A Week With Words (4)

My daily reading target is to read three of the novels that I have ‘on-the-go’ for a minimum of twenty minutes each.

As is the way of these things, however, the ‘minimum’ has turned into the standard length of time I spend on each book.

It shouldn’t be that way, and for most of last week, (for once) it actually wasn’t. I have had some extra time on my hands so have been able to give each book at least thirty minutes each. Happy times.


You’ll notice I said for most of last week. This is because I wasn’t able to do any reading yesterday – Good Friday. At least, not of my three scheduled books. Happily, just as Maurice saved me the other week, so did Mad World this time round.


Mad World Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead
Paula Byrne

How to sum up Evelyn Waugh’s life up to the early 30s?

Champagne, aristocrats, homosexuals, Catholics.

If you like a book with lots of those four things then this is the book for you. If not, you probably wouldn’t.

Evelyn Waugh was born into a solidly middle-class family. At Oxford University (1922-24) he fell in with boozy, bi- and homosexual students, some of whom were Catholics who combined decadent behaviour with sometimes very great artistic talent. I’m thinking here of the likes of Harold Acton.

After leaving university, Waugh was cut off from his aristo friends as he sought to earn his crust by teaching. In 1930, he published Vile Bodies, a satire on the Bright Young Things – the rich young aristocratic adults who danced the 20s away at one party after another. This book made Waugh’s name.

As Mad World‘s sub-title suggests, its focus is on Waugh’s magnum opus – Brideshead Revisited – and Byrne’s brilliant book excels in the way it shows how Evelyn Waugh used his own experiences and the people he knew as the foundation stones of that novel.

For example, Lygon family – whom Waugh fell in love with in the 30s – provided the basis for the Flytes.

Thus, Lord Beauchamp who was forced into exile became the inspiration for Lord Marchmain and Hugh Lygon (who Evelyn met at university) the inspiration for Sebastian Flyte.

Lygon and Waugh – like Sebastian and Charles Ryder – drank their way through uni’. Sadly, the latter continued to drink afterwards and it destroyed his life.

Whether, like Sebastian, he found solace in the Catholic Church before he died I have yet to find out.

Those are two big similarities, there are other small ones. Mad World is a captivating book and I fully expect to dominate my reading over the next week.


E. M. Forster

Maurice has continued to be intriguing reading. Maurice has become rather an unlikeable person: very proud, I feel, and rather arrogant. I have just reached the stage where his lover, Clive Durham has told him he is no longer in love with him, but Maurice is having none of that. Embarrassingly, he has even just told Clive he wants a fight about it. How will it all end? Not well, I fear. What makes the book intriguing is that even though the protagonist is not particularly sympathetic the book remains very readable. There is something about Maurice that is compelling. I think I really mean human. Perhaps I can see something of myself in him?


As I Walked Out Through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee
P. D. Murphy

As I continue this book, I learn new things about the Spanish Civil War and the rule of General Franco. As you might expect, it is not good. I really must read more about it as I am not at all convinced that the Republicans were a particularly nice bunch, either, and suspect that if they had won the war, people would still have died – just, to quote Almasy in The English Patient film – different people.


Fr Willie Doyle & World War I
K. V. Turley

This is not a book but a booklet, published by the Catholic Truth Society. I started reading it when I attended Mass at the London Oratory on Maundy Thursday, and the Good Friday Liturgy at the same church yesterday (the latter was a long service with plenty of time to dip into appropriate reading material).

Fr Doyle’s story is one of holiness and heroic sacrifice both in peacetime, but especially during the Great War where, in the performance of his work as a military chaplain, he committed many brave acts such as – according to one soldier – could have won him a V.C. many times over. This book has made a very deep impression on me.

I should declare an interest here – I know the author, but I can say with absolute sincerity that Fr Willie Doyle & World War I is the most heart-striking book I have read this year. I would challenge anyone – Catholic or otherwise – to read it and say afterwards ‘he was not a wholly extraordinary man’.

This entry was posted in Twentieth Century Literature, Twenty First Century Biography, Twenty First Century Literature and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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