Alexander Larman’s new book The Crown in Crisis: Countdown to Abdication is reviewed in yesterday’s issue of The Times. The reviewer, David Aaronovitch, thinks Larman has overstated the seriousness of the issue, at least among the British public if not not the upper classes and Conservative government. He notes, for example, that there were no efforts to measure public opinion on the question since such polling was not on offer from the Gallup organization until after the abdication had been carried out. As an example of public indifference, he cites Evelyn Waugh’s statement in his diary quoted by Larman in his book:
… paradoxically, given his conviction that the abdication was a crisis that “threatened the stability of the British state”, Larman begins his book with an extract from Evelyn Waugh’s diary in which the perceptive author writes that “the Simpson crisis has been a great delight to everyone . . . There can seldom have been an event that caused so much general delight and so little pain.”
So my thought on finishing this always interesting book was to ask the question that it decides not to: wasn’t the whole abdication business a ruling-class psychodrama that distracted the courtiers and the barons and the King’s ministers from the far more serious set of crises unfolding in 1936?
I haven’t seen the quotation as cited in Larman’s book, which is not scheduled to be published until next week, but there is more in that passage that seems to support Aaronovitch’s conclusion, as has been noted in previous posts. In his Diaries, 8 Dec. 1936, p. 415, Waugh wrote :
The Simpson crisis has been a great delight to everyone. At Maidie’s nursing home they report a pronounced turn for the better in all adult patients. There can seldom have been an event that has caused so much general delight and so little pain. Reading the papers and listening to the announcements that there was no news took up most of the week… .
Maidie refers to Maidie Hollis, wife of Waugh’s Oxford friend Christopher Hollis. She had been in a nursing home in Bristol since September after a miscarriage (Ibid. pp. 407-08). Waugh goes on to mention that:
Conrad [Russell] lunched with me on Sunday, very happy with the crisis. Perry [Brownlow] is out with Simpson in Cannes. If it had not been for Simpson this would have been a very bitter week. [Ibid, p. 415]
Waugh’s friend Perry Brownlow was Lord-in-Waiting to Edward VIII.