The latest issue of Country Life magazine has a review of the new biography of Evelyn Waugh by Philip Eade. This is by James Fergusson, freelance journalist and author of several books. In addition to the usual discussions, Fergusson focusses in on the importance of the archival material of Michael Davie, editor of Waugh’s Diaries, that was made available to Eade. According to Fergusson, Davie was:
… the only Waugh researcher to whom his first wife spoke openly… After [the Diaries appeared], sensationally, in March–May 1973, he offered to work them up for book publication, to which end he wrote to and interviewed many of the protagonists. His invaluable archive, including interviews with Alastair Graham, one of Waugh’s Oxford lovers, and Evelyn Nightingale (née Gardner), Waugh’s first wife, ‘She-Evelyn’ or ‘Shevelyn’, now belongs to Alexander. ‘I looked very like a boy,’ Shevelyn told Davie. Does Waugh’s sexuality matter? Not strictly, but it may explain some of his torturous melancholy.
Fergusson concludes his review:
Mr Eade’s biography is crisp, diligent and sympathetic; his fresh material adds texture to this oft-told story and he particularly champions his subject over his war record in Crete. But the overall picture remains bleak. ‘Poor Wu,’ wrote Diana Cooper, a clear-eyed friend. ‘He does everything he can to alienate himself from the affection he is yearning for.’
In the UK tabloid i (newspaper), Christopher Hirst found the book:
… a splendid treat. Eade’s exploration of the most significant episodes in the life of this fearless, deeply melancholic comedian is a most worthwhile addition to the bowing shelf of Waughiana.
It is worth noting that, in the UK, Amazon is listing this book as a “No. 1 Bestseller.” That seems surprising, given the subject matter, until one looks more closely and sees that the category in which Eade’s book is leading the pack is “Christianity–Catholic.”