The journals of literary critic and post-war editor of the TLS, Alan Pryce-Jones were published, largely unnoticed, late last year. These cover the years 1926-1939 and are entitled Devoid of Shyness. According to a recent notice in the New Criterion’s Critic’s Notebook column:
Alan Pryce-Jones was an aesthete straight out of Evelyn Waugh or Ronald Firbank, a man of immense literary promise but even greater powers of dispersion, which eventually swamped the promise…. This book is less a chronicle than a series of impressions, affidavits of temperament and sensibility, as AP-J made his way from being (in the words of the book’s editor, John Byrne) “a barely sufferable precocious and privileged teenager” to the intensely social bon vivant who knew everyone and went everywhere … Alan Pryce-Jones exhibits an astonishing self-absorption and, on political matters, a troubling naïveté, but this period piece reveals a rare species of cultivated sensibility that, although clearly a hothouse varietal, nonetheless betokened an achievement of culture that was, in its way, as glorious as it was unsustainable.
In his 1987 autobiography The Bonus of Laughter and his brief memoir in Evelyn Waugh and His World (1973), edited by his son David, Alan Pryce-Jones does not claim friendship or even close acquaintance with Waugh. But the two moved in the same literary world and met on several occasions. On one occasion, however, a meeting was avoided. This is described in the memoirs of Violet Powell, wife of Anthony Powell. The aborted meeting occurred (or not, in this case) in the mid 1950s when Ronnie Knox was living at Mells Manor, near the Powells, as the guest of Katharine Asquith. Pryce-Jones was scheduled to visit the Powells and was escorted by novelist L.P. Hartley, who also lived nearby. They had scheduled a stop on the way at Mells Manor at a time when Waugh was also there on a visit. According to Violet Powell:
It was subsequently leaked that Monsignor Knox and Katharine had been apprehensive that Evelyn Waugh would be impolite to Alan Pryce-Jones for a number of absurd reasons. To avert a social disaster, Ronnie had firmly taken Evelyn out for a walk, and kept him looking at the pigsties till the coast was clear. The Departure Platform (1996, p. 96).
There is nothing in Waugh’s biographies, diaries or letters to suggest any enmity between them. There is a brief mention in Waugh’s Diaries (p. 782) that Graham Greene had expressed a dislike of Pryce-Jones and wished to avoid a possible encounter, to which Waugh replied “he always accepts all invitations and then decides on the most attractive at the last moment.” He advised Greene not to worry because Pryce-Jones would likely chuck the occasion where Greene feared a confrontation. Although Pryce-Jones did show up, Greene told Waugh the next day that he “sat up till 4 drinking whisky” with him. Pryce-Jones had written a thoughtful, thorough, and much-cited review of Put Out More Flags in the New Statesman (reprinted in The Critical Heritage: Evelyn Waugh, p. 214) and was a convert to Roman Catholicism, so it’s not obvious why Ronnie Knox and Katharine Asquith went to such lengths to avoid a meeting between him and Waugh. Perhaps Pryce-Jones’ journals will shed some light on the matter.
Only 500 copies of the journals were printed by a small press in York, and they are not available from Amazon. They may, however, be bought through Stone Trough Books in York (which is also the publisher)–Phone: 01904-670323; email: (click to email).