Literary Chagford

The following paragraphs open a recent story in The Moorlander, a local Dartmoor area newspaper:

Chagword, Dartmoor’s Literary Festival, [was held last] weekend with big named authors coming to the festival in Chagford, but literary links go much further back, including to the 1940s to when Evelyn Waugh wrote ‘Brideshead Revisited’ at the Easton Court Hotel a mile outside of town. After that, many well-known literary figures stayed at the ‘Dartmoor writers hotel.’ Already a well-known novelist, Waugh was recuperating from a parachuting accident when he decided to pen ‘Brideshead Revisited’ at the hotel on Dartmoor.

During a short-lived posting to the Household Cavalry Waugh, a captain, had asked for extra time off to spend at Easton Court in Chagford. ‘I came to Chagford with the intention of starting on an ambitious novel tomorrow morning,’ he wrote in his diary at the end of January 1944. ‘I still have a cold and am low in spirits but I feel full of literary power which only this evening gives place to qualms of impotence.’ He wrote the first 3,000 words within two days. Reflecting his army experience, the opening line of the prologue is set during the Second World War.

The story by Karen Farrington is headed with a photo of the hotel’s library where Waugh did his writing when in residence.  Waugh wrote all or parts of several other books at the hotel, starting with Black Mischief. The article continues with a summary of Brideshead and closes with this:

Waugh, who died [53 years ago next month], was introduced to the remote hotel with its views of rugged Dartmoor years before by his brother Alec and had previously stayed at the hotel while he wrote two earlier novels. Assorted famous writers of the era headed there too, among them C P Snow, John Steinbeck and John Betjeman. Other names that appear in the guest book include actors Richard Widmark and John Gielgud.

Another well known literary guest was Patrick Leigh Fermor who recalls in a 1995 letter to Deborah Mitford attending the funeral of a former owner of the hotel named Caroline Cobb: “Norman [Webb, her partner] and Evelyn and Laura [Waugh] were almost the only ones there, in Chagford churchyard.” (In Tearing Haste: New York, 2008, p. 305).

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