Waugh and the Sitwells

The Daily Mail reports in Sebastian Shakespeare’s gossip column that the Sitwell family is selling off one of its principal properties:

The Sitwells were once among the most celebrated of society families, inspiring the quip that they belonged to ‘the history of publicity’. But things are much less rosy for the current generation — MasterChef critic William Sitwell and his brother, baronet and film producer Sir George. They have, I can disclose, decided to sell Weston Hall, the £5 million Northamptonshire pile which has been in the family for 300 years and boasts at least 11 bedrooms.

After explaining somewhat vaguely what brought them to this pass, the article concludes:

‘Weston is a big, draughty house with a bit of history but is expensive to run,’ says a friend. In the family’s heyday in the Twenties and Thirties, Brideshead author Evelyn Waugh, Noel Coward and society photographer Cecil Beaton regularly stayed.

Waugh knew all three literary Sitwells of his generation (actually they were all a bit older than Waugh): Osbert, Edith and Sacheverell (“Sachie”). He met them formally through Harold Acton and was relatively close to all three–e.g., he was Edith’s “sponsor” in her conversion to Roman Catholicism. He clearly made several stays at the primary family estate in Derbyshire–Renishaw Hall. In Waugh’s day, that was occupied by Osbert, who also held the title: Sitwell of Renishaw. During Waugh’s acquaintance, Sachie and his wife Georgia (née Doble) lived at Weston Hall and remained there after Osbert died in 1969, a few years after Waugh. Sachie did inherit the title from Osbert and had two sons: Reresby and Francis. When Sachie died he left the title to Reresby who had already received the right to Renishaw from Osbert when he vacated it in 1965. When Sachie died in 1988, the title also went to Reresby. Weston Hall was occupied by Sachie’s younger son Francis, but at some point ownership went into a “family trust”. The Mail’s article assumes one already knows all this.

When Reresby died in 2009 (Francis having predeceased him), he left the title to Francis’s older son George and Renishaw itself to his own daughter Alexandra (whose married name is Hayward). Although not mentioned in the Mail (again, apparently one is assumed to know these things), the title probably could not be inherited by a daughter, and Reresby left no sons.

There matters stood. George lived in Weston Hall for a time, then moved out in favor of London,  and it was thereafter occupied by William. It is the two of them  who have decided to sell Weston Hall. All this is by of saying that there is little evidence that Evelyn Waugh made frequent stays in Weston Hall. Aside from this letter to Diana Cooper in 1932, I find no reference to visits by Waugh to that particular venue:

Then I went to Sachie and Georgia for week-end. It rained all the time and we had mulled claret and very girlish gossip. (MWMS, p. 19)

On the other hand, his visits to Renishaw, beginning in 1930 when he stopped by with Robert Byron for an extended stay and was later joined by Alastair Graham, are fairly well documented in his diaries and letters. His last visit was in 1957, after which Osbert became increasingly debilitated by Parkinson’s disease. Anyone reading this who knows of any other visits made by Waugh to Weston Hall or of any corrections needed in the aforesaid chain of inheritance is invited to comment below.

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Waugh’s Religious Conversion

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Western Christian churches, and perhaps in recognition of this date, the Catholic Herald has reposted an article from April 2016 relating to Waugh’s conversion to the Roman Catholic faith. This is written by Constance Watson, Waugh’s great grand-daughter, and appeared in an issue of the magazine that carried as its cover story an article by Harry Mount on the importance of Brideshead Revisited. See previous post. In that issue, the magazine was commemorating the 50th anniversary of Waugh’s death in April 1966.

The reposted article begins with a discussion of several reasons given for the conversion such as Alec Waugh’s citing it, at least in part, as a response to Waugh’s recent divorce from his first wife. Watson thinks this may have been overstated and she also rejects claims from some commenters that Waugh converted because:

it was fashionable among the intelligentsia. His peers Baring, Knox, Chesterton and Greene all converted in the two decades before Waugh was received by Rome. But Waugh’s conversion was hardly a matter of joining in with a fashion: rather, it was the natural conclusion to a long intellectual journey.

