An Oxford Quarrel: Evelyn Waugh and Hugh Trevor-Roper

Note: This blog was originally published on the site of the University of Leicester.

Ahead of our Waugh’s Enemies event on Monday 25 September, Milena Borden gives a brief history of Waugh’s hostile relationship with Hugh Trevor-Roper – and asks what it tells us about Oxford’s post-war battle of ideas.

Posted by University of Leicester in Waugh and Words on September 19, 2017

There is no shortage of writing on the feud between Evelyn Waugh and Hugh Trevor-Roper. Most of it has tended to focus on Waugh’s hostile letters to Trevor-Roper and their incompatible characters. But what about looking into the story as a guide to the battle of academic ideas in Oxford after the end of the Second World War?

The son of a country doctor, Trevor-Roper read for two degrees, Classics and History, at Christ Church (1932 – 1937), became a Research Fellow of Merton College in 1938 and from 1957 until 1980 was Regius Professor of Modern History at Christ Church.

Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, pictured in 1975. Source: Wikicommons

During the Second World War he was a code-breaker and also became an expert on Germany. One year before his retirement, he accepted to be Master of Peter House at Cambridge. In 1980 Trevor-Roper concluded his valedictory lecture with the words of Evelyn Waugh during one of their public spats twenty-six years previously: ‘One honourable course is open to Mr Trevor-Roper. He should change his name and seek a livelihood at Cambridge.’ He expressed regret that Waugh was no longer alive to enjoy his victory. Trevor-Roper was an admirer of Waugh as a prose writer, but was afraid to meet him in person because of their intense intellectual animosity.

Trevor-Roper’s first book The Last Days of Hitler (1947) became famous. It was enthusiastically reviewed and praised by established Oxford historians including Alan Bullock, Lewis Namier and Lawrence Stone. But one aspect of his book provoked angry reactions in Catholic circles. It claimed that Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany, learned how to manipulate knowledge during his Jesuit education. Trevor-Roper also wrote that Himmler was like Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, known for his role in the Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei affairs, because they both were kind to animals.

Trevor-Roper’s The Last Days of Hitler (1947) erroneously claimed Goebbels was educated by Jesuits.

Waugh first wrote to Trevor-Roper privately and then made a public accusation in The Tablet. He accused him of seeking to promote his own prejudice in a sensational book: ‘There was not the smallest reason why Mr. Trevor-Roper should introduce Catholic theologians into this nasty story…They are dragged in ignorantly, maliciously and irrelevantly.’ But most importantly, it was Waugh, who first suggested that Trevor-Roper should make a correction in the next edition of the book. At the end, the New York publisher of The Last Days of Hitler demanded changes under the pressure of American Catholics and Trevor-Roper made some corrections in the second edition of 1950. In its preface, he specifically apologised for a factual inaccuracy: ‘…I must admit an error in my description of Goebbels. I stated that he was educated by the Jesuits. Though this is widely believed and repeated, I am satisfied that it is untrue, and that Goebbels learnt that brilliant casuistry that could distinguish between “concrete truth” and “poetic truth” from other sources.’

So, what does this quarrel tell us about Waugh, Oxford, and the bigger question – ‘What is history?’. Is it factual, unemotional and secular or is it inductive and tainted with beliefs, and religious faith? Waugh, a devout Catholic, argued against the idea that fascism could be linked to his religion, whereas Trevor-Roper – a staunch anti-Catholic – understood and accepted criticism only if it was on the ground of academic accuracy. Waugh extended his absolute disdain for the historical empiricism of C. R. M. F. Cruttwell, his history tutor at Oxford, to The Last Days of Hitler, the book, which A. J. P. Taylor called ‘a delight for historian and layman alike’. The quarrel reached a point where all could enjoy the infinite view of history debates at Oxford.

At the time of posting there are still a few places available for Waugh’s Enemies. Visit our eventbritepage now to join Alexander Waugh, Ann Pasternak Slater and Barbara Cooke in picking over Waugh’s hit-list.

