Ryder, the Father Figure

A literary weblog called BookerTalk has posted an article naming the 10 most loved or unloved fathers in literature. This is in observance of Father’s Day this weekend. One of those named in the unloved category is the father of Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited:

This is a man who enjoys rare books more than he does his son’s company. Having barely registered the fact that his son Charles has even been off at Oxford University for many months he can’t wait to see him gone again, eagerly encouraging him to Go off to visit his new chums at Brideshead or  Venice. Anywhere is preferable to having him at home.

Charles himself is no slouch when it comes to child neglect. When he returns from his lengthy painting trip to Latin America, he does not even know the name of his daughter who was born in his absence and named Caroline after him (as his wife had explained in letters), nor can he even recall the name of his son when it is mentioned by his wife. After his return he shows no further interest in either child as he pursues his love affair with Julia Mottram. Perhaps the “prize” should have been jointly awarded to both Ryders. At least Waugh made Ryder père’s neglect humorous through overstatement; the same cannot be said for Charles’ selfish attitude toward his children.  Other literary figures falling into the unloved column include Paul Theroux’s Allie Fox in Mosquito Coast, Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, and Paul Dombey in Dickens’ Dombey and Son.

The Tatler has an article that also links Waugh with a questionable father figure. This is the gossipy story of André Balazs, hotel tycoon and celebrity collector. The article opens and closes with a Waugh reference. Here’s the opening: “What [Balazs] is, is a libertine. A sybarite. A risk-taker. A character from Evelyn Waugh, almost.” What character did they have in mind, I wonder–Rex Mottram? Trimmer? Perhaps that’s unfair to Waugh’s characters based on some of the stories told by Tatler about Balazs. One of these has a connection to both fatherhood and to the Waugh family:

He’s currently expecting a child with the socialite Cosima Vesey, 29, daughter of the 7th Viscount de Vesci, although they’re ‘not attached’, says a friend…People say the relationship between the couple was ‘low-key’.

The story closes with the thought: “If only Evelyn Waugh were still alive.” Perhaps Tatler were unaware when they wrote that closing that Waugh might, indeed, have more than a passing interest in the fate of one of the characters in Balazs’ story. This is Cosima Vesey. Waugh’s wife, Laura, was the grandaughter of the 4th Viscount de Vesci, one John R W Vesey (1844-1903). So Cosima must be a distant cousin of Laura and the Waugh children, as will her child. The line descended through nephews for two generations after the 4th Viscount, but there is still some relationship. Waugh had every reason to be grateful to that family (or at least the grandparents’ generation). Viscountess de Vesci (née Evelyn Charteris; 1851-1939), Laura’s grandmother, generously made an unanticipated wedding gift to the couple of Piers Court which Waugh had expected to have to pay for himself when he agreed the purchase. Still, Waugh could see the humour in almost any situation (e.g., Trimmer’s fatherhood in Sword of Honour) and, as Tatler seems to suggest, could probably have found something funny to say about this one as well.

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