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Waugh and the Profession.

Evelyn Waugh to Laura on three versions of Brideshead:
"you may, must study them to see the changes."


My invitation to speak at this symposium said that I might discuss first, "how the academic environment has evolved" and second, "whether responses to the challenges faced by the humanities that have emerged during the course of my career have been encouraging or inadequate." After a little reflection I realized that, like the elder Plant in Work Suspended, "I am a Dodo." Both my research and the challenges facing the profession can be understood by comparing the demographic, political, and economic factors that influenced me with those affecting my successors.

I was born in the American Dust Bowl in 1934 during a period when the birth rate was at a low not surpassed until the mid-1960s. After World War II, the economic boom in general and the GI Bill in particular led Americans who earlier would not have considered sending their children to college to regard it as not just possible but inevitable. And graduate study followed, modestly, a similar trend.

By the time I went to graduate school, 1955--and in my limited experience, more of my cadre were doing so than our predecessors--we were in a seller's market because universities needed teaching assistants, especially in English departments, to deal with a growing number of undergraduates.

I went on the job market at the Modern Language Association meeting in December, 1961, and had fourteen pre-arranged interviews--a number now almost inconceivable for anyone who isn't a star, and I was no star. The interviewer from Wayne State said that I could have an instructorship if I wanted it, but that I wouldn't want it.

Years later, at my urging, the English department at Oklahoma began to hire instructors on term appointments to provide temporary refuge for a few of the many Ph.D.'s who could not find tenure-track jobs. One of my colleagues protested that the very rank of instructor was immoral. I replied that it had temporarily disappeared in the 1960s and was now re-emerging for reasons that were political and economic--when any tenure-line job advertisement would draw four hundred responses--and surely a Marxist should understand that.

This was after the Denver MLA conference of 1969, the humanities' equivalent of Wall Street's Black Tuesday of 1929. Leaders of the profession, ignoring demographics and common sense, had been urging the streamlining of existing graduate programs and the founding of new ones to produce more and more Ph.D.'s to fill jobs that suddenly weren't there.

I had a job, but it began to look that in writing about Waugh, I had backed the wrong horse. That was the implication in Walter Sullivan's review of my Evelyn Waugh, Writer, in which he said that I had been writing about Waugh when there wasn't any money in it. He was wrong to imply that there ever has been any, or much. However, if he meant that the literary and scholarly worlds by and large regarded Waugh as unworthy of serious attention, he was, like Sir Joseph Mainwaring in Put out More Flags, "bang right."

Younger generations, accustomed to praise of Waugh, at least in the popular press, as a master stylist and one of the most important English novelists of the twentieth century, may find this difficult to believe. But when I began my scholarly career, writing about Waugh was like swimming against a very powerful stream. A good example of what Waugh enthusiasts were up against is Steven Marcus's "Evelyn Waugh and the Art of Entertainment," published in Partisan Review, a citadel of high seriousness. He'd studied with Lionel Trilling and F. R. Leavis and was a Freudian besides. He confessed to enjoying Waugh's novels but seemed to feel a little guilty because they were funny.

Others dismissed Waugh on the grounds of his political and social views, or because of his Catholicism, which emerged in Brideshead Revisited and horrified Edmund Wilson, who had praised the early, seemingly anarchic novels from Decline and Fall up through Put Out More Flags.

I didn't know any of this when I read my first Waugh novel--The Loved One--to review it in order to get out of writing a term paper for a Milton course. Another professor said later, "When I knew what you had chosen, I knew you'd win."

He was right. The novel appealed to me partly because, although Waugh had been certified as a leading Catholic writer in those days of Catholic cultural ghettoization, his novel showed no obvious signs that his religious views affected the book. I don't know what would have happened had my first encounter been with Brideshead Revisited. Probably the Oxford scenes would have been too rich for a young man living in Spartan conditions and eating even more Spartan food; the Catholicism too overt for someone raised with lots of sexual guilt; and the style at times too William Bootish and feather-footed for someone planning to be a newspaperman rather than a journalist. At any rate, I put Waugh aside.

