Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Conservative Waugh

Evelyn Waugh was an enigmatic little chap. A 'snobbish misanthrope' who penned a series of amusing and lightweight novels during the 1930s until he contracted pretensions of literature. Scoop, Put Out More Flags and Decline and Fall should still be satisfying reading for any schoolboy, and still be able to induce an audible guffaw. Looking at his portrait pic one would take him as a perfect analogue for his unfortunate creation Apthorpe in Sword of Honour, rather than the noble but frustrated Crouchback in whose character he undoubtedly cast himself.

Craig Brown in the The Mail catalogues Waugh's particular hatred of Christmas, and his deep dislike of his own children, Theresa and Bron. "Maria Teresa and Bron have arrived, he is ingratiating, she covered with little medals and badges, neurotically voluble with the vocabulary of the lower-middle class — “serviette”, “spare room". By keeping the children in bed for long periods we managed to have a tolerable day" he wrote in his diary in 1945, when the children were aged six and seven. 

Craig Brown omits the story Bron himself told of that Christmas. At the end of the meal the maid brought in a single banana on a plate, an undreamt of wonder to the children after six years of wartime rationing. It was the first time either of them had seen the fruit. They watched as Waugh carefully peeled away the skin .... and proceeded to eat the entire thing himself. 

How much of his later misanthropy was due to bearing a girl's name is unclear but it dogged him throughout his life, one contemporary review of Scoop referring throughout to 'Miss Waugh'. Muriel in the Colony would have addressed him in the same way, but out of mischief.

Waugh of course also reflects how far liberal conservatism has come since the 1950s. Unpleasant but successful men exercising patronage through local Conservative Associations that could make or break small businesses, run local planning and development to suit themselves or exclude from local society those they disliked. We must be glad that such men have gone.

11 comments:

G. Tingey said...

No, unfortunately, they are still with us, it is just that they have spread (admittedly more thinly) so that all political parties, especially in "safe" seats have them.

That said, Waugh was an exeptionally nasty piece of work, and Auberon wasn't much better.

right_writes said...

I never seem to like people who's eyes are too close together...

Weekend Yachtsman said...

For once I agree with Greg.

Such people still exist, but now they operate through local Labour Party organisations, trade unions, or the back offices of local authorities.

They'll never be gone, such power in such hands is too tempting for a certain sort of man.

The best we can do is restrict and hedge in the State, so that its minions don't enjoy arbitrary powers; good luck with that.

Demetrius said...

Personally, I always saw him as Captain Grimes. Also, didn't Mitford pere used to hunt his daughters with his hounds on occasion? Theirs was a very strange world to be in, sometimes almost as weird as our present one. At least they did not used to copulate on the back seat of a London bus.

Budgie said...

"At least they did not used to copulate on the back seat of a London bus."

Is that when two come at once? (He asked innocently).

Henry Wood said...

Craig Brown in the Daily Mail claims Evelyn Waugh was the "least Christmassy of beings".

And *you*, and your sycophantic arselickers reckon this is "good"?

Another blog for the block-spot.

Henry Wood said...

p.s. Raedwald - in your profile you claim: "Fifty something, Boat owner, centre-right, country boy, shoots, fishes, drinks, smokes, makes things"

You forgot to mention your ignorance.

Raedwald said...

Henry - take more water with it.

Rush-is-Right said...

Among the list of Waugh's novels you don't mention "Black Mischief". I think it's the funniest book I've ever read (and I've read an awful lot of PG Wodehouse).

G. Tingey said...

R-i-R
Wodehouse is not funny.
Very, very boring & tedious.

Try Pterry for funny.

Anthony said...

I don't think either Waugh or Wodehouse are funny. I admire Waugh's "Sword of Honour" trilogy, which I've read several times since my schooldays, but I'm happy to forget the rest.
Always understood Waugh senior was a nasty man. News to me that Waugh junior was very funny - I read him quite frequently in the past, just don't get it. Always saw him as another poor unfortunate ordinary sort of bloke struggling to escape from the shadow of a famous father. And his gun handling was dodgy - believe he shot himself during National Service, poking at something with the butt of a loaded Sten...