A Twitch upon the Thread 3

263 I never tired of painting her
Under the impetus of love, Charles has clearly moved on from architectural painting to portraiture.

264 Two Christmasses
This neatly informs us that we are now in 1938.

264 Humber
a British car which had a long life. It was respectable and middle class.

264 Wellingtonias
Americans call these trees Sierra Redwoods or Giant Sequoias. The British botanist John Lindley originally named the tree Wellingtonia gigantea and in Britain the name Wellingtonia has been retained in honour of the great Duke. Its scientific name since 1939 has been Sequoiadendron giganteum. Giant Sequoias can grow to a height of 300 feet, though not yet in Britain, where the first ones planted are still 250 years from maturity.

264 Carlsbad plums
preserved plums or damsons, a winter dessert. They are a delicacy originally from a city now called Karlovy Vary (in the Czech Republic). The plums are prepared by being placed in hot syrup until they shrivel and are then halved and stuffed into larger dried damsons. They are usually sold packed into wooden boxes.They are famously gluey and sticky.

265 Coronation Week
George VI, on succeeding his brother Edward VIII on the latter’s abdication, simply took over his predecessor’s coronation arrangements, which duly went ahead on 12th May 1937.

267 Wandsworth
a borough of London

267 smoking suit
It was common in the 1920’s and 1930’s for the host to appear in a smoking jacket while all his male guests wore white tie and tails or dinner jackets. One assumes the smoking jacket was not in an objectionably dirty and smelly state.

267 Knight of Malta
a member of a Catholic order, once military, whose purpose is now ceremonial and charitable. The order, known in 1936 as the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John of Jerusalem, has a distinguished history. The knights originally operated in the Holy Land in the Middle Ages to look after sick pilgrims (in the Hospital of St. John, in Jerusalem), but soon felt compelled to defend the Holy Places and added the waging of war on Islam to their aims. From 1309 they lived in Rhodes and there put up a noble defence against the assaults of the Ottoman Turks. They were finally expelled, but their bravery led the emperor Charles V to grant them the islands of Malta in fief. Their greatest feat was the successful defence of Malta in 1565, marking a turning point in the advance of the Turks in the Mediterranean. After a long period of knightly decay, Napoleon invaded the island in 1798 and encountered no resistance. He then banished the Knights from Malta. After some time they went to Rome where they transformed themselves into a somewhat effete aristocratic body though they retained residual sovereign powers.

268 his dining club
EW’s brother Alec Waugh explains this reference in his volume of character sketches My Brother Evelyn and Other Portraits, in the chapter about Vyvyan Holland. In London there were a large number of dining clubs for gentlemen (rarely ladies) where men of like mind or interest could meet for a formal dinner and the presentation of a paper, perhaps half an hour’s worth, by one of their members on a topic in which that member had expertise. The club Alec Waugh is thinking of, called Ye Sette of Odde Volumes, was the oldest of the lot, having been founded in the 1870’s. Its members were not just (indeed infrequently) literary. The rules provided a ponderously humorous background to the proceedings, the President, for example, being addressed as Your Oddship. Officers wore elaborate chains of office. Guests were ceremoniously insulted in the speeches, and on Ladies’ Nights, when wives were invited, the women were introduced with ‘heavy-handed facetiousness’.

269 The Flying Scotsman
the name of an express train which ran between London and Edinburgh for more than forty years, or rather of its locomotive

269 The Charge of the Light Brigade
see my note to the Battle of Balaclava on page 15

269 Henley Regatta
The Royal Regatta consists of two weeks of rowing competition held in early July on the Thames at Henley, an Oxfordshire town, and is a must for many habitu├ęs of the London season.

269 Macbeth
the leading character of Shakespeare’s play of the same name

269 news from Central Europe
This is the period leading up to the Munich Agreement in September 1938. German threats and manufactured complaints against Czechoslovakia were mounting throughout the year.

269 diamond fender
Julia no doubt finds this tiara a tiresomely massive object, especially as no dictionary I have consulted defines fender as a type of head-dress. One sometimes sees pictures of Victorian ladies in formal dress wearing a tall, heavy tiara of the type suggested by Julia’s words.

270 Falmouth Town Library
Falmouth is a delightful Cornish resort, though in earlier centuries it had been a thriving international seaport. It is not well known that Falmouth was a centre of phillumeny.

271 Catholic Players’ Guild
Catholic representation in the acting profession has always been strong. This organisation caters for their spiritual and communal needs, and still exists today.

272 in no case would Beryl consent to be your guest.
This embargo would have been almost as remarkable in 1938 as it appears to us now, even among strict Catholics. One immediately wonders whether the scruple is Mrs Muspratt’s or Bridey’s. Julia later comes to the opinion that Beryl is ‘madly tough’ and the scruples are all Bridey’s.

273 they bought it for a penny at the church door.
a reference to the Penny Catechism, which at the time did cost one penny to buy. It was published by the Catholic Truth Society and fitted into one’s jacket pocket. It elucidated the truths of the faith for ordinary people by a process of question and answer. As an example the first question was Who made me? and the answer was God made me.

