HAVING been fired from the Daily Express after a very short period of work in 1927, Evelyn Waugh gave this advice to budding reporters: When assigned a story, “the correct procedure is to jump to your feet, seize your hat and umbrella, and dart out of the office with every appearance of haste to the nearest cinema.” There… the probationer was advised to sit and smoke a pipe and imagine what any relevant witnesses might say.
The reviewer, the paper’s Arts Editor, Charlotte Heathcote, goes on to explain how Eade deals with this seemingly flippant advocacy of sloth:
…at the time of his Daily Express stint, the 24-year-old Waugh was already hard at work on a life of the pre-Raphaelite painter Rossetti, a 227-page tome that he completed in seven months. And it is the force of Waugh’s energy – creative, sexual and social – that crackles through the pages of Philip Eade’s meticulous and wildly entertaining biography.
In reviewing Eade’s description of Waugh’s childhood, Heathcote mentions his enjoyment of visits to his aunts in their house in Midsomer Norton:
It is the first of an extraordinary array of stately homes to which Evelyn is drawn via a vast and fascinating circle of friends, lovers and would-be lovers, both male and female. Evelyn adored the rich but “did not pretend to be anything but an outsider”, Eade writes.
This may be a busted paragraph, because Eade writes no such thing. The house in Midsomer Norton was in no sense a stately home. In fact, Eade makes what may be a original claim that the first stately home where Waugh was welcomed was that of his Lancing friend Hugh Molson. That family were not aristocrats or “county” but were wealthy renters, having derived their income from their brewing business in Canada. But the house itself, called Goring, was stately.
After citing Eade’s coverage of Waugh’s alleged snobbery and cruelty and his religion and war record, the review concludes:
Eade supplies an astonishing wealth of detail to all these [matters] and is sympathetic to Waugh’s many failings without being sycophantic.