Socialites to Socialists: Inez Holden and Nancy Mitford

Two books in the news were written by or about two of Waugh’s friends and fellow writers: Inez Holden and Nancy Mitford. As explained in reviews of those books, both progressed from upper-class to left-wing political views:

–Novelist and critic D J Taylor has reviewed the book by Waugh’s prewar friend Inez Holden entitled Blitz Writing. The book contains Holden’s novella Night Shift about factory workers and her wartime diaries published in 1943 under the title It Was Different at the Time. Taylor’s article (entitled “Socialite to Socialist”) appears in the current issue of the Literary Review and opens with this:

The best known photograph of Inez Holden (1903-1974) was taken at a Bright Young People ‘Impersonation Party’ in 1927. Here, late at night in a Chelsea garden, half-a-dozen archetypal Twenties figures ostentatiously commingle. Stephen Tennant masquerades as the Queen of Romania; Elizabeth Ponsonby (the original of the Hon. Agatha Runcible in Vile Bodies) takes off Iris Tree; Tallulah Bankhead, Harold Acton and Cecil Beaton are exotically to hand. Seated in their midst, very much of the party and at the same time faintly detached from it, is a small, nervous-looking girl in a matelot’s jersey.

If nothing very much is known about Holden’s deeply mysterious life – there is even doubt over her date of birth – then a glance at the diaries and memoirs of the late 1920s soon establishes the world of the Impersonation Party as her natural milieu. Evelyn Waugh, when briefly employed by the Daily Express, mentions ‘a charming girl called Inez Holden, who works on the paper.’…

Inez Holden was a trainee reporter at the Daily Express at the same time as Waugh, and that was where they met. For more about their friendship and Holden’s book see this link to Evelyn Waugh Studies No 50.1.

–The biography of another novelist lady-friend of Waugh is published for the first time in the USA. This is Life in a Cold Climate and is about Nancy Mitford. It is written by Laura Thompson who also later wrote The Six which was about all of the Mitford sisters. Here’s an excerpt of the review by Christopher Benfey from Sunday’s New York Times:

Drawing on Nancy Mitford’s own poignant childhood memories from her exuberant novel “The Pursuit of Love” (including, notoriously, a “child hunt,” with “four great hounds in full cry after two little girls”), Laura Thompson (author of “The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters”) vividly evokes the swarm of brilliant and beautiful sisters, and their lone brother, growing up carefree in a succession of country houses in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. […]

Nancy’s formal education, according to her close friend Evelyn Waugh, was confined to learning French and horsemanship. She enrolled briefly at the Slade School of Art only to be informed that she “had no talent whatever.” She had better luck with writing; although she had a modest success with her first four novels, “The Pursuit of Love,” published in 1945, was hugely popular. “I sat under a shower of gold,” she remarked…

Thompson’s biography of Nancy Mitford was first published in the UK in 2003 and was followed by The Six (also by Thompson) in 2016 in both the UK and USA. In the UK, the latter book was published as Take Six Girls.

–The Guardian has run a story by Alison Flood about Waugh’s letters to his Oxford friend Richard Plunket Greene. See previous post. The following passage from the Guardian’s story has been widely reprinted. This arises from Waugh’s receipt of a letter from his friend Harold Acton expressing reservations about the draft of Waugh’s first novel. Waugh had sent this to Acton for his opinion, which was rather negative:

In one of the letters [to Plunket-Greene], Waugh describes “feeling a little despondent” and reveals that he had burned the manuscript, adding: “It made so much smoke that the Headmaster [went] out of Chapel to see if his school was on fire.”

Bidding online at the Southeby’s auction continues until tomorrow (10 December).

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