Evelyn Waugh’s biographer Paula Byrne has reviewed the book House of Fiction by Phyllis Richardson in the current TLS. This book has been mentioned in several recent posts but Byrne focuses more closely on Richardson’s descriptions of Evelyn Waugh’s relations with the country house than do previous reviewers. Byrne takes issue with several of Richardson’s conclusions, especially relating to the houses she associated with Tristram Shandy and Northanger Abbey. In the case of Waugh and his connections with Madresfield Court, about which Byrne has written extensively in her biography, she notes several errors of fact and judgment on Richardson’s part. These include her placing Waugh in the “upper middle class”, claiming he was dependent on an allowance from his father in the “Bright Young People” era, mispelling Lord Elmley’s name, describing Countess Beauchamp as Roman Catholic, etc.:
An even greater problem than the local carelessness is Richardson’s obsessive and simplistic quest for real-life models for fictional houses…The quest for singular originals for literary houses (or characters) is always doomed to failure. For all the parallels between Madresfield and Brideshead, Hugh Lygon and Sebastian Flyte, Waugh also made use of Barford House, the home of his other undergraduate love [sic], Alastair Graham.
Byrne seems to overlook Waugh’s first undergraduate lover (Richard Pares) in this regard and perhaps overstates his attachment to Hugh Lygon. She also includes a consideration of Richardson’s chapter on the different treatment accorded the country house in post-modern fiction, raising several interesting points about the survival of both the country house and its literary genre. She concludes with this:
As Toby Litt wrote appropos of his contribution to the genre, Finding Myself: “once you gather a group of people together in a country house then certain things try to force themselves in. Like ghosts. Like midnight flits. Like marital breakdown. Like meditations on the state of England.”
It is not clear from the review whether the quote is also contained in Richardson’s book or is an original contribution by Byrne, but, in either case, it is a good way to end her article. Thanks to Peggy Troupin for sending this along.