Forum Auctions has posted an early letter from Evelyn Waugh (sometime in 1929) relating to the writing of Vile Bodies. This is addressed to Lord Hastings and thanks him for the loan of a two-volume work about his ancestor Selina, Countess of Huntingdon. The full text of the letter is reproduced in a handwriting that is more legible than in those of later vintage. The context of the letter is explained by Waugh’s biographer Selina Hastings, whose father was the addressee:
Waugh was at the time writing Vile Bodies and wished to make a comic reference to their famous ancestor, to which end Lord Hastings loaned him a two volume biography.
She explains this more fully in her biography (p. 210):
Towards the end of [Vile Bodies]. Colonel Blount becomes involved in making a film about the life of the Methodist peeress, Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, and the two rivals for her love, [John] Wesley and [George] Whitefield (in one episode, Wesley in America is ‘rescued from Red Indians by Lady Huntingdon disguised as a cowboy.’) NOTE 5: Evelyn had gone to some trouble to find out about Lady Huntingdon, borrowing material from her direct descendent Viscount Hastings, heir to the then Earl of Huntingdon, who was a close friend of Alec’s. It is clear from the novel, however, that the use he made of this authentic material was slight.
Whether the earlier Selina could ever have claimed the surname “Hastings” (she married Theophilus Hastings, 9th Earl of Huntingdon but was Lady Selina Shirley in her own right) is beyond your correspondent’s competence with English aristocratic titles , but it makes a good headline. The letter is Lot 202 and will be auctioned on 30 March 2017, the same day as Waugh’s much publicized ear trumpet. The estimated price is £300 – 400.