PETER QUENNELL





ONE

Elsewhere I've written about Evelyn Waugh and Peter Quennell, focusing on the strange time they spent together on holiday in Jamaica in 1955, as guests of Ian and Ann Fleming. So I'll try not to repeat myself here as we take a quick zoom through Peter Quennell's life from an Evelyn Waugh perspective. Though I will be slowing down when detailed analysis or a joke is called for.

Peter Quennell was brought up in Berkhamsted where he went to the same school as Graham Greene. He also met Evelyn Waugh when the two were teenagers, and was impressed by Evelyn's bright-eyed personality.

Once Peter came up to Oxford, Evelyn visited him in his rooms at Balliol, and friendly relations were established. They both attended the same art class for a while. But Peter knew Harold Acton better, and together they edited a volume called
Oxford Poetry in 1924. Yes, in those early days, Peter, the critic-to-be, was a dewy-eyed poet.

Peter was sent down from Oxford for having sex with a woman. In other words, unlike so many of the Oxford set, he was ardently heterosexual as a young adult and would be all his life, knocking up a total of five wives and innumerable girlfriends. He was tall, urbane and had no difficulty attracting the opposite sex. Something that may have annoyed Evelyn from an early age.

Here is an image of Peter Quennell (sitting in the garden quad, holding a lily or a spring onion) being sent down from Oxford for gross indecency by Mr Sniggs, the Junior Dean. Or is it Mr Postlethwaite, the Domestic Bursar? Anyway, the ultimate college authority might well be saying: "Dear, oh dear, oh dear!
No trousers!"

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Peter Quennell with James Stephens, 1929. Photo by Lady Ottoline Morrell

I speak of Evelyn's possible annoyance with Peter at Oxford. What really did annoy Evelyn post-Oxford, in 1928, was the review that Quennell wrote in the New Statesman of Rossetti, Waugh's first book. Quennell says nothing unambiguously positive about the work. Instead, he opines that Waugh's narrative should have been about the Pre-Raphaelites as a whole rather than Rossetti himself. He goes on: 'And herein lies, perhaps, the chief weakness of the monograph; we could have spared Mr Waugh's lengthy analysis of Rossetti's pictures.' Quennell grants that Waugh has enthusiasm for his subject, but then undermines this near-compliment by adding: 'Flippancy he abhors; anecdote, especially when the anecdote is scandalous, he shows a commendable anxiety to avoid. His treatment is consequently a little sparse and curtailed.' How the Evelyns' (husband and wife) hated this review. How Evelyn's friends got fired up about it. Where was Quennell's loyalty for another Oxford man at the start of his writing career? Where indeed? I suspect that calculating Quennell underestimated just how influential a writer and powerful a personality Evelyn Waugh would go on to become.

Peter's own first book came out in 1926, and was called simply
Poems. In 1929, Peter wrote Baudelaire and the Symbolists: five essays. Here is the contents page:

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There may be five essays, but there are seven French poets of the Nineteenth Century covered. Could the reader not have been spared such false accounting up front?The thing that catches the eye on the contents page is the 'Apology', so let's take a look:

'The intention of this book is not learned; indeed, supposing I am asked from what quarter or during what intimacy I acquired the presumption requisite for my series of critical portraits, like the younger Dumas…I too should be obliged to answer, - less arrogantly, perhaps, but insinuating that I too prefer that kind of discreet pillow-companionship, that same knowledge of important trifles and momentous personal vagaries, as against the doubtful privilege of accompanying my subjects into the grand monde where an assurance greater than mine bends over their thrones, flattering, courting and appraising them.'

Now how does that strike you? A little too sophisticated? You can see from the ellipsis that I missed some of it out in order to try and cut to the chase, but that chase still eluded me in the end. Who is the possessor of assurance greater than Quennell's that bends over the poets in the outside world? It is not clear. And clarity is all. Or at least without it there is nothing.

Peter quickly got back in favour with Evelyn. I say that on the assumption that the anonymous review of
Decline and Fall in Life and Letters in December 1928 was by him. He did write a review of Vile Bodies in this journal in 1930, and I believe the style to be his.

'Decline and Fall contains true satire on such verities of modern society as the power of money and the anaemia of schoolmastering. True satire implies a latent philosophy of life, which is not the less genuine because it is wittily or fantastically expressed. In this it differs from the purely preposterous, as popularised by Mr Aldous Huxley.

