Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tolkien and Waugh

So, about a month ago, I made a post about Tolkien's disdain for the Nazis in which I observed in passing his being soft on Franco (a comment to which one reader took exception, but which I stand by):

"And there's also the matter of his sympathy for Franco,
whom he saw rather as Defender of the Church
than the fascist tyrant he was."

Now I've come across something from a younger contemporary of Tolkien's who I think might parse things in a way I would not: Evelyn Waugh. I've not been much of an admirer of Waugh's, having found what little I've read of him wholly uncongenial and his personality repugnant (upon learning that Carpenter had written a book about Waugh and his friends, I incautiously replied that I hadn't known he had any). But having been moved by Hitchens' enthusiasm for Waugh in some of his essays in ARGUABLY, I decided to give E.W. another try, tackling a book that I'd read about years earlier in Carpenter that had sounded moderately interesting: THE ORDEAL OF GILBERT PINFOLD [1957], the (autobiographical) story of a man who starts hearing voices.

And not benign voices, a la Barfield's UNANCESTRAL VOICE, but malicious and spiteful voices that accuse him of being homosexual, of being a recent Jewish immigre named 'Peinfeld', of being a has-been as a writer, of being a coward during the war, of being a Nazi sympathizer and blackshirt, of having caused the death of several people, of pretending to achievements he never earned, &c. The voices cajole and threaten, even at their most sinister urging him to suicide. On one of the rare occasions when he attempts to refute things the voices have said to other people (none of whom can hear the voices and so who have no idea what he's talking about), he has the following exchange:

'I was not at Eton,' he said suddenly, with a challenge in his tone.
'Nor was I,' said Glover. 'Marlborough.'
'I never said I was at Eton,' Mr. Pinfold insisted.
'No. Why should you, I mean, if you weren't?'
'It is a school for which I have every respect, but I was not there myself.' Then he turned across the table to the Norwegian. 'I never wore a black shirt in the Albert Hall.'
'No?' said the Norwegian, interested but uncomprehending.
'I had every sympathy with Franco during the Civil War.'
'Yes? It is so long ago I have rather forgotten what it was all about. In my country we did not pay so much attention as the French and some other nations.'
'I never had the smallest sympathy with Hitler.'
'No, I suppose not.'
'Once I had hopes of Mussolini. But I was never connected with Mosley.'
'Mosley? What is that?'
'Please, please,' cried pretty Mrs. Scarfield, 'don't let's get on to politics.' . . .
[p. 125]

What's interesting here is that Penfold/Waugh (and elsewhere it is made v. clear that 'Penfold' is directly based on Waugh himself, who merely gave a light fictional gloss to events that had actually happened to him during a drug-addled phase three years earlier, in 1954) draws sharp distinctions between four separate manifestations of fascism:

(1) Franco, whom he fully supported

(2) Hitler, whom he denies any sympathy with whatsoever

(3) Mussolini, whom he "had hopes of" (presumably early on), &

(4) Oswald Mosley, head of the British fascists (the Blackshirts), whom he firmly distances himself from.

This accords pretty well with Tolkien's apparent support for Franco and well-recorded disdain for Hitler. I don't know of anywhere where Tolkien comments on Mosley or Mussolini, but I doubt he had much use for either, since he was (a) anti-Nazi (unlike Mosley) and (b) anti-imperial (unlike Mussolini). In any case, it's hard to believe Tolkien ever supported Mussolini to the extent Waugh did, the latter having gone out to Abyssinia to write a pro-Mussolini tract during the invasion and overthrow of Haile Selassie's realm.

My own guess is that Tolkien, whose beloved foster-father was a half-Spanish priest (who incidently had died just two years before Franco's war began), reacted strongly and viscerally to reports of Spanish priests being killed by the anti-Franco forces. Indeed, he refers to atrocities against priests in his letter describing Roy Campbell's regaling the Inklings with accounts of the Spanish war (Letters of JRRT p. 96). So, if there's any truth to the idea that Tolkien was 'soft' on Franco (and this one letter's the only proof of it I know, written when he was caught up in Campbell's lies and half-truths), I'd suggest that for him, this was personal: it got in under the radar due to it being all too easy to identify reports of slaughtered priests with Fr. Francis. And in any case I suspect Waugh's drawing firm distinctions between four different manifestations of what I'd lump all together as fascism might offer some insight into something we know all too little about.

--John R.

current reading: THE HAUNTED BOOKSHOP (Morley), A NIGHT AT AN INN (Dunsany), ABOVE KER-IS (Walton); current audiobook ARGUABLY (Hitchens)

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