I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
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Saturday, 13 April 2013

Clearly a man in love

 
Try and imagine this. It's wartime. You're running a farm and bringing up three children. Your husband is a serving Army officer and has been away from home for several  months. You are the most devoted wife in Christendom and you've been dutifully writing him letters. You get this in return:

"Darling L, sweet whiskers, do try to write me better letters. Your last, dated 19 December, received today, so eagerly expected, was a bitter disappointment. Do realize that a letter need not be a bald chronicle of events; I know you lead a dull life now, my heart bleeds for it, though I believe you could make it more interesting if you had the will. But that is no reason to make your letters as dull as your life. I am simply not interested in Bridget's children. Do grasp that. A letter should be a form of conversation; write as though you were talking to me."

I broke off and, rather tentatively, read that passage to VR. What, I asked her, would be her reaction? "I would recommend you wrote letters to yourself," she said.

Hmmm.

In fact there is later proof that this seemingly hard-hearted instruction bore fruit. L's letters did improve.

In a sense this can be read as a love letter. Yearning for news of his beloved wife, being fobbed off with boiler-plate, the writer crosses the normal husband-wife boundaries in trying to rectify the situation.

And, of course, he knew whereof he spake. He himself wrote brilliant letters. He was inevitably Evelyn Waugh.

8 comments:

Joe Hyam said...

Who else would be so honest and so cruel?. Laura (was that her name ?) must have had a lot to put up with from this heartless man. Let us hope that great novels and exemplary prose do not always have to be accompanied by such behaviour.

Lucy said...

Well, I suppose he could have added a smiley emoticon...

Roderick Robinson said...

Joe: The extract is from the Penguin edition of The Letters of Evelyn Waugh (ed. Mark Amory), a book which has been an arm-stretch away from my accustomed seat in present and past living rooms for over twenty years. I have read it through several times and I frequently dip into into it when I have twenty-minutes or so to spare before a TV programme.

EW wrote this letter during his time in Jugoslavia, the only extended period of letters from him to Laura, since most of the time they lived at the same house. Perhaps it was wrong for me to quote out of context. The other letters during this period do in fact suggest his love for her. Since we are acknowledging his shocking frankness in this extract then I suppose we must also also take the other emotional statements at face value too.

Needless to say I haven't dwelt on such serious matters before. I simply read the letters and marvel at his skill in avoiding the unnecessary. Plus the beautiful throwaway lines as below - blogged many times before but I can't resist it, this time with some context added.

Still in Jugo and writing to Laura he says he is happy (distributing) "food to the needy and (getting) a sense of vicarious generosity in the process."

He adds "A great number of prayers are being put up on my behalf in consequence." No military appointment could be "so congenial. - good architecture, good food, wine, blameless life, and for once in my life a sense of being very popular."

He is having a bust done but the work goes slowly "because the poor old man making it believes his food ration will cease when the work is done, so he fiddles away making the nose longer and shorter by turns. I look very fat and placid, like a nineteenth century Headmaster Bishop." But this is EW's world. "I shall tell the sculptor I will continue his food allowance after the work is done for I am tired of sitting to him."

After a brief reference to brother Alec's "nymphomaniac mistress" he arrives at the the last two paras;

"I have got very fat and noble looking - like a patrician Roman of Petronius's day. You do not tell me how you look. I hope that by now B. Bennett has sent your some wine.

"I have just read Dombey and Son. The worst book in the world."

Lucy: Oh he could do far, far worse. Please be careful or I'll feel it necessary to send you a copy of the Letters, whether you want it or not. I doubt he would have needed an emoticon. I have seen a hand-written page from one of his MSs and there's not a single correction. No need for a word processor either.

Ellena said...

I had to google him. Surprised?
Bravo on VR's answer. If it were not too late in life I would take her as example.
It is said that he was a great writer, that he had an atagonistic attitude, that his presence was intimidating, that he was a bully. True?
I would say that he must have been a good catholic - 7 children good.
I want to read 'Sword of Honor'.

Roderick Robinson said...

Ellena: He's probably best known to the widest public for a TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited. This lush hymn to British catholicism appeared in 1981 and is still referred to in hushed tones by middle-aged to elderly televiewers. I must confess I enjoyed it myself but not for its solemnities, rather the histrionic sidelines, John Gielgud as the central character's father, Laurence Olivier for making a meal out of dying, the actor who played Blanche, etc. I understand it went down a storm in the USA while the book, which came out in the forties, was Book of the Month.

But genuine EW fans - and I'm as rabid as they come - tend to regard his other treasures. The Sword of Honour (which originally came out as a trilogy and was combined by Waugh into a single volume) is superior to BR and there are other enormous delights: Scoop, The Loved One, Decline and Fall.

Two warnings. He writes elliptically and makes a speciality of avoiding writing the big scenes. Sort of writes round them. Some readers can't get on with this. And I fear there is more than a smattering of anti-Americanism.

He was a very strong catholic but that's a tale for others to tell.

Above all he was a great writing stylist without ever lapsing into "fine" writing.

The above is an example of my writing style when I was still a foetus. Before I discovered what "rebarbative" meant and decided to practise it.

marja-leena said...

When I read the letter, I had to chuckle - because it sounds so very similar to occasional spam comments I receive, criticizing a terrible blog post. I'm now thinking Waugh was the inspiration!

And I'm with VR!

Sir Hugh said...

Criticism is always hard to bear, and when constructive is rarely recognised as such by the recipient. If, as a recipient you can recognise the message as constructive, AND you respect the credentials of the sender there is much to be gained.

That was a valuable and sharply illustrative post that promoted some good discussion. More about your favourite writers and the reasons why will be appreciated, by me, and I suspect most of your readers.

Roderick Robinson said...

M-K: I am baffled by this. Do you mean that people trying to sell you things ("spam") open the dialogue by saying you can't write for toffee? Or is it some indirect (but no doubt justifiable) reference to all the wounding things I've left behind in your comment box? As to inspiration, I don't need it. I'm a self-starter.

Sir Hugh: While true-ish this is all a bit solemn. And the final sentence a prescription for oblivion. But then you're near Dartmoor, aren't you?