In the latest issue of TLS, Paula Byrne reviews the first five volumes of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh. These were published over several months late last year and early this. Byrne is the author, inter alia, of what she calls a partial biography: Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead (2009).
She comments on each volume but most of her analysis is devoted to volume 30 called Precocious Waughs: Personal Writings 1905-1921. Here she points out some interesting facts about the source material for these Personal Writings volumes which I don’t think are discussed in the text:
Alexander Waugh’s hugely ambitious project builds on the work undertaken by the late librarian and scholar Alan Bell, who obtained from Mark Amory copies of 1,500 transcripts of letters that had been omitted from the earlier edition. He collated these with his own set of typed transcripts of Waugh’s incoming correspondence, then set about gathering further
collections of letters and other materials for a prospective biography. This was never written, but Bell’s collection was sold to the biographer Selina Hastings, who made ample use of it in the writing of her fine biography published in 1994, after which she donated the Bell collection and her own papers to Alexander Waugh, forming the basis of his own extensive archive, which has now grown to more than 10,000 transcribed items.
Byrne also discusses how relaxation of the strictures on inclusion of what may be deemed by some as salacious materials has made for better results, reminding readers that she was refused permission to use in her partial biography the photo of a naked Alastair Graham that has now been included in two recent books (although not part of the Complete Works):
…relaxation on the part of the Waugh estate is apparent in the restoration of passages omitted in Davie’s selections from the diaries and Amory’s from the letters. So, for example, it is revealed in Precocious Waughs that a close school friend, Hugh Molson, later an MP and then Baron Molson, asked Davie to remove an entry that admitted his youthful dope habit – this confession has been reinstated. The editor’s notes to the new volume of early letters and diaries are not only extremely thorough and informative, but also, as one might expect from the grandson of EvelynWaugh, very witty. Alexander Waugh’s note for Cruttwell, Evelyn’s Oxford tutor and bête noire, is a case in point: “CRMF Cruttwell, historian, academic and misogynist”.
Byrne several times comments on the geographic breadth of scholarship called in to complete this work, noting at one point, for example, that it is a transatlantic effort, and at another the importance of the large number of Americans at work on it. She also praises the efforts of Donat Gallagher for his enlargement of the journalism volume in this first batch, to be followed by three more, but seems not to realize that he is from Australia, not the USA. Another editor from that part of the world has also recently joined the group: Naomi Milthorpe from the University of Tasmania who will be editing Black Mischief.
The review also singles out Martin Stannard’s contributions to the volume incorporating Vile Bodies as well as to the overall project:
Waugh scholarship has been led by the Americans, but Martin Stannard’s voluminous double-decker biography still remains definitive. It was Stannard who obtained the grant of more than £800,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which has made Alexander Waugh’s whole extraordinary project possible. Stannard’s personal contribution to this first batch of volumes is an astonishingly rigorous edition of Vile Bodies that is of particular fascination for the specialist as it shows a “rare example of [Waugh’s] working on a rough draft of a pre-war novel”. It includes a 130-page appendix listing “Manuscript Developments and Textual Variants”.
The review concludes:
If these initial offerings (Volumes two, sixteen, nineteen, twenty-six and thirty) are an indicator of things to come, then the edition will justify its grandiose claim to “revolutionize Waugh studies”… It is annoying that these new editions of Vile Bodies, Rossetti and A Little Learning have line numbers (at the excessive frequency of every five lines) in the margins. Though this helps with the textual notes, it raises, as does the price, a question mark over whether this edition is genuinely offered “for the delight of the general reader”. There is no doubt, however, of its value as a work “for the inquiring scholar”. It will indeed become one of the great monuments of twenty-first-century literary scholarship.
This is the first review to attempt a detailed analysis of all five initial volumes in a single article, and Byrne lives up to the challenge. The society’s journal Evelyn Waugh Studies has plans to review each volume, but these are appearing separately. The complete TLS review is available online here.
UPDATE (24 August 2018): A link to the TLS article which is now available online was added.