Harold and Robert and Evelyn

The latest issue of Valet magazine (No. 4) has an article by Waugh biographer and Waugh Society member Duncan McLaren entitled “An Oxford Cartoon”. As he explains in the introductory paragraphs, it is inspired by a drawing that accompanies the article. This is:

… a 1929 cartoon drawing by Mark Ogilvie-Grant of three strikingly dressed men, based on the relatively unknown artist’s memory of his famous contemporaries Harold Acton, Robert Byron, and Evelyn Waugh in an Oxford college room in 1923 or 1924. One suspects that Ogilvie-Grant’s motive for drawing it was his perception that he had been witness to a culturally significant moment, the dawn of the era of the ‘Bright Young Things’—the bohemian writers and artists who excited widespread bemusement and amusement as Britain bounced back from World War I.

Duncan goes on to describe how the three undergraduates (Harold and Robert and Evelyn) formed a sort of triumvirate of aesthetes in which Harold was the leader and the other two his followers. After Oxford they remained in a looser confederation and managed to each produce a “significant” publication in 1928: Humdrum (Acton–first novel), Decline and Fall (Waugh–first novel) and The Station:Athos (Byron–first serious travel book). After that, the group tended to unravel as their careers diverged. Acton lived and taught in China, while Waugh and Byron wrote in England and travelled to distant and disparate places. As Duncan explains, Waugh and Byron soon developed an antipathy to each other but remained in touch with, if not enthralled by Acton who wrote mostly history and poetry. Acton actually found housing for Byron in China after his oriental travels in the 1930s.

Byron died at sea during the war but Waugh and Acton (now living in Italy) remained in contact. Acton however records becoming more and more disenchanted with Waugh due to his increasing drunkeness and gratuitous rudeness. Duncan explains how their relationship gradually wound down.

The article is in the current issue of Valet magazine which can be purchased online. There is no digital edition. A copy of the Oglivie-Grant drawing that inspired the article can be viewed on Duncan’s website at this link. (Scroll down,)

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