Paula Byrne, is well known in this parish for her 2009 “partial life” of Waugh, Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead. She has also appeared and submitted papers at two Waugh conferences, one of which was notably presented in the course of a bus tour through the back lanes of Somerset. Byrne has recently been the victim of a series of poison pen letters dating back to 2015. These letters are addressed to her husband Prof Jonathan Bate, expert on Shakespeare and Provost of Worcester College, Oxford. According to a story by Richard Brook in the Sunday Times the first letter:
… described Byrne as a liability whose vulgar tweets gave the college a bad image. She was called “barely literate” and “pathologically vain”. Since then there have been 16 more anonymous letters, including remarks that Byrne is a “self-promoter” and “fat”. Bate showed the first letter to his wife, who was upset. Another came that April. It was a spoof, with some Shakespearean spellings, as if penned by Byrne herself.
The writer vows to ignore those “who say I look like a cross between a tranny and a Cheshire housewife”; purports to record “that one very cruel person told me my book on Waugh seemed ghostwritten”; and claims “Jonathan will never get bored of me because I have ‘infinite variety’ like Cleopatra, and I make him hungry where I most satisfy!” The fake Byrne also wonders, “if Jonathan dumps me, will I still be Laydy Bayte?” before confiding: “I get bored of men within two years unless they happen to be a passport to a glam life, which luckily my darling Jonathan is.”
In an attempt to make the best of a bad job from a trying situation, Byrne has now decided to take
… a writer’s revenge. She has created a novel, Look to Your Wife, turning the affair into fiction. Her book, to be published on April 5, features the newly knighted Sir Edward Chamberlain as a Tudor historian who is headmaster of a school, and his second wife, Lisa Blaize — Byrne is Bate’s second wife — a teacher, mother, fashion blogger, occasional writer of articles and tweeter. In the book, Blaize tweets and in return receives anonymous letters.
The story has provoked a stream of comments as well as a companion article in the Daily Mail by Phoebe Southworth. Several of these comments are quite amusing, including some relating to the Sunday Times’ correspondent who is said to have written more than one previous article on this same couple. Perhaps the best comment, though, relates to one of the accompanying photos: “Nice sofa.” Waugh might have written that.
UPDATE (27 March 2018): Nonsubstative edits were made.