Martin Stannard Reviews New Waugh Biography

Martin Stannard, who wrote the standard and so far definitive biography of Evelyn Waugh, has reviewed the latest one by Philip Eade. Professor Stannard is also in charge, with Waugh’s grandson, Alexander, of the publication of the complete works of Waugh by OUP beginning next year. Both Professor Stannard and Alexander Waugh will be among the speakers at next year’s conference on Waugh at the Huntington Library in California. The review, entitled “Oh ! what a lovely Waugh,” appears in this week’s issue of The Tablet.

Stannard’s biography was issued in two volumes in 1986 and 1992 and covered over 1000 pages. He recognizes that important new material has become available since then and comments on how it has informed Eade’s 400-page book. He sees little new, however, in the descriptions of Waugh’s often troubled relations with his family and friends. Although there is a different approach to his military career, the basic story remains unchanged:

So what, exactly, is new here? Alexander Waugh…generously gave Eade the run of his extensive archive. This contains the majority of the previously unpublished material, crucially a brief memoir by Evelyn Nightingale, Waugh’s first wife, and a cache of letters from Waugh to Teresa (“Baby”) Jungman, with whom he was infatu­ated in the 1930s. Both offer potential “scoops”: the memoir was not available to previous biographers, and the letters were only discovered by Alexander after Selina Hastings had completed her 1994 biography. But neither (at least as quoted here) substantially extends Hastings’ account.

More important, as Professor Stannard sees it, is Eade’s use of Hastings’ own archive, which she donated to the Waugh estate, to clarify “the complex chronology of the 1929 marital catastrophe.” Eade’s book

… also contributes helpfully to a more sympathetic image of Waugh by quoting from his friends’ letters of sympathy after his death…Ultimately, however, for those aware of the “story so far”, the experience of reading this book will be one of déjà vu – with huge gaps. Eade not only omits analysis of Waugh’s books, but also of his Catholicism. This biography is, we are told, “scrupulously researched”, and on one level that is true. But it is largely researched from printed sources, and the unpublished ones add little to them. As an intelligent piece of book-making to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Waugh’s death, it offers some sprightly cherry-picking among the more scandalous anecdotes. As a revisionary biography, its claims are overstated. A life revisited, yes. But not a life revised.

 

 

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