More Waugh 

More Waugh

A few favourites out of many funny and/or interesting bits:

Waugh was amazed that Brideshead Revisited was as popular in the U.S. as it was. The book was (and is) predictably despised by a lot of sophisticated intellectuals (why is Waugh now in favour of slightly stuffy Catholics? Oh, he is one). There is an ongoing debate about whether the parts of the book really fit together--but for that matter, there were similar questions about A Handful of Dust; a member of the English gentry ends up in the jungle, forced to read Dickens aloud to a madman. How does this fit with the England/London story in the early parts of the novel? Waugh had an answer: everywhere he turns, Tony is surrounded by savages.

On Brideshead, he writes (1946) "I am delighted that you liked Brideshead. I was pleased with it at the time but I have been greatly shaken by its popularity in the U.S.A." (p. 222)
"My book has been a great success in the United States which is upsetting because I thought it in good taste before and now I know it can't be...." (p. 223)

This is all background to his book The Loved One--some would say, his best. He went to California to consider an offer for the movie rights to Brideshead. He eventually turned down an offer of $125,000. He wrote his literary agent from California (1947) (p. 247):

I am entirely obsessed by Forest Lawns & plan a long short story about it....It is an entirely unique place--the only thing in California that is not a copy of something else. It is wonderful literary raw material....MGM bore me when I see them but I dont see them much. They have been a help in getting me introductions to morticians who are the only people worth knowing.

When the book is done Waugh predicts that Americans will hate it, which I think turned out to be true. The sophisticated types liked it. Cyril Connolly agreed to publish the whole thing in a special issue of a magazine called Horizon. Waugh wrote to Connolly (January 1948): (pp. 265-6)

The ideas I had in mind in writing were: 1st and quite predominantly over-excitement with the scene of Forest Lawn. 2nd the Anglo-American impasse--'never the twain shall meet', 3rd there is no such thing as an American. They are all exiles uprooted, transplanted & doomed to sterility. the ancestral gods they have abjured get them in the end.

The elaborate mortuary of course indicates a massive refusal to accept death, combined with a kind of weird secular set of compromises as to what exactly to say about death and its aftermath. The people are all exiles--eventually pulled back, somehow, to traditions that they don't really remember. This all goes strangely with Waugh's "Catholic" piece predicting great things for the Roman Catholic church in the U.S. (3 September 1948): he thought American Catholics were the "future leaders" of European Catholics. UPDATE: Maybe this turned out to be true, but it also seems more true today to say the American Catholics want to be like their fellow Americans, than that some kind of orthodox Catholicism (such as Waugh identified with) is strong in the U.S. Waugh was capable of ambivalence about his hopes for American Catholics. On April 12, 1949 he wrote Nancy Mitford: "I am bound in honour to write a long article for Life magazine...on the state of the Catholic Church in America, and there is nothing to say except that americans are louts & that Catholic Americans are just a little better than panglossist americans."

UPDATE: Some thoughts on why Americans like Brideshead. 1. Show a bit of real aristocrats: Upstairs, Downstairs, Forsyte Saga. 2. Anything with a British accent if it's somehow "dress up." Michael Caine and Julie Andrews both go over big. 3. The idea of those old country homes being destroyed by modernity, which always seems depressing for Waugh, may be quite cheerful for Americans in general. One would think Southerners would share some of Waugh's sensibility.... 4. Americans like a convert. Two or three conversions is even better than one. Move to California [get a divorce] and start a whole new life. Mention very few details from your previous life to your new friends. 5. Certain kinds of Christianity go over with middle-class Brits and Americans. To the extent that they get that Ryder prays at the end, i.e. he has become a Catholic, Brideshead is an encouraging story for Christians. Even before that, it seems intelligent Catholics have a clue, while no one else does. American Christians also like C.S. Lewis and Malcolm Muggeridge. As Malcolm's son John has said, American Christians who write about Malcolm turn him into a make-believe character, a good Christian for many years, doing his duty, etc., none of which was true.

Waugh to John Betjeman (the greatest and/or most popular poet in Britain), February? 1948: "I say it is good news about your bankruptcy. You will be sold up and I shall get your books."

To an old friend who is turning 50, at a time when Waugh is 44 (8 May 1947):

I was most surprised to learn...that you are only now 50. I always supposed that when you came to Oxford ... you were at least that age. It is a great thing to be old and I am sorry you are not older. Still you have passed the watershed & that is everything. Downhill now all the way into deep pasture & long evening shadows. I am still struggling up the last false crest & salute your vanishing silhouette.

UPDATE: More of Waugh on Americans. To Betjeman, 18 Jan 1949: "Just off to USA. Why not come too. You wouldn't like them but they would like you and you would find many architectural peculiarities." To an American Catholic, Anne Fremantle, 14 Sept 1949: "[My book on Helena] will be interesting only to the very few people who know exactly as much history as I do. The millions who know more will be disgusted; the few who know less, puzzled. Americans will inevitably fall into these two classes only." But surely not in those proportions?

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