David Pryce-Jones Reviews Eade Biography (Updated)

David Pryce-Jones, son of author Alan Pryce-Jones who was Waugh’s near contemporary at Oxford but not close friend, has reviewed Philip Eade’s biography of Waugh in the National Review. He begins with an apology for having written an unfavorable review of Sword of Honour in his 20s and continues with a memoir of his own youthful contacts with Waugh:

My first meeting with Waugh had been at a lunch party in the highly respectable Randolph Hotel in Oxford. Teresa Waugh, his eldest daughter, had invited a dozen of her university contemporaries. In the course of the meal, someone said that the person we were speaking about had children and therefore wasn’t homosexual. “Nonsense, buggers have babies,” said Waugh in a voice that stopped conversation throughout the dining room. “Lord Beauchamp had six, Oscar had two, and even little Loulou Harcourt managed one.” (I could place Lord Beauchamp and Oscar Wilde but little Loulou was an unknown quantity to me.) That same term, Teresa further invited me for the weekend at Combe Florey, the Waugh house in Somerset. As we drove up to the door after three hours on the road, Waugh leaned out of a first-floor window shouting, “Go away!” There seemed to be nothing for it. We duly turned around and left. A year or two later, I received a letter in his handwriting but oddly signed in the name of Laura, his wife, inviting me to a white-tie dance. A military band played “The Post Horn Gallop,” music for brass to which it is impossible to dance. The moment midnight struck, Waugh clapped his hands and dismissed everybody.

Pryce-Jones summarizes his assessments of previous biographies by Christopher Sykes, Martin Stannard and Selina Hastings and then offers his opinion on that by Eade:

Christopher Sykes, a member of a traditional Catholic family, was a longstanding friend of Waugh’s and his first non-academic biographer. Taking Waugh at face value, he was surprisingly sanctimonious for a man of the world, sometimes so disapproving that [Sykes] came close to breaking off his friendship with him. By the time two subsequent biographers, Martin Stannard and Selina Hastings, had finished with him, the caricature of Waugh was well and truly established: unloving son, indifferent husband, brutal father for whom children were “defective adults,” snobbish social climber, rabid misanthropist, bilious conservative — in every which way a monster. Philip Eade gives the impression of approaching Waugh on tiptoes, so cautious are his opinions. All the same, his new biography deconstructs the monster and reattaches the man to the human race. The central proposition is that Waugh was extracting from life the make-believe that he needed for literature. Artists create myths; great artists create great myths, and never mind who might get hurt in the process. He did not deceive himself; he recognized that “I am by nature a bully and a scold” and condemned “my own odious, if unromantic sins.”

UPDATE (7 August 2018): At the time of the original posting, most of the book review was behind a paywall. The full review is now available at the link above and the posting has been amended accordingly.

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