This week’s Spectator features three articles mentioning Evelyn Waugh. The first is in a memorial for Tara Palmer-Tomkinson who died this week at the age of 45. The magazine reprints an article she wrote which appeared in the 27 July 1996 issue. Here’s an excerpt:
The Times diary recently…suggested — not to put too fine a point on it — that I am stupid… I had joined a conversation about Sir James Goldsmith’s party, saying, ‘When is it happening? I think I’m supposed to be going’…You may recall that in Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies one of the characters greets the announcement that there is a Workers’ Revolutionary Party by asking why she has not been invited. Here, among friends at The Spectator, I can, however, make a confession. Reader, a few months ago I did think Jimmy Goldsmith’s ‘party’ was a social event rather than a political one, and made a comment along the lines of Waugh’s heroine. In my defence, I would say that the words ‘Goldsmith’ and ‘parties’ have always gone together so harmoniously that it did not occur to me that he might now have turned to the less rewarding business of challenging the Government. After all, my two encounters this summer with this charming and sociable man have been at Imran and Jemima’s summer party and at his soirée for John Aspinall. And history may well judge that Jimmy will be better remembered for his parties than his party.
‘Be a road-sweeper,’ advised Evelyn Waugh, when Ludo asked him how to earn a living while writing. And in a sense he did become one. He might not have achieved a reputation as a novelist, but in redirecting his natural storytelling gifts into ‘what he was best at’, Ludo cleaned up the excruciating legal and human messes left behind by corrupt policemen like the Flying Squad’s Commander Kenneth Drury (who connived with a hardened criminal to imprison three men he knew to be innocent) and buffoonish judges like Lord Goddard (who Ludo suggested ‘was in the habit of masturbating when pronouncing the death sentence’) or Lord Robertson (‘as arrogant as he was ignorant’) or Lord Hunter (‘almost as big a dumbo as Lord Robertson’).
Given that it is an unusual name for an Englishman, I have often wondered whether “Ludo” Kennedy may have contributed to the name of Waugh’s character in Sword of Honour (if not to his behavior). They knew each other at the time Waugh was writing the novel. Diaries, p. 758.
Finally, in a featured article by Cosmo Landesman entitled “Why do the middle classes let posh people be so rude? If a guest makes a pass at your daughter, then vomits on your sofa, it’s OK – as long as he’s posh”, this appears:
Being posh gives you all sorts of privileges — even if you’re a drug addict. A posh junkie is regarded with concern and fascination, for he or she has the alluring whiff of decadence, that aura of ancestral doom. The spectacle of posh people with addictions or psychological problems has always enthralled the literary-minded, from Evelyn Waugh’s Sebastian Flyte to Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose. By contrast, nobody cares or is interested in a common-or-garden council-estate heroin addict. A posh addict who overdoses and dies is a tragedy; a prole who overdoses and dies is a statistic.
The case of Patrick Melrose is more complex than that of Sebastian Flyte (who was quickly forgiven for vomiting into Charles Ryder’s room). The reader puts up with Patrick’s addictions and other problems not because of, but despite his poshness. In the case of his father, on the other hand, his acquaintances are expected to overlook his bad behavior (including wife beating and child abuse) because of his poshness. Even after raping his 5 year old son, he wonders whether that event would be an acceptable topic of conversation at his club.
UPDATE (16 February 2017): Another memorial for Tara Palmer-Tompkinson appearing in the “Kirsty ay Large” column of the Independent (Ireland) newspaper makes a connection with the Waugh’s “Bright Young Things”:
In the 1930s the term ‘celebutante’ was used to describe well-heeled ladies known for attending riotous shindigs. Evelyn Waugh dubbed them “bright young things”. In the aftermath of World War II, these ‘society gals’ became bigger news still — offering a little glitz after all that war time rationing. A new breed of It Girl emerged in the 1990s. Tara Palmer-Tomkinson was the ring leader of the ‘toffs about town’ brigade.
Her weekly Sunday Times column, which she said she “lived” rather than wrote, was filled with salacious snippets of a gilded life style. She was funny, self deprecating, and a lot smarter than she was often portrayed in the tabloid press…. She eventually kicked her drug habit and her life seemed to be calming down in recent years. So her death, at the age of 45, came as a shock. She was remembered by those who knew her for her kindness, vulnerability and compassion.