As noted in a previous post, the annual Evelyn Waugh Lecture was delivered at Lancing College earlier this week. The talk was given by Jeremy Tomlinson, a former master of the house where Waugh lived as a student. It was entitled “A Housemaster’s Report”. After an introduction by current Headmaster Dominic Oliver, the lecture consisted of a discussion of passages in Waugh’s works relating to Lancing. It began with some remarks from Evelyn Waugh’s Final Report by his Lancing teachers that had been donated to the school by the Waugh Family. This was followed by references and quotes from Waugh’s schoolboy diary for the years 1919-21, ending with his entry for 15 December 1921 where he describes his acceptance letters from Oxford and the responses of his teachers and school friends.
Tomlinson then identifies passages in Waugh’s fiction where his Lancing experiences are implicated. These most notably appear in Decline and Fall (Paul Pennyfeather’s unidentified public school, not Llanabba School where he taught). After mentioning Waugh’s conversion to Roman Catholicism (noting that Tom Driberg, a fellow OL was the only witness), the lecture moves on to Brideshead Revisited. More specifically, Tomlinson mines the prequel Waugh started to write in 1945 which was later published as Charles Ryder’s School Days. This proved a rich source for references to people and places associated with Waugh’s own school days at Lancing.
Finally, Tomlinson discusses and quotes from Waugh’s autobiography, A Little Learning and notes references therein to his Lancing diaries. He made the interesting point that Waugh was probably in the process of writing this at about the same time as he was interviewed on BBC by John Freeman in the Face to Face episode. When Freeman tried to lead Waugh into dissing Lancing, Waugh did not take the bait. The lecture ended with another look at Waugh’s Final Report and some prescient comments made on his future by those who had taught him.
There followed about 15 minutes of Q&A from those participating via the internet. These included questions such as what career a boy with Waugh’s qualifications would be expected to pursue today, where the setting for Brideshead Revisited was based, why Waugh chose Helena as his favorite book, what women were most influential to Waugh in his youth and which of Waugh’s books Tomlinson would recommend for O-level reading today. A message and expression of thanks from Lancing’s head boy Will Simpson and a final statement from the Headmaster closed the proceedings.
The entire program extends for 1:15 hours. You can see it at this link.