The 1930 Club


I’m taking part in The 1930 Club which is hosted by Simon of Stuck in a Book and Karen of Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and so I’m reading Angel Pavement by J.B. Priestley which is 613 pages long so I doubt if I’ll be reading any others. I’ve been busy with visitors until now so I’ll be glad to immerse myself in reading this week.

As it happens I’ve read a lot of books that were published in 1930 in the past and the links will take you to the ones I’ve previously blogged about.

Alice and Thomas and Jane by Enid Bagnold

Not So Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith

The Weatherhouse by Nan Shepherd

After Leaving Mr Mackenzie by Jean Rhys

Miss Mole by E.H. Young

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop by Gladys Mitchell

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Morning Tide by Neil M. Gunn

The Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham

The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

Vile Bodies cover

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh was first published in 1930 and it’s one of his books which satirizes the Bright Young Things of London in that era. The well connected ‘chinless wonders’ get up to all sorts of nonsense again and again. I really enjoyed Scoop which is another of his in the same vein, in fact I actually laughed out loud quite a lot as I read Scoop, if I’m remembering correctly. Vile Bodies didn’t quite hit the spot for me though. I suspect it’s my age, because now the silly stuff going on in the book and the characters peopling it seem too close to reality to be just a bit of fun.

At one point Waugh mentions that London is run by three families of brewers and the book is actually dedicated to Bryan and Diana Guinness, they were some of the Bright Young Things for whom rules didn’t apply and no doubt provided lots of gossip columnists with plenty of scandal in their time. Diana was Diana Mitford who left Bryan to run off with Oswald Mosley – that was even madder than anything in this book! Waugh was on the fringes of the Devonshire/Mitford set, he obviously got a lot of copy from them.

Mind you things do change, nowadays I think that London is run by Russians and Arabs, and the rules don’t apply to them either, which isn’t any better. Yes I am grumpy about it all!

I read this one for the Classics Club Challenge. Another one bites the dust.

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

This is a quick read at 216 pages. It’s another of Grandad’s old Penguins from 1953 but it was first published in 1928.

I realised quite late on in this book that I’ve been reading Evelyn Waugh’s books completely out of order. I’m sure that Scoop has the character Lady Metroland in it and in this book Margot marries Lord Metroland. I should have read this one first.

Anyway, it begins in Oxford on the night of the Bollinger Club’s annual dinner, it’s a time of stress for those in authority as the filthy rich members of the exclusive club always cause mayhem in the town.

Paul Pennyfeather is a serious young student, studying to become a vicar, but when he runs into a group of drunken Bollinger toffs on his way home, the result is that he ends up being ‘sent down’ and his future is in ruins.

He ends up having to take a job as a schoolmaster in a very bad boarding school at a time when the only qualification that you seemed to need to get a job like that was to have been educated at a public school yourself.

I found it very amusing, if a bit too close to the truth in parts, because it does seem that even nowadays you can get away with an awful lot if you go to certain schools and know the right people. The whole Bollinger Club thing is obviously modelled on the Bullingdon Club – which our dear, dear leaders (and I don’t think!) Cameron and Osborne attended.

It was interested to see Evelyn Waugh mentioned quite a lot in the Mitford letters. He was regarded as a complete drunk and a shameless social climber. One of the sisters mentioned that you could track his ascent by the people that he had dedicated his books to. This one is decicated to Harold Acton, apparently he reached a pinnacle when he dedicated a much later book to Deborah (Mitford) Devonshire. Annoyingly I’ve packed his other books away already so I can’t check out his social progress. He was a dreadful snob but he was also a good writer. I don’t think I would have wanted him as a dinner guest though, not that he would ever have lowered himself to come.

A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

This is another book from my 2011 reading list and a quick read. I think I’ve said before that you never really know what you’re going to get from Evelyn Waugh. To begin with A Handful of Dust is one of his satirical books on the lifestyle of the English upper classes but exactly half way through it turns into something much less comfortable.

Brenda and Tony Last have been married for several years and have one small son – John Andrew. Tony is really only interested in his family stately pile which is one of those very gothic places which is decorated in a sort of mock Arthurian style. Brenda hates his rural idyll and is bored stiff there.