Literature

Adam Sisman, Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography, 2010.

Martin Stannard, Evelyn Waugh: No Abiding City 1939 – 1966, Volume II, 1993.

The Tablet, 28 June, 1947.

H. R. Trevor-Roper, The Last Days of Hitler, 1947; Second Edition, 1950.

#stayhome

Британският модел – ще проработи ли?

27 March 2020

Не е ясно защо във Великобритания можем все още да се разхождаме из природата, да ходим на пазар, макар и само за храна, в някои случаи може и на работа да се ходи, и да си говорим от два метра разстояние. Ако изобщо се налага – всеизвестно е, че англичаните по природа избягват контакта от близо. Може би психолозите – съветници смятат, че това е подход, който е реалистичен и ще се спази, а не заобиколя. Надеждата е, че спасителният пакет обявен от финансовият министър Риши Сунак на 20 март, мобилизацията на доброволци, полиция, лекари и индустриалци като технологичния производител Dyson, който правителството нае да произведе спешно медицински вентилатори, и въпреки че министър-председателят Борис Джонсън и министърът на здравеопазването Матю Ханкок са заразени, вирусната криза ще бъде овладяна. Засега това е стратегия с мирис на на недоказуема надежда – да забавим и притъпим вирусната крива, която върви нагоре с всеки изминат ден чрез самоизолация и миене на ръце. Това е единственото мото на британският модел срещу Ковид -19 въведен от институцията за обществено здраве Public Health England. Да накараш целия британски народ да не работи и си стои вкъщи с цел да спаси системата за държавно здравеопазване – NHS – и тези, които ще имат нужда от нея в близките дни, седмици, месеци.  

“Не съм сигурен в тази стратегия, която ще убие икономиката ни”, споделя неофициално високопоставен адвокат с връзки нависоко. Алтруизъм, съпричастност и жертва за другия – това са днес призивите и молбите, които почти граничат с държавна заповед. Откъде такива принципи ще се появят и заработят в цяла нация – която и да е – британска или друга в Европа? Като цели почти две поколения бяха възпитани да се интересуват от много други неща и от международното положение като пазари предлагащи печалби, и да забравят националните граници. Колко модерни жени, британки или французойки, знаят да готвят пет неща от едно пиле или да метат двора вместо да ходят на фитнес и др. подобни. Любов към ближния е новият вопъл на британската държава. Разбира се от това състрадание би трябвало да има практическа полза – обществото да се излекува. Консервативната партия, която дойде на власт миналата година на вълната на обещанията за подем на средния и дребния бизнес, на развитието на изостаналите райони и префокусирането към живот извън Европейския Съюз, сега й се налага да бъде образцов социалистически тип централизиран орган: ето ви базисната заплата или издръжка, един път на ден на разходка, малко на опашката за лекарства, хляб и яйца и вкъщи кротко.

Кой каквото и да мисли за британския, немския или българския модел, ясно е, че всяка страна е поела свойта си борба и в момента ЕС и Брекзит изглеждат излишни, защото няма обща политика срещу Ковид-19 която да подкрепяме или на която да се противиме. Вярно е, че никога не е имало план за такава. Здравната система на всяка държава е национална. Няма помощ за Италия, която е най-засегната, от Великобритания, а доскоро нямаше и от никой изобщо. Германия отказа да работи за САЩ по поръчка на Тръмп за откриването на ваксина или поне така се говори.

Какво да мислим в това необичайно обществено състояние? Две неща на които не трябва да вярвате, предупреждава британският специлист по международна сигурност Джонатан Айл от Кралския Обединен Международен Институт RUSI в туитър: изявленията на Световната Здравна Организация (WHO), която в средата на януари заяви, че няма нужда от забрана на пътуванията и на информация от Китай, чийто власти казаха тогава, че няма “доказателства” вирусът да е плъзнал по хората.