'But the general tenor of the book is wholly refreshing: it intends to be funny; and it produces, in fact, a degree of laughter which is embarrassingly physical under the hostile silence of a crowded railway carriage.

'At the beginning of the year, Mr Waugh contributed, in a life of Rossetti, a definite addition to the history of English aesthetics. Thus at the age of 25, he is presented in two entirely different lights. And there is no doubt that his inevitable success as a writer will result from much the same fusion of satirical exploitation of weakness, with technical ability, to illustrate morality, as made Hogarth a painter.'

True, the reviewer seems to have changed his mind about
Rossetti. But the reference to Hogarth suggests the pen of Quennell, who went on to write a book about the eighteenth century painter decades later. Moreover, in January 1929, Evelyn wrote a piece in the Evening Standard plugging several Oxford peers, which stated: 'I can mention five writers all known already to a considerable public who seem to me to sum up the aspirations and prejudices of my generation. These are, first, Mr Harold Acton, poet and novelist; Mr Robert Byron, the art critic; Mr Christopher Hollis, the Catholic apologist; Mr Peter Quennell. Poet and literary critic; and Mr Adrian Stokes, philosopher.' I'm surprised Henry Yorke and Cyril Connolly don't get a mention, but in any case Quennell does, so Waugh has forgiven him his Rossetti equivocation.

Really, we have to take our hats off to Evelyn Waugh. Because when in 1932 he had the chance to review Peter Quennell's bravely titled travel book:
A Superficial Journey through Tokyo and Peking, he did so magnanimously. 'Mr Quennell visited Japan and China, writing of gardens and gold fish, and the intricate cloths made in Europe for exportation to the east… Quennell is half a don and wholly a poet, slightly querulous in his contacts with vulgarity, at ease in the twilight of traditional aestheticism, subtle, perceptive, temperate and richly gifted in expression, often exalted in his choice of metaphor, always tactful in its prolongation.'

Clearly, Evelyn had decided to give Peter another chance. He could have been so much more exalted in his choice of metaphor. So much less tactful in its prolongation:

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Quennell doesn't seem to have reviewed Black Mischief, but his reviews A Handful of Dust and Edmund Campion can be found in the New Statesman in 1934 and 1935, respectively. Let's dip into those as they are reproduced in Evelyn Waugh: A Critical Heritage, edited by Martin Stannard.

About
A Handful of Dust, Quennell states:

'No one who has studied Mr waugh’s novels with a close and sympathetic eye can have failed to recognise that he is at bottom a profoundly pensive - indeed, an extremely serious and, at moments, a melancholy and disenchanted - character.

''A Handful of Dust', If not the most exhilarating, is certainly the most mature and the best written novel that Mr Waugh has yet produced. Here tragedy and comedy are interdependent. It is true that the reader of 'A Handful of Dust', unlike the reader of ‘Decline and Fall’, no longer interrupts his reading to put down the book and laugh aloud. On the other hand, he is kept lightly, skilfully and continuously amused throughout the entire volume, and smiles as he is subtly horrified at the same instant.

A more moral book - though Mr Waugh is too intelligent a novelist to append any explicit message - has seldom come my way… I rise from Mr Waugh’s new novel as from a reading of one of the sterner and more uncompromising Fathers, convinced that human life is a chaos of inclinations and appetites, and that few appetites are strong enough to be worth gratifying. Strange to add, I am also amused and enlivened.'

And about the biography, Edmund Campion:

'Carried away by the popularity of his recent novels, we are apt to forget that Mr Evelyn Waugh once produced a distinguished volume on Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

'Mr Waugh has drawn a brilliant and convincing portrait of his hero; but he has also embellished his narrative with a variety of vivacious minor portraits… Here and there we notice the influence of Lytton Strachey; otherwise, Mr Waugh’s method is entirely his own.'

Oh, so Waugh's book on Rossetti, dismissed by Quennell in 1928, is now unambiguously lauded by the same critic in 1935.

From this point, things might have proceeded happily, with Evelyn Waugh writing books and Peter Quennell admiring them. Of course, there were more hats to Peter Quennell than his reviewing one, as this picture of him taken in the late thirties with his third wife tells us.