Until 1958, when a Conrad seminar was cancelled several weeks into the semester, and each student was asked to submit the name of a writer they'd like to work on. I was lucky to be assigned to Ricardo Quintana, author of The Mind and Art of Jonathan Swift, even though he gave me almost no direction and no feedback on the lengthy paper I produced. But he seemed not to regard Waugh as minor, and he showed my paper to professors who worked in twentieth-century literature, a welcome boost for someone who had heretofore been faceless in the mob of doctoral candidates.

After I finished my degree and began to try to establish myself as a scholar, Waugh's relative neglect by the academic establishment turned in a way to my advantage because he had received little scholarly attention, and that left me with a great deal to do. I had learned from my study of other writers that it was necessary to have as full a record as possible of publications by and about an author, and from John D. Gordan's Joseph Conrad: The Making of a Novelist that study of manuscripts and variant editions could produce insights not accessible to most critical approaches then available. I didn't know how to get access to manuscripts and other materials of the kind that Gordan had used, but I'd already compared, with the help of my then wife, a Penguin edition of Brideshead, based on the 1945 first edition, with the 1960 revision and could see that there was a great deal more to say about the effects of the revisions than reviewers had space to do. But it was not until I began work leading up to the volume in the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh, in progress more than half a century later, did I realize how much more there was.

In the meantime, judging from reactions both inside and outside the academy, it became clear that Waugh's reputation seemed a bit shaky for a would-be scholar to build a career on. In 1966 I was told, as part of my first and last annual review at the University of California, Santa Barbara, that I would have no future there because I worked on minor writers. At the MLA convention in Denver in 1969, I asked Maynard Mack, who had earlier commissioned me to edit a collection of articles on the theory of the novel, about doing a Twentieth-Century Views volume on Waugh. He said that there was not enough interest in Waugh to warrant a volume.

About that time I encountered F. Warren Roberts, the director of the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas-Austin. He wanted someone to survey manuscript holdings of American writers in Oklahoma. I figured that these holdings were like Goldsmith's chapter on snakes in Iceland--there weren't any--and at any rate I wanted to catalogue the Waugh collection, recently acquired by the HRC. We agreed on both projects.

Not long after I had accepted the assignment, a colleague at the University of Oklahoma wondered how I could have so much faith in scholarship that I would undertake the task. I wondered, privately, what he thought scholarship involved. (Later he gave up tenure to sell real estate, which in a way answered my question.) I tried to explain that I was being given a five-year lead--this was well before the authorized biography or selections from Waugh's diaries or letters were published--to examine unique materials that could lead to publications far more significant than the catalogue, in effect giving me a way out of the dead end I thought I had reached at the end of the Sixties. But anyone who has enjoyed rummaging through an attic will understand my real motives: anticipation of what I might find, curiosity about someone I knew from a very limited perspective, hope to discover the unexpected.

Most unexpected was the fact that the HRC came to occupy a major place in my scholarly life. I first went to the Center in 1966 in my early thirties; my last visit came in my late seventies. The Center became part of an alternative universe, entirely separate from everyday life of family and colleagues a day's drive to the north.

I discovered that some material is primarily enjoyable in itself, such as the carnation he wore on the day of his marriage to Evelyn Gardner. But a great deal more is crucial, as numerous scholars have since discovered, to understanding the man and his work: all of his surviving diaries and some letters; marginal annotations in books, including advice for embalmers from which he drew details in The Loved One; manuscripts of all but two of his novels and some of his non-fiction books. These materials have informed all of the serious scholarship on Waugh since the early 1970s.

When I began to examine the archive, the Humanities Research Center had not moved to its new, monolithic quarters and been re-named the Harry Ransom Center, and the operation was run in so casual and leisurely a fashion that the reading room closed for lunch.

