Yesterday’s Evening Standard published a review of Philip Eade’s new biography of Evelyn Waugh. This is the first daily newspaper review of the book, which is to be published next month in the UK. See earlier post. The review is by David Sexton who begins by noting previous biographies and wondering what new information this new one may offer. His answer seems to be, “Not much.” :
…[Eade] has had access to some unpublished Waugh letters, notably 80 or so written to Teresa “Baby” Jungman, with whom Waugh was unrequitedly in love in the 1930s, which he reverently calls “the holy grail of Waugh biography” and makes a meal of, maintaining that “they show a deeply romantic and tender side to his character that counters the popularly-held view of his heartlessness” — a view that could be held only by those who have failed to read him with basic comprehension.
Sexton goes on to regret that Eade spends too much time seeking to identify the models for the characters who populate Waugh’s books rather than offering an analysis of the writing itself:
…it is Waugh’s extremely lucidity, his lexical and grammatical precision, that allow no ambiguity to the cruelty and chaos and failure of love he found in the world around him from his earliest days and which provoke so much shock and laughter. It is Waugh’s writing that makes his world interesting, not the other way around.
A fair point perhaps, but then he also concedes that, by Eade’s own admission, this is not intended to be a “critical” biography. Sexton finds the feature of the book he most enjoyed is its use of the “salacious anecdote, often peripheral, from the Waugh family papers.” He then offers several examples, including:
an astounding photo of his Oxford boyfriend Alastair Graham in the nude, displaying his juicy bum, found in a letter to Evelyn inviting him for a drink in a wood (but Bron thought his father may have inserted it in the envelope later). And he does print, as a useful aide-memoire, headshots of women Waugh shagged in passing (Joyce Fagan, Audrey Lucas, Hazel Lavery, Pixie Maris).
After titillating us with several other bits of salaciousness, the review concludes:
Never mind: still a great writer, although this biography is not where to begin reading about him.
UPDATE (26 June 2016): The Times (a daily print newspaper based in London) in yesterday’s edition has also published a review of Eade’s book by Waugh biographer Paula Byrne. In today’s Sunday Times there is another review by John Walsh. These articles are available to read on the internet with a subscription.