She then discusses Waugh’s references in his autobiographical writings of his struggles during his youth and young adulthood with religious belief, at one time deeming himself to be an atheist. After those struggles, she explains what it was in Roman Catholicism that he found resolved these long-standing issues:

So after much searching, what did Waugh find in Rome that he had failed to discern elsewhere? The universal nature of the Catholic Church, he believed, made it more reflective of the essence of Christianity: “It seems to me that any religious body which is not by nature universal cannot claim to represent complete Christianity.”

The discipline and structure of the Church appealed to Waugh – in disbelieving and chaotic times, ‘‘the loss of faith in Christianity and the consequential lack of confidence in moral and social standards have become embodied in the ideal of a materialistic, mechanised state’’. By contrast, Waugh found he could sympathise with the Church’s resolute insistence on infallible teachings: it appears to have made the Church greater in moral and spiritual fibre in Waugh’s mind than the alternatives that he had extensively explored.

She goes on to discuss how his attitude toward his beliefs developed after his conversion and concludes with this:

Catholicism was, to Waugh, a rational marriage of civilisation and Christianity, at a time when the world was becoming increasingly irreligious and therefore, in his view, increasingly uncivilised. In his words, “civilisation … has not in itself the power of survival … Christianity is essential to civilisation”; and, he added, “Christianity exists in its most complete and vital form in the Roman Catholic Church.”

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Shrove Tuesday Roundup

–The BBC has announced plans to release a collection of audio recordings of Jeremy Front’s radio adaptations of several works by Evelyn Waugh. This will include Brideshead Revisited and Decline and Fall as well as several others not identified specifically in the BBC announcement. Others may include Sword of Honour and Scoop which Front has also adapted for radio serials. The collection totals 15 hours of content so this may be everything by Waugh that Front has adapted for BBC radio.

–Emily Temple posting on LitHub.com has come up with a recommendation of 5 literary classics which should be adapted as high-school romantic-comedy films:

…after seeing the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, I decided it was time to rewatch Clueless, and let me tell you, it (mostly) holds up. And so I wondered: whence the high school-set, romantic-comedy adaptations of classic literary texts? They were all the rage there for a while, and the format has led to some truly great movies: Clueless, of course, being at the top of the list, not to mention 10 Things I Hate About YouEasy A, and Cruel Intentions, which are all also at the top of the list. Maybe Hollywood just needs some more ideas? In that case, I am here to help, with my totally un-screen tested, off the cuff, tongue in cheek ideas for how you could turn some fine literary classics into fine cinematic joyrides.

Among those she recommends for this project is one by Evelyn Waugh:

Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited (1945)

Easy: just move the whole story from Oxford to high school and show me an actor so attractive that he will believably not be bullied for carrying around a teddy bear and I am sold. Also we’ll need to update it so Sebastian and Charles live happily every after together—or at least only break up later in college!

She spends a bit more time describing the changes that would be needed to convert such other classics as The Great Gatsby, King Lear and Much Ado About Nothing.

–The Daily Mail has published a list of the top 50 audiobooks compiled by the Mail’s “event critics”. No. 35 is a recording of Brideshead Revisited:

35. Brideshead Revisited

Narrated by Jeremy Irons 11hrs 31mins

Irons shot to stardom after playing the young disillusioned painter Charles Ryder in the acclaimed 1981 TV adaptation of Waugh’s masterpiece. Here, he expertly plays all the characters in the wistful saga set against the backdrop of the decline of the English aristocracy just before the Second World War.

It falls in the list between 33. The Great Gatsby, 34. The Poems of T S Eliot and 36. Alice in Wonderland.

