Evelyn and Kick

Paula Byrne’s book about Kathleen (“Kick”) Kennedy is reviewed in today’s¬†Independent newspaper of Ireland. Byrne previously wrote a study of Waugh and the Lygon family of Madresfield:¬†Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead.¬†She¬†spoke about her¬†latest book, entitled Kick: The True Story of JFK’s Sister, at last year’s Evelyn Waugh conference in Leicester. Waugh¬†and Kathleen¬†became acquainted¬†when she was living in London in the late 1930s during¬†her father’s tenure as¬†U.S. Ambassador. According to the review by Emily Hourican:¬†

Kick had plenty of well-born boyfriends, but it was Billy Hartington, eldest son of the Duke of Devonshire, heir to estates in Ireland, Scotland, Yorkshire and Sussex, whom Kick fell for. .. But her Catholicism was a major problem. For the Kennedys, being Catholic was as much a part of their identity as ambition and perfect teeth. Billy, meanwhile, came from a long line of committed, active anti-Catholics…There was no possibility that a future son of Billy’s could be Catholic. Equally, for Kick, marrying an Anglican would have to take place in a registry office, and would have been no marriage at all in the eyes of the Catholic Church, but rather living in sin…Finally, Kick agreed to marry Billy, on his terms. Evelyn Waugh, a devout Catholic convert, was horrified, calling it a “mortal sin”.

Whether Waugh applied those precise words¬†or not may depend on his audience. He does not do so in published letters but may have told her as much personally. Byrne had access to Kathleen’s diaries. The review doesn’t explain the marriage¬†terms, but, as reported elsewhere, they agreed that any boy children would be raised Anglican and girls, Roman Catholic. Hartington died in the war before they had any children. During¬†her widowhood, Kathleen¬†and Waugh became closer, at one stage, as described in his¬†Diaries¬†(pp. 629 ff.), they seemed to meet with¬†various friends once a week. Waugh jokingly told his wife in a letter written¬†at that time¬†(August 1945) that “she is in love with me I think” (Letters, p. 211). As described in the Independent, however:

…two years after Billy’s death, on a trip to [his]¬†family’s Irish estate, Lismore Castle in Waterford, she met Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 8th Earl of Fitzwilliam…Before his death, Billy wrote to Kick ” … if anything should happen to me … I hope that you will marry again, quite soon – someone good & nice”. He may not have had Peter in mind. A married man with a young daughter, Peter was handsome, dashing, dangerous; a decorated war hero, gambler and confirmed womaniser. Evelyn Waugh called him, affectionately, “king dandy and scum” [Letters, p. 145]. A man in the mould of Kick’s father and older brothers, and to Kick, irresistible.

Both Kathleen and Peter died in a plane crash in May 1948 on the way to meet her father to obtain his blessing, which he reportedly, and unlike her mother, may have been prepared to give. Waugh recounted his friendship with Kathleen a few years later when he had once more tried to persuade a Roman Catholic friend against marrying a non-catholic (again unsuccessfully):

I am haunted by the memories of another not very distant tragedy, when I did give advice, disastrously. An American Catholic girl married outside the Church because she was in love with a man under orders for the front. It caused great scandal…Then she was widowed, repented &¬†was received back. She asked me what she should have done and I said: “If you want to commit adultery or fornication & can’t resist, do it, but realise what you are doing, and don’t give the final insult of apostasy.” Well, the girl followed my advice the next time & was killed eloping. So my advice isn’t, wasn’t much help¬†(Letters, p. 382).

The book will be published in the U.S. on 5 July.

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