George Osborne and the Brothers Waugh

In his latest column for the Independent newspaper (soon to be digital-only), D.J. Taylor expresses sympathy for Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. This is on the occasion of the announcement last week that Osborne’s brother Adam had been stricken from the rolls of psychiatric practitioners for unprofessional behavior. This situation causes Taylor to think about previously embarrassing sibling behavior that has plagued politicians, most notably that of President Jimmy Carter’s brother, Billy. But Osborne’s embarrassment is distinguished from the outright rivalry which has arisen in families where two siblings pursue the same profession. This is particularly common in the fields of interest to Taylor such as sport, music and (and luckily for our readers) literature:

Much of Evelyn Waugh’s career, for example, was animated by the resentment he felt towards his elder brother, Alec, and the favouritism extended towards him by their father, Arthur. Although far more successful than his sibling, Evelyn could never let matters lie, noting in jacket copy that he was “the brother of the popular novelist Alec Waugh”, in feline disparagement of Alec’s pot-boiling trifles, and telling his friends that in the aftermath of his one late-period success, the best-selling Island in the Sun (1956), Alec “never drew a sober breath”. Handicapped by the fact that he greatly admired Waugh Jnr’s work, Alec made one or two feeble efforts to get even, but, when summoned to the witness box in a libel action that Evelyn brought against the Daily Express, denied all imputations of fraternal jealousy.

Evelyn brought the libel action against Nancy Spain and the Express for having suggested that Alec’s works were the better selling of the two (Martin Stannard, Evelyn Waugh: The Later Years, pp. 377 ff). Evelyn won the case with his brother’s help. Another literary rivalry offered is that between sisters A.S. Byatt and Margaret Drabble who have written dueling novels about writers engaged in sisterly competition.

Taylor has just written a book, The Prose Factory, in which the careers of the brothers Waugh and the sisters Antonia and Margaret are compared. Alec Waugh is, in fact, held out as perhaps the last example of a middlebrow “man of letters” who was able to succeed by the pen alone. Evelyn’s career also receives ample coverage.

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