–The Daily Telegraph has printed a profile by Gavanndra Hodge of actress Kristin Scott Thomas in advance of the release of her new film The Military Wives. Her breakthrough role seems to have been in the successful 1988 adaptation of Waugh’s novel A Handful of Dust:

She is famous for her portrayals of self-possessed upper-class Englishwomen, passion percolating beneath a pristine surface; like Lady Brenda Last in A Handful of Dust, Katharine Clifton in The English Patient, and the immaculate, sharp-tongued Fiona in Four Weddings and a Funeral, quietly devastated because her love for Hugh Grant’s Charlie is unrequited […] She attended drama school in Paris, and met her future (now former) husband, François Olivennes, an obstetrician. Her first major film role wasn’t actually Brenda Last, but Mary Sharon, the posh totty in Prince’s 1986 film Under the Cherry Moon. The film was not a critical success, but it got her noticed. Then, aged 26, two days after her wedding to Olivennes ‘in a tent in a field with a rabbi and a priest’, she auditioned for A Handful of Dust, an adaptation of the Evelyn Waugh novel starring Anjelica Huston and Judi Dench.

The one-off film of Handful was produced and directed by the same team who made the 1981 Granada TV series of Brideshead Revisited: Derek Granger and Charles Sturridge.

–Columnist Ann Treneman in The Times includes a Waugh novel in her list of favorites:

Top of the book pile
I hardly ever go on Facebook but one of my friends has challenged me to post nine books that I love. What fun it is to beetle round the house, looking through the shelves. So far the list includes My Antonia by Willa Cather, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz, Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop and Emily Dickinson’s poems. …

–Finally, the Guardian has an article in which Richard Godwin considers the extent to which a novelist deemed the spokesperson for a generation receives a benefit or a curse. This is in the context of his discussion of the second novel by Sally Rooney entitled Normal People:

Normal People has been greeted by readers, critics and booksellers alike as one of those novels that captures something ineffable about its age. The forthcoming BBC adaptation stretches its 266 pages to a decadent 12 episodes, a pages-to-minutes ratio that recalls the famous 1981 version of Brideshead Revisited, which spent as much time on the apparently incidental scenes in Evelyn Waugh’s novel (the whisky and water business on the ocean liner, for example) as it did on the central plot. Normal People is also a novel of tiny details and the beats of pleasure that come from noticing them: “Life offers up these moments of joy despite everything.”

Waugh has sometimes been deemed (though not in this Guardian article) as the spokesperson for the Bright Young People generation that came of age in the 1920s. This is based primarily on his novel Vile Bodies. He might just as well be considered the spokesperson for the 1980s Thatcher generation based on the popularity and influence of the 1981 TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited. In neither case did his denomination as a spokesperson have any negative impact on Waugh as it seems to have done in the case of writers like J D Salinger and F Scott Fitzgerald, as discussed in the Guardian. Indeed, in the case of the Brideshead boom after the 1981 broadcast, Waugh’s reputation and popularity recovered from years of relative neglect.


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Markle Letter May Affect Literary Research

Barbara Cooke, C0-Executive Editor of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh has posted an article on the University of Leicester Waugh and Words staffblog explaining how the lawsuit brought by Meghan Markle against the Daily Mail may affect scholarly literary projects. Markle claims in her complaint that the Mail has breached her copyright by publishing the contents of her letter to her father without her permission:

…Anyone working on collected letters, or biography, can understand this: under UK law, as it’s currently applied, Meghan would have to be dead for seventy years before anything she wrote in a private capacity could be published without the express permission of her estate. It’s the same law for everyone, rich or poor, artists and accountants. It causes numerous headaches for the likes of us. On the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh we are lucky enough to work closely with the Waugh estate. Evelyn’s grandson, Alexander, is our General Editor and is working on his grandfather’s letters himself. We can quote as much as we like from any of Waugh’s words across the edition. But this is a rare privilege, and it doesn’t extend to letters Waugh received. While he, like Thomas Markle, might have owned the physical paper and ink of a letter, its contents remain the copyright of whoever wrote the letter.

