In the current issue of Amcon there is an excellent review of Christopher Buckley’s memoir,Losing Mum and Pup, written by Alexander Waugh. To view it you will need to subscribe. Since writing Fathers and Sons, a perspicacious history of two centuries of father son relationships in the Waugh family, and the House of Wittgenstein, a family at War, Alexander has become an expert at divining family dynamics. His description of the relationship between Evelyn and Arthur Waugh, Evelyn’s father, avoids the clichéed partisanship of previous biographers and manages to provide a moving and sympathetic portrait of both warring parties. Alexander had also written two books previously in a more intellectual vein: Time and God. The first is an highly educational and entertaining history of time and the human perception of it from the Mesopotamians to Einstein, and the second is a biography of God, drawn from biblical and post biblical sources designed to prove á la Hawkins that he was too paradoxical ever to have existed. But Alexander has recanted his intellectualism as his comment on Buckley`s book illustrates
If Buckley had been known in England, he would not have been revered as an intellectual, but that is because the English do not go in for revering intellectuals .In fact we do our best not to be considered intellectual. In Britain, we think it odd that the Americans are prepared to devote acres of print to a seemingly trivial question like whether Christopher Hitchens has shifted an inch to the Right or the Left in his most recent statement on Iraq.
In fact, his dedicatory quote at the front of The House Of Wittgenstein is a most damning indictment of intellectualism. In Ludwig Wittgenstein’s own words (translated):
” There are an an enormous amount of general empirical propositions that count as certain for us. One such is that if someone’s arm is cut off it will not grow again.”
He was observing his brother’s partially armed state and deriving a general proposition from it. In the light of modern science how wrong he was.
At the end of Alexander’s review he warns Buckley Junior
Christopher Buckley will discover in the years to come that his relationship with his deceased parents has changed, to consider, quite seriously, writing another memoir of his parents in about 12 years time
Here Alexander is remembering his own memoir of his father in Fathers and Sons. If I have one criticism of that excellent book it is that, written soon after his father’s death, it does not deal with the relationship between his father and his grandfather with the same discernment that he deals with the relationships between his grandfather, and great grandfather, and the other greats back through time. He was feeling the death of his own father too keenly and desiring too intensely to memorialise him fondly and lovingly to be able to write dispassionately. Indeed he even accepted uncritically stories propagated by my dear brother partly in jest. One such is the story of the Bananas that appears in my brother Bron’s memoir, “Will This Do?” regurgitated in Fs and Ss, and again in Alexander’s review of Pups and Mums. The story goes that Evelyn, in monster mode, on his return from War ate the whole family’s ration of Bananas while his children and wife looked hungrily on. The true story is more complex more mundane and less damning. It is a conflation of several stories. The first, for which I was not bornbut which was told me on solemn oath by my nanny in the nursery, was that it was not Evelyn who was the pig but Auberon, and it was not Bananas that were devoured but scones with clotted cream and Jam. Evelyn the conquering hero was returning home from soldiering . The family had collected their cream and jam rations to celebrate his triumphant return, and had gathered under the Welcome Home banner at the front door to greet him when it was noticed that the six year old Bron was missing. The lure of the cream and Jam had been too great for his wartime tummy to resist. Filial duty had been abandoned in favour of scone scoffing.
In more prosperous times Evelyn did indeed once see off a small jar of Caviar under the hungry eyes of his children. A very kind American millionairess called Mrs. Cutting had adopted the Waugh family as a family-in-need and had taken to sending us Christmas hampers to lighten our hearts in the festive season. I am sure that at the time there were hundreds of thousands of families who received similar munificence from other soft hearted Americans. But Mrs. Cutting excelled. The Christmas hampers kept coming till I was eleven years old: a full 17 years after the war had ended . In one , maybe the last one, among the fruit and nuts and pecan pies, there was a small pot of caviar, and I think, in retrospect, that my father took the wise decision to save us from the pain of an acrimonious partition by devouring the whole pot himself.
The third story does involve fruit and does my father less credit. There were two actors: my father and my mother, and two witnesses: myself and my sister Hatty. The two witnesses argue to this day about whether it was Bananas or Apples that were thrown. I favour apples. Three Coxes Orange Pippins had been gathering wrinkles in a bowl on our dining room table. Nobody would eat them and my father had been demanding, in the way that men did in those days, that my mother should remove them. But the apples stubbornly remained in place. Finally he swore that if they were not removed by the next day he would throw them at my mother. The apples stayed and the next night he kept his word, and my mother stood scornfully and wordlessly as the apples landed quite gently bonk bonk bonk on her forehead.Hatty and I were appalled. It was Love three: Laura three; Evelyn nil. I became a feminist overnight. But it was not a reflection of their relationship. It was a strange event. They had a companionable and loving marriage. Maybe my father’s classical imagination was fired up by the three apples and he saw them as golden apples, and my mother as Atalanta, and himself: Hercules. He did at that time have a thing about keeping his word.
Despite this one failing that I have elaborated on at great length, I do recomend Alexander’s book Fathers and Sons. It casts strong and universal light on the nature of Father Son relationships, and further I commend Alexander himself who is a polymath. Not only does he write books, but he composes music beautifully. He has co-written with his brother Nathaniel a wonderful Gothick comic musical, called Bon Voyage, with Baroque and Romantic scores which won the top musical award in Britain, but has not yet been put on commercially. There are plans to take New York by storm with it once the backers have been found.