Before very long, I was gratified and a little surprised to find evidence that I had known what I was doing in making earlier speculations about Waugh's inability to identify with other people and his tendency to classify, analyze, separate, and judge. I was fascinated and sometimes touched to see Waugh's habit of ruthless analysis applied to himself. And I was frustrated not only at having to flatten Waugh's barbed and lucid phrases in describing the contents of his letters but also at the impossibility of putting something more succinctly than the most precise and economical writer of his century. One example: Waugh asked his brother "Did H. G. Wells fuck Mrs. Jacobs? I need to know." Try summarizing that.

More somber was my meeting with Cyril Connolly, at the Center for the opening of the exhibit based on his list of important books of the modern movement. As we passed a display case on our way back from lunch, an opened copy of his The Unquiet Grave caught his eye--annotated, in severe, almost contemptuous terms, by Evelyn Waugh. Connolly had the copy brought upstairs so that he could go through the whole book, and he was devastated. I tried to console him by pointing out that Waugh was in Yugoslavia surrounded by Communists and drinking bad wine, but my attempts obviously failed. I did wonder why Connolly was that surprised, since Waugh teased him mercilessly for decades.

That was at the old HRC on the fourth floor of the Undergraduate Library. The new and current building was in its original floor plan more forbidding, not least because it sought to preserve materials in case of fire by including a system that, water being out of the question, would flood the building with a noxious fire-suppressant. That would extinguish not only the fire but all of the patrons and staff. We were assured that the system had been disconnected.

Whatever the technical arrangements, I hated to leave when the reading room closed because I felt a purity of purpose in being able--not forced--to focus on a task which consumed me. Sometimes it was almost overwhelmingly consuming, and I suffered from what one of the authors in the history of the HRC calls "writer's indigestion" when Warren Roberts informed me that the Center had acquired the files of A. D. Peters, Waugh's literary agent, amounting to eighteen crammed file boxes.

The Peters files cover the years 1928-1963, the 1,256 items by Waugh a mere fraction of the whole. This extended my task as well as my knowledge considerably. Aesthetically, I came to regard the Peters files as an extraordinarily loose and baggy epistolary/documentary novel, with a central character exhibited in various moods and modes of action.

In a featured role is Augustus Detlof Peters himself, often Sancho to Waugh's Quixote, sometimes Perry Mason to Waugh as hapless client. He tried to mediate and sometimes intervene between Waugh and those who supplicated for or demanded his services. He exclaimed in pain and horror at Waugh's desire to buy a painting in which a husband disguised as a priest hears his wife's confession. He bought cigars and wine for Waugh and helped to consume both. He gave advice on the infrequent occasions when it was asked and advanced money on the many more occasions when it was requested.

There are minor characters with luminous names. The solicitor Wilfred Ariel Evill established the Waugh Trust, which Waugh used as a tax dodge to amass much of the collection which found its way to Texas. Percy A. Popkin tried to handle Waugh's increasingly complicated taxes. S. Benjamin Fisz hoped to film Scoop. Peregrine Worsthorne negotiated with Waugh for a series of articles on India until both got too drunk to remember what they had decided. Zane Gertzman wanted to make The Loved One into a musical comedy. Not amusingly named but dickensianly long-suffering was Alex. Mclachlan, Waugh's typist, who sometimes wrote plaintively to Peters about his difficulties with Waugh's handwriting.

I was delighted to see this material, but I was beginning to wonder if the HRC would ever stop buying more. What I had seen was enough to occupy the next two decades of my career. The personal resources were at least as or more important, for the HRC widened my circle of friends among the staff and the other students of Waugh attracted by the collection. At one point, there were scholars from France, England, and Australia in the reading room--Alain Blayac, Martin Stannard, and Donat Gallagher. Moreover, the presence of people at all stages of their careers working on a variety of projects, not just on Waugh, gave me a sense that I was involved in a larger community.

My work at the HRC brought me into closer contact with others in the nascent group of Waugh scholars. In the early 1960s, as I said, scholarly apparatus for Waugh was rudimentary. Paul A. Doyle and Charles E. Linck, Jr. had published brief bibliographies, crucial to me for my dissertation and for the articles that followed, but like all bibliographies, they were obsolete before they were printed. But I had neither the knowledge nor the means to supplement them.