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Peter Quennell with Glur, late 1930s. (Sarah Gibb.) Reproduced in Lost Girls by D.J.Taylor.

Or this picture below (completing a triptych of Peter Quennell kneeling on the ground) with Barbra Skelton, one of the women (Lys Lubbock being another) who he introduced to his close friend Cyril Connolly and who became Cyril's second wife.

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Peter Quennell with Barbara Skelton at Tickerage,. (Connolly family.) Reproduced in Lost Girls by D.J.Taylor.

It could be said that introducing women to Cyril and reviewing Evelyn's books were two of Peter Quennell's main purposes in life.

But war came along in 1939, and Evelyn Waugh and Peter Quennell responded to it in their own very different fashions. Evelyn volunteered for action and trained to be an officer. Peter could not see himself as a soldier, feeling dismay about the prospect of the parade ground and the battlefield, both.

Quennell worked for the Ministry of Information during the war, and had duties as a fireman. Indeed, I wonder if Henry Yorke, Cyril Connolly and Peter Quennell ever found themselves holding onto the same hose. Perhaps the one that spouted a trickle of water onto the burning club at the start of
Officers and Gentlemen.

This allowed Quennell to keep alive a very active love life (Astrid and Julia play prominent parts in
The Wanton Chase) and half an eye on his writing career. By socialising with Lord Rothermere he was appointed as books editor at the Daily Mail in 1943. And in 1945 he was able to publish Four Portraits, a work dedicated to Ann O'Neill who became Lady Rothermere.

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Four Portraits concerns four culturally important men of the eighteenth century. Boswell, (author of the monumental - and monumentally important - biography of Samuel Johnson), Gibbon (author of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire), Laurence Sterne (author ofThe Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy) and John Wilkes (the odd one out). This book interests me greatly, though it may have been a little too esoteric for the public's taste in war-fixated 1945.

Quennell identifies 1763 as his starting point. The year that a long war with France came to an end was also when his chosen four set out on their lives work. One could draw a parallel with 1925, when the Oxford set were about to be released into the world.
Four portraits: Studies of the Twentieth Century by Duncan McLaren would consist of Peter Quennell, the biographer; Robert Byron, the traveller; Evelyn Waugh, the novelist; and Henry Yorke, the wild card. But let's save such fantasies for later.

Just how far apart Quennell and Waugh had grown is emphasised in the second volume of Quennell's autobiography,
The Wanton Chase, which was published in 1980, well after Evelyn's death. The first volume, The Marble Foot, talks about Evelyn at Oxford in the early '20s. The second volume zeroes-in on Evelyn in the early 1940s.

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‘He had adopted a fresh persona; the rampageous Oxford Bohemian had become. a self-elected representative of the British upper classes; and I remember the odd impression he made on me as I saw him walking up St James’s Street, wearing a particularly glorious top hat, a small orchid in his button hole.

'During the war he had joined the Royal Marines, and the truculent military man was added to his former row of masks. Naturally, he despised civilians; and from that point of view our meetings were seldom friendly, and very often grimly hostile.'

Then comes this excellent paragraph based on a couple of meetings at White's club in January 1943:

'
His welcome was characteristic: "I always seem to be meeting you nowadays in the most unexpected places": clearly his own club (to which he had belonged since 1941) was no place for a vague civilian outsider. He looked sternly contemptuous; but then, behind all the different roles that Evelyn assumed there lurked a touch of self-parody; and he was often surprised, I think, and perhaps a little hurt, should the mask through which he had chosen to survey the world be taken at its face value.The real face and the formidable mask, however, were not easily distinguished. He had merciless sense of fun; and around those he had elected to dislike he built up strange, repellent fantasies.'

Peter then goes into an example of this. He and Cyril had been sharing lodgings but Evelyn found out they were quitting Bedford Square and he wanted to know why. "Was it for financial or sexual reasons?" "Neither, Evelyn," Peter was about to explain that the lease had run out. But Evelyn got in first with: "Oh, for
sanitary reasons," Evelyn was about to eat a plate of oysters at the time, while Peter received the well-timed insult like a kick in the stomach.

What was behind all this? Well, Evelyn did have a problem with those who had a 'good war'. And both Peter Quennell and Cyril Connolly managed to do that. Evelyn's aggression towards them was his way of making their war feel just a little less good.

