Hugh Trevor-Roper on Evelyn Waugh

The current issue of Standpoint reprints a 1986 letter of Hugh Trevor-Roper in which he attempts to explain why he and Evelyn Waugh were not, to put it mildly, close chums. HTR (1914-2003) was an academic who first came to public attention with his book The Last Days of Hitler (1947), which Waugh publicly criticized on a point HTR admits in the letter was his own error. HTR went on to become Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford and was created Lord Dacre in 1979. He is probably most famous (or infamous) for having endorsed as genuine the forged Hitler Diaries in 1983.

HTR explains that he tried to keep well clear of Waugh based on his reputation for “offensive” behavior and a desire on HTR’s part “not to be involved in disagreeable scenes.” The two, however, continued to lock horns in the press, most notably in a vituperative 1953-54 exchange (not mentioned by HTR in his letter) in the New Statesmen about obscure and seemingly unimportant points relating to the history of the Roman Catholic church in England. Both sides of the New Statesman exchange were published as an appendix to The Letters of Evelyn Waugh (pp. 641-47), to the credit of neither correspondent.

HTR felt that Waugh regarded him “as a particularly poisonous serpent who had slid into the garden of Brideshead and was corrupting its innocent Catholic inhabitants; which perhaps, to a certain extent, I was-or, as I would prefer to say, was provoked into being.” Indeed, HTR believed that a veritable cabal of Roman Catholics (mostly converts) centering on the Jesuit church in Farm Street were ganged up against him, with the goal of removing him from his position at Oxford. In addition to Waugh, the only members of this supposed group identified by HTR are Martin D’Arcy, Frank Pakenham and Graham Greene, although the latter two did not share the reactionary political views of Waugh and the others. According to HTR, the group was largely consigned to obscurity by the reforms of Vatican II, which caused Waugh “to sink into abject eccentric reaction,” but Waugh “remains a cult hero to a little band who live in an imaginary mini-Brideshead.”

The letter containing HTR’s memories of Waugh will appear in a collection entitled One Hundred Letters From Hugh Trevor-Roper, ed. Richard Davenport-Hines and Adam Sisman, OUP, to be published on 23 January.

Thanks to Gwen Price-Evans for calling this item to our attention on the Evelyn Waugh email discussion list on Yahoo Groups.

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