She’s so desperate that she starts an affair with John Beaver, a young mummy’s boy type whom everybody dislikes. Brenda has no interest in John Andrew at all and spends all of her time in London with John Beaver who is penniless and is hoping to be able to live off Brenda’s husband when she gets divorced and is given alimony.

Quite a bit of the book concerns the hoops which people had to jump through to get a divorce in those days. In fact I can remember as late as the 1970s that men used to go off to seaside hotels and pretend to be having an affair with someone so that their wife could get their divorce without the wife’s lover being named as correspondent. How gentlemanly they were!

Anyway, when Brenda demands loads of alimony Tony quite rightly sees red and takes himself off abroad to avoid going to court. He gets involved with an explorer and ends up in a god awful place where disaster follows disaster.

I really disliked the end of this book. Apparently the American version has a different ending and I would have preferred that one. If you’re interested in knowing more about it have a look here. It is included in the Modern Library List of Best 20th Century Novels. I can’t say that it would make it on to my list. It was readable but I wouldn’t say it exactly set the heather alight!.

My copy of A Handful of Dust is an ancient Penguin from 1953 which originally belonged to my grandad but it was first published in 1934. Evelyn Waugh is mentioned quite a lot in Deborah Devonshire’s autobiography so now I can’t think of him without picturing him rubbing a bottle of alcohol into his hair when he was absolutely stinking drunk – which he often was. He did become part of her set though which he would have been very pleased about as he was a monumental snob, by all accounts.

The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

This book was first published in 1948 and my copy is an ancient Penguin which originally belonged to Grandad. Interestingly, the book was dedicated to Nancy Mitford – well I find it interesting.

With a lot of novelists you more or less know what to expect when you pick up their books to read but for me anyway I find Evelyn Waugh’s books to be so different from each other. Yes, there is usually humour but the subject matters tend to be quite diverse so I never know what to expect, which is probably a good thing I suppose.

The Loved One is set in Hollywood and Dennis Barlow a young English poet has not had his contract at Megalopolitan Studios renewed and now he is working in The Happier Hunting Ground, a funeral parlour for pets. The other British people involved in the movie industry offer him money to go back to England but to their disappointment he declines it. The ex-pats don’t want to be tainted with his failure.

On his way to work Dennis passes Whispering Glades a funeral home for humans and when his friend dies Dennis arranges the funeral there which gives him the chance to see how death is dealt with American-style.

Dennis is shown around by the aptly named Aimee Thanatogenos who had been a beautician but discovered that she preferred working with the dead, well I don’t suppose they could complain! A relationship develops.

Anyway, this was a very short novella, just 126 pages, and I can’t say that it was one of my favourites. The humour is quite dark as you would expect from the subject of death. This was another one from my 2011 Reading List. I can’t make up my mind which one to read next, and I’m aware that I’ve been avoiding Smollett and Walter Scott but I suppose I’ll have to bite the bullet sometime.

Damn it! I’ve just discovered that I should have been reading A Handful of Dust – The Loved One isn’t on my 2011 reading list, it was just on the wrong shelf. Such is life!

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

I quite like the cover which I’ve shown above but my copy is the original old Penguin one,which is very battered now as it belonged to my grandad. The book was first published in 1933.

I first read Scoop when I was about 18, many moons ago and I actually found myself laughing out loud at it. Believe me when I say that – as a dour Scot – that doesn’t happen to me often.

This book is a famous satire on journalism and although it was published so long ago, I doubt if much has changed in that industry – apart from things being sleazier now.

John Boot a young novelist asks the influential Mrs. Stitch to get him a job in journalism abroad so that he can avoid a girlfriend who is becoming too serious for his liking. She gets Lord Copper, owner of The Daily Beast to give him work as a war correspondent.

Unfortunately there is a man already on the payroll by the name of William Boot who writes a weekly column on the countryside and wildlife and he ends up being sent to East Africa as a war correspondent by mistake.

The ideas in this book are similar to the hilarious T.V. programme Drop the Dead Donkey, with ‘news’ being made up and manipulated. Well worth a read.

It’s hard to believe that Scoop was written by the same man who wrote Brideshead Revisited. I loved that book and the T.V. series too, but they are so different from each other.

By all accounts Evelyn Waugh was a pretty ghastly person though.

I reread this book as part of the Flashback Challenge. I did enjoy it but I didn’t laugh as much this time. Either because I already knew what was coming or maybe I’ve just become more of a sobersides in my old age.