John Julius Norwich died earlier this week at his home in London at the age of 88. He was the only child of Evelyn Waugh’s close friend and correspondent, Diana Cooper, and her husband Duff, with whom Waugh was not on particularly friendly terms. The obituary in The Times mentions Waugh’s character based on John Julius’s mother who appears in several of his books:
Born in 1929 with some difficulty (the “Julius” of his name denoted a caesarean delivery), he was cherished in childhood and much was expected of him — as the child of the woman who inspired Evelyn Waugh’s “Mrs Stitch” it could not have been otherwise. Lord Beaverbrook and the Aga Khan were among his godparents. It was given to few schoolboys, even in Eton Cadet Corps uniform, to assist their ambassadress mother in inspecting the General de Lattre de Tassigny’s troops.
In his novel Scoop, Waugh describes in its opening scene a visit by John (not William) Boot to Julia Stitch in which
Josephine, the eight-year old Stitch prodigy, sat at the foot of the bed construing her day’s passage of Virgil…Josephine rose from her lesson to kick John as he entered. ‘Boot,’ she said savagely, ‘Boot,’ catching him first on one knee cap and then the other. It was a joke of long standing.
Boot and Josephine later engage in a conversation where the child describes everything (including Boot’s latest book) as “banal” only to explain that it was “a new word whose correct use I have only lately learned.” John Julius claimed somewhere that he was the model for Josephine. He would have been about Josephine’s age when the book was written.
In his edition of Diana’s letters to him entitled Darling Monster, John Juluis described Waugh’s relationship with his parents:
[Waugh] had been a regular visitor at Bognor before the war and now the war was over he came back into our lives. He had always been a little bit in love with my mother: she had always been a little afraid of him…What she feared was his manner, his prickliness and not least his intelligence, for which she felt herself to be no match. Another complication was provided by my father, who went through periods of disliking Waugh intensely—the feeling being entirely mutual—though they made it up in the end.
In describing John Julius’s career, the Times makes clear that his parents, who had lived extravagantly, left nothing behind, and he had to earn his own living, even though he was usually assumed to be independently wealthy. After retiring from his first job with the diplomatic corps, he lived mostly by writing. His greatest success was with popular histories such as the multi-volume works on the Normans in Italy, Byzantium and Venice. His last work was in this same genre–a single volume history of France: From Gaul to DeGaulle.