Waugh and the Marquesses of Bath

The 7th Marquess of Bath (1932-2020) died last Saturday. His name was Alexander Thynn, and he was the son of parents, both of whom were friends of Evelyn Waugh dating back to his Oxford and Bright Young People days. The Daily Telegraph mentions this connection in its obituary of the 7th Marquess:

Alexander’s father Henry, Viscount Weymouth [later, 6th Marquess], had been described by his headmaster at Harrow as “moronic beyond reach”, yet got into Oxford, where he was a contemporary of Evelyn Waugh. Alexander’s mother, Daphne Vivian, was a spirited girl who had been “removed” from two schools, once for spearing a geometry mistress in the backside with a compass. As their respective parents disapproved of the relationship, they married in secret in 1926.

As might be expected, their children had an unconventional upbringing. “Frightfully noisy and drunken,” Waugh reported after a weekend at Longleat in 1948. “Daphne keeping me up until 3.30 every night, and the children riding bicycles round the house with loud cries from 6.30. No sleep. Jazz all day. Henry at meals reading the most disgusting parts of Malinowski’s Sexual Life of the Savages (and goodness they are disgusting) aloud to his 18-year-old daughter.”

But young Alexander was not a happy child. As a small boy, he was close to his mother but, after she deserted her husband for the travel writer Xan Fielding, a man 15 years her junior, in the early 1950s, he felt she stopped defending him against his authoritarian father.

Waugh’s description of the wild children appears in a letter to Nancy Mitford dated 7 April 1948. On the same visit he met with his friend Olivia Plunkett Green who, with her mother, had been provided housing on the Longleat estate by Henry and Daphne (then known as the Baths).

The Daily Mail in an obituary notice by Richard Kay quotes Waugh’s same letter and goes on to wonder:

Might there, too, have been a key to Alexander’s future priapic direction in Waugh’s note that Lord Bath insisted on reading ‘the most disgusting pages’ from the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski’s The Sexual Life Of Savages to his teenage children at meal times?

In a subsequent letter to Alexander’s mother (by then known as Daphne Fielding), Waugh mentions a chance meeting with Alexander (who would then have been in his mid-20s):

…I met your boy Weymouth, he came to a sad little dinner at Captain Bennett’s hotel before a ball and I think he is the most enchanting creature of either sex I have met for twenty years. I didn’t know who he was but a lot of dreadful looking men with long hair were saying how do you do to me and then I saw his mothers lovely mad eyes and I said what cocktail and he said gin & tonic. That was really all I saw of him but goodness I fell in love…. [Letter dated 2 October 1956; Letters 475-76]

Both papers go on to describe Alexander’s education, eccentric life, and artistic career before his relative retirement several years ago.

This entry was posted in Evelyn Waugh, Letters, Newspapers and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.