecture to his men about cursing, his desire to be fighting the Russians in Finland, and his fear of being treated by a Soviet woman doctor. There is an excerpt quoted from material Waugh wrote for the April 1940 issue of The Globe and Laurel, the Royal Marines' house journal. St. John also underscores that Waugh's "fiction" has captured - frankly and honestly - the war as it really was.
I am certain that Waugh enthusiasts will enjoy this memoir, which is excellently printed and contains a charming preface by Christopher Hollis and numerous illustrations by Peter MacKarell. But one wishes for several additions - much more of Evelyn is needed (too frequently St. John's comments and information are too remotely tangential), and one longs for more actual Waugh dialogue. By extension one wishes that everyone who had some contact with Waugh in the war would jot down remembrances. Nevertheless, Waughians, collectors, and college and university libraries will find St. John's monograph valuable and most interesting.
Starting with its March 25, 1973 issue, The Observer of London printed excerpts from "The Private Diaries of Evelyn Waugh" in its Color Magazine section. The series ran to 8 weekly instalments ending May 13. In the May 20 issue there was a rather dull follow-up article on Evelyn by Tom Driberg. This material, tightly copyrighted, is must reading. EWN will review the series in its next issue.
Books for College Libraries Press, Freeport, N.Y. has reprinted Tactical Exercise in hard cover ($10.50), but the Folcroft Press (Folcroft, Pa.), which advertised 14 Waugh reprints, has encountered copyright difficulties, and will issue no future Waugh books. Folcroft did, however, reprint the Rossetti biography in durable library binding in 1969.
The Evelyn Waugh Newsletter, designed to stimulate research and continue interest in the life and writings of Evelyn Waugh, is published three times a year in April, September, and December (Spring, Autumn, and Winter numbers). Subscription rate for libraries and interested individuals: $2.50 a year (£1.10p in England). Single copy 80 cents. Check or money orders should be made payable to the Evelyn Waugh Newsletter. Notes, brief essays, and news items about Waugh and his work may be submitted, but manuscripts cannot be returned unless accompanied by a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Address all correspondence to Dr. P.A. Doyle, c/o English Department, Nassau Community College, State University of New York, Garden City, New York 11530.
more printable version of this Newsletter. As it is
in rtf form it can easily be saved and go into any word processor.
The file is 64Kb long.
|Associate Editors:||Alfred W. Borrello (Kingsborough Community College)|
|James F. Carens (Bucknell University)|
|Robert M. Davis (University of Oklahoma)|
|Heinz Kosok (University of Wuppertal)|
|Charles E. Linck, Jr. (East Texas State University)|