Tom Sutcliffe, Esther Freud and Mark Knopfler discuss books by Alain De Botton, Robert Graves and Evelyn Waugh. This interview include books, Eassays in Love from 1993, A Handful of Dust from 1934 and Goodbye to All That from 1929. The whole interview you can listen now here.
Essays in Love
Essays in Love is a novel about two young people, who meet on an airplane between London and Paris and rapidly fall in love. The structure of the story isn’t unusual, but what lends the book its interest is the extraordinary depth with which the emotions involved in the relationship are analysed. Love comes under the philosophical microscope. An entire chapter is devoted to the nuances and subtexts of an initial date. Another chapter mulls over the question of how and when to say ‘I love you’. There’s an essay on how uncomfortable it can be to disagree with a lover’s taste in shoes and a lengthy discussion about the role of guilt in love.
The book is an intriguing blend of novel and non-fiction. As in a novel, there are characters and realistic settings, but these are blended in with a host of more abstract ideas. The book has attracted a particular following among those who have recently fallen in love - or come out of a relationship.
A Handful Of Dust
A Handful of Dust is a novel by the British writer Evelyn Waugh. First published in 1934, it is often grouped with the author’s early, satirical comic novels for which he became famous in the pre-World War II years. Commentators have, however, drawn attention to its serious undertones, and have regarded it as a transitional work pointing towards Waugh’s postwar fiction.
The protagonist is Tony Last, a contented but shallow English country squire, who, having been betrayed by his wife and seen his illusions shattered one by one, joins an expedition to the Brazilian jungle, only to find himself trapped in a remote outpost as the prisoner of a maniac. Waugh incorporated several autobiographical elements into the plot, including his own recent desertion by his wife. In 1933–34 he travelled into the South American interior, and a number of incidents from the voyage are incorporated into the novel. Tony’s singular fate in the jungle was first used by Waugh as the subject of an independent short story, published in 1933 under the title “The Man Who Liked Dickens”.
The book’s initial critical reception was modest, but it was popular with the public and has never been out of print. In the years since publication the book’s reputation has grown; it is generally considered one of Waugh’s best works, and has more than once figured on unofficial lists of the 20th century’s best novels.
Waugh had converted to Roman Catholicism in 1930, after which his satirical, secular writings drew hostility from some Catholic quarters. He did not introduce overtly religious themes into A Handful of Dust, but later explained that he intended the book to demonstrate the futility of humanist, as distinct from religious, especially Catholic, values. The book has been dramatised for radio, stage and screen.
Goodbye to All That
An autobiographical work that describes firsthand the great tectonic shifts in English society following the First World War, Robert Graves’s Goodbye to All That is a matchless evocation of the Great War’s haunting legacy, published in Penguin Modern Classics.
In 1929 Robert Graves went to live abroad permanently, vowing ‘never to make England my home again’. This is his superb account of his life up until that ‘bitter leave-taking’: from his childhood and desperately unhappy school days at Charterhouse, to his time serving as a young officer in the First World War that was to haunt him throughout his life. It also contains memorable encounters with fellow writers and poets, including Siegfried Sassoon and Thomas Hardy, and covers his increasingly unhappy marriage to Nancy Nicholson. Goodbye to All That, with its vivid, harrowing descriptions of the Western Front, is a classic war document, and also has immense value as one of the most candid self-portraits of an artist ever written.
Robert Ranke Graves (1895-1985) was a British poet, novelist, and critic. He is best known for the historical novel I, Claudius and the critical study of myth and poetry The White Goddess. His autobiography, Goodbye to All That, was published in 1929, quickly establishing itself as a modern classic. Graves also translated Apuleius, Lucan and Suetonius for the Penguin Classics, and compiled the first modern dictionary of Greek Mythology, The Greek Myths. His translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (with Omar Ali-Shah) is also published in Penguin Classics.