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In The Wanton Chase, Peter mentions a spat with Evelyn from 1946. It began in London where they met in a bookshop. Peter mentioned he was going to Paris to stay with Duff and Diana Cooper. Evelyn was mortified. He demanded to know who had introduced Quennell to the Coopers. It was the literary hostess Emerald Cunard. It turned out that both were invited to a series of events in the same week of April. Evelyn's diary takes up the story. He arrived on the Wednesday and the first three people he met owned champagne houses. Peter arrived later the same day and Evelyn listed three points that counted against him. First, that he'd said to Diana that he was arriving and that Evelyn wouldn't like it (Diana didn't like to be told who her guests should be). Second, that no-one read Robert Browning these days (Duff proceeded to recite Sordello for twenty minutes). And, third, that he was presently sharing a girl-friend with a man called Ali Forbes (too dishonourable an admission for words). Evelyn and Peter were in Paris together for several days, but avoided each other for the most part. According to Evelyn: 'On Sunday night Quennell had palpitations of the heart brought on by sexual excess.'

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In The Wanton Chase, Peter attempts to put us right as to what caused his illness: 'This malaise, I distinctly recollect, was due, not to priapic exercises that Evelyn's imagination represented, but to sitting up till midnight, talking and drinking fines-a-l'eau at a café off the Champs Elysées.'

Alas, there is no photographic record to back up Peter's version of events.

Another of Peter's wartime achievements was to become editor of the venerable
Cornhill, a literary journal published by John Murray. I suspect the Paris business didn't affect the professionally friendly relations of Evelyn and Peter, because, in 1947, Quennell published Scott King's Modern Europe as a long short story in the Cornhill. Here is that issue's cover. As from a bygone, patriarchal era.

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And here is the contents page.

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I've been through the Scott-King text, comparing it with the book that was published by Chapman and Hall later in the year. There are no major differences. In particular, the story was not shortened to make it fit more easily into the journal.

As you can see, Quennell has levered some of his own writing into this issue. Perhaps he wanted to share the bill with an author (I mean EW) he so admired. 'The Education of An Aesthete' is about John Ruskin. It's an extract from a book (the first 13 pages of chapter two) that would be published in full in 1949.
John Ruskin: Portrait of a Prophet is a book that would be in Waugh's library at his death. This added to the books on Lord Byron that Quennell had already published, adding to his published work on powerful nineteenth century subjects.

I too have written a book about John Ruskin. He had the most bizarre and barren sex life, as well as being the intellectual who admired the work of J.M.W. Turner and wrote
Modern Painters, as well as so much else. Books that no-one reads these days, because a belief in God seems to underpin every paragraph. Let me assure you, gentle reader, that the following 100-page volume rocks:

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In May 1949, possibly in connection with the publication of his Ruskin book, Peter was photographed professionally. So it's time to acknowledge that by now he was a dignified and respected author in his own right. In particular, he was a biographer of eighteenth and nineteenth century writers. Four portraits, then:

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Peter Quennell by Eliot and Fry, May 1949. National Portrait Gallery.

But on reading Four Portraits, the volume concerning James Boswell, Edward Gibbon, Laurence Stern and John Wilkes, it becomes obvious who Peter Quennell has the softest spot for.

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The biographer, Boswell. The Bossie who couldn't keep from discussing his own unhappy love life. The Bossie whose own peccadilloes are never hidden from the reader. And when I realised that, I began to warm to Peter Quennell in a way that Evelyn Waugh never did.



TWO: THE DAILY MAIL (by Nancy Mitford)

Duncan has asked me to take over. I have agreed to do so as I am so enjoying my literary sojourn at Castle Howard.

So… Peter Quennell was the books editor at the
Daily Mail from 1943 to 1956. Before that appointment, he managed to review Rosetti, Decline and Fall (anonymously and arguably), Vile Bodies, A Handful of Dust, Edmund Campion and Put Out More Flags, in either Life and Letters, New Statesman or, in the latter book's case, courtesy of Cyril Connolly in Horizon.

Also, he published a review of
Brideshead in the Daily Mail, on Saturday, 2 June 1945, under the headline 'Waugh and Peace' though it doesn't appear in Martin Stannard's Critical Heritage and it isn't mentioned in Evelyn Waugh: A Checklist of Primary and Secondary Material edited by Robert Murray Davis et al in 1972. However, it is listed in A Bibliography of Evelyn Waugh, again edited by Robert Murray Davis et al in 1984. (Who would have guessed there would be so many book about books?)

