OBSERVATORY PORTRAIT





A few days ago, this splished into my Twitter stream:

'A drawing a day.
Day 224. Evelyn Waugh.
“Sometimes, I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there’s no room for the present at all.”
(Born OTD in 1903. As requested, over 6 months ago, by @duncan_mclaren.)'

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Evelyn Waugh by Edward Carey, 2020

After few seconds, I tweeted back:

'Fantastic, Edward. You catch an intensity and confusion of mood. Looks like he's been drinking, but it hasn't cheered him up. Famous for his large head, but you either use it or lose it. And that's what I call a dog collar.'

I kept returning to the drawing on screen over several days. And eventually I tweeted again:

'Just had a look online and through my EW books for a specific photo you may have used as a starting point for this drawing. Can't find one. Is your likeness a composite? Or is it memory-based and drawn without a model? Or do I just need to look harder?'

He replied:

'It was a composite, I had several images in front of me and shifted from one to the other.'

So I got out my Evelyn Waugh books (plus an Edward Carey novel) and soon had this in front of me:

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Carey has principally used a photograph that was used in the
Sunday Times, of Waugh sitting at his desk in the library of Piers Court in 1950. But he's straightened up his body and given Waugh a less garish check suit. It may be that he changed his mind about putting in the red line that conspicuously cheers up Waugh's appearance in the photograph, for there is a single dark line that remains in the drawing, high on the left lapel as we look at it.

The quote accompanying the drawing is from
Brideshead. It's Julia addressing Charles while they sit by the fountain at Brideshead Castle, one evening late in the book. Shortly before the words quoted, Charles has said:

'The sun had sunk now to the line of woodland beyond the valley; all the opposing slope was already in twilight, but the lakes below us were aflame; the light grew in strength and splendour as it neared death, drawing long shadows across the pasture, falling full on the rich stone spaces of the house, firing the panes in the windows, glowing on cornices and colonnade and dome, spreading out all the stacked merchandise of colour and scent from earth and stone and leaf, glorifying the head and golden shoulders of the woman beside me.'

Those seem appropriate words for the Evelyn Waugh captured in the 1950 photo, glimpsed in the above image. Waugh as Charles Ryder, confident in himself and his surroundings.

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But the scene goes on, with Charles saying to Julia:

"What do you mean by 'peace', if not this?"

"So much more"; and then in a chill, matter-of-fact tone she continued: "Marriage isn't a thing we can take when the impulse moves us. There must be a divorce - two divorces. We must make plans."

"Plans, divorce, war - on an evening like this."

"Sometimes," said Julia, "I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there's no room for the present at all."


And so we get back to Edward Carey's drawing. The mood has changed, that bullish confidence of Waugh's fine prose gone:

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Carey's first novel Observatory Mansions ends with an appendix called 'Francis Orme's Exhibition of Love'. It contains nearly a thousand objects. Here is a sample of them:

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When I first looked through the list, I circled the odd object that I felt Waugh would have had a marked rapport with. But on looking through it again, there is hardly anything that I can't relate to the biography of Evelyn Waugh. Just the odd thing that wasn't around in Evelyn's day, such as 'seventeen computer discs'.

Here are questions for the reader. What is the more melancholy, object 950 or 959? What makes for the more effective metaphor, object 989 or 966?

Both
Brideshead Revisited and Observatory Mansions are books about love, about the intimate relations between people who find these intimacies a problem. But they are also about the relations between a person and the world and everything in it. That's what's impressive about these books. In the end, they strike us as being about life in the totality of its lived moments.

So let's take a last look at Evelyn Waugh. What do we see?

'A transvestite's wig.'
'A face mask to hide burnt flesh.'
'A tube of lip cream.'

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Evelyn Waugh by Edward Carey, 2020

Such a melancholy picture! I can't leave it there. Let's put a smile back on Evelyn's face:

'A scented love letter.'
'The keys to a hotel bedroom.'
'A white silk negligee.'

No, no, it hasn't worked. In any case, ambiguity is all:

'A monk's habit.'


Notes

1) I'm in the process of asking Edward Carey for permission to use his drawing on this page.

2) Hopefully, I'll catch him in a generous mood. Yesterday his latest novel,
The Swallowed Man, was published by Gallic Books. Which if bought from his publisher's website comes with a free, signed print while stocks last.

3) Peter Harris's portrait of Evelyn Waugh, painted with wine is
here. A cartoon version of Mr Joshua by @pants which is, in my opinion, a dead-ringer for Evelyn, can be read here.