From the December 2020 issue of the Catholic Herald: Earlier this year, we noted in this space that the novelist Evelyn Waugh had an alter ego, Teresa Pinfold, who would write letters to the Catholic Herald. Years after the invention of Teresa Pinfold, Waugh used the surname in an autobiographical novel, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. Here we present Teresa’s contributions to the letters page – parts of which hint at Waugh’s own concerns, others of which seem more to be an elaborate joke for his own entertainment. The first was accompanied by a note from the editor, Michael de la Bédoyère.
SEPTEMBER 16, 1955 After a book, Cracks in the Cloisters, was published – affectionate cartoons about the monastic life – a letter arrived from someone called “Oblate” complaining that the book was outrageously irreverent.
Sir, – I read the letter signed “Oblate” with close attention and have come to the conclusion that you have been made the victim of a hoax.
I do not impute complicity to publisher or author, but plainly this letter is a parody, written with the wish to advertise these admirable drawings.
(Mrs) Teresa Pinfold, Manchester
Our office Sherlock Holmes suggests that it is in fact this letter itself which may be a hoax, for the handwriting is oddly similar to that of a well-known Catholic novelist, and so was the postmark on the envelope. – EDITOR, “CH”
OCTOBER 21, 1960 Teresa asks a question about liturgical reform – always a subject dear to the heart of Waugh the traditionalist.
Sir,– May I intrude a question into your correspondence about vernacular devotions? It seems to be assumed that anything said in English is intelligible to the English-speaking peoples. Is this so?
Lately there has been introduced a new service on Easter Eve which is said to be “liturgical”. In the course of it the priest advances on the congregation and questions them in English. He asks us, among other things, whether we renounce the “pomps” of the devil, I always loyally reply that I do, but I am a simple convent-educated girl and I have not the least idea what I mean by this. I have consulted more than one learned ascetic and have been given no satisfactory answer.
I do not go to church, as some of your correspondents seem to do, to hear my own voice, but if I have to give utterance, should I not be told what I mean?
Your obedient servant Teresa Pinfold
MARCH 3, 1961 Once again the letters page hosted a debate over an allegedly offensive book: The Foxglove Saga, by Evelyn Waugh’s son Auberon. One correspondent, Clare Nicholl, had suggested that the book was autobiographical.
Sir, – A member of my family was an exact contemporary of Mr Auberon Waugh’s at school. He tells me – and my own observation bears him out – that there is no resemblance at all between that school and the one amusingly caricatured in The Foxglove Saga.
I think Miss Nichol has let the passage of years confuse her and that she takes Mr Auberon Waugh for his uncle, Alexander, who some 45 years back wrote a novel called The Loom of Youth in which his public school was clearly recognisable. That school was Anglican but it sought to inculcate just those general moral and religious notions which Miss Nicholl specifies. If one is to judge purely by the evidence of The Loom of Youth, his pastors and masters faded with Uncle Alec. Are we to conclude that there is an hereditary flaw in the character of this unhappy family or, more charitably, that most boys dislike school while only a few have the gift of expressing their feelings?
I am, sir, your obedient servant, Teresa Pinfold
MARCH 17, 1961 Clare Nicholl had responded that she was too young to have made this confusion – she had not read The Loom of Youth. Referring to “Teresa’s” letter from the previous October, Nicholl added that her spiritual director had told her “pomp” was a corruption of “pump”, as in the shoes.
Sir, – Miss Nicholl has pierced the heart of the matter – a bad home. I have it on good authority that Mr Auberon Waugh’s father always wears court shoes with evening dress – those accursed shoes against which Miss Nicholl’s spiritual director warned her (under the antiquated slang term “pumps”).
It is no wonder that the lad grew up to shock Miss Nicholl. The wonder is that he still faithfully practises his religion.
JUNE 12, 1964 A correspondent, Dom Cuthbert McCann, had rebuked Auberon Waugh for referring to Anglicanism as a “sect”.
Sir, – I think that neither Canon Davies nor Mr Baxter understood why Dom Cuthbert McCann was cross with Mr Waugh.
His grievous offence was to use the Latin word “sect”. We are now taught that Latin is not a nice language. Had he used the Greek word “schism” no one could have minded.