Martin Stannard mentions in a note to the second volume of his Evelyn Waugh biography,
The Later Years, that Peter Quennell praised Scott-King's Modern Europe in the Daily Mail of 13 December 1947. Is that quite the done thing? On the one hand, to include the story in the journal that you edit. On the other, to praise it in the review section of the daily newspaper that you work for? I'm sure Evelyn would have disapproved of this, as he disapproved of so many things!

Nowhere is there the suggestion that
The Loved One or Helena or Men at Arms was reviewed in the Daily Mail, which seems odd given Peter's obvious interest in Waugh the writer. It seems even odder when you realise that in an article entitled 'Mr Waugh replies', which was in the Spectator of 3 July 1953, and which Don Gallagher pointed out to me, the author says: 'The Daily Mail alone of the popular papers has some literary prestige. Mr Quennell is a widely read fastidious critic and a competent writer. He tells his readers week by week, with self-effacement and high competence, what books are likely to interest them. He writes the most useful, if not the most exhilarating, literary journalism today…'

What Evelyn was trying to do in this article is point out that the papers owned by Lord Beaverbrook, including the
Daily Express and the Evening Standard, had all published negative reviews of Love Among the Ruins because of what dear, paranoid Evelyn took to be personal bias. It is obvious from what Evelyn says that P Quennell did review Love Among the Ruins in the Daily Mail, and positively. He even tells us that the DM review contains the line: '…the joke is a little too complicated - and possibly a little too bitter.' It's also obvious that P Quennell must have reviewed Waugh's other books in the pages of the Daily Mail as well, otherwise clever Evelyn surely wouldn't have been so complimentary. So why have these not been picked up in the Waugh literature? I leave that question hanging for the moment. But I do want it answering. And Duncan wants it answering. I will explain what our problem is in a few paragraphs.

Before we leave 1953, Waugh wrote three letters or postcards to his friend from Oxford days, and ultimate biographer, Christopher Sykes. They provide some insight into what Evelyn Waugh really thought about Peter Quennell at this time.

First, in June, on a postcard, Evelyn told Christopher that he had been much upset by violent and inaccurate abuse in the Beaverbrook press, but that reading the
Times Literary Supplement had provided balm (Christopher Sykes had written a sympathetic review there). Waugh ends by telling his friend that he passed through London the day before, successfully avoiding certain people. 'No sign of Quennell but Forbes literarily everywhere.'

Then on 6 July (four days after Evelyn's piece in the
Spectator), he wrote facetiously: 'I don't know this Quennell personally. I am told he is a very deserving young man with a ginger beard and one leg. He lost the other parachuting into France with Basil Bennett.' That would be a dig at Quennell's war record, I think, and DMcL seems to agree.

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The third letter to Sykes reads:
'Dear Miss Quennell, Would you be so kind as to put this in Mr Sykes's Christmas stocking. What a sad season this must be for your cousin Peter! - but I suppose all seasons are sad for him really. At any rate they fucking well ought to be.'

One senses that Peter Quennell was another Oxford contemporary that Evelyn came to hate. Add him, then, to the list that contains the names of my dear friend, Robert Byron, my incorrigible friend, Brian Howard and Henry Yorke, who was indeed a strange kettle of fish.

1955 was the year that Evelyn and Peter found themselves together in Jamaica, in a holiday house owned by the Flemings. The link to this episode can be found at the very beginning of this essay. Later in the year, Evelyn respectfully reviewed P Quennel's
Hogarth's Progress in The Spectator. In other words, Evelyn carried on with a policy of privately mocking Peter, but according him professional respect in public.

And so onto 1956. And another way into the
Daily Mail mystery is to look at the review that Peter wrote of a book I edited called Noblesse Oblige. As a contributor, Evelyn Waugh gets an honourable mention, as he does in Peter's review of the second of the three books given longer reviews, William or More Loved Than Loving, for which Evelyn had provided an introduction. Not sure if you can read the text in the cutting reproduced below. But I hope it makes it clear that PQ's weekly book page consisted of three longer reviews and three 'quick looks'.

