Daphne Fielding, Writer

A book blog called The Neglected Books Page has posted an article on the first book written by Waugh’s good friend and correspondent Daphne Fielding (1904-97). This is the first volume of her memoirs entitled Mercury Presides that was published in 1954. The article opens with a quote from Waugh: 

When Evelyn Waugh read Daphne Fielding’s memoir, Mercury Presides, he quipped that the book was “marred by discretion and good taste.” Considering that the author was one of the more sparkling of the Bright Young Things whose exploits and indulgences Waugh satirized in Vile Bodies and other early novels, one can understand his assessment…Waugh remarked that “the adult part [of the book] is rather as though Lord Montgomery were to write his life and omit to mention that he ever served in the army.”

Waugh’s comments are quoted from a letter he wrote to Nancy Mitford on 16 November 1954 (Letters, 433). Waugh had known Daphne since the days of the Bright Young People and became her mentor when she took up writing. Indeed, he can be said to have been the moving force behind her discovery of her writing talent. Daphne and her husband Henry Bath asked Waugh to write a brief history and description of their home at Longleat House to be used for a booklet to be sold to day trippers. Waugh declined on the basis that he couldn’t write about a family of Protestants that had unjustly (in his view) received their property from the Roman Catholic church during the Reformation. As a result Daphne completed the project herself and never stopped writing.

Most of her works, like Mercury Presides, are forgotten and out of print. These include a largely autobiographical novel (The Adonis Garden), which Waugh reviewed in The Spectator of 22 June 1961, as well as a second volume of memoirs. In his review of the novel, Waugh chided her for using up enough material for several books. Her book that enjoyed the greatest commercial success was Duchess of Jermyn Street. This was a biography of Rosa Lewis who ran the Cavendish Hotel with an imperious hand for many years. Waugh contributed an introduction to that book as well as suggestions for sources. Daphne also gave birth to Alexander Bath (Henry’s heir as the 7th Marquess) who became quite a celebrity in  his own right during the latter years of the 20th Century. See earlier post.

Thanks to David Lull for sending a link to this article.

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