Dr Cooke goes on to describe the difficulties of obtaining consents from often remote relatives for publishing the contents of letters to Waugh. She continues:

… the Mail claim it’s ok to publish the letter because it is not ‘an original literary work’ but a simple recounting of known facts. This biographer at least was not aware of such a difference in law. As I understood it, copyright in private letters applies equally to shopping lists and drafts of major works (though the penalty for beaching copyright might vary in each case). […]

Practically speaking, a ruling in favour of the Mail would work for or against projects like ours. The misfortune of private letter collectors, whose lovingly (or cynically) acquired caches would plunge in value overnight, could be our gain. […] The only problem is – who would bother to buy our editions, born of years of careful research, if the juiciest bits (strictly non-literary of course) were freely available? And those auction houses and collectors may, in the end, guard their collections even more closely, if the only thing stopping us from publishing their contents is our inability to get close to the words on the page in the first place. That would be a huge loss to scholarship.

This latter concern about the commercial value of published letters is probably a bit overstated. The Collected Works also contains a considerable apparatus identifying persons mentioned, the context in which the letters were written and how they related to the writer’s work which would be unavailable from an internet search or visit to the auction house or library where they reside. The collected letters of D H Lawrence were published (as I recall) in his complete works after the copyright had expired. This would also have applied to letters received by him that may have also been reproduced or referred to.


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Upcoming Waugh Events

Two Waugh-related events have been announced for late next month. Unfortunately, they occur on the same day but do not necessarily conflict:

–The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh Project in Leicester has announced a reading from a new play based on Brideshead Revisited:

“Easter Bank Holiday weekend and Port Meadow is pullulating with people. Charley Wilson-Ryder is working on her CV when Sabrina Flute vomits all over her picnic blanket…”

Award-winning playwright Sophie Swithinbank presents a rehearsed reading of Even in Arcadia, a new play responding to Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited. Playwright and cast will be available for a Q & A session immediately following the performance.

Swithinbank’s play was written during her residency with the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh Project, and you can read about her experiences during its creation on the project blog.

The reading will take place on 30 March at 1830p in The Hayloft at the Organ Grinder, 4 Wood Gate, Loughborough. Tickets are available at this link. For more information about the play and playwright see previous link.

–Not so far away, there is an event earlier that same day at the Oxford Literary Festival that will be of interest. Critic and novelist D J Taylor will appear at a presentation on his recent book The Lost Girls: Love, War and Literature 1939-51:

Biographer D J Taylor tells the story of four women from the generation of ‘lost girls’ – the missing link between the first wave of newly liberated young women of the post-Great War era and the free-for-all of the 1960s.

Taylor says there were at least a dozen or so young women in Blitz-era London that could qualify for the title, but he concentrates on four – Lys Lubbock, Sonia Brownell, Barbara Skelton and Janetta Parlade. They were chic, glamorous and bohemian members of English literary and artistic life of the 1940s. Three had affairs with Lucian Freud, one married George Orwell, one became mistress of the King of Egypt and all were associated with the celebrated literary magazine Horizon, edited by Cyril Connolly. They had affairs with dukes, celebrity divorces and appeared in the novels of George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell and Nancy Mitford…

The book is described in several recent posts and will be reviewed in an upcoming issue of Evelyn Waugh Studies. The presentation is scheduled on 30 March at 1400p in St Cross College, Oxford. It should be possible for the very keen to include both events in a single day trip since Loughborough is not a bad drive from Oxford (90 miles via M40/M1) and there are frequent train connections. For details on venue and booking see this link.

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Otto Silenus Rides Again in New Criterion

The cutural journal New Criterion posts an editorial in its current issue relating to the recent announcement of a new Federal policy on architectural style. This is entitled “Decline, fall & rise: On ‘Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again'”. The article starts from a point taken by Evelyn Waugh in his first novel:

In his novel Decline and Fall, Evelyn Waugh guys a fictional Corbusier-like modernist architect called Otto Silenus. “The problem of Architecture as I see it,” Silenus pontificates, “is the problem of all art—the elimination of the human element from the consideration of form.”

