Philip Eade’s biography of Evelyn Waugh is reviewed by Laura Freeman in Standpoint Magazine together with a recent biography of A E Housman by Peter Parker. Freeman connects the two authors at several points in the review, the first being their residence in Highgate and Hampstead. Housman bemoaned the development of the area for suburban villas at about the same time that the Waugh family were moving into one of those dwellings. She contrasts the two books by noting that the study of Housman deals with his works (effectively the afterlife of A Shropshire Lad) as well as his life whereas that of Waugh mentions the books but little. Her discussion of the Waugh book begins with an interesting summary based on the famous “parties” passage of Vile Bodies:
The books are something secondary to be dashed off between Oxford parties, London parties, flings with lovers both male and female, neo-pagan caravan parties, marriage to his first wife Evelyn (“Shevelyn”), Bright Young Things’ parties, Black Velvet cocktail parties, dinner with Arnold Bennett, lunch with Cyril Connolly, plays at the Savoy Theatre (“I am Evelyn Waugh. Please give me a seat”), Venice parties, marriage to his second wife Laura, and “sticky” tea parties with the vicar. For much of his twenties and thirties Waugh could be found swaying home to Hampstead every morning “in crumpled evening dress among the navvies setting out for their day’s work”.
When he needed to work Waugh sought solitude in the country whereas Housman wandered through Hampstead and Highgate as he composed A Shropshire Lad. Waugh finally moved from London to the country in 1937 when he settled at Piers Court in Gloucestershire. Freeman describes his “Piers Court years” as productive but erroneously includes within them his last four books which he wrote from Combe Florey in Somerset. That oversight certainly cannot be charged to Eade who devotes a whole chapter to the move. Eade also mentions that Waugh moved away from Gloucestershire because of the growing suburban development around Piers Court, a point Freeman could have used to elaborate her principal unifying theme.
Freeman’s review concludes with another comparison:
Both Housman and Waugh went up to Oxford on scholarships, Housman to St John’s College in 1877, Waugh to Hertford in 1922. Neither fulfilled their early academic promise. “You want either a first or a fourth. There is no value in anything in between,” is Cousin Jasper’s advice to Charles Ryder. Waugh passed with a third; Housman failed finals altogether…Eade’s biography is vastly entertaining — a Perrier-Jouët book, frothy and fun. One has the sense of having had a very jolly time — and having forgotten everyone’s names the morning after.