“Страхувам се, че от тази криза Китай може да излезе победител над САЩ”, споделя друг специалист по военна сигурност. Има доста британци, които твърдят, че китайският метод бил велик. Чувам го и от българи във Великобритания, и от България, и от американци. Те искат да кажат, предполагам, че Китай е приключил въпроса с крути мерки и заслужава възхишщение. И все пак гледам на тези, които наистина мислят така със съжаление. Да не разбираш какво значи метод на китайската комунистическа партия е екзистенциално нещастие. ББС и изобщо всичси мълчат за това откъде произлезе вируса и не показват снимки на т.н. “жив пазар” за убиване на животни и продажбата им на място, а също и не коментират, че Китай е дал информация с един месец закъснение за епидемията на Световната Здравна Организация, както е задължен. Италианските вестници тази седмица пишат, че китайската и руската помощи, които са получили са неизползваеми. Но тяхната “помощ” е пристигнала първа там, както и в Сърбия.

Официални британски експерти по дезинформация предупреждават, че Китай и Русия водят яростна анти-американска кампания страхувайки се за ефекта на кризата в своите страни, които са потенциално икономически по-засегнати, а и за да не изпуснат възможността да покажат, че тоталитаризмът е успешен и ефективен в борбата за живот. Foreign Policy Research Institute, която е реномирана независима американска организация чиято експертиза се използва от служители на британското военно министерство, предупреждава да четем и слушаме със следните три неща наум: кой го казва, откъде го казва и кой плаща да се казва. Азбучна истина за тези, които разпознават бързо кой кой е в медииното пространство в своите си държави. Но в глобалния интернет е по-трудно.

А що се отнася до мерките със седенето вкъщи #stayhome, без излизане вечер на ресторант, без постянен спортен канал на екрана и с една държавно разрешена разходка из гората на държавна заплата – малка, но сигурна, животът ми напомня малко на източно-германски филм или например Шумен по тодорживковско – брежневско време. Дано, дано победим, оживеем и се залеем пак с омразната слободия на демокрацията в която никой не го интересуваше къде, с кого и как ходим и когато се обичахме и мразехме със съгражданите си по избор, а не по задължение.

Waugh and Victory in Europe Day

A few days before the Victory in Europe (VE Day), which marked the formal end of Hitler’s war, Waugh wrote in his diary from Chagford in Devon: “Tuesday 1 May 1945…The end of the war is hourly expected. Mussolini obscenely murdered, continual rumours that Hitler’s mind has finally gone. Communism gains in France. Russia insults USA. I will now get to work on St Helena.”[1]

Waugh’s two military missions, in Crete (1941) and in Yugoslavia (1944) have generated many controversies. There is also a fair amount of generally critical talk about his declared intellectual support for General Franco during the Spanish Civil War and his hate towards the Yugoslav partisan leader and ally of the British, Marshall Tito has been a subject of anecdotal industry. However, one other feature of his war-time personage, which is mentioned in the above diary entry is his interest in the Italian fascist leader Mussolini who came to power in 1922. Under his leadership Italy’s participation in the Second World War was a succession of military disasters.

Waugh met Mussolini in Rome in January 1936. He was on his way back from Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) where he was a Daily Mail correspondent (1935-36). Waugh arranged the interview on the condition that it wouldn’t be published or talked about publicly. This presents a real problem for biographers and researchers as nobody can know what did Waugh really think about Mussolini. However, we could make certain assumptions on three accounts in the context of other relevant facts and ideas he entertained. Firstly, in 1936 Mussolini was at the height of his popularity as a fascist leader riding on the promise that he who would put Italy on the world map by incorporating Abyssinia into his new Italian Empire. Italians generally supported the invasion and Waugh certainly was in favor of the invasion. He thought about it primarily as a part of the civilising mission of the western Roman civilisation represented by Italy in Africa. From this point of view, we could assume that Waugh would have naturally sympathised with il Duce. Secondly, we know directly from his writings that Waugh thought highly of Mussolini’s General Rudolfo Graziani who was in charge of the campaign and who Waugh met in Abyssinia. Presumably Waugh would have trusted Mussolini’s military competence if it was discussed.[2] But this would have been a misjudgement as the campaign failed. Further on, it is unclear in what language would have Waugh and Mussolini talked to each other. There is no evidence that there was an interpreter at the meeting. Mussolini was well known as good conversationalist but he only knew limited French, German and even more basic English. It is possible that they talked in any of these languages or in a mixture of all but it is unlikely that the conversation was deeply nuanced or long.

