75 years ago today, the page proofs of Brideshead Revisited were dropped by parachute into Yugoslavia and retrieved by Evelyn Waugh. This event is recorded in his diary entry for Monday, 20 November 1944 (Diaries, p. 592). This is the first time he had been united with the text since he dropped off the typescript at Chapman & Hall in London on about the 16th of June. C&H were directed by his unpublished letter to AD Peters of 30 September to send the proofs addressed to Randolph Churchill (then his commanding officer) via 10 Downing Street. That subterfuge was necessary because no personal item larger than an air letter could be mailed to his post at Topusko in order to afford maximum room on transport flights for military supplies.
Waugh made extensive edits in his own handwriting, especially in the first half of the book. But he wasted no time, and in his diary entry for 26 November he writes: “Finished final proof correcting at 6 in the evening while Randolph was at a cinema show in Glina which failed to happen.” Belgrade had been liberated earlier in the week and on 28 November, Waugh’s departure from Topusko was approved. His next posting is described as Ragusa (the Italian name for Dubrovnik) which took him several weeks to reach due to road closures and flights via Bari in Italy. He arrived there just before Christmas in the Western Church.
How and when the corrected proofs arrived back in London isn’t known to your correspondent, but Waugh had already ordered 50 copies of the uncorrected proofs to be printed and distributed as Christmas presents to his friends in the UK. On 28 May 1945, the book reflecting Waugh’s corrections was published by Chapman & Hall. All but 300 of the 9000 copies in the first print run were distributed to members of the Book Society. C&H issued the remainder in an identical edition. By then Waugh was back in the UK, having returned on 15 March. The proof copy with Waugh’s handwritten corrections resides at the Loyola-Notre Dame Library in Baltimore, to which it was presented by Waugh in gratitude for the honorary degree Loyola College of Maryland conferred on him in 1947.