The contests required readers to identify interview subjects through a snippet of an answer, which was not only fun but good marketing--after reading a few days of stumpers (and probably trolling the Paris Review archives to try to find the answer) you couldn't help but be impressed by the quality of the collections.
To make it even better, I actually won a set last week, by identifying the interview subject who gave E. M. Forster the back of his hand in this exchange:
Initially the savagery of "trite little whimsy" made me think of Evelyn Waugh, but I eventually decided that Waugh couldn't have so successfully avoided Forster's novels, settling instead on Nabokov--it was "whimsy" and "quills" that did it, along with the flat brutality of "galley slaves."INTERVIEWERE. M. Forster speaks speaks of his major characters sometimes taking over and dictating the course of his novels. Has this ever been a problem for you, or are you in complete command?AUTHORMy knowledge of Mr. Forster's works is limited to one novel, which I dislike; and anyway, it was not he who fathered that trite little whimsy about characters getting out of hand; it is as old as the quills, although of course one sympathizes with his people if they try to wriggle out of that trip to India or wherever he takes them. My characters are galley slaves.
On receiving my set today, I was pleased to see that the topic of E. M. Forster does come up in the interview with Waugh in Volume III. Conducted in 1963, when Waugh was well into what Penelope Fitzgerald calls his "I am bored; you are frightened" phase, the interview features the usual Wauvian combination of crankiness and intelligence. At one point, he mutters, looking out the window over Hyde Park, "The horrors of London life! The horrors of London life!"
Forster's name surfaces when the interviewer asks about his famous distinction between flat and round characters. Having always had difficulty with the false simplicity of those categories, I appreciate Waugh's repudiation of them:
Would it be better to be Waugh's furniture or Nabokov's galley slave? And, to keep the theme running, when I think of a writer who is "obsessed with the use of language," I think first of Nabokov, but Waugh runs a close secondWAUGHAll fictional characters are flat. A writer can give an illusion of depth by giving an apparently stereoscopic view of a character--seeing him from two vantage points; all a writer can do is give more or less information about a character, not information of a different order.INTERVIEWERThen do you make no radical distinction between characters as differently conceived as Mr. Prendergast and Sebastian Flyte?WAUGHYes, I do. There are protagonists and there are characters who are furniture. One gives only one aspect of the furniture. Sebastian Flyte was a protagonist.INTERVIEWERWould you say, then, that Charles Ryder was the character about whom you gave the most information?WAUGHNo, Guy Crouchback. [A little restlessly] But look, I think that your questions are dealing too much with the creation of character and not enough with the technique of writing. I regard writing not as investigation of character, but as an exercise in the use of language, and with this I am obsessed. I have no technical psychological interest. It is drama, speech, and events that interest me.
Finally, I can't resist closing with this exchange about writers Waugh likes, in part because it includes a couple of my own favorites:
"Extraneous lubricious sort"--now that could have come from the mouth of Nabokov!INTERVIEWERWhat about Ronald Firbank?WAUGHI enjoyed him very much when I was young. I can't read him now.INTERVIEWERWhy?WAUGHI think there would be something wrong with an elderly man who could enjoy Firbank.INTERVIEWERWhom do you read for pleasure?WAUGHAnthony Powell. Ronald Knox, both for pleasure and moral edification. Erle Stanley Gardner.INTERVIEWERAnd Raymond Chandler!WAUGHNo. I'm bored by all those slugs of whiskey. I don't care for all the violence either.INTERVIEWERBut isn't there a lot of violence in Gardner?WAUGHNot of the extraneous lubricious sort you find in other American crime writers.