In today’s Daily Telegraph online edition there is an excerpt from Philip Eade’s biography of Evelyn Waugh to be published next week. The article is entltled: “The truth about ‘Shevelyn’: how Evelyn Waugh’s disastrous marriage shaped his fiction” and is based on a 20-page memo Evelyn Gardner wrote about her short-lived marriage to Evelyn Waugh. That memo was not available to Waugh’s previous biographers. Much of what is contained in the Telegraph’s excerpt is familiar, but what may be new is Gardner’s description of how they met and her reaction to Waugh’s proposal:
According to her hitherto unpublished account, they were introduced at a party given by the Ranee of Sarawak on Portland Place. Shevelyn recalled: “I saw a young man, short, sturdy, good-looking, given to little gestures, the shrugging of a hand which held a drink, the tossing of a head as he made some witty, somewhat malicious remark. He was easy to talk to and amusing.” Waugh never recorded his initial impressions of Shevelyn, but she later assumed he had been drawn to her “because I was gay, boyish looking with an Eton crop and very slim”. An additional draw, she hazarded, was “that I belonged – so he thought – to the society to which he not only wished to belong but of which he wished to become an undoubted member”…
When, in December, she let slip that she was thinking of going to Canada, he promptly took her out to dinner and proposed. “Let’s get married and see how it goes,” were his words, according to Shevelyn. There was no mention of love. She asked for time to think about it but the next day rang up to accept.
She later admitted that, much though she “liked Evelyn and admired him sincerely”, she “should have considered it far longer than I did. But I was anxious to get married and settle down”. She was spurred on by the pending second marriage of her closest sister, while the engagement of her flatmate Pansy Pakenham to the painter Henry Lamb had raised the alarming prospect of having to return home to her mother.
The memo may also be the source of this bit of additional background information about what motivated Gardner to accept Waugh’s proposal:
Educated at home, Shevelyn never went to school. By the time she was 11, all three of her sisters had married and the servants became her only friends. She felt “as it were in a cage with no knowledge of the world or the real behaviour of others. One was enclosed and the bursting out when freedom came was not good.”…The fact that Waugh was a writer appealed to her. Shevelyn had recently quit her job as a vendeuse in a boutique in Mayfair to write a play, and was keen for an entrée into the literary world.
There is nothing particularly startling in these revelations but nor would they fill a 20-page memo so perhaps there are additional new details that will revealed in the text of the biography.