Anne Ford and Helena

Booksellers Peter Harrington have on offer a post card from Evelyn Waugh to Anne Ford.  The message relates to US publication of Waugh’s novel Helena in 1950. Here’s the text and description from Harrington’s internet catalogue:

A postcard inscribed by Waugh to Anne Ford, publicity director at Little, Brown & Co., regarding his novel Helena, published that year: “No praise for Maclean. Loyalty to a former commander seals my lips. But no praise. I hope you have now seen ‘Helena’. I don’t expect it to be popular in USA but I think it my best book. Please use ‘blurb’ for it identical with English blurb. All good wishes, E”. Ford has circled the phrase “I think it my best book” in pencil and written below it: “Do not use quote until I check with him – note his request to use English blurb – be sure Miss Jones knows.” The Maclean referred to was Fitzroy Maclean, Waugh’s commanding officer in Yugoslavia, who Waugh had used as a model or Constantius Chlorus in Helena.

Waugh had visited Ford on his 1948 US tour sponsored by Life magazine. She arranged his trip to Boston, including stops at Boston College where he spoke informally to students and Harvard University where he met up with Maurice Bowra who was a visiting professor at the time. Ford entertained Waugh at her home in suburban Brookline where her mother prepared the meal. She and her mother later visited Waugh at his home in England where he also entertained them to dinner, taking care to serve the same wine as they had served him. Ford later described these visits in a memoir published in the Boston Globe after Waugh’s death.

His instructions relating to the publication of Helena were followed. The blurb on the inside front leaf of the dustwrapper is identical to the one in the UK edition, with one exception. The following sentence was omitted, possibly so that it would fit on the page:

[The book] should not be dismissed as trivial merely on account of its brevity, for the author has long made compression and selection his particular study and here he distils [sic] what would have occupied three or four volumes of a less industrious writer.

There is no mention of the fact that he thought it his best book. Waugh seems to have gotten it wrong about the book’s likely popularity in the US. According to the Bibliography by R M Davis, et al., the first edition was reprinted four times. The same source records no reprinting of the first UK edition.

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