The Waughs and the Leigh Fermors

Two recent books about Patrick Leigh Fermor (Paddy) and his wife Joan include material about their interactions with Evelyn Waugh, his wife Laura, and their mutual friends:

The first is Joan: The Remarkable Life of Joan Leigh Fermor by Simon Fenwick. Evelyn Waugh is mentioned several times in this biography in two ways. Firstly as having described the Bright Young Things in his novel Vile Bodies (1930) many of whom were friends of Joan Eyres Monsell (1912 – 2003), the beautiful wife of Patrick Leigh Fermor, before the Second World War. Waugh is said to have been at the London parties of her older gay brother, Graham whose circle included Oxford undergraduates around Maurice Bowra, some of Waugh’s friends and others who they knew in common including Tom Driberg, Patrick Kinross, Alan Pryce-Jones, Cyril Connolly, John Betjeman, John Sparrow and Harold Acton.

In August 1944 Waugh stayed with John Rayner, Joan’s first husband, in his Rome apartment, while recovering from the injury after the airplane crash in Croatia a month before. Waugh wrote in his diary that he hardly knew him but recorded that they usually had dinner together at the ‘charming flat, 5 Via Gregoriana’ and the author quotes from Waugh’s diary entry of 22 August 1944. Further on, Joan wrote about Waugh in a letter to Paddy, with whom she started a romance after the war. Waugh was at the supper party given by Anne Fleming together with other celebrities:”…Evelyn Waugh who I talked to most of the time, mostly about the time he went mad & all his voices – fascinating.” However, it seems probable that Waugh did not appreciate Joan quite as much. Fenwick writes that in a letter to Diana Cooper from Greece where Paddy and Joan lived, Waugh referred to them as the “Nicotine maniac and his girl”.

The second is Dashing to the Post: The Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor, which has recently been issued in paperback. There are no letters in the collection (edited by Adam Sisman) to Waugh although they knew each other through mutual friendships with Diana Cooper, Nancy Mitford and Ann Fleming. In a 1973 letter to Nancy Mitford (pp. 292-93) Paddy mentions meeting Laura Waugh and her sister Bridget Grant who were travelling in Greece. Paddy voiced his disappointment in the “inadequacy and indiscretion” in the published version of Evelyn Waugh’s diaries, particularly the “idiotic” brief biography of Mark Ogilvie-Grant. This appears in an appendix (p. 799) and is apparently written by the editor Michael Davie. Adam Sisman comments that it is not obvious why Leigh Fermor was upset by it although his concern may relate to some inaccuracy in its description of Ogilvie-Grant’s work in Athens after the war. Paddy records Laura’s response:

Laura agrees, saying it was all the fault of Peters, E Waugh’s agent, who had the complete rights. She hadn’t even read most of it. It all sounds very rum to me and a bit wet.

In a subsequent letter to Diana Cooper in 1980 (p, 338), Paddy says he was “horrified…by Laura’s guilty frivolity in handing over [the diaries] unread…” This is in the context of advising Diana to be careful in handing letters and other documents over to her biographer Philip Ziegler. Finally, he mentions in a November 1966 letter to Ann Fleming having reread Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy and, after having “hated” it the first time, he now thinks it

…really wonderful, fearfully sad, very funny, absolutely true, very grand indeed. I think the difference in mood, tempo, scope and its appearing in driblets, must have put me wrong the first time.

Thanks to Milena Borden for the portion of the above post on the Joan Leigh Fermor biography.

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  1. Pingback: http://evelynwaughsociety.org/2017/the-waughs-and-the-leigh-fermors/ – Milena's Blog & Other Items of Interest

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