Thursday, May 02, 2013

A bit of Waugh

As I warned last week, the combination of work and the early stages of assembling The Getaway Car: A Donald E. Westlake Miscellany have stolen away any hope of proper blogging this week.  But just now as I was flipping through The Paris Review Interviews, Volume III, I came across a section of their 1963 interview with Evelyn Waugh that seemed worth sharing.

First, when asked if he would like to choose any other historical period to live in, Waugh responds,
The seventeenth century. I think it was the time of the greatest drama and romance. I think I might have been happy in the thirteenth century, too.
I understand the appeal of the eighteenth century--what lover of words could fail to fall for the Age of Johnson? But the seventeenth, with the Thirty Years' War and the English Civil War and essentially unending strife? And the thirteenth century? Really? One might almost as well opt for caveman days and fervently hope for a good cave and reasonably strong teeth.

The second part is a moment when Waugh reveals his reliable snobbishness and dyspepsia. After having it pointed out that he had never created a sympathetic working-class character, he replies:
I don't know them, and I'm not interested in them. No writer before the middle of the nineteenth century wrote about the working classes other than as grotesques or as pastoral decorations. Then when they were given the vote certain writers started to suck up to them.
It's interesting that fifty years later, Waugh's position--that writers address the working class out of self-interest rather than actual interest--can still be found reflected in conservative politics, whose leaders not infrequently reduce any attempts to ameliorate inequality to simple vote buying.

The dyspepsia, however, gives way to enthusiasm quickly--and amusingly--with the next question:
What about Pistol . . . or much later, Moll Flanders and--

Ah, the criminal classes. That's rather different. They have always had a certain fascination.
You can almost see the gleam in his eye as he makes that reply.

1 comment:

  1. Well, Waugh is our favourite reactionary, isn't he? he longed for hierarchical societies.