The Daily Beast has published an article by Nick Mutch reviewing the history of Oxford’s Bullingdon Club. The private and secretive club has been much in the news lately because of the membership of three leading Conservative Party politicians: David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson. Waugh’s writings are once again prominently cited in connection with the club:
On the wall of the [Oxford] tailor Ede and Ravenscroft is a blurred photo of the club from 1925. It features members including Lord Longford, Labour leader of the House of Lords, Hugh Lucas-Tooth, then the youngest ever MP at 21, and Roger Lumley, the Grandmaster of the British Freemasons. It was these men who Evelyn Waugh satirized in Decline and Fall as the “Bollinger Club.” He called them “epileptic royalty from their villas of exile; uncouth peers from crumbling country seats; smooth young men of uncertain tastes from embassies and legations; illiterate lairds from wet granite hovels in the Highlands.”
The quote is from the opening scene of Waugh’s novel. Oddly, the Beast omits another source of the membership listed in Waugh’s catalogue: ambitious young barristers and Conservative candidates torn from the London season and the indelicate advances of debutantes. That would seem to fit nicely into the story’s theme.
The club (unnamed in this instance) is also cited from the Oxford passages of Waugh’s later novel, Brideshead Revisited:
…Anthony Blanche is disappointed on meeting the club in person and realizing that their reputation is more braggadocio than bravery. “The louder they shouted, the shyer they seemed,” he said. He soon realized that their scrapes as students would be boasted about and exaggerated for decades until “they are all married to scraggy little women like hens and have cretinous porcine sons like themselves getting drunk at the same club dinner in the same coloured coats.”…Harking back to overblown accounts “their barnyard daughters will snigger and think their father was quite a dog in his day, and what a pity he’s grown so dull.”
The quote in this instance is from the scene (pp. 43-45) where Blanche entertains Charles Ryder in the pub at Thame. It provides the conclusion to the Beast’s article.