Then, not long after I began cataloguing the collection at the HRC, Stephen Goode of Whitston Publishing Company wrote to ask if I had enough material to expand into a book the Ronald Firbank checklist I had published earlier. No, I said, but I could certainly, with help, produce enough for the first book-length bibliography of Waugh.

In fact, even with the help of the HRC, I couldn't, but by this time I knew people who could. Charles had put me in touch with Paul, founder of the Evelyn Waugh Newsletter, prudently after the death of Waugh. Over the years Paul provided crucial information and loaned me rare books while supporting the Newsletter out of his own pocket. He and Linck, along with Heinz Kosok, who concentrated on secondary material, were the most obvious and richest sources of material, and together we produced in 1972 the Checklist of works by and about Waugh.

The Checklist drew the attention of a Canadian, Winnifred Bogaards, and of an Australian, Donat Gallagher, and they helped to produce the Bibliography of Evelyn Waugh, which appeared fourteen years later. The resulting book, which Alexander Waugh has been generous enough to regard as "the Bible," was more than twice as long as the Checklist, not merely because of the fifteen additional years of secondary material but because Gallagher had discovered 240 new items by Waugh and the Canadian scholar Margaret Morriss had found over 1,000 additional items about Waugh published within the span covered by the Checklist.

Getting and organizing the material laid the groundwork for my Evelyn Waugh, Writer. The manuscript faced considerable obstacles. Depending upon detailed analysis of manuscript and other material, it makes for rather dense reading. But a reader for Princeton University Press praised it without any reservations that I can remember, and I was elated--until the editorial board voted it down because they didn't want to publish anything about Waugh. Someone at the Press advised me to send the manuscript to the University of North Carolina Press, which, in the grand tradition of academic presses, dithered for months before returning the manuscript.

At that point I seemed to have run out of options. But a senior colleague, Paul Ruggiers, a man of boundless energy, was in the early stages of organizing the Chaucer Variorum, and as a sideline had started Pilgrim Books, for which he was seeking material. He asked to see the manuscript, agreed to publish it, saw it through editing and publication, and sent out review copies to leading journals in England and America.

The timing of publication, like so much else in my association with Waugh, was fortunate. Interest in him as a character, if not as a writer, began to develop in the mid-1970s, first with Christopher Sykes's authorized biography. That and subsequent biographies tend to portray Waugh as barely human, if no less fascinating on that account. The blackening of Waugh's character turned attention from the work to the man. As a result, the writer got lost in the gossip, much of it scurrilous and not a little of it misinformed. Evelyn Waugh, Writer, in its own modest way, at least tried to focus on Waugh as artist.

Some of these biographies were published by major commercial presses on both sides of the Atlantic. Donat Gallagher, who has been chasing down and trying to correct errors of fact and emphasis for decades, has finally been able to get his findings into hard cover in In the Picture: The Facts behind the Fiction in Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour, in collaboration with Carlos Villar Flor.

Gallagher drew upon archival evidence, much of it not previously available. However, it seems unlikely to change many minds, even among self-styled scholars. It was issued by a small and specialized academic press. An independent researcher at work on a book about Waugh in World War II, after being told that he must consult this book or be out of date before he began, replied that he could not afford it and apparently had no intention of seeking out a copy. Another writer, more or less aware of Gallagher's arguments, said that he would rather trust Anthony Beevor, whom Gallagher refutes point by point, because he had a sterling reputation. Besides, as the scholar does not say, Gallagher and a number of other experts are only colonials, or descendants of colonials, so what can they possibly have to say of interest?

Still, fugitive and previously unpublished work by Waugh continues to focus attention on a man far more complex than journalists and some biographers have been able to perceive. Donat Gallagher had in 1977 published a brief selection of Waugh's nonfiction in A Little Order: A Selection from His Journalism, and the book was widely reviewed. But six years later the volume's successor, Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, gave evidence of a major shift in Waugh's reputation. The range of the volume was important, but so were Gallagher's commentaries, the result of long and careful attention to Waugh's place in social and intellectual history. Figures are sometimes a poor indication of significance, but the publishers allowed Gallagher to expand from the fifty-five items in just under 200 pages in Order to 237 items and 662 pages in Essays. Now Gallagher is preparing four volumes of Waugh's fugitive nonfiction for the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh.

