Saturday, January 29, 2011

The forgotten Waugh

Michael Henderson, one of modern journalism's great curmudgeons, is at his irritable best in this week's Spectator, ranting at the illiterati who work in Waterstone's these days.

What first stirred his rage was an anonymous staff recommendation in the Piccadilly store for Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, which the reviewer had called "her most evocative novel".

"Exceptional ignorance," Hendo says and charges off to find a salesperson at whom he brandishes the transgendered card. "Doesn't that strike you as odd?" he asks. "There's a rather embarrassing mistake." The shop assistant looks blank and says that he has never read Brideshead.

"But you must have heard of Evelyn Waugh," Henderson continues. "He was a great writer and it is a he. You work in a bookshop. You should know such things."

Irritated, Hendo stomps round a selection of other London Waterstone's stores, collecting evidence that the staff who write their recommendations are idiots. He found lots of poor spelling, worse grammar and, in a woeful misunderstanding of the date of the Peloponnesian War, a volume of Thucydides that is described as "an overview and analysis of the early 20th century".

Henderson laments Waterstone's no longer employing people with degrees in English Literature. I suppose one advantage of the recession and the rocketing graduate unemployment is that he may soon find plenty of those again stacking shelves in bookshops.


Different Shades said...

Yes, Henderson is a remarkably splentic man, but he's oh so right here.

They really should know such things. I don't work in a bookshop (yet) and I've never read any of his books, but I know that Evelyn Waugh was a man. Doesn't everyone?

Paddy said...

Apparently not. Maybe they were confusing him with his wife, who was helpfully also called Evelyn. Although she didn't write books.