But shouldn’t art—and above all the art of architecture—cater to and celebrate the “human element”? There are certainly traditions of abstract art that seek to minimize or expunge all references to humanity and, indeed, to nature in all its messy mutability. But the main current of art in the West from Athens and the Roman Republic through the Renaissance and the glories of Georgian and Victorian England has embraced and been guided by the “human element.”

The editorial goes on to state its quite reasonable support for what must be one of the least politically controversial pronouncements of the current administration. Readers might want to stop after paragraph 7, however, because the article then morphs into another partisan political battle about which the less said the better. Waugh did a much more effective and memorable job of putting modern architecture in its place with a little bit of satire than do New Criterion’s editors.

In another New Criterion article, David Platzer writes a reconsideration of English novelist Hugo Charteris, whose work in the mid-20th century was once admired but is now largely forgotten:

When Hugo Charteris’s first novel, the haunting A Share of the World, was published in 1953 to the praise of Rosamond Lehmann (who helped to get it published), Peter Quennell, Evelyn Waugh, and Francis Wyndham (Charteris’s relation and consistent supporter), the author, just turned thirty-one, seemed set for lasting fame. It hasn’t worked that way in the almost five decades since his death of cancer in 1970, aged only forty-seven. Nowadays, few people seem to know his name. This is true among not only the ever-growing majority who pay little attention to novels and novelists, but also the enlightened minority who do. The obscurity is at odds with the rich admiration shown in Charteris’s time by many of his contemporaries.

When A Share of the World was first published in 1953, Waugh named it as the best first novel of the year in a Sunday Times compilation (20 December 1953, p. 6). He gave no explanation. That first novel was reprinted in 2015. See previous post. His second novel Marching with April was published in 1956 and was  reprinted in 2017. According to the description on the cover:

Hugo Charteris’ second novel is a magnificent farce of vying intentions set in a far northern Scottish county, with a motley of disparate characters fiercely protecting their own interests in a choppy sea of suspicion and bewilderment. The author’s spare, intriguing and deadpan style embellishes this complex scenario with extraordinary flashes of insight and prodigious atmosphere. V. S. Pritchett said of this novel ‘What a relief to laugh, to go in for spoofing and madness. I think this is one of the funniest novels I have read since the early Evelyn Waugh.’

Last year, another of Charteris’s novels was reprinted. This was Picnic at Porokorro, first published in 1958. This takes place at a diamond mine in British West Africa as colonialism is dying. According to the information on the cover:

The spare, snakelike prose of Hugo Charteris’ fourth novel explores the late colonial mindset with fascinating depth and unusual candour, creating a harshly vivid portrait of people trapped in the ending of an era.



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Town & Country Remembers Waugh

This month 75 years ago Town & Country magazine, based in New York, completed the serial publication of Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited with its fourth monthly installment issued in February 1945. This abbreviated version preceded by several months the first book publication in May 1945. This was issued jointly by the Book Society and Chapman & Hall in London. There was no serial version in the UK.

So far, Town & Country seems not to have commemorated this event. It did mention it seveal years ago in a March 2014 article entitled T&C Family Album: Evelyn Waugh” by Adrienne Westenfield. The article opened with this:

Forward-thinking though his prose may have been, English writer Evelyn Waugh was a man who loved to look backward—at his debauched youth, at his spiritual journey, and at the erosion of the aristocracy, among other things. We like looking in that direction too, and so to our mutual delight, in November 1944, T&C published the first of three [sic] segments from Brideshead Revisited, Waugh’s swan song to the old English order that remains his best-loved novel. ,,,

She gets it slightly wrong in that there were four rather than three monthly installments of the novel. For more detailed informaton about the publication of the serial version, see article “Brideshead Serialized” in Evelyn Waugh Studies 50.2 (Autumn 2019).