A different and probably unwelcome kind of attention came in the early 1980s from the television series based on Brideshead Revisited, Waugh's best-known and in some ways least-characteristic novel. One major theme of the book is the need to redeem the times--not just the present, the bleak condition of England during World War II, but also the glamorous past at Oxford and the world of the aristocracy.

Waugh's readers were not entirely to blame for largely ignoring this theme, since, as he confessed in the preface to the 1960 revision, "the book is infused with a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendours of the recent past, and for rhetorical and ornamental language...." But the teddy-bear craze that followed the television production ignored Waugh's emphasis on the dangers of being in love with one's own childhood.

It's arguable that the television series made it easier to publish on Brideshead and perhaps more broadly on Waugh. For example, absent the aid of television, it seems highly unlikely that Twayne would have thought of commissioning my study of the novel for its Masterwork Series. And while it's hard to fathom the motives of a committee, it's possible that the television series had some influence on the decision to fund the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project.

Work on this edition will provide a capstone to the careers of many of those who have worked on Waugh for years and possibly to others new to Waugh scholarship who bring to the project their expertise in editing. The former is especially true in my case, for in 1968 I published "Notes toward a Variorum Brideshead," a proposal which I never expected to come to fruition in my lifetime, if at all.

Younger scholars who wished to join the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh, or had the task wished on them, are to an extent insulated from the vagaries of an academic world very different from the one we Dodos moved in. Not everyone is this fortunate. Prophecies about the job market are now grim enough for a naturalist novel. A Google search for "jobs for Humanities Ph.D.'s" turns up only non-academic possibilities.

Aside from the fact that, without the basic security offered by traditional academic positions, there will be fewer people to do scholarship of any type, financial support is an issue separate from the question of "How," in the words of the second topic the speakers were invited to address at this symposium, "might textual editors influence perception of Waugh's writing through the principles by which they order and represent its witnesses? Is it possible to collate without effacement?"

Now, with the end of a half-century process in sight, perhaps like Moses viewing the promised land he will not enter, I can answer the questions posed for this symposium a bit ruefully: a little; over a long period; and probably not.

Even at the best of times the work of textual scholars puzzles many people in academe and seems at best an incomprehensible hobby to the common reader, though it is heartening to find that Waugh spent part of Christmas Day 1946 comparing the book version of George Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody with the serialized version in Punch. Still, only a few specialists are going to see any of the volumes of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh or of any scholarly edition, first because they will probably be so expensive that not even all research libraries will buy them, second because only the most dedicated specialists will want to see what they offer.

Most readers of Brideshead, especially those lured by reruns of the Granada television series, will have no idea, and will care even less, that there are variant texts, and even many serious readers will probably not want to pay the premium prices which Oxford may need to charge to make the project viable. Take the Cambridge collected D. H. Lawrence. Hard cover editions of some works cost just under $200; paperbacks cost almost $60.00. Of course, paperback editions without the scholarly apparatus are considerably cheaper, and even cheaper are those not based on the Cambridge edition.

Let's assume that Oxford will follow the example of Cambridge and will publish texts based on scholarship without the apparatus. Readers, however, will almost certainly pick up any version that is handy. Still, word that a better text is available will spread, however slowly.

It's not clear how or if "the principles by which [the editors] order and represent its witnesses"--if by that the conveners mean the listing of textual variants--can affect the reading experience. Someone trying to follow variants as they occur from line to line will nod back and forth from the copy text to variants while trying to keep moving forward as a reader, discovering before very long that he or she is trying to employ irreconcilable processes. For example, I recorded and arranged variant readings in Brideshead, but I can't function much better in dealing with this material than someone examining it for the first time. However, I will defer to Lewis MacLeod, who comes to Brideshead later and from a different perspective.

