Saturday, August 30, 2014

Waugh's Interviews

(Waugh's Sword of Honor trilogy)

Francis Philips writes about Evelyn Waugh in The Catholic Herald, referring to a televised interview he gave in 1960:

Then I came across Fr Tim Finigan’s blog last year about Evelyn Waugh’s “Face to Face” interview with John Freeman in 1960. Never having watched this encounter before, I found it very revealing of the man who could write the mordant satire referred to above. Waugh smiled from time to time as he (briefly) explained a point, but only with his lips; his eyes remained cold, watchful, wary – indicative, as Freeman must have realised, of a gifted, complex and deeply private man who understood his own nature and failings and felt not the slightest desire to share this knowledge with the BBC.

Freeman was a model of patient, self-effacing and sensitive enquiry; a disembodied voice focused on his subject and unvaryingly courteous, even though Waugh refused to expand on any tentative avenues of enquiry. Asked whether he missed the life of the city (Waugh was then living at Combe Flory House in Somerset), he replied “I live in the country as I like to be alone”, indicating that further questions in this line would not be approved. . . .

 There were no revelations, confessions, psychologising or the kind of celebrity chumminess that has characterised interviews in a later age. When Freeman tried to probe him on his conversion, Waugh refused to be drawn; he had realised that “Catholicism was Christianity” at the age of 16, had ignored religion for the next decade and reprimanded Freeman for suggesting that his faith might have brought him comfort or solace: “It isn’t a lucky dip”, he replied, adding in an aside that was not picked up on, that it was “the essence”.

Waugh converted in 1930. In 1949 he explained in an interview that his conversion followed his realization that life was “unintelligible and unendurable without God.” Doubtless, if Freeman had quoted this on “Face to Face” Waugh would have declined to expand. But it indicates much about the intellectual clarity and emotional intensity with which he looked at life.

Julian Jebb interviewed Evelyn Waugh for The Paris Review in 1962, and seemed to have about the same luck, although there are some gems:

It is evident that you reverence the authority of established institutions—the Catholic Church and the army. Would you agree that on one level both Brideshead Revisited and the army trilogy were celebrations of this reverence?
No, certainly not. I reverence the Catholic Church because it is true, not because it is established or an institution. Men at Arms was a kind of uncelebration, a history of Guy Crouchback's disillusion with the army. Guy has old-fashioned ideas of honor and illusions of chivalry; we see these being used up and destroyed by his encounters with the realities of army life.
Would you say that there was any direct moral to the army trilogy?
Yes, I imply that there is a moral purpose, a chance of salvation, in every human life. Do you know the old Protestant hymn which goes: “Once to every man and nation / Comes the moment to decide”? Guy is offered this chance by making himself responsible for the upbringing of Trimmer's child, to see that he is not brought up by his dissolute mother. He is essentially an unselfish character.
And this exchange on characters in fiction:
E. M. Forster has spoken of “flat characters” and “round characters”; if you recognize this distinction, would you agree that you created no “round” characters until A Handful of Dust?
All 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. . . .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.
Does this mean that you continually refine and experiment?
Experiment? God forbid! Look at the results of experiment in the case of a writer like Joyce. He started off writing very well, then you can watch him going mad with vanity. He ends up a lunatic.

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