T&C hasn’t forgotten Waugh entirely, however, as demonstatred in its current issue. This includes the report of a society wedding last summer. The bride, née Tatiana Hambro, is the great-granddaughter of  Lettice Lygon and wore a tiara once belonging to Lettice. As described in T&C:

The most important element of the final look, though, was the tiara. The Victorian piece comes through Tatiana’s paternal line, the Lygon family, who inspired the aristocratic Flytes in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. The tiara entered the family via Tatiana’s great-grandmother Lady Lettice Cotterell, née Lygon. The Lygons had a grand estate, Madresfield Court, where Waugh was a frequent guest. Years later, when writing his most important work, he based the Flytes on his hosts.

Lettice was the oldest sister of Dorothy and Mary Lygon who became friends of Waugh in the early 1930s and of Hugh and William who knew him from Oxford.

UPDATE (21 February 2020): Please note that the above posting was corrected in a few respects.

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Nancy Mitford Joins Waugh Pantheon

In his latest posting, Duncan McLaren has Nancy Mitford join Evelyn Waugh’s friends gathering for the imagined reunion at the upcoming Brideshead Festival at Castle Howard. See previous posts. In this entry, Mitford muses over her first two novels (Highland Fling and Christmas Pudding) and how they may have been influenced by those of Waugh.

What is most striking is the similarity of the drawings by Mark Ogilvie-Grant in Christmas Pudding with those of Waugh for Decline and Fall. There are also parallels drawn between the plots and characters of those two novels and a brief discussion of the influence of Waugh’s novel on Highland Fling. Here’s an excerpt from the opening section of Duncan’s posting (Nancy is narrating):

When I flick through Highland Fling I can no longer see the rich connections with Decline and Fall. That process I went through in erasing the connections must have been a thorough one. What a fool I was! But never mind, I gave myself a second chance.

At the beginning of 1930, Vile Bodies appeared, the most eagerly awaited book of all time. And it was about then that Highland Fling went to my agents. On March 10, I wrote to Mark [Ogilvie-Grant]: ‘What do you really think of Vile Bodies? I was frankly very much disappointed in it I must say but some people think it quite marvellous.’ Of course, I see now that the split with She-Evelyn means that the book could not be exuberantly happy, as Decline and Fall had been. But it seems that if Evelyn Waugh couldn’t write a follow-up to Decline and Fall with all its joie de vivre, then I would. In December of 1931, I wrote to Mark: ‘My new book [Christmas Pudding] is jolly good, all about Hamish at Eton. Betjeman is co-hero.’

[…] It is not a million miles from Paul Fotheringay to Paul Pennyfeather, and one only has to consult the first scene to see that I very much have Evelyn Waugh in mind. Actually, dear Mark illustrated the book, and his frontispiece is a masterpiece over which we spent hours laughing together.

What follows are Mitford’s imagined musings over both of her early books together with illustrations and quotes to show the Wavian influences. She also mentions Mark Ogilvie-Grant’s connections at this time with Alastair Graham in their overseas FO postings. It seems that Ogilvie-Grant is also expected to join Waugh’s other friends at the reunion, including several not previously mentioned. As the posting comes to a close, Mitford lists several of those she expects to see there:

…now I am ready to go forth and mingle. I expect to bump into Alastair and Mark outside. My five sisters may have arrived. Brian Howard and Robert Byron, who I dedicated Highland Fling to. Yes, Robert’s love of Victorian art was a forerunner of Evelyn’s. Hamish who is the dedicatee of Christmas Pudding will be there, I expect. Oh no, I have that the wrong way around. Hamish got the dedication of Highland Fling and Robert got Christmas Pudding. Why is it that so many of my really close friends were gay? Evelyn tried to answer that question for me once as we sat together over tea at the Ritz.

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Presidents’ Day Roundup

–The New York Public Library is celebrating its 125th anniversary and has used the occasion to ask its staff to choose the best 125 books for adult reading published during its lifetime. One of those selected is Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1945). Other novels from writers of Waugh’s generation include The Great Gatsby, Grapes of Wrath, The Sun Also Rises and The Quiet American.