But worrying about the reading experience is not the point of doing the job. These variants show us, if we are patient enough and diligent enough, something about the ways in which the author thought in order to arrive at the meaning he sought and the means by which he preserved it. In other words, people will have to examine the variants and reach conclusions about their effects.

Can all of this effort, in the words of the call for papers, "constitute a consolidation and defense of humanities knowledge in a time of disciplinary crisis"? It can't hurt, but looked at soberly, textual editing, collecting, and archiving have, strictly, little or nothing to do with "humanities knowledge," whether "in a time of disciplinary crisis" or not. The skills demanded by textual editing are not all that different from those required of a forensic accountant, and similar parallels to other professions could be drawn for collectors and archivists. True, the passion for humane knowledge drives these activities, but they are in themselves not humane.

Perhaps like Uncle Peregrine Crouchback, I am not so much mad as "appallingly sane"--and equally boring. At any rate, it's now more than sixty years since I first read anything by Waugh, and more than fifty since I first published anything about him, and I suppose it's fair to ask not what I have given to the study of Waugh's works--that's for others to decide--but what I have gotten from it.

1. I learned from careful reading and rereading of Waugh's published writing and especially from working with his manuscripts something about style and rhythm that has affected my writing more by immersion than by imitation. One correspondent thought I was an Englishman; another, judging from my telephone voice and from my writing, that I was short and fat--at the time an inaccurate description.

2. I learned something, from Waugh, as well as from mentors equally unconscious of their effect, of the joys as well as the pains of being deeply engaged with one's work, of never taking one's own words as inviolable--this is at least the fourth or fifth draft of the talk I am almost finished giving--and of the pride in doing work carefully and promptly, though not always as carefully and promptly as I should have.

3. I learned that if I worked hard enough and, more important, long enough, I would get to go to places that I had barely imagined, and that I could meet a wide variety of stimulating and agreeable people.

4. To adapt to the scholarly life Alfred Doolittle's remark on undeserving poverty--pace Walter Sullivan again--it's the only life that has any spice to it, like. I wish my successors the same joy that I have had.

5. It is never, at least in my experience, a mistake to share your findings with other scholars. Help given pays manifold returns. And it's humbling to remember how much you owe to others.

6. I hope that I can say, as Waugh did to Julian Jebb, that I have done my best--or at least that I have not failed to repay all of those, so many, who have helped, encouraged, and criticized me over more than fifty years and have become a kind of extended family who get the point of jokes that would be unintelligible to my biological family.

7. The work of many people has enabled me to meet and learn from a new generation of scholars, notably the late John Howard Wilson, who single-handedly kept the Newsletter going and established the Waugh Society on an international basis. Younger scholars like Jonathan Pitcher and Patrick Query have kept Evelyn Waugh Studies going, and Lewis MacLeod, Marcel DeCoste and others help to keep the study of Waugh alive. I think I can say with my contemporaries and few remaining elders that they will know more than we ancients. Perhaps it is not too egotistical, though it may be vain, to hope that we are at least a little of that which they know. And that, unlike Mr. Plant's characterization of his son, they won't become petrified Dodo eggs.

8. I have learned, lately and reluctantly, to know when enough is enough. It's said of aging athletes that they have lost a step. I've lost a whole staircase, at least.

9. I learned never to say that I'll study Waugh no more. Although I don't plan to do any more extended work on him, it's possible I may continue to glare at the computer screen through thicker and thicker reading glasses, trying to avoid getting drool on the keyboard.

10. A more encouraging way of looking at our work can be found in John Steinbeck's anecdote about a mother approached by her children for information about where babies come from. She begins to tell them about birds and bees, but they say, impatiently, "We know all about that. What we don't understand is why people do it at all." She thinks for a moment and says, "Because it's fun." So my final word of advice is: relax and enjoy it. And try to keep those eggs warm.

(1) Initially presented at the Evelyn Waugh Conference at The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, in May 2017.
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Title Annotation:Robert Murray Davis on Evelyn Waugh's impact on the academic environment
Publication:Evelyn Waugh Studies
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 22, 2017
Words:5194
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