273 living in sin
What Julia has realised is that she is responsible for the way her life has gone and for the fact that she has taken no steps to redeem it. Her entire existence is coloured by her acceptance of a sinful condition. What she later goes on to realise (and it may be subconsciously present in this scene) is that marriage with Charles would just contribute to that life of sin and indeed deepen it : in the eyes of God he is after all married to Celia and father to two children for whom he culpably takes no obvious responsibility beyond paying for their education.

274 Christ dying with it
Julia is well-versed in Catholic theology. She is referring to Christ’s self-sacrifice on the first Good Friday, bearing all the sins of the world and so redeeming the whole of humanity. Because she maintains a state of sin Julia is adding to the suffering of Christ on the Cross.

274 always the midday sun and the dice clicking
Julia’s imagination has really got going here. Christ of course did not physically suffer for eternity : in fact his crucifixion lasted a remarkably short time as these things go. Suffering and sin do continue, however, but Christ’s redemptive act on the cross is valid for ever and for all people, if they will accept him.
The reference to dice is a memory of the gospel account where the soldiers gambled to see which of them would win Christ’s robe. (Gospel of Saint John 19, 23-24)

274 No way back
Julia imagines that, as her life stands at present, she is barred from eternal happiness. This is the full Catholic belief in its massive clarity. What is needed now is amendment.

274 lupus
probably lupus vulgaris hypertrophicus, or tuberculosis of the skin, which destroys the tissues. A very disturbing image to mark her self-loathing.

275 Barton Street
a street in London near Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. Bridey obviously has an apartment there now that Marchmain House no longer exists.

276 coffin stools
Originally these were a kind of antique bench or joint stool characteristic of the 16th to 18th centuries. An apron in front gave the coffin effect, but in more modern times a coffin stool is simply a piece of furniture with a rectangular top, turned legs and square stretchers. It is probable that they got their name originally because they could be used for resting coffins on.

276 Holman Hunt’s … ‘The Awakened Conscience’
William Holman Hunt (1827-1910), together with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais, founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848. He married successively two sisters named Waugh, cousins of EW’s father. EW considered writing his biography, but the project came to nothing. He did write about Holman Hunt in his biography of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and gave special praise to this painting - he calls it singularly beautiful.
The painting is actually called The Awakening Conscience and can be seen in Tate Britain, London. It shows a woman sitting on the lap of her lover and beginning to rise in the dawning realisation of the folly, immorality and subservience of her position. It became a favourite moral painting of the Victorian period though there was much furore at first.

276 Pre-Raphaelitism
John Ruskin (1819-1900) was a supporter and energiser of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Ruskin’s book Pre-Raphaelitism, in which he described the aims and defended the methods and results of the painters of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, was published in 1851. As the painting The Awakening Conscience was not completed until 1853, it seems that Charles must have got hold of an edition that also included extracts from later letters and writings.

276 Ruskin’s description
Ruskin also defended Holman Hunt’s painting in a famous letter to The Times (25 May 1854) in which he wrote, There is not a single object in all that room, common, modern, vulgar (in the vulgar sense, as it may be), but it became tragical, if rightly read. He points out some of the many symbols the painter puts into the picture, including the cat with a struggling bird just dropped from its mouth; the music on the piano that the man is idly playing (Thomas Moore’s Oft in the Stilly Night), the words of which have perhaps startled the woman into recognising the truth of her situation; the furniture with its fatal newness; the tapestry, with its depiction of the fowls of the air feeding on the ripened corn; and the picture above the fireplace with its single drooping figure – the woman taken in adultery.

276 Last Trump
the sound of the trumpet calling on all the dead to rise for the Last Judgement. Julia is thinking of the looming threat of World War II, which has occupied her thoughts recently.

276 All I can hope to do is to put my life in some order in a human way
Julia, recovered from what she calls hysteria but was in fact an awful apprehension of the truth, settles for what she can get here and now. It may involve defiance of God, but perhaps she can salvage something by having a loving relationship and a child.

277 the setting of a comedy
Charles is thinking perhaps of the Restoration comedies of Congreve, Vanbrugh or Farquhar, the plays of Beaumarchais or possibly the elegant dramas of Goldoni. His inability to engage seriously with Julia’s emotions awakens her ire.

278 pack-horses on the Pilgrim’s Way
According to Hilaire Belloc, who appears to have invented the route, the Pilgrims’ Way ran from Winchester to Canterbury. The more usual and obvious route was from London to Canterbury, as described by Chaucer. Throughout the later Middle Ages (after the death of Saint Thomas Becket in 1170) there was continual movement along this road. Pilgrims gathered in bands as a form of safeguard against attack by bandits. The packhorses would have carried, amongst other things, valuable gifts for the shrine of the saint at Canterbury.
Charles’s point is that the prayers have remained unchanged while the language has developed so much that few people today could understand speech from Chaucer’s time.
Rex’s associates indulge in a second spate of unintelligent comments on the current political situation, two years after we first heard them.

