"Beefsteak Mind" and "Greatest Sonneteer since Shakespeare": Evelyn Waugh, Marie Stopes and Lord Alfred Douglas

Gallagher, Donat (2008) "Beefsteak Mind" and "Greatest Sonneteer since Shakespeare": Evelyn Waugh, Marie Stopes and Lord Alfred Douglas. Evelyn Waugh Newsletter and Studies, 39 (1). - .

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[Extract] On 25 May 1939, Evelyn Waugh wrote to Marie Stopes.[1] Coming across a reference to his letter in a catalogue, I imagined a sharp missive about birth control or Black Mischief, for Waugh lampoons Stopes (the then leading advocate of birth control) in Black Mischief, and Stopes eagerly joined in The Tablet’s condemnation of the novel. Some years later, in 1943, Stopes would attack, and Waugh defend, Catholic schools. Imagine my surprise (as they say) when Waugh’s 1939 letter turned out to be a polite note agreeing to put his name to a petition organized by Stopes seeking a civil list pension for Lord Alfred Douglas, “Bosie” of Oscar Wilde fame.

Stopes’s papers reveal that Lord Alfred had been living on a small allowance from a kinsman, which the kinsman could no longer afford. Lord Alfred faced destitution. Stopes, a woman of advanced views, was nevertheless a close friend and voluminous correspondent of Lord Alfred, a Catholic and conservative far to the Right of Evelyn Waugh. Stopes believed that Lord Alfred’s contribution to English literature was such as to warrant a civil list pension, and she set about trying to persuade the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, to provide one. Part of the campaign involved enlisting eminent literary figures to testify to Lord Alfred’s outstanding contribution to English poetry. At this period, as is well known, the dominant influences on English poetry were Eliot and Auden, whereas Lord Alfred’s sonnets were metrical, musical and nineteenth-century in theme; in short, highly unfashionable. His principal literary admirers, like Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, then Professor of English Literature at Oxford, came from the Men of Letters generation; but some Moderns, like Virginia Woolf, signed the petition. The argument was that Lord Alfred’s poetry was a permanently valuable contribution to the national literature. Much was made of the fact, if it is a fact, that he was the only English poet for a century whose entire corpus the French had thought worthwhile to translate.

Item ID: 14875
Item Type: Article (Book Review)
Keywords: Stopes; Douglas; Waugh; pension; sonnets; Chamberlain
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Date Deposited: 15 Nov 2010 02:05
FoR Codes: 20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2005 Literary Studies > 200503 British and Irish Literature @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970119 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of the Creative Arts and Writing @ 100%
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