Many of our readers will be familiar with the story of how Waugh’s friend Diana Mosley (nee Mitford) and her husband Sir Oswald Mosley (leader of the British Fascist party) were imprisoned in 1940. Diana had, a few weeks before entering prison, given birth to a son. This was Max Mosley. But how many of us focused on the fact that this little chap would grow up to be Max Mosley, the racing car celebrity and scourge of tabloid journalism, who has just published his autobiography Formula One and Beyond?
Max’s story is retold in a review of his book in The Spectator and an extended interview in the Guardian. It contains themes of car racing and newspaper scandal-mongering reminiscent of Waugh’s Vile Bodies. Either the Guardian’s reporter or Max manages to get in a word about Waugh: “Evelyn Waugh dedicated Vile Bodies to the young Diana, saying “her beauty ran [sic] through the room like a peal of bells” .
That book, as well as Labels, was dedicated to both Diana and her then husband Bryan Guinness, a friend of Waugh’s from Oxford. That much-misquoted description, allegedly about Diana, comes from Waugh’s unfinished novel Work Suspended (Penguin, 1976, p. 173) and applies to the character Lucy Simmonds, not Diana Mosley. Waugh in March 1966 wrote to Diana (in what may have been his last letter) about her relationship to Lucy:
…I must not leave you with the delusion that Work Suspended was a cruel portrait of you. It was perhaps to some extent a portrait of me in love with you, but there is not a single point in common between you and the heroine except pregnancy. (Letters, p. 639)
The misquoted passage has come to be repeated from one news story to another with “ran” erroneously substituted for Waugh’s “rang,” which rather spoils the simile. Although Diana could arguably be deemed to be the object of that description, a bit of context would be helpful. It has instead become an established “fact” that Waugh applied those words directly to Diana Mosley herself so far as the press are concerned.