Last but not the least comes Waugh’s later involvement with the war, which took him far away from Mussolini’s Italy both physically and mentally. In 1939 the Pact of Steel sealed the alliance between Mussolini and Hitler. It eventually led Italy to catastrophe and the Duce to his death. A month after it was signed, Waugh completed and published Robbery Under Law and was getting ready to serve in the British Army. Italy was an enemy state to Britain and during the war Waugh returned there only in his capacity as a British soldier. In March 1945, he stayed in occupied Rome to lobby for an audience with the Pope Pius XII for his report on the treatment of Catholics in Croatia. Mussolini was in exile in the north of Italy and on the 28 April he was executed by the partisans then dragged to Piazzale Loreto in Milan to be spat on by the Italian citizens who once admired him. During that time Waugh was preoccupied with what he saw as the ‘unconditional surrender’ of the West to the influence of communism with Tito, Stalin and Churchill being the main actors in this act in his mind. The war changed everything and Waugh’s interest or involvement with the Italian empire idea and Mussolini seem to have faded completely. Waugh was deeply disappointed with the political and cultural shape of the new realities with the Soviets taking over the states in Europe east of the Elbe and driving yet another wedge into the continent. On the eve of “Victory in Europe’ Day he found very little to be proud of and perhaps more than a little guilty:

“Sunday 6 May 1945…All day there was expectation of VE Day and finally at 9 it was announced for tomorrow…It is pleasant to end the war in plain clothes, writing. I remember at the start of it all writing to Frank Pakenham that its value for us would be to show us finally that we were not men in action. I took longer than him to learn it. I regard the greatest danger I went through that of becoming one of Churchill’s young men, of getting a medal and standing for Parliament; if things had gone, as then seem right, in the first two years, that is what I should be now. I thank God to find myself still a writer and at work on something as ‘uncontemporary’ as I am.”


[1] The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Ed. Michael Davie, London 1976, p. 627

[2] Evelyn Waugh, Waugh in Abyssinia, 1936.

Kelmscott, Rossetti and Waugh

Kelmscott Manor built around 1600 was the Cotswolds home of William Morris – writer, designer and craftsman – from 1871 until his death in 1896. It was also the retreat of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelite painter, who was a close family friend and the subject of Evelyn Waugh’s first biography Rossetti His Life and Works (1928). Waugh gave a detailed description of the Kelmscott house in Chapter VII, ‘Kelmscott, 1872-1874’ in the first edition. There is also an entry in his Diaries for Thursday, 6 October 1927, about his visit to Kelmscott, which is closely reflected in the biography. In Morris’s words it was ‘a heaven on earth’ but Waugh wrote that the house was ‘much smaller than expected…the rooms very low and dark and the whole effect rather cramped and constricted.’

Nowadays Kelmscott Manor is a Grade I listed building owned by the Society of Antiquaries of London which attracts many visitors. The two floors and the attics are nicely restored with original Morris fabrics on display. At Kelmscott, Rossetti occupied the Tapestry Room, turned into a studio, and complained that it was claustrophobic. Waugh noted that the tapestries which ‘worried Rossetti’ were in the house before the Morris family moved in and have a heavy feel. Today there is an easel on display, which presumably was used by Rossetti or other of the Kelmscott artists, a stylish oak table designed by Philip Webb and a Chaucer book with woodcut illustrations by Morris. Rossetti’s presence is also marked by the two crayon portraits of the Morris’s young daughters, mentioned by Waugh in his diary entry, and his oil painting “Mrs. Morris” also known as the “The Blue Silk Dress” (1866-70). He referred to her in the book as being ‘in the full maturity of her profound and lustrous beauty’. Waugh met May Morris (daughter of William Morris’s wife Jane) and described her in his diary as ‘a singularly forbidding woman – very awkward and disagreeable dressed in a slipshod ramshackle way in hand-woven stuffs’.