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Officers and Gentlemen came out in July 1955. Was it not reviewed by Peter Quennell in the Daily Mail? He does say in passing in The Wanton Chase, something that suggests his high regard for the book. So he may well have reviewed it.

It should be an easy thing to check, as the
Daily Mail archive has been digitalised since my day. Unfortunately, it has to be accessed via a company called Gale, and only some libraries have this resource. I have tried the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh University and the Bodleian, Oxford. The NLS doesn't have the resource. The other two institutions have it, but don't allow dead researchers to access it. "I'm not dead, I'm resurrected," I told them. But their systems couldn't cope.

Could some interested reader who belongs to a suitably resourced library, look up the entries for 'Evelyn Waugh and Peter Quennell' in the
Daily Mail archive for the years 1943 to 1956? And send me (care of Duncan, his email address is at the bottom of this page) the results of this search? So that this essay can be rounded off and we can consider a single erudite reviewer's take on Evelyn Waugh's principle writings from 1928 to 1956.

In the December, 1946, edition of
Horizon, Rose MacAulay reviewed:

Decline and Fall
Vile Bodies
A Handful of Dust
Edmund Campion
Waugh in Abyssinia
Scoop
Work Suspended
Brideshead Revisited

An impressive list. And of interest in itself. Though the reviews were all written as part of the one, retrospective commission.

As for Peter Quennell, I suspect that once they're investigated, his reviews will include the following, each written contemporary with the book's publication:

Rossetti (New Statesman)
Decline and Fall (Life and Letters)
Vile Bodies (Life and Letters)
A Handful of Dust (New Statesman)
Edmund Campion (New Statesman)
Mr Loveday's Little Outing (New Statesman)
Put Out More Flags (Horizon)
Brideshead Revisited (Daily Mail)
Scott-King's Modern Europe (Daily Mail)
The Loved One (Daily Mail)
Helena (Daily Mail)
Men at Arms (Daily Mail)

Love Among the Ruins (Daily Mail)
Officers and Gentlemen (Daily Mail)

But I say again that this list (at least the grey entries on it) needs confirmation. And it begs the question: did Peter Quennell manage to find another home for his Waugh reviews after he left the
Daily Mail? Surely Peter had thoughts on The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold and the last volume of the war trilogy? I feel confident he would have pulled strings to find an outlet for those thoughts.

I myself wrote to Evelyn on 18 June 1950, several months before
Helena came out as a book, when sections of it were printed in the Catholic journal, The Month. I told Evelyn: 'I hope you thought it big of P Quennell to dole out all that praise but I expect you were sick.'

What publication was I mentioning in this context? Surely the
Mail's review wouldn't have been until Helena's publication as a book in October 1950. Time has drawn a veil over that vital piece of information.

Oh dear, there are so many loose threads here that I feel I must stop and go visiting. After all, I have not see dear Robert for days. And Audrey will be pining for female company.



THREE:

Thank-you, Nancy. I couldn't have done this without you, Well, I could, but why should I?

OK, back to work. A funny thing happened in 1960, though I don't suppose Peter Quennell was amused.

In that year, Peter published a book of literary musings called
The Sign of the Fish and Evelyn reviewed it mercilessly in the Spectator. Here is the cover that Collins came up with. As visually boring as ever.

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Perhaps Evelyn's review was a calculated hatchet job. With PQ no longer reviewing for the Daily Mail, Evelyn may have decided he could give his old enemy both barrels. But I don't think that was the reason for its understated venom, as I'll try and explain.

Evelyn begins on a personal note. He'd recently been interviewed for the BBC and found his interlocutor fascinated by his early childhood. He feels it is risky of PQ to have said nothing about childhood or adolescence, and thinks the book may not be widely popular as a result. But, he asks himself, will it be admired by a smaller and more discerning circle? He goes on:

'Mr Quennell was discovered by Eddie Marsh. He wrote some pleasant post-Georgian, pre-Eliot verses. He shows proper modesty about his subsequent career.'

That is a most catty line.

'His only attempt after his verses at imaginative writing was a novel which he assures us was bad. Since then for some 30 years he has been a professional writer. He has written books of criticism and biography of not very recondite subjects, all of which have been lucid, some in places elegant. He spent many years as the reviewer for The Daily Mail, edited the Cornhill and now edits a magazine of popular history. Is he quite the man to explore for us the mysteries of the creative impulse? For that seems to be one of the tasks he has set himself.'


