The Fruit of Whispering Glades

The TLS has published an article marking the centenary of the birth of Jessica Mitford, sister of Waugh’s friends Nancy, Diana and Deborah. The story (“Happy 100th Birthday, Decca”) is by Mark McGinness who has also recently written about Waugh in the Australian press. After reviewing her early life of rebellion and support of left wing causes, McGinness discusses her midlife decision to try a career in writing. Her best known book was inspired at least in part by Waugh’s writings about the American funeral industry in his novel The Loved One and his Life magazine article “Death in Hollywood” (UK title “Half in Love with Mournful Death”). According to McGinness:

In 1963, her lethal exposé of the unscrupulous and sinister funeral industry, The American Way of Death, became a classic and, after decades of sibling infamy, she at last tasted fame in her own right. Evelyn Waugh reviewed it positively, but, as Decca wrote to Debo, he “said I don’t have a ‘plainly stated attitude to death’. So if you see him, tell him of course I’m against it.” Her book even influenced Bobby Kennedy when he chose his brother JFK’s coffin. Offered a choice between one for $900 and one for $2,000, Bobby went for the former, telling Decca that were it not for her book he would have felt obliged to order the more expensive one.

Waugh’s review entitled “Embellishing the loved ones” appeared in the Sunday Times, 29 September 1963. Although it has not been included in in his collected journalism published thus far, it will no doubt become available in the final of the four volumes of his Complete Works that are devoted to his essays, articles and reviews. The UK version of Waugh’s article about the US funeral industry is available in EAR and A Little Order and the US version, at the link above. Mitford wrote an updated version of her book before her death in 1996. This was published in 1998 and entitled (appropriately) The American Way of Death Revisited and includes a chapter devoted to Forest Lawn.


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