–Claire Allfree writing in the Daily Telegraph has an article entitled “We may hate snobs–but they make the best novelists”. She starts with E M Forster and works her way down through Nancy Mitford to Waugh and Wilde:

…I find the vicious social comedy of Evelyn Waugh harder to forgive. In Decline and Fall you can see his misanthropic contempt for what he believed to be the spineless decadence among all classes emerging in English culture after the First World War. And yet later he became ambivalent towards the upper class which he was close to but never quite a part of. Often he reserved his sharpest barbs for characters such as A Handful of Dust’s Lady Brenda and Brideshead Revisited’s Lady Marchmain, but he could also be shamelessly nostalgic (particularly in that latter novel) and forgave the aristocracy their faults simply because he thought they were so entertaining…

–In another Daily Telegraph article, Waugh also surfaces in a profile by Eleanor Halls about Tom Stoppard whose latest play Leopoldstadt has opened in the West End. After telling the story of his family’s move from Czechoslovakia via Singapore and India to England to escape the Nazis, it is explained that he skipped university and started as a journalist in Bristol, reviewing plays and writing columns (including one on motoring). But he dropped journalism, wrote a play (A Walk on the Water) and

…it was only a matter of time before Stoppard moved to London to court the bright lights of the West End. If he were to become a proper playwright, he needed to be in the thick of it, and so in 1962, he rented a grubby little flat in Notting Hill to write full-time.

To cover costs, he applied to the just-launched theatre magazine Scene, and was hired on staff. Critically underfunded, the magazine required Stoppard to fill its pages with reviews and columns written under various pseudonyms, to give the illusion of different writers. His favourite nom-de-plume was William Boot, named after the incompetent journalist who accidentally finds himself covering an African civil war in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop…

When the magazine folded he went back to writing plays and has been there ever since.

–In an Op-Ed article for The Times, Philip Collins comments on Boris Johnson’s recent cabinet reshuffle and is reminded of two Randolph Churchills:

…The reshuffle adds to the suspicion that Mr Johnson is a Wizard of Oz figure. There’s nothing there, really, other than the desire to show off. Apart from Iain Macleod, who died in office, Sajid Javid has become the first chancellor not to deliver a budget since Randolph Churchill in 1880. The squalid mess of this reshuffle calls to mind Evelyn Waugh’s line when Randolph Churchill’s grandson, also Randolph, had a benign tumour removed: “They’ve cut out the only part of Randolph that isn’t malignant.”

–Writing in the Irish Times, Donald Clarke has an article entitled “Why are actors quick to blame everyone else for bad films?” The primary example cited is the reaction to the film adaptation of the musical “Cats” by two of its actors. Clarke goes on to note that other artists, including writers and musicians, have also been known to turn on their works but with a bit more circumspection:

…More honourable are belated reappraisals by authors or musicians. Kraftwerk don’t consider their first three albums worthy of inclusion in the canon. “I re-read Brideshead Revisited and was appalled,” Evelyn Waugh said of his most famous novel. Martin Amis gets uppity if anyone mentions his book Invasion of the Space Invaders. Good for them. Nobody else is being blamed.

Yet there is a qualification worth making here too. All such disavowals are made from a position of strength. “I made an error, but I sorted myself out,” they seem to say. Where are the renunciations from those taking responsibility for continuing failure? “I wrote a bad book, nobody liked it and I remain stranded in deserved obscurity,” one might read…

–The book Hat: Origins, Language, Style by Drake Stutesman is reviewed, overall favorably, in the Spectator. The review is by Stephen Bayley who closes with this:

…Stutesman misses my all-time favourite hat anecdote. On his African travels in the 1930s, Evelyn Waugh came across an isolated tribe whose habit was cheerfully to disport themselves naked at all times — except for the discarded homburg hats which they eagerly adopted. They were not using the hat as Stutesman’s ‘extension of the multi-tasking head’, but as a device which changes your status even more than your style.

Nice that a reverence for the decoration of your head unites Park Avenue ladies who lunch and Waugh’s savanna tribesmen who, behatted, dance. Professor Stutesman? A few quibbles, but on the whole: chapeau! Or, in English, I take my hat off to you.

