Nancy Mitford Joins Waugh Pantheon

In his latest posting, Duncan McLaren has Nancy Mitford join Evelyn Waugh’s friends gathering for the imagined reunion at the upcoming Brideshead Festival at Castle Howard. See previous posts. In this entry, Mitford muses over her first two novels (Highland Fling and Christmas Pudding) and how they may have been influenced by those of Waugh.

What is most striking is the similarity of the drawings by Mark Ogilvie-Grant in Christmas Pudding with those of Waugh for Decline and Fall. There are also parallels drawn between the plots and characters of those two novels and a brief discussion of the influence of Waugh’s novel on Highland Fling. Here’s an excerpt from the opening section of Duncan’s posting (Nancy is narrating):

When I flick through Highland Fling I can no longer see the rich connections with Decline and Fall. That process I went through in erasing the connections must have been a thorough one. What a fool I was! But never mind, I gave myself a second chance.

At the beginning of 1930, Vile Bodies appeared, the most eagerly awaited book of all time. And it was about then that Highland Fling went to my agents. On March 10, I wrote to Mark [Ogilvie-Grant]: ‘What do you really think of Vile Bodies? I was frankly very much disappointed in it I must say but some people think it quite marvellous.’ Of course, I see now that the split with She-Evelyn means that the book could not be exuberantly happy, as Decline and Fall had been. But it seems that if Evelyn Waugh couldn’t write a follow-up to Decline and Fall with all its joie de vivre, then I would. In December of 1931, I wrote to Mark: ‘My new book [Christmas Pudding] is jolly good, all about Hamish at Eton. Betjeman is co-hero.’

[…] It is not a million miles from Paul Fotheringay to Paul Pennyfeather, and one only has to consult the first scene to see that I very much have Evelyn Waugh in mind. Actually, dear Mark illustrated the book, and his frontispiece is a masterpiece over which we spent hours laughing together.

What follows are Mitford’s imagined musings over both of her early books together with illustrations and quotes to show the Wavian influences. She also mentions Mark Ogilvie-Grant’s connections at this time with Alastair Graham in their overseas FO postings. It seems that Ogilvie-Grant is also expected to join Waugh’s other friends at the reunion, including several not previously mentioned. As the posting comes to a close, Mitford lists several of those she expects to see there:

…now I am ready to go forth and mingle. I expect to bump into Alastair and Mark outside. My five sisters may have arrived. Brian Howard and Robert Byron, who I dedicated Highland Fling to. Yes, Robert’s love of Victorian art was a forerunner of Evelyn’s. Hamish who is the dedicatee of Christmas Pudding will be there, I expect. Oh no, I have that the wrong way around. Hamish got the dedication of Highland Fling and Robert got Christmas Pudding. Why is it that so many of my really close friends were gay? Evelyn tried to answer that question for me once as we sat together over tea at the Ritz.

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