Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Waugh and peace


"The fortnight (...) passed quickly and sweetly - perhaps too sweetly; I was drowning in honey, stingless." I couldn't help but think of Evelyn Waugh's evocative line in Brideshead Revisited when I came across this honey stall at Apt market. Perhaps it was the honey-scented beeswax candles and his conversion to Catholicism.

Waugh was describing a visit to Venice in the 1930s, and it introduces a passage of sublime lyricism that moves from "fierce sunlight on the sands" to "cool, marble interiors; of water everywhere, lapping on smooth stone" to painted ceilings and palaces Byron might have known, to night fishing for scampi, and ending (as ever) in champagne cocktails at the English bar.

He is such a polished writer, who rarely uses a word too many; "I was drowning in honey, stingless" not only carries the image but the rythym of being pulled down into inescapable sweetness (say it out loud). Moreover, the drawn poison of "stingless" is positioned exactly where the reader who knows Waugh expects the sting in the tail. Given the bitter-sweet tone of the novel, it's nothing less than genius.

So, nothing much to do with honey or French markets, this post then. Except that in the abundance of varieties of honey - the acacia, wild flower and lavender - on offer, the sense of continuity and peace inherent in the work of the honey bees (and their worrying disappearance from some areas), the power of words, all seems connected. Or is that just the way a writer would think?

I'll leave you with another word to the wise expressed by Waugh:

"The truth is that self-respecting writers do not 'collect material' for their books, or, rather, they do it all the time in living their lives." (from Ninety-Two Days)



4 comments:

louciao said...

The scent of honey wafting from this post is heady, though not in the least cloying.
:-)

Gill Edwards said...

That line is very evocative, you have made me want to read Brideshead all over again now.

Gill x

Marcheline said...

My mother keeps bees, down in North Carolina, and as a result I have a huge jug of raw honey in my cupboard, as well as an enormous block of beeswax for making candles. I also brew mead with Mom's honey, which is delectable! Yes, raw honey is magic. It's also where the word "medicine" came from (it has great antibiotic qualities), and the word "honeymoon" - in the olden days, a newly married couple was given enough mead (wine made from honey) to last them a month, or a moon. The hope was that after a month's worth of mead and canoodling, a pregnancy would soon be announced.

Half-heard in the Stillness said...

Ooh...I haven't read any Waugh, I definitely need to now! I 'got' your meaning straight away. That last word 'stingless' as you say perfectly positioned, the whole sentence genius.

Those egg shaped candles look fabulous, I would have had to buy...did you? ;)

Hugs Jane

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