The reference appears in Waugh’s travel book Remote People (1931). It relates to  a tribe near Kisumu in Kenya (pp. 200-01).

–Finally, the Times and Star (Cumbria) newspaper has a profile of Higham Hall near Cockermouth. It traces the building through several private owners (the last of which was the Fisher family) before it came under public ownership in 1947. While it was still owned by the Fishers, Evelyn Waugh was a guest there:

In 1926 Evelyn Waugh spent two nights at Higham while travelling to Scotland and wrote in his diary of a house “with turrets and castellations and a perfectly lovely view across the lake to a mountain called Skiddaw” and of going on an otter hunt – “a most indisciplined affair”.

Waugh stopped there in the course of a motor trip to Scotland with Alastair Graham and his mother. The Grahams apparently stayed behind in Carlisle with relatives while Waugh visited the Fisher family at Higham (Diaries, 257-58).


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Waugh in “The Mitford Scandal”

The Mitford Scandal by Jessica Fellowes, was published last month in New York, following earlier publication in the UK.  This is the third book in a series that places the Mitford sisters in the midst of fictional mysteries that occur around them. As noted in an earlier post, the first two volumes follow the story of the heroine Louisa Cannon from her working class adolescense to service in the Mitford family who give her support during a time of crisis.

In this book, she has been living in London with various unpromising jobs after failing to obtain an appointment in the Metropolitan Police. She reconnects with Nancy Mitford while working as a temporary at a reception for Diana Mitford and Bryan Guinness in connection with their marriage. They arrange for Louisa to be employed by Diana as her lady’s maid. She is happy to be back in employment with the Mitfords but would prefer police work.

This latest book advertises that Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford will be among the “coterie of friends” to appear in the story. This is less true of Waugh than it is of Nancy. The description of Waugh’s appearances would cover scarcely more than a page, if that. And he plays no role of importance in the plot.

The book covers the period 1928-1932. This time-frame brackets the engagement and marriage of Diana and Bryan and their impending break-up as Diana becomes acquainted and infatuated with Oswald Mosley. The book accurately but briefly mentions that Waugh and Diana became close friends during her pregnancy with her first child.

Waugh is first mentioned by name as accompanying Nancy on a visit to the Guinnesses, to whom he is already well known. Waugh’s book Vile Bodies had just appeared but he seems to think that Nancy’s career as an author is “as promising as his” (135). He may, however, also have appeared earlier (118) as an unidentified man seated next to Diana who is expostulating to her about Mussolini; that may, on the other hand, have been Oswald Mosley for all the reader is told.

Later Waugh is seen again at the home of the Guinnesses, once more with Nancy present. Louisa comments that he “practically trailed Diana’s every step these days, sitting on her bed as she read her morning letters and accompanying her to the shops…” (184). This sounds like it was during Waugh’s infatuation with Diana when she was pregnant, but nothing more is made of that in the novel. After this, Waugh disappears except for Louisa’s brief mention that she had herself read Vile Bodies “almost undercover, so darkly true was it of the life [Diana] led” (235).

After the book’s conclusion, there is an “Historical Note” in which it is explained, inter alia:

Evelyn Waugh, initially a good friend of Nancy’s, had become very close to Diana in the wake of his divorce. He dedicated his novel Vile Bodies to her and Bryan. Sadly, after her son Jonathan was born, she and Evelyn seemed to fall out and were never friends again in quite the same way.

That is an accurate, if rather abbreviated, description of their friendship. It hardly explains Waugh’s presence in the book, since he advances the plot not at all. There are other cultural celebrities who are given mentions. These include Cecil Beaton and John Betjeman, but their presence is even less felt than Waugh’s.

The mystery story is enough to keep the pages turning, but only just, and even then it helps to have a fairly keen interest in the Mitfords. The historical and literary allusions are also accurate and help support the story. Those eager to learn more about Evelyn Waugh and his relationship with the Mitfords will, however, likely be disappointed in what they will find in this book.

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