Waugh to Appear in Mystery Novel

According to the advance publicity for an upcoming mystery novel, Evelyn Waugh will play at least a cameo role in its plot. The book is entitled The Mitford Scandal and is written by Jessica Fellowes. It is the third in a series of mystery novels involving the Mitford sisters and will be published in the UK in September followed by a US publication in January.

The publisher’s announcement describes the plot:

The year is 1928, and after the death of a maid at a glamorous society party, fortune heir Bryan Guinness seizes life and proposes to eighteen-year-old Diana, most beautiful of the six Mitford sisters. The maid’s death is ruled an accident, and the newlyweds put it behind them to begin a whirlwind life zipping between London’s Mayfair, chic Paris and hedonistic Berlin. Accompanying Diana as her lady’s maid is Louisa Cannon, as well as a coterie of friends, family and hangers on, from Nancy Mitford to Evelyn Waugh.

When a second victim is found in Paris in 1931, Louisa begins to see links with the death of the maid two years previously. Now she must convince the Mitford sisters that a murderer could be within their midst . . . all while shadows darken across Europe, and within the heart of Diana Mitford herself.

Two previous books have been published in this series: The Mitford Murders and Bright Young Dead. Both appeared within 6 months of each other last year in the USA. The UK editions were published in September 2017 and October 2018. The series is written by Jessica Fellowes who made her name writing companion volumes for Downton Abbey, the TV series that was, in turn, written by her uncle Julian Fellowes.

According to a November 2018 interview of the author Jessica Fellowes by Elise Cooper, the working title of the upcoming volume at that time was Cruel Bodies and it will focus on Diana Mitford. There was no suggestion in the press reports that Waugh appeared in either of the earlier books. The second book (Bright Young Dead) must have come close to a cameo appearance by Waugh since it involved the Bright Young People of the late 1920s of which we was the primary chronicler.

There was a brief appearance in the second novel by Noel Coward, and a BYP treasure hunt was part of the plot. As explained by Fellowes in the 2018 interview:

I have never done a scavenger [i.e., treasure] hunt because they didn’t exist after the 1920s, though I wouldn’t mind trying one out! I discovered them when I was researching another project some years ago, and it was when I was putting together the plot for Bright Young Dead that I thought this would be the perfect place to use them. I liked the idea of a murder happening in the middle of a scavenger hunt, and how that could frame several suspects at once. The Bright Young Things were notorious in their time, with their antics and parties frequently reported on in the papers. There was plenty of authentic detail for me to draw on, too, which is a real bonus in a novel like mine.

Fellowes also elaborated somewhat on the role played by the Mitford sisters in the novels:

In terms of the two sisters, Nancy, a twenty-one-year-old, was a complicated person, I think, possibly born into the wrong time. In a more modern era, she would have lived a life that perhaps did not place such emphasis on a need to get married and have children. Despite her many accomplishments, there’s a sense of sadness that she did not create her own happy family. Her ambition made her spiky and her defensiveness, or jealousy, could lead her to tease her sisters in ways that were at times just plain mean. But then again, she also had a wonderful, true sense of humour and must have been huge fun. Of all of them, Nancy’s the one I’d have liked to go out and have a few cocktails with.

Pamela was quite different from all the other sisters. While they were all headstrong and wilful, unabashed about causing storms and headlines, Pamela was quiet and steady. She was more interested in horses, gardening and cooking than any political mantra, which is not to say she didn’t hold her own strong views. But I think she was the ballast of the family, the rock that kept them moored.

The first novel (The Mitford Murders) is set in 1919-21. The girls would have been much younger and, at that time, no connection with Waugh (then a student) would have yet existed.


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