The Resurfacing of Robert Byron

Robert Byron has appeared at the Castle Howard Brideshead Festival–at least on Duncan McLaren’s website. In his latest posting, McLaren arranges that Nancy Mitford, a close friend of both Evelyn Waugh and Robert Byron, engages in an extended conversation with Byron about his relationship with Waugh. They were certainly friends during their Oxford days but as time went on strains in their friendship appeared. Both had a tendency to become animated when pressed on certain matters–in Waugh’s case, e.g., religion; in Byron’s case, art and art history. The Mitford/Byron discussion extends over the history of the friendship which was cut short when Byron went down with a ship that was torpedoed by the Germans in WWII.

Here’s a sample of the conversation which mentions the visit to the Sitwells at Renishaw in 1930 that was cited in a recent post:

Byron: “Three months later, Evelyn and I travelled together to Renishaw. According to his diary, I made him travel third class as I only travel first when abroad as I feel that’s expected of an Englishman. In his diary, he describes Renishaw as very large and rather forbidding. We were there for ten days though most of the party left after the weekend. Evelyn found the household to be full of plots and gossip. Sachie liked talking about sex. Osbert was very shy. And Edith wholly ignorant. I’m afraid I disappointed Evelyn by shutting himself in my bedroom for most of the day. So he got in touch with Alastair who was in the country, persuaded him to join us, and those two spent their time in each other’s company as they had done before the Evelyns got together.”

Mitford: “And did you? Shut yourself away in your room?”

Byron: “I think I must have been trying to get my head around the things Evelyn had been telling me. He was in the process of being received into the Roman Catholic Church. The Plunket Greenes were involved in this process, and a priest called Father D’Arcy. Of course, to any rational person, it was all nonsense, and your sister had made a point of telling him so. As a result, Evelyn engineered an argument with Diana and she was no longer part of his life. I didn’t want that to happen to me and Evelyn so I kept my views to myself.”

Mitford: “Did you really spend ten days in Evelyn’s company not telling him what you thought of his religious conversion?”

Byron: “Doesn’t sound likely, does it? I must only have been there for a few days. Anyway, it was a parting of the ways. Evelyn spent the next ten years travelling the world and writing books responding to these travels, while I did the same. I travelled to Russia, then India and Tibet.”

As usual, the posting is amply illustrated with relevant photographs and drawings from the period.

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