Evelyn criticises Peter for abandoning chapters on 'the writer as moralist' and 'the writer and sexual experience'. Waugh feels that what we end up with is a book of unrelated essays, essentially consisting of a few portraits of literary men from his youth. Evelyn goes on:

'With his contemporaries he is less happy. He claims acquaintance with the brilliant and mysterious man who wrote under the name of Henry Green, but reveals nothing of him. The only contemporary writers for whom he appears to indulge affection are the creators of Palinurus and James Bond, He speaks disparagingly of his distinguished old school-fellow, Mr Graham Greene. He mentions Mr Anthony Powell but says no more than that their paths crossed at the university The richly gifted historian of the Neapolitan Bourbons, Nr Harold Acton, who used regularly and sumptuously to feed the lean young Quennell, is dismissed with something very like a sneer. He is happier in the posthumous friendship of Agrippa and Boswell.'

True, Quennell was asking for it by tossing off a paragraph listing Henry Yorke, Graham Greene, Tony Powell and Evelyn Waugh, then only discussing two of them. What is the point in a major reviewer remaining silent on the output of major figures of his time, individuals that he has deep personal knowledge of, as well as having read their work? And what did he think he was doing by suggesting that Graham Greene was an inferior writer to Evelyn Waugh? Evelyn, friend of Graham, was having none of that.

In other words, by trying to be 'diplomatic', Quennell shot himself in the foot. Moreover, he shot himself elsewhere when he had the audacity to portray Evelyn anonymously (but clearly referring to their shared time in Jamaica) in the final pages of
The Sign of the Fish. The scene reads:

‘I have watched him, a cigar in his mouth and a large straw hat crammed on his angry head, wearing a striped suit that increased his resemblance to a rich plantation owner of the last century, stumping along a Caribbean beach without a glance for the spectacle of sea and sky, despite the humming birds that played through the hedge or the liquid aquamarine of glassy wavelets that slid up against the blanched sand.’

Evelyn doesn't refer to this scene in his review. But I suspect that the whole tenor of it has been dictated by this insolent passage.

Evelyn does then try and end the review on a slightly more positive note:

'Is there nothing kind that can be truthfully said of these musings? Yes, Mr Quennell seems to have preserved in middle age a belief that works of art are essentially enjoyable. It is an opinion which has been little regarded in the last thirty years. It is agreeable to hear it restated. He has nothing very original to say but he observes the rules of grammar and draws on a large vocabulary with notable tact of choice. Also one must admire his courage in a choice of title which tempts readers and reviewers to ribaldry.'

In other words, poor old 'Fuddy-Duddy Fish-Face', a name that Evelyn often used to refer to PQ in his letters to Ann Fleming..

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Peter Quennell by Mark Gerson, 1963.

Ann Fleming wrote to Evelyn, telling him off:

'Dear Evelyn, Why are you so unkind to Peter Quennell? He has been moping since he read your review and is at a loss to understand your aversion to him. He says you resemble Lord Chesterfield's description of life - 'nasty, brutish and short'.

Well, I think I have explained why Evelyn wrote what he did. Where next in this lifelong literary skirmish?



FOUR:

Evelyn died in April 1966. End of story.

No, not quite. For in May of that year Quennell was given the opportunity to write an overview on Waugh's career for the
New York Times. An opportunity to get his own back? Well, let's see…

Peter describes his first meeting with Evelyn,
'a slight, curly-headed, dandified figure wearing a coloured waistcoat and carrying, I seem to remember, a pair of lemon-yellow gloves.' By the time that Quennell published the first volume of his autobiography, ten years later, this description had migrated to: ‘Still at school, he was a lively, cheerful youth, fresh-faced and bright-eyed, with a gaily inquisitive expression, wearing a dandified pearl-grey suit and, I seem to recollect, a yellow waistcoat.’ Yellow waistcoat or yellow gloves, which was it? Perhaps both.

In the 1966 feature, Quennell recalls how Evelyn managed to get into his rooms at Balliol in his absence, finish off what remained of a bottle of champagne, and hurl the empty bottle out of the window in the general direction of a passer-by. Peter was fined for that incident. Perhaps thereafter, Peter thought of Evelyn as 'Mad, bad and dangerous to know'. Though that is exactly the phrase Evelyn used about both Robert Byron and Henry Yorke, when the going got rough.

