Arthur Waugh's Influence, Part II: Tradition and Change

By Wilson, John Howard | Evelyn Waugh Newsletter and Studies, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

Arthur Waugh's Influence, Part II: Tradition and Change


Wilson, John Howard, Evelyn Waugh Newsletter and Studies


Arthur Waugh's second collection of essays, Tradition and Change: Studies in Contemporary Literature, was published in 1919 and dedicated to his younger son, Evelyn Waugh. Arthur's first collection, Reticence in Literature (1915), had been dedicated to his elder son, Alec. Evelyn clearly absorbed the content, but Tradition and Change naturally had more of an effect on him. The book's influence can be sorted into five categories: (1) writers reviewed by both Arthur and Evelyn; (2) Alec Waugh's experience as a soldier, and Arthur's and Evelyn's reactions to the Great War; (3) religion, especially Roman Catholicism, and how to write about it; (4) art and how to produce it; and (5) subjects raised by Arthur and taken up by Evelyn in writing. Especially in youth, Evelyn scorned his father and disclaimed any influence, but Tradition and Change obviously gave him much food for thought. Sometimes Evelyn accepted Arthur's ideas; sometimes he rejected them; most often, he worked with them as an important contribution to his own inimitable oeuvre. As a young man, Evelyn preferred change, but as he aged, he showed more and more esteem for tradition and thus moved closer to his father's conservatism.

(1) Writers

Arthur refers to many writers, and Evelyn employs several of the same names in his own work. There are six examples in Tradition and Change: Charles Dickens (1812-1870), Henry James (1843-1916), John Galsworthy (1867-1933), Compton Mackenzie (1883-1972), D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930), and T. S. Eliot (1888-1965).

Arthur was the managing director of Chapman and Hall, publisher of Dickens. In an essay entitled "Dickens's Lovers" (focusing on his characters), Arthur described the author as primarily "theatrical" (Tradition 158). In his autobiography, A Little Learning (1964), Evelyn wrote that his "father's most obvious characteristic was theatricality" (69), and "all the more likeable of Dickens's characters provided him with roles" (70). Evelyn grew weary of these impersonations, and in A Handful of Dust (1934) he consigned Tony Last to the peculiar fate of having to read Dickens aloud to Mr. Todd. Still, Dickens was an invaluable source of reference, used by Evelyn throughout his career.

Arthur wrote a review entitled "The Art of Henry James." Many years later, in 1946, Evelyn exclaimed "What an enormous uncovenanted blessing to have kept Henry James for middle age" (Diaries 663). Both Arthur and Evelyn appreciated James, and in The Loved One (1948), Evelyn explored the Jamesian "Anglo-American impasse" (Letters 265).

In another review, "Mr. John Galsworthy," Arthur commented that the "spiritual assaults of the years of war have only served to strengthen in him that deep, humane creed which he urged upon us in the days of universal nonchalance" (Tradition 285). About this author Evelyn could not agree. As an indication of dullness, Paul Pennyfeather reads The Forsyte Saga at Scone College in Decline and Fall (1928). Much later, Evelyn wrote a remarkably unenthusiastic introduction to The Man of Property: Galsworthy "was not read in England by the younger generation of writers," and the new villa in the novel "does not ring true" (Essays 620-21).

In an essay entitled "The New Realism," Arthur referred to the "enchanted pages" of Compton Mackenzie's Sinister Street (Tradition 213). Both novel and writer became important to Evelyn. Sinister Street (1913) is in Charles Ryder's rooms at Oxford in Brideshead Revisited (1945), though his early tastes fade when he meets Sebastian Flyte. In a review in 1956, Evelyn praised Mackenzie's Thin Ice as a novel distinguished by "elegance and sound workmanship." The hero is homosexual, and Evelyn had been through such affairs in the 1920s. Mackenzie was a Catholic convert, like Evelyn, who appreciated his fellow novelist's emphasis on morality and his suggestion that "the characters improve with age" (Essays 511).

Arthur had no patience with D. …

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