Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Evelyn Waugh's Oxford

Yesterday afternoon I spent an enjoyable couple of hours giving a tour of Evelyn Waugh's Oxford to two US visitors. Blessed with fine weather I combined a general tour of some of the colleges with an emphasis on Waugh's years at the University. He was at Hertford College from 1922-24 and in the following years was often back in the city. Many enduring and significant friendships were made in those years, as well as bearing fruit in his novels, and one can still, of course, see many of the places Waugh and his friends would have known. It would be perhaps more difficult to provide the bibulous entertainments they enjoyed...
Evelyn Waugh, aged 21

Evelyn Waugh, aged 21, the year he finished at Hertford

Image: spectator.co.uk

I have enormous regard and affection for Waugh as a writer, and once hen on holiday in Somerset made a literary pilgrimage to his grave at Combe Florey. It is striking the way his reputation has grown in the years since his death, when he was becoming out of fashion. Today he is perceived as atruly great craftsman with the English language, and a writer of both comic genius, and also one who engaged with very serious and profound matters. He is interesting to compare with his near contemporary and friend John Betjeman - the similarities are striking, but so are the different reactions of the two to what their lives brought them.

I see that Selina Hastings 1994 biography of Waugh has recently been reissued. It is more substantial than Christopher Simon Syke's life, which is perhaps more a well-researched memoir, and which could perhaps not explore all of Waugh's relationships whilst some of his friends were still alive. I do, however, regret that Selina Hastings does not make more use of some of the stories Sykes recounts from Waugh's later years - her biography appears to me to lose interest a little in her subject after about 1950.

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