THE BRIDESHEAD PRIZE




“Dear Evelyn.”

“Darling Nancy.”

“Where have you been hiding?”

“In plain view.”

“So glad to see you at last. Things have been hotting up in your absence. Cyril’s doing, of course.”

“Bloody Cyril. Though he is worth six of Quennell.”

“They’re in cahoots again.”

“Sounds disgusting.”

“They're sharing a cottage. With their women folk.”

“Where Cyril goes, an army of floozies follows. Ditto Quennell. And my heart goes out to those unfortunate females that have to put up with his tedious use of the English language.”

“Oh, but let me tell you the latest. You won’t have heard of The Brideshead Prize. It’s to be awarded to the finest book written between 1928 and 1945. Finest book other than
Brideshead, I should say. As voted for by everyone here. Which is to say anyone who is anyone.”

“Whose brainchild is this?”

“I told you. Cyril's. He has drawn up a shortlist. All books written by one or other of our chums. He’s printing 500 copies of each, under what he's called the Castle Howard imprint. That's in an effort to keep in with the family here. And it's worked, in that the family is paying for the books to be printed. Quennell is writing a short introduction to each one. Of course, Cyril needs women to do all the dirty work. So Audrey, Lys, Babs, Sonia and I have been putting our shoulders to the wheel.”

“Have the books been printed?”

“Three have. I have them here with me now. Wait until you see the covers. You’ll scream.”

“I must see.”

Voila!

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"A turgid a read as anyone could ask for in a long school holiday."

"And this?"

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"No show without Punch. But what is going on with those covers?"

"They are photographs of ceramic pieces that Richard Young donated to the Ashmolean."

"Richard Young?"

"You know. That teacher who interfered with boys in North Wales. The master who was the basis for Captain Grimes."

"Good God,"

"He's here, you know. Drunk every night. Tries to hobnob with the better-known authors at every opportunity. For some reason the Howard family has put up with his collection remaining on display in the house. So Cyril has had photographs taken."

"What's in it for him?"

"He wants to show how 21st Century he is. Everyone is LGBT friendly these days. Cyril thinks it'c cool to add P for paedophile to LGBT. But I don't think his 21st Century head is a very good fit."

"Cyril never could think straight. Not even in his prime. Something I took great joy in pointing out whenever he gave me the chance."

"There is an alternative theory going round that Cyril is trying to undermine the prize. That he wants the words paedophile and Brideshead to be associated in the public's mind."

"Maybe Joyboy's found out about
The Loved One. I knew there would be ructions if ever he worked out what was going on there."

Evelyn dips into
Party Going. Which is to say he goes straight for Peter Quennell's introduction:

'How such a writer spent his days, what kind of man he was, what measure of personal success crowned his life, are questions seldom asked more fruitlessly than when we apply them to the remains of Henry Yorke. The records he left behind him are voluminous, detailed, communicative, and yet an air of singular reticence guards his name. He had written much, lived profusely, uttered manifold appeals, complaints, protestations; their burden is so persistent, and, echoing beyond the grave, so reproachful, that winding themselves round a reader's pity, they may temporarily quite obscure from him the direction upon which he set out.'

"Balls! Are they all like this?"

Evelyn puts down
Party Going and picks up The Road to Oxiana.

'While Evelyn Waugh, among how many others, is a writer you are better advised to study than follow, because the age most likely to follow him, of all periods in our life, is least likely to grasp the essentials of his style, the work of Robert Byron remains sufficiently unscalable by imitators to make the fatigues of a close reading productive of some good. But then, by such various paths is a writer approached. There are paths which double upon themselves and loop backwards on the starting point. And there are paths which gradually deflect from their original centre and lead out again towards open country.'

"Balls, all balls. Any more?"

"Here's the third."

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"You mean
this made the shortlist?"

"It's a fine achievement. You're in it, but it's written with a more delicate sensibility than the others. A sense of democracy seems to be at work."

"Thank you, Miss Quennell. Very well, I will read it. Do I have time?"

"All the time in the world."

"Really. Can that be so? This is a very strange place I've woken up in."

"
To wake, perchance to dream."

"
To sleep, perchance to dream, I think you'll find it is, Nancy."

"I love you for the things you
don't know as much as for the things you do."

"Then you are no better than Connolly or Quennell."

"I'll settle for being no worse than Connoll or Quennelly."

"Enough. To grave, perchance to read."





Moving right along, we have
Peter Quennell.