Memoir of Lord Berners’ Menage is Published

A memoir of the residents of Lord Berners’ Faringdon House estate in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire) has been written by the granddaughter of one (or possibly two) of them. This is The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me , by Sofka Zinovieff (Jonathan Cape, 436pp, £25, U.S. publication scheduled for 2015).

The author’s relationship to the menage is a bit complicated. Her mother, Victoria, was the child of Jennifer Fry, who lived at Faringdon in the 1940s and married Robert Heber-Percy (“The Mad Boy”). He was also Berner’s companion and may (or may not) have been Victoria’s father. Heber-Percy and Fry were soon divorced, and he later married Evelyn Waugh’s friend Dorothy (“Coote”) Lygon. Other male companions also came and went after Berners’ death in 1950. The estate was left by Berners to Heber-Percy, who kept changing his own will, causing Waugh to make the following comment to Diana Mitford: ‘I went to dinner at Faringdon … the Mad Boy has installed a Mad Boy of his own. Has there ever been a property in history that has devolved from catamite to catamite for any length of time? It would be interesting to know.’

Heber-Percy ultimately left the estate to Zinovieff who still owns it and rents it out to American millionaires. This is all explained in more (and more entertaining) detail in a review of Zinovieff’s book by Waugh’s grandson, Alexander Waugh, in the current issue of Literary Review.

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Last Mitford Sister Dies at 94

Deborah Cavendish (nee Freeman-Mitford), Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, died earlier this week at the age of 94.

Evelyn Waugh and she were friends, though they were not nearly as close to him as were her older sisters Nancy and Diana. They met in 1942 at a Christmas party where Waugh unfortunately made rather a fool of himself. Deborah was impressed at this first meeting with the “phenomenal amount of drink that [Waugh] consumed, and as I was still shocked by drunkenness, I kept my distance.” She also recalled that Waugh poured a bottle of Chartreuse over his head and then walked about repeatedly intoning that his hair was covered in gum. Her assessment of Waugh was that he could be charming early in the evening: “He wanted to be friends and was full of compliments, but they turned to insults before you knew where you were. The cleverness came through but so did the criticisms; everything was wrong including me.” Deborah said that after the war Waugh made up for his bad behavior by buying her a hat from Paris.

Waugh was later a guest at her house on the Chatsworth estate where he complained that a chamberpot in his room had not been emptied. In her memoir Wait for Me!, (p. 145) Deborah described Waugh as a “difficult guest” who seemed to try to find fault with everything, including “the wine, his bedroom, the outlook and, judging by his behavior, the other guests too.” The full chamberpot was his coup de grâce and was announced “with a look of triumph on his face.” Deborah said she never knew whether his claims were true but she was doubtful, because he “did not bring the evidence with him.” Waugh later wrote to Nancy Mitford in 1962 that he knew he was being a bore during his visit but had behaved badly “because she had turned on the television at dinner.”

Another anecdote from her Memoirs recounted a gift that Waugh had sent her. Waugh, knowing that Deborah was not a great reader, sent her a copy of his biography of Roman Catholic cleric Ronald Knox, assuring her in his inscription that her Protestant sensibilities would not be offended. After unwrapping the parcel and feeling rather pleased with herself, she found that the pages of the book were all blank.

In her later years, Deborah also tried her hand at writing, but her output was never going to rival the works of her older sisters, Nancy, Diana and Jessica, who made successful careers as authors. In addition to publishing her memoirs in 2010, Deborah wrote about her experiences at Chatsworth which she managed to turn from a losing operation into a successful business venture by marketing its farm produce and promoting it as a major tourist attraction.

Her sisters predeceased her, as did her brother, Tom, who was killed in World War II.

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Daily Mail Reports Sale of Waugh’s Favorite Writing Venue

The Daily Mail online edition for 16 September reports the offer for sale of the Easton Court Hotel in Chagford, Devon. This is the place to which Evelyn Waugh retreated to do much of his writing, including that for his most popular work, Brideshead Revisited. It provided him the peace and quiet he needed away from the distractions of his family and friends.

As reported in the story by Jenny Awford, the hotel has preserved the modest library in which Waugh worked. It looks much as it did about 20 years ago when your correspondent spent a night there. Other writers who used the hotel include Patrick Leigh-Fermor, with whom Waugh overlapped on at least one occasion in 1956. They invited their mutual friend and correspondent Ann Fleming to join them, but she declined (perhaps fearing that she would be interrupting the seclusion they needed to write). Waugh also formed a friendship with the then co-owners. When one of them, Caroline Postlethwaite-Cobb, died in the late 1950s, Leigh-Fermor reported that he, along with Waugh and his wife Laura, were among the few mourners present at her funeral service in the village.

The photos accompanying the Daily Mail article suggest that the place has been well preserved. It is on offer for £1.65 million. Thanks to Robert Murray Davis for bringing this to our attention.

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Waugh and Spanish Civil War

Waugh’s views on the Spanish Civil War recently came up for comment in the TLS.

In his review (July 4) of a recent book about war correspondents in Spain, Hotel Florida by Amanda Vaill, Jeremy Treglown commented that it was unfortunate that Waugh did not report on that conflict because “no one would have communicated its ironies more sharply.” In the July 11 issue, reader Nicholas Rankin noted in a letter to the TLS that although Waugh did not report on the Spanish conflict, he did make his views known in the publication Authors Take Sides on the Spanish War: “If I were a Spaniard I would be fighting for General Franco.” Rankin goes on to comment that Waugh’s detached irony seemed to have failed him when he wrote to Diana Cooper during his subsequent coverage of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia: “i have got to hate the ethiopians more each day goodness they are lousy & i hope the organmen gas them to buggery.”