278 They won’t fight.
This is clearly meant to be the Germans, who are later said to be afraid of the French and the Czechs. The opinion of Rex’s friends, that Britain and France should go to war in 1938, has at least got some credibility, whatever the value of their judgement of the Germans.

279 wolfram … tungsten … manganese … chrome
These metals are fondly imagined to be vital for the heavy industries. Unfortunately the Germans had a sufficient amount of them or else found good substitutes. (Wolfram is in fact an earlier name for tungsten.)

279 scared of the Czechs
These snippets, dating from a month or two before the Munich Agreement, show that people thought it was still possible that the Czech army would put up a fight against the threatened German invasion.

279 Black Forest
a wooded and mountainous region in south-western Germany not far from the border with France

279 They haven’t the tools …
This self-comforting blindness to reality is breathtaking. The list of German deficiencies grows more improbable and fictional as the men proceed.

279 consumption
then still a common name for tuberculosis of the lungs

279 Goering … Goebbels … Ribbentrop
leading men in the Nazi government of Germany. Hermann Goering (1893-1946) was the second-in-command to Hitler and in charge of the Air Force. Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945) was Hitler’s Minister for Propaganda and Enlightenment. Joachim von Ribbentrop (1893-1946) had been the German Ambassador to Britain but in 1938 was appointed Foreign Minister.

280 Chamberlain
Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940) was at this time Prime Minister. He was soon to be responsible for negotiating the Munich Agreement which famously betrayed the Czech people and government, though within a year he was to have the unpleasant task of declaring war on Germany.

280 Halifax
Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax (1881-1959), was appointed secretary of state for foreign affairs early in 1938 and played an important role in the negotiation of the Munich Agreement. He might have succeeded Chamberlain as Prime Minister in 1940 instead of Churchill, with the probability that he would have sued for peace. The fact that Halifax was a member of the House of Lords was a decisive factor in ensuring Churchill’s succession; the last Lord who had been Prime Minister, the Marquess of Salisbury, had resigned in 1902, and there was a general feeling that there should not be another.

280 Sir Samuel Hoare
British politician (1880-1959) who was Foreign Secretary for a few months in 1935. He developed with Pierre Laval of France the so-called Hoare-Laval Plan for the partition of Abyssinian land between Italy and Abyssinia. The proposal was widely denounced, and Hoare was forced to resign. By 1938 he was back in government as Home Secretary in Chamberlain’s National Government.

280 1922 Committee
All the Conservative Party backbenchers in the House of Commons (and so not including any government ministers) are members of this committee. Rex’s friends are clearly in a minority.

280 Peace Pledge
In the mid-thirties a strong peace movement developed in Britain which was strengthened by a ballot organised in 1935 by the British League of Nations Union. A great majority of those who voted supported the policy of “collective security”. The following year, the British Peace Pledge Union was announced, a pacifist movement opposed to the Spanish Civil War and, especially, to the view that fascism in Europe could only be stopped by war. It issued Peace Pledge cards on which supporters signed the statement I renounce war, and I will never support or sanction another. The movement was more influential than perhaps was realised at the time since it reinforced the government’s policy of appeasement.

280 Foreign Office
Those outside the system have often believed that Foreign Office diplomats and officials have worked to their own agenda and for their own or their department’s good rather than for the country’s.

280 New York Banks
These too, it was considered, had always worked for their own advantage and for no other good. Their power was more and more resented in Europe in this period as loans and investment increased their influence. On top of this, the US government encouraged foreign trade in the late 30’s by the creation of export-import banks through which the government made loans to firms intending to increase their sales in foreign countries. This was considered unfair competition by other trading countries.

280 a rubber
i.e. of bridge, then a favourite pastime. Contract bridge had entirely replaced auction bridge by 1938. A rubber is a match of three or five deals.

280 Trojan walls … Grecian tents … Cressid
The walls of Troy helped the Trojans to resist the Greek siege for ten years. Cressid (Cressida in Shakespeare, Criseyde in Chaucer) was a Trojan girl who was loved by Prince Troilus but when in the hands of the Greeks fell in love with her seducer Diomedes. Troilus gets killed soon after (in Shakespeare’s play) or survives to witness her degradation without recognising her (in Chaucer’s poem). Her story is lamentable because she is an innocent, manipulated girl of simple affections who is out of her depth.
The whole of the closing passage of this chapter (which has Shakespearean echoes) is saturated with a sense of impermanent and fragile happiness : the Trojan walls will not hold out for ever, illusions will be destroyed, true love will be shattered, and the real world of violence will break in. World War II is just over twelve months away. 


  1. I think the "diamond fender" is meant to be a tiara that represents a fireplace fender. That is a small piece of furniture designed to go in front of a fireplace and keep logs from rolling out of it. There are pictures of them on the internet. Presumably a heavy tiara would resemble such a thing. (I think Dorothy L. Sayers used the same term in one of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels.)


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