75th Anniversary of The Loved One

The Loved One appeared in print 75 years ago this month in the pages of Cyril Connolly’s  magazine Horizon. Waugh had begun writing it on 21 May 1947 shortly after his return to England from Los Angeles.  He finished a first written draft in early July, with final typescript revisions by 14 September. He offered it to Connolly on 16 September, and Connolly accepted subject to some revisions of his own to which Waugh agreed.  It was also offered to American magazines, with particular hope, on Waugh’s part, that the New Yorker would take it up; but they rejected it, deeming it (according to Selina Hastings) yet another “Hollywood novel” in the wake of those by Nathaniel West, Aldous Huxley, et al. One can’t help suspecting that Edmund Wilson may have a hand in that decision. By December 1947, a final version including all revisions had been prepared.

Waugh agreed to have it published for the price of his yearly Horizon subscription in  recognition that Connolly’s magazine was struggling to survive. In the introduction which Connolly wrote for the Horizon version, he quotes at length Waugh’s public explanation for the pre-book publication.  Waugh recognized that the subject matter was controversial and wanted to see what sort of reaction it would receive from sophisticated readers such as those who subscribed to Horizon.  Indeed, Waugh and his agent A D Peters had at first concluded that the book was too controversial for publication in the United States, and Peters feared that it would wreck the valuable American readership that had developed in response to the American publication of Brideshead Revisited in 1946.

Waugh said that he “anticipated ructions” from the book. As it turned out, these began even before the magazine appeared. Connolly faced considerable opposition from his Horizon publisher Peter Watson who found the book unacceptably bleak, negative and offensive. But Connolly prevailed, and the magazine containing The Loved One appeared in due course (about 17 February 1948). This was the full text of the book, not an abbreviated version and took up that entire 159-page edition of the magazine. It was sold out in a week. Book publication in the UK was postponed by C&H because they did not want it to interfere with sales of Scott King’s Modern Europe that had been published in the UK only a few weeks before in December 1947.

Little Brown had no such qualms since they had not yet published SKME and could postpone that book’s release to 1949. The Loved One therefore was published in America in June 1948 (probably about 22 June when the first newspaper reviews began to appear) and had warranted 4 additional printings by August 1948.  Indeed, according to Martin Stannard, it would have been published sooner, but Little Brown had to await legal opinion and make necessary revisions to avoid libel actions before it could be released.  This was the only occasion where US hardcover book publication of a Waugh novel preceded UK book version release.  Stannard wrote that the book received generally favorable reviews in the US. Time magazine, then an important arbiter of US taste, devoted six columns to The Loved One, something not done for any previous book.

UK book publication took place in November 1948. By then the 9,500 Horizon copies would have already circulated and, in at least one case, The Loved One had already been reviewed from that magazine edition. This was Peter Quennell who reviewed it in The Daily Mail, 21 February 1948, p. 2. Here are some excerpts:

“…brilliant short novel…among the finest things that he has ever written…Neatly and forcefully written by a novelist to whom the art of story-telling seems to come as second nature, it abounds in a dry, malicious wit and flashes with strokes of satirical observation; it made me laugh aloud again and again; and that alone, in February 1948, is something to be grateful for…”

When the hardcover book was published in November, the UK reviews were largely favorable —eg, TLS (anonymous: Marie Hannah), Manchester Guardian (Alistair Cooke) and Sunday Times (Desmond MacCarthy). Novelist Olivia Manning, reviewing it  pseudonymously in the New Statesman, was more reserved.

The book has probably remained in print without interruption in both the US and UK markets since its publication. A Penguin edition appeared in the UK in 1951, with Modern Library and Dell paperback editions in the US shortly thereafter. In 1965, a Hollywood film adaptation was made by MGM, the studio which had turned down Brideshead Revisited. This was written by Christopher Isherwood and Terry Southern and directed by Tony Richardson. Although it was panned at the time of its release, the film continues to show up on classic movie channels and DVDs. The portions satirizing the British film colony are actually very well written (probably by Isherwood who would have followed the book) and performed (esp. John Gielgud and Robert Morley). But the insertion of a plot by Southern under which Whispering Glades will be emptied by rocketing the corpses into outer space and the land used for a retirement home simply doesn’t work. It isn’t funny despite the efforts of comedian Jonathan Winters who plays both the cemetery owner and his brother who plots the acquisition of the rockets from the military.


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