Waugh was twenty four years old when he gave his verdict about Rossetti’s art and the Pre-Raphaelites, underlining that he was stating the problem of subjective aesthetics ‘fatally lacking essential rectitude that underlines the serenity of all really great art.’ This seems still to be a point made by critics of the Pre-Raphaelites. But equally there is an agreement that Rossetti’s mystically romantic style was followed by many artists in the various forms of the Arts and Crafts movement and laid a stone in the foundations of European Symbolism and Art Nouveau. Perhaps Waugh’s biography should be read by everyone interested in connecting Rossetti (the artist) to Waugh (the biographer), with Kelmscott Manor being a nice place to do this.
Waugh’s biography was recently republished in the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh: Rossetti His Life and Works, volume 16, edited by Michael G. Brennan, published: 14 September 2017. Deposited at the British Library but not yet available to readers. Kelmscott Manor is open to the public from April to October (most recently on Wednesday and Saturday). For details see https://www.sal.org.uk/kelmscott-manor/

At Madresfield

Madresfield Court.
At Madresfield

A strikingly beautiful house appears a short distance after driving through Madresfield village and turning towards Madresfield Court. It is sitting at the foot of the Malvern Hills and is approached across a bridge over a moat. I arrived at noon on a balmy autumn day to see the real house of the Lygon family and get closer to their sensibilities, which inspired Waugh’s masterpiece novel Brideshead Revisited.

Inside this grand but very homely English country house, Tudor, Victorian Gothic and Arts and Crafts styles are all interwoven with a charming accumulation of Parisian, Dutch and Danish furniture, massive family and rare royal portraits, fake Holbeins, William Morrison fabrics, unusual artefacts and sculptures, marble fireplaces, valuable armoury, early-oak carved chests and antique travel trunks.

Waugh’s desk and chair have been moved from the upstairs nursery, where he stayed during his many visits to Madresfiled (1931-1938), to the bay in the Long Gallery overlooking the Moat Garden. They seem to be the only uncomplicated items displayed on the otherwise highly ornamented first floor. Hugh Lygon, Waugh’s Oxford friend famously depicted as Sebastian Flyte, stares melancholically from a small modestly framed photograph tucked away in a corner of the dramatic top-lit, double-height staircase hall designed by his father, the seventh Earl Beauchamp who is the prototype of Lord Marchmain in Brideshead. Portraits of his sisters who adored Waugh and also found a place in the novel are spread across the wood panelled walls of many rooms and corridors. Waugh wrote his novel Black Mischief while staying at Madresfield in 1931 and a copy of the book dedicated to Mary and Dorothy together with other first editions are said to be kept in the Smoking Room but in the today’s Madresfield there is no public access to it. In the Library one can see shelves going all the way up to the high ceilings holding thousands of volumes including bibles, musical scores, dictionaries and albums.

The chapel seems unchanged since it was first seen by Waugh in 1931. It is decorated in the Arts and Crafts emblematic expression with idyllic pastoral scenes surrounding the portraits of the Lord and Lady Beauchamp as well as their seven children. There are beautiful murals, stained glass and candlesticks designed by Henry Payne. This is a Church of England chapel with some soft blue Italian Renaissance style colours. Although it does look a lot like the one in Brideshead, it also feels different from the strictly Catholic chapel given as a present to Lady Marchmain by her exiled husband.

In Brideshead Waugh seems to have immortalised just one episode of Madresfield’s almost one thousand years old life. But it is deeply convincing especially as shaped by his affectionately fictionalised romantic love for the Brideshead set. My two hours inside Madresfield was like stepping into an extraordinary still-life painting to meet its amazing inhabitants and to eat, drink, sleep, read, write and laugh with them.

26 September, Madresfield.