Mary Wesley Letters Published

The letters between novelist Mary Wesley and her second husband Eric Siepmann have been published and are reviewed by D J Taylor in The Times. The book is entitled Darling Pol and is edited by Wesley’s biographer Patrick Marnham. Wesley and Siepmann met during the war and remained together (more or less) until Siepmann’s death in 1970. Wesley did not begin to publish novels until about 10 years after that and, according to Taylor, there are few references in those books to the sometimes tempestuous love affair reflected in the letters.

Waugh is implicated in their story only by the fact that he and Siepmann were classmates at Oxford. According to Taylor:

An Oxford contemporary of Evelyn Waugh (with whom he never got on), [Siepmann’s] talents as a screenwriter, novelist and foreign correspondent were regularly undermined by bouts of nervous depression. He was described by one reminiscing ex-girlfriend as “the wickedest man I ever met”.

In Marnham’s biography of Wesley Wild Mary (2006), this is elaborated somewhat. Waugh mentions Siepmann dismissively in letters to Nancy Mitford where he is identified in a note as a friend of Peter Rodd. According to Marnham:

The reasons for Waugh’s settled hostility to Siepmann remain obscure. They had much in common: both had joined the Royal Marines, converted to Catholicism and were friends of Nancy Mitford. Mary thought the mutual loathing dated back to Oxford, where they were contemporaries for one year. Waugh and Seipmann shared many Oxford friends including Patrick Kinross, Douglas Woodruff, Christopher Hollis, Claude Cockburn, Graham Greene and Maurice Bowra. The most likely explanation for their enmity is that Siepmann was also a close friend of Basil Murray and Peter Rodd. Waugh disliked both these young men and drew on them for his character Basil Seal. Waugh once described Murray as ‘satanic’. while Murray described Siepmann as ‘the Devil’. Waugh’s reasons for disliking Murray included the fact that the latter once ‘quietly but efficiently’ beat him up. Unusually, Waugh made no exception for Siepmann after Eric’s conversion to Catholicism; they remained enemies. Mary remembered them glaring at each other over Caroline Cobb’s open grave. (pp. 167-68, Footnote omitted.)

Caroline Cobb was one of the owners of the Easton Court Hotel in Chagford, Devon, where Waugh often stayed and the Siepmanns lived in a cottage nearby.

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