The article goes on to paint Waugh as a mask-wearing monster in his adulthood. Military man. Toff-snob. Catholic apologist. All seemingly a joke against humanity in the round.
Evelyn, thy name is misanthrope! But towards the end of the piece, Quennell changes tack.

'Yet the novels showed us a different man. Although some of his prejudices crept into his imaginative work, there he usually had them under good control; and his professed contempt for humanity had little effect on his method of drawing and analysing human character. Nor did the world-weariness he so often advertised extinguish his prodigious sense of fun.

'True, the atmosphere of his later books - especially the admirable wartime series "Men at Arms", "Officers and Gentlemen" and Unconditional Surrender" - is dark with despair and disillusionment; but he could always find room for a comic intruder; and the vulnerable and ridiculous Apthorpe is almost as sympathetically depicted as an earlier hero, the incomparable Captain Grimes.

'In an obituary note, Graham Greene with his usual generosity has called Evelyn Waugh "the greatest novelist of his generation". I believe he is right. No English novelist who lived and worked during the first half of the twentieth century has made a more distinctive contribution to the literature of modern Europe.'

Christ, if I'm just going to copy out the rest of the article I might as well make it easy for myself:

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Copyright of the New York Times. Reproduced with there forbearance, I hope.

I have to hand it to Peter Quennell for coming up with such an insightful piece on Waugh's death. I do think it's a shame that he didn't have the time (or, more probably, the distance) to do a
Four Portraits that recorded his understanding of and engagement with Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Henry Green and Anthony Powell.

Still, at least we have the
Daily Mail reviews. Or do we?


FIVE

Peter Quennell died in 1993, almost thirty years after Evelyn Waugh. By the end he'd written or edited more than 60 books.
"I have written too many books. Cyril wrote too few." he said, modestly and loyally.

The last book appeared in 1988 and is called
The Pursuit of Happiness. It ends with a simple scene that took place in a London gallery in 1979, one that exemplifies the concept of 'exhilarated contemplation', that he felt was as good as it gets. On show was one of the 'Golden Horses of San Marco', which had been given a room to itself in the exhibition. Peter tells us:

'I caught sight of my old friend John Betjeman. He was growing infirm, half crippled by the paralytic disease that had already confined him to a wheelchair; but from his chair, I saw, he was gazing up at the Horse's burnished beauty, at its proudly arched neck and majestic brazen flanks, in a state of silent rapture, which absorbed him completely, and no doubt had excluded for a while all ideas of age or illness.'

Perhaps the bronze horse was reminding John of his own prime, and of one day in particular, when he had taken photographs of his wife, Penelope, and her horse, Moti, in the home of Lord Berners, in the presence of Lord Berner's partner, Heber Percy, and their house guest, Evelyn Waugh.

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Exhilarated contemplation, I think I get it. As did EW. I say elsewhere that Evelyn would go to the Annual Show at the Royal Academy nearly every year through the 1940s and 1950s and make his way to the new paintings by Charles Spencelayh. And there he would gaze at the picture of a middle-aged - or distinctly elderly - man gazing at some object that he valued in some way. This is a typical example:

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Polly (Not Forgotten) by Charles Spencelayh.

Which gets me to where? It gets me to where I was always heading:

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Peter Quennell. He strikes me as a far more substantial figure than he was before I set out on this essay. Treated brutally by Evelyn, he managed to hold onto his dignity. I look forward to reading
Four Portraits at my leisure.

More Quennell coming up on the
next page.



Notes

1. I really would appreciate some assistance with investigating Peter Quennell's book reviews in the
Daily Mail.

2. Anyone interested in
The Strangled Cry of the Writer in Residence can obtain a copy from Grizedale Arts.

3. Thanks to Don Gallagher, editor of
Essays, Articles and Reviews in the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh edition published by OUP, for his input. In particular, for the DM review of Nobless Oblige and for alerting me to Evelyn Waugh's article in the Spectator in 1953.

4. Thanks to Jeff Manley of the Evelyn Waugh Society for alerting me to the existence of the PQ review of EW in the
New York Times of 1966.