That is not to say, surely, that Waugh, although he made little effort to show impartiality in reporting that conflict, would have expressed his views in quite those exaggerated terms had he intended them for publication.

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Complete Works Project Launches New Website

The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project at the University of Leicester has launched a new website. Its Resources page is particularly useful. The project blog can be found here.
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Peter Harrington’s Evelyn Waugh catalog

The bookseller Peter Harrington’s Evelyn Waugh catalog contains many desirable volumes, none more so than Graham Greene’s inscribed copy of Helena (£25,000). Note, however, the last sentence in PH’s description of the item:

First edition, first impression, large paper issue, being one of about 50 copies specially bound and printed on handmade paper. A major association copy with the author’s signed presentation inscription to the front free endpaper, “for Graham from Evelyn Oct 1st, 1950″ With the estate label of Graham Greene to the front pastedown. On 16 November 1950 Waugh wrote to Greene thanking him “awfully for writing about Helena. I hardly hoped you would like it. I am exhilarant to hear you do…” The copy is, however, almost entirely unopened – only the last 50 pages are cut – suggesting that Greene merely read the ending and wrote his appraisal from that.
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1960s Vintage Films of Waugh Novels Now Available on DVD

According to this post by film blogger Michael Barrett, both the early theatrical films made of Waugh novels are now available in digital format: The Loved One (MGM, 1965, directed by Tony Richardson, screenplay by Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood), and Decline And Fall Of A Bird Watcher (20th Century Fox, 1968, directed by John Krish, screenplay by Ivan Foxwell).

Of the two, D&F is the better film adaptation, although LO is better known. The film of LO was something of a disaster with much of the plot rewritten. The portions relating to Waugh’s satirization of Hollywood’s British film colony are the best, but that was true of the novel as well. John Gielgud’s Francis Hinsley and Robert Morley’s Ambrose Abercrombie are worth the price of admission (or DVD as the case may be). The remainder is so over the top as to be best forgotten. Anyone wishing to know more about how the film came to be the mess that it was might want to seek out Mischief in the Sun: The Making and Unmaking of ‘The Loved One’ (1999) by Waugh scholar Robert Murray Davis.

The screenplay of D&F more closely follows Waugh’s plot, but that plot is essentially unfilmable. Fans of the novel will nevertheless enjoy watching it, if only to see the performance of Leo McKern as Capt. Grimes in his pre-Rumpole days. Made-on-demand DVDs are available from for $19.95 each at the links above.

Thanks to R. M. Davis for sending us the PopMatters post. The plug for his book was entirely my idea.
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Waugh on Weddings

As the month of June approaches, Moira Redmond was inspired to contribute an article to the Guardian newspaper for May 20, 2014 entitled “Marriage plots: the best wedding dresses in literature.” The article is included in a regular column called Books Blog and may appear only in the paper’s internet edition. After trolling through history to mention obvious literary weddings in novels such as virtually all those of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and Nancy Mitford’s Pursuit of Love, Redmond decided to include a sample from Waugh’s writings as well. Wedding scenes, at least happy ones, are a bit thin on the ground in Waugh’s fiction. Most notably one thinks of the wedding of Julia Flyte and Rex Mottram which is described in Brideshead Revisited as a rather “squalid” affair in the chapel of the Savoy Hotel. But Redmond managed to come up with this quote from Waugh’s diaries in which the writer

rather charmingly describes his daughter Margaret getting married in 1962 “in a tea gown of her great-grandmother’s out of the acting cupboard, used in countless charades.”

Proceeding through the post-Waugh years with references to Margaret Drabble, W.G. Sebald and Donna Tartt, Redmond reaches the following rather laconic conclusion:

Weddings have much less place in modern literary fiction–perhaps authors are leaving the subject to what they consider to be chicklit. But surely some same-sex weddings are turning up in books now?


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Entire Back-catalogue of Evelyn Waugh Newsletter/Studies Now Available Online

In a major development in the field of Evelyn Waugh scholarship, the entire back-catalogue of the Evelyn Waugh Newsletter/Studies has been made available through the University of Leicester Special Collections Online.

The Evelyn Waugh Studies Collection comprises searchable complete runs of the Evelyn Waugh Newsletter (1967-1989), Evelyn Waugh Newsletter and Studies (1990-2010) and Evelyn Waugh Studies (2011-). It has been made available on Special Collections Online as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project, based in Leicester’s School of English.

The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh project blog at Leicester notes this important development.

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Lancing College 2014 Evelyn Waugh Lecture

Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair of Arts Council England and President of the Royal Television Society, was the guest speaker at the 2014 Evelyn Waugh Lecture at Lancing College on May 1.

This year’s lecture, entitled “The Drain Brain,” focused on Sir Peter’s great-great-grandfather, Sir Joseph William Bazalgette (1819–1891), who was the chief engineer of London’s Metropolitan Board of Works. Sir Joseph is known for being responsible for the creation of a sewer network for central London in response to the ‘Great Stink’ in summer 1858.

Now in its sixth year, the Evelyn Waugh Lecture honours one of Lancing’s most illustrious old boys and is followed by a dinner for members of the Lancing Foundation to thank them for their loyalty and generosity to the College. Previous years’ guest speakers have been Sir David Hare, Alexander Waugh, Christopher Hampton CBE FRSL, the Reverend Professor Richard Griffiths, and Derek Granger with Anthony Andrews.

See for more.

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